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No Victory Without Cost

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Every stage of their relationship had been a series of risks and rewards, from the very beginning to the final result. There were sweet compliments and kisses stolen behind a fan, and the thoughtful gifts that accompanied every visit were a bright spot in an otherwise spartan lifestyle. But any hint was kept hidden for the sake of everyone’s safety and reputation, and the stakes got higher with every passing week until—

One day it all changed, or rather, Nie Huaisang realized they were playing different games, and he had to change how he saw the stakes. Jin Guangyao’s pleasantness was his mask, but Nie Huaisang needed his own way, something unpredictable, and so he cashed in his dignity for a better shot at a winning hand.

Every time he fell to his knees like a simpering fool, grasping at the tarnished robes of a man he once loved trusted, he reminded himself that it was all just part of the game. Every stupid plea was a distraction, his incompetence a bluff, and he counted down the days to the final round.

All the pieces lined up and fell down, leaving a clear winner when the dust settled, but—

The winnings couldn’t make him the man he was before, couldn’t return any previous losses, and all the kindness and innocence of his youth had long since been wagered off. Nie Huaisang was left with the harsh reality that gambling alone was its own kind of losing.