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Brave Heart

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There had been times when Li Xuan doubted himself.


His abilities. His effort. His decision. His many, many decisions that led him along an arduous path until he got to where he stood today.


Even so, Li Xuan knew it wasn’t enough. Being Glory’s first Phantom Demon? He wanted to laugh, the sound merely leaving a bitter aftertaste in the back of his throat. He’d long became numb to the pathetic title — a meaningless crown of rusted iron, like a toy prize an adult placed atop his head just to console his childish crying and complaining. For a brief time during the earlier period in his career, he might have been content with being Glory’s number one ghostblade, or best partners along with his teammate Wu Yuce. Even then, they’d only gotten the title in the ninth season when Ye Xiu and Su Mucheng, their strongest competition and biggest threat, were not there.


But it wasn’t enough. Deep in his heart, Li Xuan knew it was never going to be enough until he reached the top of the summit.


And so he kept going. Year after year of defeat, along with his teammates, they pulled themselves up from the dirt — broken and battered — bandaged their wounds, and soldiered on.


Yet during this past season, Li Xuan felt the summit was slipping further and further away from his reach, the obstacles between himself and his goal multiplied tenfold, the weight on his shoulders getting more and more unbearable, the path winding and twisting and growing more grueling. He was exhausted — physically and mentally.


He didn’t know how long he could keep holding on. He didn’t know if he had the strength to do this anymore.  


“Captain,” Wu Yuce’s soft call of his name pulled Li Xuan back to reality and away from his spiraling dark reverie.


He was the hope that dangled on a silver string, slowly spinning in the suffocating darkness, guiding him, keeping him sane all these years.


“Ah Ce,” Li Xuan blinked a few times, the glare from the computer screen too bright in the darkened training room, and he turned to face his partner, his best friend. He considered putting on a smile to alleviate the other man’s worry, but he gave up on the idea almost right away; he wouldn’t look down on Wu Yuce like that. After all, he could read his emotions as easily and naturally as breathing, and the years of being partners on the battlefields of Glory had only deepened their understanding of each other. “When did you come in?”


“I knocked a few times already,” Wu Yuce said with a small sigh, and wandered over to where his captain was sitting in the deepest corner of the room, hidden in the shadows. “How are you holding up? The others are worried.”


For years, the media had been trying to drive a deep, long gash between Team Void’s closely-bound ghostblades, and claw for any hint of conflict or strife from either of them. During post-match press conferences, too many times had those gossipy journalists asked loaded questions pertaining to their comparative strength and talents as fellow ghostblade wielders. The answers were polite and courteous — polite, but everyone could see how empty and meticulously-measured their words had been.


Since Wu Yuce joined Void in the fifth season, Li Xuan would be lying if he hadn’t felt a sense of danger and dread that he would get replaced by this quiet young man with eyes cold and ruthless as the Ice Soul his Carved Ghost could create and focus sharp and unforgiving as his account character’s Heavenly Crimson Lotus blade.


There could only be one ghostblade in Void was what management and the team had initially thought, but when they saw how adamant the newcomer was about playing ghostblade and witnessed his talents on the big stage, Li Xuan began to see a glimpse of what they could achieve if they were to partner up and work as one unit, an opportunity to ascend to the top.


But for the partnership to succeed, they each had to give up something important.

Between themselves, they didn’t compare whether Carved Ghost or Crying Devil was the stronger of the two, and the team avoided any discussion about the underlying rivalry between their captain and vice-captain. When Wu Yuce was first made vice-captain, he had kept his distance from Li Xuan without negatively impacting the team’s overall performance, but Li Xuan wouldn’t have it: If they were going to achieve the near-impossible, they were going to do this together, as true partners.


For the glory of their team, Li Xuan and Wu Yuce had risked it all: their fiery ambitions, their personal triumphs, their individual greatness.


They didn’t regret taking this step together.


In the midst of the tenth season, however, the situation was looking bleaker than ever.


For the first time this season, Team Void lost 0 to 10 against their opponents: newcomer Team Happy, though labelling them as a new team was definitely an understatement. Nothing was new about them except for the insane way Ye Xiu manipulated his Unspecialized Lord Grim. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t prepared for that either, which made their most recent defeat that much more frustrating.


“Fuck,” Li Xuan ran a trembling hand through his messy hair and murmured, “I should be the one out there encouraging them and raising their morale for our next match, but instead I’m hiding in here like a goddamn coward—”


“Captain, stop,” Wu Yuce stepped further into the shadow, darkness swallowing him whole, but that was okay, he thought with his eyes closed and arms reaching out, that was okay because Li Xuan needed him right now. He held the other man close to him, cradling Li Xuan’s head against his abdomen, fingers threading through his hair as he spoke in a quiet tone, “how will you hold the team together in this state, huh?”


“I’ve got you, don’t I?” Li Xuan’s words were muffled by the fabric of Wu Yuce’s shirt, but he could hear him just fine, his voice a soft rumble vibrating against his skin, sinking in. He felt Li Xuan exhaled shakily, his embrace around Wu Yuce’s waist tightened, and he said in an even softer voice, so soft that Wu Yuce almost missed it, “Ah Ce, have we… Are we aiming for something impossible?”


‘Are we too greedy for always wanting more?’ a question in Li Xuan’s head but he couldn’t force it out of his parched throat.


There was a kind of fragility in Li Xuan’s voice that he’d never allow others to see. For his team, he was the captain constructed of iron, the one leading them through victory or defeat, and he would never show the side of himself that would make his teammates started doubting. Against his opponents, he was known as a pro-player who was willing to take risks, to gamble his way until he came out triumphant. In front of the brutal media, he could handle all kinds of sharp, malicious questions and shield that kind of pressure for his comrades. 


But in front of Wu Yuce, Li Xuan could break down without shame or guilt, because he knew for certain that his best friend, his worthiest partner, his lover, would never judge him or blame him, would always be there to put the pieces back together — to make him whole again.


Wu Yuce didn’t answer the question, the silence in the room almost deafening, but he curled his fingers around the curve of Li Xuan’s jawline and softly lifted his head upward so that their gazes could meet. In the near-dark, they could barely make out the contours of each other’s faces, but then Wu Yuce was leaning down to close the distance between them, suddenly Li Xuan could see the black of Wu Yuce’s irises — deep and endless like a starless sky, wordlessly tender like the washed-out ink of a brushstroke.


He placed a firm kiss against his captain’s lips. Nothing sexual, nothing flirtatious — just a gesture of comfort, of allowing Li Xuan to melt against him, of letting him know that he didn’t have to suffer alone.


The bitterness of defeat filled his mouth tonight, too, but Wu Yuce was the type to fight back harder under duress. This match was just another ammunition added to his armory of experiences, that was all. And if he could lend his strength to his captain, Wu Yuce would do so in a heartbeat, in any way he knew how.


Words were never Wu Yuce’s forte — why speak when you could use your actions to prove yourself? — and so he tried to make his intentions known through his body, his movements.


The kiss grew less innocent as Wu Yuce winded his fingers into Li Xuan’s hair, and he let Li Xuan pull him closer until he was sitting on the other man’s lap, opening his mouth to breathe him in, take him in. Tongues delved in, first timidly to refamiliarize the taste and shape of each other, then more boldly to conquer and let loose.


The wet sounds and swallowed moans of their kisses were magnified in the stillness of the training room, and both men had momentarily pushed away the anguish to the back of their minds to allow their animalistic instincts to take over for now. Wu Yuce was the first to pull away, his breathing uneven, eyes half-lidded, and he touched his forehead against Li Xuan’s, whispering, “Li Xuan… you’re overthinking again…”


He didn’t call him by his title, just his full name, speaking as equals, speaking the truth that Li Xuan already knew but still allowed himself to dive in, to dwell and drown within it until he felt like he couldn’t breathe.


“D’you think I wasn’t well aware of that?” Li Xuan chuckled, though there was no trace of amusement, just ice crystals, jagged and cold.


“Come,” Wu Yuce got off of Li Xuan’s lap and pulled the captain up as well. Before Li Xuan had a chance to ask, Wu Yuce was already leading them out of the training room and making their way towards the team’s dormitory. In record time without actually breaking into a run, they reached Wu Yuce’s room. Neither of them turned on the lights after Wu Yuce locked the door decisively behind him, but they both knew what was going to happen.


With gentle yet forceful hands, Wu Yuce pushed the captain of Void and kissed him on his tiptoes, mouth and teeth ruthlessly nipping on Li Xuan’s lower lip until the slightly taller man toppled back-first onto Wu Yuce’s bed with a surprised gasp, his arm wrapping around Wu Yuce’s waist at the last minute so that Wu Yuce was falling over him as well, and ended up straddling Li Xuan in a precarious posture, his arms supporting the weight of his body on either side of Li Xuan’s head while Wu Yuce, with his advantageous position, began to kiss and bite the tender skin of Li Xuan’s neck. He was careful not to leave marks but the soft scrapes of his teeth still caused sparks to prickle along Li Xuan’s skin, making him shudder, his fingers slipping underneath the fabric of Wu Yuce’s shirt to feel the warm skin there.


But then he felt Wu Yuce grinding against him in retaliation to Li Xuan’s slight touch, and they moaned at the sensation — just enough to ignite small flames, but not nearly enough to be anywhere satisfying.


“Clothes off,” Wu Yuce commanded in a murmur, his exhale a heated imprint against the side of Li Xuan’s neck, and began to give him a hand. Soon, Li Xuan was bare beneath his lover, his skin painted in swirls of pale pink, his lips devastatingly red and swollen from their enthusiastic kisses earlier, but Wu Yuce was still wearing too much.


His shirt was unbuttoned to reveal a hint of pale skin, his nipples only visible when the fabric shifted with his movements, and his trousers were half way down to display the tantalizing lines of his hipbones and thighs. Li Xuan was glad to find that he wasn’t the only one being turned on, however, as Wu Yuce, despite what little sounds he’d made and his seemingly calm expression, was breathing equally hard from their shared kisses, and as Li Xuan’s eyes focus on the southern region of his boyfriend, he noticed that Wu Yuce was as excited as he was, if not more so.


With almost religious reverence, Li Xuan began tracing patterns along Wu Yuce’s skin — from the inside of his thigh up his waist and along his ribs — feeling every inhale and exhale beneath the tips of his fingers, the excitement in the way he trembled, the want in his darkened eyes.


Li Xuan felt exposed whenever Wu Yuce would stare at him with such brutally honest and genuinely loving gaze, but he didn’t hate it, not when the only person who could see through him was this man.   


It was rare for Wu Yuce to take the initiative when they were in bed together; even after all these years, he still got incredibly shy when it came to things like this, so when he did get proactive, it always took Li Xuan by surprise.


“Ah Ce…?” Li Xuan was puzzled when he felt Wu Yuce stopping his hands from roaming further up his body.


“Let me take care of you, Captain,” Wu Yuce said, the enunciation of Li Xuan’s title with a coquettish lilt to it making the whole scene much more suggestive. He didn’t give Li Xuan a moment to refute before he swooped down to kiss him once more. The way he lavishly licked into Li Xuan’s mouth was vicious; the way he scratched his blunt nails against Li Xuan’s sides and back, too, left red lines behind; and when he lowered his head to begin teasing Li Xuan’s nipples with his teeth and tongue, switching between softly biting and licking to sooth the sharp pain, Wu Yuce could feel Li Xuan gradually melt against him, renouncing his control in bursts and flickers. Before long, Wu Yuce had rendered Li Xuan into a panting mess — a rare sight in and of itself since Wu Yuce was usually the one being tormented into that state — and he traced one hand down the knobs of his spine while continuing to kiss him like his life depended on it, wandering lower until he reached the most sensitive spot.


“Wu Yuce…” Li Xuan tried to make it as threatening as possible when he felt his lover’s slender finger readying to invade him down there, but neither his breathy tone nor the way he stared up at him, eyes brightened with zeal and parted lips bitten raw, was that convincing. So Wu Yuce merely gave him a knowing smirk and kept going.


Since Li Xuan was almost always the one topping, his entrance was inextricably tight, but this only encouraged Wu Yuce to patiently open him up with careful fingers and lots of lubricant. Still, it was a difficult ordeal, especially when Li Xuan seemed to tense up again; Wu Yuce tried to console him with soft kisses, but he could see the slight discomfort that Li Xuan was trying to hide from him.


With a thoughtful expression on his face, Wu Yuce retrieved his fingers, the sticky strands of lubricant and Li Xuan’s fluid clinging to his skin, and before Li Xuan could understand what his lover was doing when he lowered his torso, Wu Yuce had already hiked the other man’s thighs up slightly and his breaths fanning directly on his entrance. He gave an experimental lick, and the reaction was immediate.


Li Xuan tasted like the saccharine-bitter matcha flavor of the lube that Li Xun had got them from Japan (a joke gift that had looked like a bottle of drinkable green tea until Wu Yuce read the label closely, but at least it was practical), but it wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever tasted, and when he felt a different kind of trembling coming from Li Xuan and his breathing skittered unevenly, Wu Yuce ran his tongue against the ring of muscle again, except this time he stiffened up his tongue and thrusted the tip in a little to mimic the gesture of shallowly fucking him.


“Hnng — d-don’t, Ah Ce, don’t use your tongue there…” Li Xuan’s fingers grabbed a fistful of the bedsheets as his hole convulsed involuntarily at Wu Yuce’s playful little licks.


“Why?” Wu Yuce made sure that before he pulled his head up, he gave Li Xuan’s hole a light suck so that when he lifted himself up slightly to look at Li Xuan, he was licking his lips deliberately as he asked, “does it not feel good?”


“T-that’s not the point!” Li Xuan actually had the decency to blush on his boyfriend’s regard, not that said boyfriend even noticed, or seemed to care.


Li Xuan didn’t want to admit: it felt way too fucking good. But the image of Wu Yuce eating him out like this was too much for him to handle right now.


“Then I don’t see what the problem is,” Wu Yuce dived right back into what he was doing previously, except this time he was switching between using his tongue and his fingers. This seemed to be a much more efficient method to open Li Xuan up, for before long, Wu Yuce could fit three of his fingers in easily. Of course, putting something else in there was an entirely different matter.


“Li Xuan, tell me if you feel uncomfortable,” Wu Yuce had returned to using his soft, collected voice as he caressed Li Xuan’s flushed cheek. Only when Li Xuan nodded did Wu Yuce continue; he carefully lined himself up against Li Xuan, and began to push into the tight heat.   


The pain was almost unbearable when Wu Yuce first entered; Li Xuan half wondered if this was what Wu Yuce had to go through every time Li Xuan penetrated him, and then the waves of fullness and burning overtook his consciousness once more, and all he could feel was Wu Yuce filling him up and he didn’t have enough to accommodate him.


He felt like he might break. But even then, he’d rather be in Wu Yuce’s embrace than anywhere else.  


“Li Xuan… Li Xuan… ahh, you’re… tight,” the last word was almost imperceptible, because as much as Wu Yuce was enjoying this current position, he wasn’t used to voicing out his pleasures and preferences.


“Damn right I am,” Li Xuan huffed, “so you better be careful not to break me.”


Wu Yuce snorted, but replied with a mock serious tone, “yes, Captain.”  


As soon as he detected the pain dissipating and gradually turning into a sort of tingling sensation crawling along his spine and spreading to the pit of his abdomen, Li Xuan threw his arms around Wu Yuce’s shoulder to pull him closer until they were face-to-face, until Li Xuan could see Wu Yuce’s lashes by the mere glow of the streetlights outside the window, until he could taste himself on Wu Yuce’s tongue as they kissed languidly while Wu Yuce began to drive his hips forward in earnest.


The sizzling arousal that was beginning to pool was growing stronger, the urge to have Wu Yuce deeper inside his body becoming more desperate, and he made sure that Wu Yuce knew it too, even if his pleas were mostly muffled by his biting into Wu Yuce’s shoulder or came out as nothing more than senseless babbling of Wu Yuce’s name and a mixture of “more” and “please” and “fuck” and other wanton, indescribable sounds that usually wouldn’t come out of the mouth of Void’s respectable captain.


Wu Yuce rather liked this side of him; he liked that Li Xuan would trust him enough to show him his most fragile state, to open up to him the way he was doing now: sweat-stained hair in a mess, flushed skin, heaving chest, kiss and scratch marks all over his body, and smoldering eyes that looked like he wanted to swallow Wu Yuce whole even as he laid beneath him, pleading for mercy, begging his sweet vice-captain to let him come.


He wasn’t cruel, and he did promise Li Xuan that he would take care of him tonight, so Wu Yuce slowed down his thrusts just enough to tease Li Xuan’s behind while he wrapped his slender fingers around Li Xuan’s cock, pumping him slowly with the precum that’d already trickled out of his slit and gradually going faster as he felt Li Xuan beginning to tense up, his fingernails digging half-moons into his lower back, which drove Wu Yuce to return to his earlier pace, each time grazing that precise spot that made Li Xuan shake and whine.


It wasn’t enough, Li Xuan thought blindly, his mind utterly blank as his entire attention was focused on Wu Yuce’s hand on his cock and Wu Yuce’s arousal inside of him. It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough… His embrace around his lover tightened another degree, their skin pressed against each other’s, not a millimeter of space between them. Still, it wasn’t enough.


“Ah Ce… Ah Ce, I need—” Li Xuan murmured against Wu Yuce’s neck, fingers threading into his hair. He knew what he needed, and he’d never been afraid of being assertive, but when it came to Wu Yuce — when it came to what they had, this friendship, partnership, companionship, love? — when it came to this man before him, Li Xuan always felt like he was asking too much of him. He was afraid that one day, Wu Yuce would just get tired of his bullshit finally and leave his side — leave Void. 


“What is it? What do you need? Ah Xuan, tell me and I’ll do it,” Wu Yuce vowed softly, choosing to use the name that he saved only for intimate moments like this. He saw the unease in Li Xuan’s eyes, but those few words had instantly settled the oncoming storm before it could spiral out of control.


“I need you, Wu Yuce,” Li Xuan admitted, burying his burning face against the crook of his lover’s neck. At Li Xuan’s words, Wu Yuce’s heart trembled and he plunged in a few more forceful times, his hands stroking Li Xuan with a merciless pace until they both came together.


Wu Yuce collapsed onto Li Xuan, not even caring about the sticky mess between them. He could only feel the solid warmth beneath him, the rise and fall of his chest, and Li Xuan’s murmur of, “I love you.”


Wu Yuce’s eyes widened slightly at Li Xuan’s tender confession; he lifted his head up just enough to look at Li Xuan properly, and saw that his lips were tucked into that warm, confident smile that he always wore. He grabbed Wu Yuce’s hand and placed his palm directly over the left side of his chest; his heart was beating steady and strong, just like his own.


He dipped his head and gently touched his lips against Li Xuan’s, and returned the same words with a whisper and a soft smile.


Their hearts beat as one; their steps always synchronized; their goal ever the same.