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Yin Yu did not expect to spend his twenty-seventh birthday like this.

If asked beforehand, he probably would have said his expectations were pretty low: drinks, a bar, Jian Yu, and whoever Jian Yu coerced into coming along. Hardly spectacular, but nice enough. Standing in the rain outside of a restaurant and holding a briefcase containing an urgent contract is not nice in the slightest.

But it’s a job.

Straightening his tie, Yin Yu opens the door. The hostess gives him a brief glance, and then it’s as though he isn’t there at all. Maybe she’s been warned of his arrival in advance, or maybe he just looks like one of the countless errand boys that come into this high-class establishment that there’s no point in asking if he’d like a table.

It’s something that’s been happening a lot lately. He is essentially invisible anywhere he goes.

Stepping into the restaurant, he weaves past the tables in the dim light, making his way to the back where he can complete his delivery. No one pays him any mind until he reaches a quiet booth in the far corner.

Hua Cheng does not like to be approached from behind.

Yin Yu’s employer is a very tall man in his fifties with long dark hair and an eyepatch. He also doesn’t look a day over forty, which may have something to do with his dashing pirate appearance, but probably has more to do with the fact that there has never been a man who gave fewer fucks in his life. For reasons Yin Yu has yet to grasp, at least one of those fucks has been assigned to him. The rest of them fall squarely on the shoulders of his husband, a smiley, shockingly handsome man named Xie Lian who could be an old thirty or a young sixty — Yin Yu cannot tell.

Xie Lian sees Yin Yu first. He beams and waves, gesturing for Yin Yu to join them at the table and have some of the pasta they’re sharing. Yin Yu has not eaten dinner yet; in fact he’s starving, but he hasn’t been working for Hua Cheng long enough to sit down with him for a meal. In approximately twenty years from now, when he feels comfortable sharing his boss’ table, perhaps he’ll join, but for now, he bows respectfully and holds out the contract for Hua Cheng’s perusal.

Extracting his arm from where it rests over his husband’s shoulders, Hua Cheng reaches across the table and takes the packet of papers.

“Any changes?” he asks, flipping through the pages.

“Pages three, five, and ten have additions. There are annotations from the lawyers letting you know what the changes entail.”

Hua Cheng stops at each mentioned page, scans the writing, then hands the entire packet to his husband. “What do you think, Gege?” he asks, stretching his arm behind Xie Lian’s shoulders again. Xie Lian removes a pair of reading glasses from his front pocket and then, squinting, scans the contract in the dim light of the restaurant.

Maybe not so close to thirty after all.

“How is He Xuan doing?” he wonders aloud, finger making a trail across the paper. “He hasn’t been over in a long time.”

“He owes us money, Gege,” Hua Cheng leans into Xie Lian’s personal space. Just enough to make Yin Yu a little uncomfortable, but he keeps his face and body neutral.

“Ah yes, but wouldn’t it be better if we just, um, forgot about that?” Xie Lian follows his finger across the page. “He’s your friend.”

“I like to think of him as more a friendly competitor,” Hua Cheng smirks and something chilly and terrified runs down Yin Yu’s spine.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian licks his finger and turns the page, “you don’t need any more competitors. You need friends.”

“Is there really any difference?”

Xie Lian pauses and turns to look at his husband. They hold eye contact for several seconds before they both start to laugh.

Then they kiss for a moment too long, until Xie Lian returns to the document, and Hua Cheng reaches out to pick at their food.

Yin Yu stands, unmoving. It’s admirable that two people of this age have kept their love alive for so long. It would be even more admirable if they could keep it alive in the privacy of their own home. But then again, he is the one who is supposed to be invisible.

“I think you can sign it,” Xie Lian finally says, setting down the contract and pushing up his reading glasses with his pointer finger. “Although, why you need my opinion is confusing. I’m a teacher.”

“There’s no one that I trust more,” Hua Cheng holds up a forkful of pasta and proceeds to feed his husband.

Yin Yu keeps his breathing steady. This is not just a job. This is what keeps him from sleeping on Jian Yu’s couch, an unemployed disgrace. Hua Cheng may be a ruthless eccentric, but for some reason, he saw something in Yin Yu worth hiring. Yin Yu is not going to give him a reason to regret that, no matter how much PDA he has to witness.

The man seems to know that he’s being thought of and his single eye pins Yin Yu to the spot.

“It’s your birthday,” he digs into his pocket, pulling out a wallet slim enough to tell everyone who’s looking that he doesn’t need to carry cash. He opens it and pulls out an obsidian black credit card, the kind that doesn’t have a credit limit. Reaching across the table, he sharply sits it in front of Yin Yu. Yin Yu nearly falls over when he sees that his name is embossed in gold lettering.

“Oh! Happy birthday, Yin Yu!” Xie Lian chimes in.

“You left for the lawyers today before my secretary could give this to you,” Hua Cheng sounds borderline uninterested. “Drop this thing off at He Xuan’s and then buy yourself a few drinks on me. Bring some friends. I don’t care.”

Yin Yu bows, “But sir, I have only been working for you for two weeks.”

“Well aren’t I just your fairy godmother?” Hua Cheng throws back his highball.

 

Yin Yu spends eight yuan on a beer in the small corner bar near his apartment. The bartender makes him show his ID because the black card is so suspicious. When he pulls it out of his wallet, a small folded piece of paper comes with it. It lands on the bar, getting damp in a spot where the barstool’s previous inhabitant spilled their drink.

He stares at it, watching the paper change color as it absorbs the liquid, the line of discoloration edging closer and closer to a set of numbers written in ink. Ink that will run and smear into nothing if he doesn’t pick the paper up.

It’s a phone number.

Black begins to blur and Yin Yu snatches it back, unfolding it all the way so he can see the number written there. He stares at it, like it holds some kind of answer, but it doesn’t. He doesn’t even know why he still has it. But for reasons unknown he carefully folds it and puts it back in his wallet.

The bell on the door jingles, there are three loud thudding steps, and then Jian Yu is there.

“I told you I would handle this!” he angrily takes off his scarf and jacket, shaking off the rain. “We could have gone to someplace a lot nicer than here.”

The bartender is standing right there. It’s a small bar. Yin Yu reaches out for Jian Yu’s wrist to try to stop him from badmouthing the place without making a scene, but he’s already gotten started. In all their years of friendship Jian Yu has never particularly listened to Yin Yu anyway.

“Do you really want to watch this?” Jian Yu gestures at the small television screen in the far corner. It’s a sports channel playing a highlight reel and Yin Yu has been steadfastly ignoring it. But, just as Jian Yu draws attention to the screen, Yin Yu looks up. There’s a freeze frame of a curly haired player heading the ball into the goal. No one looks nice heading the ball, and this player is no exception, but seeing him sets off a catastrophic nuclear reaction in Yin Yu’s chest.

“Seriously, you want to sit in a shitty bar and watch your ex score on instant replay?” Jian Yu settles onto his stool, then barks out his drink order.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Yin Yu picks at the label on his beer. “All bars play sports at this hour anyway. It’s not like it was avoidable.”

“You’re so fatalistic,” Jian Yu throws back his drink the instant the bartender puts it in front of him. “You should be angry.”

Yin Yu wants to say that Jian Yu is angry enough for the two of them plus several more people, but that would just make him angrier. “I was angry, and then I left. There’s no point in harboring more resentment. He didn’t…”

“If you are going to say he didn’t do anything wrong, I’m going to throw you out in the rain,” Jian Yu sits his beer down heavily, getting the bartender’s attention.

“Let’s just talk about something else,” Yin Yu sighs.

“Okay. Let’s talk about this weird new job you got. How many hours a day are you working now? You go in at seven, and you finally leave at nine?”

“Lots of jobs are like that,” Yin Yu nurses his beer, not comfortable buying another one on Hua Cheng’s dime.

Jian Yu sighs in annoyance, “The guy owns an entire football team. He should be able to hire more than one personal assistant.”

“He doesn’t want a second personal assistant.”

“No offense, man, but you’ve never done anything other than play football. What’s so great about you?”

Yin Yu tips the dregs of his beer into his mouth. “I have no idea.”

 

Jian Yu may be angry ninety percent of the time, but even he is sensitive enough to tell that after a fourteen hour day, most people want to go to sleep. They leave the bar together and then go their separate ways, with Jian Yu sending him off with a heavy slap to his back and a threatening “Stay out of your own head!” as he walks in the opposite direction.

He might as well have said nothing, for all the good it does.

Yin Yu’s career, and his life as he knew it, ended two months ago. It wasn’t like he didn’t see it coming. Even if he hadn’t noticed that he had passed his prime, the sports media certainly did. They made it a point to say as much whenever a forward outmaneuvered him and he just couldn’t catch up.

When Tianjin Teda didn’t renew his contract, it was devastating but not much of a surprise. They left him with the option of dropping down to the second tier league… but there was no coming back from there. Give it a year or so and he’d drop even further, to the third tier where he’d have to work part time at a grocery store to make ends meet. Alternatively he could try to get a job to support himself, but with no CV to speak of and a five-year-old economics degree that had never been used, his chances of finding something were terrible.

Hua Cheng had contacted him out of the blue with a different option. He wanted a personal assistant with a football background. Someone who could navigate relations with his team. Someone who could be discreet. Since he somehow knew Yin Yu had been dating his famous and uncontrollable teammate for years without the media ever noticing, Hua Cheng had confidence in his discretion.

Back against the wall, Yin Yu accepted his offer. Hua Cheng had wanted him immediately and paid for movers to pack up his half of the apartment. They’d done it while Quan Yizhen was away at a training camp. Yin Yu had taken the thick wad of cash that Hua Cheng had sent to him to buy out his lease for the rest of the year, put it in an envelope, and sat it in front of the microwave, the one guaranteed place that Quan Yizhen would see it.

He left a note.

“Sorry. Things aren’t working out.”

And then he left his entire life behind.

He was never meant to be a football star. He just didn’t have it in him. But he still wanted to play.

His apartment is dark and cold when he opens the door. He turns the light on to reveal a jumble of boxes, all unpacked. There’s no room for him to sit on the couch. His plants are sitting on whatever flat surface is available, and because of the lack of natural light over the past two weeks, they all look sickly and sad. They’re probably going to die.

Everything feels empty and hollow.

He’s not used to living alone.

Yin Yu did not expect to spend his twenty-seventh birthday like this.

But he is. He is and there is nothing he can do about today, it’s already happened and it’s already over. But tomorrow? Tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that?

They may seem dim and gloomy.

But they’re still his.

 

 

 

 

Ten months later…

“Your reservations for your anniversary dinner have been cancelled. The restaurant was very concerned they had offended you.”

Hua Cheng glances up from his desk where he’s been steadily covering a piece of paper in his chicken scratch writing. “And did you ease their worries?”

“No,” Yin Yu crosses his boss’ office to the small bar in the corner where he begins to make him an old fashioned. “If they’re concerned that they’ve upset you, they’ll be all the more eager to try to get back into your good graces.”

A rare authentic smile dances across Hua Cheng’s face, “I knew I hired you for a reason.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Hua Cheng sits down his pen and gets up from his desk, taking the old fashioned from the bar just as Yin Yu finishes with it. “Since Gege is cooking for us instead tonight, he’s going to need help getting groceries. He wants what we’re having to be a surprise.”

“I’ll head there immediately,” Yin Yu puts away the bitters. Xie Lian is not an invalid, but he broke his wrist recently and still insists on walking nearly everywhere he goes. Yin Yu has long gotten used to these very personal errands. He has delivered flowers on Xie Lian’s birthday, taken in Hua Cheng’s dry cleaning, gone to the library to return Xie Lian’s overdue books, and brought them both greasy street food for breakfast on Hua Cheng’s birthday. He is the most personal personal assistant he knows of, excepting the ones that are actively sleeping with their bosses.

He doesn’t mind.

Where once he was constantly in the public eye, Yin Yu is now invisible to the entire population of the third largest city in the world. Hua Cheng and Xie Lian are bizarre, there’s no mistaking that. Their love is so blatant it makes his rebellious heart ache with the memories.

But they see him, keep him from feeling like he’s dissolving into nothing.

It’s a twenty minute walk from Hua Cheng’s offices to his penthouse. He could take the train, but it’s only marginally faster. The sidewalks are full of men in suits, and Yin Yu blends in so completely he might as well not be there at all. But the sun is shining brightly and the weather is perfect for late summer and there’s really not much to complain about.

Hua Cheng and his husband live in one of his buildings, Paradise Manor, which sounds more like a brothel than a luxury apartment building. But the building itself is dignified enough, with black tile hallways and red accents on the walls that somehow work without being too ostentatious. He inserts the keycard into the elevator that will allow him passage to the twenty-fifth floor, then exits into the hallway. Music fills the air, coming from the door of the penthouse, and Yin Yu knocks loudly.

The door opens and Yin Yu’s heart catches in his throat.

“…Yin-xiong?”

Quan Yizhen has let his hair grow. It’s tied back in a curly half ponytail, and it is extremely flattering. He’s wearing black studs in his ears that Yin Yu hasn’t seen before. Otherwise he looks the same, except for the expression on his face which is a combination of elation and on the verge of tears.

“I told him I didn’t need help,” Xie Lian sighs as the two of them stare at each other.

Elation wins out, and Quan Yizhen jumps forward, wrapping Yin Yu in his arms. He smells the same, like his deodorant, and his arms squeeze just as uncomfortably tight. Yin Yu hasn’t gone to the gym in months and he’s not certain if he has the strength to fight him off.

“I missed you,” Quan Yizhen breathes, which means he announces it to the entire building. “Yin-xiong I missed you so much!”

Over his ex-boyfriend’s shoulder, Yin Yu can see Xie Lian, looking somewhat aghast. This is how it feels, awkwardly standing by while people have an emotional moment. Perhaps this will be a lesson that he will learn and stop making Yin Yu stand right next to them while they tease each other and call each other pet names.

Probably not, though.

Yin Yu has yet to return Quan Yizhen’s embrace, but Quan Yizhen does not seem to mind and continues to squeeze him like a boa constrictor.

“Quan Yizhen,” Xie Lian clears his throat, “we need to go to the grocery store. I can’t do it without your help, remember?” He holds up his broken wrist but Quan Yizhen is too busy inhaling all the air around Yin Yu’s body to see it.

Yin Yu shifts his feet and Quan Yizhen’s arms loosen just the slightest bit, though he doesn’t let go. Yin Yu takes the opportunity to free himself, shoving Quan Yizhen as hard as he can. He takes two steps out the door.

“Please excuse me, sir, but I need to return to work.”

Quan Yizhen stares at him with desperation in his eyes.

Yin Yu slams the door in his face and runs.

 

Hua Cheng apologizing is a new and somewhat delightful development. Or it would be delightful if he weren’t apologizing for something that makes Yin Yu want to dig himself a hole in the ground and live there forever. It’s not a very… vehement apology, to be fair. He lazily makes Yin Yu a drink, then tells him he “should have listened to Gege.” But then he makes up for his lack of vigor by explaining what Quan Yizhen is doing here.

He’s been traded onto Beijing Renhe, the other Beijing Super League team. Hua Cheng’s coach wanted him, but Hua Cheng disagreed. Quan Yizhen is an Olympian, one of the best players in the country. He had taken Tianjin Teda through a winning season last year. Everyone wants him, but Hua Cheng didn’t. He didn’t to the point that he got involved in team politics, something he rarely does. Yin Yu knows he’s the reason, but he also cannot believe that Hua Cheng would put the comfort of his personal assistant over the success of something he’s invested millions of yuan in.

“Quan Yizhen and Gege have a history,” he finishes his own drink and sits it on his desk with a clack. “Renhe hates him, and he doesn’t know anyone else in Beijing. Gege’s not the kind of man to leave him by himself, no matter how annoying he is.”

Yin Yu still feels, after all this time, the urge to defend Quan Yizhen. He presses it down, then takes Hua Cheng’s glass and places it on the bar.

“Be prepared to see him now and again,” Hua Cheng finishes with a finality that makes his apology almost worthless.

He may put Yin Yu ahead of millions of yuan, but he will not put him ahead of the wishes of his husband.

“I understand, sir,” Yin Yu says.

 

Even so, there are things Yin Yu wants to ask his boss about Quan Yizhen. Things like, “How do he and your husband know each other?” “How did you know he and I were together last year?” “Why didn’t you trade him onto your team?” and “Can you please warn me before I have to see him again?”

It’s possible that if he asks Hua Cheng these probing questions he will answer, but it’s much more likely he will smile very fakely and divert the conversation in an entirely different direction. Yin Yu is too comfortable with the relationship he currently has with his employer to risk anything so he keeps his questions to himself.

He lives each day on borrowed time. He has no idea where Quan Yizhen lives. Even in a city of 21.54 million people, they still could run into each other in the street. Worse still, Jian Yu could run into Quan Yizhen. Yin Yu doesn’t want to have to pool together all of his savings to bail his best friend out of jail for the street fight that would take place if he and his ex made contact.

So he does his job. He lies low, quickly scanning whatever room he’s about to enter. Luckily, Quan Yizhen stands out more than ever with his long brown curly hair in a sea of black. Unless something has changed, he wears nothing but athletic gear, making him extremely visible in the business district streets full of suits. If Quan Yizhen is milling around in the vicinity, Yin Yu will most certainly see him first.

At least he keeps telling himself that.

After a week of peeking around every corner for any sign of his ex, Yin Yu relaxes somewhat. He eases back into the steady rhythm of his job, which for the most part is strictly business related. Hua Cheng doesn’t ask him to do anything for Xie Lian, which is probably because Quan Yizhen is doing those things. But if Yin Yu works very hard, he doesn’t think about that.

On Friday, this all changes.

Very close to the end of the day, Hua Cheng asks him to go to the street vendor at the base of the building and buy a few meat buns. He is very particular about this specific vendor, because he happens to be Xie Lian’s favorite. Of course, it being Friday afternoon, dozens of other salarymen have the same idea. That would normally be a problem, but this street vendor is given special permission to set up shop from the owner of the building, and he always lets said owner’s representative come to the front of the line. Yin Yu absolutely hates being waved to the front of the line, but it is marginally better than standing in line for an hour.

As he’s awkwardly passing the other disgruntled men and women who are waiting, a very familiar voice cries out in complaint that someone is butting in line. Yin Yu freezes, ready to run in the opposite direction, but he doesn’t know where Quan Yizhen’s voice is coming from, so he’s pinned to the spot.

“Please don’t,” Xie Lian says from somewhere nearby.

And then the line explodes. Quan Yizhen appears about five feet away, looking all around for the person who is cheating and cutting in line. The rest of the line’s inhabitants are furious at him, Yin Yu, and the world at large. It takes less than a second for Quan Yizhen to recognize Yin Yu, then he stops talking altogether.

Behind him, a rather unhappy older woman who he’s nearly standing on pushes him as hard as she can, and he hurtles forward, falling directly into Yin Yu’s arms in such a perfect facsimile of an embrace that it takes Yin Yu’s breath away.

“Is that Quan Yizhen?” someone calls out. “The football player?”

“It is!” a very helpful second voice calls out.

There’s the sound of camera shutters and Xie Lian sighing. Yin Yu tries to dislodge himself from Quan Yizhen’s limbs which have wrapped around him, but Quan Yizhen is much stronger, and does not want to let him go. He tries to turn his head to hide, but just ends up burying his face in Quan Yizhen’s neck, making everything worse. Eventually, Xie Lian bursts free of the line and stands in front of them, making a spectacle of himself to distract from the two of them.

Finally freeing himself, Yin Yu doesn’t even bother to push Quan Yizhen away, he just runs back into the building and takes the direct elevator back to Hua Cheng’s floor.

Hua Cheng gets the truth out of him easily, then sends him home without looking up from his desk.

 

Yin Yu picks up a curry and a six pack of beer on his way to his apartment. He plans on staying there for the entire duration of the weekend. After taking a long shower, he settles in on the couch, opening up iQiyi to watch a nature documentary. The opening theme has just finished, when his phone begins to buzz.

It’s Jian Yu. Historically, if ignored, Jian Yu will just call again and again and again. Then he will show up at the apartment.

Yin Yu answers the phone.

“What the FUCK are you doing?” greets him. 

“Watching a documentary on sea lions,” Yin Yu replies.

“Oh, so you’re gonna joke around?” It’s as though Jian Yu is in the room already, pacing back and forth while he works himself up. “Well maybe you should pause those damn sea lions and turn on any sports station for a hot minute.”

Jian Yu may be generally nasty and foul tempered, but he typically has Yin Yu’s best interest at heart. Grabbing the remote with hands that are starting to shake, Yin Yu turns the television to Starsports.

The two static images on the screen are very familiar.

FOOTBALL STAR QUAN YIZHEN ROMANTICALLY INVOLVED WITH EX TEAMMATE.

The screen switches to choppy mobile phone footage of his earlier embrace with Quan Yizhen, which is played over and over and over again. Interspersed with that footage are images of the two of them when they both played on Tianjin Teda, pictures where they are close but not that close. Pictures that no one would think anything of… until suddenly they do and everything makes sense.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?” Jian Yu is loud enough that Yin Yu doesn’t need to put the phone to his ear. “I THOUGHT YOU WERE DONE WITH HIM! AND NOW HE’S HERE??”

Yin Yu is busy fighting off a panic attack. He can’t deal with Jian Yu right now. With trembling fingers he ends the call and stares in shock at the television screen. He reaches out to the coffee table for his wallet and opens it up, pulling out the cards haphazardly until he reaches the piece of paper with the phone number on it that he’s been keeping for months. He takes it in one hand and his phone in the other, while his name is finally mentioned as “ex Tianjin Teda fullback, Yin Yu.”

He holds paper and phone like that for an hour as the broadcast eviscerating his life only mentions his name once.

 

Yin Yu has just finished his sixth beer when Jian Yu arrives at his apartment. Never being particularly good at holding his liquor, Yin Yu spends the rest of the evening laughing hysterically on the couch, pointing out, quite correctly, that it took a ridiculous accidental hug for the media to pick up on one of Chinese Super League’s gay open secrets.

Jian Yu eventually throws him in the shower with his clothes on.

He wakes up at dawn with dry mouth and a pounding headache. Jian Yu, like the true friend he is, is asleep on the couch with the television still on. The media seems to have moved past Quan Yizhen’s indiscretion, and is covering some innocuous high school sports filler.

On the coffee table sits Yin Yu’s phone and the unused phone number. He picks them both up, weighing them in his hands. Quan Yizhen always seemed emotionally invulnerable, but he’s never been dragged for dating a failure on national television when in reality that failure dumped him ages ago in the scummiest possible way. Even if calling him is a good idea, it’s far too early for that.

It will probably always be too early.

The program on the television suddenly changes, and Quan Yizhen’s face fills the screen. He’s in his running clothes and the screen notes the time, only about a half hour ago. An aggressive paparazzi reporter with a microphone and a cameraman seem to have accosted him on his morning run.

A deep cold dread fills Yin Yu’s stomach.

“Quan Yizhen, you’re one of the top football stars in not just the country, but the whole of Asia. You could have anybody you want. What do you see in such a has-been?”

“DO NOT DO IT YIZHEN!” Yin Yu pulls on his own hair. Jian Yu sits up, confused and half asleep.

Just in time to see Quan Yizhen punch the reporter in the face.

 

Jian Yu makes him breakfast. Which sounds very kind, but really he heats up last night’s curry and takes most of it for himself. That’s fine, Yin Yu doesn’t have the stomach for it anyway. He sits on the couch watching Quan Yizhen punch a man on instant replay. It’s a good punch with no apparent damage to his hand. The damage to his career, however, is likely to be extensive.

“What’s that paper?” Jian Yu asks through a mouthful of curry.

Yin Yu closes it in his fist. “Nothing, just a paper.”

“It’s his number isn’t it?” Jian Yu takes a swig of coffee. “You’ve been holding onto it all this time.”

Yin Yu doesn’t respond. He gets an eye roll for his troubles and then Jian Yu begins to recount all the reasons that Quan Yizhen is bad news. This lecture is so well worn, Yin Yu could give it himself. Even moreso, he knows the reasons Quan Yizhen shouldn’t be in his life. He thought about those reasons a great deal and then broke up with him.

“And he didn’t for a single second think about how your career was going!” Jian Yu is at the height of his speech when Yin Yu’s phone rings.

It’s Hua Cheng.

Yin Yu answers without hesitation. Hua Cheng calls him in to work on Saturdays from time to time. Usually it’s for errands of the more domestic variety. If he’s calling him now, it’s entirely possible that Quan Yizhen has gotten himself arrested, and there’s no one else available to help Xie Lian at the market. 

“I’m going to need you to come over to the apartment,” his boss says lazily, as though they both aren’t aware that anyone who cares about sports is now very aware of Yin Yu’s perceived private life. “Don’t bother putting on a suit.”

Yin Yu doesn’t.

 

The penthouse elevator at Paradise Manor ascends very rapidly, but to Yin Yu, it seems slower than normal. The train ride over, the walk across the lobby, everything seems to be moving at half speed. There is a very high chance that he will see Quan Yizhen when he arrives at the apartment. This time he cannot run away. Given Quan Yizhen’s historic lack of personal restraint, there’s no telling what might happen.

He stands in front of the door for three long minutes, finger hovering over the doorbell. He’s just decided to press it, when the door flies open and Xie Lian yanks it shut behind him.

“Yin Yu,” he smiles gently. “Thanks for coming over on such short notice.”

“Of course, sir,” Yin Yu replies.

Xie Lian makes the same weary but bemused face he makes every time Yin Yu addresses him that way, then he smiles again. “I’m sure you’ve had quite a night,” he starts.

Yin Yu doesn’t know what to say so he just nods.

“Did you know I was Quan Yizhen’s high school literature teacher?”

He most certainly had not. It’s a coincidence that seems almost impossible.

“He’s got a good heart,” Xie Lian continues. “And I can’t pretend to know what went on between the two of you but…”

He bites his lip and seems to consider his words. “…he’s never said a bad thing about you.”

Yin Yu inhales deeply and looks at the floor. The marble tiles sparkle next to his sneakers.

“He needs your help,” Xie Lian is smiling again, he can hear it in his voice. “In a way that you’re not going to like. And if you don’t want to, just turn around and go home. Neither San Lang or I will hold it against you.”

Yin Yu looks up.

“In fact,” Xie Lian’s smile turns wry, “San Lang might respect you more if you leave.”

“He’s such a dummy,” Yin Yu sighs after a long pause, obviously not talking about his boss.

Xie Lian puts his hand on his shoulder and squeezes, “You’re very kind, Yin Yu.”

That’s not true, but it’s nice of him to think so.

 

“I can fix this,” Hua Cheng is standing in the middle of the living room, hand to his temple as though the very idea of doing so gives him a headache. “But you’re not going to like it.”

On the other side of the room, sitting on the couch is Quan Yizhen.

He’s staring at Yin Yu, ignoring Hua Cheng altogether. Hua Cheng knows he’s being ignored, and his absolute disgust fills the room to the brim. Xie Lian is sitting on the couch as well, looking serene, hand on Quan Yizhen’s knee. That hand seems to be keeping him in place, but it can’t contain the desperate, hungry look in his eyes.

Yin Yu wants so badly to leave but he can barely even look away.

“The commissioner of the league owes me money,” Hua Cheng continues, rubbing his temple steadily. “He’s willing to smooth things so this idiot only gets a week’s suspension, instead of the season, but he says he needs to have a convincing reason.”

The bottom falls out of Yin Yu’s stomach. He accidentally meets Quan Yizhen’s eye and Xie Lian has to grab Quan Yizhen’s shoulder to keep him from getting off the couch.

“Are you paying attention to me?” Hua Cheng asks him lazily. “Because I am perfectly happy letting you rot if you have other things you’d rather focus on.”

“San Lang…” Xie Lian reproaches.

“I’m sorry, Gege. Anyway, this ‘convincing reason’ is a real and true romance between the two of you. He wants to see you in public, being adorable, demonstrating that the league is open to new types of relationships. It’s all a huge PR stunt, starring you.”

The room starts to spin, and Yin Yu reaches out to steady himself on the chair he’s standing behind. Seconds later, a hand is on his wrist, and another is at his lower back, steadying him.

“Let go of me.”

“You’re gonna fall, Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen says, not loosening his grasp.

“I am not,” Yin Yu whispers.

“Let me help.”

Removing himself from Quan Yizhen’s arms, Yin Yu takes a step back and turns his attentions to Hua Cheng.

“For how long?”

Hua Cheng does not look pleased. “If you can make it until the league banquet next Sunday, he should be satisfied. Everyone should be bored of you by then.”

There’s a silence in the room. Quan Yizhen’s presence is hot and glowing next to Yin Yu, and he wants nothing more than to step away. But instead, he turns and faces him.

“Do you want to do this?” he has to be plain and he has to be honest. “It’s going to be fake. I don’t want to get back together.”

Quan Yizhen returns his look with the same intensity he has on the field.

“Yeah.”

Yin Yu crosses his arms and takes another step back. The room falls silent. 

“I’ll do it,” he tells everyone, especially himself.

Hua Cheng audibly sighs.

“But there are going to be ground rules,” Yin Yu continues, getting the undivided attention of the whole room. “Let go of me when I tell you to. You can’t have my phone number. Don’t… don’t kiss me on the mouth. I don’t want to talk about the past.”

Xie Lian stands from the couch, “Quan Yizhen can do that, can’t you?”

“Yeah,” his stare is still fierce. 

“Alright then,” Hua Cheng, “you need to make an appearance today or tomorrow. For now, get out of my house.”

“One last thing,” Yin Yu says as they’re all shuffling out of the living room.

Quan Yizhen turns, a questioning look in his eyes.

“Don’t talk about football.”

 

Xie Lian gently shuffles them to the door. Somehow, the space around them bottlenecks as they move. The closer they get to the way out of the apartment, the closer Yin Yu’s body approaches Quan Yizhen’s. By the time they reach the door they’re nearly touching, air crackling between them.

Hua Cheng collapses on a chair and groans in the background.

“He’s been on the phone with the commissioner all morning,” Xie Lian says by way of apology.

This is the point where Quan Yizhen should apologize, where he should thank Xie Lian and Hua Cheng from the bottom of his heart. But he doesn’t. It doesn’t even cross his mind.   

“Thank you,” Yin Yu expresses gratitude for him out of habit. The door yawns open before them, leading to a hallway where the two of them will be alone for the first time in ten months. 

Xie Lian gives them both a sympathetic look. “Let me know if you need anything. I’ll message you a list of places where you’re likely to be seen. My cousin… um… suffice it to say, I know where the paparazzi likes to hang out.” 

Quan Yizhen steps into the hall and Yin Yu follows him.

“Well, have a good day you two,” Xie Lian says earnestly.

And then he closes the door.

They walk towards the elevator at a steady pace. Not as fast as Yin Yu wants to run, but not as slow as Quan Yizhen probably wants to linger. Neither of them say a word or look at each other until they reach the elevator and both of them reach for the button at the same time.

“Sorry,” Yin Yu apologizes.

Quan Yizhen furrows his brow, looking confused, “You didn’t do anything, Yin-xiong.”

And he’s right, he didn’t, but unnecessary apologies are excellent social lubricant and maybe something that he should learn about.

The elevator door dings and opens and they step inside. They have to make some kind of appearance today or tomorrow, and Yin Yu does not want to drag this out any more than it already has been. He turns words over and over in his mind, completely unsure of what to say.

“I’m hungry,” Quan Yizhen interrupts his thoughts. “Let’s get breakfast.”

 

The nearest restaurant Xie Lian recommends is a place Yin Yu has never heard of before, but it’s in an upscale neighborhood and looks hip. It’s going to cost far more than he wants to spend. Quan Yizhen, who wanted to get tea eggs at a convenience store, is wearing Adidas shorts, a well-worn t-shirt from a training camp four years ago, and Nike flip flops. Yin Yu isn’t certain if they’re even going to let him in.

He needn’t worry. The hostess must be a football fan, because she knows who Quan Yizhen is and seats them immediately, despite the line out the door. Yin Yu can feel the angry stares of all the people they pass. Quan Yizhen doesn’t notice. He doesn’t notice the people who recognize him as he crosses the restaurant either. Yin Yu wonders how it must feel, to be so thoroughly seen that you can just ignore it.

After about thirty years spent crossing the restaurant, they’re seated at a table that conveniently faces a large window. Anyone on the street can look in and see that they’re eating together. It’s perfect, and it makes Yin Yu sick to his stomach. The hostess fawns over Quan Yizhen as she brings them waters. He is more interested in the contents of the menu than he is with her hero worship.

When he isn’t looking at the menu he’s staring at Yin Yu.

Disheartened, she leaves, and they’re left alone. Yin Yu picks the cheapest thing on the menu, then, unprepared to face Quan Yizhen head-on, pulls out his phone. There’s another message, this time from Hua Cheng, telling him to put this and any other meal he has with Quan Yizhen on his work credit card. He checks his work email, but there is nothing. His personal email is equally empty. Nothing’s new on WeChat either. Unable to delay the inevitable, he sits his phone on the table and looks across it at Quan Yizhen.

He has always been handsome, but the ponytail has escalated his boyish good looks into something that is altogether cruel to have to look at.

“You cut your hair,” he announces, somehow mingling the innocuous and intimate while also reading Yin Yu’s mind.

“Ah yeah,” Yin Yu self-consciously reaches for the back of his neck. “It wasn’t workplace appropriate.”

“But that guy with the long hair, and the one eye… he’s your boss. Why’s it okay for him?”

Of course Quan Yizhen would not learn the name of the person saving his skin.

“Because he’s the boss,” Yin Yu takes a drink of his water. “He didn’t tell me to cut my hair, I just did it.”

“It looks weird,” Quan Yizhen sits down his menu.

“Yes, well…”

“I like it.”

Quan Yizhen is not exactly someone for complimenting a person’s personal appearance. Yin Yu just always assumed he didn’t notice things like that. Receiving such a compliment, his ears grow hot despite himself and he’s only saved from deep embarrassment by the arrival of the waitress. He orders wontons, and Quan Yizhen orders some kind of hipster jianbing that they could have gotten just as easily at a food stall.

The menus are taken away leaving him with the reminder of just why exactly they’re in this place to begin with. He wants to leave, but instead he reaches out and sits his hand on the table. It would be nice if Quan Yizhen would notice what he’s trying to do and not make him say anything, but that is not the case.

“Hold my— hold my hand,” he sputters out.

Quan Yizhen doesn’t even think about it, he slams his hand on the table, weaves his fingers through Yin Yu’s, and squeezes tight.

His hand feels the same, weathered and calloused with thick strong fingers that are wasted on someone who never touches a ball. It’s hateful how warm and familiar it feels, especially when Quan Yizhen loosens his thumb and uses it to casually caress the inside of Yin Yu’s palm.

There’s the shutter of a phone camera from somewhere in the restaurant and Yin Yu prays that someone has noticed their hands and taken a photo. All it needs is to go viral on WeChat and the commissioner should be happy. But in case it was just someone taking a picture of their breakfast, he can’t let go.

“You grew out your hair,” he starts before realizing what kind of a position he’s forcing himself into.

Quan Yizhen doesn’t stop moving his thumb, but he flips their hands so that now everyone can see what he’s doing. “Just stopped getting it cut.”

Stomach lurching at the implications of a Quan Yizhen who stopped taking care of himself, Yin Yu says what he very much thinks but does not want to acknowledge.

“It suits you.”

The fingers holding his hand squeeze tight for a moment. Their eyes meet over the table.

“Yin-xiong, do you hate me?”

It’s a punch to the gut, and Yin Yu squeezes Quan Yizhen’s hand out of reflex. “I told you, I don’t want to talk about this.”

“You said no talking about the past. But I’m not, I’m talking about now.”

Yin Yu sighs, “Of course I don’t hate you. Would a person who hated you pretend to be your boyfriend to save your career?”

Quan Yizhen’s thumb is still gently caressing Yin Yu’s palm, and it’s equal parts calming and stress inducing.

“No but…” he makes eye contact with Yin Yu, and it’s very obvious what he wants to say.

“No but… you left like that .”

“…okay,” he says instead.

The waitress sneaks up on them, lowering their plates to the table while they’re busy staring at each other.

“Enjoy your meal,” she beams at them, as though such a thing were possible.

Yin Yu is left handed, so he doesn’t have to let go of Quan Yizhen’s hand while they eat. They never took advantage of this while they were together, and it feels bitter and sad to take advantage of it now. But that’s what Yin Yu is, a bitter, sad, washed-up football player who’s having a fake date with his ex-boyfriend on his boss’s dime.

They don’t talk while they eat, holding hands quietly like two people who have been together for a long time. Which is almost true. They were together for four years before Yin Yu’s career tanked and Quan Yizhen barely seemed to notice. But Yin Yu eats his wontons and ignores the fact that taking comfort from Quan Yizhen’s hand feels like he’s betraying himself.

“Look at those guys,” Quan Yizhen points at something over Yin Yu’s shoulder. Yin Yu turns to see two men with cameras and telephoto lenses across the street. They’re very obviously looking at them, and in the time that Yin Yu looks, have already taken several photos.

He stands, letting go of Quan Yizhen’s hand. “That’s our cue to go.”

“But I haven’t finished my breakfast!”

Yin Yu digs in his wallet, pulling out all the cash he has then he throws it on the table, assuming it will be more than enough. Then he pulls Quan Yizhen up, smoothly wrapping his arm across his shoulders, and herds him out of the restaurant.

“No I want to do this,” Quan Yizhen stops, shakes himself free, then wraps his arm around Yin Yu’s shoulders instead.

“Fine.”

Yin Yu lets himself be herded.

 

 

 

Two days later, Yin Yu is washing dishes. His sleeves are rolled up, jacket discarded, and he’s wearing an apron. It’s red, with ruffles at the neck and hem and he suspects that it is Hua Cheng’s. But Xie Lian insisted he wear it so he didn’t ruin his suit, and professionally and personally, Yin Yu is not really able to say no to anything that Xie Lian says.

Hua Cheng is lazily peeling potatoes over the trash, handing them over one by one to Xie Lian, who is cutting them unevenly and then putting them into a pot. They’ve already used at least half of the cookware in their enormous kitchen preparing everything else that has gone into the soup, so Yin Yu was put to work, scouring the pans so that they can be used again.

To say that Xie Lian does not know how to cook would perhaps be generous. What he does in the kitchen seems to surpass cooking in every way, turning the act into some sort of alchemy that leaves whatever food items he began with unrecognizable. They’re also undigestible to anyone except Hua Cheng, who eats leftovers for lunch with such gusto that Yin Yu wonders if he had all of his taste buds seared off. 

Last potato peeled, Hua Cheng comes up behind Xie Lian, wraps his arms around his waist, and puts his chin on the top of his head. Yin Yu’s parents were never particularly touchy-feely, but he imagines this must be what it feels like, watching your parents hang all over each other while you’re stuck doing chores and can’t escape.

“What is it you’re making, Gege?” Hua Cheng asks.

“Wingless Victory,” Xie Lian blows on the spoon to test the soup, which is rolling at a high boil. Yin Yu has even less of an idea what they’re eating now, other than it has potatoes in it. As Xie Lian offers Hua Cheng a taste of the scalding potato water, Yin Yu steadfastly stares at the suds in the sink.  There’s only a single pot left, and it is clean, but he is going to continue washing it until there is at least three feet of space between his boss and his husband.

A knock at the door drives them apart earlier than expected.

“Ah, Yin Yu,” Xie Lian turns himself away from the soup as Hua Cheng leaves the kitchen to answer the door. “I’m sorry to make you uncomfortable, but I invited Quan Yizhen over. He had a hard time not going to practice today and—”

“You don’t have to apologize, sir,” Yin Yu takes the final pot and puts it on the drying rack. “It’s your house.”

“Yes but I do take your feelings seriously,” Xie Lian stirs the pot, clearing his throat. “I also thought it would be easier, maybe, if you spent time together casually.”

Oh it’s you,” Hua Cheng’s displeased voice echoes through the apartment.

Are you a pirate?” Quan Yizhen asks.

Yes,” Hua Cheng responds flatly.

Xie Lian extends a fond look in the direction of his husband’s voice. Yin Yu wants to go back to the sink. Or better yet, his apartment. But even if Xie Lian weren’t his boss’ precious husband, he’d still have a hard time saying no to him.

“Maybe it’ll be easier,” he acknowledges the slim possibility. “Can I help you with anything else?”

“No, I think this is all done. It just needs to simmer a little bit,” Xie Lian doesn’t actually appear to be very familiar with what simmering is. “You can stay here with me, or go rescue San Lang.”

Appreciate and respect his boss though he might, Yin Yu leaves him to his fate.

 

Yin Yu watches as Quan Yizhen lifts the spoon to his lips. At the head of the table, Hua Cheng is eating heartily, Xie Lian looking on with quiet pleasure. It’s an altogether pleasant scene.

Unfortunately, in less than three seconds, Quan Yizhen is going to spit the soup across the table. Yin Yu has already tasted it. It is disgusting, and he is only continuing eating it through strength of will he didn’t know he possessed. Quan Yizhen is driven by nothing but his lizard brain. It would never even cross his mind to swallow down arguably the most revolting soup in the world for the sake of making someone happy.

The spoon passes his lips, then is pulled out of his mouth, empty. Quan Yizhen’s eyes are bulging. At any second, the food is going to reappear.

Pushing back his chair, Yin Yu grabs Quan Yizhen’s hand and yanks him away from the table.

They end up in the bathroom, and Quan Yizhen retches over the sink. Yin Yu stands next to the bathtub, arms crossed, waiting for him to finish. There’s no real point in getting angry. This is just the way he is, completely unaware of the feelings of others. He didn’t get a dose of empathy when he moved to Beijing or developed some over the ten months prior that he spent alone.

“Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen wipes his mouth on his arm, “why are we in the bathroom?”

The number of times Yin Yu has explained that you have to be concerned with others’ feelings is embarrassingly high, but Quan Yizhen has never gotten it once. There’s very little point in trying now, especially since Yin Yu no longer has a vested interest in Quan Yizhen’s well-being.

But he can’t help himself.

“Xie Lian made dinner for us. You can’t just spit it up. Do you have any concept of how rude that is?”

“It tastes really bad,” Quan Yizhen rubs his neck, which would be a contrite gesture if Yin Yu didn’t know any better.

“Yes, I know. It’s horrible. But you know what? I’m eating it, because it makes Xie Lian happy and he has always been kind to me. Has he been kind to you?”

“Well,” Quan Yizhen lifts himself up to sit on the sink, “we do stuff together when I don’t have practice.” 

“What would you be doing if he didn’t do things with you?”

“Sleeping.”

“Do you like to sleep?”

“I just do it.”

“Do you like to spend time with Xie Lian?”

“Yeah.”

“So—” Yin Yu takes a deep breath, ready to finish this pointless lecture, when Quan Yizhen interrupts.

“I should eat his soup, I guess.”

Stepping back in shock, Yin Yu falls into the bathtub.

Quan Yizhen jumps off the sink to help, immediately knocking the soap dish into the toilet with an enormous clatter. Bottles of shampoo and body wash are teetering on the sides of the tub, about to land on Yin Yu’s face, and as soon as Quan Yizhen tries to pull him out, they all come crashing down.

“Is everything alright in there?” Xie Lian is on the other side of the door, sounding concerned and amused.

“Yin-xiong fell in the tub,” Quan Yizhen yells loud enough for Hua Cheng to hear in the dining room. Reaching out again, he pulls Yin Yu out, scattering bottles everywhere, then strides across the little space in the room to open the door. Hua Cheng and Xie Lian are both standing there, giving them knowing looks. 

Although what they think they know Yin Yu has no real idea.

They return to the dining room and the rapidly cooling soup. It tastes even worse cold than it did hot, but Quan Yizhen plows through it like he’ll be killed if he doesn’t. And this has never happened before. Quan Yizhen has never put his own comfort aside for someone else’s feelings. When Yin Yu was desolate, head in his hands at the prospect of his career ending, Quan Yizhen put football on the television and proceeded to watch it quite enthusiastically.

Somehow he’s not the same person.

Yin Yu doesn’t know whether he should be happy or terrified.

 

 

 

 

Quan Yizhen kisses him on the cheek.

Time stops, and Yin Yu freezes in place. They’re in the middle of an upscale mall, ostensibly to buy Quan Yizhen actual adult clothing. But instead of doing that, Quan Yizhen is leaning over and kissing Yin Yu on the cheek like it’s just something he has always done. There’s no one even remotely resembling the press, just a lot of people going about their business, weaving around the two men who have stopped in the middle of the way for no reason. 

“Why do we have to buy clothes?” Quan Yizhen asks, as though he didn’t just rewrite reality. “My clothes are good.”

There’s a long pause. Yin Yu rubs his cheek for a solid minute before sense returns to him.

“Your clothes are inappropriate for nearly everything,” he responds. “Hua Cheng offered to buy you a new wardrobe and that’s what we’re going to do.”

“Like the suit Laoshi says I have to buy?”

“No, that’s something different. Xie Lian will take you out for that himself. It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

“Surprise for me?” Quan Yizhen wiggles his fingers into Yin Yu’s hand, and then they’re holding hands like it’s nothing.

“No,” Yin Yu’s stomach turns. “For… me.”

“But you’re not going to wear it,” Quan Yizhen scoffs, “you’re skinnier than me.”

“Yes,” Yin Yu grits his teeth, “thanks for reminding me.”

They walk in silence, hand in hand, when suddenly their way is obstructed.

“Can I have your autograph?”

A ten-year-old girl has come up to Quan Yizhen in the middle of the mall, eyes wide, huge glittery pen in hand.

“You’re my favorite player,” she says.

Historically, Quan Yizhen and autographs don’t go together, whether they’re cute children, beautiful women, or eager old men. He tells them all no with a sort of distracted disinterest that is worse than the refusal itself. Yin Yu is about to insist for him to respond in the affirmative, when Quan Yizhen lets go of his hand.

He stands, looking confused for several moments. The girl stares at him, eyes even wider.

“Here,” he finally says, “turn around.” He takes the girl’s pen and paper. Confused but compliant, she turns, allowing Quan Yizhen to scrawl the characters of his name using her back as a writing surface. The ink is hot pink and makes Yin Yu’s eyes hurt. Quan Yizhen doesn’t ask for her name or who the autograph is actually for, just signs so large there’s no room left on the paper.

“Here you go,” he hands it to her. She’s so excited she just runs away, leaving her pen in Quan Yizhen’s hands. Yin Yu is about to comment on the situation, when Quan Yizhen dashes off yelling after her to give her the pen back.

Yin Yu puts his hand on his cheek. It’s still hot.

 

“I don’t like jeans,” Quan Yizhen announces from the fitting room. “They’re too tight.”

“They’re more comfortable than slacks. Put them on and come out here,” Yin Yu is not the only person standing outside of the dressing room. However, he is the only man. Mothers and wives and girlfriends are loitering around, waiting to see their sons and partners’ outfits, while Yin Yu nags at an adult man to put on a pair of pants. 

The door to the fitting room finally opens and Quan Yizhen steps out in black jeans and a grey button-up. He’s sloppily rolled up the sleeves which somehow manages to improve what was certainly already a fantastic look.

“That suits you, young man,” an older woman leans over to announce.

“Thank you,” Yin Yu and Quan Yizhen say at the same time.

Stunned by Quan Yizhen’s gratitude, Yin Yu fumbles with all the clothes he’s holding.

“I still don’t like these, Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen complains. 

“We’re getting them,” Yin Yu says.

It takes him several long seconds to be aware of and regret his choice of pronoun.

Yin Yu crouches on the ground to pick up the clothes, shoves some of them in Quan Yizhen’s arms, then pushes him back into the fitting room. All the women are staring at him now.

“Sometimes it takes a firm hand,” the older woman confides in him.

“Hey, is he Quan Yizhen?” a younger woman asks.

“Quan Yizhen?” the doors to the other fitting rooms burst open and men in states of half dress stick their heads out.

“I hate this one, Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen chooses that moment to open the door.

“Can I get a selfie with you?” one of the men asks, and the rest take out their phones eagerly.

Quan Yizhen hates selfies. He has thrown fans’ phones in an effort to avoid them. There’s no reason he won’t do the same now. Yin Yu sighs and leans against the wall, bundle of clothes in his arms, ready for whatever altercation is about to take place. 

“Only if my boyfriend’s in them,” Quan Yizhen announces after a time spent thinking it over. “He’s retired.”

Retired. As if anyone even knows who he is.

Instead of changing into his own clothing, Quan Yizhen lets people take selfies outside the fitting rooms, Yin Yu at his side, still holding the bundle of clothes they’re going to buy. He drapes his arm over Yin Yu’s shoulders, leaving the fan to just sidle up awkwardly, a clear third party. But they seem grateful enough.

Yin Yu, meanwhile, very much wants to die.

 

After seven selfies with department store customers, Yin Yu puts everything on his credit card and they leave.

He is beginning to realize that when you have a certain amount of money, offering to pay for things is a sort of situational lubricant. If Hua Cheng can throw money at something and make it less of a problem, he does. Yin Yu seems to be one of the primary beneficiaries of this tendency, even though Hua Cheng pays him quite a lot of money to do his job. And now that Quan Yizhen, someone that Hua Cheng most certainly considers an ultimate problem, is in the picture, Hua Cheng is throwing money at him too.

It’s hard to be grateful for much of anything when he’s just had his picture taken seven times with seven strangers who all adore Quan Yizhen and wouldn’t recognize Yin Yu even if he put on his old uniform. It always took an extraordinary amount of effort not to be jealous of Quan Yizhen when they were together, but love, and the intimacy that comes with seeing someone’s everyday struggles paved the way. Now that Yin Yu hasn’t seen him in nearly a year, he’s a lot less inclined to be generous.

As though it’s Quan Yizhen’s fault he’s a fantastic football player.

They’re holding hands again. Quan Yizhen is carrying all the bags with his free hand like he’s got something to prove. At the corner, just next to the escalator they need to descend to get the hell out of there, is a reporter doing some kind of public interest story on people’s shopping habits or some other nonsense.

Yin Yu freezes in place for a moment, ready to turn the opposite direction and find a new way out.

But those selfies in the dressing room are not going to go viral.

He squeezes Quan Yizhen’s hand tightly and pulls him towards the reporter.

“Yin-xiong, why are we going this way?” Quan Yizhen asks, not fighting him in the slightest.

“To make sure everyone notices,” Yin Yu says through gritted teeth.   

The reporter’s eyes light up like someone has just dropped fifteen hundred yuan in front of him. He hustles forward, followed by his camera operator, crying out, “Quan Yizhen! What are you doing out and about today?”

Quan Yizhen stiffens, “Buying clothes.”

Yin Yu does not want to feel sympathetic. This is the price you pay for fame. But Quan Yizhen has never been good with reporters, even before he decided to punch one.

Yin Yu squeezes his hand, and Quan Yizhen noticeably relaxes.

“Who is that with you there?” the reporter asks a question he already knows the answer to.

“My boyfriend,” Quan Yizhen says what he was never allowed to say before. He doesn’t give Yin Yu’s name. It doesn’t matter, they’ll find out anyway but Yin Yu doesn’t know if he feels ignored or protected.

“Are you looking forward to tomorrow’s game?” the reporter leans in to ask, a knowing look in his eyes.

“Can’t play tomorrow,” Quan Yizhen shifts the bags, looking like he wants to punch this reporter too.

If they talk about this game, things are going to go south, and as it stands, there certainly hasn’t been enough worthwhile footage to get them televised to satisfy the commissioner’s demands.

“He’ll dominate in the next one,” Yin Yu burns through a month’s worth of enthusiasm.

He has always been a very private person, even before he seemed to disappear completely. The reason his relationship with Quan Yizhen was a secret was because he wanted it to be. It strikes him, as he turns to softly kiss his ex boyfriend on the cheek on national television, that he wouldn’t have done this for him then.

So why now?

 

 

 

 

Hua Cheng would be perfectly content if Quan Yizhen had stayed in Tianjin, thoroughly crushing Hua Cheng’s own team every season. But since Quan Yizhen is deeply involved in the lives of both his husband and personal assistant, he suffers his presence with only minimal groaning.

But not at the office, which is a Quan Yizhen free zone.

Yin Yu is grateful for the quiet that it gives. He has seen Quan Yizhen four out of the past five days, and will be seeing him again this evening. He hasn’t been given time to breathe, let alone sort out the torrent of memories, emotions, and overall confusion that his ex’s presence brings. At the office, he can make deliveries, make Hua Cheng drinks, and sort through paperwork, all activities that have little likelihood of him encountering Quan Yizhen.

He doesn’t have to think about him at all if he doesn’t want to.

“So,” Hua Cheng swirls the drink Yin Yu has just made, “far be it from me to ask, but how did a sensible person like you end up with a feral child like him?”

Or so he thinks.

Yin Yu is considering asking if his job depends on his answer, when Hua Cheng laughs and takes a drink.

“Feel free to keep it to yourself. I just find it interesting.”

Yin Yu puts away the bourbon in silence. And Hua Cheng must think he’s not getting a response, because he pulls a pen out of his desk and begins to write. When Yin Yu begins to talk, he leaves a long streak of ink on the paper.

“He was nineteen when we met. Coach told me to deal with him. He kept getting in fights with everyone else on the team, and it was affecting morale. I spent some time with him, and he turned out to be kind of… sweet in this hopeless, thoughtless way.”

“Sweet?” Hua Cheng hums.

“If he likes you, he’ll do almost anything for you…” Yin Yu’s heart constricts, and then he remembers.

“Except pay attention to your feelings,” he adds bitterly.

Hua Cheng doesn’t get the opportunity to ask any further because the intercom on his desk goes off and his secretary announces that there are two men in the lobby looking for Yin Yu.

And could he please come down before they start fighting.

 

“You stupid bastard, couldn’t just leave him alone, could you?” Jian Yu yells across a very public space.

Quan Yizhen doesn’t say anything, although his fists are clenched.

“Go ahead, punch me too, I don’t care! Maybe they’ll kick you out for good this time!”

Yin Yu doesn’t know how either of them know where he works or why they decided to surprise him at the same time, but he’s overcome with the strong urge to call the police.

But, as Jian Yu has said, this is not the first time Quan Yizhen has gotten in trouble for causing fights. It could be the last time, however.

“Both of you stop it,” Yin Yu crosses the lobby. “This is neither the time nor the place.”

“Not the time or place? What — so you can kiss him on national television but I can’t react to it? When were you going to tell me about any of this?

Jian Yu has always been a loyal friend. When Yin Yu’s world fell apart, he flew in from Beijing just to be there. He offered his home, and to help pay Yin Yu’s bills until he got on his feet. He was certainly more consoling than Quan Yizhen had been. But with that loyalty has always come a sense of possession over Yin Yu’s life. It’s nothing damaging on the average day, but at a time like this…

“Yin-xiong doesn’t have to tell you anything,” Quan Yizhen says, in lieu of punching him in the face.

“I don’t think I was talking to you, you manchild,” Jian Yu spits.

Before Yin Yu can get between them, Quan Yizhen has Jian Yu pushed up against a column, breathing down his neck.

“I was talking to you, though,” he says in a matter of fact voice.

“Now we all just need to calm down,” Yin Yu gently puts his hand on Quan Yizhen’s shoulder.

“You’re really mean,” Quan Yizhen says, grasping Jian Yu’s collar firmly. “I don’t like it.”

Jian Yu’s eyes flash with anger, but not even he is short-fused enough to respond in this situation.

Yin Yu tugs on Quan Yizhen’s shoulder, “Please let him go.”

“You shouldn’t be so mean to someone like Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen releases Jian Yu’s shirt and steps into Yin Yu’s side. Jian Yu’s eyes widen then he scowls at their proximity.

“It’s complicated,” Yin Yu sighs, “but we’re just doing it for the week, so he doesn’t get suspended.”

Jian Yu’s scowl deepens. “Breaking up with him put you into an emotional wasteland you just now got out of. So now you just want to jump right in again?”

Yin Yu can feel Quan Yizhen stiffen next to him. “I’m fine. I know what I’m doing.”

Shaking his head, Jian Yu pushes past them. “I sure as hell hope so.”

Standing side by side, they watch him storm across the lobby and out of the building.

Yin Yu can feel the words gather in Quan Yizhen’s throat, and he stops them before they break free.

“I told you, we’re not talking about the past.”

Making a noise like he wants to continue, Quan Yizhen reaches out for Yin Yu’s hand.

“There are no press here,” Yin Yu shakes free, “and I’m not meeting you for dinner for another six hours. Why did you come anyway?”

Scrounging on the ground, Quan Yizhen picks up a bag that had fallen on the floor. “Laoshi and I, we made you and pirate boss lunch!”

Yin Yu’s heart lurches.

“Give it here,” he holds out his hand. “I’ll make sure Hua Cheng gets it.”

Their fingers graze as the bag passes hands, and even though Quan Yizhen tried to hold his hand merely seconds earlier, a frisson still passes through Yin Yu’s body at the touch.

He chooses to ignore it.

 

 

 

Fake dating a public figure is exhausting.

At dinner, an old man comes up to their table and begins describing every mistake Quan Yizhen has ever made on the field, all under the guise of giving him some “solid advice.” Quan Yizhen is too focused on the hot pot to care much, but the man’s clear misunderstanding of Quan Yizhen’s very distinctive (albeit reckless) style of play rankles Yin Yu.

Though not enough to make him say anything.

Because this is how it is all the time. Everyone has opinions on Quan Yizhen, and they all need to share them. And the man himself does not care that he’s relevant at all. Yin Yu doesn’t know what’s more upsetting — watching everyone fawn over someone who clearly doesn’t even notice, or being completely and utterly ignored in the process.

Yin Yu doesn’t even want to be famous.

Eventually the man totters away, and Quan Yizhen reaches out for Yin Yu’s hand.

“I want to take you on a date tomorrow,” he squeezes his fingers and Yin Yu fumbles with the chopsticks in his left hand.

“Take me on a date? This is for you, not me.”

“Just let me, Yin-xiong? I promise it’ll be good. Lots of people will see us. Just wear um… running clothes.”

“You want us to go for a run together?” While a pretty terrible date, it’s not a bad idea. Being caught on a run was how Quan Yizhen got in this mess in the first place.

“Uh sure. At the park near my apartment.”

There’s something Quan Yizhen is not saying, but Yin Yu is too distracted by trying to get the location of this park out of him to try to suss out his plans. Probably he’ll try and get him to come over and play video games after, which is definitely not going to happen. But he has four years’ experience dealing with Quan Yizhen. He is pretty sure whatever comes his way, he can handle it.

 

“No. Absolutely not.”

“But Yin-xiong, we don’t have to talk about it! Just play! I haven’t played in days and you…”

“Haven’t played in months. No, I refuse. I’m not even wearing the right shoes.”

They’re loitering in front of a pickup football game in the middle of the park. Two rickety goals without nets stand in the middle of a field marked off by jackets and flip flops. A group of men from anywhere in their mid teens to their forties are gathered around, making ill-executed attempts to stretch. One of them, a guy in his twenties with a mohawk notices them, does a double take, then crosses the field in their direction.

“Please Yin-xiong, just try. I haven’t played with you in so long.”

Quan Yizhen has never begged for anything in his life. Well… actually he has a few times, but it makes Yin Yu blush to remember them and he certainly doesn’t want to be thinking of them right now.

The man with the mohawk catches up with them, looking eager and embarrassed all at once. “So you two… you wanna play with us?”

“Yeah!” Quan Yizhen once again does not take any of Yin Yu’s feelings into account.

The man laughs and runs his fingers through his hair, “We’re all amateurs, just so you know.”

“I know!” Quan Yizhen’s guileless response gets another laugh out of the man.

“But you can’t be on the same team,” he shakes his head good-naturedly.

“Why not?” Quan Yizhen seems deeply disappointed. “We came together!”

The man rubs the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, but one pro is bad enough, but two? The other team will get slaughtered.”

The bustling park, full of life and activity falls quiet.

“Two?” Yin Yu asks softly.

“Are you trying to hide or something? You’re Yin Yu! I’m a fullback too. When I was in high school I stole a fair number of your moves,” he laughs again. “Was sad to see you retire, but you got six great years in!”

Six great years.

“Ah, thank you very much,” Yin Yu puts his hands together so no one can see them shaking. “This is…”

“Quan Yizhen! And I’m Li An. Come on, I’ll introduce you to the rest of the guys!”

He starts walking back onto the field, and Quan Yizhen follows, not giving Yin Yu a second glance as he lingers behind, staring at the men who are about to play.

Six great years.

Noticing Yin Yu is gone, Li An turns around to walk backwards and waves him forward. This gets Quan Yizhen’s attention, and he calls out “Yin-xiong, come on!”

Something icy shatters in Yin Yu’s heart.

A million complicated emotions gush free. He’s been seen, recognized by a fan no less. Years of no validation can’t be overcome by a single encounter, but all the same he’s been seen. And it’s all Quan Yizhen’s doing, on top of everything else. His overwhelming happiness is tinged with the raw sadness of his lost career. His lost life.

His lost love.

Quan Yizhen stops, turns completely, and puts his hands on his hips. And Yin Yu is so grateful for his stupid idea, his stupid energy, his stupid face.

“Are you coming?” Quan Yizhen cocks his head.

Yin Yu exhales deeply.

Then runs to join the field.

 

Quan Yizhen shoots down the field like a meteor, dodging and weaving around the opposing team’s players like they’re cardboard cutouts. Yin Yu rushes out to meet him, feeling the wind in his hair and the ground underneath his feet. He set to intercept him twenty meters from the goal, but Quan Yizhen has always been faster, and the chances of stopping him are minimal.

However, what Quan Yizhen possesses in sheer speed and strength, he lacks in coordination with his left foot. Yin Yu exhales, waiting for the moment that he knows is coming, and wonders if anyone else has ever spotted it; that moment of eagerness where Quan Yizhen can almost taste a goal, and he dribbles too far ahead of himself. Yin Yu is fairly sure he only knows it because even before he was instructed to take Quan Yizhen under his wing, it was impossible to look away from him.

But Yin Yu's memory is still sharp, perhaps too much so.

He waits for that single moment of lost control, and steps into that open space. He doesn't even have to think about how to pull off the Maradona, his back brushing against Quan Yizhen's, who makes a noise of surprise. Then Yin Yu is past him, heart pounding as he sprints towards Quan Yizhen's team's goal.

 

“I still can’t believe you pulled a Maradona on me, Yin-xiong! Without cleats even!”

Quan Yizhen has forgotten that he’s not allowed to talk about football. Maybe it’s a moot point, since they just spent the morning playing it. But he is talking now, gushing over Yin Yu’s moves that lead to the last point of the game. Quan Yizhen’s team won by a pretty large margin, but you wouldn’t think it, the way he’s praising Yin Yu.

“Nobody’s got me like that in a really long time,” he laughs.

Quan Yizhen doesn’t lie. He doesn’t fawn. He doesn’t say things to make people happy. What he’s saying now is coming from the overabundance of joy in his heart, and Yin Yu wishes he didn’t know that because the excitement is contagious and the immune system of his psyche is weaker than he previously thought.

“I’ve been watching you play your entire career, you dummy,” he brushes him off, and everyone around them laughs. But their eyes meet. Yin Yu can’t take the intensity of Quan Yizhen’s stare. He looks away guiltily, eyes falling on two of the youngest players instead.

“Gege, will you show us how to do that?” one of them asks.

“I…” Yin Yu is about to say that Quan Yizhen should be the one to do it, but then he realizes that Quan Yizhen absolutely can’t. Everything about his playing is natural skill. He’s never had to fight for it. He’s never spent hours upon hours teaching his body how to do a Maradona. He just did it correctly on the first try. Someone like that can’t teach anything.

But someone like Yin Yu…

“Sure,” he smiles at the teenagers. “Let’s go out on the field.”

He spends another hour with them, showing them as many tricks as he can manage. The rest of the players gradually filter away, but Quan Yizhen remains, playing keep away with a spare ball for an astoundingly long period of time. When Yin Yu finally sends the teens away to get lunch, Quan Yizhen bounces across the field to meet him.

“That was fun right, Yin-xiong?”

“Yes,” Yin Yu doesn’t even bother to sigh. It was incredibly fun. He doesn’t know how to reel in his heart, to moderate his expectations, when he just spent the morning with the two things that have hurt him more than anything else. Maybe Jian Yu is right. Maybe he wasn’t ready for this.

Tomorrow is Sunday, and the Super League Banquet. It marks the final and most important moment of their agreement. It’s also the first time they have ever gone to the banquet as a couple. To sit next to each other. To dance together. For all of their old and new teammates to see them.

Worst of all, in addition to wrangling Quan Yizhen, Yin Yu has to wrangle his own heart. And it’s a lot stronger than he remembered.

 

 

 

Yin Yu wears a suit five days a week. They’re businesslike affairs, exclusively black, with a maroon tie he took to wearing as a nod to Hua Cheng’s proclivity for red. He bought them at a department store with some of his savings when he first moved to Beijing. They’re not meant to look nice, they’re meant to look professional. The cut is hardly flattering, it draws no attention at all, which is exactly how it’s meant to be.

But if he’s going to be the arm candy of Quan Yizhen, he has to look at least convincingly attractive.

“How much was that thing anyway?” Jian Yu asks from his position lounging on Yin Yu’s bed. He’s been watching him fiddle with his French cuffs, offering useless advice. There’s an unspoken truce between them, which Yin Yu established by asking Jian Yu for his opinion on his outfit before he went out. Pride massaged, Jian Yu happily came over. He hasn’t mentioned Quan Yizhen since, which seems to be part of the truce. Yin Yu almost wishes he would, to get the inevitable lecture over with.

“Too much,” he says, finally getting the cuff to sit right. He slips on the vest, charcoal pinstripes lying flat against his steadily fading abs. A three-piece suit is more ostentatious than he would want, but the man at the shop insisted he try it on and it looked too good to question. Yin Yu had been measured for a few quick adjustments to the fit, then he had put it all on Hua Cheng’s credit card.   

“You’re gonna be hot,” Jian Yu offers.

“There’s air conditioning.”

“Not outside.”

“I’ll manage.”

“Are you gonna leave your hair just like that?”

There’s nothing wrong with his hair. Yin Yu turns to face the mirror, scowling as he tousles his unresponsive fringe. Behind him, Jian Yu gets off the bed.

“Where’s your hair gel?”

Does he even have any? “Under the bathroom sink, if it’s anywhere.”

Jian Yu leaves the room, then comes back, tossing a crusty-looking bottle of hair product up in the air. It’s Quan Yizhen’s. Yin Yu knows that because he bought it for him three years ago in an effort to tame his hair. It has been used maybe twice, but he must’ve managed to accidentally pack it when he cleared out last year.

He doesn’t know if he can do this.

“Stop angsting. I know this isn’t yours,” Jian Yu turns him, and proceeds to do something with his hair. It’s awkward, and he’s rough about it. “You don’t have to go to whatever this is. I know he’s going to be there,” he continues, more conversationally. “Stay home. Let’s get drunk.”

Yin Yu wishes he would shut up.

“I said I was going and I’m going to go,” he tells him feeling the nerves clench his stomach. Mingled in with the dread and anxiety is a tiny thread of excitement which he wants to crush, but doesn’t know how.

Grabbing him by the shoulders, Jian Yu turns him to face the mirror.

“Where did you learn how to do this?” Yin Yu stares at himself. His hair is framing his face differently, sticking up kind of. He doesn’t really know how to describe it, but it looks good.

“The internet,” Jian Yu crosses his arms smugly as Yin Yu reaches for his tie. It’s a striking shade of cobalt blue, and Yin Yu already feels self-conscious about it. But self-consciousness is likely to be his constant companion this evening, so he needs to just get over it.

Yin Yu ties his tie, buttons his vest, then puts on his jacket. Looking at himself in the mirror, he hardly recognizes who he finds there. He certainly hopes the commissioner appreciates the lengths he’s gone to to make himself look like this.

“I don’t know what’s going on tonight, but he doesn’t deserve you,” Jian Yu frowns. “Especially not when you look like this.”

“I got a new phone number, and moved across the country without telling him where I was going. He’s not the only guilty party.”

Jian Yu rolls his eyes and exhales loudly but, for once, he doesn’t say anything.

“Thanks for your help,” Yin Yu tells him. 

 

He was going to take the train, but there’s a car waiting in front of his apartment. It’s a Mercedes and even though there’s not a bit of red on it, it still screams Hua Cheng. The driver steps out of the car as soon as he sees Yin Yu coming out of the front entrance, then rounds it to open the back passenger’s side seat. After a stilted pause, Yin Yu awkwardly sits down. The door shuts behind him as he tries to say thanks. The driver makes his way around the car again, sits down, and then they are driving away. 

Even if the driver had seemed like the talkative type, Yin Yu wouldn’t have known what to say. He’s too caught up in his own head. Without the distraction of Jian Yu or the effort needed to navigate the train, he’s trapped in a car with his thoughts which are betraying him.

Quan Yizhen has changed. He is still recognizably Quan Yizhen, still predictably thoughtless and selfish in many ways.

But not in all of them.

Yin Yu should be dreading this banquet. And he absolutely is. This is a sort of attention he does not, and has never wanted. But the past few days with Quan Yizhen have been increasingly pleasant. A part of him wants to see him again. And he wants to beat that part of him bloody with a bat. Because Quan Yizhen hurt him.

It’s not like Yin Yu is innocent, either. There is a reason that people who break up should stay apart. There are too many emotions, too much guilt spread around to ever have a healthy, normal, relationship. And Yin Yu could have handled things so much differently. He never once told Quan Yizhen that he was hurting him. He just sat there and silently willed it to change.

Thankfully, there’s no traffic, and the ride in the car doesn’t take very long. The banquet is being held in some upscale hotel that Yin Yu has never even come close to visiting. As the car pulls up to the sidewalk in the drop off area, Yin Yu clutches the legs of his pants, then lets go, then grabs on, then lets go.

The car stops.

Taking a deep breath, Yin Yu opens the door.

Only it doesn’t open. The child lock is in place. So he has to wait, like some kind of infant, until the driver rounds the car and opens it for him.

“Thank you,” Yin Yu says awkwardly, getting out of the vehicle. The man says nothing, but gives him a small nod.

Players and their dates are everywhere, holding out their phones taking selfies, slapping each other on the back. Yin Yu recognizes nearly all of them as people he played with or against at some point or another. He wonders, briefly, if anyone recognizes him, when someone calls his name.

“Yin Yu! Over here!”

Yin Yu turns at the sound of Xie Lian’s voice. He’s standing maybe six meters away, tieless in a white suit over a brown shirt that somehow manages to look flattering, instead of what someone would wear to a crass Western-style wedding. Next to him, Hua Cheng stands overlooking the crowd. He’s wearing a suit jacket that is black, with one blood red sleeve and a tie of the same color. His hair is gathered in a low ponytail and he looks wealthy enough not to care what he looks like.

Across from them is a man in a black jacket who Yin Yu doesn’t recognize. He’s shockingly handsome though. His curly hair is tied up in a high ponytail and he’s wearing gold tassel earrings, and as he turns, Yin Yu swallows.

It’s Quan Yizhen. 

“Yin...” he starts, and then his mouth drops open and he trails off, “…xiong.”

They stand there, staring at each other as their current and former teammates mill about.

Quan Yizhen isn’t even wearing a tie. His dress shirt is unbuttoned around the neck leaving a little peek of his collarbone visible. Yin Yu wants to fix it. Or lean down and kiss the taut skin around his clavicle.

Maybe both.

Quan Yizhen finally closes the distance between them.

“Yin-xiong, you look fancy. And your tie’s my favorite color.”

“Were you ever wearing a tie?” Yin Yu tries to keep it together.

“No, Laoshi knows I don’t like them so we didn’t get one.”

“You look nice anyway, I suppose,” Yin Yu croaks out. 

Quan Yizhen smiles brightly and Yin Yu is in physical pain.

“Yin-xiong, can I hold your hand?”

They might as well start this charade now. Yin Yu holds out his hand, and Quan Yizhen takes it, squeezing his fingers tight and pressing their palms close together.

That’s when the flashes start. A noisy line of press is leaning against some temporary fencing and they all want to get a photo of Quan Yizhen and his boyfriend. Yin Yu has seen the articles online. No one ever mentions his name, other than the single “Who is Yin Yu?” feature spitefully written for a women’s magazine. Thanks to Hua Cheng, little is discoverable about his life in the past year, and his football career is a matter of public record. It was a very boring article.

“I don’t like this,” Quan Yizhen squints against the flashes. The reporters call out questions that neither of them are going to answer. Yin Yu lets go of his hand, then wraps his arm around his shoulders, pulling him close.

“Just ignore them,” he says into his ear, over the noise. 

Quan Yizhen shudders, but before Yin Yu can ask what’s wrong, Xie Lian crosses in front of them, blocking the press. Hua Cheng is trailing behind him, looking calm and collected as usual. Xie Lian stops moving then turns around, smiling at his husband, blush high on his cheeks.

“Let’s get out of here,” Yin Yu tells Quan Yizhen, pulling him away the instant Xie Lian stands on his tiptoes and begins to kiss Hua Cheng within an inch of his life.

He more or less drags Quan Yizhen away, who is much more fascinated by seeing his mentor make out in public than Yin Yu is. But he’s grateful for them drawing away the attention, even though the whole point of this is to get attention. Yin Yu pulls Quan Yizhen by the shoulders, leading him inside when a tall person steps right in front of them.

Yin Yu can’t stop quickly enough, so he and Quan Yizhen slam right into the back of whoever it is. Yin Yu staggers back, about to hit the floor, when Quan Yizhen picks him up and stands him upright.

The man ahead of them turns, looking a little irritated, but then when he sees the two of them he beams with delight.

It’s Pei Ming. The football commissioner.

“Quan Yizhen! Yin Yu! I was hoping to run into you two, although not quite so literally.”

He laughs at his own joke. Yin Yu smiles weakly, and Quan Yizhen looks up at the chandeliers.

“How are you two?” Pei Ming scratches his chin. “Hectic week, hm? I’ve seen quite a bit of you around. Warms my heart, you know.”

When neither of them respond, he laughs again. “Enjoy yourself tonight boys. There’s a lot of pretty girls here, but I guess you wouldn’t be concerned about that.”

“Nah,” Quan Yizhen says, distracted by the pretty lights. “Don’t care about girls.”

Pei Ming grins wide, “More for me then. Don’t get in any more fights, Quan Yizhen. Hua Cheng can only save your ass once.”

And then he turns around and makes his way inside.

“I don’t like that guy,” Quan Yizhen slides his arm around Yin Yu’s waist and tucks him in close. He tips his head until it’s lying on Yin Yu’s shoulder. Warmth spreads throughout Yin Yu’s entire body, betraying him. But for the briefest moment, he allows himself to lean in. To feel what he lost. Or maybe what he never had to begin with.

It feels so nice. 

 

They sit at one of the Beijing Renhe tables and the atmosphere there is tense. Quan Yizhen’s new teammates do not like him and as Yin Yu was nothing to them but a competitor and now an annoyance, they don’t much like him either. If it weren’t for the other player’s dates, it would be an entirely silent affair, but they are either unaware of team politics, or just don’t care. They spend the entire meal asking Quan Yizhen and Yin Yu how they met, and isn’t it romantic that Quan Yizhen managed to be traded to where Yin Yu was working?

It’s miserable. And worst of all, the angle of their seats means that Pei Ming is leering at them from across the room the entire time.

Quan Yizhen is not a conversationalist. He digs into his food with gusto, leaving Yin Yu to spin a web of lies and half truths. The girls are awed by the shoddy story he manages to cobble together, especially everything involving Hua Cheng, who is all but a legendary feature in Beijing football. Every now and again, Yin Yu feels Quan Yizhen’s fingers grazing his wrists, as though he needs to reassure himself that he’s still there. It’s stupidly comforting and he wants him to stop.

The meal drags on, and finally the other players at the table decide to talk, drawing away the interest of their dates. Finally able to touch his cold food, Yin Yu slouches into his seat and sighs.

“Yin-xiong, do you want these?” Quan Yizhen pushes over a pile of vegetables that had been sitting untouched on his plate. “They’re your favorites.”

He’d picked them, piece by piece, out of the rest of the meal.

Yin Yu wants to punch him in the face. That way he won’t have to feel touched or delighted or just generally happy to eat something that isn’t cold fish.

“Thank you,” he says, and Quan Yizhen unceremoniously dumps the vegetables onto Yin Yu’s plate. They’re delicious, and he had not been given enough of them in the first place. Quan Yizhen touches his wrist again, and somehow Yin Yu doesn’t slap him away. Across the room, Pei Ming lifts a glass of wine while making eye contact.

This is absolutely torture. Quan Yizhen is not sweet, he is not attentive. He is a selfish, thoughtless idiot. And if he’s not any of those things, then Yin Yu is a monster beyond comprehension.

His steadily shattering thoughts are interrupted by the darkening of the room and the simultaneously muffled and amplified voice of the dj.

Super League Football, are you ready to get moving?

And Yin Yu remembers what he was forcibly forgetting.

They have to dance.

 

It’s always the girls that go first. Yin Yu would personally rather get a root canal than dance in a public setting, but girls seem to enjoy it, sober or otherwise. He watches them move, pretty dresses fluttering like flowers as they sing along to pop music he also rather enjoys. As the evening passed, the members of their table have gotten increasingly drunk. They find Quan Yizhen a lot less annoying the more they’ve had to drink.

Quan Yizhen doesn’t drink at all. He says he doesn’t like it. Yin Yu does but he’s not about to get drunk in these circumstances, when a single mistake could ruin everything. So he watches the flowers bloom and listens to the Renhe players demand where Quan Yizhen learned his moves, all while trying to figure out when they can dance for maximum exposure and minimum embarrassment.

It’s impossible to avoid the gaze of Pei Ming, who has taken off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves, feet up on the chair next to him. He still has a direct line of sight to Yin Yu, and Yin Yu would really like to know why it’s him he’s staring at, and not Quan Yizhen.

Well, okay maybe that’s obvious.

“Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen says, interrupting the uncomfortable stare-off.

“What?” Yin Yu nearly falls off his chair.

“They asked who taught me stuff. It was you.”

Yin Yu snorts, “Sorry he’s lying, I didn’t teach him anything. He just knows how to play. It’s eerie.”

“I’m not lying! You taught me to listen to people. And how I can’t always be the one to score. And—”

Quan Yizhen’s words are muted when Yin Yu covers his mouth with his hand. He can feel his lips still moving against his skin and it’s maddening. The other players laugh. One even says something like “cute.” It’s not cute.

“Having fun, boys?” a familiar voice booms. “That dance floor’s looking a little empty.”

How Pei Ming made it from his table to theirs in that short time is baffling, but there he is, leaning against the chair next to Yin Yu.

“Yessir!” the other players scramble to stand. Quan Yizhen is still talking against Yin Yu’s hand, and he yanks it away.

“Commissioner, you shouldn’t throw your weight around like that,” a much more familiar voice comes from behind, “someone might get hurt.”

Yin Yu cranes his head just in time to see Xie Lian step behind Quan Yizhen and put his hand on the back of the chair. At his side, Hua Cheng looks at Pei Ming like he’s a creature he wants to devour.

“Hello Pei Ming, are you enjoying the banquet?” Xie Lian asks warmly.

Pei Ming takes a physical step back. “Oh, yes of course. Delicious food, fantastic wine…”

“Beautiful women?” Hua Cheng lifts his eyebrow.

“Oh a few!” Pei Ming laughs. “Not that you’d be interested.”

“It’s true my interests lie elsewhere. But that aside, I trust my personal assistant and his…” his face turns displeased, “companion, have fulfilled their end of the agreement and will no longer be harassed.”

“Do you think I don’t keep my promises? The kid’s off the bench, as long as he doesn’t punch anybody else between now and his next practice.”

Hua Cheng nods, then turns to Xie Lian as though to go.

“Wait,” Pei Ming looks constipated, “and… the other matter?”

“Oh, you mean the substantial amount of money you owe me? Half of that’s taken care of. Good luck with the rest.”

San Lang,” Xie Lian whispers, whether in awe or in scolding it’s hard to tell.

“Gege?” Hua Cheng reaches out his hand gallantly. “Would you do me the honor of this dance?”

“E-en.” They have been together for at least thirty years, but Xie Lian still blushes up to his ears. Hua Cheng draws him to himself, arm around his waist, then leads him off to the dance floor.

Pei Ming takes his debt and evaporates, leaving Quan Yizhen and Yin Yu alone together. And… this is it. They don’t even have to dance. Everything is taken care of. Yin Yu feels relieved and yet completely unsatisfied. As though he wanted the evening to go on longer.

“Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen reaches out for his shoulder. Yin Yu rests his hand on his without thinking about it. “Will you dance with me still? I know we’re done but…”

“Okay,” Yin Yu says, before his brain can catch up with his heart. Quan Yizhen’s face lights up, but then just as quickly it grows serious.

“There are no more rules, right?”

“You still can’t have my phone number,” Yin Yu tells him.

“No I just, I wanted to tell you something,” Quan Yizhen exhales. “About… before.”

Yin Yu freezes.

“I’m sorry,” Quan Yizhen says earnestly, and Yin Yu’s brain fills with white noise. “Whatever made you leave, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, Yin-xiong.”

Distantly, Yin Yu notes that Quan Yizhen doesn’t even know why Yin Yu left. That part of him wants to hold onto that spite, and the fact that Quan Yizhen never noticed enough to care. That even now, he doesn’t understand.

The rest of him, the part that is finally realizing that he spent their entire relationship a silent participant that simply expected Quan Yizhen to see his pain so Yin Yu wouldn’t have to face his ugly heart alone, knows that Quan Yizhen might not know why Yin Yu left because Yin Yu never told Quan Yizhen anything at all.

He feels sick. Quan Yizhen is looking at him, eager for a response, and Yin Yu doesn’t know what to say. He would rather eat his chopsticks than explain in the middle of a banquet hall that Quan Yizhen broke his heart up into little pieces by just… not paying attention.

The music changes and Quan Yizhen lights up, “Let’s dance to this one, Yin-xiong!” And then he’s standing up and pulling Yin Yu across the hall and towards the dance floor. It’s crowded, but he wedges them in somewhere in the middle, close enough to everyone present that they can see Xie Lian’s head leaning against Hua Cheng’s chest.

They’ve never danced in public, and hardly ever in private either. The question of who leads becomes apparent immediately, even though Yin Yu is taller. Quan Yizhen seems to want to lead, but he fumbles with where to put his hands, until Yin Yu places his hand on his waist, and puts his own hand on Quan Yizhen’s shoulder. In the press of bodies in athe center of the floor, their own bodies slot against one another, touching from chest to thigh.

The song they’re dancing to is full of longing and regret. Yin Yu can feel it in his bones. And despite the awkwardness of Quan Yizhen’s non apology, he leans into him, feeling the heat from his body seep into his own. It feels like the home he’ll never let himself go back to. But if he can touch it, just for tonight, maybe forgetting will be easier.

“Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen says softly, so softly, into his ear. The skin on the back of Yin Yu’s neck tingles.

“What?” he asks, speaking into Quan Yizhen’s collarbone.

“I miss you,” he says, more quietly than he’s ever said anything in his life.

In a torrent come all the things Yin Yu has longed for. Quan Yizhen’s laugh. The thrill of watching him score. Waking up to an empty bed, just to find that Quan Yizhen has run to the convenience store to get tea eggs. The plants Quan Yizhen would buy for him, leaving them lying around the apartment to find. Quan Yizhen falling asleep on his shoulder on the couch. Quan Yizhen’s hands wrapping around his waist from behind as he cooks dinner. His touch, so naturally strong, but so intentionally gentle.

He shoves Quan Yizhen away, jostling the other couples, and getting Hua Cheng’s attention.

“I can’t do this,” he mutters, pushing his way off of the dance floor. As soon as he’s free, he breaks into a run, dodging and weaving through the tables.

“Yin-xiong!” Quan Yizhen calls after him, but he doesn’t turn, doesn’t slow until he’s burst through the front doors of the building.

It’s pouring down rain, and he doesn’t know where the metro station is.

Yin Yu runs into the downpour anyway.

 

The rain is torrential, immediately destroying all of Jian Yu’s hard work on Yin Yu’s hair. Yin Yu’s phone is in his inner jacket pocket, hopefully shielded by enough layers of cloth to keep it from getting completely destroyed. But he’s not concerned about his phone right now. He’s concerned with one thing and one thing only, finding the metro entrance so he can get the hell away from Quan Yizhen and go home.

He didn’t ask for these feelings. In fact, he spent months trying to get rid of them, trying to prove to himself that he was better off alone, that a world without Quan Yizhen was a better world for him. And just when he had come to the conclusion that it really truly was, Quan Yizhen had to come careening back into his life.

The sidewalks are mostly deserted, but the few people around him give him a wide berth, tipping their umbrellas out of the way. He must look truly crazed. Probably because he is. Crazy to think that such an arrangement would end in anything other than him rebreaking his own heart, crashing on the unforgiving shores of a man who is completely insensitive to the wants and needs of others.

Only, he isn’t. Not anymore. Which makes everything far, far worse.

Yin Yu is better than this.

He stops under an awning, soaked to the skin and shivering despite the warmth of summer. He doesn’t know how far he’s run, or have any idea where he is. People are pointedly ignoring him as they go into the store behind him. If he asked for directions, he’d be just as likely to get the cold shoulder than an answer. If he tries to handle his phone, the torrent of rain dripping from his jacket would likely ruin it.

The owner of the shop comes outside and waves him off with a broom, like he’s some kind of crazy vagrant, not the wayward attendee of an extremely fancy party. Yin Yu jogs back into the rain, looking as best he can through the downpour for some sign of a metro station. About a block away from the store, he steps on an uneven piece of sidewalk, his ankle turns, and he falls toward the road.

Strong arms catch him and pull him back up.

He doesn’t need to look to see who it is.

“Leave me alone!” Yin Yu cries.

He’s turned around until they’re facing each other. Quan Yizhen is drenched to the skin. His ponytail is hanging limp and pathetic, and his tassel earrings are twisted and clumping together. He looks like a drowned rat.

But his eyes are full of frantic desperation.

“I won’t!” he refuses to let go of Yin Yu’s arm. “I won’t let you run away again!”

“Who says you have any say in the matter?” Yin Yu leans close as he yells, almost in his face.

“Back there, I said something that made you upset,” Quan Yizhen doesn’t move. “I want to know what I did!”

“Since when do you care?” Yin Yu waves his free arm, enraged. “You certainly didn’t before.”

“What do you mean? Yin-xiong I lo—”

“Don’t you dare say it,” Yin Yu spits.

Quan Yizhen looks confused and hurt, but he keeps going, “When you went away, I didn’t know what to do. I just slept all day. I stopped going to practice until Coach sent me to this lady.”

The exasperation on Yin Yu’s face must be enough for even Quan Yizhen to understand, because he picks up the pace. “We talked about stuff. About how I didn’t know why you left. About how I didn’t pay enough attention to know. And I still don’t know why, Yin-xiong but I want to know. But we couldn’t talk about the past, so I couldn’t ask. And asking makes you so mad.”

The tension drains from Yin Yu’s body immediately, rage replaced with a bone deep sorrow.

“You still don’t know?”

“No!” Quan Yizhen reaches out and grabs Yin Yu’s other arm. “But if you tell me, I’ll tell you I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Yin-xiong, whatever I did, I’m so sorry!”

The rain is drenching them. Yin Yu’s phone is almost certainly ruined. But all he can see is the look of desperate contrition on Quan Yizhen’s face.

“I didn’t retire because I wanted to, you dummy,” he says lowly, barely audible over the rain. “And you just acted like nothing had happened at all. Watched football right in front of me. Talked about practices I couldn’t go to anymore… all of it.”

“But… you never said.”

“You should have known,” Yin Yu laughs sadly. 

“How though? If you didn’t tell me?”

“Just ask, maybe? Say ‘Hey Yin-xiong you seem a little down, what’s wrong?’”

“But you always told me,” Quan Yizhen’s gaze drops, and his voice is soft, almost broken. “You always told me when you were sad. I thought… I didn’t have to guess with you.”

Oh.

He looks up, “I’m sorry, Yin-xiong. I hurt you real bad.”

They stand there, in the pouring rain, for a long moment. And there is so much hurt. More than enough hurt to go around.

With a trembling hand, Yin Yu reaches out his hand and cups Quan Yizhen’s cheek.

“I have treated you horribly, Yizhen.”

Eyes closing at the sound of his name, Quan Yizhen leans into Yin Yu’s touch with palpable longing.

“I let my pain overcome my senses. I demanded you read my mind, and when you couldn’t, I left you without a word. I made you solely responsible for my own professional decline.”

Quan Yizhen’s eyes open just as Yin Yu says, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, Yin-xiong,” he steps closer, until they are breathing each other’s breaths.

“Yes it is,” Yin Yu whispers back. Quan Yizhen reaches out and brushes his hair out of his eyes. Their bodies are so close together, Yin Yu can feel Quan Yizhen’s personal gravity.

“Yin-xiong if all the rules are done with, does that mean I can kiss you? Because I really want to kiss you.”

Yin Yu’s breath catches in his throat, but there really only is one answer.

“Okay.”

Quan Yizhen reaches out for his jaw, bringing their faces close. The rain is ever present, pouring over their bodies in a ceaseless torrent. Yin Yu is numb from the cold, and the heat from Quan Yizhen’s lips sears his skin. He kisses softly at first, gently kissing his top then bottom lip. Then he loses patience and roughly opens Yin Yu’s mouth to him, tongue exploring. Yin Yu surges back, hungry for something he’s missed for so long. They stand in the street, in passionate embrace in the middle of a downpour for far longer than any sane person would.

Then, like it’s his first time, Yin Yu pulls away and awkwardly asks, “Would you uh… like to go back to my apartment.”

Quan Yizhen’s eyes are on fire, but all he says is, “En.”

 

 

 

 

They slam against the wall as soon as they’ve come inside and fumbled off their shoes. Their wet clothes make squelching sounds with their every move. Yin Yu immediately peels off Quan Yizhen’s jacket and lets it drop to the floor. Quan Yizhen returns the favor, while peppering Yin Yu’s neck with kisses and bites. When Yin Yu had asked him here, he didn’t have this specifically in mind. Maybe the chance to sit on the couch and talk things out. To change into dry clothes. To softly kiss each other again, slowly and deliberately.

This is the opposite of that

The train ride had been silent, their hands on the seat between them, Quan Yizhen running his pinky against Yin Yu’s with the impatient desire to touch growing ever thicker between them. Then Yin Yu had started to shiver, and Quan Yizhen had pressed the length of his body against him in the seat, sharing his warmth, greedy for touch. No one else seemed to notice the tension between them, but Yin Yu felt like he was screaming out his sexual frustration to the entire train.   

Now they’re here.

Suit coat making a puddle on the floor, Quan Yizhen begins working on Yin Yu’s vest. He’s cold, and his fingers are trembling against the buttons. But he fights through and, in moments, Yin Yu’s vest is lying on the ground. Quan Yizhen kisses him again, his fiery lips burning against Yin Yu’s own. They fall backwards against the bookshelves, jostling one of Yin Yu’s plants.

It’s the pothos that Quan Yizhen bought for him, the one that no matter what, just won’t die.

Quan Yizhen weaves his fingers through Yin Yu’s hair, while Yin Yu’s hands work at Quan Yizhen’s buttons. The kiss is so overwhelming it’s difficult to focus, but eventually Quan Yizhen’s shirt is hanging open, so that Yin Yu can pull up his undershirt, slipping his hands underneath it so he can finally touch skin.

Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen groans against Yin Yu’s lips. Then he kisses him again, pressing him hard against the bookshelf, until Yin Yu pushes them both forward, walking Quan Yizhen backwards through his living room as they kiss. Halfway to his bedroom door, Quan Yizhen begins to struggle with Yin Yu’s tie, finally loosening it so that he can get to his buttons. He tries unbuttoning them one, by one, but he grows frustrated, and pulls the shirt open from the top down, sending buttons flying all across the room.

“Yizhen!” Yin Yu tries to scold him, but it’s difficult to focus with Quan Yizhen kissing his neck. In retribution, he pushes forward and slides Quan Yizhen’s shirt down and off his arms, then pulls his undershirt up and over his head. Quan Yizhen pulls away for the moment it takes the shirt to cover his face, then is once again laving Yin Yu’s throat with kisses, and scrounging to pull his undershirt out of his pants.

Yin Yu pushes him backwards towards the bedroom, and Quan Yizhen pulls his undershirt with him. This leaves both of them shirtless, Yin Yu’s tie still hanging undone around his neck. Quan Yizhen’s body is still as gorgeous as it has always been, and Yin Yu wants to pin him to the bed, slowly outlining his muscles with the tip of his finger, with his lips, with his tongue. He wants to show him how much he’s missed him for all of this time. How many nights he guiltily got off on the memory of their times together.

Because that’s the thing, they’ve been broken up for ten months.

Yin Yu freezes, then he pulls his arms close to his chest in a feeble attempt at modesty. Right now, what would sex even mean? They miss each other? They want each other? Does that mean that they can live together in a way that isn’t mutually destructive? The panic rolls down his body in an icy wave. What are they even doing?

“Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen’s voice rises above the ringing of his ears. A warm arm surrounds his shoulders and pulls him the final steps into the bedroom, then he’s sitting on the bed. His pants are soaking the blankets and mattress but he’s too stressed to care.

“Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen sits down next to him. His movements are jerky, like he’s uncertain of the right action, but he settles for putting his arm around Yin Yu’s back and leaning his head on his shoulder. “I don’t know what to do,” he says helplessly, petting Yin Yu’s arm.

“You don’t have to do anything,” Yin Yu takes a deep shuddery breath, beginning to pull himself together, like he always does.

Lifting his head, Quan Yizhen turns to look at him, “But I want to. I don’t want to make you hurt anymore.”

You would have to be blind to miss how hard he’s trying. And maybe ten months ago, Yin Yu would have accepted that as the solution to all of his problems and moved on without concern. But that’s not the only problem. Quan Yizhen can’t read his mind. Yin Yu has been carrying all his pain and hurt so tightly to his chest that it’s become fused to him, tainting his mind and heart.

“What does it mean, if we do this?” he asks softly, looking down at the bed.

“What it always means,” Quan Yizhen answers.

“Which is what?” Yin Yu looks up and meets his eyes.

What Quan Yizhen says, he says straightforwardly, and with no hesitation.

“That I love you.”

Warmth floods through Yin Yu’s entire body. He reaches out and grasps the hand Quan Yizhen was using to caress his arm. He knits their fingers together then squeezes. The words come out without his permission.

“Did you ever stop?”

“No, Yin-xiong. Not even for a little. I—”

But he can’t finish, because Yin Yu is kissing him. Yin Yu gently pushes him back on the bed, pressing their bodies together, hands still clasped. With his free hand, Quan Yizhen cards through his hair like he always used to do when it was longer.

“You dummy,” Yin Yu says against his lips, “you complete and utter dummy.”

He frees his hand from Quan Yizhen’s grasp, then reaches for the tie still hanging around his own neck. Pulling it loose, he leans forward, takes both of Quan Yizhen’s hands, and binds them to the bed frame.

“What are you doing?” Quan Yizhen tries to sit all the way up so they can kiss again, but he can’t.

Scooting down the bed, Yin Yu unbuttons Quan Yizhen’s pants, then slides them down his legs. He takes off his own for good measure, leaving both of them in their slightly damp boxer briefs. Then he slides back up the bed, takes Quan Yizhen’s face in his hands and kisses him.

“When I left,” he kisses his cheek, then down his jaw to his neck, “you must have been left with so many questions. It must have hurt so badly.” Quan Yizhen shivers as he touches his neck, then Yin Yu gently sucks a mark into the skin, the intimacy in stark contrast to his words.

“Yeah I… ohhh… I didn’t know what to do.”

Yin Yu props himself up on his elbow, running his free hand from Quan Yizhen’s chest to the band of his underwear. “I’m going to keep you here until you can barely remember that anymore.”

Straining against his bonds, Quan Yizhen tries to bring his head close enough to kiss Yin Yu, but he’s just far enough away that he can’t reach. Ignoring his efforts, Yin Yu reaches down and begins kissing the taut skin above his clavicle. Quan Yizhen has always been sensitive here, and he makes it known with soft moans and pants as Yin Yu gently bites him.

“Yin-xiong, let me touch you,” he struggles again.

“No, Yizhen. Let me do all the work.”

Quan Yizhen falls backwards against the pillow, laughing incredulously. There’s enough fight in him that he could certainly break loose if he really wanted, but instead he looks up at Yin Yu with enough trust and love in his eyes that Yin Yu could easily drown in it.

He kisses down his chest instead, scraping down Quan Yizhen’s arms with his fingernails until he reaches a nipple and latches on. Quan Yizhen’s back arches and he cries out as Yin Yu bites down. Yin Yu soothes with his tongue, and then bites again, reaching out to pinch the other nipple with his fingers.

“Ah ah ah ah!” Quan Yizhen writhes and struggles, until Yin Yu uses his free arm to press down on his abs. The muscles there take his breath away, and he allows himself to run his hand up and down, coming closer and closer to the band of Quan Yizhen’s underwear.

“Yin-xiong please,” comes the begging, but Yin Yu is not ready to touch him yet. Instead he kisses down Quan Yizhen’s chest to his abs, following the lines there with his lips and tongue. He looks up at Quan Yizhen’s face. It’s red, and tears are pooling at the corners of his eyes. It’s such a pretty picture that Yin Yu sits up, stretches out his hand and wipes the tears away.

“Already?” he leans down and meets Quan Yizhen’s desperate kiss. “But I haven’t even started yet.”

“Touch me please, Yin-xiong,” Quan Yizhen squirms against the bonds.

Yin Yu sits up and looks over Quan Yizhen’s body. His arm muscles are tight, pulling against the tie. His chest is heaving as he pants for air. Hidden beneath his underwear, his cock is straining. Yin Yu reaches out his hand and softly runs it down Quan Yizhen’s chest, across his abs, then veers just slightly to the left to miss his cock and slide down his thigh.

Quan Yizhen laughs raggedly. Yin Yu repeats the motion over and over until Quan Yizhen is thrusting upward, trying to follow his hand. His guileless, desperate want is intoxicating. Yin Yu runs his hand down Quan Yizhen’s chest one more time, only this time he goes straight down, lightly caressing Quan Yizhen’s clothed cock only to pull his hand away the instant Quan Yizhen thrusts into the sensation.

Yin-xiong,” he cries out wretchedly.

Leaning across his body, Yin Yu kisses him, biting on his bottom lip and pulling until it has to hurt. “You want me to touch you?”

“Yeah,” Quan Yizhen nods, bumping their noses together. “Please.”

Pulling down his underwear is a trial, because they are wet and stick to his legs. But Yin Yu manages it without touching Quan Yizhen’s cock at all. When he finishes, Quan Yizhen is spread out before him hard and desperate, his cock an angry red. Yin Yu reaches out and touches it with a single finger, running from the base to the tip.

“How do you want me to touch you, Yizhen?”

Quan Yizhen’s eyes get huge, then he swallows.

“Suck me off.”

Yin Yu leans forward, face hovering right next to Quan Yizhen’s cock. Maintaining eye contact, he kisses the head, then lightly licks from the base to the tip. Quan Yizhen hisses, but he doesn’t look away.

When Yin Yu had met him five years ago, Quan Yizhen had been a virgin. Yin Yu had been the first person to touch him like this. And maybe he’s a masochist, but he has to know.

“Was there anyone else?”

Shaking his head, Quan Yizhen looks almost deranged, “No, Yin-xiong. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to with anybody else.”

Yin Yu smiles, and then takes Quan Yizhen down to the hilt.

There is an immediate thrust in response, but in every way Yin Yu has memorized Quan Yizhen’s body and how it works. He backs off before getting choked, then pushes Quan Yizhen’s hips down with his arm, holding him steady so he can gently lap at the head. The taste of precome is thick on his tongue, evidence of how desperate Quan Yizhen is for it.

He plays with him, taking him all the way down his throat, and then just lightly licking the head, squeezing the base of his cock whenever his nipples get hard and his body tenses. He brings him to the edge of orgasm at least three times, until Quan Yizhen is all but sobbing out his pleas for more.

Ignoring him, Yin Yu reaches across the bed to the bedside table. He opens it and pulls out a bottle of lube, and Quan Yizhen reacts spectacularly.

“Please fuck me, Yin-xiong! Please please please!”

Yin Yu kisses him savagely, and Quan Yizhen responds in kind, until the taste of blood is in their mouths. In every way, Yin Yu is going to pay for this in kind at some point, but that point is not now.

He slides back down the bed and spreads Quan Yizhen’s glorious thighs while pouring lube all over the fingers of his left hand. Quan Yizhen is as close to upright as he can get, straining against the tie. His hair has started to dry, but from lying against the pillow his ponytail is more of a starburst than anything. Tears are running down his cheeks and his lips are blood red.

Yin Yu presses his pointer finger against his asshole and gently pushes. Quan Yizhen lets him in and Yin Yu presses steadily, until he reaches the spot he was looking for. He presses gently, feeling Quan Yizhen react to the pressure with a soft moan, then he adds another finger, steadily rocking back and forth on the same spot. With a little bit of time and effort, Quan Yizhen is wailing, writhing against his bonds.

“Do you want to come?” Yin Yu asks, stopping him from doing so for the second time in quick succession.

Quan Yizhen can barely talk anymore, he just nods. Yin Yu leans forward and gently kisses his forehead.

He takes off his own underwear quickly and drops them at the bottom of the bed. The sight of him seems to energize Quan Yizhen, who strains again against the tie. Yin Yu blushes despite himself.

Lubing himself up, Yin Yu settles between Quan Yizhen’s legs, drawing up his thighs over his hips. He guides himself inside with practiced precision. And even though he’s done this probably hundreds of times, the sensation of being completely surrounded by Quan Yizhen takes his breath away. There are so many things he’s missed that this seems crass to acknowledge, but there is no question that being inside Quan Yizhen has been and always will be one of the greatest pleasures of his life.

He slides down Quan Yizhen’s body until their lips meet and they are kissing as he thrusts inside of him. Quan Yizhen wraps his legs tight around his hips, urging him on. Yin Yu takes his face in his hands, holding him tightly as he kisses him. He’s so keyed up, there’s no way he can last, and Quan Yizhen’s entire body is already shaking as it prepares for release.

“It means it for me too,” Yin Yu pulls away, pressing their foreheads together.

“What?” Quan Yizhen asks raggedly.

“That I love you,” Yin Yu says.

The look of shock in Quan Yizhen’s eyes is replaced by his eyes rolling back as he comes. And that’s all Yin Yu sees before his own orgasm overtakes him. 

 

 

  

 

Yin Yu wakes in the morning to an empty bed.

“Yizhen?” he calls.

His voice echoes in the empty apartment.

His stomach feels sick. Maybe this is what he deserves, being abandoned after what he had done. The events of last night seem small when compared with the long months Quan Yizhen spent depressed and in therapy, trying to get over someone who would just up and leave with barely a word.

Yin Yu scrambles out of bed, pulls on his underwear from the night before, and runs into the living room. The evidence of their night together is everywhere, pieces of his suit and buttons scattered all across the room. He finds his jacket by the door and digs in the pockets for his wallet and phone.

He finds his phone first, and sees a message from Hua Cheng.

Stay home today.

He’s grateful, but too distracted to respond. Finally finding his wallet, he pulls out the cards and his id, digging out a small, soaked piece of paper.

The number has been obliterated.

He falls backwards against the bookshelf, head in his hands, grief mounting on him like a wave.

That’s when the door opens.

Quan Yizhen is dressed in the pants from his suit, and one of Yin Yu’s t-shirts. Yin Yu’s keys are in one hand, and a convenience store bag is in the other.

“I got us some tea eggs for breakfast!” he beams.

Yin Yu scrambles to his feet, wrapping his arms around Quan Yizhen and burying his head in his neck. “You’re back,” he mumbles.

“Of course I’m back. What’s wrong?”

Yin Yu pulls away a little bit, feeling sheepish.

“Can I have your phone number?” he asks.