Actions

Work Header

Worthy

Work Text:

Sun Xiang’s phone makes a noise from somewhere across the room.

There’s light shining in around the edges of his blackout curtains, which means it’s nearly time for morning training. But the idea of getting up and washing and dressing in Samsara’s black and yellow uniform and going down the hallway and sitting at his station is just –

He can’t really see the point.

Sun Xiang throws an arm over his face to block out even that tiny bit of light. He feels itchy and irritable all over. Maybe Samsara use a cheap fabric softener and it’s given him a rash. Wouldn’t surprise him. He gives his arm a scratch but it doesn’t even come close, like the itch is somewhere under his skin, like it’s somewhere in his bones.

If he really strains his ears he can hear the sounds of his teammates getting up in their neighbouring rooms, Wu Qi humming to himself like he wants to get it out of his system before they all have to shut up and behave under Zhou Zekai’s glare. Sun Xiang snorts to himself. Zekai tried that bullshit on him his first day and he just ignored it. He’s not the type to run his mouth during a match anyway, but if he wants to say anything he’ll be damned if some jumped-up pretty boy is going to stop him.

Jumped-up pretty boy

Sun Xiang presses down the arm still across his face, so hard it hurts his nose. His stupid traitorous brain is pulling its usual crap, sliding straight over to think about another jumped-up pretty boy, one that Sun Xiang thinks about half a dozen times a day if he’s not being disciplined with himself…

Ye Xiu

His other hand slides casually down, resting on his thigh. If Wu Qi is still humming that means he’s got some time to distract himself, get rid of this itch under his skin and knock all thoughts of Ye Xiu out of his head at the same time. Plus a good wank always makes him feel better and –

“Sun Xiang! Captain wants to see you before training!” The voice comes through his door loud and clear and Sun Xiang throws his arm down to glare at it. Damnit. The light is much brighter than he thought.

“Sun Xiang!”

“I’m coming!”

Fuck.

His phone’s still chirping away happily and Sun Xiang glares at it too. Guess it’s time to get up and wash and dress in that stupid fucking uniform and go down the hallway and –

“Hey Sun Xiang, apparently the Captain’s calling for you –”

“I heard!” Sun Xiang yells back. Why can’t his new teammates mind their own goddamn business. He throws the covers off and stomps over to yank up the curtains. The room fills with light, throwing everything into stark relief. New dawn, blah blah blah.

His phone vibrates so hard it falls off the table. Sun Xiang looks down at it.

He doesn’t have many friends. His family don’t text him. His teammates live in the same hallway.

He picks up his phone.

BREAKING NEWS! Glory announces the first ever international World Glory Competition! Chinese team line-up to be announced next month!

Oh, thinks Sun Xiang.

Maybe this is finally something worth waking up for.

~

Three days later he hauls his bag off the bus and ignores Wu Qi and Du Ming stumbling off behind him. It feels weird to be back in City B – the last time he’d been here he’d thought he was leaving for good, that he’d never be welcome back. God, also, he’d forgotten how much the whole place stinks of money. No wonder the Chinese Glory Team headquarters and training camp are located here. Apparently the sponsorship money has been pouring in.

Sun Xiang sniffs and strides forward. Wu Qi and Du Ming can catch up.

“Name, Account Name and Team please,” the attendant at the door asks, and Sun Xiang has to clench his jaw to stop from snapping at her. Does she really not recognise him? But if there’s anything he’s learnt from last season’s Challenger’s League it was to try avoid opening his mouth when he’s angry, so he swallows it down and hitches his bag higher.

“Sun Xiang, One Autumn Leaf, Samsara.”

“Sir, we have put you and your Samsara teammates into Room 39. Please drop off your bags and then attend Orientation in the main room.” The attendant says, handing him three packs. Sun Xiang shoves two of them over his shoulder and keeps going. He has to share a room? Not as much sponsorship money as he’d thought.

And Room 39 already. That’s a lot of players. For not a lot of spots.

Wu Qi and Du Ming let him pick which bed he wants and then follow him into the main hall which is already half full of vaguely familiar faces. Sun Xiang thinks he remembers maybe three people’s names? Who cares. He remembers account names easier than real names anyway. The itch is back under his skin and he shoves it down, lifts his chin. Chin up, shoulders back, stand tall.

Sun Xiang! Walk like a man!

Ugh. He’s been back in City B for fifteen minutes and he can already hear his father’s voice in his head. This whole thing is bullshit.

He thinks he spots a Happy uniform out of the corner of his eye and whips around before he can see if it is or not. There aren’t any Excellent Era uniforms. Shit. Guilt churns in his stomach and he storms to one of the seats in front, where he won’t be able to see if people are looking at him. Everyone else is shuffling themselves into seats as well but thankfully Wu Qi and Du Ming have followed on his heels to sit either side so he doesn’t have to sit next to strangers. Sun Xiang puts on his best aloof face and doesn’t peer around the way everyone else is doing. He doesn’t even turn at the sudden commotion at the back.

Don't look don't look

It’s the top players of the League. He can hear Huang Shaotian’s babble halfway across the room and spot Han Wenqing’s bulk out of the corner of his eye. They’ve all come in together, making it look so casual but Sun Xiang would bet they planned it together, wanted to make a big entrance so that everyone would turn to look at them.

He kicks Du Ming in the ankle to stop him staring. They’re not that impressive.

He’s so busy staring straight ahead, gritting his teeth to stop from looking even an inch to the side, that he has to blink a couple of times before he realises that Ye Xiu is there, sitting in a chair at the back of the main podium, elbows braced on his knees as he looks thoughtfully down at his hands. It’s been months since Sun Xiang’s seen him in person. He looks a little thinner, the line of his jaw clearer. He looks good. As always.

Sun Xiang works his own jaw hard.

The only thing more irritating than people making a big show of entering is people acting like they’re too cool to care about any of that stuff.

“Ye Xiu, Ye Xiu,” Huang Shaotian bounds up onto the podium. Ye Xiu looks up and smiles. How anyone can be happy to see that annoying little twerp is beyond him. “So you’re going to be on the team huh huh? Here to fight for your place? I want to fight you first! You hear that everyone – I claim first fight with Ye Xiu! Every form an orderly line behind me, don’t worry it won’t take long, I’ll kill him super fast you wait and see –”

“Shaotian.” Blue Rain’s Captain Yu Wenzhou says from his seat, and Huang Shaotian’s lips clamp shut so fast Sun Xiang’s surprised his tongue doesn’t get stuck.

He’d once made a joke at Excellent Era about how good Yu Wenzhou must be at discipline to have Huang Shaotian that obedient. Everyone had just stared or given him really weird looks. It’s shit like that that makes Sun Xiang not even bother trying to get to know people.

“Ah Huang Shaotian, didn’t you bother to read the orientation pack?” Ye Xiu is leaning back in his chair now. He’s smiling. What sort of simpleton finds an idiot like Huang Shaotian amusing? “All ranking fights are done by class. You’ll be fighting the other Blade Masters, not me.”

“What class are you fighting in then?” Han Wenqing calls out, and the room goes very quiet. Sun Xiang imagines everyone here’s desperate to hear the answer, if they’re going to have to face off against the Glory Textbook for a spot. He curls his lip. Obviously Ye Xiu’s going for Battle Mage. That’s what Sun Xiang’s here for after all.

A rematch. A chance to face off against the Battle God again. Who cares about a national team when his pride is on the line?

“I’ll let Feng Xianjun explain.” Ye Xiu says, as the Glory Chairman appears through a side door. But he doesn’t get off the stage to come and sit with the rest of them and the itch under Sun Xiang’s skin spreads all across his chest.

“Welcome, welcome, everyone.” Feng Xianjun says. He gives Sun Xiang a quick little extra nod and Sun Xiang just cuts his eyes away. He doesn’t want any of that. “I trust everyone has had a chance to review the information in their orientation pack, but let me repeat the welcome to you all to this auspicious event, the very first Chinese National Team training camp!”

Everyone bursts into applause. Ugh. There’s so much eagerness in the room Sun Xiang could puke. But Du Ming and Wu Qi are either side of him and clapping away so he uncrosses his arms and joins in. It’s not like his reputation can sink any lower but least he can do is avoid getting bad press within the first hour.

“Thank you, thank you. Your enthusiasm and dedication are an inspiration to me, and all of those who fight in Glory!” Feng Xianjun nods approvingly at them all. “This international competition has been eagerly anticipated for many years. I have faith that whichever of you are selected will represent our nation with discipline and dedication!”

More applause. More approving nods.

Ye Xiu is looking at his hands again. Sun Xiang can find the guy the most irritating person on the planet, but even he’ll acknowledge that Ye Xiu has stupidly beautiful hands. It’s just a fact.

“The next month will be an opportunity for you all to showcase your skills and determination and prove yourself the best in your class, worthy of competing for China’s Glory! There will be two weeks of training and ranking matches, after which a number of cuts will be made. Those individuals will go on for further assessment and evaluation, and by the end of the month the China National Team line up will be announced!”

Sun Xiang has to admit it sounds fun. Fighting just for yourself, without the weight of a team and the expectations of fans on your shoulders. Fighting against your class to prove yourself the undisputed best of the best in your country, then training with your true peers to go on and prove that again to the world. He cracks his knuckles, feeling the adrenaline rush down his shoulders and his hands. Focus. He’s here for a reason and it’s not this circus sideshow.

Feng Xianjun gestures to Ye Xiu seated just behind him and all that adrenaline turns to tension. He knew it. He knew the bastard had pulled some sort of –

“Master Ye Xiu needs no introduction of course. But I am pleased to announce that the Master has agreed to accept the role of First Substitute, the fourteenth member of the team, able to step in for any of the other classes –”

A murmur of conversation goes round the room but Sun Xiang barely hears it. He feels like he’s been struck deaf and dumb and blind all in the same instant.

Damnit!

It’s a genius strategic move. One that other countries are probably gritting their teeth over. If your strategy for the upcoming match involves a Cleric, and the night before the match your only Cleric gets food poisoning, then you’re screwed – unless you have the Glory Textbook as your substitute, able to step into any role you need, no training required. Ye Xiu’s not here to compete for a spot on the team. He’s already on the team.

Sun Xiang won’t get to fight him at all.

Feng Xiangjun’s already going on, talking about how Zhou Zekai couldn’t make the training camp due to contractual conflicts but every other sharpshooter declined an invitation (probably because they were too scared to face him, Feng Xiangjun doesn’t say) so he has been offered the Sharpshooter spot by default. That means there are twelve other spots to select for.

“Sun-ge, you’re so lucky,” Wu Qi murmurs. “There’s barely any other Battle Mages here, they must have heard you and One Autumn Leaf had accepted the invite. You’re a shoo-in for the spot!”

“Meanwhile I have to go up against Huang Shaotian.” Du Ming mutters. Wu Qi reaches across Sun Xiang to pat him on the shoulder and Sun Xiang’s still in so much shock he doesn’t even shove him away.

He’s not going to get to fight Ye Xiu.

What the fuck is he even doing here.

Huang Shaotian is waving his hand in the air and by silent agreement with the rest of the room Feng Xiangjun is pretending not to see it as he asks if anyone has any questions.

“Then I wish you all the best! May you bring Glory upon yourselves – and your country!”

The room erupts into applause, people jumping to their feet and clapping wildly. Sun Xiang looks around and feels like he’s underwater for some weird reason, everything feeling blurry and distant. He can see Huang Shaotian leaning over two rows of chairs to trash talk some guys from Hundred Blossoms, Su Mucheng talking excitedly with Song Qiying, everyone beaming at each other. Happy happy happy.

His gaze catches Ye Xiu’s, the only other person in the room who’s also just watching quietly. Ye Xiu nods at him. It’s – it’s just a nod, nothing special. There’s no dislike, like he’s still holding a grudge that Sun Xiang took his spot in Excellent Era. No sneering, like he thinks he’s better. Not even any pity, that Sun Xiang’s going to walk into a spot by default rather than getting a chance to prove himself the best.

Nothing at all. Just a nod.

Sun Xiang hates him and hates this place. He wishes he’d never gotten out of bed this morning.

~

The first two weeks pass in a blur, despite the fact that Sun Xiang isn’t exactly doing much. They’re all on tight training schedules within their classes, so he spends all day with the three other Battle Mages who dared to face him – amateurs, honestly, how were they even professionals? Where the hell were Tang Rou and Qiu Fei? If he couldn’t fight Ye Xiu then his mentees were the next best thing! – before collapsing into bed in the room he shared with Wu Qi and Du Ming in the evening.

Not that Wu Qi and Du Ming were ever there. Sun Xiang could tell by the bleary faces every morning that lots of people were socialising at night. No drinking obviously, but just taking the opportunity to hang out with people from other teams. But no one ever invited him along, so he usually got a proper night’s sleep and then crushed his competitors the next day.

He didn’t see Ye Xiu.

Ye Xiu watched him though.

Sun Xiang was fighting a one-on-one in the Enchanted Forest. He’d set himself a challenge of winning using only lower level moves and within five minutes but his opponent kept running off, as though he’d forgotten he was a Battle Mage and was looking for higher ground to launch Ground Missile at him or something. Idiot. Sun Xiang ran after him. One Autumn Leaf’s speed was even higher than it had been in the Challenger’s League. If Ye Xiu hadn’t been able to outrun him then this loser definitely couldn’t.

He knows the second Ye Xiu enters the room behind him and quietly takes a seat against the wall. What, is he checking up on Sun Xiang? Coming to see if he’s struggling against these pathetic losers? Everyone knows that Ye Xiu is unofficially acting as one of their assessors, and would probably end up the national team’s de facto Captain. Makes sense that he’d be allowed to pick his own team.

Makes sense there’s no way he’d pick Sun Xiang. No way he’d ever want Sun Xiang.

Damnit damnit damnit

“Excellent work Sun Xiang.” One of the assessors says, and Sun Xiang blinks at the screen and the golden Glory victory symbol unfolding itself there. He stands up to shake his opponent’s hand and realises the guy is pale and shaking. He glances at his clock.

Two minutes twenty-one seconds.

There’s a feeling like someone’s blown a line of cool air down the length of his spine. Ye Xiu’s left the room.

He didn’t even stay to congratulate Sun Xiang on what he’s pretty sure is one of the shortest matches in the training camp so far.

Screw it. Even if he doesn’t want to pick Sun Xiang, Sun Xiang is going to make him have to. He’s going to be the best out of everyone, whatever class they’re in. He’s going to be the very first one selected, make Ye Xiu call his name out first, out of all those people he respects and cares about more.

If Ye Xiu doesn’t want him, Sun Xiang is going to make him need him.

~

“Good morning Sun Xiang.”

Sun Xiang blinks. Out of everyone in the entire camp, the person he’d least expected to ever want to talk to him was Su Mucheng.

“Can I sit here?”

He pulls his tray back and watches her sit. She looks younger out of uniform, in a white top and black skirt. Ye Xiu wears white and black a lot as well. Maybe she is in uniform after all.

“How are you finding training camp so far?” Su Mucheng asks politely, taking a spoonful of congee. Sun Xiang looks at her and then deliberately looks around the room. Ye Xiu’s not here but at least half the Captains in the League aren’t bothering to hide the fact that they’re watching him. Sun Xiang suspects that if he does anything to upset Su Mucheng they’ll find his body in the nearest dumpster, China’s national team shoo-in or not. Han Wenqing isn’t even pretending to eat breakfast, just watching and cracking his knuckles threateningly.

“You’ve known Han Wenqing for a long time.” Sun Xiang says, his thoughts skipping past his brain to come out of his mouth. Su Mucheng blinks at him and then gives a little laugh.

“Since I was twelve. We met when he and Wei Chen came to our home to participate in the first ever Glory League,” she shakes her head in amusement when Sun Xiang stares at her. “It wasn’t an official league, that didn’t come for another two years. My brother and Ye Xiu set it up. They wanted to be professional esports players, and the easiest way for them to achieve that was to start the professional league themselves.”

Sun Xiang…hadn’t known that. He knew that the Champions League had grown out of competitions organised by regular Glory players, but he hadn’t known that one of them was Ye Xiu. That the whole Glory world they inhabited was down to him.

Su Mucheng is still talking.

“It was such a mess! We couldn’t afford proper equipment, we’d had to salvage the computers and the screens kept freezing! And the a/c in our building didn’t work, it was so hot and sticky I thought I was going to die. Ye Xiu and Muqiu picked the lock on the door to our apartment roof and slept there most nights to catch the breeze…” she trails off and there’s something in her face that makes Sun Xiang swallow hard. Then she gives her head a little shake and focuses back on him.

“Sorry, sorry, too many memories. So how are you finding training camp?”

“It’s boring.” Sun Xiang says. Well, she asked. Su Mucheng just laughs. It’s not like she has any competition amongst the Launchers either. Wu Chen is here and they seem to be treating it like extra training for the two of them.

Apparently Ye Xiu sits in on their training sessions the most. Gives them lots of tips and advice.

“You know…you can always ask Ye-ge if he’ll spar with you.” Su Mucheng says suddenly. Sun Xiang realises she was watching whatever his face was doing. “He’d love that, actually.”

Sure. Right. Of course he would.

“If Ye Xiu wants to fight me he can challenge me any time he wants.” Sun Xiang snaps. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Song Qiying and Zhang Xinjie each reach out a hand to hold Han Wenqing back as he starts to rise. Su Mucheng is just watching him with dark eyes.

“You think I’m lying. I’m not lying.”

Sun Xiang just shrugs.

Su Mucheng goes back to eating her congee for a bit, a little frown between her eyebrows. Sun Xiang finished a while ago but sits there. It’s rude to leave a lady alone at a dinner table.

Ugh. Manners. When he’s in a match he doesn’t notice gender. Everyone’s a opponent. But the rest of the time he has a lifetime of high society rules drummed into his head.

“Why did you come to talk to me?” he finally asks. Su Mucheng puts her spoon down and props her chin on her hands cutely. But her gaze is anything but cute. Sun Xiang can respect that.

“Because you’re going to be the Battle Mage on the Chinese Glory Team,” she says bluntly. “Which means you’re going to be on a team with all of those people.”

She tips her head to the side. This time Sun Xiang turns to look rather than just sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye.

It’s basically everyone who came in together that first morning, everyone who wanted to make a big fancy entrance so that no one would be able to avoid noticing them, the ones who sit together every mealtime, their laughter ringing out across the hall. Sun Xiang knows their names and their faces, when normally he doesn’t bother to remember either. They’re the top players in the League, have been for years –

The ones who’ve been friends for years. Since long before he ever logged in to Glory for the first time.

“Your point?”

“Sun-ge,” Su Mucheng says, rolling her eyes. That, and the honorific, makes him blink. “We’re your teammates now. You should come and sit with us.”

“If any of them want me to sit with them they can ask me any time they want,” he says, and starts packing up his tray to leave while Su Mucheng huffs out a breath and stares at him with her chin still propped on her hands.

What does she know. She’s the adored meimei of half that group, and the undisputed best Launcher to boot. No one doubts that deserves her spot. No one’s going to be questioning why she’s there, thinking about how maybe she might not have made it in if Ye Xiu hadn’t taken himself out of the running…

“Sun Xiang, I think I’m finally starting to figure you out.” Su Mucheng says suddenly, and Sun Xiang stops dead to stare at her. What the hell. Does she – does she think they’re friends or something, does she think he even wants to be figured out by her, wants to be known or understood by anyone in this goddamn place –

“If you want to figure me out you can ask me any time you want,” he finally says, and leaves.

~

Sun Xiang’s lying on his bed with an arm over his face when Wu Qi and Du Ming come stumbling back in. He could hear them from halfway down the hall even with how loud the place is tonight, everyone running around calling out to their friends, finding out who made it.

For a second he considers just lying there, that maybe they’d take the hint and leave him alone. He hasn’t been to look at the lists. He knows the answer but doesn’t want to know the answer.

“Ah, Sun Xiang…” Du Ming says hesitantly, and for a blissful second he thinks maybe he hasn’t made it in, but then Wu Qi claps a hand down on his shoulder.

“Congrats Sun Xiang! Top ranked Battle Mage!”

Okay then.

He rolls over to sit up. They’re both looking at him with strange expressions.

“Who else made it through the cuts?”

“You – you haven’t looked? Oh, um, Xiao Yun.”

Xiao Yun, Battle Mage. An arrogant idiot who throws a tantrum every time he loses and doesn’t hold a candle to either Tang Rou or Qiu Fei. Great. That’s who he’s going to have breathing down his neck hoping he gets a hand cramp every day for the next two weeks.

Wu Qi and Du Ming are both still looking at him and Sun Xiang feels a sudden squirm in his gut. He hasn’t made a particular effort to get to know either of them since joining Samsara, even though Wu Qi’s ghostblade is his back-up in nearly half their training formations. He jerks his chin at them both.

“How did you do?”

“Du Ming is through as a Blade Master.” Wu Qi claps his friend on the back with a grin. “I didn’t make it.” He seems okay about it. Sun Xiang doesn’t want to pry too deeply in case the guy cries or something. He nods at Du Ming.

“Well done.”

“Thanks! I won’t make the final team obviously.” That is obvious. Huang Shaotian is an infuriating little pipsqueak, but he’s also an excellent Blade Master. “But just getting an invitation and getting to train here has been amazing!” Wu Qi is nodding along next to him until they realise he’s staring and exchange a look.

“Er, I suppose it’s been less fun for you though, what with Tang Rou and Qiu Fei not being here.”

Sun Xiang has kept his ears open and managed to pick up most of the gossip without having to actually ask anyone. Tang Rou turned down the invitation; she and Qiao Yifan are leading their own summer training camp for Happy’s rookies. And Qiu Fei is still rebuilding New Excellent Era from the ground up.

“I thought I was going to be against Ye Xiu,” he blurts out. He doesn’t know why he says that, or why it eases something in his chest when Du Ming and Wu Qi both nod.

“Oh, yeah, that explains it. I’d be down too if I didn’t get a match I was looking forward to.”

They think he’s been down?

“Hey, Sun Xiang…”

“What?”

“Everyone…it’s the last night, loads of people are leaving tomorrow so the instructors are looking the other way…I think everyone’s going to hang out tonight. I know you like to get an early night, but you could always come along for a bit. If you wanted.”

Du Ming is shifting from foot to foot, Wu Qi giving him a side eye. Do they even want him to come? Surely they wouldn’t have asked if they didn’t. For a second Sun Xiang flounders and then pulls himself together enough to shrug, like he doesn’t care either way.

“Sure.”

~

The party is messy as fuck, as are most of the players.

Sun Xiang has heard that professional players can’t hold their liquor – unlike him, who got forced to drink watered-down wine at the dinner table most of his childhood – but this is just ridiculous. He’s basically only sticking around for the potential for blackmail material.

He catches Han Wenqing’s eye across the room. He seems like the only other sober person there – Sun Xiang doesn’t want to imagine how much alcohol it would take to get a guy that big drunk – and tips his bottle in Sun Xiang’s direction. For a split second Sun Xiang thinks he’s been mocked, but then Song Qiying stumbles against Han Wenqing and the other man rolls his eyes in amusement as he props his mentee up, and Sun Xiang realises the gesture was made in acknowledgement of the fact they’re the only two people in the place who can stand up without falling over.

It sucks that Han Wenqing is probably the person who dislikes him most in this whole place and Sun Xiang still feels a little bit glad just for that moment of acknowledgement from him.

He’s spent most of the evening slipping around the sides of the room avoiding Huang Shaotian. The last thing he needs right now is that mouthy idiot trying to pick a fight with him in front of everyone. But Shaotian’s the smallest guy here and one of the first to get wasted – he’s currently snuffling against Yu Wenzhou’s shoulder as the Warlock talks way too earnestly with Zhang Xinjie.

Not for the first time Sun Xiang wonders if Yu Wenzhou and Huang Shaotian are actually together together. Or even if they know they’re together together. It seems pretty obvious to him there’s something there, but hell, his radar’s been off before. Glory’s pretty inclusive but there isn’t a list of players lining up to out themselves, especially not the professional ones.

Once, before he’d met him (before he’d heard him speak) Sun Xiang had thought Huang Shaotian was cute. Like he’d be fun in bed – put up a good fight but end up spreading his legs to take it. Now though he’d punch himself in the face before he ever even thought about flirting with the munchkin.

He wanders over to where the bottles of beer are keeping cool in large buckets. Xiao Yun and a couple of other guys are standing there, heads close together as they stare over at the couches. Sun Xiang follows their gaze and frowns. Su Mucheng’s there – all the girls who made it through are there. They’re laughing – why is it women can always drink guys under the table? – but there’s something deliberate about how they’re all sat in a circle that makes Sun Xiang pause.

“Hey, Su Mucheng.”

Su Mucheng stares at him, then the bottle in his hand, then back at him. In fact they’re all doing it. Sun Xiang rolls his eyes. This is getting stupid. If she doesn’t –

“Sun Xiang. Is – is that for me?”

“You’re nearly done,” he nods at the bottle in front of her which is down to the dregs. Su Mucheng takes the one from his hand with a short thanks. The other girls are smiling politely but it gets frostier around the edges when he crouches down next to Su Mucheng’s seat.

“Su Mucheng. When are you heading back to your room?”

“Look, Sun Xiang, don’t think just cos you’re some bigshot you can try it on –” the girl next to her starts. What’s her name? Sun Xiang hasn’t got a clue. He thinks she’s in Tyranny.

Su Mucheng shushes her. She’s looking at Sun Xiang with dark eyes. Ugh this was such a dumb idea.

“I’m not sure Sun-ge. Why do you ask?”

“You should all go back together.” Sun Xiang rubs at his forehead. This is so much effort. “When you go, me and Han Wenqing will escort you. Don’t go without telling us.”

He tips his head the smallest amount towards where Xiao Yun is holding court with his cronies, where Sun Xiang had overheard him making comments on all the girls. Su Mucheng’s a Launcher, she can spot a target no matter how far away it is. She gives him a firm nod.

“Thanks Sun-ge. I’m getting tired so we’ll probably head to bed after this drink.”

They don’t finish their drinks in the end, not that Sun Xiang can blame them. The party was fun but it’s definitely winding down to the dregs now, the point where people are either stupid-drink, mean-drunk or passed-out-drunk. He’s moved on to a glass of whiskey to finish off the evening, savouring the strength of it on his tongue. It’s enough to make his chest feel warm for a change.

Han Wenqing shepherds the girls over like a giant sheepdog with a bunch of lambs (except Sun Xiang isn’t stupid enough to imagine these girls as anything other than wolves in their own right). He’s giving Sun Xiang a look but he just ignores him. This evening’s been alright, he doesn’t want to ruin it by having to have a conversation with Han Wenqing.

The Tyranny girl smiles at him and Sun Xiang looks away. He doesn’t need any nonsense like that either.

“Oh no,” Su Mucheng says. She’s got both her fists on her hips as she looks down at a bundle on one of the sofas. “Why are you always the worst?”

“We’ll take care of him after.” Han Wenqing rumbles, and it takes Sun Xiang a second to realise that the bundle is Ye Xiu, passed out cold on the couch.

“Thank you Wen-ge. Honestly. He makes such fun of his brother for being a lightweight and now look at him.”

Su Mucheng grumbles lightly to herself the whole way back to the girls’ room and it’s a struggle to keep from smirking. Who knew the Glory Battle God was such a hopeless drunk? She and the other girls thank them politely at the door and Sun Xiang just nods in return. He doesn’t deserve praise for not-being-an-arsehole.

By the time he and Han Wenqing are back in the main room – without exchanging a word the whole way – probably another third of the people have stumbled off to bed as well. Han Wenqing shakes his head slowly as they look the room over. Huang Shaotian has managed to get back on his feet and is weaving around the room with a bottle in one hand, Yu Wenzhou watching indulgently from the sofa and not calling him to heel as usual, which probably means he’s too drunk to move.

“I’ll take Shaotian if you get him to bed.” Han Wenqing offers, jerking his head at the sofa where there’s still a Ye Xiu-shaped bundle. Sun Xiang snorts.

“Or you could take both of them.”

Han Wenqing gives him a long look. Normally when he talks to Sun Xiang it makes him think of his father, stern and disapproving. This time there’s still expectation in his voice, but for once it doesn’t make Sun Xiang’s hackles rise automatically.

“We don’t leave the pretty ones on their own,” he says, and Sun Xiang’s gaze shoots over to where Xiao Yun is looking sulky and mean on the other side of the room. He nods and goes to haul Ye Xiu up.

“Ye Xiu! Hey, Ye Xiu, get up!”

“Hmmm?”

Ye Xiu has a crease from the couch down one side of his face and his hair is sticking up in about fourteen different directions. He’s an idiot. Sun Xiang hates him so much. But it’s nice to have a reminder of how much shorter he is when he yanks the other man up with an arm around his chest.

“Ye Xiu you lightweight idiot, move.”

“Sun Xiang?”

Damnit. Sun Xiang was sure he’d be too drunk to recognise him. If Ye Xiu even does. He’s blinking up at him blearily, all of his weight leaning hard against Sun Xiang. Goddamnit, this is so much effort. Ye Xiu’s not that pretty, it’ll probably be fine if Sun Xiang just leaves him here under a blanket.

“Sun Xiang,” Ye Xiu says, and smiles. His pretty pink mouth curves just right, his nose scrunching up and his eyes disappearing into little half-moon crescents. Sun Xiang looks down at him and sighs.

Fine. Room. Which way.

Han Wenqing disappears past them with Shaotian held under one arm like a purse and Yu Wenzhou propped up in the other, giving Sun Xiang a nod at the sight of him coaxing Ye Xiu to put one foot in front of the other. It takes them nearly ten minutes to get back to Ye Xiu’s, a tiny little one-person room that looks like a converted broom closet. Where the hell is all that sponsorship money going? Definitely not on the accommodation. Or the food.

“Sun Xiang.” Ye Xiu says again. Sun Xiang ignores him and tips him onto the bed, only to watch in slow motion as Ye Xiu’s head bounces off the headboard and he swears. Shit. If that leaves a bruise then tomorrow everyone’s going to think he tried to beat the Glory Textbook’s brains out of his head.

“Sun Xiang, ouch.” Ye Xiu says, rubbing at his own head. He grins dopily up at him. “Kiss it better?”

“What the fuck. No.” Sun Xiang stares at him. Is there a camera in here? Was everyone just faking being drunk and the other captains are all watching him right now and laughing –

“Guo-guo would kiss it better,” Ye Xiu says with a yawn and then promptly collapses onto the pillow, lashes fluttering closed.

Sun Xiang stares down at him. Who the fuck is Guo-guo? And is that all the thanks he gets for dragging his lazy arse all this way?

Goddamnit. Why does he even bother.

The icing on the cake is bumping into Wang Jiexi as he leaves the room. The Tiny Herb Captain has spent the whole evening outside on the phone and now he gives Sun Xiang a blank look as he comes out of Ye Xiu’s room. And then, even weirder, an approving nod.

“Good. Better not to stay the night. Plenty of time for that later.”

And then walks off.

What the fuck.

Sun Xiang rubs a hand over his face and thinks about punching the wall. But his hands are definitely worth more than this crappy building. And screw it, it’s not like he hasn’t had people treat him so cavalierly before.

He looks up and down the corridor before sighing and letting his shoulders drop. He’s pretty sure he saw Du Ming passed out in a corner in the main room, he might as well go scoop him up as well whilst he’s on a roll. And then maybe he can get some sleep himself.

~

The next day is quiet, both thanks to the hangovers that everyone except him and Han Wenqing and Wang Jiexi have, and the fact there’s less than fifty of them left. The instructors give them the day off whilst they work up schedules and Sun Xiang spends most of it training on his own so that Du Ming can lie in their dark room and moan pitifully to himself. Everyone starts emerging again by dinner and Sun Xiang eyes the busy dining hall with irritation before sliding into an empty table at the back.

A tray appears in front of him. Then two more to the side. Sun Xiang looks up with noodles still hanging out of his mouth as Su Mucheng slides into the seat opposite, the Tyranny girl – Wang Yanli! He knew he’d remember eventually. An Assassin even sneakier than Deception – and Song Qiying sit down further along the table.

“Good evening Sun-ge,” Su Mucheng says. “How’s your day been? I heard one of the instructors saying you beat the record for the Chimera Boss?”

News travels fast. Sun Xiang wonders if it’s reached Ye Xiu yet. It had been his record. He shrugs and slurps up his noodles.

Thinking of Ye Xiu makes his eyes slide around the dining room. But the other man never eats with them. Su Mucheng is stirring chilli oil into her bowl and smiles when she catches his eye.

“Ye Xiu is in the training room. The only time he can play himself is when we’re all eating, the rest of the time he has to be observing.”

“Sounds like shit.” Sun Xiang mutters. Observing? What a waste. Su Mucheng pulls a face. Is she pissed off? Amused? He can’t tell.

“He thinks so too. Don’t tell anyone else this –” she leans closer and Sun Xiang copies her before he can think, “- but he didn’t have much faith in the instructors they chose. None of them were from the Glory Training Camp, so how were they supposed to know what to look out for.” She tuts and scoops up a mouthful of noodles. Sun Xiang sips his drink. That makes sense. He’d thought they were all a bit useless too, but then, it’s him…

“So he volunteered as an assessor?” That sounds like a Ye Xiu thing to do. Although if it had meant giving up playing time Sun Xiang would never have done it.

Su Mucheng nods. “Yup. An unofficial one, but Feng Xianjun gave the okay. And it’s good right? I think most of the choices that have been made were the right ones,” she glances around the room and wrinkles her nose. This time it’s definitely a negative face. “Even if I don’t like the people, I can acknowledge they’re good.”

She’s talking about Xiao Yun. It’s obvious she is. But Sun Xiang can’t help snorting and putting his drink down so hard it wobbles.

“I suppose that’s how I made the cut too.”

“What?” Su Mucheng blinks at him and Sun Xiang focuses back on his noodles, slurping them up to his mouth to make it clear he’s not interested in talking anymore. Next to them Wang Yanli and Song Qiying are talking about the difference between Assassin and Striker damage output and he eavesdrops shamelessly. Song Qiying is likely to inherit Desert Dust when Han Wenqing finally retires, and Sun Xiang intends to defeat them both.

He's nearly finished when Su Mucheng’s phone goes off where she left it on the table and he can clearly see the name Guo-jie pop up and it feels like every muscle in his body goes rigid. Su Mucheng looks at the name and giggles before tapping decline.

“She calls me every time she gets lost in the Enchanted Forest. She must think I have the map memorised! It’s okay, Yifan will help her,” she says, which tells him that a) Guo-guo is part of Happy, b) Guo-guo plays Glory and c) Guo-guo is shit at Glory and shouldn’t be anywhere near a Master like Ye Xiu if she can’t even make her way through one of the most basic maps without having to call a friend for help.

Pathetic.

“Who’s Guo-jie?” he asks before he can help himself.

“Oh, she’s Team Happy’s Manager.” Su Mucheng, and Sun Xiang literally feels his temperature rise by five degrees. He remembers her. He’s terrible with names and faces but he remembers her, with her stupid braids and her humiliatingly-bad playing and the way she was always flashing finger hearts at Ye Xiu.

Pathetic pathetic pathetic.

“Ye Xiu is dating his manager? How unimpressive,” he snorts, going back to his food. He’s scraping the bowl clean when he realises that the silence from Su Mucheng is not the usual sort of silence. When he glances up she’s staring at him, eyes nearly bugging out of her head.

“Why on earth would you think Ye Xiu is dating Guo-jie? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” she hisses at him. Sun Xiang flinches back as though she just launched an Anti-Tank Missile at his face and shrugs helplessly. She shakes her head hard as though to knock the idea out of her head.

“That’s so silly! Not just because Guo-jie is dating Tang Rou and Tang Rou would kill him.” Oh. Those finger hearts were probably just playing around then. “But Ye Xiu would never date his manager! And he wouldn’t even be interested in Chen Guo like that anyway.”

Why not, Sun Xiang wants to ask. Probably because she’s terrible at Glory. Sun Xiang wouldn’t want to date someone who was terrible at Glory. He gathers the things onto his tray. He wants to get out of here. He can probably still get in another hour of playing if he goes now.

“Why did you ask that?” Su Mucheng says suddenly, looking at him with bright eyes, but Sun Xiang was already rising so he gets to pretend he didn’t hear her, nodding farewell to the table. Hopefully she’ll have a word with Ye Xiu about it – he shouldn’t be making drunken comments about getting kisses from other people’s girlfriends. What an idiot.

Ye Xiu normally plays at his station in the east training room. Sun Xiang drops off his tray and heads to the west one.

~

“The next two weeks will focus less on your class aptitude, and more on your teamwork and adaptability,” the Chief Assessor says, and Sun Xiang feels a spike of ice go down his spine. He’d heard that the World Glory Competition would be based on a similar structure to national ones, with Individual and Arena Challenges as well as Team. Surely they’ll want him for those rounds? Even if he’s not the best…team player…in the world, no one can deny his fighting ability.

Surely if Ye Xiu is still observing, he’ll testify that Sun Xiang is worth keeping on. At least until his favourites Qiu Fei and Tang Rou can show up.

“We will be running a series of team challenges with different line ups each time; everyone will have an opportunity to fight alongside everyone else. Whilst winning is important, we will also be assessing people on how well they support their teammates and the overall team outcome. With this in mind, you will be introduced to your line up half an hour before every match, to agree on formations and tactics together.”

Sun Xiang can feel himself clenching his jaw and forces it to relax. This sounds like a recipe for an absolute shitshow. Bad enough he has to work with people he doesn’t know – but he’s going to have to do it several times a day for the next two weeks.

A quick glance around the room shows that most of the professionals aren’t looking thrilled at the idea either. Huang Shaotian looks like he’s three seconds away from throwing a tantrum and only Yu Wenzhou’s hand on his arm is stopping him.

Come on. They have to be together-together. His radar’s not that bad?

Damnit. He needs to get laid.

“Here are your first team line ups…” the instructor starts, and the atmosphere in the room immediately bubbles over. They’re in twelve teams of four, and Sun Xiang very deliberately stretches out his legs and doesn’t move when the names are all called and people start moving around. They can come to him.

“Good morning Sun Xiang,” says a quiet voice, and Sun Xiang jerks his head in greeting. Tiny Herb, he thinks. Gao…Gao something. Whatever. He’s the Witch who’s next in line for Vaccaria after Wang Jiexi bows out. Wang Yanli joins them a second later, and then –

Fucks sake.

“Ah ah ah Sun Xiang, aren’t you so lucky to be on a team with me! We should go to temple right now so you can offer prayers in thanks. Were you scared you were going to have to face me? Were you shaking? Were you wetting your pants? Were you –”

“Good morning Huang Shaotian.” Gao-something says, and Huang Shaotian switches targets. Thank God. Sun Xiang was about to pull his ears off.

“Gao Yingjie! Gao Yingjie! Remember the last time we fought! Remember I knocked you off your broom! Crash! That’s the sound you made when you hit the floor! Remember –”

“Shaotian.”

Never in his entire life has Sun Xiang been so grateful to see Yu Wenzhou. Huang Shaotian has clapped both hands over his mouth. Yu Wenzhou smiles at Sun Xiang.

“If Shaotian continues in this manner, please remind him that I am in the team you will be playing against.”

“What?! Captain! You’re my opponent?! That doesn’t seem fair! Who came up with these teams? Look! You have Han Wenqing as well! Captain, captain, do you want to trade? I’ll trade myself for Han Wenqing, how about that –”

“Shaotian.”

“…”

On an instinct Sun Xiang turns his head to the left. Ye Xiu is standing against the wall, watching them and laughing silently. When he sees Sun Xiang watching him he grins and gives him a double thumbs up and Sun Xiang has no doubt at all who came up with these teams.

Bastard.

“Huang Shaotian, shut up,” he snaps, and Huang Shaotian is so shocked that he actually does. Sun Xiang grabs him by the hood and gestures for the other two to follow him and storms off until he finds an empty room.

They all stare at him when he finds one, faces scrunched up in different emotions – Wang Yanli excited, Gao Yingjie nervous, Huang Shaotian about to erupt. Goddamnit. He just wants to snap at them all to stay out of his way in the match, the urge to find Han Wenqing and revisit their old grudge match like another heartbeat pounding in his chest.

At the end of the Challenger’s League, he’d thought he was just starting to get it, finally starting to reach an understanding of what it meant to be in a team. He had Xiao Shiqin to thank for that, and Qiu Fei the little arsehole, and even Su Mucheng…and then that all got yanked away when Samsara purchased him for themselves. It had taken months of Xiao Shiqin’s slow coaxing to get him into a place where he thought ‘we’ instead ‘I’ first. And now he's just supposed to find that feeling again straightaway, for a bunch of strangers?

Fine, Huang Shaotian isn’t a stranger, but he's not exactly high on Sun Xiang’s list of people to care about.

“Listen up. We only have…twenty-five minutes. Huang Shaotian, you’re only allowed to talk for three of those minutes, you understand.” He gives Huang Shaotian’s hood a shake and the Blade Master glares up at him. “So choose them wisely. You –” he points at Gao Yingjie. “You’re trained by Wang Jiexi. You’re our tactician. What’s our strategy?”

“Hey, hey, hey, what about me? I can strategize! Hey, listen to this plan –”

“Now you have two minutes and fifty seconds of talking left.” Wang Yanli tells him and Sun Xiang keeps his face still to hide his relief that she’s backing him up. Looking at the teams as they formed it’s clear that their match is going to be the most interesting one, the one that all the instructors (and Ye Xiu) are going to be observing. He desperately doesn’t want to embarrass himself.

“I don’t think we can win this match,” he says, though it causes him physical pain to admit it. Focus! His goal is bigger than this one fight. “We need to show our teamwork though. Prove what we can do.”

Prove you’re the best Sun Xiang! Without proof it’s nothing! I don’t want a loser for a son!

“I agree.” Gao Yingjie says calmly. Sun Xiang remembers laughing when he watched the Tiny Herb vs Blue Rain fight and saw him get knocked off his broom. Now he sees why he’s been tapped as the future Tiny Herb Captain. “We need to view this as an opportunity to showcase our skills, our teamwork, and our creativity.”

“And our willingness to not let egos get in the way.” Wang Yanli says. She bares her teeth when they all look at her. “You men always treat everything like a pissing contest, who’s got the biggest dick blah blah blah. It’s fine in your teams, you’re all top dog there. Here, you’ve got to be one of the pack. I bet there’s a few who won’t be able to take it.”

Huang Shaotian opens his mouth and then closes it again. Sun Xiang stares at him in disbelief and Huang Shaotian just shrugs.

“She’s right.”

And then, because he can’t help it:

“Although I’m really the best still. Ah ah no arguing, you all know it’s true.”

“Fine. Let’s plan then.” Gao Yingjie motions for them all to join him at the table. It’s a relief to let him take the lead, so that Sun Xiang doesn’t have to pretend he’s got any idea what he’s doing. “If we accept defeat is inevitable, then the next best approach is to deal the enemy as crippling a blow as possible before that point. Here’s what I propose…”

~

The silver defeat symbol flashes up on the screen and Sun Xiang hates the sight of it so much his jaw aches. Next to him Huang Shaotian snorts in irritation at the same sight and they exchange a glance – wait, damnit, no way is he going to bond with the shorty over this.

“Good job Sun Xiang,” a voice murmurs behind his back, Ye Xiu’s voice, and he swears every hair on the back of his neck stands on end.

“Hey hey hey, what about me? Sun Xiang was just the bait huh, I killed the Warlock, did you see that final blow Ye Xiu, hey, hey, Ye Xiu are you listening?”

“It is very difficult to be convincing bait.” Ye Xiu says calmly. Especially for someone as arrogant as Sun Xiang, he doesn’t say, but Sun Xiang hears it anyway. He glares at the screen. “Sun Xiang played his part perfectly, otherwise your opponents would never have fallen into your trap.”

“So you’re saying, even though we lost, we still impressed you right Master?” Wang Yanli says, fluttering her lashes at Ye Xiu. Sun Xiang only just manages to stop from rolling his eyes. Does she think cheap tactics like that will work on the Master of Glory? But Ye Xiu is smiling back down at her.

“It was a good job. Although I don’t think Huang Shaotian thought it through.”

“What? Hey, what, explain yourself right now Ye Xiu! What does that mean –”

“Shaotian.”

Yu Wenzhou stands in the doorway, his keyboard under his arm and his gaze fixed firmly on Huang Shaotian, and Sun Xiang has to choke back a laugh as Huang Shaotian finally processes the fact that he just killed his Captain in an international team ranking match.

“It was Gao Yingjie! It was Gao Yingjie! Captain, you have to believe me! Sun Xiang, tell him! Gao Yingjie, confess to your crime, tell my Captain it was your idea for me to kill him, it wasn’t my idea –”

Yu Wenzhou crooks a finger. A still complaining Huang Shaotian follows him out of the room, in time for Wang Jiexi to appear to collect Gao Yingjie. Ye Xiu is in a corner talking to the other assessors and Sun Xiang is pretending not to watch him when Wang Yanli sniggers.

“I feel like I’m at a nursery, everyone being collected by their mum or something. Hey, Sun Xiang, where’s your other half?”

“What?”

“You know – your other half. All the top players in Glory come in pairs. Weren’t you with one of those tactician guys?”

“Xiao Shiqin is with Qiu Fei in Excellent Era.” Sun Xiang says. He can’t figure out what she means, but the instant look of pity she gives him makes a burning ember suddenly appear in his stomach. He looks away, and then looks back, determined to appear casual.

Wang Yanli chews on the end of one of her braids and eyes him thoughtfully.

“So….you don’t have a new partner?”

“Tch, whatever.” Sun Xiang starts shoving his keyboard back into his bag. He doesn’t have time for this. They have a short break and then they’re matched with a new team and he’s going to have to do this all over again. He feels exhausted at the thought.

“Look – there, there’s my Captain and Vice-Captain.” Wang Yanli interrupts suddenly, as Han Wenqing and Zhang Xinjie walk past. “Captain’s the fighter, and Zhang-ge is the thinker. Same as Yu Wenzhou and Huang Shaotian. Same as…well, Qiu Fei and Xiao Shiqin, I guess.”

Shit. She’s got a point. Most of the teams in Glory are led by tactical-fighter combinations. Sun Xiang feels his cheeks heat up. Did…did everyone else know this? Is it common knowledge? Is everyone laughing at him for being abandoned by his tactician? It wasn’t his fault Samsara only bought him…

“What about Wang Jiexi?”

“Ah, well, Witch tactics are different.” Wang Yanli shrugs. “Plus everyone knows Wang Jiexi’s ‘other person’ is his fiancé, it’s why he’s always on the phone to her. They’re getting married as soon as Gao Yingjie’s ready to take over – it was really good of you to let him lead today,” she adds, as though Sun Xiang knew or cared. His brain is still reeling from the idea that everyone else has someone they can rely on like that. Except –

“Ye Xiu doesn’t…”

“Oh, of course the Master doesn’t.” Wang Yanli grins and rolls her eyes. “He’s a fighter and tactician rolled into one isn’t he! One of a kind. I heard he’s training up Qiao Yifan and Tang Rou to be the new lead pair for Happy though.”

“Yeah,” Sun Xiang manages to say. His throat feels like dust.

“I’m still looking for my person.” Wang Yanli adds with a sigh. It takes him a second to realise she’s now fluttering her eyelashes at him. Does she think…? No.

“Good luck.” Sun Xiang says shortly, and stands up so fast he knocks the chair over. The assessors all look over, including Ye Xiu, and he leaves it where it falls and runs.

~

In the second match of the second day he and Han Wenqing get put in the same team. Sun Xiang has a solid four losses to his name and feels like a live wire. The itch is back, crawling over his skin and driving him insane, and now he has one of his most hated people slowly seating himself across the table, gazing at him with a little frown.

Their two teammates are a Ghostblade and Qi Master from Hundred Blossoms. It’s a fighter heavy group. Sun Xiang can’t remember who they’re up against.

“Our opponents are Yu Wenzhou and Zhang Xinjie,” Han Wenqing says with something that might be a smile. Or a grimace, it’s hard to tell with his face. Sun Xiang snorts.

“Brains versus brawn then.”

“We are not at a disadvantage,” is the slow reply. “Two tacticians often cannot work well together. They each want to lead on the planning.” There’s a hint there which isn’t very well hidden.

“So are we going to argue about who leads on the fighting?” Sun Xiang asks, crossing his arms over his chest. The Ghostblade and the Qi Master are staying very quiet. Han Wenqing stares at him and stares some more and then suddenly shrugs.

“You should lead. My knowledge of tactics all comes from Zhang Xinjie. He will be able to predict me. You are the more advantageous leader.”

Shit. Sun Xiang doesn’t even want to lead. Well obviously he does, how else is he going to show these idiots how good he is. But this isn’t how he imagined it coming about. He grits his teeth and frowns down at the table.

He’s not the Glory Textbook. But he knows Glory, he loves Glory. Ye Xiu is always going on about how that’s what matters most.

“The other team’s formation is Cleric, Warlock, Battle Mage, Phantom Demon,” he says slowly. “Pretty standard line-up. They’re probably going to want to avoid Han Wenqing and I targeting anyone; even with a Cleric healing we can still defeat someone fast if we both go after them.”

They’re all nodding. Sun Xiang tries to slow his breathing down. It’s so easy to imagine what he would do, if this was a one-on-four match. He’d ignore the Battle Mage, go for the Cleric first and make sure to stay in close quarters so the Warlock couldn’t aim –

But it’s like he’s got four hands he’s trying to fight with now. Focus!

“Qi Master needs to hold the Warlock at bay, keep Yu Wenzhou occupied and unable to target the rest of us. Han Wenqing and Ghostblade go after the Cleric whilst I hold the other two off. Once the Cleric’s down you take out the Warlock too, and then it should be easy pickings.”

Qi Master and Ghostblade don’t seem to mind that he can’t remember their names, nodding eagerly. Han Wenqing just snorts and looks him up and down and Sun Xiang has to bite the inside of his cheek to avoid starting a shoving match.

“You think you can kill two of them?”

“No.” Maybe he can. But if he’s got four arms he can afford to lose one, knowing he can fight perfectly well with three. “They’ll defeat me eventually, but I can hold them off long enough for you to take out the Cleric and Warlock.”

Han Wenqing stares at him some more. Sun Xiang tips his chin up and glares back. He’d like to see this man mountain come up with anything better, if he wants to plan he should just say so –

“It’s good. Let’s do it.”

Even more surprising –

Their plan works.

“Good match.” Han Wenqing grunts when the golden symbol appears. Sun Xiang’s been swinging in his chair for the past seven minutes since he died (but not before killing Xiao Yun first, ha) but it still feels good watching Han Wenqing beat the Phantom Demon to a pulp even if he’s not the one who gets to land the killing blow. Their teammates are jumping up and high-fiving and the assessors are writing notes and Han Wenqing gives him a nod and Sun Xiang has to prop his chin on his hand and stare into the distance to stop himself from grinning.

It’s time for their longer break for lunch and Sun Xiang ends up walking to the dining hall side by side with Han Wenqing. They don’t talk at all but that’s fine, Sun Xiang doesn’t have anything he wants to say. The room’s still fairly empty for once, but that just makes it easier to spot Zhang Xinjie sitting on one of the tables looking around anxiously. He visibly relaxes when Han Wenqing raises a hand in his direction.

“When was the last time you fought a match without him?” Sun Xiang asks before he can think. Han Wenqing looks surprised he’s talking to him. Sun Xiang’s equally surprised he’s talking to him. He tries to remember his question. “Before this training camp. When was the last time you fought a team match without Zhang Xinjie at your side?”

“Hmph. Four years? Xinjie transferred in Glory’s Fifth Season.” Han Wenqing says after a moment. Four years of playing every team match with the same person? It makes Sun Xiang’s head spin.

“Is it weird? Not doing it now?”

“Like playing with a hand tied behind my back.” Han Wenqing replies. God. That sounds horrific. Why the hell is he smiling like it’s a good thing? Sun Xiang is suddenly very glad he only played with Xiao Shiqin for a year. He couldn’t imagine being that wrapped up in another person…

“That sounds like shit,” he says bluntly, and Han Wenqing actually laughs, deep and loud. Half the room swivels to look at them and Sun Xiang glares to make them all mind their own business.

“Yeah. Keep reminding myself it’s only temporary. Could be worse,” he shoots Sun Xiang a little glance and Sun Xiang realises in a burst of realisation so bright it leaves him speechless that Han Wenqing thinks Sun Xiang is, what? Pining over the loss of Xiao Shiqin? Is that why people are being weird with him? Because they think he’s…what? Crippled? Mourning? Less than he was before?

“I can’t imagine what it’s like,” he sniffs, determined to make it clear he’s not part of this ‘pairing-up’ bullshit. He’s going to claw his way to the top on his own, prove beyond any doubt that he’s the very best. “Losing a partner permanently. Never happened to me.”

“We should all be grateful.” Han Wenqing shrugs. “Only Ye Xiu’s ever had to go through that.”

What?

What?

“Ye Xiu doesn’t have a partner,” he blurts out. Does Han Wenqing mean Su Mucheng? They’ve won the Best Partner Award what, three times? But their relationship has never seemed anything like the other Captains…

“Sorry. I forgot you never would have met him.” Han Wenqing says. Who?? “When it happened we didn’t know for sure if Ye Xiu was going to recover.”

“Tell me.” Sun Xiang manages to say. His voice sounds normal, at least to his ears. But if Han Wenqing doesn’t answer him right now he’s dragging him back to the training room and One Autumn Leaf can beat the crap out of Desert Dust until he spills everything.

“Su Muqiu.” Han Wenqing says, and a number of pieces fall into place. My brother and Ye Xiu set it up, Su Mucheng had said. “He and Ye Xiu were inseparable.”

“So, what, he doesn’t play Glory anymore?”

“He died.”

“What?”

Sun Xiang stares. Han Wenqing huffs out a breath and pulls him to one side, away from the stream of people coming back from training.

“Su Muqiu. He died in a car accident.”

“When?”

“Eight years ago? Before the first official League.” Fuck. That means he never even got to see the world he helped create. Never got to fight in a League with Ye Xiu. “He was a Launcher – well, he could fight with any of the Gunner classes. Best Sharpshooter, best Spitfire, you name it. You know his name obviously.” Han Wenqing frowns down at him when Sun Xiang just looks blank. “The Lord Grim account was originally his. Ye Xiu revived it after…”

After you took his spot in Excellent Era.

Fuck fuck fuck.

“You should really know his name.” Han Wenqing just won’t stop talking, that heavy voice of his filling up every part of Sun Xiang’s brain. “Seeing as you carry his weapon.”

“What?”

One Autumn Leaf’s weapon is Evil Annihilation. He’s always wielded it, for as long as Sun Xiang can remember watching Ye X – can remember watching Glory. And if Su Muqiu made Evil Annihilation then he must also have made…

The Myriad Manifestation Umbrella.

“It’s good for you younger players to learn Glory history like this.” Han Wenqing is saying, clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s important to know where you came from. Well played earlier Sun Xiang. I’ll see you in Glory.” He’s striding off before Sun Xiang can even think to reply, heading over to where Zhang Xinjie is still waiting patiently. If he glances around he can see the others, the Mechanic Captain of Hundred Blossoms listening intently to his Paladin companion. Yu Wenzhou carrying two trays whilst Huang Shaotian finds them a place to sit.

It’s one thing to let jealousy eat him alive, thinking about how Ye Xiu is one of a kind, tactician and fighter rolled into one, and another to imagine him bereft. Is…is Ye Xiu ever lonely? His best friend died and he never found another counterpart, spent the last eight years filling in the role of big brother as a substitute…

He spots Su Mucheng at the end of the queue for food and is by her side before his brain has told his feet to move. She smiles up when she sees him.

“Hello Sun-ge. I heard you defeated Yu Wenzhou and Zhang Xinjie together! Good job.”

“Han Wenqing told me about your brother. Su Muqiu.” Sun Xiang has no idea how to bring something like this up. Might as well just blurt it up. Su Mucheng freezes for a second before giving him a considering look. Is she mad? Is she upset? He can’t tell.

“What about him?”

“Does he want it back? Or do you?”

“What?” She’s frowning, confused. Damnit he can hear that he sounds like an idiot. He clenches his jaw and looks away until his brain has stopped chasing itself in circles.

“Evil Annihilation. Your brother made it didn’t he? Does Ye Xiu want it back? To, I don’t know, remember him by or something?”

“Oh!” Su Mucheng stares at him for another long moment and then goes back to choosing her food. The queue is still forming behind them and Sun Xiang doesn’t have a choice but to grab a tray and shove random items on it, not even looking so that he can keep watching her face.

“Thank you Sun-ge, that’s kind of you, but not necessary. There are…other things in Glory that we remember my brother with.”

Okay. Fine. Well, he offered so –

“Come and sit with me Sun-ge.”

Su Mucheng is tiny and pretty but completely ruthless, so Sun Xiang follows her over to an empty table. She raises an eyebrow at the bizarre selection of items on his tray and wordlessly hands him one of her dishes.

“Here Sun-ge, you have this, I got too much.”

She ignores him for a moment to pour chilli oil over her food and Sun Xiang can’t help glancing around. The dining room feels different today but he can’t figure out why…oh.

No one’s watching him. With Su Mucheng. All the wary suspicious looks he got before…he’s just being ignored now.

“Why were you and Han Wenqing talking about Su Muqiu?” Su Mucheng asks. She’s smiling so he knows she doesn’t mind talking about her brother. He shrugs and shoves some of her food in his mouth.

“Talking about partners.”

She understands instantly. Did everyone really know about the ‘other half’ deal except for him?

“How are you finding it without Xiao Shiqin?” she asks, and Sun Xiang wants to swallow his tongue and yell at her at the same time.

“Fine. We weren’t proper partners. Not like Ye Xiu and Su Muqiu.”

“Ah.” Su Mucheng gives a little giggle and looks down at her plate. “Ye-ge and my brother were very close. I would have been surprised if you had a partnership like that.”

Sun Xiang squints at her. If it were anyone else, he would swear she was implying…

Su Mucheng looks up and meets his gaze. Their eyes widen at the same time. They both start shovelling food in their mouths as fast as possible.

Ye Xiu…and Su Muqiu?

He died. In a car accident.

Oh.

When Su Mucheng looks up he realises he must have said that last bit out loud. Her mouth moves a little in a strange way and he realises she’s upset. Shit. He hates it when people are upset.

“I heard he was an amazing Launcher.”

“Oh! Yes!” Su Mucheng beams. Thank fuck. “Yes, yes, much better than me. Ye Xiu could beat him one on one, but they never liked fighting each other that much.”

“I’m sure Glory is less without him.” Sun Xiang murmurs. It’s a little presumptuous considering he never met the guy, but if he was a master Launcher and an amazing weapons creator it’s probably a pretty safe thing to say. But Su Mucheng goes all teary-eyed like he’s come out with something really profound and reaches over to pat at his hand.

“Thank you Sun-ge.”

That should be the end of it. He really doesn’t want her to start bawling. Forget suspicious glances, they’ll throw him out of the dining hall without a chance to explain if he makes Su Mucheng cry. But his stupid brain is so slow today, his mouth is moving without realising.

“And Ye Xiu’s been alone since?”

He means it in terms of a Glory partner. It isn’t until he hears the words on the air that he realises what it sounds like. Su Mucheng blinks at him and then her eyebrows go up and her eyes go wide.

“Oh! Erm, yes, he has. Which I don’t think is good for him! I know Glory is his life, but I still think it would be good if he could…find someone. To share Glory with. And himself –” she stops, blushes, stares down at her bowl. Sun Xiang is frozen solid. If someone hit him right now he would shatter into a thousand pieces.

Su Mucheng sneaks a glance at him under her eyelashes. He stares at her. She looks back down at her bowl.

“Hey, is this seat free?”

It’s Song Qiying. He sits down without waiting for an answer, immediately continuing his argument with the Cleric on his other side. Su Mucheng and Sun Xiang meet eyes and then by silent agreement go back to their food.

Sun Xiang couldn’t pull a coherent thought out of his brain right now if he tried. The idea that…Ye Xiu is…and he…No. It’s beyond his imagination. And the idea that he’s been…single…for eight years is just –

What a waste.

Fuck.

“Hey, Sun-ge.”

He really doesn’t want to talk anymore. All conversation for the rest of today should be banned. There’s still another hour left in their break, he’s going to go and hide in his room – no, he’ll go and train, somewhere in the south wing that everyone else avoids because the a/c is broken. That will calm him down.

“Sun-ge?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing tomorrow? In free time?”

Every three days they get a couple of hours off so the assessors can compile their notes and decide on new teams. They’re encouraged to not play Glory, which seems to Sun Xiang to defeat the entire purpose of being here. Well, his entire purpose was to fight Ye Xiu, and that got stolen away, but playing Glory 24/7 is a decent alternative.

He’d been planning to go to the gym and then nap. That would use up the time.

“Nothing.”

“There’s a really cute ice cream shop three blocks from here. We’re allowed out as long as we return on time. Do you want to go check it out?”

Ice cream? Sun Xiang can’t remember the last time he had something sweet. And the last thing he wants is to go wandering around City B.

But Su Mucheng is smiling at him with a little head-tilt and it’s the most obvious bit of manipulation Sun Xiang can imagine, but much like her Laser Rifle it’s very effective. He nods and she throws up two finger hearts and beams at him.

“Great! I’ll see you in the lobby then! Don't be late!”

~

It was a trap.

He knew it was a trap and he still walked straight into it.

The only consolation is that he’s pretty sure it was a trap for Ye Xiu as well.

He’s still not used to seeing Ye Xiu’s face. He’d rather cut off one of his arms than admit it out loud, but he had a poster of Ye Xiu and One Autumn Leaf on his bedroom wall, back when he was still a Beserker in that tiny little third-tier team Conquering Clouds. He admired Ye Xiu for always wearing a mask, for setting a line about what he’d let people take from him.

Also he’d been pretty sure Ye Xiu was ugly, so who could blame him.

Ye Xiu isn’t ugly. His mouth makes Sun Xiang want to punch himself in the chest. When he’s playing a match and has gelled his hair out of his eyes it shows off his cheekbones in a way that Sun Xiang has never quite been able to cope with. He’s short – most people are shorter than Sun Xiang, except for that arsehole Han Wenqing – but still slender, with a trim waist and a tight –

Happy has a stupid uniform. Ye Xiu makes it look good though. But he looks better like this, in a white t-shirt that’s tight against his chest and a black hoody that makes him look soft and cuddly. Su Mucheng is bouncing at his side as he stares at Sun Xiang, who stares back.

“Sun-ge! You’re here! Come on, I want to try as many flavours as possible before we have to come back!”

That little –

Sun Xiang doesn’t particularly like other people, but he’s not an idiot. Su Mucheng is…as insane as the idea sounds…trying to set them up. Him. And Ye Xiu. Although from the looks of it she hasn’t bothered to tell Ye Xiu about this plan. He’s giving Sun Xiang a confused once-over and Sun Xiang wants to grit his teeth and go straight back to his room.

Su Mucheng is a sweet – but idiotic – little sister. There’s no universe in which Ye Xiu would be interested in him, but Sun Xiang has his pride for god’s sake. If he’s being tricked into going on a date then he at least wants to look as good as he knows he can do. Jeans and boots and a red hoody he’s had for about five years don’t give the best impression, even if he knows these jeans make his legs look amazing.

But it’s the principle.

Fuck it. He’s definitely paying. That much he can manage at least.

Ye Xiu is still looking confused but follows along obediently as Su Mucheng herds them off, talking about the Clerics at the camp. It’s obvious Zhang Xinjie will make the team, but there’s some other talented healers here, a couple of ones Sun Xiang didn’t expect.

“Jia-jie has such fast hands for healing. I don’t know how you can say Feng Xiaolan is better,” she huffs. Ye Xiu spreads his hands helplessly and shrugs.

“He just is.”

“Feng Xiaolan is proactive. Jia Rei is reactive.” Sun Xiang offers. He doesn’t quite know how else to say it, but Ye Xiu nods instantly, pointing at him.

“Yes exactly. Jia Rei heals fast when you need it, but Feng Xiaolan…he heals you before you need it. Clerics have to be on the defensive so much, it’s difficult for them to stay aware of the flow of battle. It’s a rare skill to be able to predict which of your teammates will need your help before they do.”

“Okay.” Su Mucheng says cheerfully. She doesn’t seem to mind admitting defeat. Sun Xiang knows it’s a flaw of his, how much he hates it.

Never surrender your point Sun Xiang! How can you respect a man who can’t stick to his stance?

“We’re here, we’re here! Oh – wow. Ye-ge, this is much nicer than our usual parlour in City H!”

“Hmm. It looks good.”

Sun Xiang hasn’t been in an ice cream parlour in years. To him it mainly looks intimidating. There’s what, like thirty different flavours.

“Oh, oh, we should all get different ones! And then try each other’s!” Su Mucheng gives them both a thumbs up. “And that way I’ll get to try more flavours.”

“I should have known this was all for you.” Ye Xiu says. Sun Xiang rolls his eyes and looks off into the distance. He could have been napping right now. Or snuck off to one of the training rooms and be playing Glory behind the assessor’s backs.

“Both of you, stop thinking about Glory. I can see on your faces!”

Oops.

He can’t help it, he takes a quick glance at Ye Xiu. He’s been trying to avoid looking directly at him the whole time but he doesn’t have an excuse now, not with Su Mucheng calling them out as a pair. So he gets to see Ye Xiu duck his head and smile sheepishly, his whole face creasing up as he bats away Su Mucheng’s hands.

“Sorry, sorry! Look, tell me what flavours you want to try and I’ll get those.”

“Don’t be silly, you love sweet things the most.” Su Mucheng gives Sun Xiang a wink as she shares this piece of information and he stares back at her. He’s not playing along with this. “I know! Because Sun-ge is with us, let’s all guess each other’s favourite flavours!”

The ice cream attendant lady is starting to look kind of irritated with them. Sun Xiang understands how she feels. The counter is full of flavours. How is he supposed to guess Ye Xiu’s favourite?

“Sun-ge, you guess mine first! Ye Xiu, you stay quiet.”

Su Mucheng. She’s sweet and bubbly on the surface, but that’s just a front, she’s steady deep down. Her loyalty to Ye Xiu is absolute. She’s a merciless Launcher. Something traditionally sweet but with a kick...

“That one. Salted dark chocolate.” Sun Xiang says. The other two exchange a glance. Shit he definitely thought too much into this, she’s probably strawberry or something –

“Ah that’s so close! Chocolate and ginger is my favourite combination!”

“Good guess Sun Xiang.” Ye Xiu blinks a smile at him and Sun Xiang has to quickly shrug and look away. All he did was guess someone’s flavour. There’s no reason why Ye Xiu’s praise should light him up inside like that.

“Hmmm, they don’t have ginger though.” Su Mucheng skips up and down the length of the freezer and finally stands on tiptoes to smile at the attendant. “I’ll get a scoop of the salted dark chocolate please, and one of vanilla. You should always get a scoop of vanilla,” she adds to Sun Xiang. “If they have good vanilla it’s the best sign!”

“Whose are we guessing next?” Ye Xiu asks. Sun Xiang gives him a side eye. Why is he encouraging this game? Su Mucheng flaps a hand at them both.

“I’m choosing toppings, you try and guess Sun-ge’s.”

“Hmmmm.”

Sun Xiang finds his chest tightening, just from the way Ye Xiu is looking at him. Goddamnit. He’s never had the Battle God’s full attention like this before, not in person without so much as a screen between them. Ye Xiu’s eyes are bright and dark, his lashes dipping as he gives Sun Xiang a once over. Then he smirks, shoving his hands in his hoody pockets.

“I would say…hmmm, green tea flavour.”

Bastard.

“Now you Sun-ge, you guess his.” Su Mucheng murmurs. She probably thinks she’s being sneaky, getting them to focus on each other like this, but Sun Xiang doesn’t feel anything except competitiveness urging through him. He narrows his eyes at Ye Xiu.

He likes sweet things. Cakes especially. Sun Xiang remembers when he moved into Excellent Era, the drawer in the kitchen full of those tiny plastic spoons you get from cake shops, but no one else on the team ever ate cake. So – sweet. But Ye Xiu also drinks a lot of coffee, so he doesn’t mind strong flavours. He’s complex, but also straightforward. A perfect balance of strength and strategy and leadership…

“Black Forest Gateau flavour,” he blurts out. Ye Xiu’s eyebrows shoot up and Sun Xiang immediately wants to kick himself –

“Sun-ge! What a good guess, well done! Did he get you right as well?”

He got it right? Oh…

“Yes. I like matcha flavour. Nothing too sweet.”

“Oof, I don’t like matcha, you can have that flavour to yourself. Ye Xiu will try some though.” Su Mucheng says casually. She really is completely shameless as she waves at the attendant again. “Do you have black forest gateau? Oh, perfect! One of those please, and a matcha and…Sun Xiang, do you want another flavour?”

“They have lychee.” Ye Xiu says quietly. Sun Xiang nods agreement and then quickly steps over to the till before either of them notice. When he spots him with his card out Ye Xiu looks like he wants to argue but Su Mucheng beams and then casually gets in Ye Xiu’s way so he can’t get there in time.

She proves her shamelessness even further when they’re all at a table and she suddenly jumps back up.

“I’m going to get a drink. Sun-ge, don’t forget to let Ye Xiu have some of your ice cream!”

She spins around so fast her hair flies out, but not fast enough for Sun Xiang to miss the little wink she sends him. Where did she learn this nonsense? Has she ever actually been on a date herself or does she just watch too many kdramas? Sun Xiang opens his mouth to tell Ye Xiu to keep his surrogate sister in line, but when he twists back round Ye Xiu is suddenly much closer, eyes fixed on Sun Xiang’s ice cream and spoon raised.

Sun Xiang had totally forgotten: it’s Ye Xiu who is the most shameless player in the whole of Glory. And apparently really loves sweet things.

Ye Xiu freezes when he realises Sun Xiang’s staring at him. His eyes flick to the ice cream and back again. There’s a strange, terrible stirring in Sun Xiang’s belly as he slowly holds his ice cream a little further out so Ye Xiu can dip his spoon in.

He tries the lychee first, makes a little humming noise of approval, head tipping from side to side. He’s not paying the slightest bit of attention to Sun Xiang, totally focused on the sweet treat in front of him. When he tries the matcha his tongue flicks out to lick it off the spoon, pink and wet, and Sun Xiang feels a sudden heat in his belly.

It’s been too long since he last got laid. That’s all. A stiff breeze could set him off right now. Han Wenqing could get him horny right now.

“Mmm, I was right, this flavour is very you.” Ye Xiu says. He takes a little bit more, shoving the spoon in his mouth. Sun Xiang watches his cheeks hollow as he sucks it clean. “It seems bitter at first,” his eyes flick up to Sun Xiang’s, sparkling. Sun Xiang knows he’s being laughed at. “But there’s sweetness there too, it just takes your brain a while to recognise it. Strong flavour, not to everyone’s taste. Needs an equally strong pairing to complement it.”

“Do you like it?” Sun Xiang asks. He can’t not ask. His brain feels like it’s hurting. Ye Xiu makes another humming noise and takes the spoon out of his mouth.

“Yes.”

Sun Xiang holds up his own spoon without a word, and Ye Xiu brings the black forest gateau flavour closer. The first taste is almost too much. Sun Xiang doesn’t normally have sweet things, and this is a lot of sweetness, fat and sugar and chocolate and…then the slight sourness of the cherry comes through, balancing things out, the lingering taste of the green tea in his own mouth as well stopping it from being overwhelming. It’s a lot. But it is delicious.

“Too much?” Ye Xiu asks. Sun Xiang shakes his head.

“Just need a second to get used to it.”

A sudden clatter makes them both jerk round to see Su Mucheng looking furious with herself, two bottles of drink in her arms and a third on the floor. Sun Xiang jumps up to get it and by the time they’re all settled again Ye Xiu has almost completely devoured his ice cream, making tiny little happy noises with every scoop.

This is fucking ridiculous.

There’s no universe in which Ye Xiu would be interested in him. Sun Xiang knows that. But he overlooked one crucial bit, which is that he’s just horny and desperate enough himself to maybe be interested in Ye Xiu. How could he not be? He’s the Master of Glory! And he’s short and cute and like he’d fit perfectly in Sun Xiang’s lap and then he could push him down onto a bed and –

God he’s pathetic. Bad enough he can’t ever beat Ye Xiu in a fight, but now he’s going to be pining over him as well. How low can he sink? How –

“Sun-ge? Everything okay?” Su Mucheng’s asking quietly. Sun Xiang glares at her. This whole thing is her stupid idea anyway. He definitely doesn’t look at Ye Xiu who’s sitting next to her quietly, gaze lowered onto his ice cream. He genuinely doesn’t know what would be more humiliating, Ye Xiu being completely oblivious to the idea that Sun Xiang likes him, because of just how insane that idea is...or noticing, and then trying to reject him.

Sun Xiang would rather die.

He actually feels himself shake at the thought, something bitter and white-hot coiling around the pit of his stomach. He shoves a spoonful of ice cream into his mouth hoping it will cool it. It just makes his mouth taste like dirt.

“Xiang-didi, is that you?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

Sun Xiang sets his ice cream tub down on the table. The only thing that would make the next five minute worse would be to have melting ice cream dripping down his hand. Ye Xiu and Su Mucheng are giving him identical wide-eyed looks as he stands and turns.

“Mi Yue. Ru Sheng.”

“If it isn’t little Sun Xiang!” Ru Sheng smirks at him and Sun Xiang feels like he’s regressed five years, back to a life when he was Ru Sheng’s punching bag every day after school. And Mi Yue…five years ago Mi Yue had been his friend. “What are you doing back in City B? I thought your father told you not to come back until you’d actually achieved something with your life.”

“I’m here with work.” Sun Xiang says quietly. Because that’s what this is, work. Ru Sheng doesn’t appear to be listening to him anyway, peering past at Su Mucheng with a leer on his face.

“Who’s this? She’s way too cute for you little didi…oh, wait, I suppose she’s not your type anyway is she?” he snorts and elbows Mi Yue in the ribs. Mi Yue is doing his best not to meet Sun Xiang’s eyes. It shouldn’t hurt, but it does. But Sun Xiang didn’t expect anything else, so fuck it.

“Free time is nearly up, we should head back.” Ye Xiu says quietly. Ye Xiu rarely acts like a team captain, unless he’s in a match, so it’s strange to suddenly feel the authority coming off him now. His eyes are fixed firmly on Ru Sheng who just gives him a once over, looking at the hoody and sweatpants with a sniff, and then ignores him.

“We’ll let you get back to work then Xiang-di. I’m sure if you really apply yourself then your father will let you back into the family some day.”

Ru Sheng smirks at him again and then strolls out of the shop. He didn’t even come in here to buy ice cream, Sun Xiang realises – just saw him through the window and came in to mock him. In front of Su Mucheng and Ye Xiu. Sun Xiang sucks in a breath as the fury coils itself up in his belly.

“Sun-ge –”

Fuck!

The pain is shooting up his fist before his brain is aware that he moved. He blinks a couple of times at the large dent in the wall, distantly aware that Su Mucheng is talking very fast to the ice cream attendant lady behind him. And then there’s a warm hand holding onto his, a dark head bent low over it.

“Sun Xiang. Your hands are precious. Take better care of them.”

Sun Xiang can barely notice his own hand right now, even with the knuckles red and swollen. All he can see are Ye Xiu’s. His hands are beautiful. Perfectly formed, the fingers long and slender and his grip insanely strong but gentle at the same time. It’s almost amusing to think that these hands routinely bring devastation in the world of Glory.

Right now they’re holding Sun Xiang’s close, gently pressing at his bruised knuckles with just the fingertips. Ouch. Shit, what has he done? He's nothing without his hands. Less than nothing.

“How bad is it?” Su Mucheng asks, appearing suddenly to one side. She must have paid off the attendant. Sun Xiang will need to pay her back.

“Not too bad. Bruising.”

“I got ice,” she holds up the ice pack wrapped in a cloth and smiles at him. “Don’t worry Sun-ge, Little Monster used to go around punching walls –”

“And people.”

“– all the time. We’ll take good care of you. Here, keep the ice on it whilst we walk back. Ye Xiu, what are you looking at now?”

“Do you think they sell ice cream to take away?”

“Ye Xiu!”

The two of them keep bantering back and forth as they walk back to the training centre. Sun Xiang spends the first five minutes on edge, convinced they’re just waiting to interrogate him about what happened, but the inquisition never comes. He’s allowed to be as quiet as he wants, only required to speak when it’s to take someone’s side or declare one of them the winner in an argument.

The winner’s usually Su Mucheng. Ye Xiu gives him a dirty look and puts up the hood of his jumper after the third time Sun Xiang tells him he’s talking crap.

“I’ll come to the infirmary with you,” he says abruptly when they’re back in the lobby. Su Mucheng immediately looks far too pleased with herself and Sun Xiang just feels tired and humiliated. He wants to crawl into his bed and stay there, except that if he does he’s not too sure he’ll get out of it the next morning. His hand will put him out of commission for the next week at least, so Xiao Yun may get his spot on the team after all, and then Sun Xiang will truly have come here for nothing. Ru Sheng was right. He has failed utterly and embarrassingly.

“No. I’m fine.”

“Ah Sun-ge, don’t be like that, let Ye Xiu –”

“Enough already!” Shit. Su Mucheng takes a step back, her eyes open and startled. Great. Guess they’re going to find his body in a dumpster faster than anyone thought. Sun Xiang just can’t bear her pushing this stupid matchmaking thing anymore, not when it’s just another thing he’s not good enough for.

Ye Xiu’s gone completely still next to him. Sun Xiang can’t even look at him.

“Tell me what I owe you for the wall,” he says shortly, and walks off.

He can still taste black forest gateau on his tongue.

~

“Hey, hey, Sun Xiang.”

Sun Xiang keeps walking.

“Hey, where are you going? Sun Xiang! Hey are you running away from me? Is even the thought of watching me play too much for you? Ah ah ah I always knew you weren’t that tough but being intimidated just at the sight of me is pretty pitiful even for you Sun Xiang –”

Sun Xiang stops walking and wheels around. Huang Shaotian was so close behind him that he nearly walks straight into him, then jerks and takes a huge jump back. Whatever he sees on Sun Xiang’s face makes his mouth open and close like a fish.

If he’d known punching a wall and getting his hand wrapped for a week would make him angry enough to render Huang Shaotian speechless, he genuinely would have considered punching Han Wenqing months ago.

“Hey Sun Xiang, are you just going to glare at me or what huh –”

Well it was a good thirty seconds of blissful silence anyway.

“What do you want Huang Shaotian?”

Huang Shaotian looks even more confused, jerking a thumb over his shoulder and then looking back down the corridor as though he expects the answers to be that way.

“My…my next match is in the east wing, not the west.”

“Why the hell should I care where your next match is?”

“Ye Xiu said…he said since you hurt your hand you’re one of the assessors now? That you’d already gotten your spot but they figured they should make use of you whilst you’re still here anyway.” Sun Xiang feels his face do something very complicated, something that makes Huang Shaotian eye him like he’s a madman and then start running off at the mouth again. “Anyway just because you’re an assessor now you better not mark me down you hear me! I’m the best Blade Master here, I’m the best Blade Master in the world, I kicked your arse didn’t I so don’t you even think –”

“What room are we in?” Sun Xiang manages to get out. His chest is so tight he doesn’t think he can breathe properly, but it loosens up enough for him to walk back the way he came, Huang Shaotian trotting alongside his longer stride. Both teams look up when they come in – Xiao Yun giving him a look so full of poison he can almost believe it’s true that his spot has been confirmed – but no one looks surprised to see him, or bats an eye as he takes the spot behind Huang Shaotian’s team – a Paladin, an Elementalist and a Spitfire. Huang Shaotian gives him the ‘I’m watching you’ hand gesture, and then swivels around to insert his card.

The match is short and brutal, both sides filled with heavy-hitters. Sun Xiang isn’t even sure what he’s supposed to be looking out for. The assessor behind the other team is scribbling down notes as fast as he can and Sun Xiang clenches his hand so hard the swollen knuckles ache. It feels good. It feels more real than anything else at least.

“Ah good match good match, you tried your very best, it was just a shame you were up against me!” Huang Shaotian crows at the end, spinning round in his chair. Sun Xiang feels a weird distance as the players all rise to thank the assessor – and then him, still none of them seeming to think it weird that he’s there. Huang Shaotian kicks the leg of his chair before he leaves.

“Hey, hey, I know you only damaged your hand to avoid fighting me huh, hurry up and heal quickly so I can kick your arse again.”

“I will stomp on you.” Sun Xiang tells him calmly and Huang Shaotian grins and skips out of the door just as Ye Xiu is coming in.

“Ye Xiu! Ye Xiu! I won the match and I was definitely the best, don’t let Sun Xiang tell you anything else, even my opponents will tell you they were over-awed with me and my awesomeness –”

“Yu Wenzhou was looking for you just now.” Ye Xiu replies and Huang Shaotian immediately skids out of the door. Works every time, Ye Xiu mouths at Sun Xiang, and then accepts the sheet of paper the other assessor hands to him, glancing over it briefly and exchanging a few quiet comments. Sun Xiang sits in the chair and watches him, still slowly clenching and unclenching his hand.

“Come on, let’s eat.” Ye Xiu finally says, heading back out the door. He turns back when he realises Sun Xiang hasn’t moved.

“I thought you trained whilst everyone else was on break?”

Ye Xiu shrugs.

“Usually. Today I’m hungry. And they’re serving crispy onion pancakes.”

He can eat a pancake with the wrong hand without looking too much like a fool. Sun Xiang follows Ye Xiu warily. He feels like a wild dog approaching humans for the first time, afraid to get too close.

Ye Xiu glances up at him, his face blank. Sun Xiang’s realised that unless he’s laughing or pulling faces then he’s incredibly hard to read. He’d heard that Ye Xiu processes all his emotions on the inside, that not even Su Mucheng can 100% tell if he’s upset or angry.

Ye Xiu’s probably never done anything as stupid as punch a wall because he was mad.

He waits for Ye Xiu to ask about his hand.

“Tell me about Huang Shaotian’s team.”

Oh great, that’s worse. What does he want him to say? Sun Xiang doesn’t even believe that what Huang Shaotian said is true. Maybe one of the assessors went off sick and they literally just need him to make up the numbers for a day or two.

“I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be assessing.”

“It’s not assessing. You’re a Glory player. I want to know how well they played Glory.”

The snort escapes him before he can stop it, his brain automatically flicking back over the match.

“The Paladin fights too defensively. I don’t even know how he made it this far. No killing instinct. The Elementalist has a good rhythm –” he thinks back to watching the guy keep the enemy Assassin trapped in a wall of fire. “But he’s a follower not a leader, he needed to be told precisely what to do every five seconds. No initiative.”

“He was asking Huang Shaotian for instructions?” Ye Xiu ducks his head to hide his grin. Sun Xiang snorts again.

“Yes. It was chaos. Shaotian kept yelling ‘just hit him!’ over and over!”

“Well, we don’t keep Troubling Rain around for his tactical planning,” Ye Xiu smirks sweetly. “How did Huang Shaotian do overall?”

He wants Sun Xiang’s opinion on the top Blade Master? The guy who’s defeated Sun Xiang twice? The throb in Sun Xiang’s fist turns into an ache as his nails dig into his palm.

“Huang Shaotian…two kills were his, and most of a third. He’s gotten even faster than the last time I played him.”

“But…no tactical planning?”

“He goes after whichever opponent most interests him.” Sun Xiang said. He couldn’t understand that, or Huang Shaotian’s criteria for interesting. He’d always gone after whichever opponent would give him the most glory to defeat, until Xiao Shiqin had slowly helped him realise that true glory lay in going after whichever opponent would most help the team to win.

There’s a soft snorting sound and he realises Ye Xiu is laughing again.

“That sounds like Shaotian.”

He wonders what opponents Ye Xiu would most instinctively go after.

They’re nearly at the entrance to the dining hall and there’s a tall figure lounging against the door ahead of them. Sun Xiang’s brain notices the blue shirt and glasses before realising its Yu Wenzhou himself. The tactician raises an eyebrow at them both and Ye Xiu smiles.

“Typical Shaotian. Excellent combat, limited awareness.” And then, with a sly smile. “He still needs you. And we need you both.”

“Thank you Ye Xiu, Sun Xiang.” Ye Wenzhou doesn’t blink at the teasing, just turns on a heel to enter the hall. Sun Xiang can see Huang Shaotian sitting at a table, his whole body jiggling nervously. Whatever he sees on Yu Wenzhou’s face makes him light up happily, and then he shoots Sun Xiang a look that is almost too complex to describe, half gratitude and half promise of future violence.

It hadn’t occurred to Sun Xiang that any of the other professional players would be worried about their spots. That they thought they had anything to –

“Everyone always thinks they need to prove themselves.” Ye Xiu says quietly, as though he’s plucked the thought straight out of Sun Xiang’s head. “No one ever believes they’re good enough.”

That can’t be true. Sun Xiang can’t fathom the idea that everyone else is walking around feeling the way he does the entire time. Especially –

“Except you,” he points out. The Master of Glory has surely never –

“I was kicked out of my alliance.” Ye Xiu says quietly. By you, he doesn’t say. “My home. They didn’t want me anymore. I was at the bottom. Everyone hated me.” His face is completely calm, like he doesn’t have any emotional response to saying these things. But there’s a slight throb in his voice that Sun Xiang can only hear if he focuses, some tremble there. “I didn’t think there was a way I could ever make it back into Glory.”

“But you did.” Sun Xiang points out, as though it wasn’t the single most impressive thing he’d ever seen, even as it made him hate himself. “Surely after that you could never doubt yourself again.”

Ye Xiu puts his head on one side, considering the question. They’re still standing in the entrance to the dining hall, watching everyone chat and talk and eat.

“Qiu Fei and Tang Rou aren’t here.” Ye Xiu says suddenly. Sun Xiang breathes in through his nose. Oh, he’s aware. He feels that distinction every day. “Why do you think that is?”

“I heard…Tang Rou is focusing on –”

“It’s because they’re not needed yet.” Ye Xiu interrupts. His gaze flits over the hall. “Look around. There’s the top player in every class here…Blade Master, Launcher, Striker…but lots of the second best players aren’t. Oh, one or two, Gao Yingjie, Song Qiying…but there’s many more excellent players who will reach their peak in a year or two. This current top generation –” my generation, the older generation, he doesn’t say – “they’re still good enough to represent us without question. But the younger generation is rising. It’s their turn to achieve Glory soon.” The tremble in his voice has gotten stronger. Ye Xiu’s bottom lip is dark from how hard he’s bitten into it.

“What’s that got to do with you doubting yourself?” Sun Xiang asks. Ye Xiu gives a little smile and shrug, still leaning against the doorframe like he doesn’t have a care in the world.

“The new generation…your generation…they’re so good. I’m scared of being left behind. Of not having anything more to offer Glory.”

That’s…

That’s so stupid.

Ye Xiu blinks and then stares when Sun Xiang snorts in laughter. “You’re Ye Xiu. Half the tactics in Glory were created by you. You and the Myriad Manifestation Umbrella are reinventing things even now. How could you ever become redundant?”

Ye Xiu…Ye Xiu blushes. An actual fucking blush. If Sun Xiang had known all it took to make Ye Xiu blush was to punch a wall and have a heart-to-heart with him then he would have punched Han Wenqing the very first time they were introduced.

“Do you…do you know the history of the Myriad Manifestation Umbrella?”

“Su Muqiu designed it.” Sun Xiang says shortly, watching Ye Xiu’s face to see if it changes at the mention of his dead…whatever. Ye Xiu just tilts his head the other way, still looking out over the hall.

“That’s right. The Umbrella…it’s not really a step forward. It’s just bringing back a path we should have had all along. It will help Glory change and grow but…” He really needs to stop biting his lip or Sun Xiang is going to have a heart attack. “It doesn’t help me change and grow. And I can’t play Glory well unless I do that.”

That’s…Sun Xiang can understand that, sort of. When he’d first joined Excellent Era (when he’d first taken Ye Xiu’s spot in Excellent Era) he’d thought he was as good as he could be. Months of feverish training later, learning tactics from Xiao Shiqin, testing himself against Qiu Fei, dedicating himself towards defeating Ye Xiu…he couldn’t believe how much his abilities had changed and grown. He was a different man now, a different Glory player.

Ye Xiu is still talking. “I want to watch the new generation rise. I look forward to it so much. But I don’t ever want to become irrelevant. I don’t ever want to have nothing to offer Glory.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Sun Xiang asks. He understood the strategic powerplay of having Ye Xiu as the China National Team’s substitute…but he hadn’t understood why Ye Xiu had agreed to it.

“Yes, sort of. What we’re creating here will be a new way of playing. It will pave the way for future international competitions.” Ye Xiu gives himself a nod, so casual at the thought of being entrusted with an international legacy that Sun Xiang can’t help but roll his eyes. He really doesn’t think Ye Xiu has anything to worry about. “It’s the best place at the moment.”

“And…you want me to be a part of that?” Sun Xiang can’t help asking. Even though I’m busted, even though you hate me, even though I haven’t proved I’m worthy?

Ye Xiu doesn’t seem to hear his thoughts this time, just nodding and then sending Sun Xiang that sunny smile as he straightens up.

“Yes. Definitely. And I also want one of those crispy onion pancakes before they all run out. Come on Sun Xiang, I’ll carry your tray.”

Sun Xiang follows him into the queue, head spinning and hand throbbing. But when he glances down he realises it’s hanging loose, no longer clenched. He makes a note to be careful not to tighten it in future. He has a feeling he’s going to need it to heal as quickly as possible.

~

Three days later he collapses down onto his bed and groans into the pillow. His room is empty. So many were cut after the first round that Du Ming moved out into one of the spares. Sun Xiang is grateful for that now, because it means there’s no one to bear witness to him starfishing on the bed like a three-year-old.

Being an assessor is hard. Or at least, the way Ye Xiu’s making him do it is.

In a one-on-one match, Sun Xiang can assess tactics for himself no problem. It’s easy as breathing, figuring out how to take his opponent down. Apart from when he’s fighting Han Wenqing (bastard one) or Ye Xiu (bastard two), as long as he doesn’t have a team around him then his reactions and his instincts will always get him through most fights.

Ye Xiu has apparently decided to take that gift and turn it on its head. Every fight Sun Xiang watches, he has to assess how that player would have done against him. Could Sun Xiang have beaten that player? Could he have defeated two of that team? Three? How much trouble would they have given him? Which of their tactics would he have struggled with most? It’s irritating, and disheartening, constantly evaluating how others could defeat him, especially when he’s not even in the fights to give himself a chance to prove otherwise! And then Ye Xiu remembered that he used to play Beserker class, so now he has to assess every player on whether they could beat him as One Autumn Leaf, and then whether they could beat him as a lower-level Beserker.

Sun Xiang rolls onto his back and bares his teeth at the ceiling.

Plus his hand still hurts.

There’s a knock at the door and he blows his hair out of his eyes and he props himself up and glares at it. With his hand still wrapped he hasn’t been able to tie his hair back like usual and the strands hang long and loose around his face.

“What?”

“Sun Xiang.”

Of course it’s Ye Xiu. He pushes the door open and just stares at Sun Xiang lying on the bed.

“What do you want?”

Ye Xiu lifts an eyebrow and smirks at his rudeness, and then comes straight in. Sun Xiang watches him warily. There’s only another five days in the camp and he’s really hoping Ye Xiu’s not come up with some new assessment tactic that he’s going to have to turn his brain inside out to try and master.

“I bring a gift from Su Mucheng.” Ye Xiu says instead, coming to stand in front of him. He’s got that shit-eating grin on his face. Ye Xiu has a wide array of smiles and smirks and Sun Xiang has learnt to recognise all of them, from his cheerful sunny smile to his most mocking grin. This one falls somewhere in the middle, with a side helping of gleeful teasing.

“What is it?” he asks warily. Ye Xiu leans forward and picks up his wrist in two careful fingers, eyeing the tatty bandage around it with an unimpressed face. What? It’s not like Sun Xiang has anyone to impress in this place.

“This,” Ye Xiu gives his wrist a little shake and Sun Xiang snatches it back, only just realising how close Ye Xiu is standing, “ – isn’t what we expect of a National Glory Team. Su Mucheng made you a new wrist brace.” He pulls it out with a flourish.

Sun Xiang stares.

It’s got cats on it.

He thinks they might be hand-drawn cats. One is eating ramen. Another is wearing a hat. Two are dancing together. They are all very fat and a range of different colours.

At the bottom of the brace, right where it would sit over his pulse point, there are three little cats drawn on. There is a sleek all-black one labelled Ye Xiu, a little fluffy tabby labelled Su Mucheng, and a golden-brown Bengal cat sitting imperiously next to them, labelled Sun Xiang.

The curl of anger is back in his stomach, along with the crushing breathless feeling in his chest.

Su Mucheng isn’t even being subtle now. There’s no chance Ye Xiu doesn’t know what she’s scheming. And if he’s not oblivious, if he’s not planning an awkward rejection, if he’s helping her with stupid tricks like this then there’s only one explanation –

Ye Xiu thinks it’s funny. He’s mocking him.

“Why would I want something as shitty as this?” Sun Xiang manages to croak out. The brace in front of him is suddenly pulled away, as though Ye Xiu has jerked back in surprise. Sun Xiang pushes to his feet, ignoring the flare of pain in his wrist, and then he’s using his extra three inches to tower over the other man.

“Sun Xiang –”

“Are you and Su Mucheng having a good time? Using every stupid kdrama romance plotline you can think of to make fun of me?”

“Hey, Sun Xiang –” Ye Xiu leans away from him, a little furrow between his brows. Is he angry at being called out? Or going to try and play innocent? His tshirt is so thin Sun Xiang can see the strength of his chest and arms underneath. Goddamnit.

Ye Xiu is hot. Fine. He can deal with that. He can find a cute boy to take to bed once he’s back in City H and get it out of his system. What he can’t deal with is Ye Xiu smiling at him, eating lunch with him, talking Glory tactics and weapons upgrades and skills bonuses with him. Sun Xiang can’t deal with being given a glimpse of that world and then finding out it was all a taunt, a game.

“Sun Xiang. You always assume the worst.” Ye Xiu says suddenly. “Who taught you to be a prickly cactus all the time?”

“Better than being a flower that gets plucked or a weed that gets stomped on.” Sun Xiang snaps back. Ye Xiu has folded his arms across his chest, the brace still clenched in his fist, and is glaring at him with that arrogant expression on his face –

“Su Mucheng worked hard on this. There’s no need to be rude.”

Ugh. Maybe he is that stupid. Fine. Sun Xiang will take away stupidity as an excuse. He takes half a step closer, so that Ye Xiu has to tip his head back to look up at him. Sun Xiang has used this move before. He likes it because it works well – makes the other guy swallow hard, gets him close enough to put his hands on his hips, rub his thumbs over his hipbones…

Ye Xiu just lifts an eyebrow at him. Unimpressed. Of course Sun Xiang’s moves don’t work on him, in real life any more than they do in Glory.

He plucks the brace out of Ye Xiu’s hand.

“Stop playing the fool. Or was I going to get chocolates for Qixi next? This fake flirting game the two of you are playing with me is bullshit.”

“It’s not –”

“Sorry, not bullshit – lame. Did you really think you were going to trick me with a bunch of stuff a thirteen-year-old boy would come up with, ice cream and presents and crap like –”

Something reaches in and squeezes around Sun Xiang’s heart as he stares down at Ye Xiu’s face, at the blush that isn’t pink and cute but red and blotchy and embarrassed, the most emotion he’s ever seen Ye Xiu show.

A thirteen-year-old boy

And Ye Xiu’s been alone since?

Has she (he) ever actually been on a date?

How old had Ye Xiu and Su Muqiu been when they met? Teenage boys falling in love with Glory and each other at the same time. Raised in the Excellent Era compound, no contact with other people. And then if Ye Xiu had been single ever since, no dates, no flirting, no one but his little sister for advice…

Maybe…maybe there is one another explanation.

“Did you…” he can’t get the words out. Ye Xiu’s eyes have gone bright and sharp they way they do when he’s figuring something out, the blush fading away as he looks up at Sun Xiang. “Did you mean it? The…flirting. And the rest?”

Ye Xiu takes in a deep breath. His eyes don’t waver away from Sun Xiang’s. And then he nods, and swallows hard.

Sun Xiang tosses the brace onto the bed and reaches out to grab hold of both his hips, eyes flicking continuously to Ye Xiu’s face to check this is okay, most of his attention focused on the way he can pull Ye Xiu a little closer towards him, the way he can feel the curve of his arse if he spreads his fingers just so. Ye Xiu just looks dazed, lets Sun Xiang pull him forward, his own hands coming up to grab at Sun Xiang’s upper arms and then Sun Xiang can’t take it a single second longer and dips his head to kiss him.

Holy fuck, he’s kissing Ye Xiu.

And holy crap, Ye Xiu kisses like a thirteen-year-old boy. It’s terrible.

Sun Xiang loves it.

He slides a hand up to grab Ye Xiu’s hair, tilting his head a little to the side and takes control of the kiss. It’s still chaste, no tongue, just the firm press of Ye Xiu’s lips against his but it’s sending liquid heat down his spine. His other arm wraps around Ye Xiu’s waist, careful of his wrist but determined to pull them even closer together. He doesn’t want to ever let go.

But then Ye Xiu thumps him on the chest and pulls away. He’s tousled and pink and tosses his head arrogantly in a way that makes Sun Xiang want to bite him.

“Ah, all that shit you gave me about my flirting, can’t be that bad if it worked right?”

Sun Xiang is desperately curious to find out more. When did Ye Xiu decide he wanted to – he wanted to flirt with Sun Xiang of all people? Did he and Su Mucheng plan this all out? Whose idea was the ice cream? Whose idea was to keep him around as an assessor? And most importantly – does a cat family portrait mean that Ye Xiu wants to keep him around more permanently, or is this a one-time thing?

Fuck it. If it is a one-time thing then he’s going to make it count.

“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you to flirt properly,” he tells Ye Xiu, barely aware of what he’s saying he just wants to get back to kissing. Ye Xiu is so goddamn sweet he could kiss him for years, just those chaste little kisses, but this time he flicks his tongue just the tiniest bit, to make Ye Xiu open with a little gasp, and then Sun Xiang is sliding his tongue inside his mouth, kissing him as deeply as he wants.

Ye Xiu learns fast. Of course. Which just makes Sun Xiang hotter, the idea that he’s teaching Ye Xiu how to kiss, that he gets to reap the immediate benefits as Ye Xiu’s tongue slides along his. Ye Xiu fists one hand in his hair to keep Sun Xiang’s mouth against his, just as determined and aggressive as he is in a fight, and Sun Xiang pulls away just long enough to smirk.

Then he abruptly sits down onto the bed, yanking Ye Xiu with him so he ends up sprawled in Sun Xiang’s lap, his thighs spread wide over his legs.

“Sneak attacks aren’t your usual style Sun Xiang.” Ye Xiu says, as though his mouth isn’t dark pink and swollen from Sun Xiang’s kisses. He blinks fake-innocently and then smirks. “I was expecting you to push me against a wall first.”

“You’re too short.” Sun Xiang smirks back. Ye Xiu’s eyebrow twitches just a fraction.

“Guess your power stats aren’t enough to hold me up then? Ah, maybe when you next level up –”

“Oh shut up,” Sun Xiang snarls. Ye Xiu still has a hand in his hair but he doesn’t resist when Sun Xiang leans in and bites – hard – at the collarbone right in front of him. Fuck, having Ye Xiu on his lap like this is riling him up even hotter, his cock starting to chub up and press against the seam of his jeans. So naturally his brain decides the best thing to do would be pull Ye Xiu closer, until the warm weight of him is pressing down right where Sun Xiang wants him.

Ye Xiu’s blushing again. The sight threatens to short-circuit every remaining braincell Sun Xiang has. He gives a little rock with his hips and the blush deepens. So its his cock then.

Sun Xiang has no idea how far Ye Xiu and Su Muqiu ever went. In fact apart from those babbled hints of Su Mucheng’s and his own instincts he doesn’t know for sure that they were together – although Su Muqiu was a fool if he had Ye Xiu all to himself and didn’t take advantage of it. If they were breaking out onto apartment complex roofs to spend a night alone together that probably means they did some stuff – but how far can Sun Xiang go? What is Ye Xiu comfortable with?

Fuck he’s bad at figuring people out like this. It was always so much easier sneaking out to the clubs, knowing that everyone was there for only one thing, and – ow!

His earlobe throbs painfully. Ye Xiu just gives him a haughty look when he glares.

“Focus on your opponent Sun Xiang. Otherwise they’ll get in a surprise blow.”

“Low level attacks are pointless.” Sun Xiang says, tightening his hold on Ye Xiu’s thighs. “I have enough higher level skills to deal with any enemy.”

Ye Xiu’s mouth ghosts over his. The warmth of him is intoxicating. Sun Xiang still can’t believe he wants this. That he wants him.

“Am I your enemy?” Ye Xiu asks quietly.

“Am I yours?” Sun Xiang replies. Ye Xiu’s face is unreadable when he looks at him.

“Only by playing competitive rivals can we grow stronger,” he says, and then kisses him again. Sun Xiang is lost, has no idea what he means and decides he doesn’t care, focusing instead on Ye Xiu’s mouth hot and eager against his and the tiny rocking motion Ye Xiu’s hips are making as Sun Xiang works him higher.

He finally drags his mouth away in sheer desperation, his cock a throbbing aching line in his jeans. He has to ask:

“What can we do? What – what do you want to do?”

Ye Xiu looks…lost? Or hesitant. Only a flicker of it, before he rocks his hips down deliberately and then grins when Sun Xiang swears viciously. A single glance downwards shows him that Ye Xiu is swollen and hard as well, his soft tracksuit buttons outlining his cock so perfectly it makes his mouth water.

“Touch me.” Ye Xiu says, and Sun Xiang nearly comes on the spot. He doesn’t need to be told twice, reaches down to curve his hand over Ye Xiu’s bulge, drinking in the way Ye Xiu sucks in a gasp before biting down hard on his lower lip. Fuck, he’s so hard, he’s so turned on, he’s turned on from Sun Xiang, and Sun Xiang feels like he could float away if it wasn’t for how desperately he wants to come himself.

He doesn’t have the patience or the stamina for anything fancy, just lifts Ye Xiu’s hips with his good hand – Ye Xiu makes a sound low in his chest when Sun Xiang lifts him that he very carefully makes note of for later – please god let there be a later – to unzip his jeans and pull his cock out, yanking Ye Xiu’s tracksuits down a second later. Ye Xiu makes another noise at the first touch of their cocks together, like the breath’s just been punched out of him, and then he makes it against when Sun Xiang roughly strokes them both.

“Fuck I’m going to wreck you.” Sun Xiang tells him and Ye Xiu just nods, like he wants it, like he wants Sun Xiang, like he’d let him do anything, and Sun Xiang has to kiss him again, hard. He’s already leaking precome steadily, sliding his palm over the head of his own cock and then smearing them both in his slick. Ye Xiu’s cock is a little smaller than his but just as pretty as the rest of him, flushed pink and with a noticeable curve.

Sun Xiang works them both to orgasm, pulling out every trick in the book to reduce Ye Xiu to a trembling wreck on his lap. He feels drunk, dizzy with it, so aroused he’s shaking as Ye Xiu clings desperately to him and makes little panting noises, hips rocking as though he can’t control it, as though Sun Xiang’s making him feel so good he can’t help himself.

“Fuck, look at you,” he manages to grit out. “You look so fucking good I could eat you. I’m going to eat you, going to get my mouth on every inch of you and make you beg –”

Ye Xiu huffs out a laugh. His arms are wrapped around Sun Xiang’s neck as he pants uncontrollably. “Yeah? You’ve – ah, fuck – you’ve got an advantage this time – but I learn fast.”

“Good.” There’s something dark and liquid in Sun Xiang’s belly as he steadily jerks them off. He ducks his head to close his teeth around one of Ye Xiu’s nipples hard, grinning when the other man swears and a spurt of precome covers his fist. “I’ll teach you exactly how to please me.”

“Oh – oh, fuck –”

Ye Xiu is coming. Ye Xiu is arching his back so hard Sun Xiang has to wrap an arm round his waist to stop him falling, his cock messily spilling come everywhere, thick and white over Sun Xiang’s hand. He doesn’t make any noise apart from his desperate panting breaths, forced out through gritted teeth, and it’s so fucking hot, watching him try to hide how good Sun Xiang’s made him feel, that Sun Xiang only lasts another couple of strokes before he comes as well, shooting up to make a mess of Ye Xiu’s t-shirt.

God. He can’t remember ever coming this hard before.

Ye Xiu nearly collapses onto him afterwards, a complete deadweight. Sun Xiang looks him over, at his cock still pink and slowly going soft and the smears of come all over him, his cheeks flushed and his hair a sweaty mess, and grins viciously.

He’s pretty sure he won this match.

Sun Xiang wipes them off as best he can with the bottom of Ye Xiu’s t-shirt – it’s a lost cause anyway – and tucks them both away, Ye Xiu twitching as Sun Xiang fondles his spent cock. Then he rolls the other man over onto his bed, smirking as Ye Xiu yawns and snuffles into the blanket. Turns out Ye Xiu is one of those guys who falls asleep straight after sex. Rude.

“I’m not asleep,” Ye Xiu says, cracking one eye open. Then he yawns again. Sun Xiang wants to jerk his cock hard again and see how much of it he can fit inside Ye Xiu’s mouth, see what he looks like with his pretty pink lips stuffed full of cock.

“You’re three minutes away from being asleep,” he snorts, mostly to distract himself from the mental image of feeding Ye Xiu his cock. “What, been a while or something?”

“Yeah,” Ye Xiu admits with another yawn. He doesn’t seem remotely embarrassed. Sun Xiang would give his left foot for Ye Xiu’s unflappable composure. He doesn’t need his foot to play Glory, it would be a good trade. “I forgot…what orgasms do to me…”

How can you forget what orgasms do to you?? Unless…

“Ye Xiu! I meant, been a while since you had sex. You masturbate right? Ye Xiu?”

“It’s more fun to play with a partner.” Ye Xiu murmurs sleepily, curling up a little bit more. Fuck, he’s still wearing the come-covered t-shirt, that’s so filthy, just the idea of it, Ye Xiu falling asleep covered in Sun Xiang’s come…fuck! Focus! Did Ye Xiu just admit that he doesn’t get himself off? Although that comment was vague enough that he could have been talking about Glory for all Sun Xiang knows –

Unless for Ye Xiu there isn’t much difference between the two?

Sun Xiang stares down at his face, the little nose twitches as Ye Xiu settles into a deeper sleep, and suddenly realises that his eyelids are drooping as well. God he’d been needing a nap even before coming his brains out. He doesn’t want to fall asleep next to Ye Xiu, that’s not something he does, but the bastard’s stolen his bed and Sun Xiang refuses to be the one that moves, he never gives up an advantage in terrain and –

~

“Oh, Sun-ge, do you like it?” Su Mucheng beams at him, looking more like a little girl than he’s ever seen her, and it takes Sun Xiang a second to realise that she’s smiling at the cat brace on his hand.

“Oh. Yeah. It’s cute. Thanks Mucheng.”

He’s sure as fuck not going to tell her that he got his other brace covered in come and didn’t have any choice but to wear this one.

And…it is cute. And it got Ye Xiu into his bed so…

Not that he was there when Sun Xiang woke up, just a note on top of his suitcase that said thanks for the top and made Sun Xiang curse when he realised Ye Xiu had stolen his favourite red hoody and left a disgusting come-encrusted t-shirt behind. That had been two days ago. He would have thought Ye Xiu was avoiding him on purpose except they were both so goddamn busy.

There were only three days left till the end of the training camp and the final line-up was announced. One of the assessors had cracked under Wang Yanli’s puppy eyes and agreed to watch her play in an off-the-record spar, and now everyone was demanding the same. Sun Xiang found himself only slightly less in demand than Ye Xiu to evaluate matches, no matter how much the assessors insisted that they “didn’t count” – he couldn’t unsee what he saw now could he?

Ye Xiu hadn’t been back to his room, or his bed. But that first day he’d slipped close and pressed up against Sun Xiang’s side, warm and firm, for literally 0.8 seconds, and it turns out that’s all it takes at the moment to get Sun Xiang raring to go. Then the bastard had smirked and disappeared off in the streams of people heading to their next match, and Sun Xiang hasn’t had a chance to get him alone since.

“Are you sitting with us or the assessors?” Su Mucheng asks. Sun Xiang can’t see on her face if she knows about what happened with him and her surrogate brother, which is probably a good thing. He shrugs and sprawls down into the seat next to her, legs stretching out to kick at Huang Shaotian’s seat in front of them.

“I’ll sit with you. I’m not a real assessor.”

“Mmmm, does that mean you don’t know what this announcement is about?” Su Mucheng whisper-asks, leaning close. The last few players are settling into their seats and the Chief Assessor is clearing his throat awkwardly. Sun Xiang just shrugs and keeps his face blank. He can see Ye Xiu leaning against the wall to one side, his gaze fixed on Sun Xiang’s face.

Arsehole. He’s definitely trying to psych him out.

“Congratulations to everyone who has made it this far in the process.” The Chief Assessor dude is saying. Sun Xiang didn’t even bother learning his name. “You have proven beyond doubt that you are the peak of China’s Glory talent, and any one of you would do our nation proud.”

He pauses as though he thought everyone would clap or something. Sun Xiang only just manages not to laugh. These are top Glory professional players, they can sense a trap about to be sprung a mile away.

“There only remains one final hurdle for your acceptance into China’s National Team.” Chief Assessor dude says. He gestures, and Ye Xiu takes two small steps forward. Sun Xiang feels his chest tighten as he watches him. He still can’t believe he got to touch that, hold that…

He has no idea if it will ever happen again. He doesn’t even completely know if he wants it to. It would make everything much more complicated.

He came here to defeat Ye Xiu, not fuck him. If he fucks him along the way to defeating him, that’s a pleasant perk, but Sun Xiang’s poured too much of himself into his focus to abandon it now.

“– all face Master Ye Xiu in a one-on-one match.” He tunes back in to hear the Chief Assessor finish saying, and then the room erupts into pandemonium.

“Ye Xiu! Ye Xiu! I get to fight you first! Where’s your keyboard, let’s go right now!” Huang Shaotian is yelling. Yu Wenzhou’s grabbed the back of his jacket to stop the pipsqueak from launching himself over the chairs.

“You mean we can’t be on the team unless we defeat Ye Xiu?” Some guy he doesn’t recognise is yelling – a Paladin? – and the Chief Assessor hurriedly waves his hands for quiet.

“No no no, it’s not a requirement to beat Master Ye Xiu, just to fight him. His assessment will be the final stage of your evaluation.”

The room quietens down a bit, although mostly because half the room’s gone deathly pale. Sun Xiang’s already done the numbers but he can’t help counting them again and the answer’s still too high. Ye Xiu is going to be fighting a match every half an hour for the next three days. All because these damn assessors have finally realised they don’t know what they’re doing and they want to dump the responsibility for decision-making on someone else’s shoulders.

Sun Xiang doesn’t think he could do it. It’s fifteen matches a day. The hand cramps would be agony, let alone the mental exhaustion from maintaining that level of focus.

“What is the order of battle?” Zhang Xinjie asks, and this time it’s Ye Xiu who steps forward to answer. He lifts an eyebrow at the room, as cool as anything.

Sun Xiang hates him so much. He is everything Sun Xiang has ever dreamed of being.

“Random order.” Ye Xiu says. He smiles. It’s his come get me smile. “So, shall we see who’s going first?”

~

Huang Shaotian gets drawn fourth on the first day. Sun Xiang stares at the emotions inside his head before acknowledging that he's relieved with gritted teeth. He doesn’t look at why he’s relieved, why he’s thankful that Ye Xiu will get to fight Shaotian whilst he’s still fresh and energetic.

The rest of them have stopped bothering to pretend they’re doing independent training whilst waiting for their go – the fights are projected on a large screen in the main room and they mostly just sit there and watch whilst Ye Xiu and whoever’s name gets drawn next battle it out at the front of the room. So far it’s been two Phantom Demons and a Knight.

Everyone had to move when they were setting up the screen and now Sun Xiang’s sitting in between Zhang Xinjie – who is the calmest person in the room, as Clerics were excused from the draw – and Wang Jiexi. Su Mucheng is behind him, so that’s something at least. But Wang Jiexi seems determined to turn every single little action that either player does into a teaching moment for Gao Yingjie and it’s starting to piss Sun Xiang off. The kid looks like he’s trying to write notes inside his head, like he’s terrified he’ll miss something.

“Hey hey Ye Xiu, are you ready for me? You’re really lucky you drew me so early huh, before those old man hands of yours got all worn out from fighting all these nobodies, now you get to be defeated early so you can get used to it for the next two days –”

“Yu Wenzhou, don’t you ever gag him?” Sun Xiang mutters, his mouth opening before his brain catches up with it. Yu Wenzhou flips him off without turning around from two seats in front and there’s a sound like rocks crashing together to his left that Sun Xiang belatedly realises is Han Wenqing laughing.

“Pay close attention to their positioning at the start.” Wang Jiexi says to his successor in that stupid monotone voice he’s got. “Ye Xiu and Huang Shaotian are masters of appearing casual in their approach, but this is a deceit. They seek to lure you into disadvantageous ground.”

“Yes Captain,” Gao Yingjie says, and Sun Xiang rolls his eyes.

“Ye Xiu wouldn’t bother with that shit against Huang Shaotian – fighting a Witch, sure, but that midget’s going to chase him all over the map no matter where they start.” He’s absolutely sure that Ye Xiu’s brain evaluates every single tactic and strategy within the first couple of seconds of a match, and then chucks out all the ones that aren’t directly relevant to his opponent at the time. Why waste brain power thinking about stuff that won’t help?

Too late he realises that Yu Wenzhou has swivelled round to peer at him and Zhang Xinjie is doing the same from his right. Wang Jiexi is also giving him a blank stare. Oh great, all the tacticians are going to take turns telling him why he’s stupid now.

“Sun-ge is right,” comes Su Mucheng’s cheerful voice from behind him. “Look, Ye Xiu has already started running.”

Ye Xiu has used his Umbrella as a hand cannon to leap onto the walls of the Graveyard map, darting away as Huang Shaotian chases him on the ground yelling curses. Sun Xiang rolls his eyes. Maybe he should bring a gag next time.

“Sun Xiang, how do you predict this match will go?” Yu Wenzhou asks. He’s gone back to watching the screen so Sun Xiang can give the back of his head a dirty look. How is he supposed to predict it? The whole point about top level players is that they’re almost completely unpredictable – sure they’ve all got preferred playing styles and the rest, but being an expert means being able to adapt to any opponent, any match.

He rubs at his forehead with a hand. He hates having to draw the ideas out into words like this. All his battle ability comes from instinctive responses. On the screen in front of them Ye Xiu has fired an anti-tank missile into Huang Shaotian’s face and jumped back to the ground, the Umbrella already whirling into a new form.

Sun Xiang feels his muscles twitch instinctively as he watches it move. Ouch, fuck, his hand. But god he wants to be fighting this fight so badly!

“Ye Xiu’s going to fight him as a swordsman for a bit,” he mutters, just before Ye Xiu pulls a blade out of the umbrella’s sheath. “Huang Shaotian’s got some tricks up his sleeve though.”

“Why would you think that?” Yu Wenzhou demands. Sun Xiang slouches lower in the chair, cradling his fist against his chest. His hands feel so restless.

“Ye Xiu’s…I don’t fucking know, he’s just having fun okay. He’s been stuck doing the boring job for weeks whilst we all got to play, of course he’s going to fight the best Blade Master with a blade now that he’s got a chance. And Huang Shaotian’s not even mad that he just got shot in the face, obviously he’s about to pull some shit out of the bag.”

“Sun-ge! I didn’t think you noticed people that much,” Su Mucheng giggles quietly against his shoulder. Sun Xiang snorts back at her, low enough that the idiots around him can’t hear.

“I don’t give a fuck about people, unless I’m fighting them.”

It’s a good fight. Fuck that, it’s an amazing fight. Sun Xiang feels fourteen again, watching the older kids in his father’s arcade battle on Glory. They’re both giving it their all, he can tell in the way Ye Xiu’s eyes have gone bright and narrowed, and Huang Shaotian is either deadly silent or talking so fast he’s impossible to hear. No one ever fought him properly like this back then, too afraid of beating the boss’s son. How the fuck was he supposed to know if he was the best if no one ever gave their all to beat him??

“This is what Glory is about.” Han Wenqing rumbles in that deep voice of his, as Huang Shaotian leaps from his seat to punch the air and Ye Xiu laughs and gives a slow clap from his chair. He’s glowing with happiness, so bright Sun Xiang wants to punch him, his eyes sparkling in a way that means he probably thought up half a dozen new tactics just during that one fight and he can’t wait to challenge Shaotian again to test them all out.

“Captain, Captain, did you see that?!” Huang Shaotian calls out, bouncing back over to Yu Wenzhou’s side. Sun Xiang rolls his eyes as everyone congratulates him. Back up on stage Ye Xiu is taking a drink of water and then rolling out his wrists and his neck, smiling brightly around at the room, the smile that means everything is good and I am happy.

“Let me call the next name,” the Chief Assessor says, reaching into the large vase, and everyone settles back down to watch the Master work.

~

It’s the night before the final day and Sun Xiang hears a tap at his door. He yanks it open and pulls Ye Xiu through instantly, going for his mouth even whilst Ye Xiu starts scrambling at his belt. Fuck, he’s only had this once, for barely fifteen minutes, and within seconds of having it offered again he’s like a starving man at a feast.

Ye Xiu has defeated thirty-three out of thirty-five opponents in two days. He’s been defeated by Huang Shaotian and Wang Jiexi. He’s defeated Han Wenqing, Ye Wenzhou, Song Qiying, Wang Yanli, Du Ming and nearly everyone else. Sun Xiang last saw him two hours ago when they all went to get food, slowly rotating his wrist and smirking at something Han Wenqing said to him. He didn’t seem particularly aware that he was about to make a new Glory record, again.

“What are you going to do to me this time?” Ye Xiu pants against his mouth, and Sun Xiang feels his gut clench. He’s never considered himself hugely sexually experienced, sure he’s done quite a bit but not like some guys he knows, but compared to Ye Xiu…

Is this a kink? Is he getting off to the idea of teaching Ye Xiu about sex? Surely he’s going to run out of stuff eventually – actually, no, there’s no chance of that ever happening, his brain can think of ten thousand things it wants try right now…

Ye Xiu pulls away, his chin tipped at that angle that makes him able to look down his nose at Sun Xiang despite being three inches shorter.

Bastard.

“Is Sun Xiang distracted? Shall I go so he can get a good night’s sleep?”

“Distracted thinking about all the things I want to do to you.” Sun Xiang replies, and it’s even the fucking truth. Ye Xiu swallows hard and sort of melts into his arms, and Sun Xiang shoves him across the room and strips the clothes off both of them. Then he pushes Ye Xiu flat on the bed and climbs on between his legs, leaning down to bite his collarbone again and murmur into his ear.

“What am I allowed to do to you?”

Ye Xiu’s hands are clutching at his upper arms again. His fingers dig in as Sun Xiang slides his leg between Ye Xiu’s and presses upwards, nudging against his half-hard cock. Feeling Ye Xiu get hard for him is addictive.

“Nothing too much,” Ye Xiu says, trying to toss his head and play casual. Sun Xiang bites his collarbone again. He doesn’t even know if Ye Xiu is in to biting – Sun Xiang didn’t know he was until he had Ye Xiu in front of him. He likes how Ye Xiu freezes for just a second whilst he’s got his teeth in him. “I’ve got to sit for another eight hours tomorrow.”

“So I can’t fuck you then.” Sun Xiang interprets. He wants to – fuck, does he want to – but right now he’s more interested in how Ye Xiu goes pink with arousal and nods jerkily. “Have you done that before?” He asks, more for his own curiosity than anything else. He doesn’t expect Ye Xiu to talk to him about Su Muqiu – he knows that’s a box that won’t ever be open to him. But he wants to know his parameters. Where the edges of the map are.

Ye Xiu moves in a way that makes him want to lick him all over.

“I – yes. Three times. Once…giving, and twice taking.”

That sounds like a time each to test out, and then…

“Which did you prefer?”

“Taking.” There’s no embarrassment, no hesitation at all in Ye Xiu’s eyes as he acknowledges he likes getting fucked. It’s Sun Xiang who has to drop his head to his chest and breathe deep, his cock like an iron bar already.

Fucks sake.

He can’t not kiss Ye Xiu, so he does, slides his tongue into his mouth and nudging their hips together. Ye Xiu matches his rhythm perfectly, the way he does when they’re trading blows in a match, and pretty soon Sun Xiang has him sweating and gasping underneath him. This time’s even better than last, not just because he’s got Ye Xiu laid out pale and gorgeous in his bed, but because some of Ye Xiu’s control has slipped away and he’s making tiny whining noises in the back of his throat as Sun Xiang coaxes his hips to move, to slide their cocks together.

They could come like this. Sun Xiang would love that – get to watch Ye Xiu shake apart in his arms and then he’d wank himself off till he came all over him, leave Ye Xiu covered in his come for a second time. But there’s a voice in the back of his head telling him that this thing they’re doing might only exist in the world of this training camp, which means he has to make the most of every second.

He slides his good hand up to grasp Ye Xiu’s jaw and hold him still. Fuck, five minutes of kissing and Ye Xiu’s mouth already looks pink and swollen.

“Have you sucked cock before?” he asks, and Ye Xiu’s face floods with more pink to match, his eyes lighting up even as he shakes his head. Sun Xiang feels like he can’t breathe he wants to fuck Ye Xiu’s mouth so bad, wants to get his own mouth on the other man and make him squirm.

“Come on then, let’s see what you’ve got,” he says, the words muffled against Ye Xiu’s mouth but they both know he heard them. Sun Xiang barely has to wait for the shortest second before Ye Xiu accepts the challenge, wriggling downwards on the bed – the wriggling alone has him gritting his teeth – and then he’s putting his hands on his hips and staring at Sun Xiang’s cock like it’s about to tell him the secrets of the universe.

“What are you waiting for, a class awakening skill?” Sun Xiang manages to grit out. He can feel the faintest puff of breath from Ye Xiu’s just-open mouth and it’s making him lose his mind. Ye Xiu flicks a look at him up through his eyelashes – which should not make him look as ball-achingly attractive as it does – and then takes Sun Xiang in a firm hand and licks over the top.

“Fuuuuck, yes, that’s good, there you go.” Sun Xiang coaxes him, sliding his good hand through Ye Xiu’s hair till he can rest it at the nape of his neck, resisting the urge to apply pressure and push Ye Xiu down on his cock.

They’ll work up to that.

The blowjob is wet and messy and rapidly gets better the longer it goes on. Ye Xiu is an expert at paying attention to his opponent’s reactions after all, and Sun Xiang isn’t bothering to conceal his. Also he doesn’t want to – he wants Ye Xiu to know that Sun Xiang is getting off from being in his mouth, that he’s loving having Ye Xiu suck his cock. He wants Ye Xiu to know how much Sun Xiang likes it when Ye Xiu is good for him.

Also, it’s just a really good blowjob. Ye Xiu’s mouth is every bit as hot and tight and wet as he’d imagined, and he keeps up a steady rhythm of sliding Sun Xiang’s cock in right to the back of his throat, just the smallest hint of pushing deeper whilst his fist comes up tight and firm round the rest. And the visual is even better when Sun Xiang grabs a pillow and stuffs it behind his head; the sight of Ye Xiu with his cheeks all hollow from sucking, his other hand loosely curled around his own hard cock.

Because Ye Xiu clearly loves this too, loves having Sun Xiang give the very tiniest of pushes into his mouth and leave smears of precome over his lips. He’s panting when Sun Xiang pulls out, roughly wanking off his swollen cock barely an inch away from Ye Xiu’s face.

“Where do you want me to come?” Sun Xiang asks. That’s as much of a choice in this as he intends to give him, where. Ye Xiu just swallows hard, his own hand speeding up.

“My – my chest,” he says, and Sun Xiang drags him up with that hand round the back of his neck and Ye Xiu comes willingly. Sun Xiang’s feels like he’s been ready to come since that very first lick and it’s a matter of seconds before it comes pouring out of him, hot strips of come painting over Ye Xiu’s chest and shoulders and neck and oh fuck that little bastard how did he know that the sight of his own come dripping off Ye Xiu’s collarbone would turn Sun Xiang’s brain inside out like this.

“Fuck I could do that another ten times tonight,” Sun Xiang grits out and Ye Xiu gives a little gasp, his hand speeding up and his hips starting to move faster and Sun Xiang swears, dragging him up the bed so he can knock his hand away and pin him down.

“No, fuck, don’t you dare.”

“Sun Xiang –”

“No. You don’t come till I’ve got my mouth on you.” Sun Xiang orders, feeling restless with how close he came to missing his chance, and insanely turned on all over again from the fact that Ye Xiu nearly came just from sucking his cock. If he had any lingering doubts about Ye Xiu liking boys they’re completely gone now, replaced by a sparkling bright glow that he’s scared to look at too closely about Ye Xiu liking him.

So to avoid thinking about anything he pushes Ye Xiu onto his back again and then curls down till he can get the angle he wants.

Ye Xiu tastes sweet and a little sour, and Sun Xiang has an amused thought about cherries and chocolate before he’s sinking deeper, letting Ye Xiu fill his mouth and throat. Ye Xiu has both hands in his hair and Sun Xiang is suddenly glad his hair isn’t tied back still because it’s insanely hot feeling Ye Xiu’s fingers tremble there.

Even hotter are the small desperate noises Ye Xiu is making as Sun Xiang pins his hips down and works him over, that rapidly speed up to frantic when Sun Xiang reaches up to shove a couple of fingers in his mouth – Ye Xiu sucks on them so eagerly Sun Xiang feels blood rush back to his cock – and then strokes them over his hole.

“Oh – oh – yes –” Ye Xiu babbles, and then Sun Xiang is swallowing furiously as he comes in his mouth with barely a second’s warning, which should be irritating but is just so hot Sun Xiang wants to die. When he pulls off it’s to the sight of Ye Xiu looking completely wrung out, flushed pink and splashed with white, and Sun Xiang throws a leg over him to straddle his chest and jerks himself off until he comes again, leaving new lines of come all over him.

“Sun Xiang.” Ye Xiu says, looking down at himself, and Sun Xiang just snorts and slaps his thigh, both to watch him jerk and to see the pink handprint appear.

“Don’t try and pretend you don’t love it. I’m showering. You coming?” He walks off without a word, and definitely doesn’t feel either relieved or annoyed when Ye Xiu cautiously joins him in the shower after its been running for a few minutes, the two of them having to twist around each other to both fit at the same time. Sun Xiang takes it upon himself to wash Ye Xiu clean, groping and fondling as much as he wants along the way and loving that Ye Xiu lets him.

“You’ve got your own clothes, fucking sleep in them,” he grumbles afterwards, when Ye Xiu attempts to rummage through his suitcase again, and gets a dirty look in return that he avoids by rolling Ye Xiu over so he’s the little spoon, both of them in their boxers so he can feel as much skin as possible. Ye Xiu falls asleep almost instantly and Sun Xiang puts his nose in his hair and breathes him in, wraps his arms tight around all that pale skin.

Tomorrow is the last day of training camp. Whether he makes the national team or not, it’ll also be the last day of this.

He falls asleep far sooner than he wants to, Ye Xiu content in his arms.

~

Su Mucheng gets drawn first the next morning. Sun Xiang joins in Huang Shaotian and Han Wenqing calling out support and cheers for her, Su Mucheng blushing sweetly and Ye Xiu flipping them all off.

“This will be a useful battle for you to observe,” Wang Jiexi tells Gao Yingjie and Sun Xiang just smirks. Ye Xiu is soft-eyed and loose-limbed from getting sucked off that morning, to the point where Su Mucheng is giving him a doubtful look over their screens.

“Tch, is Ye Xiu still asleep?” Han Wenqing grumbles, five minutes into the match. Ye Xiu is flying around the map using the Umbrella as a rotator, Su Mucheng’s missiles missing him by mere centimetres, but he hasn’t made a single attacking move of his own. He turns to Zhang Xinjie. “Xinjie, what’s his strategy?”

“I am unable to identify it.” Zhang Xinjie says, which Sun Xiang figures is know-it-all-tactician speak for ‘I don’t know’. Huang Shaotian is tugging on Yu Wenzhou’s sleeve with the same question and the Blue Rain Warlock just pulls a face and shrugs. It takes Sun Xiang a second to realise someone is pulling gently on his own sleeve.

“Sun Xiang,” Gao Yingjie says politely. “What strategy do you think Master Ye is using?”

A number of heads do not turn towards him, which is how Sun Xiang figures out they’re all listening in. Ugh for fucks sake, why did they all have to come sit near him if they were just going to ask him dumb questions. He waves a hand at the screen.

“Ye Xiu will win,” he says, ignoring Huang Shaotian’s snort of disbelief. On screen Su Mucheng is powering up her Quantum Bomb, which would normally signal the end of a match in her favour. “He’s just warming up.” He doesn’t know how they can’t see it, the slow steady increases in speed and accuracy with every second the match goes on. The whole thing is to Ye Xiu’s rhythm.

Even if it is a half-sleep rhythm. No more morning blowjobs for Ye Xiu, they turn him into an idiot.

Su Mucheng is still powering up when Ye Xiu flies even higher, and then suddenly he’s falling, dropping into a Striker’s move, Thousand Ton Drop. The shockwave impact when he punches the ground shakes the map and flings Su Mucheng backwards, her attack completely disrupted, and Ye Xiu has closed on her in a second with the Umbrella already shifting into Lance form.

The fight lasts another twenty seconds.

Someone brings Ye Xiu a coffee afterwards, and he proceeds to slaughter the next six opponents without batting an eye. From where she took her seat next to Sun Xiang, he hears Su Mucheng laugh and murmur to no one in particular that Ye Xiu seems to be in a particularly good mood that morning.

After lunch there are eight more opponents to go. Ye Xiu is rubbing a hand wearily over his face when Gao Yingjie’s name is drawn from the vase.

“Do well,” Wang Jiexi murmurs quietly, and Gao Yingjie bows politely to his Captain before walking onto the stage. Within the first thirty seconds, Sun Xiang understands why Wang Jiexi has been testing his successor so intensely for the past two days. Gao Yingjie is making Ye Xiu work for it.

Everyone breathes out when the match ends – a draw. Timed out. Sun Xiang swallows the jealousy back down into his throat when Ye Xiu shakes Gao Yingjie’s hand afterwards and the whole room applauds.

“You are leaving Tiny Herb in good hands.” Han Wenqing murmurs quietly, and Wang Jiexi just nods, standing up to gesture a red-faced Gao Yingjie back to his seat. Sun Xiang presses the tips of his fingers together and stretches out his legs to stop himself from bouncing them and making his nerves obvious. Nearly time.

Ye Xiu fights another five opponents. The shadows are lengthening across the floor. And then the Chief Assessor reaches into the vase and pulls out Xiao Yun’s name.

Shit. Sun Xiang had totally forgotten about that arsehole.

“Hey, Wang Jiexi, isn’t he Tiny Herb huh huh? What are his chances against Master Ye Xiu? Who are you supporting right now –” Huang Shaotian starts up, twisting round in his seat to point a finger at Wang Jiexi’s face. Wang Jiexi just folds his arms across his chest and gives him a blank look.

“Xiao Yun is leader of Tiny Herb’s second team. I do not directly oversee his training.”

“Ooo, harsh.” Song Qiying murmurs from where he’s sitting behind his Captain. Sun Xiang smirks, glad someone else said it. Then he notices Su Mucheng twisting her hands in her lap next to him.

“He’s fought nearly fifty matches,” she murmurs quietly, big eyes fixed on the stage. “He’s tired.”

Sun Xiang looks again. Beneath the arched eyebrow and the smile he can see the tension in Ye Xiu’s shoulders, the tightness where he is normally loose and soft. Fuck. No wonder he came to Sun Xiang’s room last night. Stress relief. Sun Xiang wonders if he should suggest a break now so he can drag Ye Xiu to a bathroom and suck his cock again, just so he can kick Xiao Yun’s arse like he deserves.

“I’m going to prove to you that I’m the best Battle Mage here!” Xiao Yun announces, pointing a finger at Ye Xiu, and a current runs through the whole room. Sun Xiang wants to laugh and snort at the same time and ends up nearly forgetting how to breathe – the arrogant son of a bitch, who does he think he is? Ye Xiu must be tired though, because his face has gone hard and tight and showing his irritation the way it rarely does. What a stupid idiot, challenging the Battle God himself.

“Sun Xiang, you’re taking this very well.” Yu Wenzhou says, pressing his glasses up his nose. Sun Xiang just rolls his eyes.

“Does that idiot really think he’s better than Ye Xiu? It’s his funeral.”

Heads swivel around and Sun Xiang has to fight to stop his shoulders from hunching as the professional players seated around him give him near identical confused looks. Even Su Mucheng has her head tilted to one side and a little furrow between her brow.

“I think he’s saying that he thinks he’s better than you, Sun-ge.”

“What?” Sun Xiang runs it over in his mind. Oh, that would make sense. Yu Wenzhou snorts in amusement and turns back around.

“Ye Xiu thinks he was being rude about you as well I’d say, from his response.”

Sun Xiang looks up at the stage. The whole conversation took a minute, maybe less.

The golden victory symbol is unfolding over Ye Xiu’s screen. Xiao Yun’s face looks like a mask made of clay and the whole room is silent. Ye Xiu just leans back in his chair and yawns very obviously, his eyes never leaving Xiao Yun’s shape as he stumbles off the stage and out of the room. He looks like he's shaking.

What the fuck. Why did Ye Xiu pulverize the guy just because he was talking shit about Sun Xiang?

Oh god. Sun Xiang feels that twisting pressure back in his chest again. It’s been weeks since he felt it, so long he’d almost forgotten the sensation. Oh god, oh fuck, it’s time, he’s finally going to do this.

“Has everyone else fought?” he asks Su Mucheng quietly, and takes a deep breath in when she nods. Of course he would get called last, the fates always have it in for him. He straightens his jacket and sits up, ready to stand as soon as the Chief Assessor calls his name.

“Excellent job everyone! Thank you for all your hard work and participation, we will be –”

“Hey,” says Sun Xiang, standing up before he’s thought it through. “What about me?”

He grits his teeth when everyone in the fucking world twists round to stare at him again, except for Ye Xiu who throws his head back and laughs silently to himself, the bastard. The Chief Assessor blinks at him and looks around for help.

“Ah, Sun Xiang, apologies, were you not informed that you had been automatically awarded your spot? We understand that your hand –”

“My hand’s fine.” Sun Xiang snaps, pulling off the brace. He nearly throws it aside for dramatic effect but remembers just in time to place it gently in Su Mucheng’s lap.

“Hey hey Sun Xiang, you’re so shameless, you waited for Ye Xiu to fight everyone else before you stepped forward when he was so tired –”

“I didn’t know my name wasn’t in there!” Sun Xiang says furiously. Fuck fuck fuck. That’s what everyone thinks don’t they? That he waited till Ye Xiu was exhausted before challenging him. That he didn’t think he could defeat Ye Xiu at full strength. “I’ll fight him tomorrow morning then!”

“Mr Sun Xiang, I assure you, it’s really not necessary –”

“We’ll play now,” Ye Xiu says. He’s shaking out his wrists and rolling his shoulders but he looks – he looks energised, like there’s a spark under his skin, smirking at Sun Xiang even across the room. “I’m tired, he’s broken, we’re equal. Just let me go to the bathroom and then I’m all yours Sun Xiang.”

Su Mucheng giggles quietly. Sun Xiang feels a hot flush crawl up his neck and stalks forward. Fuck. He hates this so much. Even if he wins he won’t feel like he deserves it, everyone will still whisper behind his back about how he only won because Ye Xiu was tired, that he deliberately planned it –

“Good luck Sun-ge!” Su Mucheng calls out, and it’s echoed from half a dozen people round the room. Sun Xiang stares at them, lost. Why aren’t they sneering at him, whispering amongst themselves –

“Ah ah ah, at least Ye Xiu can’t be so shameless this time and heal himself before the fight.” Huang Shaotian says loudly, and there’s laughter across the room at the shared memory of Ye Xiu brazenly restoring his HP and MP, the last time he and Sun Xiang fought. Sun Xiang’s gaze sweeps over them – Han Wenqing chuckling to himself, Yu Wenzhou shaking his head and pulling Huang Shaotian back into his seat, Wang Jiexi smiling quietly, and suddenly realises that none of them are laughing at him. They – they’re laughing with him, sharing the joke, in fact he could laugh as well if he wanted –

Ye Xiu walks back into the room and Sun Xiang’s brain drops out of his head and splats onto the floor.

Ye Xiu is wearing his red hoody.

It’s slightly too big for him, showing just a hint of collarbone at the neck, the sleeves coming down over Ye Xiu’s hands so that he has to push them up to play, showing off his wrists and forearms. Sun Xiang doesn’t think he’s ever seen him wear something other than black and white, and he looks so good that he’s not sure he can breathe, let alone play.

Ye Xiu smirks like the little arsehole he is and puts on his headset, his voice coming low and firm in Sun Xiang’s ears two seconds later.

“I’ve been looking forward to this match Sun Xiang. Are you sure your hand’s healed enough to play?”

“It was working perfectly last night.” Sun Xiang says, and watches that hint of pink appear on Ye Xiu’s cheeks, his hips shifting as though he remembers the feeling of Sun Xiang’s fingers pressing against his hole.

The start timer is rapidly ticking down and Sun Xiang slides his card in. The second the map opens he’s fighting for his life.

“Oh shit,” someone in the room mutters, and then Sun Xiang loses all awareness of anything except the fight.

Ye Xiu is relentless, pressing close, using a frenzied sequence of moves that takes Sun Xiang at least four seconds to recognise as a combination of Brawler and Qi Master strikes, trying to chip away his HP and debuff his attack speed at the same time. Sun Xiang feints a Circle Swing and then casts Magic Shield instead, knocking Ye Xiu back enough for the greater length of Evil Annihilation to tell, the blade clashing against Myriad Manifestation Umbrella hard enough to cause sparks.

For the briefest moment Sun Xiang notices the two weapons that Su Muqiu made crash against each other, and thinks that maybe the guy he never met would have been glad that Ye Xiu is with someone new. He made two weapons after all, one for Ye Xiu, and one for the person fighting him.

Oh.

He gets it now.

Ye Xiu has switched to a Sharpshooter’s skills, opening up space between them for whatever he’s got planned next. Sun Xiang whirls into the opening moves of Dragon Breaks the Ranks, as though he’s planning to force Ye Xiu back even further, fakes a switch to Meteor Strike so that Ye Xiu twirls the Umbrella into a shield facing the sky, and then hits him with the Dragon attack after all. Ye Xiu’s recovery is blinding fast, sending him flying with a Beserker’s Colliding Stab and then recoil-firing himself to a safe distance.

Sun Xiang doesn’t think he’s ever felt happier than this precise moment. Who cares about the rest of the room, the assessors, the rankings. Every instinct he has is singing through him, no time for doubts or anxiety, just the perfect surety of meeting Ye Xiu’s rhythm and trying to push them both higher. Ye Xiu is having to work for it, he can sense that as sure as he can still taste him in his mouth, and that’s all the validation he needs.

Ye Xiu, being the little shit he is, switches to an Assassin’s skills and vanishes in a cloud of mist. Sun Xiang loses all sense of the outside world, his fingers moving independently of his brain to meet every attack that comes out of nowhere, every slashing blade appearing without warning. Ye Xiu’s APM must be off the charts, the attacks coming less than a second apart and Sun Xiang acts on pure instinct, guessing rather than seeing where the next blow will come from.

He spins on a heel as Ye Xiu teleports away, landing on a pillar close by. Sun Xiang can almost sense the smirk as Ye Xiu uses the Ninja move Moon-Slaying Sakura and ten thousand cherry blossom petals start slicing through the air. Cherry. Dickhead.

Sun Xiang whirls Evil Annihilation over his head, as though preparing to cut through the thousands of tiny flower daggers heading his way. He knows, he knows, Ye Xiu is already moving, and slams a Falling Flower Palm against the ground to throw himself upward just as Ye Xiu appears out of the dirt for a Cut Throat attack, his blade whistling uselessly through the air. The petals whirl in slow motion around them both, a beautifully romantic scene, and then Sun Xiang activates Fire Chaser and all ten thousand petals burst into flame, converging on the spot where Ye Xiu is standing.

Sun Xiang uses another Falling Flower Palm to push himself out of danger, staggering as he lands and whirling round to defend against the next attack. He’s losing HP from a hundred small cuts but he’s already tapping out the sequence to Meteor Strike, searching for wherever Ye Xiu appears next –

The golden Glory symbol appears on his screen and Sun Xiang keeps tapping furiously for the next few seconds, frantically waiting for the blade that never comes. Then he realises his ears are ringing and tears his eyes away from the screen to look out at the room, everyone clapping and cheering. Huang Shaotian is yelling insults at Ye Xiu and Su Mucheng and Wang Yanli are jumping up and down as they cheer. Han Wenqing gives a slow nod to Sun Xiang, and that’s what hammers it home.

He won. He beat Ye Xiu.

“Damnit, I thought for sure the hoody would throw you off.” Ye Xiu murmurs in his ear, just for him alone, and Sun Xiang spins around to see him smiling at him past the screens. This smile is a new one – no, that’s not true, Sun Xiang has seen it before, directed at Su Mucheng and Guo-Guo and Wei Chen and the other people that Ye Xiu considers friends, family, teammates. And now at Sun Xiang.

Sun Xiang goes back to his seat as though he’s sleepwalking, accepting the congratulations and claps on the back with only distant nods in reply.

“How’s your wrist?” Su Mucheng asks when he sits back down. She’s still got the brace clasped in her lap and he takes it back without a word – his hand is aching something fierce so he'll need the extra support for another day or so – and only when he sees her smiling at him does he realise he’s stroking over the three little cats with his thumb.

“Congratulations Sun-ge,” she says, and Sun Xiang sits back in his chair and wonders what the fuck he’s supposed to do now.

~

“Sun Xiang! Why are you so slow? I thought you hurt your wrist not your ankle, or have you just run out of energy after that match, that’s very poor stamina Sun Xiang do you really think you’re suited to be on the China National Team if you can only fight one match, look at Ye Xiu he did forty-eight of them and he’s way up in front –”

I will gag him if you don’t.” Sun Xiang tells Yu Wenzhou, who’s walking just in front of them. Huang Shaotian makes a spluttering noise and Yu Wenzhou just pushes his glasses up his nose and grins. The rest of the group – the unofficial China National Team, with the results announced tomorrow, but really, there’s very little doubt – all strung out along the pavement in front of them as they head to a hotpot restaurant for a celebration dinner.

“Tch, such rudeness, who would think you’d be the successor to the Glory Textbook, honestly I can think of ten – no, one hundred – no! one thousand! – better players, and –”

“What the fuck did you just say?” Sun Xiang demands, grabbing Huang Shaotian by the collar. Yu Wenzhou turns at that, and in front of him Wang Jiexi pauses where he’s talking on the phone, Han Wenqing at his side. The three top Captains of Glory watch as he shakes Huang Shaotian like a kitten.

“What did you mean by that?”

“Does Sun Xiang not know?” asks Yu Wenzhou calmly. Sun Xiang blinks at him and realises a second later that Yu Wenzhou has sneakily pried his fingers off Huang Shaotian’s neck, his arm firmly around the other boy’s waist. Huh. So his radar was spot on then. “I would have thought it was obvious.”

“Xiaoyu-mei, I will speak to you later. There is a situation requiring my attention.” Wang Jiexi says into the phone, and then hangs up. He and Han Wenqing are watching with carefully blank eyes.

“Hey hey hey, what are you grabbing me for?!” Huang Shaotian is standing on tiptoes to get up in his face, before his captain-boyfriend pulls him away with a weary look on his face. “What? You think this is how the Master of Glory should behave huh –”

“Qiu Fei is Ye Xiu’s successor.” Sun Xiang says. He can hear the hollowness in his own voice. Ever since he met the younger boy he’s known it was true. He doesn’t know how, doesn’t know when, but at some point One Autumn Leaf will be returned to its rightful place, Ye Xiu’s heir, Qiu Fei.

“Qiu Fei is Ye Xiu’s Battle Mage successor.” Han Wenqing says calmly. “As Song Qiying will inherit my Striker, and Gao Yingjie will inherit Captain Wang’s Witch. But Ye Xiu is more than just the top Battle Mage. He has always been more.”

He’s a fighter and tactician rolled into one

You’re Ye Xiu. Half the tactics in Glory were created by you!

That the whole Glory world they inhabited was down to him

“Ye Xiu is the Glory Textbook.” Wang Jiexi says. “And he is the Master of Glory.”

“What…what does that mean?” Sun Xiang asks. He feels dazed, dizzy, like he’s been hit over the head. “I’m…I’m not a tactician, never will be, I can’t be the Glory Textbook like him, I can’t –”

Han Wenqing makes a grumbling noise. “Song Qiying is not like me. He is still my successor.” He takes half a step forward, face creasing into something that might almost be concern, and that’s when Sun Xiang realises he’s literally swaying on the spot and the Captains are exchanging worried glances.

“Ye Xiu is the Master of Glory not because of his strategic abilities.” Yu Wenzhou tries to explain. “Or, not just for that. It is as we have just seen – none of us would question his role as an assessor for the China National Team. Ye Xiu’s analysis of Glory, his understanding of Glory, his love for Glory…those are the things that make him its Master. Not just his knowledge of tactics.”

“Hey hey hey!” Huang Shaotian bursts out. He’s been bouncing on his toes for the past few minutes, like the words are building up inside him, waiting to erupt. “Don’t get cocky Sun Xiang! You’ve got a long way to go before you become the Master of Glory like Master Ye Xiu! He’s the best! Just because you can see things no one else can and understand fights like no one else and spot tactics that the big fancy tacticians miss –” he sidesteps Yu Wenzhou’s grab for him without even looking, “– doesn’t mean you’re worthy to be Ye Xiu’s successor yet! You’re going to have to work harder than anyone else, understand!”

Sun Xiang takes one breath, lets it out. Then another. Then another. They feel…different. He suddenly realises that the tightness around his chest is – gone. Gone completely. He hasn’t taken a deep breath like this in…years.

“Thank you for explaining. I will do my utmost to be worthy,” he says formally, and then he bows. To Han Wenqing, for creating the Glory League along with Ye Xiu and Su Muqiu. To Wang Jiexi, for achieving the first ever Perfect team record. To Yu Wenzhou, for being the first tactician Captain in all the League. To Huang Shaotian, for being the most ruthless opponent and the most loyal comrade. Thanking them for paving the road he gets to keep walking down.

Walking down with Ye Xiu at his side.

He’s not sure what Yu Wenzhou does to keep Huang Shaotian quiet for the rest of the walk but he’s grateful for it, following the Captains as they enter the large mall. The rest of the group have gone on ahead and only Su Mucheng is waiting for them, idly playing a shooter game outside a large arcade.

“Ah! There you are! Everyone else is inside. Sun-ge, wait for me to finish this level!”

Sun Xiang waits patiently whilst she obliterates every target that appears. After a while his brain turns back on enough that he notices the name of the arcade and wanders over to the motorcycle racing game just inside the doors.

“Oh, Sun-ge, do you want to play this?” Su Mucheng asks innocently, appearing at his side. Sun Xiang doesn’t think he can talk past the lump in his throat as he stares at the red and blue bikes. Su Mucheng follows his gaze and something shifts in her face as well. “Do you know this game Sun-ge?”

“Yes. I know this game. This is one of my family’s arcades.” Sun Xiang says. He’s never told anyone in the world of Glory that. He was terrified they’d dismiss him as another gaming legacy kid, think that he didn’t have to work to be good at gaming because of his inheritance.

“Bright Sun arcades are your family’s??” Su Mucheng gasps, looking around. “Wait, wasn’t the City B arcade the first one in the franchise? Is this –”

“Yes.” Sun Xiang says. His father’s office should be a floor up. He wouldn’t be there now – the whole family were in Berlin at the moment. “I grew up here. The first time I played Glory was on one of the staff’s accounts in the back office.”

“Your father must be very proud of you, if you come from a gaming industry family.” Su Mucheng suggests quietly, like she already knows the answer. Sun Xiang just smiles and shakes his head.

“My father is proud of winners. He’s not interested in anything else.”

His father hadn’t approved of Sun Xiang wanting to start from the bottom, play in a Glory server until he was good enough to earn recognition, go pro, get signed to a team. He’d tried to buy Sun Xiang a God-level account at the beginning – in Samsara, actually, now that he remembers. How ironic.

“Sun-ge! You’re going to be on the China National Team! Surely he must –”

“My sister is playing in the International Chess Tournament in Berlin at the moment. She’s a strong contender for the title.” Sun Xiang says quietly. He doesn’t bother mentioning what his two older brothers have already achieved. They all accepted his father’s help.

Su Mucheng goes quiet. Her gaze follows his to where it’s still fixed on the simulator arcade game, the two bikes shining in the dim light. Suddenly she gasps.

“Sun-ge! Wasn’t it your grandfather then who invented this game?”

“Yeah that’s right. I loved playing it as a kid – Su Mucheng, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, oh, it’s nothing.” It’s definitely something. Even Sun Xiang can see that she’s upset about something. But then she smiles even though she’s crying and then he’s thoroughly confused. She pats him on the arm and takes a deep breath. “Sun-ge, I won’t say too much now but…this game is very important is me, and Ye Xiu, and…my brother, Su Muqiu. So I think it is fate that it is connected to your family, to you. That maybe, despite everything, we have all ended up where we are meant to be.”

She smiles up at him and Sun Xiang can’t help but smile back, feeling lighter even though he has absolutely no idea what she’s on about. But it’s easy enough to let her take his arm and lead him off to the hotpot place. Ye Xiu looks up when they walk in and smiles to see them, one of his sweet, uncomplicated smiles that literally just means he’s happy, and it makes a whole new feeling curl up in Sun Xiang’s chest, one that he thinks he’d quite like to have stick around.

“Sun Xiang! Qiu Fei says that you love super spicy flavours, so we got you the spiciest broth all to yourself!” Huang Shaotian shouts from across the table, and Sun Xiang flips him off as he slides into his seat – his seat next to Ye Xiu, right in the middle of the group, the same place he’s been sitting for the past three days without ever noticing.

Huh. A couple of weeks ago he was watching this crowd wistfully from afar, and now –

Ye Xiu is fishing bits of meat out of the – mercifully mild – broth, placing a couple on Sun Xiang’s plate. Sun Xiang’s pretty sure he doesn’t even notice the smirks he’s getting from everyone else around the table.

“About time,” says Yu Wenzhou.

“What do you mean, about time?” Wang Jiexi pauses with some pork halfway to his mouth. “They've been together for months, haven’t they?”

“What? I thought they were pining for each other from afar?” Yu Wenzhou blinks.

“They’ve been having hate-sex since last year but the feelings are new.” Han Wenqing grunts as he eats an entire pork ball in one go.

“Ah ah you’re all idiots, Ye Xiu has fancied Sun Xiang for ages but Sun Xiang is an idiot who only just noticed and they have only been having sex for a few days!” Huang Shaotian announces, waving his chopsticks in the air, and everyone just laughs at him.

“That’s definitely not right, it’s unrequited love situation.” Zhang Xinjie argues, and starts them all off again. Ye Xiu doesn’t even look up, just keeps fishing out food to put on his plate, completely ignoring the League's top Captains discussing his sex life except for the tiniest little smirk at the corner of his mouth. Sun Xiang looks at his profile and the soft warm feeling in his chest wells up until it takes over the whole entirety of him. Then he snags some meat out of the hotpot and puts it on Ye Xiu’s plate.

Behind the arguing boys, Su Mucheng and Wang Yanli clink glasses. They go completely unnoticed.

~

~

~

~

~

“Say it again,” Sun Xiang demands, pushing Ye Xiu down onto the bed. The red and gold sweatshirt of the China National Team uniform is soft and warm (so that's what all the sponsorship money went on) and comes off easily enough, and then he’s pulling Ye Xiu’s pants off so he can wrap a hand around his cock and feel him groan. As always, having Ye Xiu in his arms is rapidly sending him into overdrive, but he knows what he wants this time.

“Say it.”

“Ah, Sun Xiang – please – ah, god, it was – it was an amazing match –”

“And?” Sun Xiang jerks him roughly, watching that pink blush spread across his chest and the way his hips arch off the bed. He feels like he’s burning up, Ye Xiu’s words setting him on fire.

“Sun Xiang – so impressive, so unstoppable – fuck, Xiang, please –”

It’s impossible to resist Ye Xiu begging, especially when Sun Xiang wants it just as much. He dips his head and kisses the other man, loving the hidden sweetness of him. He pulls away and bites his way down to Ye Xiu’s collarbones, still marked up from that morning.

“Tell me.”

“Sun Xiang was – was – fuck, you were so good. Couldn’t stop watching you – ah – ah, fuck, you were the best –”

Goddamnit. It’s better than the actual victory against the French Sharpshooter, hearing Ye Xiu praise him in that desperate gasping voice. Sun Xiang’s cock is like an iron bar, pressing up against Ye Xiu’s thigh. Fuck, he wants –

“Ye Xiu –” he gets out through gritted teeth, and Ye Xiu twists his head for another kiss, nodding his head at the same time, plucking the thought out of his head the way he always does.

“Yes, Xiang, fuck me, please –”

It’s the work of minutes to prep him, and seconds to push his legs back and put his cock against his hole, but every moment feels like an eternity until Sun Xiang is pressing inside, letting his head drop with how overwhelmingly good it feels. Ye Xiu is folded in half beneath him, clutching at Sun Xiang’s upper arms, his pink little mouth open and his lashes trembling as Sun Xiang forces his way in.

Once he’s as deep as he can possibly get Sun Xiang goes back to kissing. Ye Xiu always needs a few minutes to adjust to Sun Xiang splitting him open, and it’s not exactly a hardship for Sun Xiang to kiss him senseless whilst keeping his cock warm at the same time. One time he might actually suggest that, tug Ye Xiu onto his lap and onto his cock, maybe see how quickly he can defeat one of the low-level bosses with Ye Xiu nestled warm and snug around him…

He adds it to the list. It’s an incredibly long list, and he adds things to it quicker than they cross them off. That’s fine. They are both very into the idea that Sun Xiang is going to be teaching Ye Xiu about sex for a very long time.

They’re partners after all. They’re each other’s ‘other person’.

“Sun Xiang…” Ye Xiu murmurs against his lips, his hips starting to twitch in the way that means he wants to get pounded. Sun Xiang feels like he’s been hard for a year, so he pushes Ye Xiu’s thighs further apart and sinks his fingers in to get a good grip before hammering his hips forward, loving the choked off gasp he gets in return.

Ye Xiu is impossibly tight and hot around him and he’s almost at the edge before Ye Xiu tenses like a vice, his hand a blur on his own cock, and then Sun Xiang’s pumping him full of come in desperate relief as Ye Xiu covers himself in white. Sometimes Sun Xiang pulls out to add to the mess, but other times like today he prefers to fill Ye Xiu up and let it drip out of him.

Ye Xiu has gotten slightly better at not falling asleep straight after sex. If Sun Xiang’s lucky he can drag him into the shower, but most times he’s happy enough to let Ye Xiu curl up like a cat on the bed, yawning and blinking sleepily, whilst Sun Xiang bustles around cleaning them both up. Sometimes just the sight of him sleepy and pliant and covered in Sun Xiang’s marks and come is enough to get him hard again, and then Ye Xiu will lick the very tip of his cock for him till he comes on his face, or lie there with big eyes blinking whilst Sun Xiang wanks off over his chest.

But then he definitely falls asleep and Sun Xiang has to start the clean up all over again.

Tonight he must still have some shared adrenaline from watching the match because he stands in the shower swaying slowly whilst Sun Xiang rinses them both down, and then shamelessly steals boxers and a t-shirt to sleep in – Sun Xiang is fairly sure he only does it to guarantee more sex in the morning, when Sun Xiang wakes up to the sight of him in his clothes – and then beckons Sun Xiang into bed.

“Sun Xiang, you always push me down on the bed too forcefully, I had planned to reward you for an excellent match with something special,” Ye Xiu complains, in a way that is not remotely complaining. Sun Xiang pinches Ye Xiu’s side and then grabs his squirming form.

“How about I get a double reward if you beat the Brawler tomorrow?” he suggests. Yu Wenzhou has had to rush back to China for a Blue Rain emergency, so Ye Xiu is stepping in as Warlock. It’s only the first round of matches in the World Glory Competition, but the China National Team is already undefeated. Sun Xiang is reasonably confident tomorrow’s match will be the same.

“Why do you get a reward for my victory?” Ye Xiu muses to the ceiling. Sun Xiang bites him on the shoulder.

“A reward for you is a reward for me,” he says.

Once, he’d listened to Ye Xiu make one of his speeches, about how he wanted to play Glory with people whose swords were pointing in the same direction as his. It hadn’t made sense to Sun Xiang at the time – actually it had made him irrationally mad, just another example of Ye Xiu acting like a know-it-all and spouting nonsense instead of taking their fights as seriously as he did and – anyway. It had taken him a while, but he finally thought he understood.

Only by playing competitive rivals can we grow stronger.

Su Muqiu’s words. Su Muqiu, who’d made two weapons, a second weapon that wasn’t for himself – not a cannon or a pistol or any of the equipment that his Launcher would have used – but a weapon for someone else to fight Ye Xiu with. So that if anything ever happened to him, Ye Xiu would still have a partner, a competitive rival, to fight against and challenge him and grow stronger alongside, their swords clashing against one another but ultimately, pointing in the same direction.

“Hey Sun Xiang,” Ye Xiu yawns, snuggling in against his shoulder. He’d come back to Sun Xiang’s bed the night they went for hotpot, and the night the official team had been announced, and the night after that, and…well. Sun Xiang has stopped counting. But he’s never stopped being grateful. “Day after tomorrow, I’ll borrow Zhou Zekai’s Sharpshooter account, I want to test out a counter-defence against the move you used today. I have some ideas.”

“Only if I can borrow Lord Grim to train with Su Mucheng afterwards. I need more Spitfire practice.” Sun Xiang replies, feeling more than hearing Ye Xiu’s sleepy agreement against his skin. He and Mucheng are working up a tandem Gunner combination that’s going to make them hated by the entire League when they’re done.

Ye Xiu is going to love it. His smile whenever Sun Xiang presents him with a new challenge is the best thing Sun Xiang’s ever seen, and he’s the only one who ever earns it. His life’s goal now is to prove himself worthy of being Ye Xiu’s true heir. Especially as that involves spending every day with Ye Xiu himself.

Ye Xiu is asleep already, a soft warm shape in his arms. Sun Xiang gives the room a quick check, noting their phones charging side-by-side and the blackout curtains firmly pulled down. Tomorrow’s match isn’t until the afternoon, which means they get to have a lie in until Shaotian comes banging on the door to wake them up. Or wake him up, and then it’ll take many kisses, several cups of coffee and possibly morning handjobs to get Ye Xiu out of bed.

Sun Xiang smiles and drifts off to sleep. Finally, something worth waking up for.