Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Xiǎo Xīngchén/Xuē Yáng | Xuē Chéngměi, Ā-Qìng & Xiǎo Xīngchén, Ā-Qìng & Xiǎo Xīngchén & Xuē Yáng | Xuē Chéngměi
Characters: Xiao Xingchen, Xue Yang | Xue Chengmei, A-Qing (Módào Zǔshī), some poor villager and barber
Additional Tags: Hurt/Comfort, xue yang is faced with consequences for once, of the toothachy kind, xiao xingchen is very convincing, dental hygiene is important kids! even when you're a charismatic murderer, anyway I'm listening to sugar sugar by the archies as I'm posting this and you should too, Crack Treated Seriously, (i guess)
Xue Yang is good with pain. It’s something he has prided himself in for as long as he can remember: the ability to smile at the sight of blood, to keep going even with broken bones. It’s not that he enjoys it. Injuries slow him down, make him vulnerable and dangerously weak. But at least there’s the grim satisfaction of dealing with them on his own, in bending his body to his will and scoffing at the idea of getting help. Others will take advantage of him if he gives them the chance, he has learnt that much.
So when he wakes up one morning with a dull throbbing in his cheek, he ignores it. It’s not like it’s bothering him anyway, at least not as long as he distracts himself by helping Xiao Xingchen around their makeshift kitchen, making sure to accidentally bump into him at every turn to hear his bright laughter ring out between the dusty walls. He even lets the blind girl rope him into sorting the useless trinkets Xiao Xingchen brings back as payment from his night-hunts more often than not, if only for the pleasure of seeing him smile at a task well done.
When the pain gets worse over the course of the following weeks, he only drives himself harder, slipping out of Xiao Xingchen’s embrace and into the relentless cold by first light, fixing the roof of the shed they’re barely using, climbing down into the well to dislodge a rotten piece of wood, anything to avoid standing still for longer than necessary. He feels miserable whenever he does, smells the festering in his mouth on every breath. He wants to vomit, to smash everything he can get his hands on, to tear down every house in Yi City. Instead, he forces a traveling merchant to hand over his measly stash of poppy and downs it all in one go. The pain is gone for a blissful few hours, and he gets to pretend that his problem has disappeared with it.
But between three people, there's only so long he can manage to hide it. The blind girl has asked him a dozen times already why it takes him so long to finish his bowl at dinner, and on at least one occasion, his restless tossing and turning has woken up Xiao Xingchen in the middle of the night, forcing him to make up some whiny story about a nightmare. Not that he doesn't have those, but he'd rather rip out his own tongue than tell Xiao Xingchen that.
The eventual confrontation comes at the worst possible moment, when he's sat cross-legged on top of a coffin in the yard, gingerly pressing a cooked potato to his throbbing cheek and using a stick to slash a line in the dust whenever the pain flares up hot and white. He's just about decided to take Jiangzai into the forest to hack away at the undergrowth, to do anything else than hold it all in, when Xiao Xingchen slips out of a doorway across from him, as ethereal as ever. He hesitates for a moment, listening, then heads straight for his coffin with that decisive air about his steps that Xue Yang hates so much. It means a decision has been made without him.
“We're getting your tooth removed,” Xiao Xingchen says in lieu of a greeting.
Xue Yang snorts. “What the fuck are you talking about?” It comes out with more ire than intended, but he does need something to cover up the pained gasp at the sudden movement of his jaw. At this point, he would fight Chifeng-zun with a wooden spoon for even a tiny sip of poppy.
Xiao Xingchen smiles in his general direction, then leans back against the coffin next to him. His robes settle into place easily, a graceful line from his waist to his thigh, and for all the pain he is in, Xue Yang can’t help but stare.
“Come now, my friend. You're usually better at this.”
“At what?” Xue Yang spits and brings the stick down hard. It hits the coffin with a nasty crunch and breaks. Xue Yang snarls, another flash of white, and hurls it towards the nearest building. There’s an altogether unsatisfying thud as it drops into the dust just shy of the wall.
“Clever answers,” Xiao Xingchen says patiently. “I’d have expected at least two biting quips by now.”
“I’m so sorry to disappoint.”
The pain is eating away at his nerves, at his tolerance for silence that’s not great even on a good day. Xue Yang has the distinct feeling that Xiao Xingchen knows this all too well.
“Alright, fine,” he snaps. “Suppose I have fucked myself over with all those sweets. They all came from you anyway. Who says I have to do anything about it? It’s just a toothache. I’ve seen worse.”
“I do, and I have my reasons.”
With the stick gone, he can only dig his nails into the brittle wood of the coffin and pull until his fingers burn.
“Oh yeah? And what reasons would that be?”
Xiao Xingchen makes a show of thinking about it, tilting his head as if listening to his own thoughts, then starts counting them on his slender fingers.
“You can't sleep, you can't eat, you can't drink any of the delightful tea A-Qing makes–“ and before Xue Yang can get a word in, before he can tell him he's very well capable of doing all of these things if only he could get his hands on a little more poppy, he goes in for the kill “–and your breath smells horrible, so you're not getting any kisses from me either.”
And so it is the next morning, so early that the sun hasn't even risen above the horizon yet – Xiao Xingchen told him the cold would help with the pain, as if that would be news to anyone – that Xue Yang is sitting in a dusty barber shop a village over, his head tied to the back of a frighteningly robust chair, with one of those filthy villagers about to stick his fucking fingers into his mouth. At least the man had the decency to look nervous about it when he laid out his mismatched instruments that now gleam in the light of the fire. It takes Xue Yang considerable effort not to look at them.
“Be brave,” Xiao Xingchen whispers with a tiny, sympathetic smile, and for a moment, Xue Yang is about to end it right then and there. He’ll bash the barber holding the pliers in front of his face over the head until his blood paints the walls, grip one of the pokers by the fireplace and stab Xiao Xingchen through both of his useless eye sockets, slaughter the villagers one by one when they inevitably come rushing in...
... but then Xiao Xingchen wraps his cool fingers around his wrist and gently strokes where his thumb parts from the rest of his hand, and Xue Yang swallows the taste of his putrefied gums one last time and opens his mouth.
Afterwards, Xiao Xingchen bids the barber to wait outside and wipes away the blood, spit and tears himself, carefully avoiding the part of Xue Yang’s bottom lip where the pliers have broken the skin. He feels around the top of his head, loosens the strap around his forehead and holds him upright when his knees give out on the first shaky steps. Xue Yang doesn’t remember how they make it across the room.
Outside, the blind girl finds them entirely too fast to not have waited near the door the entire time. Under different circumstances, Xue Yang would be worried about how much she heard of whatever noises he made while the barber tried and failed over and over to get a good enough grip on his rotten tooth to loosen it even a little bit. As it stands, he is too occupied with holding on to the measly contents of his stomach. He succeeds for the few moments it takes them to reach the outskirts of the village before he doubles over and vomits into a ditch by the roadside, stomach acid filling the hole where his molar used to be faster than he can spit it out. He is only distantly aware of Xiao Xingchen’s arm around him, his hand pushing back sweat-soaked strands of hair where they cling to his forehead.
“Have some water, my friend, it will help.”
The bottle slips between his fingers and disappears into the rapidly growing void beneath his feet.
When Xue Yang wakes up, the evening sun is a pleasant warmth on his face. The air smells like dust, and every now and then there is a gentle breeze tugging at his hair. He can’t be back at the coffin house, he remembers the musty ceiling too well, and there isn’t a single wooden beam in sight. Instead, the space above him is limitless, so open that it starts turning gears even in his foggy head. He remembers waking up like this before, to fractured ribs and a broken leg, to blood pooling under his cheek where it pressed against rough gravel and the single, desperate thought that he had to drag himself off the road, to hide somewhere in the undergrowth before they’d notice their mistake. He tries to move, his limbs sluggish and dangerously slow, turns his head to the side until his nose is suddenly buried in coarse, stiff fabric that smells faintly of…
“Daozhang”, Xue Yang slurs. “Did no one ever tell you that it’s rude to put your hand in someone’s face?”
That earns him the reward of Xiao Xingchen visibly jumping, which is a delight to see even in his worryingly hazy state, but he also pulls his arm away from where Xue Yang was more than happy to have it. He registers the spots of bloody saliva on his otherwise pristine sleeve with detached amusement, he’ll have to decide when to tell him about that little detail later. Right now he only has the capacity to drink in the joy on Xiao Xingchen’s face at the tone of his voice, to bask in the glow of his undivided attention.
“I’m sorry, my friend, I didn’t mean to. I only wanted to know when you’d wake up. I was so worried after we brought you back and you didn’t…”
He swallows and reaches out, but stops himself before Xue Yang gets to feel his fingers on his face. He makes a noise in protest, and Xiao Xingchen must have heard him, because his hairline moves in a way that is a dead give-away of the crease forming between his eyebrows, hidden underneath the bandage.
“It would have been my fault. It was my idea, I made you do it, and I was convinced it would help you.”
He shakes his head, and the quiet horror on his face is something Xue Yang will have to think about later, when his mind isn’t so damn hazy anymore.
“You know”, he starts, slowly, fitting his mouth around the new emptiness in his jaw, and the ground sways only a little when he sits up, “I can think of a way you could repay me.”
The crease seems to be deepening, furrowing Xiao Xingchen’s beautiful face. Then, suddenly, he straightens, a rush of air filling him on his next breath as if he’s discovered something of great importance. His smile spreads so fast that Xue Yang can’t even see it before hes already leaning in, blindly reaching for his face with gentle fingers, and kisses him for the first time in an eternity. His lips are warm and dry, purposeful in a way that seems to surprise him even as he presses them to Xue Yang’s mouth.
“Like this?” he whispers, and there’s a burst of giddy, bubbling laughter hidden in the back of his throat.
Xue Yang can hear it already.
“Yes”, he whispers back and pulls him closer, until the taste of blood and poppy in his mouth mingles with the quiet sigh on Xiao Xingchen’s breath.
“Just like that.”
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