Many people wonder why Hua Cheng abhors group projects so much. Most of them believe it’s because he hates humans—which, honestly, he really does—while some insist it’s because of the workload—which, fair, is also very annoying. The bravest ones will bet on the amount of time it takes away from him and Xie Lian... And they aren’t wrong. Not entirely, at least. Hua Cheng does resent group projects for that, too.
The biggest reason, however, is a very simple thing: lack of communication. Hua Cheng already lost count of how many times he worked around his schedule to make time to work on projects just to be left all alone by his classmates. Be it in-person classes or online classes, the frustration is always the same.
He tries to be understanding. Not everyone is like him, who can make his own working hours however he sees fit. Most of his classmates have stupid bosses yelling nonsensical shift hours on their ears. He remembers how it was when he first met Xie Lian and how much his boyfriend struggled with his retail job. If anything he’s madder at said bosses for coming up with those inhumane working hours!
But still. No amount of understanding and consideration can make the frustration subside. Even under those kind of circumstances, Hua Cheng believes it shouldn’t be too hard to send a message to warn him beforehand that they won’t make it. He knows Xie Lian always managed it. But then it could be just his gege being a literal angel. He’s not sure which.
He stares at his laptop’s screen. The last message he sent on their group chat goes unanswered despite the read mark. Hua Cheng feels his mood worsening the more he looks at the screen.
Somewhere behind him, a cat screeches. Hua Cheng doesn’t find it in himself to turn around and scowl at E’Ming. His menace of a cat won’t dare come any closer and chooses to mewl its heart out instead. Hua Cheng would scowl if, again, he had the energy to do so. Stupid classmates, stupid cat, stupid Hua Cheng for thinking going to art school was a good idea.
Stupid everyone and anyone, really.
Xie Lian’s footsteps are light and muffled by his fox slippers. His hair is tied in a loose bun, exposing his neck and the marks Hua Cheng left there last night. There are two mugs on his hands, the aroma of hot chocolate filling the air above the scents of Hua Cheng’s paints. If the sight of his beloved bringing one of his favorite drinks wasn’t enough to make his heart melt a little, seeing what Xie Lian is wearing does the trick.
He can’t say that Xie Lian wearing his clothes is an unusual occurrence, but it makes his heart beat faster and a smile spread on his face all the same. His shirt is at least two sizes bigger than his boyfriend, and the sleeves cover most of his hands and thighs. It’s as adorable as it’s alluring, especially when Xie Lian gives him that sweet, sweet smile.
Hua Cheng won’t ever understand how there can exist anyone who doesn’t love Xie Lian.
“Extra sugar?” he asks as his boyfriend puts the mug in his hands.
“Yes. You monster. How can you like it so sweet?” Xie Lian jokingly scoffs. Hua Cheng puts his laptop on the divan and opens his arms. Xie Lian sits on his lap easily, a perfect fit against Hua Cheng’s body.
He kisses his boyfriend’s forehead. “Gege, we talked about this. You don’t question my sweets, I don’t question your spices.” A cheek kiss. He can feel Xie Lian’s smile against his lips. “Also what’s that? I’m your monster!”
“True, my little monster,” Xie Lian sings. He reaches for Hua Cheng’s cheek, poking it lightly. The gesture is incredibly reminiscent of their first kiss. Hua Cheng can’t help but smile. “Having trouble?”
Hua Cheng takes a sip on his chocolate. It’s sweet almost to the point of too much, exactly the way he likes it. “They didn’t appear. Again. Gege, can I give up this bullshit? I have my job already.”
Xie Lian sighs. He kisses Hua Cheng’s pout away. His lips taste slightly bitter. Hua Cheng wants more of it. “So San Lang will finally let me win something other than Among Us?”
Hua Cheng averts his gaze. Oh. Whoever quits first loses. Hua Cheng forgot this. The reminder of what punishment awaits him if he dares leave Xie Lian to deal with classes alone makes him shiver. Yeah, the bet is definitely a great motivator.
“Gege is so mean,” he whines pathetically.
“I only want what’s best for you,” Xie Lian says softly. He rests his face against Hua Cheng’s shoulder. “You’re just frustrated for now. It’ll all go away soon and everything will get better. You know I’d be the first to tell you to quit if it was seriously affecting your health.”
Hua Cheng does. And he’s so very glad to have Xie Lian with him, even though he knows he doesn’t deserve it. He finishes his chocolate and puts the mug down. He wraps both arms around his boyfriend’s waist. “Gege’s finished with his homework?”
Xie Lian shudders in his arms. His face goes from a warm rosy to a death pale in a matter of seconds. Hua Cheng hugs him tighter. Ah, the joys of being stuck in finances hell. His gege deserves so much better than all those stupid numbers.
“It wasn’t hard,” Xie Lian says in a small voice. “It’s just... A nightmare I want to forget.”
“Can I help with the forgetting part?” Hua Cheng asks, almost hopeful. Xie Lian chuckles. Hua Cheng pouts again. “What?”
“Shouldn’t I be the one helping you this time around? You’re the one stuck, after all.” Xie Lian puts his mug down with Hua Cheng’s. He tilts them until the two halves of the butterfly complete each other. Hua Cheng absolutely loves these mugs.
“We can help each other,” he suggests. He kisses his boyfriend’s jaw. “Like we always do.”
“I can take that,” Xie Lian giggles. It’s a cute sound. He shouldn’t be allowed to be this cute. “How ‘bout a shower? I can wash your hair.”
Hua Cheng smiles. Laptop and stupid classmates forgotten, Hua Cheng carries his boyfriend all the way to their bathroom. He barely closed the door behind him before Xie Lian kissed him, and again, and again, and their clothes are all messily taken out and out of the way. Hua Cheng knows the pleasure will make his memories become hazy, but he doesn’t mind, not as long as he knows the sounds Xie Lian makes are for him, that it’s his hands making his beloved shiver and squirm, that it’s his kisses that litter the line of Xie Lian’s scars, the marks left by his bravery and determination of living life the way he truly is.
He’ll never forget the day his jiejie became gege for Hua Cheng.
“Lemme wash your hair now,” Xie Lian asks, and his voice is still a little shaky, and Hua Cheng can’t possibly deny him this. His hands work carefully through Hua Cheng’s mess of a hair and maybe, just maybe, he should have combed it better before tying it in a ponytail earlier. Xie Lian hums in contentment. “San Lang?”
“I love you.”
Hua Cheng blinks. His eyes are burning because of the shampoo, that’s all, he’s sure of it. “Love you too.”
Xie Lian absolutely refuses to wear his own pajamas. Hua Cheng lends him his shirt instead and smiles at the way his boyfriend beams. It’s really not fair, how cute and hot he is. Hua Cheng won’t ask him to put on underwear, though. He’s not one to question the little blessings of life... too much.
They sit down on the divan, and two fur balls curl up against their sides. Hua Cheng glares at E’Ming. E’Ming’s single eye glares back at him. He scratches the cat’s back for a moment, the briefest of thank yous, before turning back to his laptop. Still no message from his stupid classmates, but that’s not the point.
He opens Among Us. Xie Lian smiles at him from over his own phone. His feet are tucked under Hua Cheng’s legs. Hua Cheng doesn’t quite get how that can be comfortable—he’s heavy! Won’t it make gege’s feet numb?—but Xie Lian said more than once he enjoys the warmth.
They play together for what feels like hours. Hua Cheng knows people who’d bet their lives that he’s a good impostor in the game, but really, he’s not, and Xie Lian makes it a point to remind him of it after every round. He can’t win a single one. He doesn’t mind the loss. Gege’s smile is a bigger victory than any game.
The classmates do show up, eventually. Xie Lian happily snuggles up to his laugh and keeps playing with random people while Hua Cheng sorts through this project. He’s happy enough he doesn’t caps lock them through chat. It’s good enough like this.
He glances down at Xie Lian when he’s done. His boyfriend fell asleep sometime in-between. Hua Cheng smiles fondly and kisses the crown of his head.
“Sweet dreams, gege.”