People often told Han Wenqing she should’ve been born a man.
Han Wenqing disagrees. She has six hours to fuck Ye Qiu into a dazed mess before returning the Battle Goddess to her hotel room, and refractory periods are a goddamn waste of time.
She’s pleased with her work so far. From her position between Ye Qiu’s thighs, Han Wenqing takes in the rapid flutter of her lover’s ribs, the red marks Han Wenqing’s mouth left on Ye Qiu’s small breasts, and best of all, the base of the black-and-red vibrator parting her labia, sticky with lube and her own slick.
While neither of the women could be called beautiful - Ye Qiu is plain-faced and scrawny, and the best anyone could say about Han Wenqing’s broad shoulders, stern face, and muscular frame was that she had ‘character’ - Han Wenqing is always pleased to peel Ye Qiu out of her sweatpants, baggy t-shirts and oversized coats.
There is a particular beauty hidden in the valleys of Ye Qiu’s body that Han Wenqing has learned to unveil over their many years as lovers - the elegance of her hands and the clean lines of her bones, the round, sweet softness of her belly and thighs.
Testing to see if Ye Qiu’s recovered from her last orgasm, Han Wenqing bends to kiss one of Ye Qiu’s bony ankles; Ye Qiu kicks weakly and groans.
Han Wenqing strokes her hand up Ye Qiu’s calf and thigh, feeling the tickle of hair beneath her palm, and settles between her lover’s thighs again. If Ye Qiu has enough energy to complain, she can handle another round.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Ye Qiu complains. “Not all of us live at the gym!”
“You used to take better care of yourself,” Han Wenqing says, running her fingers through the damp patch of curls at the apex of Ye Qiu’s thighs, and enjoying the shiver it produces. “Your lovers will appreciate the extra stamina.”
“I’m busy,” Ye Qiu says, breath hitching as Han Wenqing’s fingers slip lower. “Besides, I only see you four times a year, and you’ve got enough stamina for both of us.”
Han Wenqing goes still. In all their years together, they’ve never made promises to one another. But the implication that Ye Qiu only has one lover, and it’s Han Wenqing…
Well, Han Wenqing doesn’t know the meaning of the word 'retreat'.
In the morning, a barely coherent Ye Qiu gets carried back to her room slung over Han Wenqing’s shoulder like a sack of rice.
When the two of them began meeting for post-match sex five years ago, all the way back in Season Two, Ye Qiu certainly wasn’t Han Wenqing’s only partner at the time.
Han Wenqing has always known what she liked - namely, women , and sex with other women - and she’s never hesitated to satisfy her robust appetites. But somehow - so gradually Han Wenqing hadn’t noticed - as the years passed the number of her lovers dwindled, until only Ye Qiu, familiar and ever-present, was left.
Before their last night together, Han Wenqing would have attributed her lack of other partners to the physical effects of age, or perhaps the trouble of obtaining nondisclosure agreements. Then Ye Qiu, wearing Han Wenqing’s marks and tangled in the linens of her bed, indirectly confessed they were exclusive, and Han Wenqing could not mistake the way her desire for Ye Qiu exceeds the boundaries of casual sex.
Han Wenqing wants to be the only woman Ye Qiu allows in her bed, the only hands permitted to touch Ye Qiu’s pale skin, the only lover who sinks between Ye Qiu’s love-bitten thighs until the Battle Goddess shudders in her arms and soaks Han Wenqing’s fingers.
And more dangerously, Han Wenqing wants things from Ye Qiu that are entirely unrelated to sex.
There are good reasons why Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu never persued more than a few rounds of PK and a good fuck. Han Wenqing can list each one out: they are captains and opponents; they have responsibilities; and both of them will always, without hesitation, choose their team and their profession before their personal relationships.
In the past, Han Wenqing’s lovers would inevitably drift away once they realized they would always remain second to Desert Dust. Han Wenqing never mourned. Glory and Team Tyranny were more important.
But Ye Qiu was different. Ye Qiu would never demand Han Wenqing’s single-minded devotion, never make ultimatums that Han Wenqing scoffed to receive. Both of them have always held a tacit agreement, deepening over the years, that while they might seek out each other’s company, they could remain content in their mutual independence outside of those encounters. When Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu were apart, they pursued their own work; when they were together, they had sex - on this point, the two of them held a perfect understanding.
The real danger from deepening their relationship came from discovery. Two women sleeping together - if Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu are exposed, they will lose everything, old Gods of Glory or not. There was a reason Tian Sen inherited Peaceful Hermit before Lu Liang was old enough to retire. Lu Liang’s relationship with his male Vice-captain was an open secret in the early Alliance; for Royal Style to obtain sponsors, both players were forced out, and no other team would even consider fielding them.
Yet, despite knowing she would risk a similar fate, Han Wenqing’s desire remains. She is old enough now to begin thinking of endings, and Ye Qiu is scarcely any younger. Their glory was always doomed to be ephemeral, a lightning-flash burned into the dark behind closed eyes. Perhaps it was time to begin thinking of the future.
In the weeks following Tyranny’s first match against Excellent Era, Han Wenqing asks herself many hard questions. But Han Wenqing’s personality is neither brooding nor indecisive. While she may wonder, she doesn’t lose focus on Tyranny’s match preparations or her own performance.
Does Ye Qiu want the same things Han Wenqing does? Why should Han Wenqing waste time asking that now? When she sees Ye Qiu at All-stars, she’ll simply advance forward, step by step, until she captures her answer.
“You’re going out?” inquires Zhang Xinjie, pausing in the door of Han Wenqing’s hotel room, her long, mathematically precise braid and the crisp pleats of her uniform skirt swaying with the motion.
Han Wenqing replies with a terse nod, winding her scarf around her throat. “I’ll be back before we have to report for All-Stars tonight. You’ll be going out to eat?”
“Yes. I’ve received a recommendation from Fang Shiqian.” Zhang Xinjie adjusts the frame of her glasses, taking in Han Wenqing’s appearance. “You’re visiting Senior Ye?”
At her captain’s lifted eyebrows, Zhang Xinjie adds, “You dress distinctively whenever you plan to see her.”
“I see,” Han Wenqing answers, adding Xinjie’s observation to her growing pile of evidence. “Yes, I’ll be with Ye Qiu.”
Zhang Xinjie nods briskly, stepping aside to let Han Wenqing pass. “Then enjoy your day, Captain.”
After using Didi to request a taxi, Han Wenqing sends Ye Qiu a message on QQ.
Desert Dust: I’ll be at your hotel in fifteen minutes. Let’s go out.
One Autumn Leaf: ‘Out’ to your hotel? How bold, Old Han! But it’s a little early for that kind of thing. [smirking emoji] I need to stay awake during All-stars.
Han Wenqing clenches her jaw, but she can’t fault Ye Xiu for assuming Han Wenqing’s offer is for sex.
Desert Dust: No. Let’s go out together. In public.
For a long moment, Ye Xiu doesn’t respond.
One Autumn Leaf: Did you get lonely because that foodie Vice-captain of yours abandoned you to stuff her face again?
Han Wenqing very nearly orders the taxi to turn around.
Desert Dust: Do you want to go out or not?
One Autumn Leaf: Are you paying?
Desert Dust: Yes
One Autumn Leaf: I’ll send you my room number [smoking emoji]
Running late thanks to Beijing’s heavy traffic, Han Wenqing hears someone call her name as she steps out of the elevator onto Excellent Era’s floor.
“Captain Han!” that pleasant voice calls again, coming from her left.
“Su Mucheng,” Han Wenqing replies, nodding politely in return.
The Alliance’s most popular male idol waves, showing even white teeth as he smiles like a movie star, his hair styled in perfect waves. “Good morning. Ye Qiu is in her room. Did she tell you which one?”
“Yes,” Han Wenqing confirms, pulling down the scarf and hood she’s using to disguise herself.
“You’ll probably have to pry her off the computer,” Su Mucheng laughs, falling into step beside Han Wenqing. Su Mucheng is average height for a man, and Han Wenqing is tall for a woman, so the two of them are eye-to-eye.
Han Wenqing holds a great deal of respect for Su Mucheng. Not only is he Ye Qiu’s most reliable partner on the battlefield, he’s also the silent facilitator behind Han Wenqing’s nights with Ye Qiu. Han Wenqing has always received the impression that Excellent Era didn’t tolerate Ye Qiu’s preference for women, unlike the way Tyranny protected Han Wenqing. Su Mucheng has helped the two women hide from Excellent Era just as much as he helped them hide from the press.
“You’re well?” Han Wenqing inquires, genuinely wanting to know.
“Just fine,” Su Mucheng says, a gleam in his eyes that Han Wenqing knows to beware. Su Mucheng was often dismissed as a pretty boy with no substance. Han Wenqing has never made that mistake.
As he laces his fingers behind his back, Su Mucheng casts a knowing glance Han Wenqing’s way. “Captain Han, you’ve come to play with Ye Qiu?”
“No. We’ll be going out for the day,” Han Wenqing replies.
Su Mucheng’s charming, gentle smile solidifies as he processes this break in Han Wenqing’s usual pattern with Ye Qiu. “Is that so?”
“Yes. And again tomorrow, if Ye Qiu agrees.”
Su Mucheng hums. “Well,” he says as they stop at Ye Qiu’s door, “That’ll be up to you, I think.”
Han Wenqing furrows her brows. Su Mucheng is extraordinarily close to Ye Qiu. Was he suggesting that Ye Qiu would be testing her today?
Su Mucheng doesn’t clarify, sending one final, pleasant smile in Han Wenqing’s direction before gliding away.
Left alone in the hall, Han Wenqing watches Su Mucheng’s back a moment longer, then knocks on Ye Qiu’s door without hesitation.
There’s no reason to be apprehensive. If Ye Qiu only wanted sex, she would have refused the moment Han Wenqing invited her out. By now, Ye Qiu has sorted through the possible reasons for Han Wenqing’s request, decided which outcomes she liked, and formulated detailed plans to achieve those outcomes.
Or, alternatively, Ye Qiu has decided she just doesn’t care and will go along with whatever Han Wenqing wants until they come to a point where Ye Qiu no longer wants to comply. Either way, Han Wenqing doesn’t need to worry about Ye Qiu.
It’s a full ten seconds before the door opens, and Ye Qiu looks blandly out, a thin, narrow figure swathed in her usual bulky, worn coat. “Old Han. Did you get lost?”
“Traffic,” Han Wenqing replies, looking down at Ye Qiu and cataloguing how the Battle Goddess’ hair nearly brushes her shoulders now, the black strands as dull and in dire need of care as always, despite Su Mucheng’s multiple hair product sponsorships.
There are no fireworks when Han Wenqing looks at Ye Qiu - only a feeling of satiation, as if Han Wenqing finds nourishment at the very sight of her rival, paired with an embarrassing, overwhelming fondness.
Seized by the impulse, Han Wenqing pushes Ye Qiu into the hotel room, making sure the door closes securely behind them, then reaches down to thread her her fingers through the hair at the base of Ye Qiu’s neck, tipping her lover’s head back into a slow, though kiss.
“Miss me?” Ye Qiu gasps breathlessly when Han Wenqing draws back, her lung capacity poor from years of smoking.
“Yes,” Han Wenqing replies, drawing in the scent of cigarettes and cheap shampoo that comes from being so close to Ye Qiu’s skin.
Ye Qiu blinks at her, disarmed momentarily by Han Wenqing’s absolute honesty. Never one to ignore an opening, Han Wenqing crowds Ye Qiu against the wall, peppering more kisses over her lover’s throat.
“I thought you wanted to go out?” Ye Qiu manages as Han Wenqing pulls aside the collar of Ye Qiu’s baggy t-shirt and begins working a mark into her shoulder.
Preoccupied by her current task, Han Wenqing grunts an affirmative response. Once the bruise is dark and blood-rich, Han Wenqing gives it one last lave of her tongue, then releases the Battle Goddess, reminding herself they’ll have three whole nights together for All-stars.
With a faint pinkish flush decorating her cheekbones, Ye Qiu sags against the taller woman, a hand on Han Wenqing’s shoulder while she regains her balance.
Han Wenqing is immensely pleased, especially when she sees her work peeking out past Ye Qiu’s bra strap like a brand.
Ye Qiu laughs, touching the purple bruise with a knowing twist of her lips. “Frustrated lately, Old Han? Have Tyranny’s matches not been challenging enough? Or are you mad Excellent Era won our last game?”
Han Wenqing snorts, refusing to rise to Ye Qiu’s trash talk. “Ready to leave?”
“Let me log out first,” she replies. True to Su Mucheng’s prediction, Ye Qiu was playing one of her Glory alts. Han Wenqing takes note of the name, adding it to her mental list so she’ll recognize it if she ever comes across the account in-game.
As Ye Qiu shuts down her computer, Han Wenqing hails another taxi on her phone and replaces her disguise.
“Where are we going?” Ye Qiu asks, slouching out the door with her hands in her pockets.
“You’ll see,” Han Wenqing replies as they head down to the lobby.
“Is this revenge?” Ye Qiu alleges once she recognizes the taxi’s route. “I won, so you’re going to kill me by making me exercise?”
Han Wenqing glares. Most people back away in fear at this particular expression; Ye Qiu only tsks and settles more deeply into the taxi seat. The taxi’s heater is broken, and cold January air is seeping in from the windows. Ye Qiu looks half-frozen by the time they arrive at Jingshan Park.
Jingshan’s beauty is present even in the stark depths of winter. The snow sets off the grey stone terraces and red pavilions, and gilds the barren trees silver. Despite Ye Qiu’s complaints in the car, once the two of them begin climbing the hills, Ye Qiu merely sighs and follows Han Wenqing, all her protests silenced by the need to save her breath. The park is full of people - mostly tourists, and elderly locals - but a content silence falls between the two of them, each woman reflecting on her own thoughts.
Han Wenqing keeps the pace easy - despite Ye Qiu’s trash talk, she’s intimately aware of Ye Qiu’s physical limits, and only pushes hard enough to give Ye Qiu a demanding workout. The view from atop Jingshan’s tallest hill is as good as promised, with Beijing stretching out in front of them into the horizon under a grey winter sky.
Though the summit is crowded, the two of them linger until Ye Qiu has recovered enough to face the downhill climb. Han Wenqing is certain the unimpressed face she’s making at Ye Qiu is the reason why there’s a bubble of clear space surrounding the two of them.
“Old Han, you’re very fierce looking!” Ye Qiu laughs, huddling into her coat, the heat from their climb snatched away by the wind.
“Your coat is worn out, you ought to buy a new one,” Han Wenqing remarks. The wind ruffles her short hair and sends the ends of her scarf flying; she breathes in the cold, feeling awake and invigorated.
Ye Qiu shrugs, making a noncommittal noise, then shivers again under the wind.
“Here,” Han Wenqing says in disgust, unzipping her coat and holding it open.
Ye Qiu raises a thin eyebrow at the invitation, then shamelessly tucks herself into the front of Han Wenqing’s jacket, stealing the taller woman’s heat. “Much better,” she announces with self-satisfaction, as if it had been her plan all along. Han Wenqing wouldn’t put it past Ye Qiu: you could never tell with Master Tacticians.
Still, with Ye Qiu pressed up close Han Wenqing can’t complain. She’s always been a physical, tactile person, and Ye Qiu’s slight weight, both soft and bony at once, feels incomparably satisfying. Under the pretense of keeping out the wind, Han Wenqing pulls Ye Qiu closer, winding her arms around Ye Qiu’s waist, and wonders if perhaps giving Han Wenqing this satisfaction was the real goal of Ye Qiu’s actions. Upon reflection, it was very much the sort of underhanded yet thoughtful thing Ye Qiu would do.
“Where next?” asks Ye Qiu, squirming around until the two are face to face, with Han Wenqing’s jacket wrapped around her as the thinnest of excuses for so much public closeness.
Han Wenqing considers for a moment, glaring at an elderly man who’s giving the two of them a disapproving look. He jumps and hurries away. There’s amusement lighting Ye Qiu’s eyes when Han Wenqing looks down again. “A late lunch,” Han Wenqing says. “Then we can play Glory for a few hours before I need to go back.”
“Mmmm,” Ye Qiu agrees, showing no sign of leaving the toasty warm shelter of Han Wenqing’s jacket. The Battle Mage’s hands are always freezing, Han Wenqing recalls with displeasure, ignoring the multiple flinches her frown causes in the nearby tourists.
“You’re from Beijing. Is there a good place nearby to eat?” Han Wenqing asks.
“Depends. How much money do you want to spend?” Ye Qiu replies.
“Do you plan on being a freeloader forever?” Han Wenqing retorts.
“Stingy. Don’t you have the highest salary in the Alliance, Tyranny’s Empress of Fighting? Spare some for the rest of us!” Ye Qiu laughs, wriggling out of Han Wenqing’s grasp and heading toward the downhill path.
Han Wenqing glowers after Ye Qiu. “We both make good salaries now.”
Ye Qiu waves her hand. “As the wealthier person, your generosity naturally has to be superior! I’m only looking out for you, Old Han.”
Han Wenqing grinds her teeth, and reminds herself that she’ll be able to work out her frustration tonight, in very pleasurable ways that will make them both sore.
Despite her complaints, the Striker ends up paying for their Peking Duck anyway, a meal worth every penny of its considerable expense. After eating, Ye Qiu smokes while they wander the area near the restaurant. Han Wenqing disapproves of the Battle Mage’s habit on health grounds, and wouldn’t let them sit in the smoking section.
Tendrils of smoke slip through Ye Qiu’s slender, ungloved fingers, mirroring the fog breathed from her lips; the tips of her fingers are colorless, blanched from the icy cold. She shivers as the wind cuts through her.
Han Wenqing frowns and takes off her right glove, shoving her bare hand in her coat pocket to escape the January air as she offers her glove to Ye Qiu. Ye Qiu looks amused, but slips the too-large glove over the hand holding her cigarette; her other hand is tucked in her pocket.
Han Wenqing thinks about the way that glove must still be warm from her body, wrapped around Ye Qiu’s beautiful, fine-boned hand, and a curl of heat and want strikes through her like a lance. If the two of them walk so close together their hips and shoulders brush, who’s going to recognize them here?
The conversation naturally turns to Glory. Perhaps Han Wenqing ought to use this opportunity to talk about her intentions, but she’s in no hurry. This is only the first advance, a testing strike, and Ye Qiu’s perceptiveness far exceeds Han Wenqing’s. Ye Qiu will already have some inkling of Han Wenqing’s direction. Han Wenqing has crossed the foothills, and is charging toward the mountain in the distance, step by step. She can only hope Ye Qiu will meet her there.
The two of them, inevitably, end up so preoccupied by their discussion they arrive back at their respective hotels mere minutes before report time. Even so, Han Wenqing spends the first night of Season Six’s All-Stars loose-limbed and content. Fighting a rookie challenger doesn’t even stir her blood - not like the way it broils when she watches One Autumn Leaf dispatch his opponent with straightforward ease.
Han Wenqing had once asked Ye Qiu why she’d chosen a male avatar. Ye Qiu had simply taken her cigarette out of her mouth, shrugged, and replied, “Fewer people bother you.” Then she’d gone right back to playing.
Han Wenqing could understand that reasoning, but she’d always acquired a reputation in the games she played, and the terror she inspired meant nobody bothered her twice. Desert Dust was female, just like her player, and Han Wenqing has never had reason to regret that.
Her teammates give her knowing looks when Han Wenqing slips out after the event ends. Han Wenqing’s never been secretive about the fact she’s a lesbian, and anyone observent could guess why Tyranny’s captain always disappeared after their matches against Excellent Era. If her teammates objected, that was their business. As long as they gave Tyranny 100%, Han Wenqing did not give a fuck what their personal opinions were about her sex life.
Ye Qiu is hidden away in one of her many smoking spots, staring into the distance as she absently smokes her cigarette down to the filter. When she hears Han Wenqing, she raises her eyes, connecting their gazes for one long moment, a smirk turning up the corners of her lips.
Han Wenqing kisses that smirk off Ye Qiu’s mouth, ravaging her until she can’t keep up that habitual arrogant mask. “Much better,” the Striker murmurs, drawing back.
Ye Qiu nips her ear in retaliation, and Han Wenqing inhales sharply. “Spend the night with me,” Han Wenqing says, advancing to the next step in her plans.
“Don’t I always?” Ye Qiu laughs, but there’s calculation underlying her words.
“Not like this. Stay with me tonight,” Han Wenqing repeats. “Sleep in my bed. You can go back to Excellent Era in the morning.”
Ye Qiu breathes, stroking the nape of Han Wenqing’s neck. “I suppose Mucheng can put the children to bed for one night.”
“Good,” Han Wenqing replies, and that’s the extent of their discussion.
Ye Qiu does not ask Han Wenqing if it’s safe. She knows Han Wenqing would never make the offer if the Striker didn’t have precautions in place, and she trusts those precautions are ironclad. Ye Qiu simply shows up at Han Wenqing’s door carrying a toothbrush and a laptop an hour later, steals the room’s single desk chair, and begins playing Glory.
Round after round of PK bleeds into foreplay, which ends with Ye Qiu on her knees showing Han Wenqing she can do much more with her mouth than trash talk.
It’s so much easier to be affectionate during sex. Han Wenqing buries her hands in Ye Qiu’s hair, and tells her lover how pretty she looks when her mouth is wet and red from eating Han Wenqing out.
Ye Qiu, damn her, knows exactly how skilled she is, and runs her hands down Han Wenqing’s thighs, tickling lightly with her nails and moving as slowly as she possibly can, teasing with the flat of her tongue and refusing to let Han Wenqing come for nearly half an hour.
Ye Qiu reaps what she sows - a sexually frustrated Han Wenqing is merciless, and Ye Qiu is little more than a limp puddle of satiated Battle Mage when Han Wenqing is finished having her way with her.
As Han Wenqing cleans both of them off with a wet cloth, Ye Qiu doesn’t even protest, letting her partner manhandle her with no more resistance than a limp rag. Leaning over to kiss the bruise she left on Ye Qiu’s damp shoulder, Han Wenqing tosses the cloth in the sink when she’s finished, and returns to the bedroom, settling herself beside Ye Qiu so the two are face to face - close, but not quite touching.
Cracking her eyes open, Ye Qiu complains, “My thighs feel like one large bruise. Did you have to be so ferocious, Old Han?”
Han Wenqing snorts. Ye Qiu is well acquainted with Han Wenqing’s relentless nature. If Ye Qiu really didn’t enjoy it, she knows all she has to do is ask, and Han Wenqing would stop, immediately, no questions asked.
Ye Qiu sighs. “I’m surprised you didn’t bring our favorite vibrator.”
“I did. And I brought more than that,” Han Wenqing answers. They have three whole days, after all.
Ye Qiu laughs, and stretches in a way that makes her nudity apparent. Watching Han Wenqing’s eyes follow the curve of her breasts and slide down her belly, Ye Qiu laughs again, lower and fonder. “Didn’t you promise to let me sleep?”
“In the morning then,” Han Wenqing promises, pulling up the blanket. The hotel air feels chilly now that they’re no longer keeping themselves warm.
Ye Qiu takes the initiative to scoot closer, fitting herself against Han Wenqing’s front and shoving her cold feet atop her lover’s calves, leeching off the heat like Han Wenqing is her personal furnace.
Han Wenqing, long used to Ye Qiu’s shamelessness, doesn’t even bother with a reply. Underneath the covers, she laces their fingers together - two championship-winning hands - and Ye Qiu swiftly falls asleep just like that, the two of them hand-in-hand.
In her sleep, Ye Qiu clings like a burr. She rolls into the warm spaces Han Wenqing leaves behind whenever she shifts, and cuddles close like she’s used to another body in her bed. Han Wenqing is not unhappy with this knowledge, as long as she doesn’t think closely about how Ye Qiu grew so used to company in bed. She has no right to jealousy, so she refuses to entertain the idea.
Taking Ye Qiu on their first, true date has only strengthened Han Wenqing’s determination, but she still can’t tell how far Ye Qiu’s feelings go. It’s always Han Wenqing initiating - is Ye Qiu simply going along with Han Wenqing’s desires? It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow she’ll keep courting Ye Qiu, until Ye Qiu accepts her intentions or rejects her. Han Wenqing has never shied away from a fight - she chases her targets, bloody-minded and stubborn, straightforward and unrelenting. She’ll pursue Ye Qiu with no less ferocity.
When Han Wenqing falls asleep, Ye Qiu is spooned against her back, breathing faintly against her ear. Han Wenqing thinks it’s been many years since she felt so content.
In the morning, Han Wenqing wakes slowly, and when she opens her eyes Ye Qiu is aware and watching her.
Rather than become embarrassed at being caught, Ye Qiu continues to study Han Wenqing, bland expression giving no hint of her thoughts.
Han Wenqing says. “Let’s go to Gulou today.”
“Alright,” Ye Qiu murmurs. Han Wenqing thinks she’s about to continue, but instead Ye Qiu remains silent. The two of them breathe and watch one another; the air is heavy and expectant.
And then Ye Qiu says, “Can you let me up now, Old Han? I need to pee.”
Han Wenqing realizes her leg is possessively slung over Ye Qiu’s hip, trapping her partner to the bed. She scowls, rolling over and reluctantly releasing her lover.
Ye Qiu laughs and makes a mad dash for the toilet. Left by herself, Han Wenqing gets dressed and plans her advance for today.
Gulou is an older area of Beijing, halfway through reconstruction. Trendy cafes and bars on one street give way to old hutongs and tiny shops and family-run eateries on the next. Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu visit the Drum Tower that gives the area its name, wading through the Saturday crowds and watching a live drum performance, Han Wenqing’s disguise drawing no notice among so many people.
“We don’t want to get lost in the crowd,” Ye Qiu explains blandly as she sneaks her thin forearm through the crook of Han Wenqing’s elbow, linking their arms together.
Han Wenqing is not ashamed to admit her heart squeezes, and distracted by that breathless feeling, she easily agrees they shouldn’t hike to the top of the Bell Tower.
Damned black-hearted tacticians.
Amusingly, as they’re leaving the Drum Tower, the two pros are approached by a street hawker reselling Glory Alliance merchandise. “Sir, can I interest you in a present for your lovely winter flower…” He trails off once he looks at Han Wenqing properly.
Han Wenqing can see the hawker’s brain smoking as he frantically tries to figure out if he just insulted a potential customer. In her heavy winter jacket, wearing pants and with her face disguised, Han Wenqing’s short hair and muscular frame suggest ‘male’ until you take a closer look.
Ye Qiu isn’t offering a shred of help, just watching with a dead-eyed expression as the man flails.
Han Wenqing is displeased, but this man is hardly the first person to mistake Han Wenqing’s gender - she competes wearing the male team uniform, and Tyranny still tells stories about the rookie who was dumb enough to guess.
The increasingly terrified hawker abandons Han Wenqing and pounces on Ye Qiu as his savior, which seals his doom. “Miss, who’s your favorite Glory avatar?”
“My avatar is my favorite,” Ye Qiu replies without pause.
The hawker sweats. “We don’t sell custom merchandise here.” He squeaks and shrinks back as Han Wenqing glares.
“You don’t have One Autumn Leaf?” Ye Qiu laughs.
The hawker nods frantically, with a swift glance at Han Wenqing. “We do! We do! He’s very popular but you can have the last keychain we have!”
Ye Qiu grins, and looks at Han Wenqing. “Aren’t you going to be a good boyfriend and buy me a present?” she simpers in a faux cute voice.
Han Wenqing’s skin crawls. “Never do that again,” she says flatly.
“But Wenqing,” Ye Qiu flutters her eyes, “I want it!”
“Half price,” the hawker gasps, hoping to appease Han Wenqing.
Ye Qiu clings to Han Wenqing’s bicep, affecting shyness. “My boyfriend’s favorite is Desert Dust,” she adds helpfully.
“Buy one get one free,” the hawker wheezes.
“Thanks for the gift,” Ye Qiu remarks casually as they waltz away after fleecing the merchandise seller. Han Wenqing gives her a look of disgust.
Ye Qiu smirks. “Optimal use of resources.”
Han Wenqing glares harder at her. With her baggy clothes and flat, bony angles, Ye Qiu is hardly any better when she cuts her hair short, and she doesn’t wear the female team uniform either.
After wandering the quieter side alleys with less touristy, more authentic hutongs, they grow hungry. Somehow, Ye Qiu knows another expensive restaurant nearby where they can reserve a private room, and Han Wenqing can eat in peace.
Han Wenqing is more than a little curious at this point. She knows Ye Qiu is from Beijing, but the Battle Goddess is notoriously close-mouthed about her background. Perhaps her familiarly with expensive restaurants is just by reputation, but she doesn’t bat an eyelash at their fancy surroundings. Which is strange, because Han Wenqing has never known Ye Qiu to have expensive taste. Quite the opposite - even after they both drew decent salaries, Ye Qiu never spent money she didn’t absolutely have to.
They return to Han Wenqing’s hotel immediately after lunch. Ever since Xia Ming retired, Han Wenqing and Zhang Xinjie have hosted the annual Glory Alliance Ladies’ Night at Tyranny’s hotel. With Zhang Xinjie’s strict sleep schedule, it’s turned into an entire afternoon of movies, and they’ll pick up again after taking a three hour break to attend the second day of All-Stars.
Most of the female pros have already arrived and began setting up the projector, snacks, and pillows in the conference room. In the beginning, when it had just been Han Wenqing, Ye Qiu, Xia Ming, and Royal Style’s retired Paladin, they’d simply piled on a single hotel bed and watched VODs on a laptop. It’s grown by leaps and bounds since then as the number of female pros increased. Last year the teams made their meetup an official event and it was moved to a larger room.
The pro scene is so large now that Han Wenqing doesn’t know everyone’s name, but there are quite a few faces she recognizes and knows well. With Li Xuan’s help, Xu Bin is hefting half-a-dozen bowls of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and pickled snacks, while Zhou Zekai and Lu Boyuan are arranging the pillows and blankets for maximum comfort. Chu Yunxiu is arguing with Fang Xuecai about the movie choice as Ruan Yongbin plays mediator and underhandedly angles for her own favorites.
Ye Xiu, ignoring the ongoing work, has plopped down in the centermost pile of pillows and does not seem likely to move until she needs to leave for All-Stars. “I can’t feel my feet,” she deadpans listlessly when Han Wenqing nudges her with the toe of her boot.
Han Wenqing snorts, and goes to find her Vice-captain. Zhang Xinjie is guarding the door and checking off completed items on her list. She’ll turn on the projector exactly on the half-hour; everyone knows to be on time.
Finding nothing amiss, Han Wenqing loops back to join Ye Qiu, who does not seem to have moved from her slumped position on her pillow pile.
“Some people would call this our legacy,” Ye Qiu remarks, watching their juniors bustling around them.
“Ridiculous,” answers Han Wenqing. Tyranny was her legacy, the way Excellent Era was Ye Qiu’s - a thing she’d built with her own hands. Glory may be lauded for its high number of female players, but becoming a pro wasn’t something that happened just because you had a role model. Each one of these women got here through their own hard work and sacrifice. Han Wenqing would fight anyone trying to give her credit.
“Isn’t it?” laughs Ye Qiu in agreement.
As the lights go out, Han Wenqing settles into her designated seat, right beside Ye Qiu. As the two most senior players, they’re always afforded spots side-by-side whenever the pros gather.
Sitting next to Ye Qiu without being able to touch her is torture - every millimeter of Han Wenqing’s skin is hyperaware, feeling Ye Qiu’s gaze like a physical weight.
While the movie’s opening scenes play - some supernatural romance film Chu Yunxiu chose - Han Wenqing feels Ye Qiu’s fingers press ever-so-lightly against her thigh. A tiny, hidden gesture, but one Han Wenqing values as the only kind of public affection the two of them are allowed. Ye Qiu isn’t a physical person, so it’s mostly for Han Wenqing’s sake.
She glances over at Ye Qiu; the gleam of her lover’s eyes in the bluish projector lights reflects back at her.
When the music crests, Han Wenqing places her hand over Ye Qiu’s fingers in a way that could seem accidental. Ye Qiu’s fingers twitch, and then curl the slightest bit around Han Wenqing’s hand.
Han Wenqing couldn’t recall a single thing that happened in the movie afterward, but she remembers the soft pressure of Ye Qiu’s fingers all night.
As they’re leaving for All-Stars, Ye Qiu dallies behind. “If anyone from Excellent Era asks, we didn’t have sex last night,” Ye Qui remarks so casually Han Wenqing almost dismisses it as a joke.
The Striker’s brows furrow. She’s never appreciated the lack of support Excellent Era afforded Ye Qiu. “Are they causing you trouble?”
Ye Qiu laughs, sticking her hands in her pants pockets. “Nothing serious.”
Even knowing Ye Qiu is incredibly competent, and more than capable of handling her own problems, Han Wenqing still feels uneasy. An instinct is telling her that trouble is coming. But however neglectful they are, Excellent Era wouldn’t be so stupid as to shut Ye Qiu out - not after three championships and innumerable achievements. That would be like sabotaging themselves.
For the pro players, the second day of All-Stars is the most boring. Ye Qiu is the envy of everyone, hidden backstage and probably playing Glory. With Tiny Herb hosting, Han Wenqing only has to sit through the events until she can go back to their hotel. She’s never been chosen as a host for the pro vs. player events - too intimidating, according to the Alliance.
Zhou Zekai, as the Alliance’s idol and media darling, is forced to stumble her way through meeting her fans, while Su Mucheng, the Alliance’s prince charming, is far smoother as he blinds his victims with his perfect smile.
Han Wenqing next sees Su Mucheng when he’s being gently turned away from ladies’ night after dropping off Ye Qiu. Su Mucheng may be an honorary member of the female pro QQ group, but even he isn’t allowed to attend.
“Captain Han,” Su Mucheng calls, waving goodbye across the room at Chu Yunxiu. “I’ll leave my Captain to you!”
Ye Qiu grins, lifting an arrogant hand to motion Han Wenqing closer. “Ready to find out how badly I’m going to beat you?”
Han Wenqing’s expression grows dark. “I won our last match.”
“That’s right! You have to savor that feeling since it happens so rarely. Dungeon it is,” Ye Qiu replies, breezing past Han Wenqing and dragging the Striker into the room by her wrist.
After packing away the projector, the women break out their laptops - movies may be a change of pace, but they’re pro players, so no activity is better than playing Glory. The room settles down into a noisy blur of sound effects, trash talking, and munching as the women break apart into smaller dungeon groups and PK matches.
True to Ye Qiu’s word, the Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu end up running a ten man dungeon with the other team captains and whoever they can rope in to fill the numbers. Per ladies’ night rules, no one is allowed to use their main class. Drawing accounts at random from a pile, Han Wenqing ends up with a Summoner.
Ye Qiu cackles at the unhappy face Han Wenqing makes - Summoners are useless without their summons, and the polar opposite of the PK-friendly Striker - but when the Battle Goddess’ own draw lands her with a Cleric, Ye Qiu can only log in with a sigh.
While their juniors handle tanking and DPS, Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu, as the two most squishy classes with few close range attacks, can only hang back to support.
Just before the final boss, Ye Qiu takes her hand off her mouse, and turns over Han Wenqing’s left palm. “You can fight as boldly as you want. This Cleric account has maxed Revive,” Ye Qiu says, and strokes two fingers down Han Wenqing’s palm from the bend of her wrist to the tips of her fingers.
Han Wenqing’s whole hand tingles, and she almost shivers. Ye Qiu smirks, and turns back to her screen.
This time, Han Wenqing’s Summoner fights up front with her summons, and she doesn’t die even once.
The party breaks up around midnight. All-Stars or not, pro players need to practice sensible sleep habits to keep their condition good. Since ladies’ night is held at Tyranny’s hotel, they’re technically the team hosting. Zhang Xinjie went to bed long ago, so Han Wenqing lingers behind making sure the other women are able to safely return to their own team’s hotel.
Ye Qiu wandered off with a pack of cigarettes in her hand; she’ll smoke until everyone else leaves, to hide the fact she isn’t going back to Excellent Era. With no other female teammates, no one will be able to testify otherwise.
Han Wenqing goes back to her own room after the last person leaves. Without a phone, she can’t contact Ye Qiu. Much like a stray cat, her lover will show up when she wants company, and Ye Qiu has an uncanny instinct for knowing when the coast is clear.
Sure enough, not five minutes after Han Wenqing changes into indoor clothes, she hears a knock at her door.
“I don’t feel like waiting for a taxi. You’ll have to host me,” Ye Qiu announces with a perfectly blank face.
Han Wenqing knows she’s doomed when Ye Qiu’s thick-skinned shamelessness seems more endearing then exasperating. “Get in then. I’ll expect you to pay rent.”
“Oh?” Ye Qiu laughs, edging past Han Wenqing and making a point of examining the room. “This is a nice hotel. I might not have brought enough money.”
Han Wenqing shuts the door. “You’ll have to leave then. Only my lovers stay for free.”
“Good thing I’m one of them,” Ye Qiu teases, stripping off her heavy jacket and tossing it on the desk.
Frowning, Han Wenqing pulls on the collar of Ye Qiu’s shirt, exposing the love bite on her partner’s shoulder, then bends her head to kiss her claim. “You’re my only lover,” she admits quietly.
Ye Qiu goes tense under her mouth. Then her hand comes up to stroke Han Wenqing’s hair. “Am I?” she says lightly.
“For a long time now.” Han Wenqing pulls Ye Qiu into her arms, burying her face in Ye Qiu’s marked shoulder. “I don’t want anyone else any more,” she says. The unasked question hangs in the air between them.
“Han Wenqing.” The seriousness in Ye Qiu’s voice makes Han Wenqing pull back and look Ye Qiu in the eye.
For once, Ye Qiu isn’t smirking, and her gaze is intent. “For me, there’s never been anyone else.”
Han Wenqing sucks in a breath, feeling dizzy. “Then...you haven’t, with anyone else?”
Ye Qiu shakes her head, not taking her eyes off Han Wenqing. “No. Just you. Only sex with you interests me.”
Han Wenqing closes her eyes, trying to catch her bearings as her whole understanding of their relationship shatters and reforms. A hot, bright feeling beats inside her chest like a heartbeat, and the desire to touch Ye Qiu that Han Wenqing suppressed all evening rises up in her, too powerful and perfect to deny.
She slides her hands underneath Ye Qiu’s shirt, running her palms over her lover’s back and narrow shoulder blades. But there’s so much more pale skin to touch, and the shirt is keeping her from stroking it. Han Wenqing yanks it off, somehow both slow and frantic at the same time, more desperate than she’s ever been to make love to Ye Qiu right now .
The sex is slow, and thorough. Each touch is full of restrained gentleness and heavy intent, years of knowledge used for the sole purpose of satisfying them both, the pleasure so overwhelming that Han Wenqing sees stars when she peaks the last time.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Han Wenqing asks afterward, holding Ye Qiu close as her lover rests her head on Han Wenqing’s shoulder.
“What would have been the point?” Ye Qiu says. “Four years ago, would you have cared if I had sex with someone else?”
Han Wenqing rests her chin on top of Ye Qiu’s head, tucking her against her throat. “No,” she admits. Four years ago she wouldn’t have been ready to keep Ye Qiu to herself.
Ye Qiu pokes the wrinkle between Han Wenqing’s eyebrows. “Don’t make that face. If nothing except sex ever happened between us, I wouldn’t have been sorry. I want whatever you’re ready to give me.”
Han Wenqing remember Su Mucheng’s ‘That’ll be up to you’ - he’d meant that Ye Qiu would agree to whatever Han Wenqing wanted. Without realizing it, she’s always controlled the pace of her relationship with Ye Qiu.
As if she can hear what Han Wenqing’s thinking, Ye Qiu laughs. “Does this make us girlfriends?”
Han Wenqing scowls, because that’s supposed to be her line. “Yes.”
“Good.” Ye Qiu burrows against Han Wenqing’s chest, reaching out to cup her lover’s breast and darting a sly glance upward. “Should we break out the strap-on?”
Heat gathering in her belly at the suggestion, Han Wenqing kisses Ye Qiu to shut her up, rolling over to pin the Battle Goddess to the bed by her wrists.
When Han Wenqing lets her lover breathe again, Ye Qiu chuckles, her bangs stuck to her forehead with sweat and her hair splayed out over Han Wenqing’s pillow. “You like knowing you’re the only one, don’t you?”
Ye Qiu always knows her opponent’s weaknesses. Snorting, Han Wenqing slides her hands down to loosely grasp Ye Qiu’s forearms, and doesn’t bother to reply as she kisses the column of her lover’s throat.
“By the way, my name isn’t really Ye Qiu. It’s Ye Xiu.”
Han Wenqing stops kissing and blinks as her brain processes. Then she jerks back and stares at Ye Qiu - Ye Xiu? - in disbelief. “You’re telling me this now ?”
Ye Qiu, still pinned to the bed by Han Wenqing’s hands, tries to shrug.
“How can that be true?” Han Wenqing continues as she works through the practical implications. “Did you use a fake ID?”
“No,” Ye Xiu says. “You shouldn’t ask any more questions. It’s better if you have plausible deniability. This way you can say you knew, but you just assumed it was a stage name or that I legally changed my name later.”
Han Wenqing releases Ye Xiu and sits on the edge of her bed, running a hand over her face. If Ye Qiu’s thought this out, then she must have a plan, and also a backup plan, because she wouldn’t risk her ability to play Glory. Therefore, Han Wenqing can probably trust this plan.
Exhaling, Han Wenqing comes to the realization that this is probably what life with Ye Xiu is always like. The thought is not horrible, which is how Han Wenqing realizes just how far gone she is.
Ye Xiu drapes herself over Han Wenqing’s shoulders from behind, too lazy to hold herself up. “Do girlfriends get to smoke in your room?”
“ No ,” Han Wenqing replies.
“Too bad,” Ye Xiu sighs. Han Wenqing can hear the smirk in Ye Xiu’s voice as she continues, “Let’s stay here and play Glory tomorrow. We can order room service for meals and Mucheng will bring me a clean uniform before All-Stars.”
And then tomorrow night they’ll get to fight each other alongside their friends, One Autumn Leaf against Desert Dust, Battle Goddess versus Empress of Fighting.
Han Wenqing honestly cannot think of a better way to spend the day. She turns her head to the side until she can see Ye Xiu, contentment making her voice soft. “Let’s do that,” she agrees.
Ye Xiu smirks, and leans forward. As their lips meet, Han Wenqing promises herself that they’ll enjoy many more All-Stars together, just like this one.