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Two quick knocks, and then someone opens the door.

Nie Mingjue looks up because he knows that knock. That's a knock that means his brother has come to him with another one of his questions. Nie Mingjue is used to these questions. He practically raised Huaisang, had doted on and spoiled the boy rotten against his better judgment, and had just let him be on his many, many, many hobbies.

Seriously. So many "hobbies".

And they weren't phases, either, contrary to what others might think. Nie Mingjue knows that Huaisang is... hoarding... skills. Don't ask. It's a thing.

Anyway, Nie Mingjue had once tried only to fail on prying Nie Huaisang away from the many arts-and-crafts-stuff he loves doing. He doesn't get it, not really, but it makes Huaisang happy so he just lives with it.

So by the time the door is open, Nie Mingjue has his phone down and is already looking up.

He expects Huaisang to be holding his latest masterpiece, and to ask him something like "Da-ge, do you think this is too much glitter?" (It most likely is.) or "Da-ge, is this merman sexy?" (Yes, probably because he obviously roped Lan Xichen to be his model somehow.) or even his best-seller: "Da-ge, look! Isn't it cute?!" (-and 90% of the time it was NOT cute, it was creepy, where did he get those severed doll heads and WHY ARE THEY FLOWER POTS?!)

So it surprises him to see Nie Huaisang not holding anything but his phone this time.

"Da-ge." Nie Huaisang says, face pensive.

Nie Mingjue blinks. "A-Sang? What is it?"

"Is Jiang Cheng my boyfriend?"

Nie Mingjue looks at his brother, and just looks at him. He waits just a bit longer for Nie Huaisang to crack - to whine that he's not answering, or even to laugh at the joke-

He doesn't.

So it must be something else. Nie Mingjue squints. "Is... Is this a trick question?"

It takes a few seconds for Huaisang to answer. "No...?"

Nie Mingjue thinks about it some more, and then he just... takes a guess. "Okay, what happened? Did you guys have a fight?"

"No… um." Huaisang actually looks... lost. Confused. "Why would you think we were fighting-"

Ah. Nie Mingjue knows this. "All couples fight at some point, Huaisang. Now, you should try to talk it out-"

"So we're a couple?!"

-...okay, so Nie Mingjue doesn't know this. Whatever this is. "I-... Yes...? To my knowledge?"

Now Huaisang gapes at him. "What about my knowledge?!"

"What?" He doesn't know what's happening now. He is confused. Truly. So he just jumps to the next conclusion - "Is this a prank? Are you recording this? Am I live right now, being an idiot?"

"No!" Huaisang says, burying his head in his hands. He mumbles something that Mingjue doesn't catch, but it sounds a bit like 'so stupid' and 'embarrassing'.

When he looks up again, he's teary-eyed and red-faced, and he looks about ready to scream.

He doesn't scream.

He just walks off, leaving Nie Mingjue staring dumbfounded after him.

A door slams shut, and there's the tinny sound of bells so Nie Mingjue knows his brother just went into his bedroom.

He replays their weird, strange conversation in his head.

'Is Jiang Cheng my boyfriend?'

Well. Nie Mingjue always finds Jiang Cheng asleep on his couch, so he assumes that Jiang Cheng is Nie Huaisang's boyfriend.

Okay, that sounds stupid now. But hear him out.

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One day, he came home and found Jiang Cheng asleep on his couch, while Nie Huaisang was working on something on the coffee table. Some tiny house or something.

(Huaisang makes lots of these tiny houses. Mingjue can't see the point of them but he thinks it's impressive how detailed they are, plus family and friends are always happy when A-Sang gives the tiny houses as gifts. They also saved Nie Mingjue some stressful last minute gift shopping several times, so he’s okay with the tiny houses.)

It wasn’t the first time he's seen Jiang Cheng. The boy had come over before with his brother to hang out or "study". Nie Mingjue never thought much of it - they’re nice to Huaisang, good friends with him since high school, and they’re polite to Nie Mingjue, which is good enough. They suck at pretending to study when he's looking but he lets it pass because he knows they're good kids.

(No kid mostly-raised by Jiang Yanli could be terrible, he thinks.)

"Oh! Da-ge, Jiang-xiong is here, he brought me some glue because I ran out. He's a bit tired so I let him take a nap here." Huaisang explained, busy with his tiny house's tiny roof. "I think he stayed up all night for that big test he's been talking about all week-"

Nie Mingjue raised an eyebrow. "You bothered some poor sleep-deprived guy for some glue?"

"No, no! He was already there." Huaisang assured him. "At the store, I mean. Buying his own stuff. He said so! Actually he was just gonna drop the glue off then I saw how tired he was and like, I can't let him commute like that, so I said he should come in and maybe have a snack but he just. Passed out, like this!"

He turned to look at his sleeping friend and coos.

"Aw, he looks so cute. Poor Jiang-xiong. He works so hard. I'll just wake him up for dinner so he won't be too late coming home."

Nie Mingjue sighed. "No, I'll make dinner for him too."

"Thank you, da-ge!"

"Yeah, yeah."

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Nie Mingjue actually couldn't recall if that's how it all started, but that's one of the earliest he could remember.

Nie Mingjue found Jiang Cheng in his house a lot of other times. It was usually after the kid's classes. He was usually there, sometimes reading or reviewing while Nie Huaisang made another masterpiece-and-or-abomination. A lot of the time though, he was just napping. Usually on the couch. Sometimes, sitting next to Huaisang with his head on the coffee table - though he regrets it afterwards because who wants to wake up with a bunch of glitter and bits of paper on their face?

One time, Nie Mingjue came home to find them together on the couch with some movie or show playing on the TV. Huaisang was awake, knitting while watching, rapt. It looked like Jiang Cheng had dozed off on his lap, with part of Huaisang's knitting project draped carelessly over his head, covering his face.

Nie Mingjue just stared at them for a bit before deciding to walk away quietly.

He had just taken his coat off when he hears his brother's voice.

"I knew it!"

Understandably, Jiang Cheng woke up to that. "What! W-What happened?"

"He's adopted, A-Cheng!"

"Fuck, I knew it-"

"Also, she's sick."

"Didn't she get over that?"

"Yeah, but she got sick again and now she's dying."

"Oh, goddammit. Does their dad know?"

"I don't think he does. He's in prison."

"HE'S IN PRISON?"

Nie Mingjue shook his head. This is why he doesn't watch dramas.

.

Anyway, he got used to Jiang Cheng being there when he got home from work most days. 'Sometimes' turned to 'often' which turned to 'more often than not'.

Nie Mingjue’s apartment is at the halfway point between the university and the Jiangs' family home, so it makes sense as a stopover. He knows Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang don't share a lot of classes, so hanging out at home does seem like a good and cozy way of spending time together.

They didn't tell him they're dating, not really. He just kinda assumed because they don’t tell him otherwise. Also, because Wei Wuxian kept teasing them. Plus, Jiang Yanli asked him if her brother had invited him and Huaisang to the family picnic yet and then doubled up on the invitation. And Jiang Cheng did invite them soon after that, Huaisang very happily saying yes.

He still wanted some form of verbal confirmation, though. He was patient for a while. But Nie Mingjue was not very good at that so he decided to do it himself.

He did it when he came home and was actually surprised to find Jiang Cheng absent.

"No boyfriend today?" he asked. "Did he decide to nap on his own couch for once?"

"He's helping Yanli-jie with some errands." Huaisang said, not looking up from his... thing.

(The one with ropes and stuff. Mac... Macaron? No, that's food. Macrame? Yeah. That.)

"...and stop pretending to be mean, da-ge. I know you like A-Cheng."

So there it was. Nie Mingjue put his things away and headed to the kitchen. Many things to do. The family picnic was a potluck.

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There was another time, when they had to relocate to Huaisang's room because Nie Mingjue told them that he has his own friends coming over for once.

Jokingly he said, "No funny business, alright? Leave the door open."

"Da-ge, what are we, 12?" Nie Huaisang pouted. "We don't wanna hear you flirting badly with Xichen-ge and Yao-ge. Ew. Cute but ew."

"Nie Huaisang!"

"W-We're just-... studying." Jiang Cheng said, cheeks red. "I mean, I'm studying. Huaisang is... well, he's doing something."

"Ceramic painting." Huaisang provided.

Nie Mingjue took that in. So that's why a lot of his plates were missing. "Okay, then you can go paint your ceramics with the door open."

"But da-ge-!"

Jiang Cheng, bless him, just took Huaisang by the shoulders and steered him to his bedroom. "Yes, we can do that, sir. Thank you."

See, he liked Jiang Cheng. He's polite. He's a good influence. More effective than Lan Wangji, surprisingly.

(He stuck his brother and Lan Wangji together once in the hopes that Lan Wangji's studiousness would rub off on Huaisang but he just ended up with a bizarre art piece that now resides in Lan Xichen's office and is put on display only when the man intends to scare the hell out of a guest. Nie Mingjue still doesn't know how to describe it. Lan Xichen loves it - he thinks it "captured the essence of our baby brothers' beautiful friendship perfectly". Lan Qiren, however, is convinced that the... thing... needs to be exorcised. Nie Mingjue kinda agrees with him.)

Anyways, Nie Mingjue hadn't gotten a cursed art piece to give to Jiang Yanli yet, and Nie Huaisang actually was doing a bit better at his studies (just a bit, he was still a piece of work), so Nie Mingjue thought Jiang Cheng's presence had been mostly positive.

(Does he also catch the boy's rants about Wei Wuxian being 'gross' with Lan Wangji? Yep. It's fine. He hears the same stuff from Lan Xichen anyway, only with the opposite energy ("Oh, they're so adorable, A-Jue!") so it kinda cancels out.)

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He talked about it to A-Yao once and got a pretty dimpled smile in reply. "You approve of him, then?"

Nie Mingjue shrugged. "He's better than the other boyfriends."

"I do remember you being angry about them all the time."

"They just liked him because he's pretty and small and they think they can do whatever with him." he scoffed. "Had to kick a lot of them out for being assholes."

"Were they not kind to him?"

"Eh. Some were." Nie Mingjue said, thinking about the boys his brother brought home back in high school. They were all very handsome. And they all got thrown out by Nie Mingjue. "All of 'em thought the art things were weird though, and that's it for me, they're out."

Meng Yao laughed. "But you think the art things are weird too."

"And I don't laugh at him for it! Or make him feel bad about it, or worse, try to make him drop it."

"What does Jiang Cheng say about the art?"

"Oh, no, he definitely thinks they're weird. He's very loud about it too."

('This jar of eyeballs will give me nightmares! Why are you like this?' - he overheard once, and he almost got up to kick Jiang Cheng out of his house right then and there, long-standing friendship with his sister be damned - until - 'Hold on, I'm gonna send it to Wei Ying.')

(Then there was the sound of his brother's delighted laugh and Nie Mingjue finally put down the butcher knife.)

"It's different." Nie Mingjue said. "He doesn't make A-Sang feel bad about it."

"And so he passes?"

"I guess so."

It came down to that, Nie Mingjue supposed. His brother looked happy, in a different way than he was with the others, when he only looked like he was happy to successfully impress them. With Jiang Cheng, he was happy to work on whatever and get honestly told that it's weird as hell by that sleepy boy who was grumpy from being woken up from his nap.

So yes, Nie Mingjue thought. He passes.

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That's it. Nie Mingjue assumes that Jiang Cheng is Nie Huaisang's boyfriend because the signs are all there and they never told him otherwise.

Unless he had misread the situation in its entirety.

"A-Sang, talk to me." he says now, standing outside his little brother's door. “Is Jiang Cheng… still your boyfriend?”

“I don’t know!” comes the pathetic wail from inside the room. "Was he ever my- Is he really- oh, God."

Nie Mingjue pries the door open slowly, carefully. He sees Huaisang curled up in bed, face buried in a giant patchwork teddy bear he had made from old shirts and leftover fabric a few years ago.

(It's so ugly. But it's Nie Huaisang's favorite thing, so.)

He sighs. He doesn’t get it, not really. This is like when Xichen sends a meme to the group chat and he has to DM A-Yao to ask why the hell that one weird cat is making that weird face.

He looks at the blanket-and-bear-and-boy mound on the bed and asks, "So he’s not coming to grandmother’s birthday, then?"

"I really don’t know, da-ge!"

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Jiang Cheng has gotten used to finding himself asleep on the Nies' couch. It’s just part of being Nie Huaisang's boyfriend.

Not that he thinks any boyfriend of Nie Huaisang’s is entitled to their couch every other afternoon, of course. No, it’s not that.

The way that Jiang Cheng sees it, if you want to spend any amount of time with Nie Huaisang, you have to be ready to be ignored. 

-not that you’ll be ignored on purpose!

In all the time he’d known him, despite his reputation of being flighty and a bit of an airhead, Nie Huaisang is actually one of the most attentive people Jiang Cheng has ever met.

Huaisang would drop his latest arts-and-crafts session if anyone asked. Or at least try his best to engage his guest in conversation even while he’s working.

So. Here’s the thing - Huaisang, for someone who proclaims himself to be lazy and insists he hates working, is actually always working on something. And because you’ll see that Huaisang is trying very hard to accommodate you despite being obviously busy with his project, you’ll feel bad.

(Or… you’re supposed to. Jiang Cheng feels bad. He’s sure most people would feel bad. Right?)

(Is it just him?)

(Whatever.)

So for Jiang Cheng, it’s simple - if you want to hang around and not feel terrible for bothering Nie Huaisang, you should prepare to either help him with whatever he’s working on, or have something to do for yourself, or... just be out of his way and take a nap.

And because Jiang Cheng is always coming over after a long day of classes, when his brain is usually ready to just shut down, he just goes for the nap option.

(You know, like a cat.)

(No, Jiang Cheng is not in it just for the head pats. He really thinks the nap is the best option. The head pats are nice, though.)

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It was kind of embarrassing, back when he wasn’t used to it yet. The first time, he was just supposed to drop off some glue. Nie Huaisang had been spamming the group chat with messages asking for someone to buy one because he ran out and he’s grounded.

(Yes, he’s in college. Yes, he was grounded.)

Jiang Cheng decided to do him a favor, just because he was in the store already and the apartment is on his way home, anyway.

Then he came over, and he must have looked like shit because Huaisang looked at him like he would look at a wounded baby bird. He practically dragged him inside and would have definitely stuffed Jiang Cheng with food had he not passed out on the couch.

(Yes, Jiang Cheng slept that night! It was two hours, but that’s better than nothing, right?)

When he woke up, Nie Mingjue scared him into eating dinner with them and then sent him on his way.

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It was supposed to be just that, Jiang Cheng had thought. Jiang Cheng doesn’t go over to people’s houses to take a nap, eat their food and then run home, oh no, that was not a Jiang Cheng thing to do.

(That’s something Wei Ying would do, and Jiang Cheng is not Wei Ying, as he is so often reminded of his entire life- ahem. Nope, we’re not going there today. Or ever. Haha.)

But then it happened again.

Only a few days later, he dropped by again to pick up some fruits and vegetables for his sister. Apparently it was harvest season in Qinghe, and the Nies’ relatives sent over boxes. Lots of boxes. Nie Mingjue had asked Jiang Yanli if she’d like to take some of them off his hands. Cue Jiang Cheng being a dutiful brother.

But that was an early afternoon, Nie Huaisang had a good movie on, and jiejie wouldn’t need the vegetables until dinner, so Jiang Cheng decided to hang around a bit. Huaisang was cross-stitching the dog from the ‘This is Fine’ meme. It’s ridiculous, but oddly calming to observe. Jiang Cheng had just pulled another all-nighter the previous night. He dozed off in the middle of an action movie full of explosions.

He woke up to Huaisang telling him he should get going if he wants his sister to have something to cook for dinner.

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And then it just kept happening, for one reason or another.

“Okay, so you can have this, and this- Oh, and this too!”

Jiang Cheng eyed the three-something-foot stack of used documents and old newspapers and magazines. “This is… a lot. Are you sure you don’t need these anymore?”

“Eh, I planned to make a big paper mache thing but I lost the inspiration around… what, one, two years ago? So yeah, you can have it, I guess!”

“Uh. Alright, then. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. It’s just collecting dust in storage anyway. What’s A-Ling gonna do with these, again?”

“His school’s making the Earth Month decorations out of recycled stuff. Or something like that.”

“Oh. That’s good, very green! Start them young.” Nie Huaisang nodded approvingly. “So… you’re gonna be bringing all of these?”

“Hell no, I’m tired. And it’s too heavy. Jin Zixuan will pick ‘em up in his shiny car.”

“I see, I see. So we’re waiting for him then?”

“Yeah.” - he said, stifling a yawn. “Wish he’d hurry up though, I’m dying for a nap. And no - I will not sleep here again, Mingjue-ge’s been giving me weird looks.”

“Ah, don’t mind him!” Nie Huaisang waved him off, laughing. “He’s just not used to having company.”

“Yeah. No. Not sleeping this time.”

He watched Nie Huaisang build another tiny house. He tried to help Nie Huaisang build tiny furniture by cutting tiny pieces of fabric into tinier pieces of fabric. It was tedious, and his hands were just too big for such work, so instead he just listened to Nie Huaisang humming while putting together beads and wood and bits of paper to make a tiny desk.

He woke up when he heard the ‘click!’ of Nie Huaisang’s camera phone and realized he had fallen asleep after all.

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For some reason, along the way, he had been made into the unofficial delivery guy to the Nies. His siblings were always smiling so widely when they asked for a favor. He knew they were up to something, but he couldn’t say no, not when his jiejie asked so nicely and Wei Ying asked so annoyingly.

“Here you go. What is it anyway? Wei Wuxian told me not to open it because I’ll get mad at him. ”

“Ah, just some porn magazine he borrowed last time he was here-”

“Huh.”

“I don’t know why he thinks you’ll be mad-”

“BECAUSE HE PASSED IT TO ME IN THE MIDDLE OF LECTURE.”

Nie Huaisang burst out laughing. “Of course he did!"

Jiang Cheng glared. "Yes. Go on. Laugh."

Nie Huaisang did, but after he had calmed down, he very nicely asked. "Do you wanna borrow it too?”

“No. What are you drawing?”

Nie Huaisang looked sheepish. “Uh… a commission? That’s why I asked Wei-xiong to give these back, you know. I need reference-”

“Alright. I’m taking a nap.”

“Okay, Jiang-xiong.”

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Nie Huaisang began to worry about this pattern after some time.

Of course he would.

“Jiang-xiong?”

Jiang Cheng missed that one. He was already dozing off, back against the side of the couch while Nie Huaisang was busy painting a fan on the low table.

“A-Cheng?”

He caught that one, finally. He looked up, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. “Hey. What is it? Is it late?”

“No, no. It's not even six yet! But um… This is boring, right? You know, we can do something else.”

“Huh? No. I don’t wanna- It’s not boring-” He bet that statement would be effective if it didn’t get cut off with a yawn. “I mean. I’m fine watching you… do stuff. Paint fans.”

“But you’re here and - okay, I don’t actually know why you’re here this time-”

He realized that he did indeed forget to tell Nie Huaisang why he came over. To his defense, Nie Huaisang just let him in and then ran back to his work, and let Jiang Cheng just lounge around him and do whatever.

(Again, like a cat.)

(Shut up.)

“I was gonna borrow some power tools from your brother.” he finally provided.

“Okay.” Nie Huaisang nodded. “But I’m ignoring you! No wonder you’re always falling asleep, you’re bored out of your mind-”

“I’m not.”

“You say that-”

“No, really, I’m not. I’m not bored.” he insists. He scoots closer, resting his elbow on a free space on the table. “I just… I didn’t get much sleep last night, that’s all.”

“Oh?” Nie Huaisang frowned, and reached his ink-free hand over to check his temperature, then stroked his hair. “Are you okay? You really should sleep properly…”

“Can’t. I’m studying.” He yawned. Again. “I’m just tired. But I’m not bored. I like…” he flailed one hand looking for words, before just gesturing vaguely towards the half-finished fan and supplies at the table. “I like seeing how these stuff you make turns out.”

Nie Huaisang stared at him, considering his answer. “Really?”

“Really. I’m just kinda tired, but I’m fine watching you.”

And if Jiang Cheng would allow himself to sound sappy, he honestly liked watching Nie Huaisang work. Jiang Cheng liked work. He could always appreciate someone spending time and effort on something and getting results. For him, it’s school, his studies. For Nie Huaisang, it’s his craft stuff.

Jiang Cheng may not be into arts-and-crafts much, but he can respect the dedication and work needed for it.

Finally, Nie Huaisang nodded. “Alright, but if you need to sleep, that’s okay! And not there. Go lie down on the couch so you’ll be comfy!”

“Fine.” he rolled his eyes, and poked Nie Huaisang’s forehead first before conceding and taking the empty couch.

He watched Nie Huaisang work again. After a while, he reached out and played with Huaisang’s hair, because it was so close right there, as soft as always, and so long. Huaisang had always kept it shoulder-length, back in high school. When did it get so long?

“Your hair’s too long.” he said after another yawn.

Huaisang hummed. “Yes? Should I cut it?”

“I don’t know.” he answered.  “You look pretty either way.”

He vaguely remembered Nie Huaisang turning to look at him and asking something, but he was too sleepy by then.

The next thing he remembered was being woken up because it was time for dinner.

The fan was painted with lotuses and birds. It was pretty. It suit Nie Huaisang perfectly.

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guess what

ooooo what is it what is it!!!

jiejie just called to warn me that both of our parents are home
along with the whole jiang clan it seems
plus the jins are there too its a whole party

oh
im guessing thats not the good kind of party?

wei ying already declared he’s having a “sleepover” with lan wangji for a “school project”. they are disgusting.

lol did it work?

yes

oooo! good for them!

traitor. anyways jiejie said if i have something else to do she will cover for me

awww yanli-jie deserves the world!!!

she does. and?

???

AND?

and what?
oh
oh!!!
my beloved chengcheng do u wanna help me with my homework??? i am so lost!!!

you mean do i wanna do your homework while you make some creepy art piece? sure i guess at least that doesn't involve aunties or jins or “wangxian” whatever the fuck that is

my brain is not equipped for the uhhhh i dont even know what im supposed to study!!!

yeah yeah i got it

academia is a hoax!!!

you can stop now

pls jiang-xiong have mercy on this poor one!!!

this is fun for you huh

you’re welcome!!!

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After that, Wei Ying stopped trying to be subtle.

Took him long enough, really.

He teased Jiang Cheng about his ‘boyfriend’. When they were all together on campus, which was rare, he kept wagging his eyebrows at Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang. He made Wen Ning ask Jiang Cheng how Nie Huaisang is doing, because he knew Jiang Cheng won’t snap at Wen Ning because he has the Fear of Wen Qing in him.

(-and also because why would you snap at Wen Ning? Who are you, Wen Chao? Be better than that!)

Also, he asked Jiang Cheng when he’s gonna introduce Nie Huaisang to their jiejie, and Jiang Cheng, neck deep in books and reviewers, snapped, “Leave me alone, jiejie knows him already! She’s known him since we were in high school! They send her vegetables every season-”

That one got him a long, surprised (stupid) look from Wei Ying. And a delighted giggle from his sister. His sister who really wasn’t supposed to be there.

“Uh-... Jiejie-”

Before he could say anything, Jiang Yanli had sighed that lovely fond sigh of hers and then pat Wei Ying’s arm. “Oh, A-Xian, you shouldn’t tease A-Cheng so much. I do know Nie Huaisang already! No need to embarrass him.”

Jiang Cheng gaped. “J-Jiejie, I never- I didn’t mean-”

But his sister shook her head in the most comforting way and it was terrifying because he knew that she has it all wrong but he felt at peace looking at her face-

“It’s alright, A-Cheng... You shouldn’t let us make you think you have to make a big deal out of it. Ah, you should invite him to the family picnic! Him and his brother, they’re always good company!”

.

And of course he told Huaisang, in the middle of helping him stamp cute shapes on colorful sheets of paper.

“My siblings believe you’re my boyfriend.”

“Oh, I should be so lucky!” Nie Huaisang laughed, stamping a bird shape and smiling proudly at it. “You’re the perfect man.”

Meanwhile, Jiang Cheng huffed, looking disappointed with his own work. “Shut up.”

They were making little goodie bags for the Wens’ little kid nephew’s birthday party. Wei Ying was supposed to make them but apparently they were too ugly to behold so Wen Qing relegated him to blowing balloons instead.

Jiang Cheng didn’t know how he ended up with the job - but before he knew it, he had huge bags of candies and little toys and was following Nie Huaisang’s instructions on what to get at the crafts store.

And, of course, he ended up at the Nies’ apartment. Because.

Jiang Cheng knew the kid who’ll get the bag he’s making will be too busy tearing into it to notice that the shapes were too close or too far apart. But Jiang Cheng will know, and that will live in his conscience forever.

“Where’s the cat one?” he asked, squinting at their shared stock of cute foam stamps.

“Um… I just used it. Here.”

“Thanks- Oi!”

Jiang Cheng flinched away, hand flying to his forehead, where he could feel the sticky bright pink probably-cat-shaped ink stamp on it.

“What the fuck?”

Huaisang just laughed, but before he can revel in his victory, Jiang Cheng grabbed one of the stamps - a flower - and pressed it to the other’s cheek with vengeance.

“Ow! Jiang-xiong! I take my words back, you’re a bad boyfriend!”

“Yeah, well, you’re worse.”

“How dare you, I cancelled a date because you said you needed help with birthday party stuff! For a kid I don’t even know!”

“What? You know A-Yuan!”

“I’ve seen pictures. They’re impossible to miss, your brother’s practically adopted him. But I haven’t met him, not properly.” Huaisang explained, picking up another stamp - a star - and stamping it on Jiang Cheng’s cheek half-heartedly.

“Oh.” Jiang Cheng says, too busy thinking about it to care about the new stamp on his face. “Wait - you cancelled a date? For this?”

“Yeah.” Huaisang shrugged. “It's fine. It’s just this guy… but I don’t really like him much? He just kept asking and asking and he called me pretty so many times and-… Ah, I don't know? I was getting tired of saying no?"

Jiang Cheng stared at him, watching him press the star stamp on the paper next. “You mean some guy harassed you and you gave in.”

“No! No, he was nice! He was really nice… too nice, actually. There was nothing wrong with him and I kinda felt bad rejecting him so-”

“Oh, so he’s just too pathetic, then.”

“Jiang-xiong!” Nie Huaisang frowned. “I-... I don’t know! It’s been a while since someone noticed me, that's all, and he said he liked my art, and- ugh, I know I should know better! I really do! Maybe it just caught me off guard. I don’t know!”

Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes, trying to find a good spot in the paper for his new stamp. “Nice isn’t gonna cut it. You’ll be leading him on if you keep it up.”

“I know. I should just tell him I really don’t wanna date him. I’ll definitely tell him. That’s why I cancelled! To prepare, you know?”

Jiang Cheng reached out to brush Nie Huaisang’s bangs aside, then stamped a heart on his forehead. “Just dump him. You’ll hurt him but then it’ll be over and done with. You know that.”

“Yeah.” Huaisang sighed, reaching up to poke at the stamp and cringing slightly at the sticky-wet feeling. “If it doesn’t work, I’ll tell him I have a boyfriend. I’m sure that’ll work. You’re scary enough.”

Jiang Cheng scowled. “Why do I have to be the-...? Okay, fine, because I owe you for… all this.” he said, gesturing at the whole mess of their goodie bag project. He shook his head, but didn’t let his concern linger. “But really, if he wouldn’t back away unless you have a boyfriend, then I don’t think he’s as nice as you say he is.”

“Yeah… Admit it, though. You’d like to scare him.”

He thought about it. “Eh. A bit.” he conceded with a shrug. It would be fun, for some reason he didn’t bother figuring out.

“Hah!”

“Just a bit- Ugh!” he groaned, as colored foam was pressed to his nose again. He glared at a giggling Nie Huaisang. “Stop it!”

Nie Mingjue came home and found them like that, looking like little children left to their devices, stamping paper enthusiastically, messy ink shapes on their faces and arms.

He stared, and stared, and didn’t ask. He just grabbed one of the chocolate bars peeking out from one of the candy bags and walked off towards the kitchen.

“Um- Mingjue-ge-”

“Da-ge, put that back, it’s Miss Wen’s!”

Nie Mingjue glared at them both and, grudgingly, put the candy back.

.

After that, Nie Huaisang got called Jiang Cheng’s boyfriend several times.

Like at A-Yuan’s birthday party when they introduced him to Granny Wen.

Also at the Jiang family picnic when some insufferable Jin cousin asked Jin Zixuan who Nie Huaisang was.

And that time when Jiang Cheng went to deliver something or other to one of Nie Huaisang’s haunts in the campus and some art student he didn’t know called for Nie Huaisang saying his boyfriend was looking for him.

Nie Huaisang didn’t correct them.

And each time, Jiang Cheng had been too busy navigating all the chaos around him to do the correcting.

So maybe. Maybe they were dating, Jiang Cheng thought.

They were already spending afternoons together, anyway. And they talk all the time and hang out with their friends, and know each other’s families, and… they sort of… cuddle… sometimes…

And well… there was that one time…

That one time when they were walking home together for once, because they happened to catch each other leaving campus at the same time. On their way, Nie Huaisang got distracted by something he saw on the side of the road - and without thinking, Jiang Cheng grabbed his hand to pull him out of the way before he ran into a post.

“Watch where you’re going.”

“Ah, I got distracted there, A-Cheng... Sorry...”

“What is it this time?”

“I remembered that I was planning to repurpose some stuff to make into a feeding bowl for the cat.”

That made Jiang Cheng pause. “You have a cat?”

“Not our cat. It’s just the cat. It hangs out on our window sometimes and we feed it.” he mused. “Like the bird. The one that brings me little shiny things? Oh, and the dog. From the park?”

(There was a joke between their group of friends back that Nie Huaisang is a fairy tale movie princess. It was after that one time in high school when he got a whole bunch of baby ducks and the class hamster to imprint on him.)

(Jiang Cheng was very jealous.)

Jiang Cheng snorted. “So how many animals do you not own, again?”

“Ah, da-ge said not to name them because I’ll get attached, and the building doesn’t allow pets. I’m still trying to convince him to move to another one that does!”

“But you’re making them a bowl.”

“Just the cat. It hangs out on the kitchen window. It likes to have staring contests with da-ge.”

Jiang Cheng listened as he listed a bunch of supplies for the bowl, waiting for him to let go of his hand.

But instead he felt fingers twine with his and their hands stayed linked until Huaisang needed his hands back to look for the apartment keys.

And it’s not until he’s letting Nie Huaisang test-fit a half-finished purple knitted beanie on his head that Jiang Cheng realized he hadn’t actually planned on going to the Nie apartment that day. He just inadvertently let Huaisang lead him there.

By the hand.

So. Yeah.

Okay.

Cool.

“Are we going out?” Jiang Cheng asked a little while later, eyes almost closed and side warm, fingers tangled in soft, long hair.

They were watching a cooking show where none of the contestants know how to cook. Jiang Cheng was happy to call them all sorts of choice words as they screwed up. Nie Huaisang, head on his shoulder, laughs from time to time but is for the most part, focused on his knitting project.

“Not really.” Huaisang answered absently. “We’re staying in.”

Jiang Cheng snorted.

Yes, of course, that’s what they were doing.

Then someone on the show went and did something stupid again-

Jiang Cheng groaned. “For fuck’s sake - grease your pan- Great. Good luck getting your dumb cake off now.”

He heard Huaisang giggle again and he cuddled closer, muttering more choice words into the other’s hair. Huaisang doesn’t draw away, soft and pliant in his arms.

‘Staying in, huh.’ he thought. ‘I don’t hate that.’

.

.


.

.

And that’s it, really.

Now, Jiang Cheng is in the convenience store, having grabbed a carton of milk for the Nies because Huaisang had asked him to.

He’s on his way to the apartment this afternoon, for no reason other than to spend time with Nie Huaisang, Which probably will involve him napping while Nie Huaisang continued working on whatever today’s project is. As usual. It's fine. He is feeling sleepy.

He’s contemplating buying some snacks when his phone chimes with a text from his brother.

yo chengcheng u should hurry up and get over here
mingjue-ge says a-sang feels sick

Jiang Cheng frowns, drops the snacks and hurries to the counter.

.

.


.

.

See, the thing is, Nie Huaisang doesn’t have a boyfriend.

Oh, he’s had boyfriends, of course. They were… okay. The relationships never really went anywhere but they were okay.

(Well. They usually ended with da-ge chasing them out with a knife, but they weren’t all that bad.)

And that’s how he knows that currently, he doesn’t have a boyfriend.

He doesn’t!

At least, that’s what he thought.

Because apparently he has a boyfriend? Has had one for a while now?

And it’s Jiang Cheng?

That Jiang Cheng?

Oh, he likes Jiang Cheng, alright. He likes Jiang Cheng a lot. Jiang Cheng is great. More than great! Jiang Cheng has been a really good friend since high school. Jiang Cheng is smart, handsome, hardworking, and kind, and-.... and he doesn’t like when people say it but he looks super cute when he’s sleeping- Anyway! Huaisang would be lucky to be Jiang Cheng’s boyfriend.

He’d also love to know if that was the case. Because how.

“What do you mean you didn’t know?”

Nie Huaisang hears his da-ge’s voice from where he has buried himself under his giant patchwork teddy bear. Da-ge sounds very confused.

“You didn’t know that… you’re dating Jiang Cheng? Present tense?”

“Present tense!” Huaisang cries. He hopes da-ge understands. “We’re dating?”

“What the hell are you- Goddammit, Huaisang-”

Nie Huaisang yelps when the teddy bear is yanked away from him, leaving him exposed to his brother’s glare.

“That boy is sleeping on my couch like, everyday.” Nie Mingjue points out. “And you cuddle him, and we feed him, and you’re always all over him - A-Cheng is adorable, A-Cheng is so cute - Huaisang, he’s either your boyfriend or your pet.”

Nie Huaisang looks up at him, lip quivering. “Wei-xiong is always here too? And we feed him too-”

“Yes. But I know he’s with Wangji because everytime I see them, or hear about them, they’re apparently trying to physically fuse into one person or whatever.” Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes. “So yeah, Wei Wuxian doesn’t count. His brother, however-

Nie Huaisang groans again. “I don’t get it, da-ge! If he really was - is - my boyfriend-... Why is he still alive?”

“What?”

“You haven’t chased him out with the Nie Family knife!” Nie Huaisang accuses. “You chase all of my boyfriends out!”

Nie Mingjue stares at his brother.

Nie Huaisang had never been particularly good at his academics, per se. He never had the best grades, and he always seemed proud of that, always seemed to be happy being seen as lazy and dumb, for reasons Nie Mingjue would never understand but has learned to live with. But he also knows that his little brother is clever, and insightful, and generally… well... not stupid.

Nie Mingjue tucks the teddy bear under one arm so he can run his free hand over his face and groan in exasperation. “Didi… You spend all your time with this boy and assume it’s all platonic… because I never threatened his life?”

Nie Huaisang looks like he’s realizing that that was really dumb, even for him. “A-Among other reasons.”

“How do you explain telling everyone that you’re boyfriends? You thought it wasn’t serious?”

Yes, actually. Nie Huaisang thought it wasn’t serious. How could it be? It was never on purpose, they were always sorta joking around about it, weren’t they?

.

.


.

.

The first time, they were making goodie bags and Jiang Cheng said he’d be okay being Nie Huaisang’s fake boyfriend to scare off that one persistent date guy. Just in case. A Plan B. That was fine. Jiang Cheng agreed to it!

The second time, at A-Yuan’s birthday party, Wen Qing introduced Nie Huaisang to Granny Wen as Jiang Cheng’s boyfriend, probably because they arrived together with the goodie bags. He and Jiang Cheng had both started to correct her, but Granny Wen looked very happy congratulating them, and then she asked to be helped into her chair because her knees were complaining. So they thought, ‘Eh, it should be fine... It’s just Granny Wen…’

And then, the picnic. Jin Zixuan’s cousin asked what Nie Huaisang was doing at their family picnic and Jin Zixuan put his foot down and said that Nie Huaisang was “-Jiang Cheng’s boyfriend, and a guest, Zixun, will you please mind your manners?” At the time, Nie Huaisang had been too busy taking in Jiang Cheng’s face as he gained some newfound respect for his brother-in-law, to bother with correcting the wrong assumption.

Then there was that time when Jiang Cheng dropped by the art department… and Nie Huaisang’s classmates were there and they called him-… Well, they were teasing! They were just teasing! They do that with everyone who has someone drop in! It’s practically protocol to try to embarrass your classmates, right?

And alright, there was that one time with the phone.

Nie Huaisang answered Jiang Cheng's phone because Jiang Cheng was asleep. He didn’t want to wake him up, and when he checked, it was just Jiang Yanli calling. She knew Nie Huaisang well. He thought he’d open up with a joke, something to make her laugh.

"Hello, A-Cheng's phone! His boyfriend speaking!"

...and then instead of Yanli-jie's familiar laugh, there came Yu Ziyuan’s voice. Jiang Cheng’s mother, of all people- What kind of villain would call using someone else's phone without warning you they’re a different person?!

Jiang Cheng had woken up with a start, because Nie Huaisang was tugging at his sleeve whispering, "Jiang-xiong, wakey-wakey, your mother is on the phone…"

"W-What- What?! Okay. Uh. Give me-"

"I might have said I'm your boyfriend, I'm so sorry I was gonna joke around with Yanli-jie but it turns out it’s your mother and I didn’t mean to-"

Jiang Cheng had just taken that in for one second and shrugged. "Eh. She’ll find out eventually. Thanks for telling her. Saves me the awkwardness.”

What?” - because. What.

But then Jiang Cheng took his phone and switched to his Polite Voice (wow) and talked to his mother. And then he had to go in a hurry (which worried Huaisang, because he was still visibly half-asleep) and he said nothing about it. He just gave Huaisang a very quick half-hug (-and maybe a kiss on the forehead? But it was too fast? It could’ve been anything!) and then he was out the door.

And so Nie Huaisang thought nothing of it at the time. Jiang Cheng was barely awake and very distracted! At least he didn’t look mad at Nie Huaisang, right? He just looked stressed… which is one of his default looks when he’s not sleeping, especially when dealing with his mother.

But then again, looking back a bit more recently, Jiang Cheng had taken to holding his hand. And that was… nice. Nie Huaisang never drew away because it was nice. He liked it. He liked it a lot.

See, he liked Jiang Cheng a lot.

He just tried to set that feeling aside most of the time because Jiang Cheng is his friend, and Jiang Cheng is not interested in those things, as he so aptly puts it whenever asked. Jiang Cheng says it all the time, actually. He’s too busy, too focused on his studies. Nie Huaisang is lucky enough that Jiang Cheng seems comfortable in his company, enough to trust him and let his guard down sometimes. Nie Huaisang didn’t want to ruin that...

But he’d be lying if he'd said it doesn't leave him feeling all fluttery and soft and weak whenever Jiang Cheng would sit close to him on the couch, or sleep on his shoulder, or play with his hair, or-

...or whenever Jiang Cheng asks him, "Are we going out?"

Several times.

And what did Nie Huaisang answer everytime?

"Oh, no, we're staying in!"

Oh. Ohhhh…

He must have meant going out out.

Oh, no.

.

.


.

.

“I didn’t think everyone was gonna take it seriously!” he cries now, to his big brother, who is looking almost as disappointed in him as he was that day Huaisang said he didn't want to drink his protein shakes anymore. “I didn’t think... he was… gonna take it seriously…”

Nie Mingjue rolls his eyes. Again. “Oh, I bet you didn’t. What finally tipped you off?”

Nie Huaisang thinks about it, and slowly, with certainty, he answers, “He messaged me.”

“Yeah? What message?”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

The younger nods. “That’s the message, da-ge. He said ‘okay’.”

Nie Mingjue is patient for two seconds before he says, “I need context.”

“I asked if he’ll drop by today and he said yes and I said please buy some milk because we’re out and I said thank you in advance and he said okay.”

“Alright.... and?”

Nie Huaisang looks his brother dead in the eye and says, “It had a heart emoji.”

Nie Mingjue considers this answer. Then, he finishes considering it and holds out the giant teddy bear once again, then drops it right back on top of his brother, who cries in surprise.

“Yeah. That’s it. I’m done for today.” he declares, walking off.

“D-Da-ge!” Huaisang calls, trying to untangle himself from the giant plushie. “Listen! A-Cheng never uses a heart emoji! Never! Only for photos of cute animals! But he did! For me! Okay, I used it first when I said thanks, and he could’ve been teasing me, but it didn’t feel like it? I-”

“Belated congratulations on your new relationship.”

“Da-ge, you don’t understand, I thought we were just… developing this… really strong friendship… or something…?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. But let me tell you, it’s better when you’re both aware that that’s what you’re doing.”

“Da-geee…” Huaisang whines, watching his brother go. “Don’t leave me, I’m miserable!”

But his brother just shakes his head and sighs. “I have to make dinner now. You’ll be fine, didi. You’ll live.”

.

Nie Huaisang naps. All the thinking must have led to him falling asleep buried in his blankets with the teddy bear, and he only rouses from his sleep when he feels a warm hand patting his head.

“A-Cheng?”

The little chuckle that follows is not A-Cheng. It’s still familiar though. “Ah, sorry to disappoint, Nie-xiong.”

“Wei-xiong?” Nie Huaisang asks, shifting slightly to squint at his friend, who is sitting by the edge of his bed and already half-lying on top of Nie Huaisang’s blanket-burrito-and-teddy-bear set up. He’s an added weight, but Huaisang can bear it. “Hi. What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I came over to return the art stuff we borrowed last time for A-Yuan. I was gonna have Jiang Cheng do it, but he said he’s not a delivery man. I think it finally annoyed him.” Wei Wuxian says, laughing lightly.

Nie Huaisang couldn’t help but smile a little. “Ah… Is he here?”

“Not yet, he said he has to get some groceries first.”

The milk. Huaisang thinks. Oh, he feels so bad now. Jiang Cheng is so nice. Why is he so nice?!

Wei Wuxian strokes his hair, all gentle and soft - “Your brother said you’re feeling weird so I thought I’d check up on you. Are you okay?”

“Mm… I’m fine.” Nie Huaisang answers, burrowing into his bear to hide his face. “I was just tired. My brain is tired and... my heart is… fluffy.”

“Oh! Your brain is tired?”

“School.” Nie Huaisang lies.

“I see. And what did my didi do to make your heart fluffy? At least I’m assuming it’s him...”

Nie Huaisang lets out a small whimper, because he feels so, so bad. Terrible. Everyone really knew about it, except him!

(Dammit, he was at least 90% responsible for making WangXian happen! Well, everyone contributed because they all knew that if no one intervened, they’d all be watching that one ride out for at least 30 years, but Nie Huaisang was the mastermind, okay? And even after that, he never saw his own lovelife happening?)

(It’s just embarrassing. Shameful. Wow.)

After some thought, he sighs, and says the truth. “Nothing, Wei-xiong. He’s just… himself.”

Wei Wuxian pauses, quiet, and then he shrieks, “Ahhhh!!! That’s so cute, Nie-xiong! So cute, so cute!!!” He brings his hands around the mound of blanket-plushie-and-person that is Nie Huaisang, who only laughs awkwardly. “Y’know, I was worried that you’re both too shy? I mean, we never hear anything from you guys and whenever I ask A-Cheng, he snaps at me, but I’m glad you’re happy! You feel fluffy! That’s my didi, he makes you feel fluffy! And you too! You take good care of each other! I mean, he sleeps now! He never sleeps!”

“What?” Nie Huaisang blinks. “But… he sleeps all the time?”

“Yeah, when you’re around.” Wei Wuxian chuckles. “So adorable. He just, like, forgets the one billion items in his to-do list and just goes to sleep because of you.”

“Because… of me? That’s not-...”

Nie Huaisang remembers that conversation - he was worried that Jiang Cheng was bored hanging out with him, and Jiang Cheng assured him he’s just making up for not getting enough sleep at night.

“He always takes naps after school to make up for the overnight study sessions. Right?”

“Right, right, but only when you make him do it! Otherwise, no, he’s just awake and grumpy and tired.”

Now Nie Huaisang is worried. “But… I don’t make him do anything? Does he not take naps at home? I hung out at your house last month, he went straight to his nap while we were waiting for you, right?”

“Aw, Nie-xiong, A-Cheng doesn’t nap.” Wei Wuxian insists with a roll of his eyes, as if finding Nie Huaisang’s confusion amusing.

“Not… not at home?”

“Nope. But he did when you were there! And he’s always napping here, so it must be you!”

Nie Huaisang stares at his friend, not believing his ears. He’d always thought it was just  a habit, Jiang Cheng’s quick afterschool, pre-dinner naps. And so whenever he just happens to spend that time of day over at the Nies’, he naps on their couch.

Now he doesn’t know how to process this new information. Apparently it wasn’t a habit? It’s just… like, a routine he’s fallen into when in Nie Huaisang’s company? He… watches him work and then falls asleep to it?

“H-Huh...”

Wei Wuxian must have found his reaction entertaining, because he squeals yet again as he squeezes and shakes Nie Huaisang, cocoon and all.

Nie Huaisang groans. “A-Ah, Wei-xiong... Too tight...”

“I’m sorry, please bear it, I’m just happy for you, my two babies!!!” Wei Wuxian screams, and after a few more shaking and squeezing, he finally lets up, catching his breath and patting the blanket mound. “Okay. I’m okay now. So you’re really fine? You don’t need me to tell A-Cheng to hurry up?”

Nie Huaisang shakes his head fervently. “No… No need, Wei-xiong! I just needed to lie down a bit. I’m fine!”

“Are you sure?”

“Mm-hm. Very sure.”

And just as he says it, the door bursts open and there stands Jiang Cheng, very handsome, and also very angry.

He is wearing the purple beanie that Nie Huaisang knitted for him.

Nie Huaisang wants to cry.

He immediately tries to emerge from his cocoon of blankets and plushie. “Um, A-Cheng-”

“Mingjue-ge told me.” he says, and Nie Huaisang’s heart sinks.

“He… He did…?” he asks, voice small.

“He did.” Jiang Cheng says, scowling.

The apology is at the tip of Huaisang’s tongue, but before he can say anything else, Jiang Cheng moves and glares at Wei Wuxian.

“What are you doing, Wei Wuxian? A-Sang is not feeling well and here you are, bothering him. I can hear your screaming from the kitchen!”

Oh? Nie Huaisang blinks. He’s… he’s not mad at Huaisang, then?

Meanwhile, Wei Wuxian pouts. As he does. “Ah, Chengcheng, let’s calm down! I was just-”

“Look, you’re smothering him! Get off, he can’t move with you in there! Are you even letting him breathe?”

“A-Cheng, I’m okay.” Huaisang says from behind the teddy bear head. “I just needed a nap, I’m fine... Wei-xiong was telling me to get well, that’s all.”

“See?” Wei Wuxian huffs. “No need to be so grumpy, didi. I’ll never hurt our A-Sang. He’s my bestie! Right, bestie?”

Nie Huaisang answers, more by instinct than anything - “So true, bestie.”

Jiang Cheng looks appeased, but he still glares at Wei Wuxian. Nie Huaisang bets it’s just because he’s in that mood already. He’ll calm down in a bit.

“Alright, alright, I’ll go leave you two alone…” Wei Wuxian brings his hands up, conceding. He pats Nie Huaisang’s blankets one last time before slipping away. “You two be good kids now! I’ll go and… uh… help Mingjue-ge in the kitchen! Okay, bye!” 

They watch him go. When Jiang Cheng turns back to look at Nie Huaisang, he is relatively calmer. “Hey.”

“Hi.” Nie Huaisang squeaks, voice small as he hides behind his plushie. “Sorry. Um. So... I guess... da-ge told you, huh?"

"Yeah. He said you're feeling under the weather so you're laying down." Jiang Cheng says.

Oh.

Okay.

Ah, he really should trust in da-ge more!

Nie Huaisang makes a mental note to thank his brother. Maybe knit him a new sweater. Something not terribly weird.

In sheer relief, he couldn't help but giggle. "Ah, I’m not that sick, you know? I was just… um… I felt really tired so I went to take a nap. Like you do! And I’m already feeling better, wow, I really should listen to you more often, huh?”

Jiang Cheng shakes his head, chuckling. "I see." He sits by the edge of the bed, but maintains a comfortable distance, trying not to crowd him. “But you were resting, so Wei Wuxian shouldn’t have bothered you like that.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. You know he means well.”

“Okay. So…” Jiang Cheng squints at him. “You’re not really sick? Why are you hiding, then?”

“N-No reason, really! I was just- I was asleep, so my hair looks terrible!” Nie Huaisang says, laughing nervously.

It’s only half a lie.  Yes, he was still embarrassed, recovering from the shock of it all… but it is true that his hair looks terrible, and he wouldn’t want to be ugly in front of his new (current) boyfriend.

(If that’s really what they are.)

Jiang Cheng just scoffs at his reasoning, but doesn’t try to force him out from the sheets. “I didn’t know your hair was capable of looking terrible.”

Nie Huaisang inhales. Okay. Okay, that was cute. That was kinda sweet, though mostly sassy because Jiang Cheng is one of the sassiest people to walk the earth. But also it kinda hits different now that Nie Huaisang is kinda sure that the guys thinks they’re together.

Like, together together. Dating together. Oh boy.

“No comeback? You sure you’re not sick?” Jiang Cheng asks, still teasing but now with a hint of concern. Because apparently Nie Huaisang can read those hints now. Since when?

(Since always, his brain says.)

(But let’s not unpack that right now, his brain also says.)

Nie Huaisang thought he’d be chill with this. Nie Huaisang is chill with a lot of things. In fact, that’s the word he’ll use to describe him and Jiang Cheng’s relationship, really. They were always chill!

He is not very chill right now. He wants to scream. But he can’t scream because by experience, him screaming leads to da-ge barging in his bedroom, usually armed.

So he just hides even more behind his teddy bear.

“A-Sang?” Jiang Cheng asks, and now his voice is closer. Why is he closer?! Did he lean closer?!

(He calls me A-Sang, his brain echoes.)

(Not right now, Nie Huaisang, his brain says, trying not to split into five different forms of panic attack, one of which is a victory dance.)

“A-Cheng,” he starts. Or rather, he tries to start. Something. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say after that.

“What?”

“Are we going out?” he blurts out.

Because that’s the big question, isn’t it?

He shifts slightly to peek from the teddy bear, to see the other's expression.

Jiang Cheng blinks. “No, obviously.”

“N-No?” Nie Huaisang asks, voice small.

“No. We’re staying in.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes. “You’re tired. You should rest and get better. You don’t wanna miss classes tomorrow. You were just complaining about some test you're actually studying for, weren’t you?”

Nie Huaisang stares.

Then, he nods.

Then there was a crashing sound from outside, a shriek, and some low curses.

Jiang Cheng pales. “I… will go check that your brother hasn’t killed mine.”

“Okay.” is all Nie Huaisang says.

He watches Jiang Cheng stand up and turn around to leave, but before he could stop himself, Nie Huaisang scrambles to sit up and grab on to him.

“Wait! A-Cheng-”

He catches the hem of the man’s jacket. Jiang Cheng turns to him again. “Hey. You okay?”

“Yeah, I just…” Nie Huaisang looks up at him, nervous.

He really thought he’d be chill about this. Why wasn’t he chill about it?!

(Maybe because Jiang Cheng just reached out and held his hand and is looking so concerned and wow, that’s enough to make anyone weak, huh.)

In a burst of courage, Nie Huaisang manages to say, “We should go out.”

Jiang Cheng blinks. “Uh-”

“Together.” Nie Huaisang adds. ‘The audacity.’ Nie Huaisang’s brain screams.

“Okay-”

“Like, maybe this weekend, or next weekend. Or… or a weekend.”

To his surprise, Jiang Cheng nods easily. “Yeah, okay. Sure. Where to?”

It takes him a second, and Nie Huaisang thanks his brain for still functioning at this point, because he comes up with quite a nice answer.

“That dog cafe that just opened up? You were showing me on your phone the other day?”

A smile tugs at Jiang Cheng’s lips. “Alright. Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Really?”

“Really. Yeah, why not?” Jiang Cheng shrugs. Nie Huaisang must have been making a stupid face, because he then squints at him and asks, “Are you… okay with that too?”

Nie Huaisang nods fervently. “Y-yea- Yeah. Yes! Yes, I just- I just wanted to ask you, you know, before, uh, it slipped my mind?” He attempts to be cute and laugh. It’s awkward. He’s out of cute laughter at this point. “Yes, so… We’ll go sometime! That’s great! I’m excited!”

“Me too.” Jiang Cheng lets out a little grin. Then he squeezes his hand. “All good? I can go check up on the probably murder scene on the kitchen now?”

“Yes. Yes, please. I’m afraid there’s been blood.” Nie Huaisang nods. He notices that they’re still holding hands and says, “You’re a great boyfriend.”

(Nice.)

(Hey, he's trying, okay?!)

Jiang Cheng takes a deep breath. “Thanks.”

He’s the only one in this apartment who probably still has a shred of sanity left. Nie Huaisang likes him so much.

“Right, I think you should lie down again…” Jiang Cheng says, finally untangling their hands so he can help Nie Huaisang lie back down. “We’ll wake you up for dinner.”

Nie Huaisang settles nicely in his blankets and hugs his teddy bear. “Or when you’re done hiding the bodies?”

“Or that.” Jiang Cheng sighs. Under his breath, he says, “Dammit, Wei Wuxian…”

And even though he’s visibly worried (read: annoyed) at whatever might be causing the… noises… from outside, he still manages to give Nie Huaisang the softest kiss on his forehead before leaving.

Nie Huaisang likes him so, so much. Wow.

As soon as Jiang Cheng closes the door behind him, Nie Huaisang fumbles around his sheets for his phone. It’s around his blanket cocoon here somewhere-ah! There it is.

Feeling brave, he sends Jiang Cheng a heart emoji.

He’s already dozing off when he gets one back.

Nie Huaisang stares at it for a while. Then he pulls his blanket over his head, and burrows his face into his pillow.

He finally screams.

.

.

fin