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to bring the sun down to his knees and have him taste the rainbow

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i know i
should crumble
for better reasons
but have you seen
that boy he brings
the sun to its
knees every
night

(rupi kaur – milk and honey)

 

He’s sitting on the floor in front of the windowed wall of his bedroom.

He has opened the blinds, and the afternoon sun is scorchingly hot through the glass, but for now the AC is still able to keep the room pleasantly cool, so he can’t quite make himself close them again.

Zhu Yilong doesn’t quite know how long he’s been sitting here, his legs folded under him, still mostly naked, basking in that pleasant-painfully bright glow. He’s heard a pair of footsteps behind him at some point, likely up to get a glass of water, but he hasn’t turned to look who it was.

He knows it wasn’t xiao-Bai.

That feels like very long ago now. It’s probably only minutes. Time has always moved differently in this place.

There’s something simple to it. Sitting here. Not expected to go anywhere or meet anyone or do anything other than simply existing. Basking in the sun’s warmth and the universe’s quiet, his eyes closed and yet open in every way that matters. It’s almost as good as soft silk sheets, as kneeling by the side of the bed, as strong hands holding him down until he floats. Seen in a way he can never be anywhere else.

Another noise resounds in the quiet, but in this place somehow not even sounds can ever be oppressive.

A door opens and closes, but Zhu Yilong doesn’t startle.

Footsteps approach, and he still doesn’t feel the need to turn around and look.

There’s the soft clicking of a glass of water being put down next to him on the floor, and this time his eyes flutter open and he does look. At the bright rays of the sun falling in through the window and filtering through that glass, breaking up into glittering fragments of light that reflect off of every surface, a rainbow dancing across the flat expanse of his bedroom floor. As if it knows.

And it does.

The sun knows everything. Everything but what happens in the night, he used to think once, but no, it knows even that. The moon passes even those things on to its lover. The quiet secrets of the light spilling from soft lips bitten red.

“You should drink the water.” A soft and warm voice, almost as warm as the sunlight on Zhu Yilong’s skin.  

The rustling of the sheets tells him xiao-Bai’s now awake as well. Silently listening. Watching.

Zhu Yilong picks up the glass with a hand rarely this steady, downs its contents in one go. The water is refreshing, a pleasantly cold contrast to the rest of this also pleasant place.

He keeps the glass there, cold to his warm lips bitten red, and he can almost feel it.

The colours of the rainbow scattered across his face.

“You should take a picture of that.” Deep voice. Slightly scratchy from sleep. Xiao-Bai.

A quiet chuckle. A hand coming to rest on Zhu Yilong’s head, fingers carding through his hair that’s slowly growing back to its familiar old length.

“The battery’s still recharging.”

“Just one picture.”

A soft sigh, indulgent. Blunt nails scratching his scalp in a way that makes him shiver despite the heat coming in through the window. He’ll have to close the blinds again soon.

He doesn’t need to tell them to be quick about it. Footsteps are already moving away. Nothing in this place ever moves any quicker than it needs to.

The sheets rustle again, and Zhu Yilong is still frozen in place, his eyes closed against the light, now empty glass pressed to his lips, but no footsteps follow. No warm hand cradling the back of his head, no different set of long fingers carding through his hair. He can still feel the memory of them pulling on the short strands. He shivers again despite himself.

The weight of xiao-Bai’s gaze on him is almost as heavy as his touch would be, and Zhu Yilong wants to sink into it, wants him to get up and get over here and touch him until he’s breathless, as he did in bed only a couple of hours ago, right here where the sun can watch.

“Shouldn’t mess up our canvas,” xiao-Bai murmurs from where he’s seated (on the edge of the bed?), as if reading his mind. He always does that, and it ceased being uncanny almost on day one.

Zhu Yilong would say something along the lines of ‘it’s too late for that already’, if he could make himself speak, but his tongue feels as heavy in his mouth as the heated weight of xiao-Bai’s gaze mapping out the shape of his bare shoulders, the curve of his spine, as sticky as the honey-golden light throwing him in silhouette.

Zhu Yilong would make himself speak regardless, if xiao-Bai wanted him to, but the man only hums, having read the response in the lines of Zhu Yilong’s body more clearly than he could ever say it with words.

Zhu Yilong smiles, swears he can feel the colours shifting on his cheeks. The yellow on his cheekbones, the pink on his lashes, the red on his lips. Almost as acutely there as the mottled blue of the bruises on his hips and chest – not on his throat. He has to work tomorrow, an interview, but that is still very far away.

A door opens and closes again, familiar footsteps padding into the room, stopping at the edge of it.

There are two pairs of eyes on him now, and some part of him wants to curl up. Wants to drop the glass and wrap his arms around his knees, curl in on himself and hide himself from view.

Another part of him, a warm and bright thing somewhere deep inside of his chest, wants the opposite. Wants him to spread his arms, his legs, and tip his head back even further, let the rainbow extend to other places but his face, put himself on display in a way he’d never dare to anywhere else. Never could anywhere but here, with them.

There’s movement again. The minute sounds of fingers pressing buttons on an electronic device.

Zhu Yilong breathes out slowly, then in again, tongue darting out to wet his lips, to taste the rainbow spilling from the glass that’s slowly starting to warm up in his hand, revelling in the catch of breath that comes from the direction of the bed, the sound of a different pair of knees hitting the floor on the edge of the room their own kind of reward.

Seconds pass that might as well be hours. Days.

A slight change of angle. Higher, lower, left, right, more buttons pressed, deciding on the way to best capture both the light and him, and then–

The shutter. Soft click-click loud in the silence, but not loud enough to break through the quiet.

Zhu Yilong remembers how he used to flinch at it, back in the day. The sound of the shutter.

When he was thirteen, on a rare family vacation somewhere on the coast, the setting sun bright in his eyes, and his mom pulled out her old camera, and he cringed and hid his blushing face behind his hands.

When he was eighteen, sitting on a chair in front of a grey screen, having new pictures taken for his application to the Beijing Film Academy, his smile just a little bit stilted, his posture painfully perfect as instructed.

When he was twenty-four, posing for one of the first photoshoots he ever did – one of those ones that are thankfully long since forgotten – trying to paint an easy smile onto his face, to keep his posture relaxed even as he clenched his hand behind his back, dug his regretfully short nails into his palm until it hurt, to remind himself he was a person.

He still has to fight the urge to flinch sometimes. At the fans who come to meet him at the airport every time he goes anywhere, phones raised to capture a split second of his bewildered expression carefully styled into polite sincerity. At the reporters lined up by the red carpet at important events, who shout at him to look at them, to wave and give them something of himself he’s not sure he has ever had. At the photographers for endorsement shoots he’s never worked with before, who don’t know that he doesn’t like small talk and doesn’t like to be touched and doesn’t even really like to have his picture taken actually, that he’s acting even there.

But Zhu Yilong doesn’t flinch here, in his own bedroom, with the sunlight on his skin, the rainbow on his lips. He never feels the need to flinch when it’s him holding the camera.

The man who stepped into his hotel room one day, took one look at him, and understood. Understood so well in just that single glance, in just that one first click-click of the shutter. Understood what only a few other people in his life have ever been able to really grasp, what only one person has ever been able to grasp at times a little better than even Zhu Yilong himself can.

That he is storm in a teacup, ever and always on the brink of spilling over. That behind the wide-eyed looks and the slow-blink of confusion is a mind that struggles to be put to rest. That he wants to be free, to do his own thing, to make the art he wants to make, but that if he’s left too free he is at risk of drowning in all the possibilities of what might be.

That sometimes he just needs to be captured, to be held down, to be seen like he’s so rarely ever seen by so very few people, and that he’s only recently learned that a camera (or the idea of one) can do that in some ways just as well as an actual hand.

That he doesn’t have to fear the shutter, doesn’t have to fear what it might capture. Not the wildness or the weakness or the want.

That he wants it to capture all of that, as long as it’s him holding the camera.

Zhu Yilong sits by the window, the sunlight scorching, and he really should close the blinds one of these moments, but he cannot move. Not yet. Not when the shutter might still sound again.

And they wouldn’t. They said one picture, so they wouldn’t. But they could. They could.

He swallows, breath trembling against the glass and his hand.

There are footsteps, the rustle of sheets as xiao-Bai finally gets up from the bed, crosses over to the far end of the room, no doubt bends down to look at the photo on the little screen he is presented with.

“Perfect,” he whispers, just loud enough that Zhu Yilong can also hear it through the quiet, just enough to make him squirm in place at the discomfort of the compliment.

There is a light chuckle, the sound of knees shifting on the floor, a soft-spoken response:

“He always is.”

Xiao-Bai hums, and then there are footsteps approaching.

A hand folds around the glass in Zhu Yilong’s own, now warmed up by the sunlight, and he opens his eyes, somehow, looks at those long fingers, that slender wrist. He wants to turn his head, to follow that stretch of skin, up xiao-Bai’s arm, to his shoulder, to his face, but the sunlight is still coming in just so, the rainbow on his lips, on his tongue when he licks them, lashes fluttering.

There’s the sound of something heavy being put down on the table in the corner. The camera. More footsteps.

A different hand settles on the back of his neck, and Zhu Yilong holds himself even more still, tries not to lean into it too much, as he wants to. He breathes out, his breath fanning across the glass, across both of the hands holding it.

Clever fingers tangle in his hair, pull back his head, his lips away from that glass, and he gasps at the loss of the rainbow on his lips, listens to the echoing breaths from two mouths as it spills down the line of his throat instead.

Long fingers touch his shoulder. Blunt nails scratching smooth skin, and he’s barely aware of the sound he makes, something between a breath and a whimper, a question not asked with words but nevertheless understood, as it always is.

He spreads his legs, knees dragging across the floor in a way that he knows is going to ache in a few hours’ time but feels delicious in the moment, his back arching as he finally leans into their touch, warmer even than the sunlight pooling at the base of his throat.

Hot breath fans across his cheek, a nose bumping against his cheekbone, lips brushing the corner of his mouth, and his own trembling hand finally falls away from the glass, can’t hold on any longer, but xiao-Bai doesn’t let it drop, doesn’t allow the rainbow to disappear. He keeps the glass there, suspended in the air just out of Zhu Yilong’s reach.

His lashes flutter, eyes falling closed, and xiao-Bai clicks his tongue in disapproval, whispers: “Keep them open, sweetheart.”

Zhu Yilong whines softly at those words, at the endearment, at the sound of that voice, but he keeps his eyes open, half-focused on the glass xiao-Bai is still holding in front of him like he’s dangling a treat in front of his beloved pet dog.

“Perfect,” xiao-Bai murmurs again, lips brushing skin, and Zhu Yilong squirms despite himself, lashes fluttering again, and his next breath stutters from his lungs when the fingers in his hair tighten in warning, holding him in place.

“Perfect,” the owner of those fingers echoes, and Zhu Yilong wants to turn his head, to squeeze his eyes closed regardless of what he’s been told to do, to hide his face away from the prying eyes of the sun – of all the suns, of this whole summer – but he cannot.

The hand on his shoulder lets go, slipping lower, folds over his own, gently pries his fingers away from where they are clenching down on his thigh, achingly close to the bruises left behind in the crease of his hip, hidden by the fabric of his boxers. His grip is maybe hard enough to bruise itself, definitely hard enough to leave crescent welts on the skin – he hadn’t even realized – and the hand in his hair stays, but another trails down his back, just barely touching, tickling along his spine, counting the vertebrae and committing them to memory by touch instead of the interplay between light and electronics.

It feels electric either way.

“Perfect.” One word in two voices, and Zhu Yilong doesn’t know whether he wants to laugh or to cry. “For us.” Maybe both.

Xiao-Bai kisses him then – gently, excruciatingly so, lips soft and warm against his skin – kisses his cheekbone first and then the hinge of his jaw, the corner of his mouth, and he’s going slower than he was earlier today, agonizingly so. Zhu Yilong can’t get enough of it.

He cranes his head against the hold of the fingers in his hair, and the sound that falls from his lips at the sharp pull he gets in return is definitely a whimper, but he barely cares, and that’s the point. That’s always been the point.

The grip on his hair shifts but doesn’t let go, the hand on his back trailing down his side instead. The sound of another pair of knees hitting the floor next to him, barely loud enough to break through the rush of his own heartbeat in his ears.

Lips on his shoulder, his collarbone, tongue lapping at the golden light pooled in the hollow of his throat, trailing down his chest, as on the other side xiao-Bai leans in and finally kisses him for real. Slow and deep and lingering. All insistent pressure and honeysuckle sweetness and all-consuming warmth.

Zhu Yilong parts his lips on a whine that’s almost all trembling breath, and xiao-Bai hums in appreciation, licks into his mouth with that same excruciatingly slow care as before. Just a hint of teeth as he angles his head to suck on Zhu Yilong’s tongue.

There are hands on his hips, suddenly, holding him down, carefully avoiding the bruises there in a way that’s absolutely maddening, fingers trailing along the soft inside of his trembling thigh, and he hadn’t even realized he was moving his hips, his cock achingly hard in his boxers, precome soaking into the black fabric.

He tries to shift, to turn his head and move his hips, anything to get those fingers to press into the bruises, to touch him where he wants to be touched, but they won’t let him, are throwing glances at each other in that quiet mode of instant communication they’ve gotten so torturously good at by now. Question and answer. Request and permission.

“Shhhhh,” xiao-Bai shushes, voice deep and comforting as he shifts until he’s holding Zhu Yilong from behind, knees spread on either side of him, arms around his shoulders and lips brushing against the shell of his ear, and there’s a tightness in Zhu Yilong’s chest all of a sudden, a wetness on his cheeks. He hadn’t noticed when his breathing started to speed up, soft hitching cries that stutter from his lungs, when his restless squirming turned into equal parts attempt to hide himself away and silently beg the two of them for more. “You’re doing so well, sweetheart. It’s okay.”

There’s a fire in his veins, as hot and urgent as the sunlight on his skin that’s suddenly too much, too bright, too present, watchful eye that’s not allowed to see, that’s seen everything there is to see of him already – everything the rest of the world can never ever know – and he needs. He needs. He needs. He doesn’t even know what he needs, but he’s dizzy with it, and he trusts that they will know it for him instead.

“You can close your eyes now, babygirl,” xiao-Bai whispers, and Zhu Yilong feels himself shudder at that particular endearment, squirming as he always does, feels it pool in his gut, settle into him as if the words are being carved into his very bones, scrambled nerves unravelling and quivering into a gloriously fragmentary feedback loop. Babygirl babygirl babygirl.

You can close your eyes now.

He does.

Zhu Yilong breathes out and lets his eyes fall closed and sinks into xiao-Bai’s embrace and he floats.

His head is full of cotton wool. There are a hundred hands on him, his skin buzzing, but only a couple ones that matter. Anchor points in an ocean of feelings in a teacup. Fingers. Trailing down his chest, his sides. Blunt nails scratching at the bruises on his hips and pressing (finally!) down down down down down. He shakes with it.

Xiao-Bai’s arms are still around his shoulders. Soft lips on the back of his neck, gentle scratch of teeth, and he wants them to bite down, cannot remember why they haven’t yet in that place. Different fingers on his belly. Tickling. Tongue drawing lines of fire on his chest. Teeth dragging across a nipple and the breath is gone from his lungs, his back arched, like a punch to the stomach in the best possible way.

His eyes are closed but he can still feel the rainbow, can still taste it on his lips when those same fingers trail down the thin path of hair on his belly, slip below the waistband of his boxers, wrap around him, jerk him off in lazy liquid honey-sticky strokes, when he gasps out a garbled mess of syllables that might somewhere include both their names.

He tries to move his hips, to thrust up into that almost idle grip, but he is still held in place by a matching hand, nails on bruises, pain and pleasure tangling together in his brain until he can no longer tell one from the other, and he’s close. He’s so close, wants nothing more than to crash over the edge and fall fall fall, but–

“Stop,” xiao-Bai whispers, voice somehow both squishy-soft and steely-solid at the same time, and they do.

Zhu Yilong hears himself gasp out a broken whine, somewhere very far away, protesting the way that hand stills on his cock, the way the fingers on his hips shift until they’re resting once more on unblemished skin, then dig down a little harder to hold him still even though they don’t have to, because that one word is enough.

The ones that follow are even better:

“Good girl.”

He chokes on his own breath, shivering, and the hand on his hip goes from holding him down to gently stroking his side as he trembles back down from the edge.

“Perfect.”

Hand on his side, a quiet hum of agreement from a slightly softer voice: “Exquisite.”

After a moment that feels like days those fingers finally resume their torturously slow movement, and Zhu Yilong’s breath quivers, thighs trembling, his own hands shaking, scrambling for purchase on a shoulder, a knee, twin hisses of pain as he digs his blunt nails into their skin on instinct when xiao-Bai tells them to stop again, and again, and again.

He is floating, and the sunlight is still so very warm on his skin, but all those hands are warmer still, and he wants to taste the rainbow again, to gulp down that light like water in the desert, to sink his aching teeth into the sun.

“Stop,” xiao-Bai whispers – for the fifth? the sixth? the seventh time? – and Zhu Yilong wheezes, panting for breath, his whole body shaking, and he might be crying, hot tears dripping down his cheeks, but his nerves are so jangled up, so close to short-circuiting – is that smoke in his nose on his tongue down his throat in his lungs? – that he can’t actually tell for sure.

There are lips on the back of his neck and on his throat at the same time, twin tongues teasing where there should be teeth biting down and fingers squeezing, and he wants to sob, wants to tell them ‘yes, yes, there, now, break me, mark me, make me yours, I am already yours’, but those are entirely too many different words, and he feels slow and heavy, wrapped in a blanket spun from clouds and sunlight, and he can’t, so instead–

“Please,” he begs, “please, please, please, please, please.”

Or at least he tries to. He’s not sure even those words really make it past his lips, if his leaden tongue can even shape around that endless mantra, if his scattered brain can even remember what that word’s supposed to sound like – p l e a s e – but his body conveys it just as well.

“Shhhh, sweetheart,” xiao-Bai whispers, “babygirl, we’re gonna make you feel so good. He’s earned it, hasn’t he? He’s been so good for us.”

A softly hummed affirmative, hot breath against his collarbone. He can feel the vibrations of it in his bones.

“See?” xiao-Bai continues, and Zhu Yilong doesn’t even try to stifle the broken moan that spills from his lips when xiao-Bai wraps a hand around his throat from behind, fingertips pressing into his pulse point, not hard enough to bruise, but just enough to leave him breathless. “Perfect.”

He surges up against that hand, back arching, hips jerking up into the measured grip of that other hand that’s still wrapped around his cock, the third not reaching down to hold him in place again but merely continuing to stroke along his side and hip and belly as he’s finally allowed to chase his release, and it’s only then that he realizes, somewhere deep down very far away in a barely active corner of his brain.

There’s one hand missing. One hand that hasn’t touched him yet, one of xiao-Bai’s.            

He presses into the hold of the hand on his throat, rolls his hips into the grip of the hand on his cock, straining against the third one now splayed out on his belly like a hot brand, but there’s one hand still missing and suddenly it’s not enough and he needs needs needs.

And then something hard presses against his chest, right over his heart, no longer cold but unmistakeable.

The glass.

The glass that xiao-Bai must’ve still been holding up, still dangling in front of him even though he couldn’t see it, to reflect the sunlight, break it up into a gorgeous glittering shower of rainbow colours on his skin. For them.

Zhu Yilong gasps, and he can feel the answering stutter of the hand on his cock, the quiet intake of breath in front of him and slightly to the side, can almost feel xiao-Bai smile behind him, and then the glass is gone, and the pressure on his throat eases off, oxygen flooding his brain in a dizzying rush that makes him shiver and whine deep in his throat, but he doesn’t let go entirely.

Xiao-Bai’s thumb strokes gently down the side of his throat, in perfect time with the hand stroking his belly and the hand stroking his cock, and then finally a fourth hand joins the other three, the glass put away.

Fingers on his chest, curling, blunt nails digging down, clawing burning marks into his skin right over his heart, and oh–

“That’s it babygirl,” xiao-Bai whispers, his voice deep and rough, “show us how beautiful you are. Come for us.”

He does.

He comes so hard he can see the rainbow even with his eyes closed, not just floating but soaring, nothing but blissful quiet in his ears, his back arching as far as it can go, head thrown back and legs spread wide, limbs shaking and chest splayed open, all his secrets spilling out, for all the suns to see.

They’re welcome to it.           

When he comes down from his high again he blinks his eyes open just a tiny bit, flinching slightly at the brightness of the sunlight. There are arms around his waist, hands on his thighs. His boxers are sticky with come in a way that he knows is going to become gross in a moment but that he can’t quite make himself care about right now, not when his limbs are still quivering with aftershocks.

The hands on his thighs are trembling, ever so slightly, and he slowly becomes aware of xiao-Bai’s erection pressed against him, of the mirroring one straining in his line of sight, so very close to where his hand his wrapped around a slender hip – and apparently he’s the only one who bothered with putting on underwear after he got out of bed, the savages – of their harsh breaths, loud in the quiet, but not loud enough to break it.

They’re part of the quiet, in this place.

He trails his hand down and to the side, and his coordination is a little sloppy, his arm a little bit like jelly. He hears a quiet gasp of breath in front of him and a soft chuckle behind.

“What a good girl,” xiao-Bai mumbles, his breath rustling Zhu Yilong’s hair, and Zhu Yilong shivers, “so polite.”

He swallows, pauses, trembling hand frozen in place, and xiao-Bai chuckles again, ever so softly.

“Go on then, sweetheart,” he says, “help him out. He’s earned it as well, hasn’t he?”

The trembling of those hands on his thighs increases, and Zhu Yilong feels himself smile, bright and happy and not a little dopey, as he wraps his hand around that straining erection.

Even with his lack of coordination it doesn’t take much time at all to get him off, to leave him too shivering and gasping and curling in on himself, mouth open and eyes closed, momentarily lost to the world. Zhu Yilong strokes him through it, pulls him in for a kiss when he’s still shivering with pleasure, all tongue and teeth and none too gentle, searing.

And it’s easy, after that, to sit up, to turn around, still on his knees, as they all are, and to bend down and take xiao-Bai’s cock into his mouth.

He goes slow – equal parts payback and because he knows that’s the way xiao-Bai likes it best – tongue swirling around the head, a hint of teeth just for the thrill of it, hollowing his cheeks, precome bitter at the back of his throat.

Hands slip into his hair. Not to guide – he doesn’t need that, not for this – but just to hold, a second pair of hands trailing down his spine, squeezing his hips in quiet encouragement.

“Perfect” – Zhu Yilong hears. Soft voice at his back, lips brushing along his spine, breath as warm on his skin as the sunlight, and xiao-Bai lets out a shuddering breath that sounds like something right in the middle between laughter and sobbing.

“Perfect,” he echoes, and Zhu Yilong hums around his cock, a simple acknowledgement, doesn’t even feel the need to squirm anymore. “Blinding.”

It’s all the encouragement he needs, to suck in a deep breath and then take xiao-Bai all the way down, as far as he can go, choking around the length of him, the memory of a hand around his throat echoed by the fingers once more digging into the bruises on his hips.

Xiao-Bai gasps, choking himself on a shuddering moan, his back arching and limbs jerking as he comes, and Zhu Yilong swallows every last drop, in full gratifying view of the sun slowly dipping towards the horizon, and finally he tastes the rainbow again.

It takes a little while. For them to untangle their limbs and get up off the floor, and Zhu Yilong can already feel the bruises on his knees, but he’ll wear them with pride tomorrow. They’ll be hidden by his pants, the interviewer none the wiser, and she’ll just continue to ask him stupid questions about recent and upcoming projects that he’s already answered at least a hundred times before in exactly the same words. And when she asks him a particularly inane question, he’ll dig his fingers into those bruises, a motion he knows will be barely visible on camera, and it’ll remind him how to smile.

He could close the blinds now, but the sun will set in an hour and it’ll hardly matter anymore.

They clean up, and then they order takeout for dinner, and they eat together on the couch in his living room, and Zhu Yilong listens to them talk about trivial things that still don’t break through the quiet of this place, and it’s fine. It’s perfect.

They have to leave after dinner, back to their own work just as he will in the morning. Zhu Yilong watches them pack their things. Clothes and camera lenses.

Xiao-Bai and he watch as clever fingers work the buttons on the camera, one by one deleting all the evidence of the things they did in the morning. Of him splayed out on the sheets, tied to the bed by nothing but the invisible sounds of a command.

Unlike the physical, printed photos from a while ago, or the couple of photos taken with his own phone, these ones cannot be allowed to keep existing. Not in a world where one mistakenly pressed key on a keyboard can ruin three carefully – breathlessly – built careers.

Zhu Yilong always shakes his head at them in fond exasperation when they mourn aloud ‘the loss of such art’, but he thinks he may be slowly starting to understand. A hand around his throat, another around his cock, a whisper in his ear from two separate voices speaking as one: perfect.

Blinding.

“The last one too?”

It’s a quiet question, fingers clamped tight around that camera, the screen displaying a picture of him kneeling in front of the windowed wall of his bedroom, the scorching sunlight throwing him in silhouette, an empty glass in his hand that spills a rainbow of colours out over his face.

He sees xiao-Bai hesitate from the corner of his eye, ever reluctant, but then they nod in tandem, as they always do.

A finger hovers over the delete button, a second away from pressing it, and Zhu Yilong feels his heart jump into his throat.

“Wait,” he says, breathlessly, the first coherent thing he’s said all afternoon and evening, and they turn to look at him in frightening unison, twin looks of doting puzzlement on their gorgeous faces. “I want a print of that one.”

Two smiles as bright as the sunlight in the picture, as warm as the memory of it washing across his skin.

“And then delete?” they ask, still in unison, and Zhu Yilong nods.

“And then delete.”

He kisses the both of them goodbye in the dark, the sun already gone from the sky, but on their lips he can still taste all the colours of the rainbow.

Two weeks later he receives a sturdy envelope, and he doesn’t need to look at the name of the sender on the back to know what’s inside of it.

He sends two texts to two people. One thank you, and one guess what I just got in the mail?

He sits down on the floor of his bedroom, in front of the window, cross-legged and fully dressed this time, glass of water put down on the floor beside him, and he slowly works open the envelope, pulls out a gorgeous glossy picture printed on nice stiff paper.

Next to him on the floor his phone makes a quiet noise, and then another, and he looks down at it, at the screen displaying two texts. One you’re welcome, and one dunno, but it’s probably perfect.

Zhu Yilong sits on the floor in front of the windowed wall of his bedroom, the hot sun shining in through the open blinds. He’ll close those in a minute, but first he has something to show.

No one will see – no one can ever really see – but right here right now he can almost imagine a world in which it would be okay if they did.

Zhu Yilong takes a sip from his glass of water, closes his eyes to let the rainbow dance across his face.

He shows that picture to its only other witness, and in its warmth he is content.