The club is loud. The club is— the club is really, really loud.
Guo Changcheng half thinks the bass is making the floor move.
Or perhaps it’s the booze.
He’s pretty sure he’s not meant to be drinking when he’s undercover — is pretty sure he can feel Chu Shuzhi’s eyes drilling a judging hole in the side of his skull, whenever he accepts another tiny cup — but men just keep putting drinks in his hand, and he’s— he’s got no idea how you say no to something like that; anyway, he’s sipping as slowly as he can. It’s not like he’s actually drunk.
Guo Changcheng is grateful, at least, for the sound dampeners Lin Jing had given him before they’d come here, one of them with an earpiece inside, to keep in contact with the others. He’s glad for the polish Zhu Hong had painted on his fingernails back the SID, too.
“Lets you know if some bastard has spiked your drink,” she had said, swiping the dark purple polish on with a delicate, but rapid, skill.
“The perp drugs his victims’ systems, after all,” Chief Zhao had chimed in, voice of authority, leaning over Guo Changcheng’s shoulder and eyeing Zhu Hong’s work, “but so do everyday arseholes.”
Zhu Hong had dressed Guo Changcheng, too. Maybe it looks good, he’s not an expert, but it sure isn’t very comfortable.
Guo Changcheng is— Guo Changcheng is so far out of his comfort zone, it’s not even funny.
Though it is, he imagines, probably pretty funny to the others. He tries not to think about that kind of thing, these days; tries not let his anxiety knot him up inside his head — they’re his friends, he knows that, he really, really does — but it’s hard not to stress, right now. Hard not to imagine them, laughing, as they watch him, out of sight, through the security camera feeds. As they watch people hitting on him, watch people touching his shoulders, watch people touching his bum; as they watch him navigate this bizarre experience, his skin increasingly flushed with the drinking and dancing.
At least Zhu Hong isn’t laughing at him through the cameras— she’s watching from here, from the bar, on the other side of the giving-off-a-converted-factory-floor-vibe dance space.
Chu Shuzhi isn’t laughing at him through the cameras, either.
Chu Shuzhi isn’t laughing at all.
Guo Changcheng thinks he can hear him growl, low and pissed-off, from half a foot away, as Guo Changcheng is twirled away from him yet again. At least this time it’s only hands against his chest, not more booze being offered.
Guo Changcheng hadn’t really imagined that he was going to be… wanted, quite so much.
Or at all, really.
It’s not like he hasn’t been out before. He has, he’s not a shut-in, no matter what certain people joke. But he’s not… well. He’d not exactly been a sought-after item, not when he’d been dragged out for hotpot or karaoke or dancing with his dormmates, back in his university days.
Then again, his dormmates hadn’t exactly been dragging him to places like… this.
Still. Even with the men asking him to dance, even with the drinks, he’s not one hundred percent convinced that it’s really him that most of them are after. He’s seen them, as they slide cups into his awkward grasp, as they dance around him — as they dance against him, and it makes him blush, mortified; semi-hard stranger cock felt clean through jeans and cloth — he’s seen them, clearly, obviously, look past him, and at Chu Shuzhi.
Chu Shuzhi, who is always standing just close enough, just possessively enough, to be staking a claim on Guo Changcheng.
Chu Shuzhi, who is always looking at them like he could beat them down, like he would do it with pleasure, if they touch Guo Changcheng in a way that breaks some unspoken set of rules.
Still: Guo Changcheng doesn’t blame them for gazing over his shoulder; for gazing at Chu Shuzhi instead.
Chu Shuzhi is looking really, really good.
Well, Chu Shuzhi always looks really good. But right now he’s got his jacket off, and his arms are out, and his jeans are — well, his jeans are a little tighter than usual, Guo Changcheng thinks; he’d ogled the slide of them over his bum on their way in here — and either way, yeah, it makes Guo Changcheng’s mouth dry to look at him, so he doesn’t blame others for wanting to.
Guo Changcheng is dealing with this by, well, avoiding looking at him. It’s better that way. It’s better not to see Chu Shuzhi’s body, better not to see his muscles glinting in the pulsing light, better not to see his face, not when it looks alarmingly like it’s projecting something along the lines of, you can you can dance with him but he’s still coming home with me when you’re done whenever someone touches Guo Changcheng.
It’s just for work, after all. It’s just for work.
It’s not an expression he ought to remember, not a memory he should let imprint: the sight of that on his crush’s face. Better not to go there at all.
The song changes, different rhythm rolling up through Guo Changcheng’s feet, up through his calves. He does like the music, even if he’d like it better with the volume down a bit. He does like the dancing, even if he’d rather not be watched by the SID while he’s moving.
Another man comes over to them. This one propositions the both of them, directly, and bluntly, together, as a couple.
“No,” says Chu Shuzhi.
Guo Changcheng blushes to the roots of his hair.
“Fuck me,” sing-songs Zhu Hong in Guo Changcheng’s ear. “So many guys horny for a threeway with you two, what is this even.”
Guo Changcheng desperately hopes that Chu Shuzhi has already taken his earpiece out, or— or something. He doesn’t bother responding to Zhu Hong himself, anyway; their connection is either garbage, or she’s just been ignoring him begging her to shut up, if his previous three responses have been anything to go by.
“It’s not enough,” says Shen Wei in their ears, next, and then, “I’m so sorry, Chu Shuzhi, but you remember what we talked about.”
Guo Changcheng isn’t sure why the Professor is apologising but, when he looks at Chu Shuzhi, it’s clear that he, at least, understands.
The Dixingren swears under his breath, whispers out his own, “Sorry,” to Guo Changcheng. He then takes hold of Guo Changcheng, turning him slightly, pressing him against the wall— and kisses him.
It is, as kisses go, one of the simultaneously most horrific and fantastic things Guo Changcheng has ever experienced. He feels like he’s going to melt. He feels like he’s going to die. He doesn’t want to have this, if he doesn’t get to have it for keeps. He doesn’t want to have this, but he doesn’t want it to stop, either.
He’s still dazed from Chu-ge’s mouth, is still leaning against the wall in buzzing silence, when he lets the next guy — bottle-blond hair, shiny trousers — take his sleeve-covered arm, the side of his body not still holding the drink, and pull him away to dance some more. Guo Changcheng refuses to go out onto the dance floor itself — it’s vaguely terrifying, with the mishmash of swaying limbs and writhing bodies; with too many people sharing too little space — and besides, Chu Shuzhi feels like the only truly safe thing here.
(It’s necessary for the case, anyway, for them to stay together. It’s part of the roles they are playing, and it only works if there are two of them: the perp likes couples, if the trail of bodies is anything to go off. The perp likes couples: likes, from what they’ve seen on grainy security film and shitty phone videos, to get a couple in his sights; likes to make one jealous, likes to make one stray; likes to really play them against each other and rile them up, likes to have sport with the one who gets jealous, before killing them, and then doing worse things to the partner he’s judged as ‘disloyal’. He likes to drug at least one of them, though it isn’t clear how; likes to make their feelings stronger; likes to make them want him more. There might even be a further trend, Professor Shen had posited: the ‘straying’ partner can be read as a twink.
“A challenge for dinner, and a snacc for a dessert”, Chief Zhao had added, earning himself boos and glares from most of the table.
[If Guo Changcheng never has to hear Professor Shen say twink again, it will still be too soon.])
Still. Guo Changcheng is finding this all much harder than it should be. Trying to focus on not spilling his drink — trying to focus on dancing, while he knows that everyone he works with is probably judging him, and Chu Shuzhi too — trying not to step on the dyed-blond guy’s feet, even while dyed-blond is rubbing his groin against him — trying to be conscious of where he is being touched, of whether skin is making contact — this guy keeps grabbing at Guo Changcheng’s wrists beneath his rising sleeves — (their perp drugs people, their perp drugs people) — trying to do all of this and not think about Chu Shuzhi having kissed him, all warm mouth and big hands — is actually really, alarmingly, difficult?
The blond guy touches at Guo Changcheng’s wrist again, stroking firmly at his bare skin, this time.
Guo Changcheng is relieved, when Chu Shuzhi picks that moment to reach out, grabbing roughly at Guo Changcheng’s loose collar, and hauling him backwards — hauling him out of the stranger’s space; hauling him back against Chu Shuzhi.
The blond gives the both of them a once-over, and it makes Guo Changcheng’s skin prickle. The blond grins, slow and low, when Chu Shuzhi grunts at him angrily, threateningly. He melts, slowly, back onto the dance floor, but Guo Changcheng still feels like his eyes are on them.
On the plus side, Guo Changcheng can take a break, can take a moment where he no longer has to deal with trying to co-ordinate too many things.
On the down side, Guo Changcheng has to go back to dealing with his too-close proximity to Chu Shuzhi. If he kisses him again, he’s going to have a seriously noticeable problem.
They’re meant to be playing a couple right now, he knows that, but it’s dizzying enough being close to Chu Shuzhi at the best of times, let alone when Guo Changcheng is— oh, gosh, Guo Changcheng is actually kind of drunk right now, isn’t he? It’s bad, is what it is.
Chu Shuzhi is so, so warm against Guo Changcheng, and Guo Changcheng is suddenly painfully aware of how much alcohol he has drunk, of how low his inhibitions are right now, alcohol balancing out his anxiety in a way he had completely forgotten about, in a way he had completely under-calculated. The last time he’d felt this drunk, back at university, he’d been only vaguely interested in someone, and had still made a giant mess of things. But this time— this time there are feelings involved, and Chu Shuzhi is pressed right up against him, and Guo Changcheng knows, now, what he feels like to kiss, or at least what he feels like when he’s kissing for pretend, and if that was that good, what would the real thing feel like.
And— he is sure he hasn’t drunk this much. He’d been pacing himself. He’d been careful. He’d been buzzed, at most, he’s sure of it. The sensation is making him panic.
Another couple wink at them, and Guo Changcheng is tugged even closer, closer against Chu Shuzhi, the movement slotting his butt against Chu Shuzhi’s hips and groin. The roughness of his jeans, against the softness of Guo Changcheng’s, is undoing him.
He’s always into this. Is always into Chu Shuzhi hovering in his space; into Chu Shuzhi looking threateningly at people who get too close, or too near, or who touch for too long. Guo Changcheng is, usually, really into that. Is usually pretty tragically into that?
But not here. Not now. Not in the semi-dark semi-glow of Dragon City’s premier gay club.
Not when they are pretending to be a couple.
And, most definitely, completely, understatement-impossibly, not when Guo Changcheng has apparently lost track of how much he has drunk. He shouldn’t be this dizzy. It doesn’t make sense. He was fine five minutes ago. He was fine.
He wriggles from Chu Shuzhi’s grasp to squat on the floor, shoulders grounded against Chu Shuzhi’s knees, and stares at his phone, squinting, trying to focus on the time.
The perp, if he’s here, should have picked his targets by now. Guo Changcheng can visualise the theorised timeline on the board in the office, though it’s going fuzzy at the edges. He should, by now, have found someone to make angry, should have found someone to cosy up to, should have drugged them, should have begun luring the both of them outside.
Guo Changcheng tries to stand, and immediately flinches, as a hand, that is not Chu Shuzhi’s, reaches out to tug his phone away from him.
“Heyyy, handsome,” some guy is saying, and he’s right up in their space, is right up against the both of them, and he’s high on something, Guo Changcheng thinks blearily, if his pupils are anything to go by. “Gimme your number?”
Guo Changcheng can’t even fumble himself to his feet before Chu Shuzhi has dragged him back upright, one arm pressing tight across Guo Changcheng’s chest, the other snatching the phone back from the man. The guy freezes like a deer in headlights, but has enough sense to step away, to giggle, off his face, and to weave back into the dance floor.
“I’ve had a gutful of this,” Chu Shuzhi is saying, and he sounds really angry. “The hell I’d let my boyfriend be treated like this.”
He does not, this time, let go of Guo Changcheng, but keeps his arm around him, bare muscles against Guo Changcheng’s sleeves and shirt; keeps Guo Changcheng steady, even as Guo Changcheng feels dizzier inside, feels lighter, looser, like he’s mislaid his sense of balance and it isn’t, he thinks, just the sound of my boyfriend being hissed near his ear.
He’s— Chu Shuzhi’s too warm, he’s too solid, he’s a wall of heat and fantasies pressed too firmly against Guo Changcheng’s back, and across Guo Changcheng’s chest. It’s— it’s intense. It’s really intense, and rough, and Guo Changcheng wants to moan back into it, wants to rub back into it, wants to—
He is not this drunk. He’s not. Something is wrong.
“Something is wrong,” he says.
Chu Shuzhi angles him sideways; stares down at his face.
Guo Changcheng closes his eyes with the sheer weight of want that rises up inside of him.
Chu Shuzhi is saying something. Chu Shuzhi is actively holding him up. Why does he need to be held up? Chu Shuzhi is holding him up and is saying something beside Guo Changcheng’s ear, hot and damp and good. He shakes him, a little, when Changcheng does nothing more than make a string of happy, pleased noises, and then he is grabbing at Guo Changcheng’s hands, is looking at his painted fingernails for some reason.
“They’re pretty,” says Guo Changcheng, apparently, because they are, really. “Zhu Hong can do nails for a living if she gets sick of looking at the Chief hitting on Shen Wei.”
There is an irate, womanly screech in Guo Changcheng’s ear. Oh, he has an earpiece in. That’s right. They’re undercover.
Undercover as boyfriends.
Guo Changcheng wriggles closer to Chu Shuzhi’s body. It’s not enough, is not what he wants, so he spins beneath Chu Shuzhi’s arm, legs wobbly as he goes, arms bent weirdly from where they’re being held, and slots the fronts of their bodies together, instead. He presses his face into Chu Shuzhi’s t-shirt. He smells of baijiu, of sweat, of the cigarette smoke filling the space around them. Guo Changcheng is absolutely okay with all of this, if it means that Chu Shuzhi’s muscles are beneath his cheek.
“His nails are clear, it’s not a roofie, but someone has fucking done something,” Chu Shuzhi is growling at the air. At his earpiece?
Oh, Guo Changcheng still has an earpiece in, too. Professor Shen’s voice is in Guo Changcheng’s head, is saying, “Xiao Guo, did that last man touch you on your skin? His eyes reflected weirdly in the light, when he was dancing with you, when we reviewed the video. Not the phone man. The blond man. It looked as though he had your wrist in his hand. Xiao Guo? Can you should Lao Chu your wrist?”
Guo Changcheng will show Lao Chu whatever he would like to see, aha.
Chu Shuzhi’s body moves away from him in an instant shift, face panicked.
Gently, though, after a moment, he still manoeuvres Guo Changcheng against the wall, his own body shielding Guo Changcheng from the dance floor. He is looking at Guo Changcheng’s wrists, is pushing up his sleeves, is eyeing — oh, hey, that looks kind of painful, Guo Changcheng thinks, curious; that looks like someone has touched him and made his skin burn.
“You saw who it was?” Chu Shuzhi is saying. “The dyed-blond one. He won’t have gone far. He’ll be watching us right now, will be trying to work out why his drug didn’t send Guo Changcheng into his arms like it was meant to. He’ll be right here, I’m sure of it.”
There are voices, in Guo Changcheng’s ear, talking a lot, and fast. Co-ordinating something at the front door, something at the back door, Zhu Hong saying that she is already on it, saying thank you for the security camera screencap Lin Jing has sent to her phone, is saying that she can see the guy, is saying that she—
Guo Changcheng doesn’t know. It’s too much, and Chu Shuzhi is too far away. Chu Shuzhi is at least two inches away, and that’s just not right.
“Meant to be boyfriends,” Guo Changcheng is saying, he thinks? “Want to be boyfriends. We should be boyfriends, Chu-ge.” He knits his fingers into Chu Shuzhi’s t-shirt and does the yanking himself, for once. Pulls Chu Shuzhi in — or just drags himself to Chu Shuzhi, perhaps, eagerly shifting tracks upon meeting an immovable object — and winds his arms around Chu Shuzhi’s neck.
There’s someone inside his ear again. “Ah, Lao Chu, I think— I mean, you yanked him back pretty fast, right after the guy touched him. I think perhaps he was meant to touch the dickhead next, and then imprint with the skin-on-skin…”
“I didn’t touch his skin either!” Chu Shuzhi is shouting. “It had already kicked in, before I touched his wrists. I don’t know why it’s doing this!”
“Nope,” says Guo Changcheng, with a pop, like the Chief with a lollypop. “He didn’t touch my skin before. I would know. I remember. I always remember when Chu-ge touches me.”
He has a vault, in his mind, for Chu Shuzhi touches. His skin records them.
His skin, right now, feels like maybe it belongs to someone else. Or to somewhere else. He isn’t sure. He is sure that he’s sliding his fingers into the short hair at the back of Chu Shuzhi’s head, though. He has an erection, too, he thinks, somewhere at the edges of his consciousness, but he’s more interested in Chu-ge, is more interested in the funny face he is pulling when Guo Changcheng tips his head sideways and kisses his neck. “Should be my boyfriend for real,” Guo Changcheng says, petulant, needing, kissing some more.
“Lao Chu,” says a voice softly, kindly, in both their ears. “I think Xiao Guo needs be taken somewhere safe. He can’t stay out like— like this.”
Chu Shuzhi is staring sideways at Guo Changcheng, blinking slowly. He looks angry, but it’s not at him, Guo Changcheng knows that. He doesn’t get angry at Guo Changcheng, not anymore, not really.
“Get the bastard,” Chu Shuzhi snarls. He scoops Guo Changcheng in against him, and takes him away from the crowd, and the lights, and the commotion of a bright-lipped woman rather violently arresting a blond-haired man near the front door as they pass.
Guo Changcheng is scared to move. He’s still trying to work out where he is, still trying to work out what has happened. He can remember being undercover — can remember pretending to be dating — can remember, oh, kissing, oh no— can remember the club, can remember dancing with the— with the blond, he thinks — but after that is a blur of noise and fractured images.
He shifts, again, realises, with horror and discomfort, that he must have come in his jeans at some point. He really hopes he was on his own side of the pillow wall when that happened, that he hasn’t done something creepy and gross. He thinks he’s going to puke.
“Toilet is that way,” says Chu Shuzhi, and the hand he is holding disengages, rises up, and points towards the hall and then slightly to the left.
Guo Changcheng obeys the direction, at a run.
When he’s done — when he’s flushed the sick away, and washed his hands, and washed his face — when he’s staring in the mirror and looking at his complexion; he’s so sallow, he’s really not well — when he’s done, he looks up, and Chu Shuzhi is in the doorway, watching him, hands gripping the frame like he maybe possibly doesn’t know what do to with them otherwise.
“Breakfast?” Chu Shuzhi says. “I’m making congee?”
He stands near the stove, while Guo Changcheng perches awkwardly on a stool in the tiny kitchen. Guo Changcheng realises, dumbly, that Chu Shuzhi has brought him to his own home; that it was Chu Shuzhi’s bed he had woken up in, with pillows between them, and Guo Changcheng’s pants a mess. He realises, too, that congee takes way too long to cook, for them to sit here in silence while it does.
He just can’t figure out what to say.
He keeps thinking about them kissing.
After a while, it is Chu Shuzhi who says, “They caught the guy, as we were leaving. He’s confessed already. He’s— he’s proud of what he’s done. Boasted about taking down cheaters, even though it was him who drugged them into cheating. You can read the reports when you go back into work.” He looks at the food he’s making, watching it bubble gently. “I’m sorry I let it happen. I should have seen him trying to touch you. I should have— I should have caught it before it happened. I’m sorry.”
He looks — he looks tired. He looks angry. He looks like he’s about to stalk away and not talk about this ever again, and Guo Changcheng—
Guo Changcheng can remember the feel of waking up with their hands entwined. Guo Changcheng can remember the feel of his mouth. Guo Changcheng can’t— he can’t go back, can’t go back to how it was before. It was never really simple before, anyway, not for so long now, and he thinks… he thinks that maybe, if he’s a coward, and he says it now — if he blurts it out in the context of all of this — then Chu Shuzhi can either lean into it, or can simply let it go with all the nonsense Guo Changcheng had done the night before.
“It’s not your fault,” Guo Changcheng says, reaching a hand across the kitchen bench, even though he knows he can’t reach all the way. “We were doing a job. We were there for that. And he got caught, so that’s good. If it hadn’t been me, hadn’t been us who caught his eye, it would have been someone else. I can’t be upset about that. But I…”
Chu Shuzhi is staring into the saucepan, as though simmering rice and chicken stock are something worth watching.
Guo Changcheng slides from the stool, moves around the bench, and crosses the space between them. His knees hurt. His calves are sore. It must be a side-effect of the Dixingren’s touch.
He stops behind Chu Shuzhi. He puts out a hand. But he cannot touch him. Cannot cross that remaining space.
Chu Shuzhi surprises him. Says, “Hei Pao Shi says the drug was meant to make you want the guy. Was meant to make you want him, when you made skin contact a second time. Maybe it would have made you want anyone else, the next time you made skin contact, I don’t know. But you didn’t, within the allotted time for the power to work, and so it— it worked inwards, instead. Just made you want what… what you already wanted.”
Guo Changcheng can’t breathe. He has to force air in, gasping with an indrawn hiss. It’s not what’s being said — what’s being said doesn’t surprise him, not really — it’s that Chu Shuzhi is saying it; that Chu Shuzhi is meeting this head on (well, head on with his simmering rice, anyway); that Chu Shuzhi is actually bringing it up.
“That…” Guo Changcheng’s face feels hot. “That, uh, that makes sense,” he says, helplessly, wishing the other man would turn around, but almost glad that he hasn’t. He can have this conversation, he thinks, with the panes of Chu Shuzhi’s back. “It sounds like a clause a Dixingen skill might have; some of them are weird like that. So that, if nobody touched my skin, I would just— want you like I always do, but with less… less inhibitions.”
“You want me,” says Chu Shuzhi, so low that Guo Changcheng can barely hear it over the hum of the hotplate.
“I want you,” Guo Changcheng tells the lines of Chu Shuzhi’s shoulders and then — when Chu Shuzhi turns, and looks at him, gaze wide and dark and breaking — he tells Chu Shuzhi’s face, as well: “I want you, Chu-ge. I want you for real, not for pretend. For real, for so long now.”
Chu Shuzhi reaches behind himself, and turns the heat down on the stove, before advancing, slowly; before crossing the space between them, and saying, “I’m going to kiss you, properly, now.”
And he does.