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Zhao Yunlan’s heart thudded hard and heavy in his chest. His breath came fast and shallow. His cheek itched from the trickle of sweat running down it. Above his head, his wrists twisted in the ropes that bound them to Shen Wei’s guandao. The polearm, secured in ice on their kitchen floor between the sink and breakfast counter, didn’t even wobble as he strained against it. Between it and the spreader bar attached to his thighs by thick leather straps, he was immobilized but hardly steady. His heels pressed against the counter as he half-lay, half-hung in the space where they usually ate dinner, searching for a posture of balance.

The brilliant light that warmed his back illuminated Shen Wei’s calm face and form before him. He blinked slowly at Zhao Yunlan’s pitiable attempts to find a more comfortable position. With every squeaking slip of his heels on the counter, Zhao Yunlan’s erection bounced against his belly and groin. He huffed with arousal and frustration.

Just having Shen Wei fasten the straps around his thighs had been hot. The first time he’d suggested the setup, Shen Wei had professed disinterest. These days Zhao Yunlan knew him well enough he could tell when Shen Wei’s ambivalence spoke more toward his desire to be convinced than any actual antipathy. So many things Shen Wei just needed to be talked into. And Zhao Yunlan was good at talking people into things. Especially a person with a sometimes-obsessive desire to make Zhao Yunlan happy.

Zhao Yunlan sagged against the ropes, giving himself a moment to appreciate the shining vision of that very person before him. Legs slightly spread, hip cocked, head at a slight tilt, Shen Wei gazed at him almost curiously, evaluatively. Zhao Yunlan wasn’t sure whose limits Shen Wei was pondering. His gaze flicked from Zhao Yunlan’s face to his spread thighs and everything exposed between them. Zhao Yunlan’s asshole twitched and Shen Wei’s ears turned slightly pink. Oh, yeah. The spreader bar had been a fantastic idea.

It was also really, terrifically, uncomfortable.

Zhao Yunlan whimpered and sighed at his failure to secure a more stable position, sagging against his restraints. He was so aroused he ached, his cock hard and twitching, bound thighs weak with anticipation. He was so ready for this, so eager, so fucking in love with the man who stood before him, looking only mildly more merciful than he did when facing a wicked adversary. Raising an eyebrow, Shen Wei gently slapped the riding crop against his gloved hand. He didn’t look away from where his eyes still rested, low between Zhao Yunlan’s legs.

“Are you ready, Yunlan?”

Shen Wei demanded words in these situations. Clear words, honest communication. Zhao Yunlan cleared his throat before speaking.

“Yes,” he whispered.

Shen Wei nodded once and looked up. “You’ll tell me when you’ve had enough.”

“I will,” promised Zhao Yunlan.

Shen Wei didn’t like using safewords. When asked to start, he’d start. When asked to stop, he’d stop.

Zhao Yunlan’s eyes latched onto the business end of the crop lightly held in Shen Wei’s graceful, black-gloved fingers. It, unlike the new spreader bar, was an old friend. He knew exactly what it could, and would, do to him. Gripping the ropes, he held more of his weight with his arms, giving his legs a rest. He took as deep a breath as he could in his currently constrained position and swallowed.

“Okay,” he said, struggling to keep his voice steady. “Please. Go ahead.”

Shen Wei nodded again, once, crisp and business-like. “We’ll start easy,” he said. “Lift your legs.”

Tensing his core and pulling more of his weight with his hands, Zhao Yunlan straightened his legs as best he could. The bar made everything more awkward, more difficult, and more intense. He arched his back to better balance on his bony butt. The soft touch of the crop’s keeper end ran along the edge of the leather strap holding his left thigh. It started at the outside of his leg, then across his hamstring and the sensitive skin of his inner thigh before traveling smoothly to his groin. Zhao Yunlan steadied his inhale as it traced the crease of his thigh before tapping gently where his ass would curve if his ass had much curve. Like Shen Wei’s did.

Oh, Shen Wei’s ass. Zhao Yunlan’s eyes fluttered closed and he ran his tongue over his lower lip again. Shen Wei had such a great ass…

A quick flick of the leather tongue just above one of the straps made him gasp. His eyes shot open and he immediately hoisted his legs back up from where they’d already started to sag.

“Maintain your attention, please,” Shen Wei said, his voice neutral but firm.

Zhao Yunlan nodded. “Sorry. Sorry.”

The corner of Shen Wei’s gorgeous mouth tilted up in a hint of a smile. Their eyes met briefly before he repeated the slow path down Zhao Yunlan’s right leg. When he got to the bottom, he tapped again, harder than he had on the other side. Zhao Yunlan hummed a sigh, relishing the light, warming, sting. Taking his time, Shen Wei slapped the crop up and down Zhao Yunlan’s hamstring between his ass and the leather strap.

Focused on Shen Wei’s face, he knew the hard slap was coming a moment before it hit. For a split second Shen Wei’s eyes narrowed and Zhao Yunlan forced himself to stay relaxed. The flap of leather cracked against him, low but to the outside, not yet abusing the more sensitive skin.

He moaned softly, encouraging, and tried to hold his legs up even higher, wanting more, wanting to please. Another two snapping blows to the same spot followed in quick succession. His hips tensed, body shrinking to avoid the crop while he whimpered pleasure through bitten lips.

She Wei dragged the crop back and forth over the sensitized skin before trailing it over the tender flesh joining Zhao Yunlan’s thigh and ass. Zhao Yunlan tried and failed to keep his buttocks from tightening as the leather flap made its way to delicate territory. His balls tightened—his body trying and failing to protect the vulnerable organs—when Shen Wei lifted them with the crop. Zhao Yunlan whined and squirmed as Shen Wei bounced them lightly on the small strip of leather. A spot of warm moisture on Zhao Yunlan's hip soon turned cold and sticky as his cock twitched against his overheated skin.

“How are you?” Shen Wei asked.

The question held a multitude of concerns. Did Zhao Yunlan like the sharp sting of the crop today? Sometimes he needed Shen Wei’s hands directly on him instead of an instrument. Was he comfortable enough? Warm enough? Too warm? And, today most importantly, was he still enjoying the shiny new toy?

“Good,” Zhao Yunlan said, meeting his eyes. “I just…I should probably do more ab work. My legs are gonna start shaking soon.”

Shen Wei’s mouth quirked up. “Well, I had best get to the business at hand, then,” he said, and promptly laid a quick series of hard smacks up the back of one thigh and down the other.

Zhao Yunlan barely kept from flinching at the repeated stings, struggling to keep his legs raised. Both sides of his thighs burned and he was starting to sweat again. He trembled from fatigue and the force of instinctively trying to close his legs. Being able to rely on the bar instead of his will was a blessed relief. Why hadn’t he suggested one of these earlier? The muscle tension added to the lust that simmered in his belly. When Shen Wei ran the keeper down his hamstrings, Zhao Yunlan’s lower legs sagged in an echoing movement. They jerked back up when Shen Wei tapped the sole of one of his feet.

“Legs up,” he reminded Zhao Yunlan with a soft, firm voice. “Unless you’re already tired. Are you too tired?”

“Getting there,” Zhao Yunlan admitted, embarrassed as his legs started to dip again. He really needed to start exercising, if for no other reason than to make a better showing for his gorgeous lover.

Shen Wei tapped his ankle with the crop. “Back up, then, until you can’t anymore.”

Squeezing his eyes closed, Zhao Yunlan shakily raised his legs. He regained his slipping grasp on the ropes and braced himself for the coming strikes. Shen Wei merely continued to slap lightly at his skin. Enough to keep it sensitive and warm, but not enough to satisfy. Zhao Yunlan’s legs shook harder and he squeezed them against the rigid metal bar, using its resistance as a support. His abdominal and quadriceps muscles began to spasm as he approached complete muscle fatigue. He tried rocking his hips, in a wordless plea for Shen Wei to just go already. The soft flesh of his buttocks’ low curve ached for stings that didn’t appear to be coming anytime soon. A soft whine escaped him as his legs started to sag.

“Yunlan.” Shen Wei’s voice was soft and reassuring. The crop tapped gently at Zhao Yunlan’s fingers, white-knuckled on the rope. “Relax. The guandao will hold you. Lie back.”

Zhao Yunlan’s eyes shot open. His mind and heart trusted Shen Wei implicitly, but his body still resisted letting himself tip backward. His arms were almost fully extended above his head, now. With a ridiculous squeak, he fell the last few centimeters to the firm, smooth handle of the guandao. Its hard solidity was a massage along Zhao Yunlan’s neck and upper spine. With a sigh, he let himself slip down as far as the wrist ropes would let him. Legs and abs now no longer required to hold the entire weight of his body, his back curved to expose more of his buttocks to the cool air.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “And…please?”

“Yes,” said Shen Wei with a sigh that sounded almost eager.

The strikes came in a familiar pattern, the soft leather end hitting the join of his thigh and ass with two firm, warming slaps followed by a third, harsher one. Two sets on each cheek. Finally able to devote more of his attention to sensation instead of support, Zhao Yunlan’s hips began to rock, his body finally seeking the sharpness instead of shying away.

His body was always the last part to come along on these rides, but once his muscles relaxed into the abuse, the pleasure went down to his bones. The way Shen Wei made him feel, the way Shen Wei so graciously and gracefully fulfilled the duties Zhao Yunlan begged of him. Zhao Yunlan loved suffering everything Shen Wei asked of him in these moments.

A slow circle of the crop’s length rubbing against both his cheeks was all the warning he got before it came down in a hard line across them. All the air left him in a bitten-off cry. He didn’t have time to regain it before another strike came, precisely aligned just below what he knew was a pink, swelling welt. The other two followed fast—all four gorgeously agonizing stripes landing before he could take a breath. The keeper end trailed softly over the marks as Zhao Yunlan panted through the initial shock of them, his skin singing.

Shen Wei trailed the leather flap gently over the burning lashes and Zhao Yunlan squeezed his eyes against the involuntary tears. He inhaled deep before breathing it out slowly between pursed lips. Adrenaline sang through him, calling a siren song of the endorphins soon to come. His legs started to shake again, fatigue finally sinking in despite the less-stressful posture. He bit his lips, struggling to keep his legs up, straight and strong. He didn’t want Shen Wei to be disappointed, but his knees continued to bend despite his best efforts. The crop’s soothing caress disappeared and he bit back a sigh of loss at the contact.

“I’m going to touch you, now,” said Shen Wei, his voice soft and firm.

Zhao Yunlan’s eyes shot open just as Shen Wei stepped against the counter, so close his body heat sunk into sensitized flesh of Zhao Yunlan’s backside. Locking Zhao Yunlan’s gaze with his own, Shen Wei trailed his gloved fingers over the lines he’d made, tracing along their lengths several times, before finally squeezing Zhao Yunlan’s buttocks in a firm grip. Zhao Yunlan yelped and his hips jerked up, his ankles dropping to Shen Wei’s shoulders. Before he could stop himself, he used the leverage to thrust his aching cock into the empty air. It bobbed against his belly, leaving wet sticky dots above his line of pubic hair.

Shen Wei hummed a short, low laugh and gently lifted Zhao Yunlan’s ankles from his shoulders. He stepped back and to the side, skimming his fingers along Zhao Yunlan’s skin, never breaking contact.

“I’m going to move you, now,” he said.

A dizzying moment later, Zhao Yunlan was flipped, bent over, belly and chest pressed into the countertop. His feet, spread wide by the bar, didn’t quite touch the ground. The rope tethering him from the guandao had been severed, but his hands were still bound, wrists together and lying just above his head. He opened his fingers and wrapped them around the guandao as best he could. He rose into the air again, ass-first, before Shen Wei lowered him onto the pillow tucked between his groin and the edge of the counter. He groaned in relief at the pressure on his cock.

“Thanks, baby,” he murmured, his words slurred against the counter’s surface.

He rutted shamelessly against the pillow. If Shen Wei wanted him to stop, he’d tell him to stop. He didn’t. Instead, he dragged the soft leather end of the crop over the sensitive stripes that ran across Zhao Yunlan’s ass. He traced them in a slow trail, one end to the other, bottom to top. The leather tickled above the others, on Zhao Yunlan’s still-unmarked flesh. Zhao Yunlan thrust faster against the pillow, his back curving, begging.

When the strike came, his hips were rising to meet it and he froze for a moment, holding the connection between the rod and his stinging flesh. The surprise and pain pulled his balls tight and he arched away from the pillow with a gasp. Shen Wei laid down another two stripes while Zhao Yunlan quivered, breathing hard, caught between the bliss of the crop and the release of the pillow. Shen Wei laid a calming hand on the small of his back.

“Relax, Yunlan,” he said softly. “Two more.” The leather gloves pressed him gently to the pillow. “Just two more.”

“Mmmhmm,” Zhao Yunlan managed between pants. He tried to ignore the near-overwhelming pressure of the pillow on his cock and pointed his toes, feet straining toward the floor.

The two strikes nearly sent him spinning over the edge, caught between the burning sting of the crop on his ass and the soft pressure of the pillow on his cock. If there had been a third, he might have been able to come from it. Whining, wordlessly begging, he arched his back as best he could. His toes couldn’t find purchase on the floor and his hands ached from their white-knuckled grip on the guandao. He wanted release, needed it, ached for it. He sucked in a hissing breath through his teeth as Shen Wei ran gloved fingers over the nine marks.

“More,” Zhao Yunlan gasped. His mouth was so dry it felt nearly raw. “Please.”

Shen Wei placed his hand on the unmarked skin high on Zhao Yunlan’s ass and ran his thumb along the edge of the top welt.

“We’re out of room, love, I’m sorry. That’s all for today.”

Unfulfilled and feeling bratty, Zhao Yunlan whined in complaint and wiggled his hips side to side. It made his legs swing like a pendulum—an obscene, spread-legged pendulum. Behind him, Shen Wei huffed a laugh. After a short pause, he laid his warm hand, bare now, with no glove, on the small of Zhao Yunlan’s back.

“Do you want to keep them or have me take them away?” he asked.

When they’d first started this sort of thing, Shen Wei had been uncomfortable bordering on horrified at the superficial damage to Zhao Yunlan’s tender skin. He’d insisted on healing him immediately despite Zhao Yunlan’s insistence that he liked feeling the marks, for days if possible. To his surprise, Zhao Yunlan found he quite enjoyed the outpouring of endorphins that still flooded his confused body after the healing was complete. Unattached to any pain, the rush was intoxicating. These days, Shen Wei usually gave him the choice.

“Take them,” he answered, relaxing his grip on the guandao but not quite letting go.

Shen Wei pulled away the pain and damage like a perfect layer of skin peeled from a sunburn. A prickling heat traveled quickly from the bottom curve of his ass to where Shen Wei’s crop had ended its journey a finger-width below his tailbone. With the pain gone, Zhao Yunlan’s head spun and he groaned, rolling his hips in a slow, luxurious circle on the pillow. Maybe if…

Shen Wei’s bare fingers ran soothingly over his back before traveling down his ass cheek and thigh. He started to unbuckle the strap but Zhao Yunlan awkwardly pulled away, the motion making the wide angle of his legs rock again in a manner that nearly made him giggle.

“No!” he said sharply, grin half-smashed into the countertop.

Shen Wei paused. “No?”

“No,” confirmed Zhao Yunlan. He arched as high as he could, offering himself up for more.

Shen Wei breathed in sharply, sounding surprised. They’d never tried a second round before, and why the hell not? It seemed like a terrific idea to Zhao Yunlan. He might even be able to come from it this time. He squeezed his legs as he maintained the arch of his back, trying to close his thighs against the spreader bar, wondering if Shen Wei liked watching his muscles flex.

“Yunlan,” Shen Wei said hesitantly.

Zhao Yunlan smiled to himself again. Sometimes Shen Wei just needed talked into things.

“Again,” he said. He resumed his firm grip on the guandao. “More. Please.”

He closed his eyes with a smile at Shen Wei’s huff of amusement. There was a slight rustle behind him as Shen Wei put his gloves back on and picked up the crop.

“Very well,” he said. Zhao Yunlan could hear the smile in his voice. “You’ll tell me when you’ve had enough.”