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Zhu Yilong sat frozen at the conference table, wondering exactly when everything had gone wrong. It couldn't have been just fifteen minutes ago, when he and his team had walked in the door for a first-of-its kind meeting. No, this was the kind of thing that had its roots far earlier.

Maybe it was when he left grad school to start a company with friends. He definitely wouldn't be in this position if he had stuck it out and gotten a PhD, even if one more semester teaching intro-level engineering classes would have destroyed his soul. Even now, he couldn't regret being a part of the team that created the hydraulic pump that led to all the future success of Richu Limited. He hadn't been a part of the consumer electrical team that developed their most infamous product: Gùnbàng. The Staff. He genuinely believed them when they swore up and down that they had originally conceived of the project as a therapeutic health care device.

That didn't change the fact that the Staff quickly became cult famous as the greatest vibrator ever created.

Maybe that's where it all went awry: when the success of the Staff led to the creation of an entirely new company. Maybe the Staff was to blame for it all. Sure, Zhu Yilong had used it with his long-term girlfriend at the time, to satisfaction all around, and he may or may not have made some suggestions during the development of new attachments to suit a wider variety of anatomies and activities, and, okay, yes, he may have gotten wrapped up in the enthusiasm of new potential applications for some of their other inventions, and sure, fine, he was definitely one of the ones complaining about the awkwardness of going to meetings with potential investors and/or customers, only for them to leer at him and go, "Richu, eh? Are you here to show us your staff?", and no, he had not disagreed that it made sense to spin off their...more recreational devices from the bulk of the company, and no, it wouldn't have made sense for him to divest from their offshoot at the time of its creation, he was too heavily involved in the under-the-hood work (so to speak) on the refinement of some of their new sonic-focused devices, but, really, was all of that any reason to inflict the burden of being the face of the company on him?

"Face it, Long-ge," Han Qinghua had said, tossing a boob-shaped stress ball from hand to hand. "You're the pretty one here. So suck it up and take one for the team."

Zhu Yilong looked around the conference table: geniuses, all of them, working at the very...peak...of their craft. But, well. Mo Yufeng was probably the world’s foremost innovator in fluid dynamics and the funniest person Zhu Yilong had ever met, but he had seen how the marketing strategist’s eyes had skipped right over him, as if being fat made him invisible. Han Qinghua had lingering childhood acne scars. Even if you got rid of Shao Jinghai's enormous, stolen-from-a-math-nerd-in-a-movie glasses, it would be hard to shake the "please shove me in a locker and give me a wedgie" aura that he exuded. Zhu Yilong turned to Duan Xuexin. He was intimidatingly tall, gawky - lean and lithe, wasn't that what you looked for in models? - and had...an air about him. Maybe...?

Duan Xuexin held his gaze without blinking for a long, uncomfortable moment that stretched into something even longer, even more disquieting, even more unblinking. Zhu Yilong froze like prey. Finally, Duan Xuexin said, still without blinking, "No."

Zhu Yilong's fervent agreement overlapped with him.

But let it not be said he gave up without a fight. “We’re doing well!" he protested. "Why can’t we hire an actor? Someone who knows how to...wear clothes. And do things with their face.”

Every eye in the room slid to the company picture on the wall from their last retreat, in which Zhu Yilong...technically...inhabited a polo shirt from his first start-up and camo cargo shorts that were likely even older. The photo cut off before their feet, but the Crocs on Zhu Yilong’s feet could nonetheless be felt as a sort of spiritual presence. He held his arms and hands as if unsure how they connected to the rest of his body. The mop on his head hadn't seen a brush in months.The expression on his face said simultaneously that he was surprised and offended by the existence of the camera and that this was his first attempt at non-verbally communicating human emotions such as “amusement” and “happiness.” There was a collective wince throughout the room. Zhu Yilong felt hope rise within him.

Cao Yuzhen cleared her throat, drawing their attention to where she was tapping furiously on her phone. With a flourish, she mirrored her screen on the projector, showing off the now-infamous Weibo post: a candid gif of the R&D lab, with the team caught mid-laughter as Zhu Yilong offered up the latest iteration of the Staff in supplication to Tian Yimei, a warrior offering his sword to his liege lady: he was possibly wearing the same polo shirt as in the company photo, and the small, dead animal on his head had been trimmed back into an unfortunate not-quite-a-buzzcut. But the short hair meant he couldn't hide his impeccable bone structure or frustratingly pristine skin. His head was tossed back in laughter with a smile that could stop traffic. Or, in this case, could start traffic.

"This post outperformed all our previous corporate postings for the last three years." She paused for emphasis. "Combined."

Zhu Yilong felt his doom approach.

"While we are all in agreement that it is best for our public image to separate our recreational department from our more traditional mechanical and technological offerings, we would be entrepreneurial fools to overlook a publicity opportunity like this.”

Zhu Yilong slouched in his chair, his doom pressing him towards the ground.

Cao Yuzhen grinned at him, not without sympathy. “Congratulations, kiddo. You’re the new CEO and face of Yunyu Enterprises.”

Thus was his fate sealed. Rather than hire an actor, they hired people to teach Zhu Yilong to wear clothes and do things with his face. On purpose, even. To everyone's surprise, he turned out to be not terrible at it.

(Their first ad for the English-language market was a slow, syrupy thing, set to Nancy Sinatra crooning mournfully about her baby shooting her down, while Zhu Yilong unhooked the halter neck of a fancy dress on a fancy model and ran the Staff over her shoulder while making intense eye contact with the camera. His protests that Gunbang wasn't even pronounced the same way went unheard, and the ad went viral instantly.)

The bigger shock to the system, though, was making the shift from the r&d lab to the boardroom. While the mantle of CEO had been bestowed upon him initially for marketing reasons as much as anything - most of their corporate decisions were made by the board, especially when "the board" mostly consisted of Zhu Yilong, Mo Yufeng, and Tian Yimei sitting around a table and tossing the boob-shaped stress ball back and forth as much as ideas - he grew into that role as much as he grew into the role of the public face of Yunyu. Zhu Yilong had a fundamental understanding of his team and his products, and while still hesitant and awkward when speaking on his own behalf, he found his own ruthlessness when negotiating on behalf of his people.

That still didn't fully explain how he ended up here, in a boardroom, seated beside a porn star, watching in joint horrified fascination as their respective legal and marketing teams went at each other like a pack of hyenas. Never taking his eyes off Mu Chaoxu, where she was lunging over the conference table to jam her stylus aggressively at opposing counsel's tablet, making every legal term she spat out sound like an insult, he leaned to the side and offered his hand. "Zhu Yilong, CEO of Yunyu. Sorry you have to witness this."

"Bai Yu," the man said, taking his hand and shifting the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. "CEO of, well, me. I wouldn't miss this for the world." They both winced as one of the marketing execs - unclear whose - dove for the keyboard to wrest control of the powerpoint presentation while shrieking, "Your projections for Q4 are entirely unrealistic and based on BAD DATA."

Really, it was all Han Qinghua's fault. While Mo Yufeng had come up with the initial principle and proposal for practical application, it was Han Qinghua who had handled project development and was overinvested in the success of his baby.

"Look, we have to branch out and innovate," he said one afternoon over take-out from the place with the mediocre noodles but good dumplings. "Our previous strategy of plausible deniability and having you leer innocently at the camera while stroking the product meaningfully has done wonders, but a key component of that is missing here." He tapped at his phone, and the projection dramatically zoomed in on his pet project. "People might not know exactly what they're looking at, at least at first, but there's no plausibly denying that this is gonna go up someone's butt." The prostate massager strobed cheerfully in the background. "Cao Yuzhen will agree with me. Our marketing campaign can't be you rubbing this all over your face."

"Believe it or not, I am perfectly comfortable with that statement," Zhu Yilong said dryly. "It's the other bit I'm not there on yet."

"That's the best part!" Han Qinghua waved his chopsticks in excitement. "Rather than dance around it, we're just saying fuck plausible deniability! Fuck discretion! Fuck-"

"Fuck Bai Yu," Cao Yuzhen interrupted.

"Exactly!" Han Qinghua was gleeful. "Or, you know, someone else of his caliber and name - name? - recognition."

The marketing intern coughed gently and slid forward a half dozen portfolios. "We've prepared assessments of the most likely candidates, with relevant reference material and projected audience capture to click turnover."

Zhu Yilong flipped through the folders, raising an eyebrow at some of the pie charts. "Did we really pay you to watch porn on company time?"

The intern flushed alarmingly, and Cao Yuzhen said reprovingly, "We provide a housing and transportation stipend for interns, not a salary. Technically they got class credit for watching porn."

"Much better," Zhu Yilong murmured. He made a good show of going through all the portfolios, making notes, and hmmming thoughtfully, but his decision had been made from the moment Han Qinghua burst into his office to proclaim, "We're gonna pay Bai Yu to fuck himself with our new toy and make millions of yuan off it. It's gonna be great."

So, yeah. Unless one of the marketing team actually managed to maul one of opposing counsel before they could come to an agreement, they were gonna pay Bai Yu a lot of money to fuck himself with their latest toy and make millions of yuan off it. It was a nightmare.

 


 

It wasn't that bad, actually. Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu were actually able to have a reasonable conversation - hushed, to avoid attracting attention - in which they discussed the basics: creative control, intellectual property rights, scheduling. But the lawyers got wind of what was going on, and things started to go awry when words like "authentic" and "natural" started being tossed around.

Finally Bai Yu interceded. "Look, I'm not saying we'll fake anything, but I'm a professional. We don't make "authenticity" guarantees. We guarantee a quality end result."

Zhu Yilong could see Han Qinghua's stress visibly rising. He believed in this product, perhaps to a fault, but Zhu Yilong managed to cut him off before he said something regrettable in passionate defense of his toy. "You weren't going to be able to shoot right away in any case. We will provide you with a prototype."

Han Qinghua made dying whale noises of distress.

Zhu Yilong shot him a look, then returned his attention across the table. "And you will preserve all our trade secrets for a predetermined amount of time until after the product has come on the market. There will be consequences if we find the unique properties of our product are no longer quite so unique." Zhu Yilong grinned at Bai Yu's head lawyer, all teeth. He felt more than saw Bai Yu shift in his seat next him.

"That won't be a problem," the lawyer said quickly. "We'll work with the prototype and sketch out some ideas and scenarios, and we'll get back to you in - a week?"

Bai Yu scrolled intently through his calendar. "It's going to have to be at least three weeks. I've got the -" he made a complicated hand motion that his team seemed to understand. "And you'll need my input before you can do the location scouting."

"Let us know if we can be of any assistance with that," Zhu Yilong said. "We have...relationships of mutual benefit...with several notable hoteliers with many fine locations."

Bai Yu quirked an eyebrow. "And how do you know that most of my shoots are in hotels?" he said, grinning around his toothpick.

"Market research is important," Zhu Yilong said stiffly. "Our interns prepared in-depth portfolios on-"

Bai Yu hooted with laughter. "You paid interns to watch my porn?"

Zhu Yilong grinned unexpectedly. "Actually, they got university credit for watching your porn.

 


 

Zhu Yilong, however, had neither been paid or received university credit for watching Bai Yu's porn. That was purely extracurricular. And predated the creation of the prototype. By a lot. 

 


 

No, it really was that bad. Because two weeks after their teams met, Bai Yu started messaging Zhu Yilong. For tech support. When they had exchanged contact details at the end of the meeting, Zhu Yilong had assumed it was a pro forma thing, that all communication would be through their teams. But there that notification sat, just a few lines asking if they could arrange a time to troubleshoot.

Zhu Yilong was the CEO of the most profitable high-end sex toy company of the last ten years. Zhu Yilong had staff and entire teams of engineers devoted to cutting-edge research on sexual pleasure. There was absolutely no reason for Zhu Yilong to be personally involved in coaching a user through issues with any of their toys, even with the added marketing complications of this particular user.

Zhu Yilong called Bai Yu that evening.

Their conversation flowed as easily as it had that afternoon in the boardroom, but eventually they had to come to the crux of the issue. “Look, I can fuck myself with this thing," Bai Yu said, his frustration ringing clear. "I’m in fact very good at fucking myself with all sorts of things. And it’s fine. Nice! But I get the feeling that’s not what you’re going for?”

"Oh. Oh, dear," Zhu Yilong said, somewhat dumbfounded. "Did they send you any accompanying notes? Oh, god, were they Mo Yufeng’s notes? If so, you may never come again."

Bai Yu laughed and said, "No, no notes. Just the toy in an unmarked box. I'm surprised Han Qinghua didn't make me handcuff myself to a briefcase first."

Zhu Yilong hummed idly. "Maybe in the sequel." Bai Yu laughed again, which made Zhu Yilong feel a little giddy. He promised to hunt down a draft of the instruction manual as soon as possible.

He called back the next afternoon. "So I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I was able to get you an early draft of the product liner notes, as we anticipate you won't be the only one with questions. The bad news is the liner notes are still heavily based on Mo Yufeng's notes and incomprehensible to mere mortals. I will absolutely send them over, but we would, ah, appreciate any input you might have that might make them more...user-friendly."

"I'll throw that in free of charge," Bai Yu said cheerfully.

The third day, Bai Yu called Zhu Yilong.

"I feel a little silly for insisting on this so many times, but, look. I am a goddamn professional," Bai Yu started off. "I have fucked and been fucked in more ways than your team could ever dream of. So when I say I am defeated by your stupid little four inches of plastic and booklet of gibberish, trust me when I say I know what I'm talking about: the way this is right now? It's a shitty little dildo, and it's never going to sell. I can make it look good, but it's still just going to look like a shitty little dildo with some fancy arms."

"It's not a dildo; it's not meant to be a dildo," Zhu Yilong protested. "Look, we've even got medical -"

Bai Yu cut him off. "I've read all about your medical certification, or whatever! It was one of the few parts of the booklet I understood! But are you basing all this on Mo Yufeng's incomprehensible genius and some doctor's anatomy textbook? Like, have you done any focus group testing or know that this works at all in a real world setting?"

"Are you seriously implying that we would be mounting a multi-million yuan campaign to roll out a product that we never checked to see if it would actually make someone come?" Zhu Yilong couldn't keep the disdain and disbelief from his voice.

"I don't know!" Bai Yu said. "From this booklet, it sure looks like it! And I've seen your website; you don't have a single product out exclusively designed for men."

Zhu Yilong gritted his teeth. "If you mean that we do not have any toys out solely focused on prostate stimulation, that is true. Because we wanted to do it right, wanted to innovate the market like we did with Gunbang and our sonic stimulators. We're not here just to make fancy versions of things that have been around forever."

Bai Yu sighed. "I'm sorry to have impugned your scientific innovation."

Zhu Yilong softened. "We're all engineers at heart. We tinker. We make things better, even if it's counterintuitive."

"Yeah, well, your proposed marketing copy for this thing sounds like something out of some of the more fanciful side of Japanese porn, so when you pair it with an impenetrable -" Bai Yu snorted and Zhu Yilong groaned "- instruction manual, yeah, it does make a guy a little doubtful."

Zhu Yilong gritted his teeth again and clung desperately to professionalism, which was harder - heh - than it had ever been in his long and lightly sordid career as a Sexual Pleasure Innovator and Disrupter. "Look. Will you accept my personal assurance that the marketing claims are not unrealistic, are based on actual experiences both in and out of the lab, and give it another go? If there are any parts of the manual that are particularly confusing, I'd be happy to try and translate."

Bai Yu was quiet for a long moment. "Your...personal assurance? Zhu-laoban, are you telling me that you've tried this device out yourself?"

"Not that one specifically!" Zhu Yilong yelped. Bai Yu pealed with laughter. "But, well, yes. It's not 100%, but I try very hard to have, um, hands-on experience with all of our products before they go to market, if I'm not already involved in the technical development."

"Technical development? You mean you've designed some of these toys, too?"

"Of course. I'm an electrical engineer by trade; that's how I got started at Richu." Zhu Yilong relaxed a little, on more comfortable ground. "I helped design the the Gunbang power supply, back when it was intended for...other uses."

"So discreet, Zhu-laoban," Bai Yu said. "Does anything dirty actually ever come out of your mouth?"

"I'm the face of plausible deniability for the brand," Zhu Yilong said wryly. "It's become something of a habit."

"Not fair," Bai Yu said slyly. "So pretty, so smart, so wicked in the boardroom, and he can smile while hiding a-" He cut himself off, grin audible. "You make the rest of us look bad."

Zhu Yilong tried to hide his fluster. "That's - I mean. I'm not. That's work," he finally got out.

Bai Yu laughed again, softer this time. "Believe me, Zhu-laoban, I know a little something about putting on a face for work," he said. They breathed together quietly over the phone, somehow not awkward. "But seriously. If you have any tips or tricks that you can explain very slowly in very small words, I would greatly appreciate it. Because right now I can't give you what you want to pay me for."

Zhu Yilong inhaled sharply. Paying him for. Because that's what this was - a business relationship. He wasn't supposed to be flirting; he was supposed to be troubleshooting. "I -"

A loud knocking at the door interrupted him. "Long-ge!" Song Le hollered through the door. "Quit doing market research; your flight leaves in two hours, and you need to be wearing pants for it!"

Zhu Yilong could feel his face flame as he fumbled with the phone on his chest, frantically stabbing at it to take it off speakerphone. He could still hear Bai Yu's laughter in the background. "Sorry, sorry!" he yelped.

"'Market research'?" Bai Yu snorted. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Am I gonna have to do a series of sexy powerpoints? 'Oooh, baby, show me that slide transition. Star spin that photo onscreen,'" he purred.

Zhu Yilong laughed, helpless against Bai Yu's ridiculousness. "Embed a video, oh yeah. Autoplay," he intoned dramatically.

Bai Yu cackled at Zhu Yilong playing along. "Make those bullet points appear one! by! one!" he groaned.

"Windowshade effect!" Zhu Yilong howled, and he could feel his whole body flush at Bai Yu's delight.

"...Zhu Yilong?" Song Le asked cautiously from the hallway. "Are you okay in there?"

"Just fine, Song Le! I'll be out in a moment!" Zhu Yilong called back. "Look, I have to run. I've got meetings in Hong Kong the next, uh, three? four days? Song Le will know." A fit of inspiration struck. "Look, Song Le knows my schedule better than me. Let me put you in touch with him, and he can find a time that works for both of us to, ah, discuss this further."

"Zhu-laoshi would never leave me hanging," Bai Yu murmured.

Zhu Yilong yelped. "That's not what I-!" he managed before trailing off at the quickly-familiar sound of Bai Yu's laughter.

"Go catch your plane, and give Song Le my information. I'll have my people call your people. We'll do lunch. Remedial sex toy lessons. Whatever."

"Thank you for your patience, and your willingness to try," Zhu Yilong, suddenly serious.

"Stop stealing my lines, Zhu-laoshi," Bai Yu said quietly around a smile, and he hung up.

Zhu Yilong had to fold a hand over his mouth to keep from grinning like a schoolboy all the way to the airport.

 


 

While Bai Yu technically started it with a cheery, "Enjoy your meetings! ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ" not long after they got off the phone, Zhu Yilong was definitely the one who kept it going the next morning with "ಠ_ಠ (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻" sent during a coffee break. (He will admit to no one how long he spent searching for the appropriate kaomoji response.) Bai Yu sent back a cry-laughing emoji, and they were off to the races. Zhu Yilong's schedule was packed to the brim with business meetings, business lunches, visits to distributors, business dinners, visits to client establishments, business drinks, and up again the next morning to begin all over again. This did not stop him from texting Bai Yu at every spare moment.

By unspoken agreement, they did not discuss work - for either of them - or anything to do with their mutual project in written format. Instead they, well. They shot the shit. They traded Hong Kong restaurant recommendations. Bai Yu wrote an ode to his favorite ramen shop in Kyoto, where his studio was based. Zhu Yilong shared the story of his first school trip to Japan, for a robotics competition when he was twelve. Bai Yu positively cooed over the idea of tiny, nerdy Zhu Yilong overshadowed by his enormous egg-smashing robot. Zhu Yilong demanded an embarrassing childhood story from Bai Yu in return.

There was a longer than normal pause before Bai Yu replied, and Zhu Yilong spent the next two meetings in agonies fearing that he'd overstepped. But after that night's dinner, as they emerged briefly into the damp night air to walk to this client's casino, Zhu Yilong checked his phone to find that Bai Yu had sent him a picture of himself at eight dressed as a tree for a school play.

Even with all that, it was still a surprise when Song Le called him on Thursday night, after his last pre-scheduled meeting and said, all in a rush, “Hey, Long-ge, hope you’re having a good night don’t worry about tomorrow I’ve booked you the morning off, and then we’ll meet in the afternoon to rack and stack follow on visits, and you can make the decision then if you want to do them on this trip or come back in a few weeks to let them get their shit together either is fine we can make it work either way it’s really your preference so yeah just kick back and relax tonight and yeah don’t kill me but I’ve authorized a guest to come up to your suite he should be there shortly and had something for you to talk about in person it’s perfectly fine hope you have a good night talk to you tomorrow for lunch at the earliest okay byyyyyyyye!”

Zhu Yilong pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it, in hopes that it would make the waterfall of words make more sense in retrospect. The elevator dinged before he could shake loose sense from his technology, and he padded barefoot to the foyer.

He always tried to stay at the Jermyn when he was in Hong Kong, both because he appreciated the privacy of the all-suite hotel, where every floor was its own self-contained unit with the elevator privately keyed to open directly into the suite. He also appreciated the consideration of the owner, who always saved the nicest rooms at a hefty discount for Yunyu employees.

(The owner's wife had been anorgasmic for years until they discovered Yunyu's Ciwei, and his gratitude had been overflowing ever since. Yunyu always brought gift bags with their latest developments, and the Jermyn always had room for them. It was not the only quid pro quo situation that benefited Yunyu, but it was one of Zhu Yilong’s favorites.)

Zhu Yilong was grateful for the privacy when the elevator doors opened and Bai Yu stepped out, looking like a disreputable grad student after an all-nighter, complete with torn jeans, messy hair, a backpack slung over one shoulder, and a five o clock shadow filling in around his thicker mustache and goatee. “Bai Yu!” he yelped, then promptly flushed.

“Zhu-laoshi!” Bai Yu beamed in return. “Song Le said you had some free time this evening, and since I’ve been in Hong Kong for the last couple weeks, I thought I’d swing by.” His smile was bright, but he hadn’t moved from the foyer yet, and Zhu Yilong thought he could read some hesitation in him. “Though if you’d prefer to do this by phone, I could always-“ he gestured over his shoulder at the elevator.

“No!” Zhu Yilong yelped again, feeling a little like a purse dog, anxious and quivering. “Please come in! Or, well. Hm. I haven’t eaten dinner yet; would you like to join me?”

Bai Yu’s eyes twinkled. “Are you sure you want to run the risk of being seen with me in public? I’d hate to blow your plausible deniability out of the water over some dumplings.”

“Some dumplings? Some dumplings? Have you changed your tune so quickly?” Zhu Yilong mocked outrage. "I thought you said Sun Hing had the best har gow in the city."

Zhu Yilong was aware of exactly how thin the line he walked, with his mask of “plausible deniability.” Sex toys were big business that only continued to grow, but pornography, or even the appearance of pornography, was still illegal. Zhu Yilong could thread the needle with his titillating commercials and promotion, but much of that was contingent on his absolutely pristine personal image. He could visit sex shops and brothels and discuss pleasure requirements with sex workers, so long as he had the misdirection of pious meetings with the institute of family life and the widowed mothers association.

The sex toy industry was able to operate as freely as it did explicitly because it had done so much work to distance itself from the rest of the sex industry. Who, us? We’re here to increase marital happiness and console those who have been so misfortunate as to lose their partner. We provide medical benefits and make people happier! Nothing sordid here, no.

No matter how much everyone knew that was a lie. No matter how many sex clubs Zhu Yilong visited, no matter how much valuable research they gained by studying both professionally-produced and amateur porn that used their toys. Pardon, their devices. Not toys. Too frivolous. They were able to charge as much as they did not just because of their technological innovation but because they provided the veneer of respectability. That respectability was only reinforced by the high cost of the devices, and it was a tidy little circle.

But Zhu Yilong well knew how quickly that could spin off the rails. Being seen in the company of a known porn star, especially one as notorious as Bai Yu, could easily upset that delicate balance. Their marketing plan of having Bai Yu use their device in a video stuck a toe over the line, but they preserved the fig leaf of deniability by shooting it outside the mainland, with a non-Chinese company. Bai Yu was at no more risk than he was in general, and it's not like they were going to slap big BROUGHT TO YOU BY YUNYU banners on the video, so it was just Zhu Yilong who was the weak link. Zhu Yilong who could put both Bai Yu and Yunyu at risk. Far better to speak only by phone, to avoid being seen in public, to put nothing down in writing.

Zhu Yilong knew all this. Zhu Yilong was no fool. Zhu Yilong knew the smart move to make. Zhu Yilong didn't hesitate. "Do you want to call the didi, or shall I?" Bai Yu's blooming grin made him feel good about his choice.

"I'll get the didi; you get your shoes," Bai Yu said.

While he was bent down tying his shoe, Zhu Yilong said casually, "You're welcome to leave your bag here, if you want to come back and pick up our previous discussion then." He thought this was a safe enough bet, that if Bai Yu weren't at least comfortable having this conversation in person, he wouldn't have accepted Song Le's offer for - wouldn't have asked Song Le to get him? - access to Zhu Yilong's hotel room.

Zhu Yilong was not dense enough to have missed Bai Yu's shameless flirting during their meeting and phone calls, but it was easy enough to get twisted around in this business, and Zhu Yilong was scrupulous about not crossing lines, both out of image management and, you know, being a decent fucking human being. A layer of sex over a conversation did not mean an invitation to sex would be welcome. A sex worker did not consider the whole world their potential client. A sex performer was not necessarily a sex provider. Public sex was not an invitation to private sex. Zhu Yilong knew all this. And that was even before broaching the complications of their business relationship, power dynamics, et cetera.

So Zhu Yilong might hope, might have his own fevered imagination on how the night might go, but it was his responsibility to make things clear, no matter how much he wanted to keep staring at his shoe until Bai Yu answered. He looked up to meet Bai Yu's eyes. "And I do mean conversation. We shouldn't discuss trade secrets in public, but-"

Bai Yu laughed at him, not meanly. "Zhu-laoshi should know I've always been more of a hands-on learner." He held Zhu Yilong's gaze as he set his backpack on the table in the lift lobby.

Zhu Yilong felt the full-body flush that was becoming familiar around Bai Yu. "A good teacher should accommodate his pupil's learning style whenever possible," he managed.

The ding of the elevator broke the moment, and they shuffled in. Bai Yu messed with his phone, and Zhu Yilong planned frantically, grateful again for the privacy of the Jermyn so that no one else was privy to the thoughts he knew were racing across his face.

In the lobby, he stopped to have a quiet word with the concierge while Bai Yu hung back, and as always, he was met with a smile and a, "Anything you need, Zhu-laoban, we are happy to provide."

Bai Yu whistled. "Such service! Does Zhu-laoshi win friends and influence people wherever he goes?"

Zhu Yilong ducked his head and grinned. "In this case? A little bit." In the car on the way to the restaurant, he told Bai Yu the story of Yunyu's mutually beneficial relationship with the hotel's owner, albeit discreetly, and was rewarded with Bai Yu's laughter.

They piled out of the car on a nondescript road in front of a nondescript restaurant front, wedged between a pastry shop and a real estate broker. It was off-hours, so there was no line in front, and they were seated right away, crammed in on little red stools at a table with six other people. "Is there anything you don't eat?" Bai Yu asked, close to Zhu Yilong's ear.

Zhu Yilong shook his head. "I'll try anything at least once," he said back.

Bai Yu held his gaze for a long moment before visibly choosing not to say what had sprung to mind, and he turned to gesture to the waitstaff.

Tea and a variety of dumpling baskets were slung in front of them in apparent disregard over the next half hour. Conversation flowed as freely as the food, as freely as they had messaged each other back and forth all week. Even more miraculously, the food was as good as the company. That, plus the undeniable awareness they had of each other's bodies - smushed together in the crowded restaurant, knocking elbows as they reached for steamer baskets at the same time, gazes catching on each other's mouths as they ate, knowing what waited for them back at the hotel - would have made this one of the better first dates Zhu Yilong had ever had. As it was, he wasn't sure what it was, but he was determined not to overthink too much and just enjoy the moment for what it was. Whatever that was. 

Conversation trailed off as they got closer to Zhu Yilong's hotel. Anticipation for the rest of the evening clogged Zhu Yilong's throat and tangled his tongue. He hoped it was the same with Bai Yu. Both had stuck to tea at dinner, but Zhu Yilong had plans up his sleeve. As they got out of the car he asked, "Do you smoke at all?"

Bai Yu raised an eyebrow and moved his ever-present toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other with a flourish. "Not anymore. Or, well, at least I'm trying."

"No, I, uh, I didn't mean that," Zhu Yilong fumbled. "I meant, do you smoke?"

"Ah," Bai Yu nodded knowingly. "I have been known to partake, in the past."

"It's absolutely not a requirement, but in our testing, we've found that a little dama in the system can...help things along," Zhu Yilong said.

"Well, as long as it's for science. I did say I was a hands-on learner."

Zhu Yilong grinned at him, and Bai Yu grinned helplessly back. "Good. We'll take a quick little detour."

In the lobby, the concierge handed Zhu Yilong a large manila envelope and a key attached to a key card. He and Zhu Yilong exchanged effusive thanks again, and Zhu Yilong ushered Bai Yu back to the lift. He swiped the key card to access the roof level.

"It's not fancy, but it's private," Zhu Yilong said, opening the door to the roof and directing Bai Yu to a couple of lounge chairs that had seen better days. "And this way I don't feel bad about the cleaners trying to get the smell out."

"Zhu-laoshi, always so considerate," Bai Yu said, settling himself on a lounger. "Any hotel worth its star rating would be delighted to de-skunk a room for you, and you'd not have to think twice about the cleaners."

Zhu Yilong shrugged, a little uncomfortable. "Or I could take two minutes to come up here, not have to live with the smell myself afterwards, and everyone is that much happier to see me next time."

"I'm not accusing you of anything," Bai Yu said gently. "There's nothing wrong with taking all these factors into consideration. I'm just remarking that it's not the usual thing, with people of your-" he gestured vaguely "-preeminence."

"I was a broke-ass grad student less than ten years ago," Zhu Yilong said dryly. "And I'm not sure how considerate you should consider me, considering that I just asked a hotel concierge to procure illegal drugs for me, then give me illegal access to the roof deck, just so I don't have to sleep tonight with the smell of pot stank in the couch cushions."

"I think if you think that a little bit of weed is the worst thing that your concierge has ever had to procure for a guest, you're too damn naive to be in the sex business," Bai Yu countered.

"There's a difference between naïveté and risk awareness," Zhu Yilong shot right back. "Of course they've had far more outrageous demands, but that doesn't change the fact that what I asked for is far more likely to land that concierge in trouble than me. And especially with our particular relationship with the Jermyn, Xie Hui was not in a position to say no to me. Which means it's my responsibility to know what I'm asking of him really entails." He sighed, deliberately relaxing. "But in the end, it's a little weed and a keycard. Not the end of the world." He ducked his head and glanced up at Bai Yu. "Sorry for derailing us with a rant."

"No apologies necessary, Zhu-laoshi," Bai Yu demurred. "I like learning how your mind works. And -" he smirked at Zhu Yilong "- in the spirit of moving along, I won't even mention that of course you know the concierge's name."

Zhu Yilong shrugged, a little helplessly. 

"Anyway. Here we are; let the teaching commence." Bai Yu stretched himself out full-length on the lounger.

Zhu Yilong pulled out the envelope, dumped its contents on the little table between the loungers, and began rolling a joint while he talked. "The main thing to remember with this device is that it's a balance between tension and release. We'll discuss more downstairs, but before you get going with anything, you want to be both as relaxed and as horny as possible. Hence, starting with the-" he waved the joint in Bai Yu's direction.

Bai Yu rolled to a sitting position and plucked the joint from his fingers. He tucked it in his mouth and automatically reached for his pocket for a lighter. He paused in the gesture, laughing a little. "I forgot; I don't carry a lighter any more. Too convenient."

Zhu Yilong plucked the lighter from the pile on the little table. "The Jermyn is a full-service hotel." He flicked it open and leaned towards Bai Yu.

But Bai Yu was leaning back and pulling the joint from between his lips. "Ah. Hm," he said, a little flustered. "I've been six months without a smoke, and one night out with you, I'm already falling back into temptation. I'm not sure I-" he broke off, frowning.

Zhu Yilong snapped the lighter closed. "It's absolutely not a requirement. No pressure at all."

Bai Yu twinkled at him. "Such a good little sex purveyor."

"We at Yunyu maintain the highest standards," Zhu Yilong said primly, just to make Bai Yu leer cheerfully at him.

"Do you partake at all?" he asked, gesturing with the joint.

Zhu Yilong retrieved the joint, placed it between his lips, and lit it with a practiced gesture. He nurtured the bud carefully, then inhaled deeply. He held it for a long moment, looking up through his eyelashes at Bai Yu. He'd come on to his first boyfriend this way, back in college. He let the smoke curl out of the corner of his mouth, haloing around his head in the light cast by the streetlamps, then exhaled in a rush through his nose. "From time to time," he said.

"I'm shocked; shocked, I say!" Bai Yu deadpanned. He got a glint in his eye then, and he reached out to stop Zhu Yilong from putting out the joint. "Wait. I have an idea that might do the trick without making me sprint downstairs for the first pack of Marlboros I can find. Plus, it's no fair if you have all the fun."

"Oh?" Zhu Yilong said, then, "oh." He grinned. He scooted his lounger towards Bai Yu's so that they were sitting pressed knee to knee. "Shall we catch you up?"

Bai Yu leaned forward again. "Hit me," he murmured.

Zhu Yilong turned his head to take a careful mouthful of smoke, then leaned into Bai Yu's space, close enough to feel when Bai Yu exhaled and opened his mouth. Zhu Yilong angled his head just so, then pressed his lips a hairsbreadths away from Bai Yu's. As if synchronized, Bai Yu inhaled at the precise moment Zhu Yilong opened his mouth to exhale. It felt as if Bai Yu was sucking the breath from his lungs, taking in the smoke warm from his body, taking it into his own body to fill every nook and cranny, to make Bai Yu soft and pliant, to make him feel good. Zhu Yilong felt dizzy from arousal, breathless from smoke and the heat of Bai Yu's body so close to his.

He turned his head again to take another toke.

This time, when he leaned in close, Bai Yu said quietly, close enough that his lips brushed over Zhu Yilong's as he spoke,"we've already said fuck plausible deniability, right?" This time, Zhu Yilong pressed that fraction of an inch closer and sealed his mouth over Bai Yu's. This time, he pressed his tongue into Bai Yu's mouth at the same time as he pressed the smoke into Bai Yu's lungs. Any joke he had thought about making about not wasting any of the smoke fled when Bai Yu let the smoke escape between them in a rush as he slicked his mouth against Zhu Yilong's, kissing him hot and wet and messy.

Zhu Yilong flung his hand with the joint out to the side as he curled his other arm around Bai Yu's back to haul him onto the lounger with Zhu Yilong, legs spread to let Bai Yu settle in close between them. Bai Yu slid a hand behind Zhu Yilong's head to angle him just so, opening him to Bai Yu's lips and teeth and tongue.

They made out like teenagers, with the sort of intensity usually only found in people not expecting to get naked together, until Bai Yu pulled his mouth away, wet and gasping a little, to say, "Ah, Zhu-laoshi, if we keep doing this, I could come right here, which I think is kind of missing the point." He rolled over in Zhu Yilong's arms, wedging himself beside Zhu Yilong instead of on top of him, and they traded less intense but more smoke-filled kisses, talking idly. Eventually Bai Yu hauled himself to his feet and extended a hand to tug Zhu Yilong up, using the momentum to haul Zhu Yilong in close for one more kiss before heading back downstairs.

 


 

They tumbled into Zhu Yilong's hotel suite, and Zhu Yilong fetched them both a bottle of water. "So, here's the thing," Bai Yu said while Zhu Yilong was fishing around in the fridge. "You should absolutely say no to this if you don't want to. If it's too risky for you. But particularly when I'm trying something new for the first time, doing research for an upcoming shoot, I, well. I film myself rehearsing. Never on a phone, always on a camera that is completely unconnected to the internet, has never been connected to the internet. This is my livelihood, and I have to maintain the strictest possible control over what of my image gets out there.

"I'm telling you this so that you know how much I have invested in not losing control over any of this sort of footage. I've filmed all of my previous attempts with your shitty little dildo, if you ever want to get super not turned on. But if we can get it to work this time, especially if you tell me things tonight that help, I'd really like to have it recorded. If things are going well, I'd like to be relaxed enough that I'm not trying to memorize everything as it's happening. But that would mean that your voice and maybe, depending on where you sit, stand, whatever, your image being recorded, too. It's more important that we get this right than I have research material, so it's whatever you're comfortable with."

Zhu Yilong uncapped his water bottle and drank slowly. Again, the correct course of action was clear. There was only one safe option, one that didn't require him to put his reputation and the reputation of his company in the hands of a near-stranger, one who could theoretically blackmail them all for millions.

"Let's use the second bedroom," he said. "I've got all my luggage spread out over the first; it'll be too visually distracting."

Bai Yu smiled at him again, something softer and more private. The balance of trust between them was so sharp it cut sweetly to his core.

They set up shop in the second bedroom and fussed with camera angles. Bai Yu insisted Zhu Yilong serve as his stand-in, egging him on to pose on the bed while Bai Yu catcalled him from behind the camera. Zhu Yilong was relaxed enough that after the first flush of embarrassment, he threw himself into it, mugging shamelessly in order to hear Bai Yu laugh.

They ultimately settled on having Bai Yu stretch out full length on the bed facing the camera, shooting out with the harbor and skyline of Kowloon in the background. Zhu Yilong would be able to sit on the far side of the bed from the camera with his back to it, and his face wouldn't be seen. Bai Yu unpacked his bag with the camera, a tripod, backup battery and memory cards, the box containing the prototype, and a selection of lube.

While Bai Yu was fiddling with the camera tripod, Zhu Yilong sorted through the lube options. He made a little disgruntled noise. Bai Yu looked up at him from the camera. “Nothing to your taste?” he asked.

“Oh, they’re fine, they’re fine,” Zhu Yilong said apologetically. “Some of them are very good at what they do.”

“Damned with faint praise from the expert!” Bai Yu laughed. “Please, Zhu-laoshi, educate this one in the ways of lubrication.”

Zhu Yilong blushed at that, knowing Bai Yu had undoubtedly used more lube than Zhu Yilong had ever dreamed of in his life. But still. He was comfortable in his expertise. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting the right tool for the right job. You’ve got some excellent all-rounders here, but particularly right now, something a little more specialized will come in handy.”

He ducked back over to his bedroom and pulled out both his samples stash and, after a brief hesitation, his own personal bottle of his favorite composition. He was poking through the bag of samples saying, “We have a couple of different options, depending on what you-“ he broke off when he looked up and saw Bai Yu had gotten naked in his absence, doing a final check of camera angles. He peered over his shoulder when he heard Zhu Yilong return to the room, then grinned at whatever dumbstruck expression was plastered on his face.

It was one thing to know that Bai Yu did porn, to have seen him writhe and moan and come through the distance of video, to have dispassionately considered the pie charts and marketing implications of hiring him to writhe and moan and come in order to show off their latest product. It was an entirely different proposition to have him cheerfully naked an arms length away, when Zhu Yilong still had the taste of him on his lips. To know that, if Zhu Yilong did his job right, Bai Yu was going to writhe and moan and come here and now, possibly with Zhu Yilong’s hands on his body, coaxing and encouraging him to let go, to push further.

Zhu Yilong entirely forgot what he was saying.

“Options?” Bai Yu prompted.

Zhu Yilong cleared his throat. “Yeah. Options. You’ll definitely want something that lasts longer than normal, but everyone has their own viscosity preferences.”

Bai Yu raised an eyebrow. “Viscosity, oooh. You sure know how to sweet talk a boy.”

“Precision is important.”

“Not always. Sometimes close enough gets the job done just fine.”

“Yunyu is not in the business of ‘just fine,’” Zhu Yilong said, half in jest, half serious. “We believe with the application of a little science and ingenuity, we can put the extraordinary in the hands of those who want it.”

Bai Yu politely did not roll his eyes. “Feel free to spare me the marketing copy. Just give me whatever lube you recommend.”

“The words may be marketing copy, but I assure you, the sentiment is not. Particularly for this toy. It is unlike anything else on the market for those who appreciate prostate stimulation.”

“So you keep telling me. Well, I fall into that category, so let’s get this party started before I lose the high. Show me how to turn your shitty little dildo in a thing of wonder and amazement.”

Zhu Yilong cleared his throat, self-conscious again. “Is everything set up how you need - ah, yes, okay. Well. It’s like I said earlier - you’re looking to ride the balance between relaxed and horny. Ideally, you’re loose enough to melt into the bed while also being so turned on you’re gagging for it.”

Bai Yu swallowed visibly at those words coming out of Zhu Yilong’s mouth in that didactic, calm teacher’s voice. His cock still lay soft and quiet against his thigh, but Zhu Yilong could see a flush starting on his chest. “Any suggestions there, Zhu-laoshi?” he purred.

“It’s as you prefer,” Zhu Yilong said, trying to remain dispassionate but unable to help licking his lips to chase the last of the taste of Bai Yu’s mouth - weed, the last of the dumplings from dinner. “For some, thinking while touching oneself is enough. Others prefer porn. While not precisely intended for partner play, if a partner is present, heavy foreplay usually does the trick.” Zhu Yilong could feel himself retreating behind more formal, distant language, but thankfully it did not seem to be dissuading Bai Yu at all, who began running the fingers of his right hand lightly over his torso.

“As Zhu-laoshi instructs.” Bai Yu closed his eyes and breathed deeply for several long moments, and Zhu Yilong’s eyes ran greedily over his body while unobserved. Bai Yu was rangier in person, his sharp angles of knees and elbows no longer softened by the camera or clothes. 

However, when Bai Yu reached for his cock, Zhu Yilong interrupted with an apologetic, “Ah. Like everything, it’s not required, but if you can avoid erectile stimulation to concentrate more on internal stimuli, the end result tends to be stronger.”

Bai Yu cracked an eye open. “Zhu-laoshi, while I am more than capable of getting off to your prim little engineer speak, this is exactly what is wrong with that damn booklet. Say it again, slower, as if I were even dumber than I am.”

“Bai-laoshi is in no way dumb,” Zhu Yilong countered. “But, yes, I can be a little, hm, impenetrable when I’m uncomfortable.”

“If you’re uncomfortable at all, we can stop,” Bai Yu said immediately.

Zhu Yilong coughed delicately. “Not uncomfortable like that.”

“Oh. Oh,” Bai Yu said, grin returning. “Well, no one said you had to provide instruction from the doorway.” He scooted towards the center of the bed and patted beside him. “Feel free to come over here and explain things to me in small words. Maybe even some of that, what did you call it, heavy foreplay.”

Zhu Yilong did neither of them the insult of asking if he was sure. When he got close enough to the bed, Bai Yu grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him down within kissing distance. “Tell me again,” he said against Zhu Yilong’s lips before kissing him deeply, with intent, different from their lazy making out on the rooftop.

Zhu Yilong said, in between kisses to Bai Yu’s mouth, his cheekbone, behind his ear, and down his neck, “If you concentrate on your ass and not your cock, you’re more likely to come faster, harder, and more often.” His voice dropped in arousal, and he could feel Bai Yu shiver against him, then pause.

“Wait, what? More often? That wasn’t just marketing hype?”

“Not at all,” Zhu Yilong said after scraping his teeth gently at the long tendon in Bai Yu’s neck. “If used correctly, coming three or more times in an hour is the norm. Others also describe what feels like coming continuously for far longer than normal."

"How long," Bai Yu said, dragging Zhu Yilong's mouth back to his own for more of those heady, drugging kisses, "are we talking about? Two minutes? Five? Ten?"

Zhu Yilong sucked hard on Bai Yu's tongue, then released him with a gasp. "Twenty to thirty, in some cases." He ran his thumb over Bai Yu's lips, wet and swollen, then slid his first two fingers into Bai Yu's eager mouth. "But at a certain point, you have to wonder how exactly they're defining 'orgasm,' which, once one leaves behind the obvious on the face of it realm of erection and ejaculation, does become more of a nebulous concept. Where does it begin and end, et cetera."

Bai Yu nipped at Zhu Yilong's fingertips and laughed. "I can't tell if you going all professor on me turns me on or just confuses my boner.”

Zhu Yilong ran a hand down Bai Yu’s chest to tweak a nipple, to capture Bai Yu’s gasp with his own mouth. “I thought I told you: stop thinking about your boner. Start thinking about your ass.”

Bai Yu groaned and tried to drag Zhu Yilong on top of him, in between his legs, just closer any way he could, but Zhu Yilong gently resisted. He sorted through the pile of lube samples on the nightstand with his left hand, keeping in contact with Bai Yu’s skin with his right hand, tracing shivers down his torso. Selection made, Zhu Yilong tore the corner of the lube packet off with his teeth, rubbing his right thumb along the crease of Bai Yu’s hip, where groin met leg, soothing and riling him up by equal measure.

“We’ll start with something water-based, with a reasonable drying time. It requires more frequent reapplication, but I think you’ll find the smoothness worth the hassle.”

“Definitely not confused anymore,” Bai Yu muttered, spreading his legs further. “Do you want me on my stomach for this?”

Zhu Yilong admirably did not whimper, did not say “No, I want to watch every movement of my hand on your face.” He confined himself to a simple, “No, you’re good.”

Bai Yu swallowed hard at that. “Then carry on, my good man, with all your slipperiness.” He pulled his knees up and tilted his hips, allowing Zhu Yilong free access.

Zhu Yilong had coated the first two fingers of his right hand with lube, so he used his left hand to lightly pinch the thin skin over Bai Yu’s ribs, making him squirm and laugh. He slid his fingers between Bai Yu’s cheeks and traced one wet finger delicately over Bai Yu’s hole. Bai Yu exhaled loudly. “Remember, it’s all about the balance between arousal and relaxation. See if you can let yourself feel without tensing into it.” Zhu Yilong traced the rim of Bai Yu’s hole softly, never pressing in, keeping the sensation light and concentrated on the outside of Bai Yu’s body. He traced random patterns on Bai Yu’s torso with with other hand, the light touch sensitizing his skin without tickling. He avoided Bai Yu’s cock entirely. As his fingers explored the crease of Bai Yu’s ass, he ran his thumb up to press lightly against the skin behind Bai Yu’s balls. “I’m sure you’re very familiar with your perineum, but take note. We’ll be coming back here later.” He pressed a little more firmly, considering. “But not yet. You’re not there yet.”

“Fucking hell, professor, you’re gonna kill me here with that mouth of yours. Perineum, fuck. Where’s my taint supposed to be if you won’t touch it now?”

“There’s a point of arousal at which sensation turns to pleasure, but until you reach that point, I’d just be jabbing at a gland. If it doesn’t outright hurt, the overload of stimulation will muddy the waters.”

“I can come hard and fast from prostate stimulation alone; I did a whole series on it.” Bai Yu smiled wickedly. “That one was fun.”

“Your propensity for prostate orgasms was noted and, in fact, a key factor in why we approached you with this deal. While we believe in our product, it never hurts to stack the deck, so to speak.”

(Did Zhu Yilong know the series of Bai Yu coming with his cock untouched? Did he. It was one of the ones he’d found on his own, but when it came time to review the prospects for the Yunyu deal, it was no difficulty for him to review the series when it came up - heh - in the interns’ research. He reviewed it every night for a week. There may have been some chafing by the end of it all.)

“Smart to hire a ringer,” Bai Yu gasped at the first gentle inward press of Zhu Yilong’s finger. He had played with him long enough, soft enough, that Bai Yu slipped open to him with the barest of pressure, like his mouth had opened for Zhu Yilong’s tongue when they first kissed on the roof.

“But the goal here is not fast and hard,” Zhu Yilong said, playing oh so gently with Bai Yu’s rim, sliding just the tip of his finger in and out, stimulating all the nerves of that relaxing muscle. He drizzled a little more lube on his fingers, keeping Bai Yu wet and open. “We want you suffused with pleasure, filling you up but not spilling over, not yet. Marathon, not a sprint.” He drizzled more lube down Bai Yu’s ass, making everything slick and soft and open, unsure where outside stopped and inside began. He slipped just the fingertip of his pointer finger inside, rubbing circles around the tight muscle until Bai Yu shivered.

"There we go," Zhu Yilong murmured. He leaned down to reward Bai Yu with a kiss, slick and soft and open, but Bai Yu's hunger took him by surprise, the intensity with which he took Zhu Yilong's mouth, demanding more. He kept his hands soft on Bai Yu's body, in his body, but met his mouth fiercely with teeth and tongue. With his left hand, he reached up to scrape a fingernail over Bai Yu's nipple, making him groan into his mouth. He immediately soothed it with lube-slick fingers, and Bai Yu half-laughed in delight at the contrast.

"There we go," Zhu Yilong murmured nonsensically again, not really caring about the words but more the tone of voice, the atmosphere they were creating. He slid his index finger all the way out and pressed in again with two quickly, before Bai Yu could even complain about the emptiness. This time, he slid both in swiftly and all the way, touching deeply inside Bai Yu's body while still avoiding his prostate. Bai Yu half-whined in mock protest, but he settled quickly into the long, stroking motion of Zhu Yilong's hand.

"Is this how you touch your girlfriend, how you open her with your fingers?" Bai Yu gasped out, fishing for trouble.

Zhu Yilong nipped his lip reprovingly. "Behave. You should know that body parts and people aren't interchangeable." He kissed him full and deep, then pressed his mouth to Bai Yu's ear. "And, no, I don't have a girlfriend or boyfriend. This is for you, what your body is telling me works for you, but it's closest to how I touch myself, how I prepped myself when I was testing this toy." Bai Yu moaned fully at that, writhing on Zhu Yilong's hand. "Yunyu believes in quality control," Zhu Yilong breathed, just to hear Bai Yu laugh, feel his laugh.

Zhu Yilong glanced down Bai Yu's body to his cock, fully hard and lying at a jaunty angle against his stomach. He very much wanted to touch, but he stuck to his plan. He slid his two fingers partway out of Bai Yu, tracing along his anterior wall with the slightest of pressure. He could feel when he got close to his prostate, and rather than rub directly over it, Zhu Yilong kept one finger on each side of it, just a little stretch on Bai Yu's interior muscles, to tease but not satisfy. He rubbed back and forth, giving Bai Yu indirect stimulation. Bai Yu moaned in frustration even as he shivered in delight. "Almost there," Zhu Yilong said. He alternated between tracing lightly, almost a tickle, and providing firmer, deep pressure, keeping Bai Yu off-kilter and focused on his ass, not his untouched cock. When Zhu Yilong finally rubbed directly over his prostate, so so lightly, Bai Yu threw his head back and made an unclassifiable noise, and Zhu Yilong was pleased to see him leak so much precome.

"There we go," he said, still nonsensical. "Now, can you help me with something? I need you to follow instructions while I use both hands."

"You gonna make it worth my while?" Bai Yu gasped around his own arousal, still cheeky even with the flush of arousal stretching down his chest.

"I very much think it will be worth it; that's why I'm here," Zhu Yilong said dryly. "But what did you have in mind?"

"Come back down here and I'll show you," Bai Yu leered cheerfully at him.

Zhu Yilong laughed. "Logistics first." He grabbed Bai Yu's left hand and intertwined their fingers, spreading lube liberally between them. “Can you put your fingers inside yourself, keep yourself open and relaxed for me, and can you do it without touching your prostate?”

Bai Yu mock-frowned. "You ask a lot of a man," he said, squeezing Zhu Yilong's fingers.

"I trust in Bai-laoshi's capacity for great sacrifice," Zhu Yilong said, leaning down for a glancing kiss. He wiped his hands on the towel on the nightstand, then reached for a new packet of lube. He slicked up the toy, saying as he worked, "I'm switching you over to something a little less slippy, a little more long-lasting. You want movement, but not too much, and you definitely don't want things drying out on you."

"So you're gonna get me wet and keep me that way?" Bai Yu said, half over-the-top dramatics, half-serious.

"Like I said, Mo Yufeng is a genius with fluid dynamics," Zhu Yilong said.

"Don't talk about other men when you're in bed with me," Bai Yu reproved.

Zhu Yilong laughed through the full-body flush that raced through him at that. "You ready?" he asked.

"For your shitty little dildo? More than," Bai Yu said.

"Get back to me in an hour," Zhu Yilong said.

"So confident!"

Zhu Yilong let Bai Yu have the last word in order to slip the toy easily inside him. Bai Yu wasn't wrong in that it wasn't a particularly massive piece of equipment: only four inches long, less than an inch wide at its thickest near the angled tip, with a swell halfway up the shaft. Two skinny handles curled out from the base, keeping it outside Bai Yu's body, with one curved in towards his perineum, one outwards that Zhu Yilong kept a grip on for the moment. Once it was inside, Zhu Yilong watched Bai Yu's face carefully while making small adjustments to the toy's positioning. Bai Yu was expressive and not the least shy, so it was very obvious when Zhu Yilong got it nestled correctly up against his prostate. Zhu Yilong then nudged the body-side handle until a shiver raced through Bai Yu.

Satisfied, he sat back a little. "There we go. Simultaneous internal and external prostate stimulation. Is that comfortable for you?"

Bai Yu laugh-gasped. "I'm not sure 'comfortable' is exactly the word I would use, but yes. You are accurate in your description of what it's doing." Bai Yu shifted his hips restlessly, until Zhu Yilong pressed down on him with one hand. He stilled at Zhu Yilong's touch. "But, like. This is nice and all, but I'm not exactly seeing stars."

Zhu Yilong rubbed his thumb soothingly over Bai Yu's hipbone. "We've just been getting started. Now's when we start to play." He swallowed at how dark Bai Yu's eyes got at that. "You've got a couple of options. One we like to call the do-nothing method, and one requires a little more active participation from you. Any preference?"

"I hate to ruin my reputation of being as lazy as possible, but let's do a little more. I can always do nothing later."

Zhu Yilong smiled quietly to himself at that. "An excellent choice. Do you want it anatomically correct or crude?"

"Talk nerdy to me, professor," Bai Yu purred.

Zhu Yilong sat up even straighter, adopted the air he used to put on when teaching undergrads and needing their attention and respect, despite looking about twelve himself. "Very well, Bai-xuesheng. We shall begin by having you engage in a series of slow-release contractions of your pubococcygeus muscles to manipulate the device within you, first engaging your pelvic muscles on the anterior side of your lower abdomen as tightly as possible for ten seconds, then slowly releasing over approximately thirty seconds. Then you will similarly engage your posterior pelvic floor muscles, more directly engaging the device, holding for ten seconds again and releasing slowly. You will proceed in this manner repeatedly to encourage muscle fatigue."

Bai Yu laughed breathlessly. "That was super-hot, but can I get the dirty version instead so I actually know what I'm supposed to be doing?"

Zhu Yilong placed his hand low on Bai Yu's abdomen, just above his neatly trimmed public hair. "Clench here, as if you're trying to not piss, and hold it until I say to let go slowly." Zhu Yilong could feel Bai Yu's internal muscles move under his hand and shivered. He held Bai Yu's gaze for ten long seconds, watching pleasure skate across his face like clouds on a windy day as the toy shifted and moved within him. "Now let go, but very, very slowly. Take three times longer to let it go than you held it." Bai Yu exhaled hard at that, nodded once.

Zhu Yilong kept his hand pressed to Bai Yu. "This time, clench your ass. Same thing, hold for ten seconds, release slowly over thirty."

"Count for me?" Bai Yu asked.

Zhu Yilong's mouth was dry, but he managed. "Ready?" Bai Yu nodded. "Go. Ten, nine, eight -" Zhu Yilong leisurely counted him down to one, then said, "Now barely let go, a little at a time."

Bai Yu gasped at the end of the thirty seconds. "How is that so good?" He muttered.

Zhu Yilong just smiled. "Now again, from the front." He pressed a little harder as Bai Yu tensed his muscles, rubbing gently.

"Not fair, not fair!" Bai Yu yelped.

"But good, right?" Zhu Yilong said, lightening his touch but not stopping.

"Yes, all right," Bai Yu gasped. "It's good."

Zhu Yilong walked him through the long, slow movements several more times, then had him speed up. He watched Bai Yu closely, critically, and when he could see him getting too worked up, getting too close to coming, he tightened his grip on Bai Yu's upper thigh harshly and snapped out, "Now stop. Don't move anything."

Bai Yu froze under his hands immediately, then relaxed into stillness. "Zhu-laoshi is cruel," he gasped.

Zhu Yilong petted his inner thigh and stomach idly. "Just pause for a moment. Concentrate again on your ass, how it makes you feel, how you feel it throughout your entire body."

Bai Yu's eyes slipped half-lidded like a sleepy cat. "I - oh. I can feel it trying to gather here." He pressed a hand on top of Zhu Yilong's, low on his belly. "It feels like the start of a really good orgasm."

Zhu Yilong lifted his hand and twined it with Bai Yu's. Bai Yu mock-growled at the release of pressure, no longer pressing his prostate down against the toy through his abdomen. "Relax and let that feeling spread through you," Zhu Yilong said. "Let the pleasure leak out of that core, flood through your body."

Bai Yu hissed out a breath, and Zhu Yilong could feel him consciously relax. They breathed quietly together for a moment, Bai Yu's gaze focused inward, Zhu Yilong hungrily eating up every twitch and breath of Bai Yu with his eyes. Then Zhu Yilong said, "Now again."

Bai Yu made an interrogatory noise.

"Start clenching your muscles again," Zhu Yilong said. "Do one slow round, then back to faster."

"Is your magic secret just edging myself with this toy?" Bai Yu muttered, even as Zhu Yilong could feel the movement of his muscles under his hand again.

"Not really," Zhu Yilong protested, then paused. "Maybe a little bit," he admitted. "It certainly helps."

"You know what would really help?" Bai Yu said, grabbing the front of Zhu Yilong's shirt again. "For you to come down here." He tugged him closer.

"Just as long as you keep it up down below," Zhu Yilong murmured, and he felt Bai Yu snicker against his mouth before he kissed him again, long and deep. This time, Bai Yu stopped himself on the edge of coming, tearing his mouth away from Zhu Yilong to pant harshly.

"I'm trying to be good, Zhu-laoshi, but you're awfully distracting," Bai Yu purred.

"Focus is important," Zhu Yilong said mock-sternly. He pulled Bai Yu's right leg out from where it was curled up to his chest and draped it across his lap, opening Bai Yu even more to Zhu Yilong's touch. He made sure the toy's exterior arms were angled correctly, then pressed the one resting on Bai Yu's perineum gently until he could tell by Bai Yu's yelp that he'd found his prostate. He tapped gently on it, making Bai Yu squirm. "Can you focus on that for me?"

"For you," Bai Yu gasped.

"Then one more time, clench down for me," Zhu Yilong said, his voice dropping and thickened with arousal. "You're almost there, I can see it."

"Is my ass telling secrets?" Bai Yu smirked, until Zhu Yilong tapped the toy again, driving the smile off his face as he groaned.

"Not just your ass, your entire body," Zhu Yilong said. "It's telling me everything I need to know. How turned on you are. How you feel it in your toes, how it makes the hair on the back of your arms stand up. How tight your nipples are, but how if I touched them, bit them, it would just be a distraction. Fuck, Xiao Bai, even the backs of your knees tell me you're just about ready." He thumbed the soft spot behind Bai Yu's right knee and grinned when Bai Yu moaned as expected.

"Good. Keep going," Zhu Yilong said. "Clench hard, wear those muscles out." He eyed Bai Yu's balls, saw them drawn up close against his body. "Now relax," he said, not snapping this time. "Let go, don't force stillness, and just feel."

Bai Yu did as instructed, squirming a little with stopping so close to coming yet again, but this time his eyes snapped shut shortly after. "Oh, shit. Shit," he swore. "It's -. I don't know. But it's fluttering. The toy. It -" He began to writhe on the bed where he was pressed up against Zhu Yilong's body, but Zhu Yilong pinned his hips again.

"Rapid involuntary muscle contractions brought on by fatigue and multiple points of stimulus on the prostate," he said in his professor-voice, but Bai Yu was too wrapped up in his own body to laugh at him this time. "Let it wash through you. Don't strain for orgasm; just let it come."

A breath, maybe two, later, and Bai Yu came, cock entirely untouched. Zhu Yilong watched greedily, how Bai Yu stretched and writhed, how his toes curled involuntarily, his open-mouth panting, the way his cock jerked, shooting come across his tensed stomach. How he clutched at Zhu Yilong’s thigh next to him, groping for his hand like a drowning man. Zhu Yilong grabbed it, giving him something to hold onto as he rocked with pleasure.

“Fuck, fuck, it’s still going,” Bai Yu gasped. “Still...fluttering.” Even as his cock softened, his breath hitched just as fast, eyes still unseeing. Zhu Yilong loosened his grip on Bai Yu’s hips, letting him twist and surge into the feeling. He cried out as the toy moved within him.

Zhu Yilong knew Bai Yu probably wasn’t paying any attention to him, but he couldn’t help but narrate: “The involuntary contractions can continue for many minutes, especially as the body continues to react pleasurably to the prostate stimulation. While the user may experience multiple erections during use, pleasure is not contingent on it. The user may also experience peaks of sensation, colloquially known as dry orgasms, without regaining hardness or producing additional-“ he paused, gripping Bai Yu’s hand as he came again, still soft, cock lying in a pool of come from his first orgasm, body trembling all over “-ah. additional ejaculate.”

Zhu Yilong let Bai Yu hang onto his hand but began running his other fingers over Bai Yu’s ribcage, watching him shiver at the additional stimulus. He stroked the soft line of skin beside his groin, where his thigh joined his hip, encouraging him to open his legs further. He made sure the arm of the toy was still snug beneath Bai Yu's balls, and he nudged it again, pressing it firmly into Bai Yu's prostate from the outside. Bai Yu moaned and shook, and Zhu Yilong couldn't tell if he was coming again or still coming. He snuck his other hand out of Bai Yu's grip and slid it beneath his still-soft cock, pressing on his lower belly again, searching. He knew he found the right place when Bai Yu's whole body tensed and he threw his head back on the pillow.

"Zhu-, Zhu-," Bai Yu tried to say, but he couldn't get anything more out. He curled towards where Zhu Yilong was still sitting on the side of the bed. Zhu Yilong balanced him there between his hands and the toy, massaging his prostate from three directions at once.

He could feel his own arousal pulsing through his body, but it was almost background noise, secondary to watching Bai Yu gripped by the kind of tidal pleasure Zhu Yilong remembered, the almost out-of-control feeling as his body dragged him from peak to peak until they were almost indistinguishable, coalescing into something huge and enormous that felt like it was going to swallow him whole. He wanted Bai Yu to have this pleasure, and he was secretly, greedily glad to be the one giving it. To know that Bai Yu would likely think of him any time he used this toy in the future, even if at no other time.

They hung together in this space of pleasure, time rendered meaningless. Bai Yu's body rocked with wave after wave of sensation, his soft cock leaking almost constantly. Zhu Yilong read the ebb and flow of sensation on his face and entire body rather than his cock, as Bai Yu writhed and trembled. His breath caught when he felt Bai Yu starting to get hard again, cock firming against the back of Zhu Yilong's hand.

"That's it," he continued to murmur nonsensically. "Just let it happen." He gave into the impulse that had haunted him all night and leaned down to bite at one of Bai Yu's hard-pebbled nipples. He felt as much as he heard Bai Yu's groan.

"I don't know- I can't- if I-" Bai Yu stuttered out. The earlier tension coursing through his body was gone, and now his thighs trembled with fatigue where they were splayed open.

"Of course you can," Zhu Yilong insisted. "Your body knows what to do; don't fight it."

"I want to, but- please!" Bai Yu cried, tensing and relaxing, leaning into the pleasure and flinching away from oversensitivity at the same time.

"One more time, and then you're done," Zhu Yilong promised. "One grand finale." Bai Yu's complaint this time was wordless, but he kept rocking his hips into Zhu Yilong's hands. When Bai Yu's complaint shifted into pleading, Zhu Yilong gave in again to his own desire and bent his head to Bai Yu's cock. He did his very best to remember the sound Bai Yu made as Zhu Yilong closed his lips over the head of his cock, sucking him in, soft and warm. He didn't try anything fancy, just provided a hot, wet space for Bai Yu's long-neglected cock while still wringing every last drop of pleasure out of his prostate. Bai Yu howled and came one last time, spending weakly across Zhu Yilong's tongue.

While Bai Yu was still gasping and shuddering with aftershocks, Zhu Yilong slipped the toy out of him on a long exhale. He then immediately shoved his hands down his own pants, unclear of how long he'd been hard, how long he'd been simmering with anticipation.

(Since the elevator doors parted and gave him the surprise gift of Bai Yu's grinning face.)

It took less than a handful of strokes, and Zhu Yilong was coming too, knuckles pressed against the wet fabric of his underwear where he'd been leaking for far too long. Bai Yu, still mostly out of it, nonetheless groped clumsily towards Zhu Yilong's lap with his near hand, approximating a pout and muttering, "but mine."

Zhu Yilong huffed a laugh shakily, then grabbed Bai Yu's hand to wipe it clean on the towel beneath his hips. He tucked the towel around Bai Yu's stomach and laid his newly-clean hand on top of it. Zhu Yilong said, "Rest here a moment; I'll be right back." Bai Yu made a disgruntled noise, eyes still squeezed shut, and Zhu Yilong brushed sweaty hair away from his forehead. "Only a moment," he promised.

He didn't bother turning lights on in the bathroom, navigating by reflected city lights. He avoided looking in the mirror as he filled a glass with cool water before turning the taps to hot to wet several washcloths. It wasn't out of a fear of seeing himself, of potentially seeing himself changed by having had his hands and mouth all over Bai Yu; no, he told himself, it was because he wanted to preserve this feeling as long as possible, commit everything to memory. He stripped out of his clothes, making a face at his now-cold and sticky underwear, and put on one of the hotel's soft robes.

Returning to Bai Yu's bedside, he set the cloths and glass on the table, then gently lifted Bai Yu's head and shoulders to slide behind him. He wiggled himself comfortable on the pillows, then re-draped Bai Yu across his torso. Upright, he could direct Bai Yu in small sips from the glass more easily, plus had easy access to clean him with one warm washcloth. Zhu Yilong tested another cloth to make sure it wasn't too hot, then draped it carefully over Bai Yu's face, softening his salt-crusted eyelashes and bitten lips. Once Bai Yu was cursorily clean, Zhu Yilong still held him for a long moment, using the excuse of sharing body temperature.

Perhaps inevitably, they both dozed off, Bai Yu's head still nestled against Zhu Yilong's bare chest where the robe gaped open. Bai Yu stirred long enough to drag the now-cold washcloth off his face eventually, then dragged them both under the covers. Bai Yu pulled Zhu Yilong's arm around him as he burrowed into the pillows, and Zhu Yilong, warm and content and mostly asleep, just hitched himself closer to Bai Yu's back.

 


 

They woke up in the middle of the night, still in the dreamy space of 3am, and Bai Yu dragged Zhu Yilong to the shower. They made out lazily underneath the hot water, then tumbled back into bed together, this time in Zhu Yilong's room. Zhu Yilong woke up again at his regular time, naked and a little sweaty where he was pressed up against Bai Yu, and he hid a grin in Bai Yu's dandelion puff of bedhead. He let himself drowse in contentment for another half hour, then quietly dragged himself out of bed, trying not to disturb Bai Yu too much.

Not terribly long after Zhu Yilong had settled himself on the couch with a cup of coffee and his laptop, a bleary and naked Bai Yu emerged from the bedroom, shuffled towards Zhu Yilong, and made grabby hands for his coffee. Zhu Yilong graciously shared, covertly watching Bai Yu's throat as he swallowed greedily. Bai Yu shoved the mug back in Zhu Yilong's hands, bent over to kiss him thoroughly, and shuffled onwards to the bathroom, eyes still mostly shut and face still soft with sleep.

Zhu Yilong had tackled several emails when Bai Yu came back to the living room, somewhat dressed in pajama pants and - oh. If he was not mistaken, that was Zhu Yilong's undershirt from the night before that Bai Yu must have fished out of his pile of clothes in the bathroom. Bai Yu was also wearing dark, thick-framed black glasses, only adding to his general air of disreputable grad student. Zhu Yilong swallowed heavily.

"Morning," Bai Yu rumbled, voice still thick with sleep. He perched on the back of the couch next to Zhu Yilong and idly petted Zhu Yilong's own messy hair.

"Good morning," Zhu Yilong returned. "Can I offer you some breakfast? I've got some leftover pineapple buns, though they're probably a little stale, congee, I think they stocked the kitchen with eggs -"

Bai Yu huffed a laugh and cut him off. "You're cute when you try to feed me, Zhu-laoshi."

Zhu Yilong shoved his laptop to the other end of the couch and pulled Bai Yu down into his lap. He had been unsure how this morning would go, had been a little apprehensive about it as he'd laid there, still and warm in Bai Yu's arms, but if Bai Yu was going to go straight into flirting this hard, then Zhu Yilong was happy to play along. Bai Yu tumbled, all elbows and gangly limbs, into Zhu Yilong, who collapsed back on the couch with him.

Zhu Yilong just meant to kiss him playfully, feel him squirm with delight in his arms, then resume bantering about breakfast, but the kiss quickly got away from them. Bai Yu's mouth was fierce and hungry on his, and Zhu Yilong opened gladly for him. Bai Yu snuck his hands under Zhu Yilong's t-shirt, touching and learning his body like he hadn't the night before. Zhu Yilong let Bai Yu peel his shirt off him, then slide down his boxers. It felt pleasantly scandalous to be naked on the couch in the morning sun, knowing the elevator doors were not going to open on him laid out before Bai Yu like a feast, but thinking what if they might.

What if someone were to see him here like this, helpless before Bai Yu's knowing, delighted grin. To see Bai Yu slide off the couch and tug Zhu Yilong's legs around so Bai Yu could spread his knees with his shoulders. To see Bai Yu kiss his inner thigh, then scrape the scruff on his chin across the softness there, just to watch Zhu Yilong shudder. To see Bai Yu place both hands where Zhu Yilong's legs met his groin, running his thumbs over the hot skin in the crease of his hip. To see Bai Yu tease his cock, hard and leaking on his stomach. To see Zhu Yilong quiver at his touch. To see Bai Yu take the head of Zhu Yilong's cock in his mouth, maintaining eye contact the whole time. To see Zhu Yilong gasp at the sightfeel of Bai Yu surrounding him, hot and wet, smiling up at him with his eyes. To see Bai Yu reduce Zhu Yilong to a writhing mess. To see Zhu Yilong lace his fingers with Bai Yu, squeezing tightly when he comes.

Bai Yu rested his head on Zhu Yilong's knee, looking up at him with soft eyes and a red, used mouth. He had swallowed - he had taken Zhu Yilong so deep in his throat there was no other option but to swallow, and Zhu Yilong had forced his eyes to stay open even as he came in order to memorize every detail of it - but he still yanked up the him of his shirt - of Zhu Yilong's shirt - to wipe at his mouth. "Good morning," he finally said, grinning.

Zhu Yilong whapped him gently with a throw pillow from the couch, then hauled him back up on the couch and back into his arms. With their bodies pressed so closely together again, Zhu Yilong could feel Bai Yu's soft cock pressed against his own. Before more than a shiver of fear could race through him, Bai Yu grinned knowingly at him and said, "Long-ge, you and your little toy made me come so much last night, it feels like it'll be a week before I can get hard again. Zhu Yilong couldn't help but kiss his smile again at that.

They shared the rest of Zhu Yilong's mostly-cold cup of coffee, then Zhu Yilong slipped his boxers back on, and they moved comfortably around each other in the kitchen, collecting odds and ends of leftovers for breakfast. They talked desultorily of nothing important, their text conversations but in person all over again, sharing little slivers of themselves like they shared day-old dumplings.

They eventually separated to the two bedrooms, Zhu Yilong to get dressed for his more casual day of meetings, Bai Yu to dismantle the camera and tripod setup. Zhu Yilong told him he was more than welcome to stay as long as he liked, but Bai Yu demurred and said he had a flight out later that afternoon back to Tokyo, where he and his team would be working on a prospectus for their shoot for Yanyu. "It's killing me that I have to wait until I get back tonight to review the tape. Who knows; I might even be able to get hard again with this kind of inspiration."

Zhu Yilong swallowed. He'd mostly forgotten about the video, had certainly put it entirely out of his mind after the first five minutes of groping Bai Yu naked on a hotel bed. While the camera had been behind him, he had no doubt that his face had shown at some point, plus all the ridiculous filth and professorial nonsense that had spilled out of his mouth all night long. A distant part of him told him he should be worried about this man he barely knew taking such explicit footage of him out in the world, but in the moment, Zhu Yilong was more envious that Bai Yu was going to get to watch them together, was maybe even going to touch himself while watching them together.

While Zhu Yilong was hesitating over what to say, Bai Yu's face grew serious. "I made you a lot of promises about this footage at the beginning of this, and I just want to tell you again how serious I am about it. No one but me will see this unedited, and only ever on devices not connected to the internet. I'll blur your face and voice before showing the relevant bits to my team." Bai Yu looked at his hands as he idly spun his coffee mug to and fro, keeping his voice forcedly casual. "I know it's just my word, but I promise you I will never leak footage of you or anyone without their consent. It's how I ended up in this business in the first place, so believe me when I say I would never do that to someone else."

"Mostly I'm just jealous that you'll be watching it tonight while I'll be stuck having dinner with Song Le," Zhu Yilong managed. It was a weak joke, but it worked to drive the hunted look off Bai Yu's face.

They returned to lighter banter, but eventually Zhu Yilong had to pack up his laptop bag, and Bai Yu had to pack up his ratty backpack, and they had to return to the rest of their lives. Song Le messaged Zhu Yilong to say that he'd set up shop in the cafe across the street and was available at Zhu Yilong's convenience.

In the end, Zhu Yilong still ended up leaving before Bai Yu. He hovered briefly in the doorway of the second bedroom, watching Bai Yu tetris his camera gear into his bag. Bai Yu, back in jeans and a t shirt but still wearing those damnable glasses, looked up at him and dropped the camera back on the bed. He strode over to Zhu Yilong and, without stopping, pressed him back against the doorjamb. He kissed Zhu Yilong thoroughly.

"Have good meetings," Bai Yu said, a little breathless. He grinned at Zhu Yilong, who grinned helplessly back.

"Have a good flight," Zhu Yilong managed. He ran a thumb over Bai Yu's too-red, too-wet cherry of a lower lip, and pressed their mouths together one last time.

 


 

At the cafe, Zhu Yilong slid into the chair across from Song Le, who raised an eyebrow and smirked a little at him, but dove right into work conversation. Zhu Yilong self-consciously raised a hand to touch his face, and he felt his face go hot - hotter, as he brushed over the beard burn around his mouth. From his seat facing the front windows of the cafe, Zhu Yilong could see the door of the Jermyn, and his attention kept slipping from Song Le out the window, half-hoping for one last glimpse of Bai Yu on his way out.

Eventually, though, they had to pack up and leave for their first meeting, without Zhu Yilong catching sight of Bai Yu's rangy lope headed down the sidewalk. He was just sliding his laptop into his back, though, when his phone buzzed on the table with an incoming message. He grabbed it and swiped it open, only to be greeted with photo a collection of anonymous-looking dumplings and a cup of milk tea. "Not nearly as good as the har gow, even the second day," the message read, followed by an extravagant series of sad-faced emojis.

Zhu Yilong grinned. "Hey, Song Le?" he said. "Cancel my after-dinner plans tonight. I've got an important phone call to make."