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butterfly bandage (but don't worry)

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There’s something about the fights, Zhu Yilong just doesn’t know what.

He thinks about it sometimes, adrenaline-fueled mind a stark contrast to the methodic, diligent way in which he wraps up his fists in bandages in the locker room, right before a match. Maybe it’s the adrenaline itself, lighting up his veins like firecrackers; maybe it’s the anonymity, no too-rich men to play nice to; maybe it’s the static, the way his brain goes blank the moment he enters the ring, no more numbers and names and too-important meetings fluttering around in his brain, but purely blessed, complete white noise. 

Maybe it’s a combination of all. Whatever it is, Zhu Yilong finds himself coming back every month for a new match. Whether it’s a tournament or a one-off fight, there is always a space for him, here if nowhere else.

The ring welcomes him. Zhu Yilong enters willingly.

 

*

 

Stifling a groan, Zhu Yilong stretches in his office chair. His muscles are still sore from the match the night before and having to sit on it for hours upon hours going over paperwork and revising meeting plans has not been kind to them. When he stretches his arms up above him, interlaced hands facing the ceiling, his breath catches with a jolt of pain.

Right. The bruised rib.

He forces himself to take a breath, not too deep so as not to bring even more pain to his ribcage, and then lower his arms slowly. His hand immediately hovers over his side, fingers ghosting over the spot to which a very skilled knee jab had struck him and left him breathless for a minute. He hadn’t felt the pain then, adrenaline and endorphins running high, but a bruise had already begun blooming by the time he got home and stumbled into his bathroom to take account of all the injuries. He knew what a bruised rib looked and felt like. 

He’s glad that it’s merely bruised and not fractured or broken, but it’s going to be hell to work with for the next couple of weeks, especially with all of the meetings and presentations that he has to go over this week due to the new joint project.

Breathing exercises. That’s what he should be concentrating on doing. He would pick up some stronger painkillers on the way home, because obviously the ones he’d taken in the morning weren’t cutting it.

Two soft knocks come from the door and Zhu Yilong hurries to compose himself, straightening his back against the chair and carefully wiping away the beads of sweat that the spike of pain had caused. Grabbing a random folder from the pile of documents on his desk, he calls out an affirmative.

“The people from Bai Enterprises have arrived for the meeting, sir,” his assistant informs him.

Zhu Yilong nods, closing the folder in his hands. “Very well. Is the conference room ready?”

“All ready.”

He stands up from the chair, buttons his suit jacket closed and adjusts his tie. “I’ll meet them in the reception room and then lead them to the conference room. Please have someone ready to prepare drinks and appetizers.”

His assistant gives a silent nod and scurries away. Zhu Yilong takes another careful deep breath in before striding out of his office and into the elevator.

Only one of the reception chairs is occupied when he arrives: a tall, young man dressed in all white sprawls on it, long legs open in such a way that Zhu Yilong thinks they must be a blatant invitation in a very different environment. He feels himself arch an eyebrow at the display but quickly smooths it down and puts on a cordial smile.

A few steps away, he sees one of the other men standing around the white-clad man lean down to whisper something to him. The white-clad man stands up gracefully and turns so he’s smiling at Zhu Yilong as he comes to a halt in front of him.

Zhu Yilong examines him for a moment. The young man somehow looks both younger and older than him, all boyish grin and sparkling eyes, neatly trimmed beard perfectly framing his pink, plush lips. He doesn’t seem uncomfortable with the sizing up, merely letting himself be looked at as he stands, relaxed.

“Director Zhu! It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the young man says like he means it, eyes crinkling from his grin. It looks very natural. Zhu Yilong wonders how much he’s practiced it. Extending one hand out, he continues, “I’m the Vice President of Bai Enterprises—”

“Bai Yu, right?” Zhu Yilong interrupts him before he can introduce himself, grasping his hand. He sees surprise in Bai Yu’s eyes and grins. “It’s my pleasure, Mr. Bai.”

Zhu Yilong had looked him up, of course. Bai Yu is the only son of the Bai Enterprises CEO and had only started working for his family’s company a few months back. His father has been sending him out to polish and finish deals with other companies lately, probably trying to give his son some ‘field experience’ to provide the teachings his studies in drama and literature surely did not. Although he has two older sisters that studied business and worked hard at the company to steadily climb up the ladder—Zhu Yilong had met each of them on separate occasions and they had both been brilliant—as the only son, Bai Yu is expected to take over the company. 

It leaves a sour taste in his mouth that the Bai Enterprises CEO hasn’t deemed the closing of their deal an important enough matter to attend and sign in person and has instead sent his joke of a vice president, but this is a very important deal for Zhu Yilong’s emerging company and he won’t let it slip from his grasp at any cost. 

Even if it meant having to play nice to the spoiled, rich boy that had decided he wanted to play at being an enterpriser in between his weekly black-out benders that always ended up on the cover of gossip magazines.

“Oh, please.” Bai Yu finally lets go of his hand and waves it in front of his face. “Call me Xiao Bai.” He winks at Zhu Yilong, a playful smirk tugging at the corner of his lips.

Zhu Yilong only stops himself from furrowing his brows in exasperation by fisting his hands in the fabric of his suit jacket. He forces himself to relax, wincing internally at the reminder of his sore muscles, and steps to the side. “Please follow me to the conference room.”

Bai Yu tucks his hands into the pockets of his pristine white slacks and smiles at him, not a care in the world.

“Lead the way.”

 

*

 

Zhu Yilong finds himself at the edge of the ring again only two weeks later.

It’s much too soon for him to be back, the bruised rib still not even all the way healed, but there’s a restless energy buzzing around under his skin that he can’t find a way to get rid of. Not exercise nor drinking nor even the quick fuck he had found himself after the drinking had been able to clear it away. This—the match, the ring, the screams of the crowd as his fist connects with a nose broken too many times and draws blood—this is the only thing he has left.

He realizes that it’s not going to be enough the moment he steps into the ring and his mind doesn’t go blank, doesn’t fill with static and washes away the parts of him that he doesn’t need to fight. But it will have to be enough, for now.

It had been that damn rich kid. Although the deal had been successfully closed and signed and there was therefore no need for the Vice President of the company to be coming around to perfect all of the insignificant details on an even more insignificant deal, he had still done it. It was almost routine by this point to have his assistant knock on his door every other day and announce the arrival of Bai Yu with an apologetic face. There was almost nothing else to be perfected on the deal at this point, but the damn kid kept finding excuses to come bother Zhu Yilong and lounge around his office like it was his job.

Zhu Yilong couldn’t refuse him, of course, so he had found himself assaulted and distracted by Bai Yu’s presence almost every single day. He played nice, like always, like he had to if he wanted to keep his company on the rise, but at this point he wasn’t sure if he would have been better off just telling Bai Yu to fuck off.

The way Bai Yu carries himself, all slender elegance and come-hither eyes, acutely reminds Zhu Yilong of all the people he has seen Bai Yu kissing on the pages of gossip websites and magazines. The kid evidently knows how attractive he is—and Zhu Yilong has to concede that he’s very hot, he’s not blind—and has obviously learned to wield it for his benefit. He is also very obviously used to getting exactly what he wants, or into whoever’s pants he wants, but Zhu Yilong refuses to become another one of his meaningless conquests. 

And yet.

Zhu Yilong remembers the slide of Bai Yu’s suit jacket across his back, the hot breath that tickles at his nape as Bai Yu leans over him to take a look at the documents Zhu Yilong had splayed over the desk, the dark side-eye glance full of incandescent promises. The buzz under his skin grows ever hotter and the static in his brain stutters.

Knuckles connect with his temple, drops of blood sliding hotly down the side of his face.

Fuck. He’s let himself get distracted and now he has a face wound to pay for it. Face wounds, those that broke skin and drew blood, were not easily hidden, not the way a bruised rib could be safely tucked away under layers of clothing.

The referee shouts, calling for the end of the round. Zhu Yilong walks over to his corner in quick strides, spitting out his mouthguard and chugging down half a bottle of water. He upturns the rest of it over his head and wipes at his eyebrow with the back of his hand. It comes back smeared with blood.

He’s can’t afford to get distracted like that again.

The guy at the opposite corner of the ring is smiling smugly at him when he turns. Everybody in this underground venue knows that he has never been punched in the face since he started fighting here, not even once. He feels himself glare at his opponent, only vaguely aware that he has crumpled the water bottle in his hand.

Zhu Yilong isn’t letting his reputation be ruined. Not by this over-eager idiot, not by the spoiled brat.

“Torch Dragon, you good?” the referee asks, his hand roughly clapping Zhu Yilong’s shoulder pulling him out of his musings.

He takes a deep breath in—the fucking rib stings, but nothing he can’t survive—and nods decisively, tossing the ruined water bottle outside the ring. The referee nods back at him and walks back to the middle of the ring. Zhu Yilong tucks his mouthguard back in.

Two rounds later, his opponent lays on the floor of the ring unconscious, bleeding from at least three different wounds in his face. Zhu Yilong watches the referee count to ten on the floor next to him for at least a sake of formality. He doesn’t get up.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” The referee shouts, walking up to Zhu Yilong and raising his fist in the air. “Our winner!”

Zhu Yilong grins as he hears the crowd start cheering his name and he raises his other fist up in the air, barely suppressing a wince.

He’s going to have to find an excuse for the cut on his eyebrow and he’s pretty sure that the old bruised rib is now fractured, which will take even longer to heal, but his mind is blessedly clear and quiet. He feels refreshed, born anew.

 

*

 

“It is you!” Bai Yu says the next day with a little gasp in his voice that makes Zhu Yilong’s stomach drop.

Zhu Yilong forces the tense muscles of his back to relax. He blinks up at Bai Yu. “Excuse me?”

Bai Yu rolls his eyes and lets himself drop gracelessly into one of Zhu Yilong’s guest chairs. He places his elbows on the desk and leans over with a wicked grin, over Zhu Yilong’s very important paperwork, until his index finger has tapped the fresh cut on Zhu Yilong’s temple.

Before he can properly hold back his reaction, Zhu Yilong feels himself draw back into his chair with a jolt. Not from the pain—it was a very shallow wound, had barely needed the help of a single butterfly bandage to keep closed—but from the sudden skin-to-skin contact. Bai Yu has been dancing around him for weeks now, openly displaying himself and his desires yet maintaining a tantalizing distance between them. 

It had been that distance, the barely-there touches of fingers skimming over suit jackets, that had rattled Zhu Yilong so badly. It was maddening.

(If anything, Zhu Yilong has to admit that the kid knows exactly how to tame and rope his prey in.) 

“Ah,” Zhu Yilong replies, smoothing his face into an apologetic smile and raising his hand to hover over the wound bashfully. “I had an accident at home, but I’m fine. Now, since you’re here, could you please look over our revised budget and prospected revenue?”

Bai Yu falls back into the chair and raises a hand to his chin, looking between the folder that Zhu Yilong has extended towards him over the desk and his face. After a moment of consideration, he takes it with a smile that washes a wave of foreboding over Zhu Yilong. He opens it and examines it, briefly looking up to Zhu Yilong before asking, “How’d you get that cut?”

“I tripped on my rug and hit my head on the corner of my coffee table,” Zhu Yilong lies, eyes scanning Bai Yu’s face.

Bai Yu snorts, not looking up. “Bullshit. You’re way too graceful and in too much control of your own body, even outside the ring, for that to happen.”

The blink of surprise isn’t fake this time. Bai Yu thinks he’s graceful? He pushes the thought away before he can dwell too much on it and puts on an innocent smile. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr. Bai.”

Bai Yu hums a noise of affirmation, as if that had been exactly the response he had been expecting, and it spikes up a flare of anger in Zhu Yilong. They remain silent while Bai Yu finishes scanning the new documents and finally closes the folder down on Zhu Yilong’s desk with a nod.

“They’re alright, nothing out of place. You can process them as is.” Bai Yu stands up from the chair and tucks his hands into the pockets of his slacks. Zhu Yilong rises with him, giving him his usual cordial smile. Bai Yu finally looks up at him and returns the smile, his own the charming boyish grin that has surely enchanted so many—but there’s something in his eyes. A spark of challenge. Zhu Yilong feels his stomach flutter, the corners of his own smile faltering.

With a small bow, Bai Yu turns back towards the door of Zhu Yilong’s office and waves a hand over his shoulder as he says, “I’ll be seeing you, Torch Dragon-gege!”

The door closes behind him.

Zhu Yilong’s fist comes down onto the desk with way too much strength, a small dent left behind in the imprint of his knuckles. He curses under his breath, legs shaking and mind racing. 

There’s no way he’s going back to the ring, no matter how much it helps him. 

 

*

 

It’s only polite that he says goodbye, Zhu Yilong surmises.

His next Sunday is miraculously clear of meetings and deadlines. It’s the best opportunity he’s going to get, so Zhu Yilong bundles up into jeans, t-shirt and a hoodie—an outfit as inconspicuous as he can manage—and sets off on an easy a jog to the gym.

In the daylight, the building’s front is as non-threatening as can be, a simple brick wall with metal double doors that seems to almost blend into the scenery surrounding it unless you know what you’re looking. Zhu Yilong guesses that’s exactly the point.

“Xiao Zhu!” Lao Yue greets him as soon as he enters the gym, the owner’s voice as boisterous and joyful as ever. It always puts a smile on Zhu Yilong’s face. “Been a while since we saw you around here at this hour. What do I owe the pleasure to?”

His easy smile falls a little as he remembers why he’s here. “Actually,” Zhu Yilong starts, clearing his throat. “I’m here to say goodbye.”

Lao Yue blinks at him in confusion. “Goodbye?”

“One of my coworkers found out.” Zhu Yilong sighs. “He’s this spoiled, rich brat that’s always making trouble wherever he goes and if he thinks it’s funny to tell our investors…” He blinks, looking away, tears prickling at the back of his eyes.

His company isn’t a magnate by any stretch, but it has been steadily gaining ground and recognition in the business world and Zhu Yilong knows that some competitors have already put their eye on it. It would only take an innocent slip, the smallest mistake, for them to find something to discredit Zhu Yilong’s work and gossip him into ruin. If word were to get out that he’s not only participating in an illegal sport but that his company had been built on the winnings he’s accumulated through said illegal sport…

“I see,” Lao Yue says, heaving a deep sigh himself. When Zhu Yilong looks back up at him, his eyes are understanding, no trace of anger or animosity to be found in them. He feels a knot of guilt form in his throat, hands balling into fists in the pockets of his hoodie. He doesn’t want to abandon them like this, not because he’s scared and ashamed to be associated with them, but he has no choice. Lao Yue stretches out an arm and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Well, we’ll definitely miss you, but you know you’ll always be welcome here.”

“I know,” Zhu Yilong croaks out. He wishes he had the words to thank him for all they’ve done for him, but he can’t find them. He’s always been bad at expressing himself, but he has never hated it more.

Lao Yue studies him for a moment, eyes darting around like he’s thinking something over. He seems to come to a decision when his usual jovial grin returns to his face and he squeezes Zhu Yilong’s shoulder.

“Hey! Let’s give you a proper send-off.” Zhu Yilong blinks up at him in confusion and Lao Yue continues with a wink, “Your final fight, whatddaya say? We’ll screen for cameras and phones so word can’t get out.”

Zhu Yilong thinks about it for a second, then chuckles when he realizes that by the moment he started considering it he’d already been roped in. 

“Yeah, alright,” he agrees. “But you’ll have to give me a few weeks. I had a bad rib last time I fought that only got worse and it needs proper time to heal.”

Lao Yue frowns. “It’s not like you to be sloppy, Xiao Zhu. Everything alright?”

“No worries,” he answers with a smile that tries to be reassuring but probably falls short. He pats at his side carefully. “It’ll fix itself.” He’s not sure he’s talking about the rib.

He tries not to falter under Lao Yue’s watchful eye and, although he isn’t sure he manages to fool him, the owner lets it go with a shake of the head and a sigh. Zhu Yilong silently thanks him.

“Come around in, say, two weeks time? To pick a date.” Lao Yue gives him a pointed stare. “And so our doc can check you out.”

He gives Lao Yue a sheepish smile and a little bow in return. “I’ll be back.”

 

*

 

The next few weeks at work are suspiciously clear of Bai Yu. 

Zhu Yilong spends them slightly restless and jumpier than usual. He puts out alerts for mentions of his name in news and gossip websites, feeling a little silly about it, but it helps him rest easier. The articles are innocuous; reports about the near public launch of his joint Bai Enterprises project, baseless dating rumours surrounding an old classmate he randomly met while having dinner and, weirdly, one single article talking about his calves. 

No articles suspecting him of having a weird connection with an underground, illegal sport. No pictures of him in the ring, bruised and bloody. No social media posts from the darling of Bai Enterprises exposing his shady past. No… nothing.

Instead of reassuring him, it makes Zhu Yilong even more suspicious.

Was Bai Yu biding his time? Looking for the perfect moment to strike and bring Zhu Yilong down. Had he sold the information to the highest bidder? The deals currently taking place, the scandal-to-be closely following. Was he keeping it for blackmail? He had found the way to make Zhu Yilong bend for him and would be storming into his office any day now, ridiculous demands spilling from his mouth that Zhu Yilong had no choice but to obey.

No.

He would not bend for the kid, not in any possible way. He would fight, if he had to—treat it like a match at the ring and fight until one of them ended up unconscious and bloody—but he would not bend.

Zhu Yilong takes a deep breath, his fractured rib only a phantom pain now, lets it out with a woosh that takes part of his tension away. He can’t let himself get so distracted by this situation. He made a mistake, let himself get exposed, and he will deal with the consequences that said mistake will bring—but in time. There’s no need to get so caught up in the what ifs while they’re not happening.

The public launch of the joint Bai Enterprises project is approaching faster and faster and he still has to go over the plan for the launch, the expense reports for the gala, make sure that not a single number is out of place. He will meet Bai Yu at the gala again and they can talk, then, and Zhu Yilong can make all of his carefully worded threats backstage or spit back all of his skillfully crafted comebacks to Bai Yu’s own threats. There will be time.

And, before that, he will fight—his last—and his body can get rid of all the unnecessary tension and be in perfect shape for their eventual face-off. He will give the ring a proper goodbye. He owes it at least that much.

 

*

 

“Are you all ready? To witness, for the very last time, the might of our Great Torch Dragon?!”

The voice is much too loud on the speakers, even in the locker room where Zhu Yilong is warming up. He snorts a little at the lavish exaggeration. It’s Lao Yue, he can tell, who is in command of the microphone right now and who will most likely be refereeing later. 

He can hear a mix of boos and excited screams from the crowd in response. He doesn’t take it to heart, because he knows it means that he will be missed—and, most importantly, that the exciting and high stakes of his matches’ betting pools will be the loss everyone will mourn. At least, tonight, he can give them one final good fight.

It hits him like a sack of bricks that he will miss it too as he’s sliding on the robe and taking a look around the locker room. It’s not like he hadn’t known—this gym has been his solace for years now, where he can come to show the rawest parts of himself and be applauded for it rather than scorned, of course he’s going to miss it—but it hits harder when he’s all ready to go out onto the ring, can hear the crowd chanting his name in anticipation, and knows this will be the last time.

Cold seeps into his bones and his eyes prickle with the beginning of tears.

Zhu Yilong purses his mouth into a tight line and forces himself to breathe through it, fists clenched.

“And now, please welcome… the star of the night, our very own Torch Dragon!”

That’s his cue. Loosening his muscles, Zhu Yilong walks briskly out of the locker room and towards the ramp leading to the ring. He slides in between the ropes and steps into the ring with a swift jump. The crowd is chanting his name, the spare boos drowned in between the screams. The lights bearing down on him feel like a physical thing over his skin, heating it up as he walks around the ring in a slow circle.

His opponent stands at the opposite corner of the ring, an exasperating smug smirk plastered on his face. He’s broader than Zhu Yilong, muscles bulging under his skin in intimidating ripples that make Zhu Yilong look almost puny. To any normal person, it would not seem like a fair fight, their physiques way too different for them to be evenly matched. And although fair is not exactly what rules underground fighting and generally not what brings in the biggest betting pools and revenue, Zhu Yilong knows that they are not as oddly matched as someone less experienced might think.

Where his opponent is brute force and knockout punches, Zhu Yilong is agility and strategically aimed uppercuts. It will be a challenge, of course, but that’s exactly what he’s looking for. After all, a victory is not as delicious when it is not hard-won.

Zhu Yilong grins back at his opponent, a feral twist of the lips that looks almost foreign in his face. The adrenaline coursing through his veins crescendos into a beautiful ballad and suddenly he can’t wait for the match to start, why aren’t they fighting already ? He glances at Lao Yue still going on about whatever at the mic in the middle of the ring and Lao Yue catches his eye, returns him a small grin with a huff of air.

“Esteemed guests,” Lao Yue says into the mic with a tint of irony. The crowd responds with boos, cheers and wolf-whistles in equal measure. “Are you ready, for the fight of the decade?!” Zhu Yilong snorts and thrusts the mouthguard into his mouth. The crowd responds enthusiastically. “Give it up for Torch Dragon and Black Scorpion!”

They both stand up from their corners amidst a deafening sea of cheering. When they stop a few steps away from each other, Lao Yue in between them, Zhu Yilong smirks and raises up one bandaged fist. Black Scorpion looks at it, eyes narrowing in suspicion for a second before his lascivious grin returns and he bumps it with his own fist. It feels like he’s being made fun of.

We’ll see who ends up laughing.

Black Scorpion is, of course, a brawler. Zhu Yilong spends the first round doing nothing more than dodging punches, almost dancing around his opponent with lightning-quick feet skittering skillfully across the ring, barely breaking a sweat. He can tell that it bothers Black Scorpion when they’re both sitting at their corners and his opponent throws him a dirty look.

The second round is more interesting. Black Scorpion starts biding his time between punches, his strategy seemingly progressing from mere ‘punch the opponent until they pass out’. He doesn’t move as easily or quickly as Zhu Yilong by a long mile, so he stays in mostly the same place as Zhu Yilong moves around him. Zhu Yilong experiments getting some practice punches in, trying to calculate exactly how strong and how many he would need to knock him out.

By the time the second round’s finished and no blood has been drawn, some of the crowd starts booing. Lao Yue steps back into the middle of the ring with his microphone to try and appease them, but Zhu Yilong doesn’t fault them. These matches usually don’t draw out much longer than a couple of rounds.

When they meet in the middle for the start of the third round, he knows that they have both decided to stop skirting around each other. The air feels electric with adrenaline, imaginary static raising goosebumps on Zhu Yilong’s skin, as Lao Yue signals the start of the round. Black Scorpion charges, no holds barred, and the crowd loses it.

Zhu Yilong feels punches connect with his ribs, getting the breath knocked out of him, and he aims a knee jab to free himself of the oppressive hold. Once he’s out, he turns back with a hook, knuckles connecting with Black Scorpion’s temple. He doesn’t even stagger. Zhu Yilong dodges the next punch with a quick retreat.

“Long-ge!”

Despite the noise of the crowd, the voice cuts through it and directly to the ring. Zhu Yilong gets distracted for a second, eyes searching the crowd around him, because nobody here ever calls him that and that voice…

His eyes land on Bai Yu leaning over the barricade around the ring, beaming up at him. “Jiayou, Long-ge!”

Zhu Yilong feels panic seize him for a beat. Bai Yu shouldn’t be here, he had picked the date for the match exactly because he knew Bai Yu would be busy all day long, what is he doing here? Moreover, was he here to finally expose Zhu Yilong? Had he called the press or bribed his way in while managing to keep cameras on him, to collect more evidence?

A fierce fist connects with his face—Zhu Yilong doesn’t even know where, it hurts all over—and he goes down with it, ears ringing and vision swimming.

He stays in the ground for a couple of seconds, the coppery taste of blood filling his mouth, regaining his bearings as Lao Yue counts down next to him. If Bai Yu is here to finally expose him, to send him and his career spiraling down, he’s not going to let himself go down just like that. If he’s going to go out anyway, he might as well do it in a blaze of glory.

He stands up with a jump, renewed adrenaline enhancing his reflexes and strength. He cracks his neck as Lao Yue resumes the round and shoots him a concerned glare, which he ignores in favor of lunging at Black Scorpion as he throws another punch, their arms crossing. Zhu Yilong hears the nose under his hand give a satisfying crack as his fist connects with it. Black Scorpion staggers backwards, holding his bloody nose with a hand, and Zhu Yilong takes the opportunity to inflict another knee jab.

The third round finishes much more satisfactorily, with both parties finally bloody. Zhu Yilong lets himself fall onto the stool at his corner, spitting out his mouthguard to chug down half a bottle of water. He dares a look out to the crowd and finds Bai Yu looking like he’s trying to climb the barricade and run into the ring, fighting with two people who are trying to hold him back. Zhu Yilong finds himself chuckling before slipping his mouthguard back in.

The rest of the fight goes by in a flurry. He’s bleeding from both nostrils and mouth, the smell and taste of the blood almost dizzying in its intensity, and he’s sure that there’s at least a couple of ribs just waiting for the right punch to crack. He feels his stamina getting dangerously close to its end line by the halfway point of the round.

Even though he has considerable stamina for his size and build, Zhu Yilong knows that there’s no way he’s going to outlive the brute of his opponent relying on that alone. There’s gotta be another way for him to finish this fight and come out on top. He has to rely on another of his strengths.

Making up his mind, Zhu Yilong seizes his opportunity by crouching and feinting an overhand, his punch arching upwards towards Black Scorpion’s head, who tries to dodge by crouching and lunging forward. Zhu Yilong quickly pivots on his left foot and swings around, coming to stand behind Black Scorpion.

Putting all of his weight into it and pushing with his other arm, Zhu Yilong’s elbow strikes Black Scorpion’s back, right between his shoulderblades. Black Scorpion plummets to the ground.

Lao Yue hurries to count next to him as Zhu Yilong tries to catch his breath, each rasping inhale a mess of blood and pain from his abused ribs, barely keeping himself from swaying on his feet. His attention comes back into sharp focus as he suddenly feels one of his arms being harshly pulled upwards and he looks back at Lao Yue smiling next to him, roaring his win into the mic.

The crowd explodes into cheers as Zhu Yilong grins and raises his other arm up in the air. A blaze of glory, indeed.

 

*

 

The locker room is almost distressingly empty and quiet after the roar of noise during the match.

Zhu Yilong holes up in it for longer than usual, body sprawled against the uncomfortable wood bench as he slowly comes down from the adrenaline high. He still can’t get rid of the ringing in his ears though, no matter how much he waits, and he reluctantly realizes he’s probably going to have to deal with it for a day or two more. He slowly stands up to sit, stretching out sore muscles with a grimace. The door behind him creaks open.

“I’m fine, Lao Yue, I was just…” He starts as he turns around, then stops as he notices who is standing against the door. His eyes narrow. “What are you doing here?”

Bai Yun stands against the metal door in a casual slouch that somehow still manages to make him look straight out of a photoshoot. He’s clad in a matching set of black, silky shirt and high-wasted pants, a stick dangling out from between his lips. He paints a perfect picture of allure, his entire person radiating out a siren song of lust.

Zhu Yilong swallows, mouth suddenly dry, and turns his back on the door.

“I’m here to congratulate you on your win, Long-ge!” The soles of his boots clack against the concrete floor, too loud in the empty room. “That was a good fight, though I admit you had me worried there for a second.” Zhu Yilong hears Bai Yu’s steps walk around the bench until they come to a stop before him. He looks up with a glare. Bai Yu pulls out the stick from his mouth—a lollipop—and smirks down at Zhu Yilong. “Were you that surprised to see me?”

“What do you want?” Zhu Yilong snaps, patience running thin. Bai Yu’s been playing this game for long enough now. 

But Bai Yu just blinks at him in surprise. “I already told y—” 

Zhu Yilong cuts him off with a snort. “Come on, you threatened me all the way back then in my office. Who are you selling the story to? Or do you plan to extort me?” He squares his jaw and looks at Bai Yu in the eyes. “Whatever you’re planning, I won’t bend for you.”

Much to his surprise, Bai Yu splutters out a laugh. Zhu Yilong watches him plop down onto the bench in front of him as he tries and fails to stop his laughter, rage and defiance giving way to confusion and embarrassment the longer Bai Yu laughs.

“You thought I was threatening—” Bai Yu starts, the words molded like a question, but he cuts himself off with another bout of laughter before he can finish. He rests his head on a closed fist, elbow resting on his crossed knee, and looks out from under his lashes at Zhu Yilong, a small smirk playing in his lips. “I was just excited. You’re such a good fighter.” His smirk turns lascivious as his eyes drop to Zhu Yilong’s lips, voice lowering. “I wasn’t planning for you to be the one bending, but we can work it out if that’s what you want.”

From where he’s sitting, Zhu Yilong can see through the open front of Bai Yu’s shirt a sliver of naked skin, an enticing collarbone. For a moment, he wonders if the skin underneath is just as silky as his shirt looks. As is physically able to will the thoughts away, Zhu Yilong shakes his head. “Then what did you mean back in my office?”

“I’m a fan!” Bai Yu’s eyes light up with his grin and he pops the lollipop back into his mouth. “That was actually the first time I came here. A couple of friends dragged me in and I was about to leave when I saw you up on that ring. You looked so cool.” He ducks his head slightly and he looks almost embarrassed at his words. Zhu Yilong didn’t think he was capable of such emotion. The moment is broken when he looks back at Zhu Yilong, a finger wagging in his direction. “I knew there was something else under those tightly tailored suits and attractive little frowns. No mere business man is that fit.”

Zhu Yilong blinks, consciously ignoring the compliments so he can focus on the matter at hand. “So you’re not… selling this out?” He gestures around himself with a hand, encompassing the gym and himself. “You’re not exposing me and ruining my career?”

Bai Yu rolls his eyes at him. “Why would I do that? Even if I didn’t like seeing you fight—and I do, very much—the joint project is about to launch and it would reflect badly on us as well.”

“I…” Zhu Yilong starts, trying to come up with a rebuttal of why exactly it was totally sensible on his part to suspect Bai Yu. He purses his lips when he realizes he can’t find one. Groaning, he lets himself fall backwards onto the bench yet again.

Fabric rustles and suddenly Bai Yu is climbing up on top of him, supporting himself on his arms above him on the bench. He takes out the lollipop from his lips and Zhu Yilong follows it with his eyes, then letting them drift down to the open vee of Bai Yu’s shirt. He could touch; he knows Bai Yu would let him, wants him to. He’s been purposefully lighting little fires under Zhu Yilong’s skin with light touches and sideway glances for weeks now.

Zhu Yilong swallows and looks back up to Bai Yu’s eyes. His voice comes out lower and huskier than he means to when he asks, “What are you doing here?”

Confusion passes through Bai Yu’s eyes for a moment before he understands, then drop to Zhu Yilong’s lips. “I’m here for my birthday present.” His tongue darts out to lick at his own lips and Zhu Yilong watches it, riveted.

The first press of lips is almost electric in all of its tentativeness. Then Zhu Yilong gasps, longing and lust rushing in his ears as he pulls on the fabric of Bai Yu’s open shirt—silky and terribly expensive, no doubt—and his skin burns up as his lips part, Bai Yu’s tongue sliding into his mouth. The kiss turns messy and desperate in the blink of an eye, teeth biting and tongues exploring with the intensity of weeks spent riling each other up. 

Zhu Yilong draws back from the kiss, keeping Bai Yu in place by the hands he’s still got fisted on his shirt when he tries to follow with a little whine of protest. He chuckles, then hums in satisfaction as one of his hands moves upwards to wrap around the side of Bai Yu’s neck, thumb resting on the hollow of his throat—finally, finally, getting some skin-to-skin contact. He feels the shiver that runs through Bai Yu at the contact, pulse rabbit-quick under Zhu Yilong’s fingers. Bai Yu arches his neck to the side in what seems like a subconscious move to allow Zhu Yilong more access, more skin to touch, and Zhu Yilong feels desire and possessiveness rush through him.

His other hand unfurls from the grip on Bai Yu’s shirt and travels downwards, caressing the exposed skin of his chest and further in, feeling goosebumps raise in the wake of its path. He can feel Bai Yu’s chest heaving under his hand, breath coming in quick and shallow, and realizes with a thrill of satisfaction just how still Bai Yu’s trying to hold himself to allow Zhu Yilong to touch his fill.

It’s a heady feeling, a rush of adrenaline so much like the one that fires up his veins before going into the ring, yet so different. Bai Yu’s eyes are closed, cheeks alight with desire, teeth biting down on his bottom lip. He’s the most beautiful thing Zhu Yilong has ever laid eyes on.

He quickly maneuvers them so they’re both sitting on the bench again and pulls Bai Yu in by the hand he’s got curled around his neck, locking their lips together again. Bai Yu’s lips part immediately under his, pliant and beautiful, and Zhu Yilong rewards him by sliding his hand out of his shirt to thumb at his nipples over the cloth, the silky material sliding easily across his skin. Bai Yu arches forward, lips parting in a gasp.

Zhu Yilong’s mouth moves from his lips to his cheek and up his jaw, nibbling and peppering wet kisses, delighting in the way Bai Yu’s breaths fall right on his ear. His hand moves downwards over the shirt until he’s cupping Bai Yu’s erection through his pants. He feels Bai Yu’s hips buck against his hand, a startled moan leaving his lips. Zhu Yilong grins.

“You wanted to bend for me?” He whispers into Bai Yu’s ear, hand coming up to bury in his hair.

Bai Yu moans again and his hips stutter. “Yes. Yes, Long-ge, please…”

After one last kiss behind Bai Yu’s ear, Zhu Yilong stands up and moves to behind Bai Yu, gently coaxing him by the waist to move up and to the edge of the bench. The locker room is silent, electricity buzzing in the air between them, as one of Zhu Yilong’s hands slowly slides up Bai Yu’s back and pushes until Bai Yu’s bending over the edge of the bench, supporting himself on his forearms.

When Bai Yu looks back over his shoulder at Zhu Yilong, his eyes are dark and enthralled, the heat of them sending a shiver down Zhu Yilong’s spine. He has to bend over and nibble between Bai Yu’s shoulderblades at it, hands running greedily over Bai Yu’s clothed ass.

It doesn’t stay as such for much longer. Zhu Yilong pulls back and hooks one hand on the waistband of Bai Yu’s pants, sliding it down to his thighs along with his underwear in one swift move. He hears Bai Yu’s breath catch in a choked-off moan as he runs his hands over the naked skin of his buttcheks, parting them to glimpse at his hole.

“I—I have,” Bai Yu gasps out, words dissolving to a curse as Zhu Yilong’s thumb brushes his hole. “Condoms. Lube. Pocket.”

Zhu Yilong imagines it for a moment—sliding into Bai Yu, thigh heat enveloping his cock—and can’t stop the involuntary thrust of his hips. His erection slides against Bai Yu’s ass, the contact scorching even through the layers of clothing still trapping him, and Bai Yu pushes back. He grits his teeth, forcing himself to keep still. “Not here.”

Bai Yu doesn’t protest only because he can hear the unsaid words. Next time.

“Then wha—” Bai Yu starts, already half-turning to look at Zhu Yilong again, but Zhu Yilong stops him with a firm hand between his shoulderblades.

Instead of answering, Zhu Yilong quickly frees himself of his shorts and underwear and slides himself between Bai Yu’s cheeks, the head of his cock purposefully brushing against Bai Yu’s hole. Bai Yu lets out a hiss at the sensation, hips pushing back. Zhu Yilong thrusts again, the slide of skin helped by the pre-cum he’s smeared between Bai Yu’s cheeks now.

Bai Yu whimpers. “Long-ge, you—” A moan escapes him as Zhu Yilong thrusts again, his cock sliding hotly against Bai Yu’s hole, but never breaching it. It’s delicious torture. Bai Yu manages to gasp out, “You’re so cruel.”

“You think you deserve more?” Zhu Yilong asks, the slow thrust of his hips never stopping. He thinks of all the little touches Bai Yu tortured him with for weeks, the sly smiles and half-lidded eyes trained on Zhu Yilong’s lips as they were supposed to be going over paperwork, always a distraction even when Zhu Yilong stepped into his apartment and brought himself off in a hurry, body alight with the promises he could read in Bai Yu’s eyes. The spoiled brat could stand to be tortured in return.

Bai Yu lets out a breathless chuckle. He turns to pout at Zhu Yilong over his shoulder. “But it’s my birthday.”

Zhu Yilong glares at him and grabs his cock in one hand, spreading Bai Yu’s cheeks with the other. He rubs at Bai Yu’s hole with the head of his cock insistently and watches with satisfaction as Bai Yu’s back arches and high-pitched moans spill from his lips, hips thrusting back as if he would be able to slip Zhu Yilong’s cock into himself. 

“Long-ge, Long-ge,” Bai Yu moans. “Don’t be like that, c’mon, you can put it in, it’ll be so good…”

With a groan, Zhu Yilong pulls Bai Yu up and off the bench, back pressed against Zhu Yilong’s chest. He hears Bai Yu mumble something about his strength but ignores it in favor of thrusting against the small of Bai Yu’s back and sucking at his neck as Bai Yu’s body arches against him.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bai Yu gasps out. “That’s it, Long-ge, come all over me, mark me up—” His words only stop when Zhu Yilong bites down on the side of his neck.

When his lips part open again, surely to keep on babbling away, Zhu Yilong seizes his chance and thrusts two fingers into his mouth. Bai Yu moans around them, tongue darting out to lick between them and fanning the heat coursing through Zhu Yilong. He’s way too skillful with his tongue, even sucking on just a pair of fingers, and Zhu Yilong already knows that he’s going to put that tongue to test in many other scenarios.

He can feel his orgasm getting close, the heat of Bai Yu’s skin and his words pulling Zhu Yilong along the whole time, so he quickly wraps one hand around the head of Bai Yu’s neglected cock, spreading the pre-cum over his palm before sliding it down the length. He feels Bai Yu whimper around his fingers, hips bucking up into Zhu Yilong’s fist and then back against his cock. Bai Yu’s hands grab desperately at his waist, either encouraging the thrust of his hips or trying to bring their bodies impossibly closer still, Zhu Yilong isn’t sure.

“Xiao Bai,” Zhu Yilong whispers in Bai Yu’s ear, hand squeezing around his dick, and feels Bai Yu moan around the fingers in his mouth, writhing against him. His hand and hips speed up as he feels tension build in his navel, his orgasm at the tip of his fingers. He groans as Bai Yu hollows his cheeks around his fingers, sucking enthusiastically. 

It takes only a few more thrusts for him to spill, white streaks of cum painting the back of Bai Yu’s terribly expensive shirt and quite possibly ruining it. He takes his fingers out of Bai Yu’s mouth in a daze, still shaking from the aftershocks, and Bai Yu immediately starts babbling, “Long-ge, please, so close, Long-ge!”

He can’t help but thrust into the mess of cum at Bai Yu’s back and turn Bai Yu’s face towards him, capturing his mouth in a messy kiss and swallowing his pleas as he works on bringing Bai Yu over the edge. Bai Yu’s hands spasm around his waist, fingernails digging into skin almost painfully, and he comes with a shout muffled against Zhu Yilong’s lips. Zhu Yilong strokes him through it, cum making the slide deliciously easy, until Bai Yu is shivering against him from oversensitivity and pawing at Zhu Yilong’s wrist to stop.

When Zhu Yilong lets go of him, Bai Yu grabs his hand and brings it up to his face, catching his eye before sliding the fingers into the wet heat of his mouth and licking them clean of his own cum. Zhu Yilong groans at the sight, slipping his eyes shut and resting his forehead against Bai Yu’s shoulder. “You…”

He hears Bai Yu chuckle. When he looks back up at him, Bai Yu’s wearing the exact same smug smile Zhu Yilong knew he’d be wearing. He kind of wants to punch it off his face. Maybe with his lips. He huffs and places a quick peck to them, feeling Bai Yu melt under him at the contact.

“Happy birthday,” Zhu Yilong mumbles against Bai Yu’s lips.

Bai Yu makes a show of checking his wristwatch. “You’re late, Long-ge, it’s already way past midnight.”

Zhu Yilong retaliates by surging forward and biting down on his bottom lip.

 

*

 

They walk out of the gym together, Bai Yu still wearing his ruined shirt even after much insistence from Zhu Yilong to please wear his hoodie over it.

(“It’s a badge of honor,” Bai Yu had said with a smirk. “I’ll wear it proudly.”

Zhu Yilong had blushed and rolled his eyes to hide the pleasure the words had brought him.)

The streets are deserted this late at night and they walk in companionable silence under the starry sky. Zhu Yilong isn’t sure where they’re going, if Bai Yu’s following him or he’s following Bai Yu, but for once he feels okay with the uncertainty. 

“Don’t you have like, three parties to be in?” Zhu Yilong asks, suddenly remembering the reason why he had been confident Bai Yu wasn’t going to show up to his fight.

Bai Yu pouts at him. “I know that’s why you scheduled your fight today, Long-ge. How cruel of you.” Zhu Yilong adverts his eyes, a small blush tinting his ears pink. Bai Yu bumps his shoulder against his and when Zhu Yilong looks over, he’s grinning. “I dumped them all. All I wanted for my birthday was to see the mighty Torch Dragon.”

Zhu Yilong feels his blush intensify at that, ears and cheeks burning as he tries to come up with something to say but fails. Bai Yu chuckles next to him, then steps in front of him and grabs his face in both hands. His thumbs brush softly over the heated skin of Zhu Yilong’s cheeks. His eyes are crinkled into two half-moons by his smile.

“God, you’re beautiful,” Bai Yu whispers, almost reverently, and Zhu Yilong finds himself chuckling. Bai Yu tilts his head in curiosity.

Zhu Yilong ducks his head and places one of his hands on top of Bai Yu’s. “I was just thinking the same.”

Bai Yu pulls him in and Zhu Yilong goes willingly, his hands landing on Bai Yu’s hips and pulling their bodies closer. The kiss is slow and gentle, but no less heated for it, and they’re both panting when they separate.

“You live close?” Bai Yu asks, breath hot against Zhu Yilong’s lips, and Zhu Yilong can hear the sudden urgency that has crept into his voice.

“Yeah,” he says around a grin, stealing another kiss.

“Take me there?” Bai Yu’s voice is hopeful when he asks, but Zhu Yilong can see in his eyes that he’d still accept a no for an answer if that’s what Zhu Yilong wanted.

As if Zhu Yilong could deny him anything. As if Bai Yu hadn’t had him wrapped around his little finger even before Zhu Yilong had thought himself trapped by the threat of being exposed. As if Bai Yu hadn’t proved him wrong by keeping his secret safe and promised to protect him instead with a ferocity that Zhu Yilong hadn’t seen in him before.

(As if Zhu Yilong couldn’t feel himself falling, fast and hard like a well-aimed punch directly to his heart, the intensity of it almost enough to leave him breathless.)

Zhu Yilong nods, smile going soft, and pulls Bai Yu by the hand in the direction of his apartment.