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The Heart and All its Chambers

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Xie Lian always kind of had the vague idea that she was going to end up president someday. It was the sort of thing that seemed inevitable, like how her parents loved her unconditionally and how good things were just going to continue happening to her, like they always had. Things just came easily to her. She had assumed, not unreasonably, that they always would.

 

Xie Lian enters university at age sixteen, after having skipped a grade here and there due to a combination of expensive private tutoring and her own precocious ambition. She's popular immediately, because she's cute and impressive and rich, and her grades shoot her to the top of her class. She sets out to major in international relations and graduate in three years, so she can get right on track being the youngest president ever of the People's Republic.

 

Six years, four changes of major, two aborted thesis projects, an extended series of scandals in which she was framed ever more convincingly for cheating, immense family tragedy, and a semester off so she can handle her mental breakdown in peace later, Xie Lian finally graduates. Her dissertation defense is awful, but her advisors are so sick of seeing her around that they look at each other and shrug as if to say, "Yeah, fine, whatever, get out of here, kid." So she drags her corpse across the graduation stage, receives her diploma, and holes herself up in her shitty little apartment to lick her wounds and apply for grad schools.

 

(It's not really that she wants to keep pursuing higher education — god knows she's had enough of it already — but more that she isn't sure what the hell else she's even good at, and grad school gives her another couple years before she has to find out.)

 

She chases her special interest in swords all the way to an art history grad program in weapons restoration, all the way back to the same university she just graduated from, and after a deep breath she settles herself back into the rhythm of academia.

 

("I don't know if I can take another four years here," Xie Lian admits, one Thursday night — or Friday morning? — deep into her final semester of undergrad. "Maybe I should just up and move. Try my chances in, like, America, or Italy or somewhere."

 

"I hear what you're saying," Hua Cheng says over her bowl of green tea ice cream. "And you should do what's best for you. But for selfish reasons, I hope jiejie stays here." With me, Hua Cheng means, but doesn't say.

 

"I'll think about it," Xie Lian tells her.)

 

She stays, of course. Hua Cheng isn't the only deciding factor, but if Xie Lian is being honest with herself, she is one of the more important ones. Shit started really hitting the fan in her second year here, and by her fourth year Hua Cheng was one of the only people who were still willing to talk to her; more than willing, actually, in Hua Cheng's case. By the time Xie Lian graduates, Hua Cheng is only a year behind her. She's a studio art major who specializes in traditional media, mostly ink washes and ceramics, and all her stuff is weird as hell. Xie Lian thinks she must be the most interesting person alive.

 

Plus, with Hua Cheng's friendship had come Ming Yi, a cranky junior majoring in forensics who knows Hua Cheng through channels unknown, and her girlfriend Shi Qingxuan, another studio art major specializing in fashion. They're a bizarre duo, but Xie Lian and Shi Qingxuan immediately like each other, and they hang out independently of the other two. Xie Lian can't tell how Ming Yi feels about her at all, but Hua Cheng and Shi Qingxuan seem to genuinely like her: regardless of her wealth (and now lack thereof) or her impressiveness or her history, they just like her as a person. It's new and strange and it feels so, so good.

 

So she stays. The four of them eat together most days in whatever combination of people can make a given meal; usually it's all four Monday and Friday at lunch, Shi Qingxuan and Xie Lian at dinner on Tuesdays, Ming Yi and Hua Cheng and Xie Lian at breakfast on Wednesdays, and Hua Cheng and Xie Lian at dinner on Thursday. It's a good system, keeps Xie Lian from eating every meal by herself like she did for four years.



*



Later, Xie Lian and Hua Cheng will both insist, with varying levels of embarrassment and smugness, that it was going to happen at some point anyway. But Shi Qingxuan remains convinced that she's responsible, due to the fateful Monday lunch in January of Xie Lian's first year of grad school. Shi Qingxuan is telling a story about some classmate, only to interrupt herself and say, "Oh! And did you know — obviously this stays with us — she told me she'd never had an orgasm on campus."

 

Ming Yi chokes on her chocolate milk. Hua Cheng doesn't bother choking, she just spits out her soda with all the drama that studio art requires in a person.

 

"I feel like that's none of our business," Ming Yi points out once she's recovered. "Crimson Rain, clean yourself up," she adds in disgust, thrusting a napkin at Hua Cheng's face.

 

"Obviously it's not," Shi Qingxuan agrees. "And yet: how delightfully baffling. Can you imagine??"

 

"Like not even by jerking off??" Hua Cheng asks. "Obviously people have bad sex — or no sex — all the time, but…"

 

"Not even by jerking off," Shi Qingxuan confirms. "And it's not that she's just, you know, not interested in sex or a monk or something. She's just never gotten off successfully here."

 

"Wack," Hua Cheng says.

 

"I don't know if it's that wack," Xie Lian says. "I haven't either."

 

The gazes of her three best friends in the world turn incredulously upon her.

 

"Honey," Shi Qingxuan says. "Baby."

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng says.

 

"Not that I care, but: really??" Ming Yi says.

 

Xie Lian shrugs. "Yeah, I mean, you guys know I've been single this whole time."

 

"Jiejie, so have I, and yet I somehow don't have this experience," Hua Cheng tells her, strained.

 

"San Lang, the difference is that I'm deeply repressed," Xie Lian says, patting her shoulder. Hua Cheng makes a face like, Ya got me there.

 

"Really, Xie Lian, you don't even jerk it??" Shi Qingxuan insists. "I mean it's none of my business and you can tell me to fuck off, but holy shit, lady."

 

Xie Lian laughs, feeling her cheeks color, and shrugs again. "I don't know, something about the mechanics of it just never made sense to me," she admits. "And anyway that's time I should be spending studying."

 

"Wow," Shi Qingxuan says. "I mean, you do you, I guess. Or… don't do you, as it were."

 

"Thanks," Xie Lian says drily, and the conversation moves on.



*



Xie Lian assumes that'll be the last of it, or that at most she'll endure occasional teasing from Shi Qingxuan whenever she happens to remember. But the conversation plants a seed of curiosity deep in the back of Xie Lian's brain, where she shoves things that she doesn't have time to think about, like trauma or attraction. It's been a couple years since she last tried — anything like that, and she's done a lot of changing in the last five years, so she wonders if maybe now it'll make sense to her.

 

She asks Hua Cheng about it on Thursday, when they're eating takeout on the couch in Hua Cheng's fabulous apartment. Xie Lian is curled up in one corner with Hua Cheng sitting cross-legged across from her, and the two of them are slurping down spicy noodles from down the street. Xie Lian waits until Hua Cheng doesn't have her mouth full to say, "San Lang? I have a question and you don't have to answer it."

 

Hua Cheng raises her perfect eyebrows, but she says, "Try me."

 

"Is it — is it really that good?"

 

Hua Cheng looks at her, bewildered. "The noodles? Um… they're fine," she says. She takes a sip of her soda.

 

"No, I mean," god dammit, "Uhh… what we were talking about with Shi Qingxuan, earlier…" Xie Lian looks deeply into the little plastic noodle container. Wow, it's so interesting. So… brothy.

 

Hua Cheng makes kind of a choking sound. Xie Lian looks up, worried, and Hua Cheng coughs and waves a hand at her like I'm okay. "You mean, masturbating?" she manages.

 

"Uhhhhhhh," Xie Lian says. She nods, cheeks burning. Hua Cheng coughs again.

 

"Um," she says at last, her one eye watering from coughing. "I mean, I like it okay? It's fun and easy… It relaxes you. And it's good for period cramps, you know." She taps the side of her nose with one finger in a knowing way. She's so cute.

 

"Oh!" Xie Lian says. "I didn't know that, that's neat."

 

Hua Cheng shrugs in agreement. "Yeah. So, like, not the most important part of my life, but it's good."

 

"Hmm," Xie Lian says. She stuffs more noodles in her mouth, and Hua Cheng laughs as broth drips down her chin. Once she swallows she says, "I guess I understand the appeal, like, intellectually, but in practice I haven't figured out how to make it… work."

 

Hua Cheng hands her a napkin, and she takes it gratefully. "That makes sense to me," Hua Cheng says. "Bodies are weird and sex is weird." Xie Lian nods enthusiastically. This is why she chose Hua Cheng to ask about it; she gets it. "I guess my philosophy is like, if it feels good then that's good, and don't worry about whatever you think sex is supposed to look like. If that makes sense."

 

"Mm," Xie Lian says. "Yeah, I think so."

 

Hua Cheng leans over and nudges Xie Lian's forehead with her palm. "I bet your problem is you're too cerebral," she decides. "I bet you get distracted thinking about all the things you could be doing and wondering if you're doing it right."

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian groans. "Maybe a little. Geez, San Lang, you really don't have to expose me like that."

 

"Sorry!" Hua Cheng laughs. "Jiejie is just too smart, that's her problem."

 

"Too something," Xie Lian mutters.

 

"Listen — let me lend you something," Hua Cheng says. "Hang on while I go get it? — It's clean," she adds, suddenly flustered.

 

"Okay??" Xie Lian says, equally flustered, as Hua Cheng unfolds herself and disappears into her bedroom. Is she about to go get a — a porn mag?? Do they even make porn mags anymore??? (What kind of porn does Hua Cheng look at?)

 

Hua Cheng returns with a little black satin bag that she presses into Xie Lian's hands. Whatever's inside is about the size of Xie Lian's palm. "This shit like changed my life," Hua Cheng says seriously. "It's pretty self explanatory. You don't have to try, but — I highly recommend."

 

"Oh," Xie Lian says, as her face and ears turn what must be the brightest red ever achieved on a human body. "Um, okay, thank you."

 

"Yeah no problem," Hua Cheng says, her voice an octave higher than normal. "Uh, have fun."

 

"Thanks," Xie Lian wheezes.

 

They stare at their hands for a long moment, and then Hua Cheng clears her throat and says, "Seriously, you don't have to try if you don't want to, but, you know. Thought I'd offer. And — and you can text me if you have any questions, okay?"

 

"Okay," Xie Lian agrees, clutching the mystery object in its little satin bag. "I'll, uh, I'll let you know," she says automatically, and then she winces.

 

"Cool," Hua Cheng says, bobbing her head up and down. "Cool cool cool."

 

"I, um — Can you tell me what you've been working on for your senior thesis?" Xie Lian asks. It's a horrendously clumsy change of topic, and they both know it, but she really does want to know what Hua Cheng's been up to this week, and Hua Cheng is always happy to talk about her art.

 

"Yeah, sure!!" she says, predictably, and then she's describing her project of the week, elegant hands looping through the air in her enthusiasm. Xie Lian sticks the satin bag in her hoodie pocket and settles in to watch her friend lose herself in some charming, terracotta-related rapture.

 

To be entirely honest, Hua Cheng's familiarity with the trials of existing in a body weren't the only reason Xie Lian wanted to ask her about sex. The other, much more embarrassing reason is that Xie Lian has a huge, giant crush on her, and so while she really doesn't get the whole — masturbation thing — she does have a vested interest in listening to Hua Cheng talk about sex, in a kind of "horny but not sure what to do about it" sort of way. So… there's that.



*



Hua Cheng's borrowed vibrator burns a hole in her pocket all the way home, and then it burns a hole in her desk drawer for almost a full day, and then Xie Lian looks at her desk on Friday night and thinks, Good lord, it's just a vibrator, and bravely opens the drawer. She stares down at the little satin bag — completely unassuming, and yet somehow weirdly sexy in its shiny blackness — for a good minute and a half before she bites the bullet and yanks it out and opens the drawstring. She looks away as she upends it onto her bed, oddly flustered by the idea of actually reaching in and pulling the vibrator out of the bag. When she looks back she's surprised; she's not sure what she expected a vibrator might look like, but the device on her bed isn't it. It's kind of… egg-shaped? With a little bit on one end that looks, strangely charmingly, like the cut-off aorta of a dissected animal heart. But, like, in a fun way.

 

She texts Hua Cheng to let her know this observation.

 

me

your vibrator looks like a robot heart

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

A robot heart??

 

me

yeah it's got an aorta

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

I see

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

Okay I just googled what an aorta is and you know, I see it

 

me

san lang doesn't know what an aorta is????? i thought you knew everything

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

I know everything about history and culture, not biology!!

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

I hope you think the robot heart is fun and not dystopian

 

me

yes it's very fun. definitely more appealing than like a giant silicone ****

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

A giant silicone what now?

 

me

san lang!!!!! don't make me say it :~(

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

Ahahaha

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

Have fun with your robot heart jiejie (๑ゝڡ◕๑)

 

me

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

 

me

thank you

 

Xie Lian sits down, puts her phone down, and covers her face. San Lang…!! She's too cute…!!

 

She uncovers her face after a moment and eyes the robot heart vibrator. Hua Cheng said it was pretty self-explanatory, right? So… probably you turn it on and stick it, you know, where vibrators go… and then magic happens? She shuffles backwards in her bed so she can lean against her pillow and picks up the vibrator, examining it like a scientist might examine a large and unusual beetle. She presses buttons until it turns on, humming quietly in her hand. Presumably the aorta is the important part? Can she use it through her clothes, or does she have to be naked?? How does this thing work anyway???

 

She presses the aorta part to the flat of her palm and it makes a loud, horrible, suctiony sound. "Eugh," she says aloud, and aims the vibrator between her legs instead just to see what'll happen.

 

Nothing happens. Well, she can feel a slight buzzing through her jeans, but it's not particularly inspiring. She turns the vibe off and checks the sexy black bag for, like, an instruction manual. Nothing.

 

She considers the advantages of stripping down to her boxer briefs and seeing if that changes things (embarrassing; potentially inappropriate, given that it's not her vibrator and she doesn't know what the rules are), versus just texting Hua Cheng and asking for help (also embarrassing; but Hua Cheng has a way of laughing at her that makes her feel more comfortable, not less, and — okay, and maybe having Hua Cheng walk her through it via text will make things make a little more sense).

 

She sits there staring down the barrel of the vibrator for a minute, and then she gives up and picks up her phone.

 

me

san lang what are you up to right now

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

Making paper what's up

 

me

oh cool!! wait so you're busy?

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

Sort of my hands are gross but I can talk I'm doing speech to text

 

This isn't uncommon for her. Xie Lian usually just calls her if she's in the studio, and the two of them talk for hours while Hua Cheng works on whatever project she's doing. Sometimes Xie Lian works out, or takes a walk. So she automatically replies,

 

me

oh okay can i call you

 

And then she immediately realizes the error of her plans.

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

Sure

 

"Uh oh," Xie Lian says to herself. But if she doesn't call now, Hua Cheng will get worried, so she sighs, plugs her earbuds into her phone, and hits Call.

 

"Hey, jiejie," Hua Cheng says, having picked up immediately. "What's up?"

 

"Uhh," Xie Lian says. "Ah, that is, um…"

 

"Are you okay?"

 

"Yes, yes, I'm fine!" Xie Lian reassures her quickly. "Don't worry, I just — I have kind of a stupid question. Series of questions."

 

"No such thing as a stupid question," Hua Cheng says easily. "Shoot."

 

"I, uhhh… I'm very embarrassed," Xie Lian warns her. "They're embarrassing questions."

 

There's a beat of silence, and then Hua Cheng says, "I see." Amusement is clear in her voice. Xie Lian squeezes her eyes shut. "It's about the vibrator?"

 

"Yeahhh," Xie Lian groans. Hua Cheng laughs, dark and smoky in her ear. She thinks, Uh oh, again.

 

"Okay, tell me your concerns, jiejie," Hua Cheng says. "I assume you figured out how to turn it on?"

 

"Yes," Xie Lian says. "I, um. I turned it on but that's… about as far as I got. It seemed really loud and like it wasn't doing anything and I feel pretty stupid for not knowing what to do with it," she admits in a rush.

 

"Okay," Hua Cheng says, her voice gentle. "Okay, jiejie. That's fine, don't feel stupid, it was my fault for saying it would be easy. I was embarrassed too, I was saying whatever."

 

"Oh," Xie Lian says, surprised at her candor. "Thanks. Um, for saying that. I trust you."

 

"I trust you too, jiejie," Hua Cheng says, her voice cheery again. "Would it —" She stops and clears her throat, and then continues, "Would it help if I walk you through it?"

 

Xie Lian closes her eyes again and bites her lower lip. She says, "Yes, please," in a little voice, and then louder, "Um, but only if you feel comfortable doing that."

 

"Sure I do," Hua Cheng says, and she sounds confident enough. "Can you tell me what you're doing right now? Where you are?"

 

"Uh, I'm kind of just sitting here in my room," Xie Lian says. She adds, "On my bed," as if she might be sitting on the floor.

 

"Okay, that's good. How are you feeling?"

 

Xie Lian winces. "A little hopeless about my ability to ever enjoy any aspect of sex, I guess," she admits. "Once again, the chasm between what I want and what I get to enjoy proves unscalable." When the words leave her mouth she grimaces; she hadn't meant to be that honest.

 

Hua Cheng huffs a sympathetic laugh into her ear. "Okay, jiejie, that's problem number one. If you're anxious about whether you're having fun or not, it makes it harder to have fun. I know it's hard. Just relax a little."

 

"Okay," Xie Lian says. "Okay. Relaxing. Go… relaxation. — Should I be lying down?"

 

There's a short pause before Hua Cheng says, "Sure, yeah, you should lie down. Relax your shoulders, I know how you are." Xie Lian laughs and does as she's told. Hua Cheng is right; she does carry all her tenseness in her shoulders. "Are you comfortable?"

 

"Sure," Xie Lian says.

 

"Sure?" Hua Cheng echoes.

 

"Yeah, you know, I'm okay. I'm always okay, you know me," Xie Lian says.

 

"I do know you," Hua Cheng says. "Can I stop you for a second and, like, do a guided meditation? You should be actually comfortable."

 

"Okay," Xie Lian says slowly.

 

"Trust me," Hua Cheng says.

 

"I trust you," Xie Lian tells her.

 

"Good," Hua Cheng says. "Okay, close your eyes."

 

Xie Lian does as she's told and says, "Done." Hua Cheng chuckles a little.

 

"Alright, good. Now focus on my voice and your breathing. Inhale — and hold it — exhale — and hold it. Inhale — exhale."

 

They breathe in sync for a couple breaths. Xie Lian can feel her heartbeat slowing. "Good," Hua Cheng says quietly. "Now place all the attention in your body at the tips of your toes. Just notice them, how they feel. You don't have to move them at all. Just pay attention."

 

"Okay," Xie Lian mumbles. "Dunno if I'm into foot stuff, San Lang."

 

Hua Cheng chokes on a cackle. "Jiejie!!" she wheezes. Xie Lian laughs. "You're gonna make me lose my train of thought!!"

 

"Sorry," Xie Lian says, grinning to herself.

 

"Okay, starting over," Hua Cheng says, her smile audible. "Focus on your toes. It's not foot stuff, jiejie."

 

"Focusing, focusing…"

 

"Now inhale, and with your inhale let your attention travel up to your ankles. Notice them too, and hold it. Now exhale, and your attention goes back down into your toes. Like a wave."

 

"Mmhmm."

 

"Inhale and let your attention go all the way up to your calves. Notice where you're holding tension in your muscles, and try to let go of it with your exhale."

 

It goes on like this, with Hua Cheng slowly leading Xie Lian's attention up her body. It starts getting harder when they reach her shoulders and face, and she becomes aware of all the ways in which she's holding tension there. It's hard to make her face go completely slack when she's concentrating so strongly on Hua Cheng's voice, but she manages.

 

Once they reach the top of her head, Hua Cheng says, "There. Better?"

 

"Mmhmmmm," Xie Lian hums. She admits, "I'm so relaxed that I'm actually just sleepy now."

 

Hua Cheng laughs in her ear. "Do you wanna stop and go to sleep?"

 

"No, no, keep going!" Xie Lian says, opening her eyes. Then she adds, "Please."

 

"Okay, jiejie," Hua Cheng says. Her voice is so low. "Okay." She pauses. "Do you know… what you like, at all? What feels good anywhere?"

 

"Not really," Xie Lian admits, feeling stupid.

 

"Alright, that's fine," Hua Cheng tells her, and the last of the tension leaves her chest. Of course San Lang won't judge her. "Something you can try is just slowly running your hands up and down your body, and seeing what seems like it might be interesting. If you bend your knees up a little you can probably reach most of your thigh."

 

"Okay," Xie Lian says. She tries as Hua Cheng suggested, runs her hands lightly over her body, from the inside of her thighs near her knees up to the soft dip of her belly. When she reaches her breasts she says, "Ah," very quietly in revelation.

 

"Anything working?" Hua Cheng asks quietly.

 

"Mhm," Xie Lian says, "I, um. I think so. Or maybe I'm just ticklish."

 

"Ticklish is fine too," Hua Cheng tells her. "Whatever you're feeling is fine."

 

Xie Lian strokes her hands across her boobs experimentally, touching herself through the soft cotton of her shirt. When she brushes her fingers across one of her nipples she thinks, Oh, so it's like that. She swallows and says, her voice reedier than normal, "Okay I'm not just ticklish."

 

"Oh?"

 

"I — my chest," Xie Lian says, "It feels good," and then her eyes snap open. How embarrassing!! Hua Cheng doesn't need to know that!! "Sorry!"

 

"No, you don't have to apologize, jiejie," Hua Cheng tells her. "You're doing really well. It's your breasts, right?"

 

"Uh huh," Xie Lian says, thinking about Hua Cheng saying Your breasts.

 

"Okay, I know a thing or two about boobs," Hua Cheng says. "You may have noticed I have a couple myself."

 

Oh, Xie Lian has noticed, alright. She laughs nervously and says, "Uh huh."

 

"Try playing with them a little," Hua Cheng advises. "Cup them in your hands. Run your fingers along the edges where they meet your chest. You can try stroking your nipples, tugging on them, whatever feels good."

 

Xie Lian is way ahead of her. She pulls her shirt up to her chin so her breasts are exposed and touches them with her flat palms, drags her fingertips lightly across the soft skin underneath them, between them. "San Lang," she gasps in surprise. Hua Cheng makes some kind of little sound into the receiver.

 

"Is that good?" she asks.

 

"Uh huh," Xie Lian breathes. "Yeah. Yeah, it's good. I want — I want more."

 

"Yes," Hua Cheng tells her. "Okay, keep touching your breasts with your left hand and reach down with your right to touch the inside of your thigh, okay?"

 

Xie Lian does as she's told. Her whole body feels new, responding in ways she didn't think it could before. She feels heat pooling low in her belly. Her hand on her inner thigh is hot even through her jeans. She makes a sound like mmn into the earbud mic, to let Hua Cheng know she's there.

 

"Good, jiejie," Hua Cheng tells her. "You're so good. Just lightly stroke the inside of your thigh for me."

 

"I want — Can I take off my pants?" Xie Lian asks. She feels lightheaded.

 

"You're still wearing —?? Yes, jeez, take your pants off, you goofball," Hua Cheng tells her. Xie Lian laughs breathlessly and grapples with her fly. "Are you wearing your shirt too? Take that all off."

 

Xie Lian obeys. "Should I — what about my underwear?" she asks.

 

There's a pause as Hua Cheng considers. "Keep your underwear on but take your bra off," she decides.

 

"San Lang, you know I don't wear bras," Xie Lian teases her.

 

"You're right," Hua Cheng says, voice cracking. "I do know that. Don't know what I was thinking."

 

"Honestly, San Lang," Xie Lian says, grinning. She lies back down and says as she moves, "Okay, I'm back — I'm lying back down and I'm, um — I'm touching my — oh, it's really warm."

 

"Good, jiejie, that's really good," Hua Cheng tells her. "Stroke your fingers up and down across the insides of your thighs, just like with your breasts, okay?"

 

"Mmnhmm," Xie Lian says, as she does so. She brushes the fingers of her left hand across her nipples again and feels her breath hitch in her chest. She squeezes the softness of her thigh in one hand and the softness of her breast in the other and can't help the little sound she makes at the feeling.

 

"Good?" Hua Cheng asks her. Her voice is so low, quiet and intimate in Xie Lian's ears.

 

"Mhm," she says, closing her eyes.

 

"Good, jiejie, you're doing so well," Hua Cheng says again. "Can you take your right hand and circle your lips with just your pointer finger? Just trace them in a circle."

 

"My lips?" Xie Lian asks, a little puzzled. She opens her eyes again. "Like my mouth?"

 

Hua Cheng makes a kind of strangled noise into the phone. "No, sweetheart, your pussy," she says kindly. "Pussy lips. Your vulva, if you like that better."

 

Xie Lian blushes hot and says in a very tiny voice, "You can say pussy to me."

 

"Okay," Hua Cheng says. "Circle your fingers around your pussy, jiejie. Real light."

 

"Okay," Xie Lian breathes. Her eyes fall shut again as her awareness zeroes in on the feeling of her fingertips on her body, the slightly damp heat radiating from between her legs. "Oh," she murmurs. "Oh."

 

"Is that good?" Hua Cheng asks her in an undertone. She bites her lip and nods before she realizes she can't see her.

 

"Uh huh," she says.

 

"Mmn," Hua Cheng says in approval. "Do it again. Until you want more."

 

"I want more now," Xie Lian blurts. Hua Cheng laughs in surprise.

 

"Good!" she says sincerely. "Okay, jiejie, now run your middle finger up between your lips. All the way from the bottom to the top."

 

Xie Lian really does moan this time. Her mouth waters suddenly, wet and hot. She strokes herself like that again, and then again, harder. "San Lang," she gasps mindlessly, "San Lang, San Lang, can I — I wanna take my underwear off, can I, I want to—"

 

"Yes," Hua Cheng tells her, sounding as breathless as she feels, "Yes, jiejie, anything you want."

 

Xie Lian sits up and peels her boxer-briefs off her body frantically. They stick a little at her crotch, held there by her slick. "Oh, my god," Xie Lian says, mostly to herself. At Hua Cheng's inquisitive noise, she says helplessly, "I'm really wet."

 

"I," Hua Cheng says, and then she stops.

 

"Yes??"

 

"Nothing," Hua Cheng says, clearing her throat. "You're doing really well, jiejie."

 

"You keep saying that," Xie Lian tells her.

 

"That's because it's true," Hua Cheng says. "Don't you think so?"

 

"Ye-yeah," Xie Lian says, because she finds it is true. She's more turned on and comfortable with her body right now than she's ever been in her life. "Can you — can we keep going?"

 

"Mhm," Hua Cheng hums in her ear. "I want you to just slip your fingers up and down between your lips, okay? Don't touch your clit yet, just open your fingers around it as you pass."

 

Xie Lian quickly turns incoherent, just panting into the earbud mic. Her fingers are so warm, and her sex is so wet and hot. The muscles in her belly jump whenever she brushes her fingers past her clit.

 

"You have hair, right?" Hua Cheng asks after a moment. "You don't shave?"

 

Xie Lian laughs a little and gasps, "Of course I don't shave, San Lang, who am I?"

 

Hua Cheng laughs and agrees, "That's what I thought. You can reach down with your other hand now and just feel your hair, what it feels like to brush your fingers through it."

 

"Feels wet," Xie Lian tells her, because it's true. Her pubic hair near her pussy is slicked up into little defined curls, which she personally thinks is kind of cute. She has a split second thought: Wish San Lang could see me like this. And then another thought: Oh no.

 

"S-San Lang," she murmurs. Her voice hitches with each pass of her fingers around her clit. "Can I — ask a question?"

 

"Mmn. Anything, jiejie," Hua Cheng tells her.

 

"What do you—" Wait, dangerous, rephrase: "What should I — think about? As I do this?"

 

There's a moment where Hua Cheng just breathes quietly into the receiver. Then she exhales audibly, this long sigh, almost a moan, and says, "You can… think about someone. Touching you the way you're touching yourself. They can be real or imaginary. A crush, or some faceless fantasy lover. Fantasize that your hands are someone else's…"

 

"It's not — hah, not weird?" Xie Lian asks her. "To fantasize about someone — real?"

 

"I don't think so," Hua Cheng says. "I mean shit, I hope it's not. I think a lot of people do that." Another pause. "I do that."

 

"Oh," Xie Lian breathes, picturing Hua Cheng's clever artist's hands stroking her open, teasing her, sliding up her folds. "Nnmmgh," she whimpers.

 

"Does that make it better?" Hua Cheng asks.

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian moans. "Yeah it does. Oh, god. San Lang — Can you — I want more."

 

"Do you wanna try the vibrator now?" Hua Cheng asks. Her voice sounds funny, like she needs to clear her throat again. She's been clearing her throat a lot tonight. Xie Lian wonders vaguely, in the part of her brain still capable of conscious thought, if maybe she has a cold.

 

"Please," she says.

 

"Turn it on low," Hua Cheng instructs her. She fumbles around for the vibrator as Hua Cheng continues lightly, "You know what's funny is I think I have this like Pavlovian response to the vibrator humming sound now, I hear it and I'm instantly like Oh? Hahaha."

 

Xie Lian turns the vibrator on. It occurs to her that she's holding it right by the mic on the earbud cord. She doesn't move it.

 

Hua Cheng makes a sound.

 

Xie Lian clears her throat and says, "Okay, it's on."

 

Hua Cheng inhales audibly and says, "Okay. Now guide it so it's just barely touching you - low, below your clit. You pretty much never want to start with your clit, jiejie, it'll be too much at once," she adds.

 

"Okay," Xie Lian pants. She places the aorta part of the vibrator low between her lips, holds them spread open with her other hand. The vibrator makes the loud motor-suctiony sound again, but way wetter this time. "Ah, it got loud," she says.

 

"It does that," Hua Cheng says. "You just kinda get used to it. How's that feel? Is it better than when you tried the first time?"

 

"Yeeaahhh," Xie Lian sighs. It feels like the vibrator is sending waves of feeling all throughout her body, concentrated between her legs. The fingers holding her open are so slick. She tries moving the vibrator across her lips, between them, down to her entrance. "San Lang…"

 

"Yeah, jiejie?"

 

"I wanna… Mnnn, can I put it in me?"

 

Hua Cheng makes some quiet choked sound again. "Um, that vibe isn't really… made to go inside you— but you can put a finger in if you want?"

 

Xie Lian slips her left index finger into herself. The angle isn't great, but it's still so, so good. She moans, her voice high and strained. "Hhhahh, San Lang, San Lang, that's good."

 

"Jiejie?" Xie Lian whines in response. "Can you put the — the, what did you call it, the vena cava?"

 

"The aorta," Xie Lian corrects her hysterically. "The vena — San Lang, did you just sit — sit there googling heart — heart anatomy today??"

 

"Yes," Hua Cheng says. "I know all about the heart and all its chambers now."

 

"You're so cute," Xie Lian half-wails. "So cute, San Lang, I wanna — hhah, where am I putting it?"

 

"Can you put it on your clit and fuck yourself on your fingers?"

 

Xie Lian nods, her eyes shut tight. "Mnnnaaghhh," she moans, "Oh, I'm nodding but you can't — you can't see me, god, fuck." The vibrator on her clit is, uh, fucking life changing. It feels like her soul is being pulled out through her pussy. She can feel her entrance throbbing almost like a mouth around her finger. "San Lang," she sobs, "more, more, I want more."

 

"Jiejie, you're doing so well — can you fit another finger in? It might be tight but it's okay to go slow," Hua Cheng tells her.

 

"Yeah — yeah. Oh, god, I'm so wet," Xie Lian mumbles to herself. "I can — I can feel my heartbeat in my ears." She spreads her legs wider and eases her middle finger into herself next to her index. It is tight, and it hurts a little, but it feels good, too. She tries pulling her fingers out and pushing them back in and moans helplessly. "S-San Lang. Oh… San Lang."

 

"Is that good?" Hua Cheng asks lowly.

 

"Ye-yeah. Yes. Yeah, it's… oh, my god," Xie Lian pants. "I wish — the angle was better, I could — hah, I could go deeper."

 

"I'll give you a different toy next time," Hua Cheng promises. "I didn't think… but, god, of course you'd like getting fucked."

 

Xie Lian moans. She loves Hua Cheng's voice saying fuck. "I wanna — please," she gasps. "Please, god, San Lang, I wanna come."

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng says in her ear, almost a moan. Xie Lian bites her lip and thinks, God, I hope she's as into this as I am. "Jiejie, keep fucking yourself on your fingers for me, okay?"

 

"Okay," Xie Lian pants. Everything is heat and slick and the obscene wet sound of her fingers and the vibrator against her. "Okay. I'm so — hhhhahhh, it sounds so — mmnnnnn."

 

"Can you come from this?" Hua Cheng asks her.

 

Xie Lian presses a little harder with the vibrator in surprise and her legs seize in response. She utters a wordless whine, swallows, and says, "Y-yeah. Yes. I think so. I don't — ah, San Lang — I don't know what it feels like."

 

"Right," Hua Cheng breathes. "Right, you've never…"

 

"Can you tell me?" Xie Lian asks in a whisper. The muscles in her abdomen jump with each stroke of her fingers. "Tell me — how it feels for you —"

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng moans. "Jiejie. I— oh, god. It feels like… like being in the ocean. Out past the breaking waves. And you get carried — carried up and down, with the swells — hhah — and the swells get higher and h-higher, until finally you're on top of one and it — and it breaks and carries you all the way to shore — and then you're on shore as the water recedes —"

 

Xie Lian is aware that she's panting, ah ah ah into the mic, into Hua Cheng's perfect ears. Heat and pleasure build low in her belly and deep inside her with Hua Cheng's voice, just like Hua Cheng described. She feels hot, overstimulated, possessed. "San Lang," she gasps, "San Lang, San Lang, San Lang, I, I— oh my god San Lang Sanlang Sanlangsanlang I'm gonna—"

 

"Good, jiejie, you're doing so well, sweetheart, you can come for me," Hua Cheng tells her, and something inside her bursts. She comes with a cry, shuddering around her own fingers, arching into the vibrator. She hears herself making helpless little moans with each exhale, hears Hua Cheng's rapid breathing on the other end until it stops suddenly, and she's silent for a long moment until finally Xie Lian hears a careful quiet sigh.

 

"San Lang," she murmurs. Her heart is pounding in her chest. She pulls her fingers out of herself with a quiet sucking sound and turns the vibrator off.

 

"Are you good, jiejie?" Hua Cheng asks after a moment, her voice wrecked.

 

"Mmmnnnnnnn," Xie Lian manages.

 

Hua Cheng laughs breathlessly. "That good, huh?"

 

"Uh huh," Xie Lian agrees. She feels utterly boneless.

 

"Hmm," Hua Cheng says, sounding smug. "I'm glad."

 

"Mmn. Me too," Xie Lian says. They breathe together, quiet and intimate.

 

Xie Lian almost confesses, just then. She almost just says it, says, San Lang, I want this for real. I want you for real. But she can't stand the thought of breaking this warm moment between them. So instead she says, "San Lang?" And Hua Cheng kind of grunts cutely into the phone. "Thank you."

 

"Mmmm," Hua Cheng says. "You're very welcome. Thank you for trusting me."

 

"Of course I trust you," Xie Lian tells her. "How can I not, when you make me feel like this?" Oops. Maybe that was a little much.

 

Hua Cheng just chuckles into her ear. She sounds as sleepy as Xie Lian feels. It occurs to her, abruptly, that of course Hua Cheng isn't home in her bed; she's in her studio, a space she shares with other people. "Oh god," Xie Lian says, eyes flying open. "San Lang, you've been alone this whole time, right??"

 

"Oh god yes," Hua Cheng laughs. "No, yeah, holy shit, I've been sitting in my parked car in the dark for like half an hour."

 

"Oh, thank goodness," Xie Lian wheezes. Hua Cheng laughs again.

 

"Jiejie, what'd you think, that I was gonna dirty talk you through orgasm where some jerk classmate could just walk in on me? Give me some credit," Hua Cheng teases.

 

"You're right," Xie Lian laughs, blushing at Hua Cheng's words, "you're right, San Lang, my apologies. But what about the paper you were gonna make?"

 

"Who cares about paper, I had to get you off," Hua Cheng says. Xie Lian blushes hot.

 

"I could have come back later," she tries.

 

"Nah, what? Paper can wait. I couldn't have made anything anyway, thinking about you all night," Hua Cheng admits. Her voice dips low at the end. Xie Lian shivers.

 

"San Lang," she whispers again. She takes a deep breath. "So what — what happens now?" she asks, and she means: Did this mean something to you like it did to me?

 

But Hua Cheng must misunderstand her, because she replies, "Well — you should get up at some point and wash the vibe off with soap and warm water. And pee, just to prevent UTI's or whatever."

 

"Oh," Xie Lian says, disappointed but too embarrassed to clarify. "Okay. I'll, uh, I'll do that, I guess. Um… Thank you. San Lang."

 

"Anytime, jiejie," Hua Cheng tells her, her voice warm. "Goodnight."

 

"Goodnight," Xie Lian says. She hesitates, but she hangs up.

 

She lies there staring at her dingy, water-stained ceiling. She thinks about how this whole time she's been A Person Who Hasn't Had An Orgasm and how now she's A Person Who's Had An Orgasm, and how strange and inconsequential the distinction is. And yet: the absurd and embarrassing desire to tell everyone she knows. Oh, yes, Shi Qingxuan, you'll never guess what I've been up to tonight. Sitting around feeling sexually frustrated? Ha ha! No, that was the old me. The new me knows how to jack off and like it.

 

Xie Lian kind of giggles to herself, and then she chokes on a sob that takes her almost by surprise. She puts the vibrator down and turns onto her side to cry into her pillow, although she's not sure what she's crying about until she catches herself thinking, I didn't think I'd get to have this, and then she thinks Ah.

 

She cries a little more, and then she sits up and tears some toilet paper off the roll she keeps by her bed for use as tissues, and she cleans the worst of it off her hand. Blows her nose. She looks down at her body, which looks pretty much the same as it always does: short, muscular, kind of hairy. Capable, evidently, of orgasm.

 

She picks her phone back up and, before she chickens out, sends a bunch of hearts and sparkle emojis to Hua Cheng. When she gets back from the bathroom, there's a response waiting for her.

 

me

♡☆✧・゚♡

 

╰(*´︶`*)╯san lang ❀♡

♥♥♥




*



Xie Lian spends every evening for the next week jerking off, unaided this time by Hua Cheng's sweet voice in her ear. And it's fun, you know, it's good, each time far better than she'd ever managed before Friday, but she doesn't come again, doesn't feel nearly as out-of-her-mind horny as she had with Hua Cheng talking her through it. She wonders if it's a coincidence. She knows it's probably not.

 

On Monday when the four of them eat lunch together, Xie Lian grabs her food and slides onto the little plastic seat next to Hua Cheng like she usually does, and Hua Cheng wraps her arm around her waist like she usually does, and then both of them kind of freeze and give each other a deer-in-headlights sort of look. Hua Cheng's hand is cold on her bare skin between her sweatpants and her stupid sporty croptop. Xie Lian wants that hand all over her.

 

"Hey Xie Lian," Shi Qingxuan greets her, oblivious.

 

Xie Lian wrenches her gaze from Hua Cheng's single widened eye and says, "Hi Shi Qingxuan. Hi Ming Yi. Happy Monday," as if she isn't losing her mind over how handsy she's suddenly realized Hua Cheng is.

 

Ming Yi grunts in acknowledgement. As per usual, she's too busy shoveling the three different meals she paid for into her mouth to really say hi or make any real conversation. Xie Lian isn't sure what her deal is, but she's glad she's eating if she needs to.

 

"Hey," Hua Cheng says quietly to her. She rubs her thumb along Xie Lian's waist.

 

"Hi, San Lang," Xie Lian says, relaxing into her touch. She leans briefly into the curve of Hua Cheng's arm: We're okay. Hua Cheng squeezes her closer, then relaxes. Her hair is really pretty today, up in a high, messy ponytail that exposes the elegant curve of her neck, and she's got ink or paint or something smeared on her face, as if she'd had it on her hand and gone to wipe her nose or something.

 

Xie Lian looks at her and thinks, Oh, I love you. And then, Oh no.



*



Of course after that revelation she texts Shi Qingxuan immediately. She can't possibly wait for their standing Tuesday dinner!! She sends a pathetic little windmaster help ;~; right after lunch, and three hours later when Shi Qingxuan is out of class she receives a reply.

 

me

windmaster help ;~;

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

??? whats up!

 

me

ok you are sworn to ABSOLUTE secrecy

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

my lips r sealed

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

PLS spill watever tea u have acquired

 

me

okay you know our conversation the other day

 

me

about

 

me

having or not having certain experiences

 

me

on campus

 

me

  1. At All

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

yyyeessssssss… i luv where this is going………..

 

me

Well,

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

omg. omg omg did u !

 

me

WELL,

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

is THAT why hc cdnt stop staring at u today

 

me

WELL….

 

me

wait she was staring at me??

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

yeah dummy shes only got the one eye its pretty obvious where shes lookin at any given time

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

most of the time that direction is wherever u r

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

wait so anyway ghost king made u nut???????? hello!!!!!??????

 

me

yeah she lent me a um. a Device. and then… talked me through using it

 

me

and

 

me

Success Was Had

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

oh my gooooddddddddd

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

u mean u idiots didnt even hook up????????

 

me

no??? i don't even know if she likes me like that!!

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

princess if u were to ask her how she'd like to die

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

she wd say

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

"suffocated btwn xie lians thighs"

 

me

AUGH

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

i guarantee

 

me

ANYWAY!

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

im telling u

 

me

i have a problem now

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

whats that

 

me

hang on i'll snapchat you

 

me

HEY WHY'D YOU SCREENSHOT THAT

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

because its cute???? ur little scared face?????? and to send to u both later when of course u get together bc OBVIOUSLY SHES BEEN IN LOVE WITH U TOO THIS WHOLE TIME????????

 

me

ajgkrkdifjekdhfkdhfk

 

me

if you're not going to be helpful i'm going to leave!!

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

COWARD

 

me

my finger is hovering over the block button

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

u dont even know where the block button is

 

me

that may be true. but san lang can tell me!

 

✼ shi   ҉ (ꃋิꎴꃋิ) ҉ qingxuan ✼ 

yeah right after she tells u how she wants her pussy ate

 

me

SHI QINGXUAN!!



Xie Lian throws her phone down onto her desk in her fluster. Shi Qingxuan!! So shameless!! And to think Xie Lian thought she might be helpful!!

 

The problem, of course, is that the person Xie Lian really wants to consult with is Hua Cheng. But obviously she can't ask Hua Cheng about it. Hey, San Lang, if I were in love with you — you know, hypothetically — how might I go about making you fall in love with me? Yeah, that'll never fly.

 

Maybe she'll just sit on her feelings and never address them at all. That's worked pretty well for her so far.



*



Thursday rolls around again. Hua Cheng parks outside Xie Lian's shitty apartment in her disgustingly sexy little sports car — a temperamental red coupe of some sort that she calls E-ming — and the two of them go grab groceries from the little bodega down the block. Xie Lian lets Hua Cheng pay on the condition that she let Xie Lian carry most of the bags, and Hua Cheng sticks out her tongue but acquiesces. Then the two of them walk home and Xie Lian follows a step-by-step stir fry video, which almost produces something appealing, although of course Hua Cheng eats it with a smile anyway.

 

"I love jiejie's cooking," she insists, like she insists every time Xie Lian apologizes for whatever barely-edible glob she's produced this time. "I only wanna eat jiejie's cooking for the rest of my life."

 

"I dunno that the rest of your life would be that long if you did that," Xie Lian admits.

 

"Nonsense," Hua Cheng says. "I'd live forever."

 

Xie Lian grins at her, and Hua Cheng leaps to her feet and takes her hands to spin her around the cramped little apartment. Xie Lian whirls and dips with her, calling on fifteen years of bagua zhang to stay balanced and on rhythm. She keeps almost saying it: I love you, she thinks as Hua Cheng tips her head back and laughs, I love you, as she lifts Xie Lian bodily over a box of books, I love you as she overbalances and pulls Xie Lian shrieking backwards with her onto her horrible little denim couch. They land in a tangle of limbs, Hua Cheng's long skinny arms wrapped around Xie Lian's waist, her laughter reverberating through Xie Lian's chest. Xie Lian wants so badly to kiss her. She wriggles in Hua Cheng's arms, grabs her shoulders and pulls her down sideways, so they're slumped together facing each other, holding each other as they catch their breath. I love you.

 

"San Lang," she says.

 

"What's up, jiejie?" Hua Cheng answers, smiling widely.

 

"I — I'm really glad we're friends," Xie Lian blurts. "You're so important to me and I — I really admire you and I'm so proud of you."

 

Hua Cheng's grin softens into something warmer, more private somehow. She tips their foreheads together and says, "I feel the same way, jiejie."

 

Do you? Xie Lian thinks, but is too cowardly to say aloud. Instead she just says, "Mmm," and focuses on not tipping her chin up the extra two inches it would take to kiss her.

 

Hua Cheng looks at her for a moment, and then she shifts so that she can tuck Xie Lian's head under her chin. "My jiejie," she sighs affectionately. "So cute and perfect, we fit so well together."

 

Xie Lian hugs her tightly and nods. She twists their legs together, tries not to shake. Hua Cheng runs one hand slow across the curve of Xie Lian's waist, follows the contour of her hip up to her back, just underneath her croptop, and Xie Lian pushes closer, clutches Hua Cheng's shoulders. She tries not to let on that she can feel heat pooling between her legs, that she's having a hard time thinking on account of Hua Cheng's boobs pressed against her. Hua Cheng strokes her other hand through her hair, squeezes her legs around Xie Lian's thigh, draws one socked foot up her calf. Xie Lian tries not to shudder.

 

"San Lang," she says lowly.

 

"Mmnn," Hua Cheng hums. She draws her fingertips up Xie Lian's spine. Her hand is definitely under Xie Lian's shirt now. "Is this okay?"

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian breathes. She sits up a little to look at her. God, she's so fucking turned on right now. "San Lang, you really… I…"

 

Hua Cheng's tongue darts out to lick her lips. Xie Lian stares at it. "I…"

 

Hua Cheng frowns suddenly. "I smell smoke," she says, just as Xie Lian's smoke alarm goes off. They startle and stare at each other, and then rush to disentangle themselves. Xie Lian skids around boxes of books and replica weapons into the kitchen, where —

 

"Oh, good grief, I left the stove on," she wails. Everything in the wok is smoldering black chunks now. She scrambles to turn the burner off and calls, "San Lang, could you—"

 

"On it," Hua Cheng tells her, as she starts heaving windows open. Xie Lian grabs a poster from one corner and uses it to fan smoke towards the windows, trying to avoid breathing too much in. Hua Cheng reaches up to the smoke detector — because of course she's tall enough to reach it — and turns it off, then grabs another poster and joins Xie Lian in waving.

 

"Sorry," Xie Lian sighs at last, when they've cleared most of the smoke.

 

Hua Cheng puts her poster down and hugs Xie Lian's shoulders with one arm. "It's no problem," she reassures. "I'm just happy there isn't any damage."

 

"Only my pride," Xie Lian agrees, and Hua Cheng laughs.

 

"I'll just have to praise you even more to make up for it," she decides. Xie Lian blushes and hides her face behind her hands.

 

"San Lang ah," she groans.

 

Hua Cheng peels her fingers away so that Xie Lian has no choice but to peek at her. "I have something for you," Hua Cheng tells her with an eyebrow wiggle.

 

"Oh?" Xie Lian prompts. "Is it a fire extinguisher?"

 

Hua Cheng barks a laugh. "No, jiejie, not quite. One could consider it the opposite, in fact."

 

That's all the warning Xie Lian has before Hua Cheng roots around in her black leather satchel and produces a long and slender box. She presses it into Xie Lian's hands and says, "I, uh. I was gonna include the instructions this time, but I couldn't find them."

 

"Oh," Xie Lian says weakly. "I, uh… I can probably figure it out…"

 

Hua Cheng clears her throat. "Or," she says, "You could call me."

 

The way she says it sounds like she's trying very hard to sound confident. Xie Lian looks at her, sees her tugging nervously on the bead in her hair, and her mouth goes dry.

 

"I'll call you," she hears herself say.

 

Hua Cheng grins, then, bright and genuine. "I have to go," she says, "I have the studio from eight to ten tonight and I'm — um, I'm a little behind."

 

Xie Lian blushes and rubs her forehead with the hand that she isn't using to hold The Box. "Um, right," she says.

 

"But I'll talk to you later," Hua Cheng says. She's already whirling around, picking up her bag, shrugging her jacket on. "Goodnight, jiejie. Thanks for making dinner."

 

"Goodnight, San Lang," Xie Lian says.



*



That night she doesn't touch either of Hua Cheng's toys. She comes around her fingers thinking about Hua Cheng's hands on her back.



*



Hua Cheng doesn't come to friend lunch on Friday. When Xie Lian texts her asking if she's busy, she receives in reply a blurry picture of Hua Cheng's panicked face in front of a huge, collapsing ceramic piece of some sort, accompanied by a single exclamation point.

 

"Oh, no, San Lang," she laughs, showing the picture to Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi.

 

"Whoops," Shi Qingxuan snickers. "Guess that answers that question."

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian says. She sends a quick good luck!! to Hua Cheng. Fifteen minutes later she gets a little thumbs up emoji back.

 

And while she misses Hua Cheng, and of course would rather have her here than not, to be honest she's also a little relieved at her friend's absence. She knows that something has changed between them, that there's some hot and fragile thing growing like a crystal web when they're alone, and she's not sure how it'll change when they're around others. She wants to keep Hua Cheng's company to herself until she can figure out how to act.

 

In the meantime, hanging out with Shi Qingxuan and Ming Yi is always — entertaining, maybe, is the word she wants. Those two are so different from each other, it always surprises Xie Lian that they're dating. Or fucking around, or whatever it is that they're doing. She's never asked, and they've never volunteered a clear answer, but Shi Qingxuan is always kissing Ming Yi's cheeks and forehead and they hold hands a lot, and Ming Yi isn't the kind of person who would suffer kisses she doesn't really want, so...

 

"Shi Qingxuan!" someone calls from across the dining hall. Shi Qingxuan looks up and waves enthusiastically, then excuses herself to go say hi.

 

"That's an old pal, I haven't seen them since they went abroad last semester," she explains to Ming Yi and Xie Lian. "If I'm not back by the time you guys are done you can just leave, I'll see you later!!"

 

Xie Lian wiggles her fingers in a wave goodbye, and Ming Yi grunts in acknowledgement. Shi Qingxuan bounces off, linking arms with her friend and whisking them away.

 

"Ming Yi, can I ask you something?" Xie Lian says, after Shi Qingxuan disappears from view.

 

"Eh," Ming Yi says, which is basically a yes.

 

"Are you two together?"

 

Ming Yi eyes her cautiously. "We're together a lot," she says.

 

"No, I mean, are you dating?"

 

Ming Yi stares at her for a long minute, and then she seems to decide Xie Lian is safe enough. "Yeah," she says at last.

 

"You love her?" Xie Lian blurts, before she can stop herself.

 

"Yes," Ming Yi says, "But don't tell her I said that. Also it's none of your business."

 

Xie Lian winces. "Sorry, I know, I'm just…"

 

"Having baby's first gay crisis?" Ming Yi guesses.

 

Xie Lian places her head on the table and groans, "Yeah, maybe a little bit." Then, after a moment, she clarifies, "It's not really baby's first gay crisis. More like baby is in love for the first time. I already knew about the gay part."

 

"Wow," Ming Yi says. "It's Crimson Rain, right?"

 

Again with the 'Crimson Rain' thing. Xie Lian really doesn't know what the story is there at all — she knows Hua Cheng and Ming Yi knew each other before college somehow?? Maybe they played Dungeons and Dragons together, or something. In any case: "Am I really that obvious?" Xie Lian says wretchedly.

 

"Uh, yeah," Ming Yi says, merciless. "You two are the most obvious people alive. I've been wondering when you were gonna tell us you were dating."

 

"When — Ming Yi, we aren't dating," Xie Lian says, puzzled. Ming Yi raises her eyebrows. "We really aren't!!"

 

"Jesus," Ming Yi says. "Congratulations on being the biggest pair of dumbasses alive, I guess. Let us know when you get your shit together."

 

Xie Lian puts her head in her hands and groans.



*



That evening Xie Lian finally opens The Box. She's thrilled and relieved to see that it does not, in fact, contain a giant silicone ****, as she feared it might. What's inside is instead a slightly inscrutable, two-pronged device, just as sleek and alien as the robot heart but more… phallic. She sits down on her bed and turns it over in her hands, just like she had a week ago. This thing's supposed to go up her —??

 

She texts Hua Cheng before she loses her nerve.

 

me

good evening san lang. i am looking at the new device and i must say. it's a little intimidating

 

Hua Cheng doesn't text her, just calls her immediately and laughs into her ear when she picks up. "A little intimidating, huh?" she teases.

 

"Well, yeah!" Xie Lian says. She looks around for her earbuds, scrambles to plug them in. "I don't even use tampons!"

 

Hua Cheng laughs again, but she says, "That's okay, jiejie. You can do whatever you're comfortable with."

 

"Oh, I definitely still want to try," Xie Lian tells her. "I'm just saying. It's a monster." Hua Cheng snickers, and Xie Lian giggles nervously. She looks at the device in her hands again, and then she says, "Oh. It just occurred to me that this might be the kind of thing one uses lube for. I definitely don't have any of that."

 

Hua Cheng coughs a little. "Oh, right," she says. "Uh… Well, if you're — if you're wet enough, you might not need lube? I didn't think about it because I don't, but also all bodies are different, so…"

 

Xie Lian looks at the thing in her hand and thinks about Hua Cheng not even needing lube to get it in. She thinks about it in Hua Cheng's hands, inside Hua Cheng. She thinks maybe she might not need lube either after all.

 

She clears her throat. "Okay, um. I guess I'll see how it goes."

 

"Okay," Hua Cheng says. "Just let me know if it isn't working or if you want to stop for any reason, okay?"

 

"Okay," Xie Lian says. She likes her so much.

 

"Did you — do you wanna, right now?"

 

"Yeah!" Xie Lian says, too fast. "I mean, um, yes, if you're not busy."

 

"I'm not," Hua Cheng reassures her. "I spent all day in the studio so I get to just liquefy in bed all evening."

 

Xie Lian thinks about her own plans to liquefy in bed all evening and wonders if Hua Cheng's plans are anything like hers. "Oh, good," she says lamely.

 

"I think so," Hua Cheng says. "Alright, are you lying down?"

 

Xie Lian goes to lie down, and then she remembers that she should probably be naked for this, or at least pants-less, and she says, "Yeah, uh, hang on," and quickly yanks her sweats and briefs off, and then after a moment of consideration, her shirt follows. She scoots herself back onto her bed and says a little breathlessly, "Okay I'm good."

 

Hua Cheng laughs quietly. "Okay. Deep breath, jiejie. Do you want me to help you relax like last time?"

 

"Please," Xie Lian says.

 

Hua Cheng guides her through her meditation thing again, but when she reaches Xie Lian's knees, she changes it a little. "Bring your attention to the backs of your knees," she advises, and then, "Think about what it might feel like to have someone else's hands there. Their mouth, their tongue." Xie Lian whimpers, surprised at how hot that idea is. "Imagine hands running up the insides of your legs. A lover's mouth where it's hot and wet. Fingers gripping your thighs, guiding you open."

 

Xie Lian shuts her eyes and moans. She lets her legs fall open, feels heat radiating between them.

 

"Inhale. Think about those hands moving up your body, over your hips, your belly," Hua Cheng says. She's speaking so slowly, it's driving Xie Lian mad. "Exhale, and they fall back down to your thighs. Inhale, and this time when your lungs are fullest, the hands have reached your breasts. A mouth between them. Exhale back down to the soft skin above your legs. Inhale—"

 

"San Lang," Xie Lian interrupts, breathless. She doesn't know how much more of this she can take. "Please."

 

Hua Cheng chuckles lowly, and the sound goes straight between Xie Lian's legs. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry for teasing, jiejie," she says. "I'll be nicer."

 

Xie Lian swallows a whine, thinks, I don't need you to be nicer, I need you to touch me!

 

"Now start running your hands very lightly up and down your body," Hua Cheng instructs her. "From the insides of your knees to your collarbones. Is there anywhere that feels particularly good?"

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian pants as she does as she's told. "Yeah — god, I didn't realize my breasts were so —"

 

"Yeah? Are they really sensitive?"

 

"Yyyeaahh," Xie Lian moans, skimming her hands clumsily up the soft curve of her breasts. Her skin is slightly textured, the fine invisible hairs standing up like goosebumps in her arousal.

 

"Good, jiejie. Take your nipples between your thumb and forefinger and roll them gently, see how that feels," Hua Cheng tells her.

 

"Oh — ohh," Xie Lian sighs.

 

"Jiejie sounds like she's having fun," Hua Cheng says.

 

"Mmmhmmm," Xie Lian moans.

 

"Does it feel good if you pull on them?" Hua Cheng asks.

 

Xie Lian gives her nipples a little tug, imagines that it's Hua Cheng's hands on her. "Ah!" she cries, "Oh, god, San Lang—"

 

"Do it again," Hua Cheng tells her. "Harder."

 

Xie Lian almost sobs with how good it feels, how hot it is to have Hua Cheng telling her what to do. "San Lang," she gasps, "yes, please, yes."

 

"Pinch them," Hua Cheng says.

 

"AH!" Xie Lian exclaims. "Ahhhyyes, yes, please, more, I want—"

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng interrupts her.

 

"Y-yeah?" she pants.

 

"Let your right hand drift down over your belly to your thighs," Hua Cheng says. Xie Lian obeys with a whimper at the loss of her hand on her breast. "Trace your fingers so lightly over the insides of your thighs — don't touch your pussy yet."

 

"But I wanna," Xie Lian says, arousal killing the embarrassment of such a proclamation. Hua Cheng laughs.

 

"So eager," she teases. "I'm glad jiejie is enjoying herself. Okay, trace your fingers up the outside of your lips."

 

Xie Lian obeys. She inhales when her fingertips make contact with her skin. "Mmngh," she manages. Hua Cheng goes hm? and she explains breathlessly, "I'm so hot down there — I must be so wet…"

 

"Good," Hua Cheng says. Her voice is so low. They breathe together for a quiet moment as Xie Lian traces arcs on her hot damp skin. At last Hua Cheng says, "Jiejie?"

 

Xie Lian bites her lip and says, "Mmnn?"

 

"Why don't you slip a finger in and tell me how wet you are," Hua Cheng suggests.

 

Xie Lian moans and finally, finally lets her index finger dip between her folds. "Nnghhahh," she gasps, "San Lang — San Lang I'm so wet, I could take anything."

 

Hua Cheng inhales audibly and says, "You're doing so well, jiejie, you haven't even really touched yourself yet, you're so good at this."

 

Xie Lian can't help the hysterical giggle that escapes her. "San Lang ah, anyone can do this," she reminds her.

 

"Still," Hua Cheng insists, "Jiejie is amazing, this San Lang is in awe of her."

 

Xie Lian smiles, draws her wet finger up to brush against her clit and back down again. "I love the way you talk to me," she admits, cheeks burning.

 

She hears Hua Cheng breathe in. "I love talking to jiejie like this," she says. "I love the little sounds you make."

 

"Mmnn," Xie Lian says.

 

"Yes," Hua Cheng says, "exactly."

 

Xie Lian laughs again, arousal making her voice low and breathy. "San Lang," she murmurs, "my San Lang. You're so good to me."

 

The sound that Hua Cheng makes at that is definitely a moan. Xie Lian bites her lip and smiles against a new wave of wet heat. "Does — does jiejie want to try putting a finger in?" Hua Cheng suggests.

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian moans. She eases her wet index finger inside herself, reaching into the slick wet heat. "Mmnn, it's in," she reports. She strokes it in and out.

 

"Good. How's that feel?"

 

"I want — oh, god, I want more," Xie Lian admits.

 

"Jiejie, try a second finger for me," Hua Cheng says. "Run it — run it up and down to get it wet first."

 

Xie Lian slicks her finger and eases it in next to the other. The stretch feels sharp and good, less painful when she consciously relaxes. "Mmnngh," she moans. "I — ah, it's in, San Lang."

 

"So good, jiejie. Stroke your fingers in and out, stretch yourself out," Hua Cheng says. "Do you — hah — do you think you can fit three in?"

 

Xie Lian laughs a little and gasps, "Maybe. Sure. Give — give me a minute, I love a challenge."

 

Hua Cheng laughs in delight and says, "I know you do, jiejie. Take your time."

 

The thing about Hua Cheng is that when she says something like "take your time," she really does mean "take your time." So Xie Lian doesn't feel bad at all about spending the next couple minutes fucking herself open as Hua Cheng encourages her in an undertone. She makes sure to narrate her activity as she goes, pays close attention to the way Hua Cheng's breath hitches in time with her moans. "H-hey," she says at last, just as she starts to slip her ring finger inside herself. "San Lang. San Lang."

 

"Mmn?" Hua Cheng hums. She's been mostly nonverbal for the last minute or so.

 

"What are — ah — hah — what are you doing right now?"

 

"Hm?"

 

Xie Lian swallows and asks, "Are you touching yourself too?" Hua Cheng moans and Xie Lian continues in a whisper, "I hope you are. I want you to touch yourself and think about me."

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng gasps. "Jiejie, god, of course — of course I am." She sucks a breath in through her teeth.

 

"Want your mouth," Xie Lian murmurs, dizzy with thrilled arousal. She fits her third finger inside herself with a moan. "Want your fingers on me, all over me, inside me." Hua Cheng almost sobs, so she adds, "I want you to fuck me, San Lang."

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng says again, her voice a wreck. "Please, god, yes. I — I wanted to say my hands. Imagine — hah — imagine my hands on you. Imagine my tongue."

 

"I was," Xie Lian says. "I was, I am — San Lang, I've got — ah, I've got three fingers in."

 

"So good, jiejie, you're so — so good," Hua Cheng babbles. Then she takes a deep breath and says, "Okay — pick up the vibrator and — drag the shaft up your pussy. Get it — hhah — get it all wet."

 

Xie Lian reaches blindly for the vibrator, slides it up and down her spread lips as instructed. She pulls her fingers from herself with a wet sound and smears slick onto the inner curve of it. "I like — mnnn, I like how cool it is," she tells Hua Cheng. "Feels good against my — my hot pussy."

 

Hua Cheng whines wordlessly. "God, the mouth on you," she breathes. "Jiejie, is it wet?"

 

"Yes," Xie Lian confirms. She nudges the tip experimentally against her entrance. It's so big.

 

"Okay, jiejie, hold yourself — open with your fingers — and slowly push it in," Hua Cheng says. "It's gonna — ahh, it's gonna feel weird — you can stop if you want, or go slower."

 

"Mmn," Xie Lian says. "Okay. Okay, I — I'm putting it in…" She sucks a breath through her teeth as the tip of the vibrator enters her. "Hhaaah," she gasps, "San Lang, San Lang — it's so big. I feel like I'm splitting open."

 

"Do you wanna stop?" Hua Cheng asks, her voice attentive.

 

"No," Xie Lian breathes. "No, I'm good. Keep going."

 

"Okay," Hua Cheng says. "Pet your clit and — and your pussy around the vibrator. Mmnghh, M-make sure to relax, keep it wet."

 

"Mmnnhmmm," Xie Lian hums. She slicks the vibrator up again with her own wetness, pushes it slowly farther in. The shaft of it has kind of a swell at the end, and once she's able to fit that past the tight stretch of her entrance, the rest slides inside easily. She sighs in satisfaction. It feels so good to be filled like this. "San Lang!" she says, "it's in, I got it in."

 

"Good job, jiejie!" Hua Cheng enthuses, just as pleased as she would be for any other accomplishment of Xie Lian's. "How does it feel?"

 

"Feels good," Xie Lian murmurs. "Full. I like the stretch…"

 

"Mm," Hua Cheng says in appreciation. "Do you want to — ah — hah— do you wanna turn it on, or just have — have it inside you?"

 

Xie Lian considers this. She'd forgotten that, as the name suggests, the vibrator is something she could turn on. "Maybe — maybe just have it inside me for now," she says.

 

"That's smart. It might be... a little much," Hua Cheng says.

 

"Mmn," Xie Lian agrees. "So what — what now?"

 

"Hmmmm. Grip the handle with, with one hand, and guide it with the other. Try — hhhah — try fucking it in and out of you. Not all the way out. Just — just so that it feels good."

 

Xie Lian gives it an experimental tug, straight out. That doesn't seem to do it, so she changes the angle and tries just rocking it in and out, moving the tip of the vibrator on a curve with her wrist at the locus. "Oh," she breathes.

 

"Good?"

 

"Uh hhhuhh," she manages.

 

"Try going faster," Hua Cheng whispers. "Aim up."

 

"Mngnhgn," Xie Lian mumbles. She works the vibe in and out of herself, plays with speed and force until she finds what feels best. She starts hitting some sweet bundle of nerves inside her, drags the swollen head of the vibe against it with each stroke. "San Lang," she gasps, "San Lang, San Lang, ah — ah - ah - yes - San - Sanlang - fuck - ah - hah - Sanlang - Sssan - Ssanlang sanlang sanlangsanlangsanlang san AH —" She heaves for breath, feels herself tipping over the edge of the wave.

 

"So good," Hua Cheng tells her, "So good for me, jiejie, fuck yourself for me—"

 

"SAN LANG," she cries, "AH — AaahnnnmmnggmMMMSAN LANG SAN LANG AH! YES! YES YES AH — —" Her body spasms as she comes, squeezing tight and hot around the vibrator. She can feel her clit throbbing, slower and harder than her rabbiting heartbeat.

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng sobs, "fuck," and then a quiet "Xie Lian," and then a long, low sigh.

 

They pant into each other's ears, come slowly down from their orgasms. Xie Lian eases the vibrator out of herself, winces now at the pinch of her body stretching where before it had been only pleasurable. "San Lang," she sighs, "San Lang, San Lang, I wish you were here."

 

"Mmmmnnn," Hua Cheng exhales, "Me too. — I can come over tomorrow — or you can come over here — god, jiejie, I wanna see you."

 

Xie Lian hums consideringly. "Mmn. Your place… You have that big bed," she says.

 

"God. You're right," Hua Cheng says, "Why in the hell do I have a bed this big if not for going down on you in it."

 

Xie Lian whimpers. "I have work," she says weakly. "I get off at three."

 

"Yeah, and then again at four, if I have anything to say about it," Hua Cheng jokes, and it's such a goofy vulgar thing to say that it shocks Xie Lian into laughing.

 

"San Lang!!" she admonishes. Hua Cheng giggles breathlessly.

 

"Pick you up from work at three fifteen?" she offers.

 

"It's a date," Xie Lian says, grinning at the ceiling.

 

"Hm!" Hua Cheng says, her voice pitched up. "It's a date," she confirms.

 

"I can't wait," Xie Lian says quietly.

 

"Me neither," Hua Cheng says, equally quiet.

 

Xie Lian wants to stay awake and keep talking, but she's so fucked out that she can't keep her eyes open. She tries and fails to stifle a yawn, and Hua Cheng laughs.

 

"Go to sleep, jiejie," she says. "I'll see you tomorrow."

 

Xie Lian admits defeat. "Goodnight, San Lang."

 

"Goodnight, jiejie. Sweet dreams."

 

Xie Lian bites her lip and smiles, makes a kissy sound into the phone, and hangs up.

 

A date!



*

 

Xie Lian spends the whole day at work distracted and horny, trying to pretend like the only thing she can think about isn't her head between Hua Cheng's thighs. Right now her main job is demolition; she'd tried working construction for a while on her semester off, but she wasn't any good at it, kept knocking down walls by accident. Her foreman had hated her, but he'd recommended her to run the excavator for a demolition team, since apparently she was really, really good at knocking down walls. She just had to try not to knock them down, and they'd fall like dominos.

 

She's grateful now that, while she has to be capable of speech over the radio, she can in fact just sit in the cab of the excavator and not look anyone in the eye for six hours. When three o'clock rolls around, she parks the excavator, punches out, and goes to peel herself out of her work uniform in record time. She'd realized, of course, as soon as she'd arrived to work that morning that she'd made a grave mistake: she's always grimy and sweaty when she punches out, with hard-hat hair and engine grease hands. She looks down at herself now and says, "Stupid, stupid, stupid." She definitely doesn't have time to take a real shower before Hua Cheng arrives to pick her up, so she just sighs and packs her bag and sits on the curb.

 

When Hua Cheng rolls up in E-Ming, some of the guys whistle at the sexy car. They hoot in surprise when Xie Lian stands up, and one of them yells, "Hey, Xie Lian, that your boyfriend?"

 

Xie Lian is kind of pals with them, and she knows he means it in a kind of bro-y, jock-y, friendly way, and she's so giddy anyway that she laughs as she throws her stuff in the trunk and calls back, "My girlfriend, actually!"

 

The guys immediately cheer, and Hua Cheng smirks at her as she opens the door and slides breathlessly into the seat beside her. Xie Lian grins at her, only to watch Hua Cheng's face change as she takes in Xie Lian's appearance. It's not the first time Hua Cheng has seen her like this, but it's the first time she's seen her like this when they're about to — do whatever they're about to do. Xie Lian's heart sinks.

 

It must show on her face, because Hua Cheng immediately blinks and says, "Jiejie, you okay?"

 

"Yeah, I just — sorry, I know this is, like, a date, and I'm all greasy and sweaty and — you looked a little…"

 

Hua Cheng widens her eye. "Jiejie, whatever my face is doing, it's doing that because you look super, super hot," she says.

 

"What?" Xie Lian squeaks.

 

Hua Cheng stares at her. "Hot…. girl," she manages. Xie Lian is startled into giggling. Hua Cheng makes a face like she's trying really hard to be coherent. She says, "Muscles. Girlfriend."

 

"Take your time," Xie Lian says. And then, "Did I say girlfriend???"

 

"Yeah," Hua Cheng says.

 

"Um," Xie Lian says. "How… do you feel about that?"

 

Hua Cheng stares at her some more. Someone behind her honks. "Say it again," she demands.

 

"Girlfriend?"

 

"I like it," Hua Cheng says. She looks away, puts the car into gear abruptly, and tears away from the demolition site. Her visible ear is so pink. "Girlfriend," she repeats.

 

"Hey San Lang?"

 

"That's me," Hua Cheng says.

 

"I have a huge, enormous crush on you," Xie Lian tells her. "And we should be girlfriends about it."

 

Hua Cheng makes a sound not unlike a death rattle. "Jiejie," she wheezes, "it's really very unfair of you to say that when I'm driving and can't immediately kiss you."

 

"Sorry," Xie Lian says, and she really is sorry about it.

 

"I'll try to find it in my heart to forgive you," Hua Cheng says. "Also, obviously, your feelings are reciprocated, seeing as how I've been in love with you since fall of my sophomore year."

 

Xie Lian stares at her. "That's when you met me," she points out.

 

"Yeah," Hua Cheng says, shrugging. "Well."

 

"Do you mind if I take a shower when we get to your place?" Xie Lian asks abruptly.

 

"Sure," Hua Cheng says. "I got all those fancy soaps, you know."

 

"Yeah, and water pressure," Xie Lian agrees.

 

"Can't believe you're gonna date me just so you get access to my shower," Hua Cheng sighs.

 

Xie Lian laughs and places a brave hand on Hua Cheng's thigh. "Or something," she says.

 

Hua Cheng glances down at her hand. Up at the road. Down at her hand. The road again. "Jiejie," she says, her voice strained. "You actually can't have your hand on my thigh right now."

 

Xie Lian takes her hand back, face burning. "Sorry," she says, "I should have asked —"

 

"I'm into it," Hua Cheng says quickly, "I'm super into it, I'm just a dyke and I only have one eye and I super, super have to pay attention to the road if I don't wanna run us off it."

 

Xie Lian laughs, relieved. "Alright, San Lang," she says, "whatever you need."

 

They get back to Hua Cheng's place with no further incident. The second she's parked in the building's private parking garage (!) Hua Cheng turns to Xie Lian and says, "Okay, I know you need to go shower and I don't really wanna make out in the car because I don't think it would be very comfortable, but can I kiss you right now?"

 

"Yes," Xie Lian breathes, and they lean across the console to meet in the middle. Hua Cheng reaches up to cup her face in her hands, makes eye contact for a split second before leaning the rest of the way and kissing her. Hua Cheng's mouth is so warm, and her lips are firm, and her hands tremble just a little in her excitement. Xie Lian doesn't know where to put her own hands, so she keeps them clenched over the console as she kisses back. Hua Cheng pulls away a little, but it's just to change the angle before she kisses her again.

 

They kiss for a long moment before Hua Cheng finally pulls all the way back. "I love you," Xie Lian blurts, and then she covers her mouth in embarrassment. Hua Cheng stares at her, her eye black and huge in her rapidly-reddening face.

 

"I love you," Hua Cheng echoes. "I love — let's get out of this fucking car, jiejie," she interrupts herself.

 

Xie Lian laughs and they wrench open the car doors, and they both rush around the trunk to embrace each other, wobbling back and forth with the force of their collision. Hua Cheng presses kisses all over her face. "San Lang ah," Xie Lian protests, "You shouldn't, I'm all sweaty—"

 

"I don't care, jiejie is so smart and hot and perfect, I want to do this always," Hua Cheng tells her between kisses.

 

Xie Lian reaches up to twist her fingers into Hua Cheng's long hair. "Let me take a shower," she says. "Then you can kiss me wherever you want."

 

Hua Cheng's expression turns intense, and she ducks her head to hide her face in Xie Lian's neck. "Jiejie shouldn't make offers she doesn't mean," she says quietly.

 

"Who said I don't mean that?" Xie Lian says, stroking Hua Cheng's broad, angular shoulders.

 

"Mmn," Hua Cheng says. "Let's go inside."

 

"Let's," Xie Lian agrees, her heart pounding.

 

They make their way from the parking garage to the lobby to the elevator, to Hua Cheng's absurd penthouse apartment. Xie Lian has no clue how Hua Cheng affords any of this — the apartment, the car, the studio art major, for heaven's sake — and she's never asked. All she knows is that Hua Cheng is nouveau riche and has no family to speak of; the latter she knows from hours-long late night talks, the former the knows from Hua Cheng's taste. Xie Lian's family was old money — old money, centuries of wealth accumulated from generations upon generations of nobility — and she grew up surrounded by a casual, dripping-in-gold kind of upperclass elegance, the sort that makes Hua Cheng's campy affluence years later seem a little like a child playing dress-up.

 

Words could not describe how strongly Xie Lian prefers Hua Cheng's self-conscious gaudy wealth to her family's austere pearls.

 

Hua Cheng herds Xie Lian into the bathroom, gives her a big towel and a washcloth and her choice of a thousand weird little soaps, and then she ducks out shyly to go read or draw or whatever it is she does here when Xie Lian's not around. Xie Lian tries to keep her shower short, she really does, but the water pressure here… And all the grease under her fingernails...

 

When she emerges from the shower, she towels off and goes to put on clean clothes, and then she realizes that of course she doesn't have any clean clothes. She has what she was wearing earlier, which isn't horrible, but it's not clean. She casts around for something else to wear and finds Hua Cheng's black satin robe hanging on a hook on the door. It smells like Hua Cheng's floral shampoo and smoky soap when Xie Lian presses it to her face, and it feels good across her skin, smooth and sleek when she shrugs it on.

 

She looks at herself in the mirror and is taken aback by what she sees: like this she's all curves, all shiny black hair and shiny black satin, the exposed vee of her chest stark in contrast. Her nipples are visible through the robe, which they usually are through her shirts anyway, but now it looks like it's on purpose. The slowly-dampening fabric clings in a flattering way to the curves of her muscles, makes her arms look powerful.

 

She looks… kinda sexy.

 

She opens the door and peers out. After a second she can hear faint clinking sounds coming from the direction of the kitchen, so that's where she heads, padding barefoot on the black hardwood floor.

 

She turns the corner into the kitchen and finds Hua Cheng sitting crosslegged on the floor, eating pineapple chunks out of a can with a plastic fork. Hua Cheng looks up and freezes like a guilty dog. Xie Lian watches her gaze flick from her face to the can of pineapples to her boobs to her face to her legs to the pineapples again.

 

"Hi, San Lang," she says.

 

"Hi, jiejie," Hua Cheng says wretchedly. "You're wearing my robe."

 

"I am," Xie Lian agrees. She sits down next to Hua Cheng, making sure to arrange the hem of the robe so that she's still decent. "I realized I didn't have any clean clothes. Sorry I'm such a terrible date."

 

"It's no trouble," Hua Cheng wheezes. "You're really gonna be the death of me, jiejie."

 

Xie Lian grins to herself and takes the pineapple can out of Hua Cheng's hands. She makes eye contact with Hua Cheng and sticks a pineapple chunk in her mouth. Hua Cheng whimpers a little. "It's good pineapple," Xie Lian says, her mouth full.

 

"Yeah, you know, half off at Lianhua," Hua Cheng says. Her eye is still so wide in her face.

 

"Hmm," Xie Lian says. She swallows and hands the can back to Hua Cheng, then tips her head to rest on Hua Cheng's shoulder. "Tell me about your day, San Lang?" she asks.

 

Hua Cheng puts the can down on the floor and takes one of Xie Lian's hands in her own, starts massaging it with her long clever fingers. Xie Lian hums appreciatively. "It was okay," Hua Cheng says. "I got some work done in the studio this morning."

 

"Were you able to salvage the piece that was collapsing the other day?"

 

"Sort of," she sighs. "The clay was too dried out and brittle to really do what I wanted it to do, but it ended up looking kind of cool collapsed, so I just left it like that. It's a metaphor, or whatever."

 

"That's good," Xie Lian says. Hua Cheng hums in agreement, puts her near hand down and moves to the farther one. Xie Lian turns a little into Hua Cheng's shoulder so she can reach better. Hua Cheng tips her head towards Xie Lian's hair, inhales quietly.

 

"You smell like my shampoo," she murmurs. Xie Lian bites her lip.

 

"Mmhmm," she says. "I like your shampoo. Smells like you."

 

"Mmmm," Hua Cheng exhales.

 

Xie Lian tilts her head up so she can make eye contact. "San Lang," she says.

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng says, her gaze locked on Xie Lian's mouth. Her hands have stopped moving over Xie Lian's scarred knuckles.

 

Xie Lian licks her lips. "You should probably kiss me," she whispers, and Hua Cheng dips her head and does as she's told. Her mouth is cool and wet and she smells like pineapple; Xie Lian kisses her mouth open and finds that she tastes like pineapple too. They maneuver themselves so that Xie Lian is kneeling sideways between Hua Cheng's knees, one of her skinny legs thrown across Xie Lian's lap so they can press close together. Xie Lian threads her fingers into Hua Cheng's hair; Hua Cheng puts her hands on Xie Lian's waist and pulls her close, closer, moans when Xie Lian slips her tongue into her mouth. Xie Lian is obsessed with her mouth, the way their lips slide against each other, Hua Cheng's warm breath coming in pants against her face. Xie Lian sucks Hua Cheng's bottom lip into her mouth, rolls it lightly between her teeth, and Hua Cheng moans.

 

"Jiejie," she gasps when Xie Lian releases her, "jiejie, oh, god, let's go back to my room," and Xie Lian kisses her again and says, "Please."

 

They scramble up, hold hands tightly as they stumble the twenty feet to Hua Cheng's bedroom. Xie Lian pulls Hua Cheng down to the bed on top of her, entwines their legs like she had on the couch the day before. She knows without looking that the robe has fallen open below the tie at her waist, that she's pressed naked against Hua Cheng's black skinny jeans from her feet to her belly button. Hua Cheng kisses her again, wet and messy, their tongues thrusting slick and obscene against each other. Xie Lian keeps one hand in her hair; she has to keep brushing it back away from Hua Cheng's face or it'll end up in her mouth. She runs her other hand down Hua Cheng's back, feels her muscles moving over her shoulder blades and ribs. Hua Cheng keeps her hands in Xie Lian's short damp hair, stroking and stroking as she sucks on Xie Lian's tongue.

 

When she finally pulls away Xie Lian gulps for breath and clutches at her back. She shouldn't move too far away!! Hua Cheng laughs, her voice low, and asks, "You good, jiejie?"

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian gasps, "yeah, god, come back here, 'm not done yet."

 

Hua Cheng lowers her face to press her closed mouth to Xie Lian's neck. "Thought I'd come down here for a while," she murmurs into Xie Lian's carotid artery. "This okay?" She presses an experimental kiss to her throat and Xie Lian feels her pulse jump.

 

"Mmmhhmm," she sighs, pleasure turning her brain to mush.

 

Hua Cheng kisses her neck again and whispers, "May I leave marks?"

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian breathes. "Yeah, god, please."

 

Hua Cheng hums a laugh into her skin and kisses Xie Lian's throat with a wet open mouth. Xie Lian can feel herself liquefying. She hugs Hua Cheng's shoulders, drags her hands up and down her back as Hua Cheng sucks a bruise onto her skin. It's an almost-ticklish sensation, but instead of making Xie Lian want to laugh, each suck and bite makes her want to lock her legs around Hua Cheng's narrow hips and rut against her until she comes. Her breath feels like it's being punched out of her, little semivocalized ah ah ah s into Hua Cheng's messy hair. "San Lang," she chokes after a long time, "San Lang, San Lang," and Hua Cheng pulls away to look at her, her mouth open and red, a thin strand of spit hanging between her tongue and Xie Lian's wet throat. Xie Lian keens a little at the sight of her.

 

"What's up, jiejie," Hua Cheng asks in an undertone.

 

"Take — can you take your shirt off," Xie Lian begs. "I wanna — San Lang, I wanna see you."

 

Hua Cheng says, "Yeah," and sits up, starts undoing the buttons on her shirt. She pauses and asks, "Do you wanna," and tugs at the tie to the robe.

 

Xie Lian sits up too and reaches for Hua Cheng's shirt and mumbles, "I'll do you, you do me," and Hua Cheng chokes on a laugh. Of course she's able to untie Xie Lian's robe much faster than Xie Lian is able to unbutton all her stupid little buttons, so she joins in anyway and they finish together. Hua Cheng in her unbuttoned shirt is beautiful, a wet dream come to life; her long black hair is messy from Xie Lian's hands in it, her lacy black-and-red bra just visible under her open shirt, heaving with her quickened breath. Xie Lian eases the shirt off her shoulders and doesn't bother trying not to stare.

 

Hua Cheng, for her part, shrugs herself the rest of the way out of her shirt and tosses it to the floor, then slides her hands under the collar of Xie Lian's borrowed robe and lets it pool around her hands on the bed. Xie Lian watches her eye dart around, taking in her naked body. She fights the urge to cringe away, to cover herself. She wants Hua Cheng's hungry gaze on her.

 

At last Hua Cheng reaches out with almost-shaking hands and brushes the backs of her fingers down Xie Lian's throat to her shoulders, her biceps, the sides of her breasts. Xie Lian inhales carefully at the touch, watches Hua Cheng's face as she traces her fingers so-so-so lightly around her breasts, below them, between them. She looks like she's having a religious experience, her red mouth slack and un-self-conscious. She draws her thumbs across Xie Lian's nipples, makes her gasp and arch closer. Finally Xie Lian remembers that she's allowed to touch Hua Cheng too, and she skims her hands up Hua Cheng's waist, the firm cage of her ribs, all the way to the soft warm swell of her breasts under her fancy bra. She leans forward to lay her cheek against Hua Cheng's bared chest, breathes in her clean girl smell. "You should take your pants off," she mumbles, pulling her hands back down Hua Cheng's sides to drag her palms over her thighs, still trapped in her black jeans.

 

"Mmnn," Hua Cheng hums. She runs her hands through Xie Lian's hair, guides her to turn her face into Hua Cheng's cleavage. Xie Lian nuzzles closer, presses little kisses wherever she can reach. Hua Cheng shivers under her mouth. Xie Lian sticks her tongue out and licks the soft skin between her breasts, and Hua Cheng makes a helpless little sound and clutches her head tighter. "You're right," she gasps, "you're right, hang on."

 

She sits back and swings her legs off the bed. Xie Lian watches with her chin propped in one hand as Hua Cheng unbuttons her fly and peels her jeans off, revealing lacy black panties that match her bra. "San Lang is so pretty," Xie Lian tells her. "She has matching undies and everything, I'm amazed."

 

Hua Cheng grins at her, cheeks coloring. "Yeah, well," she says. "Most of the time my panties are nowhere near this cute. Just for you." She leaves her pants on the ground and crawls back onto the bed, back over Xie Lian's body. Xie Lian lies all the way back down to accommodate her, and Hua Cheng slides down next to her, dances her fingertips up Xie Lian's body until she reaches her jaw and turns her face to kiss her. Xie Lian hums into the kiss and shifts to embrace her again, pull her back on top of her. Hua Cheng goes easily, slips one bare leg between Xie Lian's knees. Xie Lian wraps both her legs around it and Hua Cheng says, "Oh," very quietly. At first Xie Lian isn't certain what she's reacting to, but then Hua Cheng settles on top of her and rolls her hips, pushing her thigh against the wet heat that's been pooling between Xie Lian's legs.

 

Xie Lian inhales sharply at the pressure, but she rolls her hips back up before Hua Cheng can even think to apologize. Hua Cheng shudders above her and leans back down to kiss her deeply, braced on her elbows. Xie Lian whines and skims her hands up Hua Cheng's warm bare back, slides her fingers underneath the band of her bra questioningly. Hua Cheng pants, "Yeah," into her mouth, so she begins the complicated process of kissing Hua Cheng, grinding against her thigh, and taking her bra off blind. When at last the hooks come loose, Hua Cheng shrugs it off in one fluid movement and presses closer, writhes against Xie Lian's body, so much bare skin against her own. Xie Lian wraps her limbs around her, her heart pounding, and they grind together breathlessly. "Love you," Hua Cheng pants into her mouth, "love you, jiejie, oh, god, I want you—"

 

Xie Lian runs her hand up Hua Cheng's arm until she finds her hand somewhere near her head and guides it to her breast. "Touch me then," she gasps, "want your hands all over me, San Lang, please." Hua Cheng moans and hides her face in Xie Lian's neck, angled so she can see what she's doing as she takes Xie Lian's nipple between her fingers. She drags her thumb over the top of it and Xie Lian shudders; she pinches it and Xie Lian cries, "AH!" Hua Cheng makes an appreciative sound, almost a laugh, and starts sucking another hickey onto Xie Lian's neck to the rhythm of her fingers on her breast. Xie Lian keeps rolling her hips into Hua Cheng's thigh. She can feel Hua Cheng's skin turning wet with her slick, and in turn Hua Cheng's panties have a wet spot smearing against her own thigh.

 

Hua Cheng gives her nipple a particularly hard tug and she stifles another cry. "How's jiejie feeling?" Hua Cheng murmurs, her breath hot at Xie Lian's ear.

 

"Jiejie feels like if you don't start touching her soon she'll cry," Xie Lian tells her breathlessly. She emphasizes her point by dragging her pussy slowly down Hua Cheng's thigh, leaving a smear of wetness as she goes.

 

"HHhahh," Hua Cheng says, strangled. Xie Lian turns to kiss her. Her mouth is so wet, so hot and soft against Xie Lian's tongue. She sucks on Hua Cheng's tongue, releases her, and swallows her spit. Hua Cheng stares at her and says, "Yeah okay."

 

They adjust themselves a little so that Hua Cheng is braced firmly on her elbow at Xie Lian's side. Xie Lian lies on her back, her legs already fallen open in welcome. Hua Cheng leans her forehead against Xie Lian's, and they watch each other as she traces her free fingers down Xie Lian's body, draws them through her pubic hair. When she reaches her pussy Xie Lian closes her eyes, focuses on the sensation of Hua Cheng's cool fingers drawing light lines through her hair, just barely brushing her outer lips. She can feel her entrance pulsing already, a hungry mouth. At last Hua Cheng slips a finger between Xie Lian's inner lips, and she leans forward to kiss her at the same time so Xie Lian is stimulated in both places, a tongue in her mouth and a finger in her folds. Hua Cheng strokes up, draws slick from Xie Lian's entrance up through her lips, and murmurs into her mouth, "Jiejie really is so wet. Feels so good."

 

Xie Lian shivers and kisses her in response. It's strange to have someone else's fingers on her, alien and uncontrollable, but Hua Cheng seems to know just how to touch her. She gives long slow strokes in time with the little thrusting movements of Xie Lian's hips on the bed, lets Xie Lian set the rhythm, kisses her through it until Xie Lian loses the ability to really kiss back. Then Hua Cheng nuzzles into her hair and murmurs filthy praises that make Xie Lian moan and whine, "Jiejie feels so good on my fingers, so hot and wet," "The way you move is incredible," "I want to swallow the sounds you make," quiet and hot in Xie Lian's ear.

 

She starts teasing Xie Lian's clit at last, light little presses of her fingertips against it, and Xie Lian moans. "Jiejie looks so good like this, with my fingers on her pussy," Hua Cheng whispers, and Xie Lian breaks.

 

"Jiejie might look even better with your fingers inside her," she pants. She hears Hua Cheng's intake of breath and insists, "San Lang, San Lang, please fuck me."

 

Hua Cheng surges up to kiss her, wet and messy, and murmurs "Anything you want" when she pulls away again. Then she shifts down to lay her head on Xie Lian's chest, gives herself a better angle to fuck Xie Lian open. She takes one of Xie Lian's nipples into her mouth and Xie Lian gasps and moans, almost doesn't notice when Hua Cheng slips the first finger inside her. She clutches Hua Cheng's perfect head, runs her fingers through her hair, tried not to lose her goddamn mind. Hua Cheng's mouth is so warm and wet, and she alternates between sucking and little kitten licks and just the slightest hint of teeth, and her finger is sliding in and out of Xie Lian so nicely. Xie Lian wants more. She thrusts back against Hua Cheng's hand and Hua Cheng huffs a little laugh onto her wet nipple. "Think you can take another?" she offers, her voice husky.

 

"Please," Xie Lian begs, and she watches Hua Cheng watch her as a second finger joins the first. "Hhhhaaahh," Xie Lian exhales. Hua Cheng strokes in and out of her, straightens her thumb so she can press against Xie Lian's clit too on the in-strokes. Xie Lian's legs jerk.

 

"Wanna go down on you," Hua Cheng murmurs into her skin. "Wanna put my mouth all over you, jiejie, so beautiful."

 

Xie Lian's legs jerk again and she gasps, "Yes, San Lang, yes, please," and Hua Cheng pushes herself down her body. She drops kisses onto Xie Lian's belly as she goes, and the kisses grow slower and wetter as she makes her way down, until she's kneeling between Xie Lian's spread legs looking down at where her fingers disappear into Xie Lian's throbbing pussy.

 

Xie Lian lets her hands drift up to lie across her throat and chin, her elbows out to the sides so she can watch Hua Cheng. "San Lang," she croons. Hua Cheng looks up at her, mouth open and cheeks pink. Xie Lian was going to say something like San Lang fucks me so well or San Lang makes me feel so good or something, but what comes out is, "I love you."

 

Hua Cheng stares at her and gives an involuntary little twitch of her fingers that makes Xie Lian pant for breath. "I love you," she echoes, and tilts her head to kiss the inside of Xie Lian's knee. "I love you," and she kisses her way down Xie Lian's heavily-muscled thigh. "I lllllove you," she moans into the wet thatch of Xie Lian's hair, and then her tongue presses slick and hot onto Xie Lian's lips.

 

Xie Lian shudders and pushes into her mouth, gasps, "San Lang!" Hua Cheng fucks her fingers into her, licks and sucks at her clit. Xie Lian reaches down and grips Hua Cheng's free hand, receives a reassuring squeeze. Her breath pushes hot through Xie Lian's hair. The sound is obscene, the room filled wet fucking noises and Xie Lian's gasps and Hua Cheng's appreciative little hums as Xie Lian takes her fingers. "Faster," Xie Lian gasps, "harder, San Lang," and Hua Cheng obeys, her fingers fucking into her so perfectly, her tongue thrusting against Xie Lian's clit. Xie Lian can't hold in the helpless little cries she makes with each push of Hua Cheng's elegant hands into her, can't help the way her legs shudder and flex. "San Lang," she cries, "San Lang, I'm gonna —"

 

And Hua Cheng looks up, makes eye contact with her as she smiles and gives Xie Lian's clit one last brutal suck, and Xie Lian comes around her fingers with a shout. Hua Cheng lifts her mouth and continues to stroke her through her shaking aftershocks. She can feel cum seeping out of her onto Hua Cheng's fingers, and she's embarrassed about it until Hua Cheng eases her fingers out and immediately sticks them in her own mouth and sucks them clean. "S-San Lang," Xie Lian says hoarsely, mesmerized by the slick redness of Hua Cheng's lips around her own fingers.

 

Hua Cheng slides her fingers out of her mouth with a wet pop and says, "Jiejie tastes so good, I couldn't resist," and Xie Lian whimpers.

 

"Come kiss me," she says, and Hua Cheng wipes her mouth and chin on her arm and crawls back up her body to collapse with her face next to Xie Lian's. Xie Lian wraps sleepy arms around her, pets her hair back from her face, nuzzles closer.

 

"'m gonna taste like cum," Hua Cheng warns her. "I like it, but you don't have to kiss me if you think it'll be gross."

 

Xie Lian does kind of think it'll be gross, but it'll be hot, too, and anyway she wants to kiss Hua Cheng all the time and now is no different. So she shrugs and leans in and kisses her, tastes herself on Hua Cheng's lips and tongue. It's weird and smelly and so, so sexy. She moans into Hua Cheng's mouth, and Hua Cheng stops kissing her to grin soppily. She lays her hand flat against Xie Lian's side, draws little circles on her skin with her thumb. Xie Lian grins back, presses little closed-mouth kisses to Hua Cheng's mouth, her cheekbone, her sticky chin.

 

"My San Lang," she sighs, "I like you so fucking much."

 

Hua Cheng laughs and nuzzles into her throat. "I like when you swear," she murmurs. "Also, your whole neck is like bright red and purple right now and it'll probably be that way for the next week."

 

"Mmnnn," Xie Lian says. "Good. Want everyone to know I'm yours."

 

Hua Cheng inhales sharply, squeezes Xie Lian's waist. "Mine," she agrees, her cheeks coloring prettily.

 

They kiss a little more, and then Xie Lian tucks Hua Cheng's hair behind her ear and murmurs, "What can I do for you, San Lang?"

 

"Mmnn. Anything you want," Hua Cheng breathes, which is super sexy and not very useful.

 

"San Lang, I don't really know what my options are," Xie Lian reminds her, and she laughs. "Tell me what to do," she says, pitching her voice down low.

 

Hua Cheng's eyebrows rise. "Oh?" she murmurs.

 

"I like it," Xie Lian whispers slowly, "when you tell me. What to do."

 

"OH?" Hua Cheng repeats, delighted.

 

"San Lang ah," Xie Lian whines, "I'm being sexy, don't make fun of me!!"

 

Hua Cheng laughs and hugs her close, presses kisses all over her face. "I see! I see now!" she crows. "I see why jiejie liked calling me!"

 

Xie Lian wails and hides her face in Hua Cheng's chest. Hua Cheng's laughter stutters when she presses her mouth to the soft skin there.

 

"Don't worry, jiejie, I won't tell anyone," she snickers.

 

"AUGH," Xie Lian says.

 

"Does jiejie also like being praised?" Hua Cheng asks, stroking her fingers through Xie Lian's short hair. "San Lang likes praising her." Xie Lian nods into her boobs pathetically. Hua Cheng's smug smile is audible as she says, "Jiejie did so well, she's so good, she took my fingers so nicely—"

 

"SSAN LANG AH," Xie Lian wheezes, "JUST LET ME GO DOWN ON YOU."

 

"OKAY," Hua Cheng says. Xie Lian wriggles out of her grasp and kisses her way down Hua Cheng's body, noting the way her breath hitches with each kiss, how her legs twitch as Xie Lian settles between them.

 

"Can I take your undies off," she mumbles into Hua Cheng's happy trail.

 

"Y-yeah," Hua Cheng gasps, and Xie Lian hooks her thumbs into the lacy waistband and eases them down over her knees, past her feet, until Hua Cheng is laid bare in front of her. Xie Lian sets a hand on each of her knees and parts her legs gently.

 

"Oh, San Lang," she breathes, "you're so cute."

 

"I'm cute??" Hua Cheng asks in a high voice. When Xie Lian looks up, she sees that she has an arm thrown over her face in a disarming shyness.

 

"Yeah," Xie Lian says, "you know, like, your — your………… it's cute…"

 

Hua Cheng giggles nervously. "My??" she prompts.

 

"I can't say it," Xie Lian admits hysterically.

 

Hua Cheng laughs again, shaky, breathless and high in her throat. Her body quivers under Xie Lian's hands. Xie Lian looks at her, watches her breathing carefully, how her face is still hidden.

 

"San Lang, are you okay?" she asks gently.

 

"I, um," Hua Cheng gasps, and Xie Lian releases her knees. They tip back closed and Hua Cheng chokes on a sob.

 

Xie Lian immediately pushes herself back up to lie next to her. "Sweet San Lang, don't cry," she begs. "It's okay, you don't have to."

 

"Sorry," Hua Cheng says, tipping her face into Xie Lian's shoulder. Xie Lian reaches up and brushes her hair back soothingly. "I thought — I just realized how scary it is," she admits, half-laughing, half-crying. Xie Lian kisses her forehead. "I talked so big about relaxing and here I am, freaking out."

 

"It's okay," Xie Lian reassures her, "it's okay, San Lang. I'm sorry you're nervous. San Lang, you should know you don't have to impress me."

 

Hua Cheng exhales shakily, finally uncovers her face to look at Xie Lian with one dark wet eye. "But if I don't impress you I'll die," she says, only half-joking.

 

"San Lang ah!" Xie Lian admonishes, and then she kisses her to show she isn't really mad. "You're always impressive. I think you're just the best. It's okay if you want to stop, I don't mind, I just want you to feel safe."

 

Hua Cheng nods and snakes her arms around Xie Lian's waist, kisses her throat. "I love you," she mumbles. "Sorry I'm being a big baby."

 

"I love you," Xie Lian tells her. "I love you. San Lang is perfect. I've got you."

 

Hua Cheng shudders and kisses her again. They kiss quietly for a long time, breathing together, tangling slowly and untangling and tangling again. Xie Lian runs her hands over Hua Cheng's smooth back, fascinated by the muscles moving under her skin. "So pretty," she murmurs into Hua Cheng's mouth, "San Lang is so beautiful."

 

"You can't even really see me," Hua Cheng points out, smiling.

 

Xie Lian grins too. Hua Cheng kisses her teeth. "I just know these things," Xie Lian tells her, and Hua Cheng laughs.

 

"It must be true, if jiejie says so. I trust jiejie's word over anyone else's," she says, and Xie Lian has to kiss her for that. "My love, my love." Hua Cheng's legs tighten around Xie Lian's. "Let me try again," she whispers.

 

"You sure?" Xie Lian asks. Hua Cheng nods quickly. "You want my hands or my —my mouth?"

 

"Maybe — maybe just like this," Hua Cheng murmurs. She rolls her hips against Xie Lian's, and Xie Lian can feel where she's warm and wet against her thigh.

 

"Okay," Xie Lian breathes, "okay, sweet San Lang." She reaches between them and cups one of Hua Cheng's breasts in her hand. "Can I touch you like this?"

 

Hua Cheng swallows and nods and says, "Yeah. Please, yes."

 

And so Xie Lian kisses her and plays with her breast and lets Hua Cheng grind herself into an almost-silent orgasm against Xie Lian's thigh, shaking and panting into her mouth. She gasps when she comes, another quiet Ah — Xie Lian! that makes Xie Lian hug her close and kiss her soundly.

 

"So good," Xie Lian praises her, "San Lang is so sweet and perfect for me, I love you," and Hua Cheng smiles at her through sudden shocked tears. Xie Lian reaches up and wipes tears away, kisses her mouth and her eyelid and her eyepatch. "I love when you say my name," she admits.

 

"Jiejie," Hua Cheng breathes. "Jiejie, Xie Lian, my love."

 

They kiss and kiss, almost into dozing, just holding each other and breathing.

 

"Let's get dinner," Xie Lian says suddenly.

 

"Oh?" Hua Cheng says. "Are you hungry?"

 

"A little," Xie Lian says. "I just think we should get dinner at some point. Together. Like a date."

 

"Okay," Hua Cheng says, a smile slowly spreading across her face. "Let's get dinner, and then you should stay the night."

 

"I should," Xie Lian agrees, smiling back. "If you'll have me."

 

Hua Cheng kisses her softly. "Of course," she says. "God, of course I'll have you. Today and every day, if you'll let me."

 

"I could be convinced," Xie Lian teases.

 

"Then I'll just have to do my best to convince you," Hua Cheng says, and flips them over to kiss her, and kiss her again.