Despite the awkward glances, breakfast was uneventful, and people went home not long after, leaving the mess for him to clean up. Jiang Yanli hadn’t been planning on leaving the mess for him to tackle by himself, but he made her go home anyway.
Jiang Cheng sat at the table, staring at the dirty dishes piled on the counter, trying to ignore the pinch in his knee.
He didn’t have the energy for that.
There was a knock on the door, and Jiang Cheng considered ignoring it. Literally the whole town knew there was a wedding here the night before, and while it was past noon, it was still too early. However, there was no one else around to tell that person to fuck off.
He sighed and pushed himself up to get it over with.
It was Xiao Qing.
She cocked a hip and gave him an unimpressed look that only teenage girls could perfect.
“What?” he asked.
“You said you wanted me to clean toilets,” she said. She didn’t exactly sound eager.
He gestured for her to enter.
“Gross,” she said, looking at the dirty dishes. She wrinkled her nose.
“You can start with the dishes,” he said. “I’m going to start the laundry.”
She curled her lip in disdain.
“Or you could start with the toilets,” Jiang Cheng said. “Do a good job here and we’ll see about next weekend.”
She rolled her eyes. “Fine.”
The cat finally came out of hiding. She was of the same opinion of Jin Ling as Nie Huaisang.
Jiang Cheng was doing his exercises on the beach when Nie Huaisang returned from visiting his brother.
“Wow,” he said, staring at Jiang Cheng’s ass. “You were able to clean up the beach so quickly.”
“A-Qing came by,” he said. “She seems to be serious about wanting to learn how to surf.”
“Huh,” Nie Huaisang said.
“You wouldn’t have had anything to do with that, would you?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Nie Huaisang shook his head. “She does what she wants.”
“Yeah,” Jiang Cheng said. “Just like you.”
“True,” Nie Huaisang said. “But we go about it in different ways.”
He sat down next to Jiang Cheng and watched the waves.
“I’m going to need to sleep all the way through until next weekend,” Jiang Cheng said. “I never want to do that again.”
“There were a few times I thought I would need to physically remove you,” Nie Huaisang said. “But you took care of yourself.”
Jiang Cheng snorted.
“I’m going to need to do a lot of editing,” Nie Huaisang said. “Especially saturation. Weird things happen with reds when they’re filmed. So feel free to sleep while I edit.”
Jiang Cheng nodded and finished his exercises while Nie Huaisang watched and absently fiddled with his phone.
“Ready to head back up?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Yeah.” Nie Huaisang sighed and stared out over the water. He took another deep breath.
“What happened?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Let me sort through my thoughts, then I’ll let you know,” he said.
Jiang Cheng frowned.
“Nothing bad,” Nie Huaisang said. “You need to stop assuming the worst.”
“That’s not how it works,” Jiang Cheng said, standing and brushing the sand off his mat.
“I know,” Nie Huaisang said. “I know.”
He stood as well, then scooped Jiang Cheng up and carried him up the stairs.
Jiang Cheng squawked, then wrapped his arms around Nie Huaisang’s neck.
“I didn’t get a chance to do this yesterday,” Nie Huaisang said, “because you were being so good.”
“Huaisang!” Jiang Cheng felt his face burn, and he buried it in Nie Huaisang’s neck, glad everyone else had gone home and would not see this. Especially Xiao Qing.
“Yes?” Nie Huaisang asked, as if he wasn’t carrying Jiang Cheng up a staircase, as if Jiang Cheng didn’t weigh more than him.
“I weigh a lot,” he said. “Don’t strain yourself.”
“It’s no bother,” Nie Huaisang said. “You seem to like it.”
Jiang Cheng didn’t have a response.
They reached the top of the stairs, and Nie Huaisang carried him up the porch steps.
“Door, please,” Nie Huaisang said.
Jiang Cheng unwound an arm to open the door.
Nie Huaisang carried him inside and set him down on the couch. He then settled on the floor between Jiang Cheng’s knees looking up at him.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng said, looking down.
“Is it okay?” Nie Huaisang asked.
Jiang Cheng nodded, and Nie Huaisang pulled down Jiang Cheng’s sweatpants. Jiang Cheng helped by lifting his hips.
“These leave so little to the imagination,” Nie Huaisang said.
“Are you complaining?” Jiang Cheng asked dryly.
“It killed me slowly over the past year,” Nie Huaisang said, running a finger along his cock, which was very happy with the attention. “Don’t wear these when you have other guests. I couldn’t bear someone else staring at your dick, wondering what it felt like on their tongue.”
“Shit,” Jiang Cheng said, then repeated himself when Nie Huaisang swallowed him whole before backing up and playing with the tip of his now hard cock with his tongue. His hips jerked involuntarily, and Nie Huaisang rolled with it.
“A whole year,” Jiang Cheng breathed.
Nie Huaisang hummed as he kissed down the shaft and then swallowed him whole again, hands pressing down on Jiang Cheng’s thighs with his full weight, careful to avoid the scars.
Nie Huaisang didn’t respond, and Jiang Cheng braced himself on Nie Huaisang’s shoulders to ride everything out. Fuck. Nie Huaisang had a clever tongue in any situation, and Jiang Cheng’s already taxed muscles shook and his already fried brain turned to mush as he tried not to dig his fingers into Nie Huaisang’s shoulders but dig his toes into the carpet instead.
“Fuck,” he repeated as Nie Huaisang pulled off again, this time to use his hands with his spit to ease the way. Those hands, twisting around his cock, tugging lightly on his balls. How had Nie Huaisang learned to play his body so quickly?
Nie Huaisang kept using his hands, his clever fingers, working Jiang Cheng up until he came. He fell against the back of the couch with a grunt and waited for the spots in his vision to clear. He had forgotten to loosen his grip on Nie Huaisang’s shoulders and had unknowingly pulled him up and back as well. It was a nice weight on top of him.
“Those sweatpants,” Nie Huaisang said. “From the first time I saw you in them.” He shivered.
“Do you need…?” Jiang Cheng asked, still a bit hazy post orgasm.
“I always need your hands on me,” Nie Huaisang said, adjusting himself out of Jiang Cheng’s view. “Unless it’s your mouth instead.”
“Do you want to try the body paint?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Not tonight,” Nie Huaisang said. “I think we both need to sleep tonight, and you needed that orgasm badly.”
Jiang Cheng snorted.
Nie Huaisang stood, looked down at Jiang Cheng, kissed him, and went to grab a towel from the kitchen.
He returned to wipe the come off Jiang Cheng’s sweatpants, and some had gotten onto the couch, too. Oops.
“Not everything can be solved with orgasms,” Jiang Cheng said and cringed in dismay.
Nie Huaisang gave him that look, that calculating look.
Jiang Cheng ignored it by pulling his pants back up.
“I think you need to sleep first,” Nie Huaisang said, brushing the hair away from Jiang Cheng’s face before tracing a cheekbone.
“Huaisang,” Jiang Cheng said, unsure what else to say - how to say it.
“We can talk in the morning,” he said. “You look like you have a lot to say.”
Jiang Cheng looked away and nodded.
“I’ll make toast,” Nie Huaisang announced brightly.
“You will not,” Jiang Cheng said, turning back and narrowing his eyes.
Nie Huaisang booped him on the nose.
Jiang Cheng awoke slowly with Nie Huaisang pressed against his back and caressing his arm, and Jiang Cheng realized he was the little spoon.
It felt… safe.
“Morning,” Nie Huaisang said, voice sleep-rough.
Jiang Cheng made an embarrassingly tiny sleepy noise of surprise.
Nie Huaisang kept caressing his arm until Jiang Cheng turned to face him. He looked relaxed, happy, fond. It was that look of adoration that made Jiang Cheng’s stomach twist.
“I would like toast that’s not burnt, please,” Nie Huaisang said with a crooked smile.
Jiang Cheng rolled his eyes.
“It’s September,” Nie Huaisang said.
“Is it?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Nie Huaisang continued to stare at him expectantly.
Was something supposed to happen in September other than guests arriving? That wasn’t for another few days.
Fuck. That was happening in a few days.
He still needed to get that bed fixed. Thankfully, it was still under warranty. That would make it easy enough to replace or fix or whatever the company decided to do.
Nie Huaisang ran a finger along Jiang Cheng’s jaw line before tilting his face up to kiss.
“You’ll be fine,” Nie Huaisang said. “You’ve learned so much about this over the past year.”
Jiang Cheng pressed his lips together and knew better than to argue.
“Breakfast,” Nie Huaisang demanded, pushing at Jiang Cheng’s shoulder.
Jiang Cheng grunted.
“Breakfast! French toast!”
Jiang Cheng made the French toast while Nie Huaisang sat on the counter watching him.
“You forgot what was supposed to happen in September,” Nie Huaisang said.
“I’ve had a lot on my mind the past two days,” Jiang Cheng said.
“My lease is up in November,” Nie Huaisang said, and the memory of that conversation came crashing back.
“I never want to get married,” Jiang Cheng blurted and immediately regretted it.
Nie Huaisang raised his eyebrows, and Jiang Cheng turned his attention back to the bread frying in the skillet.
“I hadn’t realized that was part of the discussion,” Nie Huaisang said delicately.
“I want to be upfront about it,” Jiang Cheng said.
“I understand,” Nie Huaisang said. “I mentioned I have trust issues, too.”
“It’s not - not about trust,” Jiang Cheng said, glancing at Nie Huaisang again. “For me. I just don’t want it.” It was about not wanting to be his mother.
Nie Huaisang nodded. “If you don’t want that, what do you want?”
“I want - ” Jiang Cheng snapped his mouth shut when he realized he had no idea what he wanted beyond the warmth in his chest when Nie Huaisang was with him, and he wasn’t about to say that - wasn’t about to name that.
He transferred the French toast to a plate and didn’t look at Nie Huaisang.
“Let me tell you what I want,” Nie Huaisang said. He poked at Jiang Cheng with a foot. “You tell me if it’s what you want, too.”
Jiang Cheng nodded and passed the plate and a fork to Nie Huaisang.
“I want open communication,” Nie Huaisang said, taking the plate and dumping strawberries over it. “If you’re angry, you tell me why immediately. If you’re in pain, you tell me so I can help. If you need your dick sucked, you tell me, and I’ll be on my knees so quickly.”
Jiang Cheng stared at him, not sure how to respond. That was a wide range of things. How was he supposed to say those things? Was he supposed to walk into a room and announce he wanted his cock sucked? Or admit that he was having a bad day mentally or physically? People just said those things?
“You can do that, right?” Nie Huaisang asked.
Right. That was how Jiang Cheng was supposed to respond. He nodded.
“That includes asking for help,” Nie Huaisang said.
Jiang Cheng nodded. He would try… to remember that he should ask for help.
“You can expect the same from me,” Nie Huaisang said.
“You dodge sometimes,” Jiang Cheng said. It was more than sometimes. It was most of the time. Nie Huaisang was very good at drawing attention away from himself.
“That would be the trust issues,” Nie Huaisang admitted. He licked his lips. “I’m trying. I also expect you to try.”
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Jiang Cheng said.
“No one does,” Nie Huaisang said.
“But when I mess up - ”
“I’ll tell you, and we can fix it,” Nie Huaisang said. “Aren’t you going to make some French toast for yourself?”
Jiang Cheng shook his head.
“You’re going to have one of those awful protein shakes, aren’t you?” Nie Huaisang frowned, and he held out the mouthful he had intended for himself, pushing it against Jiang Cheng’s lips.
Jiang Cheng obediently opened his mouth.
“My brother and I had a long conversation yesterday,” Nie Huaisang said, returning his attention to his breakfast.
Jiang Cheng frowned as he chewed, unsure where Nie Huaisang was going with this. Nie Huaisang looked at his plate instead of at Jiang Cheng, and Jiang Cheng worried that Nie Mingjue might have some thoughts about Jiang Cheng stealing away his brother. As if Jiang Cheng didn’t know too much about Nie Mingjue’s own sex life. How much had Nie Huaisang told his brother about their relationship?
“He’s going through some health issues,” Nie Huaisang said. “He wasn’t planning on telling me until I told him I’d be staying with you for at least a year. Me being here means helping him, too.”
At least a year.
“Do you want to stay longer than a year?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Nie Huaisang smiled, and there was something sad in it.
“How about this?” he asked. “How about we revisit this in another month? That way you’ll know what life is like with guests and me, before I move all of my things. As of now, I’ll plan on renewing my lease.”
“I want you to stay,” Jiang Cheng said. “I know I want that.”
“You’re always so earnest,” Nie Huaisang said fondly. He set his plate down.
“I - ” Jiang Cheng realized he had no idea what he was about to say. “You don’t want to stay?”
“Oh, my Xiao-La-Jiang,” Nie Huaisang said. “This is new to you. I’m not going to push. I can be patient.”
“What if I can’t?” Jiang Cheng asked, petulantly. “What if I can’t be patient? I’ve been denying myself things for years because - because! I don’t need to deny myself this - you.”
“You don’t need to deny yourself anything,” Nie Huaisang said. “Just ask.”
“But you - but…”
“Ask.” That tone was halfway to that authoritative tone.
“I want you to stay,” Jiang Cheng repeated.
“Okay,” Nie Huaisang said. “I will stay as long as you want me here.”
“But your job,” Jiang Cheng protested. His thoughts were too tangled to make sense of all the back and forths.
“Do you think you have the closet space for me?” Nie Huaisang asked.
“No,” Jiang Cheng said.
“I’d also take over your office with my computer stuff,” he said.
Jiang Cheng snorted, because Nie Huaisang would. “But you’ll also be here with me.”
“You can’t say things like that!” Nie Huaisang protested.
“Why not?” Jiang Cheng asked. “You asked for honesty and open communication.”
“You’re going to be the death of me,” Nie Huaisang said.
Jiang Cheng smirked.
“And you’re doing it on purpose!” Nie Huaisang moaned. “Premeditated murder.”
“I do want you to stay,” Jiang Cheng said. “I’m not asking for forever. I know what happens when someone promises forever. I know you like the travel part of your job, so I - ”
“Jiang Cheng,” Nie Huaisang said firmly.
Jiang Cheng reeled back at the use of his full name.
“You told me that you wanted me to stay, that you wanted to cook for me, and that you had an affinity for a certain part of my anatomy,” Nie Huaisang said.
Jiang Cheng blushed.
“Why can’t that be enough for now?” Nie Huaisang asked. He jumped down from the counter and wrapped his arms loosely around Jiang Cheng’s waist.
“For now,” Jiang Cheng repeated, wrapping his arms around Nie Huaisang instinctively. “I lived too much of my life - I can’t stay in the now.”
Nie Huaisang tightened his hold.
“You have a plan,” Nie Huaisang said. “It’s more than just now. It’s evolving into the future.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Jiang Cheng muttered.
“You know better than anyone how life throws things at people,” Nie Huaisang said. “You adjust.”
Jiang Cheng grunted.
“Life has thrown me at you,” Nie Huaisang said.
“I don’t think that was life,” Jiang Cheng said. He looked down at Nie Huaisang.
Nie Huaisang looked up and rolled his eyes. “You’re lucky you’re cute.”
“I believe you used the words ‘hottest piece of ass,’” Jiang Cheng said, kissing him.
“‘One of!’” Nie Huaisang said into the kiss before breaking it off. “We’ll plan on something between now and forever.”
“Is that what you want?” Jiang Cheng asked, expecting Nie Huaisang to dodge the answer anyway.
“I don’t know,” Nie Huaisang said. “Ask me a month from now.”
“Okay,” Jiang Cheng said.
They stood there a moment longer, before Nie Huaisang broke away to finish his breakfast, leaning against the counter.
“Is your brother going to be okay?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Like in general?” Nie Huaisang asked around a forkful of French toast.
“You said he had health issues,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Oh,” Nie Huaisang said. He sighed. “Those.”
Jiang Cheng frowned.
“It’s a genetic thing,” Nie Huaisang said. “He’ll get treatment, and if he follows the doctor’s instructions, he should be fine.”
“But you’re worried,” Jiang Cheng said.
“He’s my brother,” Nie Huaisang said quietly.
“So you’re worried,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Not just for him,” Nie Huaisang said, voice still quiet. “I know that’s selfish, but that’s my future, too.”
Several things clicked into place.
“Is that why you want to live in the now?” Jiang Cheng asked.
Nie Huaisang put his breakfast down again and stared at Jiang Cheng, assessing.
“Because you don’t want anyone to see you at your worst?” Jiang Cheng continued. “Even when you’ve seen me at my worst?”
“Shit,” Nie Huaisang said.
Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure what to do with that. He raised his eyebrows.
“I’ve been through all that,” Jiang Cheng said. The words tasted bitter, but he needed to say them. “I know - I know what needs to be done.”
“You don’t even know what it is,” Nie Huaisang said. He also sounded bitter.
“Does it matter?” Jiang Cheng demanded, temper spooling. “You said you’d take care of me. Why don’t you want me to take care of you?!”
“You can’t just say things like that!” Nie Huaisang cried.
“Why not?!” Jiang Cheng crossed his arms.
“Because then I’ll think you mean them!”
They stared at each other. Nie Huaisang’s eyes were wide in horror, and he slapped a hand over his mouth.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng said. The trust issues.
Nie Huaisang closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. He removed his hand from his mouth.
“Don’t look at me that way,” he groused.
Jiang Cheng didn’t change whatever his expression was. “If you can look at me that way, I can look at you that way.”
Nie Huaisang looked away.
“Huaisang,” Jiang Cheng said. He wanted to take a step forward but didn’t. Nie Huaisang looked like he would run. Jiang Cheng knew that feeling. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how I’ll mess up. I know I will - just don’t know how. But I have always meant everything I’ve said. It takes too much work to make things up.”
Nie Huaisang closed his eyes again.
“I know you can always see right through me,” Jiang Cheng said. “So you know I mean what I say.”
Nie Huaisang took another deep breath and opened his eyes.
“You’re right,” Nie Huaisang said. “Of course, you’re right. I’ll get over it.”
Jiang Cheng gave him an incredulous look.
“I will,” Nie Huaisang said. “See: open communication.”
“Come down to the beach with me,” Jiang Cheng said.
“It’s already cold,” Jiang Cheng said. “Come keep me company. I like your company.”
“Shit,” Nie Huaisang said. “You’re just going to keep saying things like that.”
“Yes,” Jiang Cheng said.
Nie Huaisang sighed. “I suppose your ass isn’t going to ogle itself.”
“No,” Jiang Cheng said. “That is an important job reserved for you.”
“Premeditated murder,” Nie Huaisang muttered.
The new bed came a day before the first guests were scheduled to arrive, which finally let Jiang Cheng’s nerves settle a bit before they ramped up again, because the first guests were coming that afternoon.
Jiang Cheng had rested as much as he could over the past week. It was quiet. It was just him and Nie Huaisang.
Jiang Cheng learned he loved lazy mornings in bed. Not necessarily sex, just the two of them, sleep-warm and enjoying the quiet company.
He also learned that with enough pillows in strategic places and an hour of leisurely foreplay, Nie Huaisang could fuck him for ages and his knee wouldn’t complain too much.
“The thing is,” Nie Huaisang said as Jiang Cheng slowly woke up. “The thing is most people mean what they say in the moment.”
Jiang Cheng made a questioning noise. He turned to Nie Huaisang, who was lying on his back and staring at the ceiling.
“People change their minds,” Nie Huaisang said.
“You think I’m going to change my mind,” Jiang Cheng said. There was no point in asking. His brain was still too sleep fuzzy for that. “I’m too stubborn for that.”
Jiang Cheng rolled over to him, wrapping an arm around Nie Huaisang’s chest and pulling him closer.
“Everyone changes their minds,” Nie Huaisang said.
“I’ll let you know if I change my mind,” Jiang Cheng mumbled, pulling him even closer.
“You’re still asleep, aren’t you?”
Jiang Cheng grunted.
“Jiang Cheng!” Nie Huaisang protested, trying to squirm free.
“It was your smile,” Jiang Cheng said.
“What was?” Nie Huaisang asked, still trying to squirm free.
“That made me fall in love with you.”
Nie Huaisang froze.
Jiang Cheng’s brain caught up with his mouth, and he froze as well, heart beating erratically.
He was fully awake now.
He had already said it. There was no point in denying it. It was true.
“Every time you smiled at me, I fell a little bit more in love,” Jiang Cheng said. “I didn’t realize it until much later, and talking about it with my therapist helped.” Jiang Cheng swallowed thickly. “But that was what did it.”
He could feel the pounding staccato of Nie Huaisang’s heart beneath his splayed hand.
“You saw me, all of me, and you still genuinely smiled at me.”
Nie Huaisang sucked in a breath. “You’re going to be the death of me.”
“I’m not going to change my mind about that,” Jiang Cheng said.
“You’re not nice,” Nie Huaisang said.
“I know,” Jiang Cheng said, burying his face against Nie Huaisang’s neck.
“But you are kind,” Nie Huaisang said. “That’s what did it for me.”
“Did wh- oh.”
“Yeah,” Nie Huaisang said. “The rest was curiosity and lust. When I first looked you up after my brother told me about you, there were pictures… so many pictures of you.”
Jiang Cheng kissed Nie Huaisang’s neck. “I’m glad you were curious enough to follow Wei Ying, but please don’t talk to him ever again.”
Nie Huaisang huffed out a laugh.
Jiang Cheng kissed down Nie Huaisang’s neck to his chest.
“Are you ready for this afternoon?” Nie Huaisang asked, gasping as Jiang Cheng kissed his nipple.
Jiang Cheng pulled away to glower at him.
“Make me breakfast, and we’ll go over the game plan one last time,” Nie Huaisang said.
“Does His Royal Highness have any requests?” Jiang Cheng asked dryly.
“Whatever my Pillow Princess wants.” Nie Huaisang smiled, eyes crinkling at the corners.
Jiang Cheng had to kiss him.
A car rumbled up the driveway.
“Are you ready?” Nie Huaisang asked, holding his hand as they stood on the porch, waiting.
Jiang Cheng nodded and squeezed Nie Huaisang’s hand.
He was ready.