The first dry day of spring was quiet until approximately mid-day, when the door to the house swung open and a loud, cheerful voice proclaimed, "I found the most awesome place for a secret fort!"

Faster than Gong Ji could react, Din had snatched Gong Ji's pillow from under him and put it over the top of his own head. "You told him to go play," he grumbled, his pillow-muffled voice still breathless from exertion that, had the interruption come mere minutes previous, might not have come to such a satisfying conclusion as it had. "You go deal with it."

For that, Gong Ji used Din's discarded nightshirt to wipe the crack of his ass and his lower back marginally clean, then tossed it in the far corner of the room, in the general direction of 'to be laundered'. "I hate you," he said, smacking Din hard on his bare backside before pulling on a loose pair of drawstring pants. "Okay," he called out, opening the door between the bedroom and the cottage's main room, "what kind of place did you get out of the house this minute!"

Yi, for all his birth parents had both been soldiers, seemed complete immune to Gong Ji's rather insistent orders. Instead, he stood just inside the doorway, an enormous shit-eating grin he definitely hadn't inherited from his Pop plastered across his face, covered from head to toe in the blackest, thickest, sloppiest mud Gong Ji had ever seen. "There's a big bank by the stream about halfway down the hill," he announced with high spirits, as though Gong Ji hadn't just ordered his eviction, as though he weren't dripping large clumps of black earth to the ground with every passing second, "and there's this bear cub that ow!"

His words were cut off in a yelp as Gong Ji picked him up nearly by the scruff of his neck -- just turned seven, Yi was already getting big, but he'd have to get a hell of a lot bigger before he became too much for Gong Ji to swing around -- and deposited him outside, just beyond the strone threshold. "House Rule #86: if you are covered in mud, you stay outside."

"I thought House Rule #86 was 'don't pee on the vegetables'," Yi said, looking no less cheerful for his recent relocation.

"I thought it was 'don't antagonize the goat,'" Din chimed in from over Gong Ji's shoulder, apparently having decided that whatever was going on at the door to his house was worth putting on clothes to go investigate.

Gong Ji threw up his hands. "You know what you look like?" he asked Yi. "You look like a little piece of jet. One that I sat on once. Small, black, and a total pain in my ass."

"Oh, Dad, I love you too!" Yi held out his arms and began marching forward, the smile on his face growing more wicked by the moment. "I'm gonna give you and Pop a great big hug!"

Ever the quick thinker, Din tugged Gong Ji back inside the house and shut the door before the small muddy terror on the other side could breach the threshold. With his hair loose and wild about his shoulders, he almost managed to look sincerely irritated. "He gets it from your side," he said, poking Gong Ji hard in the middle of his chest.

"I don't know," Gong Ji shook his head, grinning down the few inches' worth of height difference between the two of them. "I think being a pain in my ass is your specialty." Muddy whoops and hollers of delight could be heard from just beyond the door, but Gong Ji found himself hard-pressed to care about the impending cleanup efforts as Din clutched a fistful of his hair and pulled him into a hard, deep kiss.

Bad Habits

The house had been too quiet, which always made Gong Ji nervous. Pandemonium was usual, a dull roar was preferable, but the silence that came as the evening fell began to worry him. He sliced the eggplant into long, thin strips for the pot as quietly as he could, listening carefully over the rising chorus of cricketsong for any sort of bloodcurdling cries for help that he might feel bad later for having missed.

It wasn't his ears, however, that caught the necessary clue, but his nose. The wind shifted and sent a breeze through the main room's single window, bringing with it the sweet, dry scent of Din's pipe. He'd taken to smoking outside at summer dusk, when the cooking fire and the heat from three bodies made the inside of the house oppressively hot, and when Gong Ji was most likely to harass him for belching even more smoke and warmth into the already-stuffy room. That didn't quite explain the silence, though, as having Din in the room raised the noise level approximately as much as having Din not in the room, but still, maybe he knew where the family's littlest noisemaker had gotten to.

Gong Ji stepped outside the door, poised and ready to yell out some accusation about Din's probably having sold the boy to the traveling circus, but didn't make it as far as the front step before he stopped cold in his tracks. There, along the low limestone wall that ran the considerable length of the garden's edge, sat not one but two figures, stone-silent as they watched night creep up the eastern edge of the sky. Din had his pipe stuck from one corner of his mouth, a thin finger of grey smoke trailing up around his face, and next to him Yi had ... something similar, though it was hard to tell in the dimming light.

As Din took a deep breath, so did Yi, and as Din pulled the pipe from his mouth to tap a little ash onto the ground beneath his feet, Yi mirrored the motion with what was now clearly a piece of dry summer grass, long and thin and probably the most pipe-like thing his five-year-old imagination could have found on short notice. The gesture was clumsy mimicry, of course, without Yi's having any actual sense of why someone would tap a pipe (or a stalk of grass) like that, but judging from the set of his jaw and the furrow of his brow, he took this all utterly seriously. Satisfied with the completion of their shared movement, the two nodded at one another and stuck their respective instruments back in the corners of their respective mouths, without so much as exchanging a sound.

Having long since obtained his degree in the school of 'don't say anything about it or it'll stop', Gong Ji shut the door quietly and retreated inside, not even allowing himself so much as a smile at the other men of the household until he was safely out of sight.

Baby Talk

"Daddy, you love me?"

Gong Ji looked up from his dull black slate, and a drip of plain water from his brush obliterated his attempt at making the character Din had told him was his name. He'd figured that if Yi was ever going to grow up and be the emperor someday (a stupid dream, maybe, but Gong Ji knew he was a stupid person), he'd probably need to know how to read and write, and if anyone was going to teach him how, it'd have to be Gong Ji -- and if he was going to teach anyone how to do either of those things, he'd have to learn first. "Hell yeah," he said, giving Yi a big smile. "Love you a lot."

Instead of looking pleased by this information, Yi grew silently contemplative, scrunching up his face in a thinking expression. "Papa love me?" he asked again, this time with a little more uncertainty.

Though Din was sitting at the nearby table, Yi's question was obviously a third-person inquiry. "He loves you a lot too," Gong Ji said, without looking behind him for input before speaking for Din. Instead, he took his brush and smeared a drop of water across the tip of Yi's nose, attempting as always to make him laugh.

But Yi again kept his three-year-old's thinking frown, peevishly brushing away the water with both hands, unwilling to be diverted from his line of questioning. After a moment's thought, he resumed his line of quesstioning, this time a little more cautiously: "...Daddy love Papa?"

Without hesitation, Gong Ji put down his brush and swept up Yi in his arms. "You know what?" he said, tickling at Yi's exposed belly. "I sure do." That, apparently, was all the confirmation Yi needed -- he burst into giggles and let himself be tickled, kicking his feet and shrieking with delight. "Come on," laughed Gong Ji, swinging Yi upward and settling him atop his broad shoulders, "help me get the laundry." Together, they went outside to grab the clothesline's contents, which could certainly have waited until morning, except Gong Ji had felt Din's eyes hard on him, and hadn't known if that had meant he'd crossed some uncrossable line between them. Nearly three years of living with the man, and Gong Ji still didn't have a good idea of what'd piss him off and what'd roll off his back like water off a duck -- so his only recourse had been ceasing to care and hoping for the best.

He needn't have worried, though. The moment Yi was asleep -- exhausted from the laundry adventure, which had become truly epic about the time they had mutally agreed all the underpants were evil ghosts, he'd conked out almost before his head hit the pillow -- Din was on him, his hands fisted in the fabric of Gong Ji's sleeveless shirt, their mouths wrestling together, kissing him nearly hard enough to bleed. Without a word of commentary, he threw Gong Ji on the bed and stripped him naked with great efficiency, then tossed Gong Ji's legs over his shoulders and proceeded to fuck him raw. Gong Ji had to grab one of the newly laundered shirts and stuff it in his mouth to keep from yelling, and he lamented only a bit when the same formerly clean shirt fell between their spent, naked bodies, picking up spunk and sweat and whatever else they'd managed to conjure up between them. It was Din's shirt anyway.

"I do, you know," Gong Ji said against Din's ear, his breath still ragged and his heart not quite done racing yet. Maybe it wasn't anything he'd thought about before, not specifically, but now it was out there, there was no taking it back. He raked his hands through Din's loosed hair, loving the way it curtained both of them when Din lay on top of him.

For a moment, Din hesitated, but at last he shook his head and smiled. "I like to think it's because I'm charming." For punctuation, he bit Gong Ji lightly on the ear.

Gong Ji swatted at Din's bare backside. "Bullshit. You're the biggest pain in my ass I know."

"Thank you," Din said mildly, biting again.

"You're welcome. Want to be one again?"

That won a tired sigh from Din, and his body went slack over Gong Ji's, draping over him like a warm blacksmith blanket. "Give me ten minutes."

"You've got five or you're an old man," Gong Ji snapped back, and when Din's response was a rude hand gesture, Gong Ji snapped at his hand, rooster-like, and caught Din's first two fingers between his teeth. With an enthusiasm only slightly dented by his orgasm barely a minute previous, he sucked hard, grinning as Din's breath hitched a little in response. It was so fucking nice to be able to get him like this, and it made Gong Ji half-hard again just to hear Din's arousal and know that he was the cause of it.

He kept this performance up for one of the five minutes before abruptly letting go and rolling Din off the top of him. "The fuck are you on about?" hissed Din, sitting upright and looking at Gong Ji's retreat with the kind of venom only a man promised sex and then abruptly denied it could muster.

Gong Ji contemplated pants, or even a robe, but figured they were too much work for a late summer evening when no one would see him anyway who hadn't seen him naked before. "Got to piss," he said, heading for the door. "Unless you want me to aim at you, I'm going to go try for the bushes." Without looking back -- largely because he feared seeing Din's look of fury would send him into a laughing fit that might wake up Yi -- he slipped out the front door and let fly into the wild brush alongside the path.

Much relieved, he stalked back inside, shutting both doors behind him. In the moonlight through the window, he could see vague shapes in the bedroom, including Din's prominent erection and his equally prominent gestures thereto. With his most drily impressed expression -- one, in fact, he'd learned from watching Din -- Gong Ji lifted his hands and broke into silent, polite applause. Din shot him a filthy dirty look, but couldn't keep the corners of his mouth from drifting upward. "Get over here and sit on it," he growled, his voice a quiet thunder.

"I love your dirty talk," said Gong Ji sarcastically, even though it was completely true, even though hearing that sentence had been all it'd taken to coax him from piss-soft to solidly hard. He knelt astride Din's belly and reached behind him, stroking Din's cock and feeling it twitch beneath his fingers. Well, years of experience had taught him the nice thing about getting come inside was that it made a follow-up visit that much easier. With the muscles in his thighs tensed taut, he began to settle himself back, letting Din's cock into his ass inch by meticulous inch.

By the time he was all the way in, Din was grabbing at the bony ridges of Gong Ji's hips and panting, keeping his body still through obvious effort; his fingertips pressed hard enough to bruise, but Gong Ji loved the marks Din left on him during sex, because they weren't evidence of passion so much as of possession. Every inch of wounded skin was another repetition of the word mine, and Gong Ji knew he had been just that for a long time now. "Come on," he hissed, rocking his hips in a slow time, "fuck me like you mean it."

With a growl, Din tightened his grip and braced his feet against the hard mattress for better leverage. "I'd mean it more," he scowled, "if you weren't -- fuck -- such a lousy lay."

Gong Ji bit his lip hard to keep from laughing. "Well, I guess an old man's dick can only feel so much."

Though Din had never shown any particular attitude toward his youth or age one way or another outside of the bedroom, Gong Ji had found that calling him old during sex was perhaps the most surefire way to get a rise -- in more than one sense -- out of Din. He wasn't disappointed this time either, not as Din pulled down on Gong Ji's hips as hard as he could, bringing them crashing together. "What've you got to say about my dick now?" he teased smugly.

"Is that your dick?" Gong Ji managed between breaths. "Thought it was your little finger."

At that taunt, Din shoved his real little finger -- and a few others besides -- into Gong Ji's mouth. "Put your tongue to better use."

Laughing as quietly as he could, Gong Ji bit down semi-hard on Din's fingers, then started sucking again. "Someday," he said around Din's fingers, holding them caught to the first knuckle between his teeth, "we'll go somewhere quiet and I can fuck you exactly as much as I mean it."

With a grin that spanned nearly the distance between his ears, Din pulled his hand from Gong Ji's mouth and grabbed Gong Ji's cock, stroking it wetly as it dripped into his hand. "That right?" he growled. "You going to scream for me there?"

"Yeah." Gong Ji grinned, showing all his teeth. "Make sure everybody fucking hears." His expression clouded over for a moment. "...Except the kid."

That won a laugh from Din, but a short-lived one that dissolved into deep, heavy breaths. His eyes drifted shut in concentration, and he grunted under his breath as he found the right angle, the one where their bodies fit together like they'd been made that way, and Gong Ji dipped his head forward and forgot about snide comments for a while. This was how they best understood each other, as interlocking pieces that finally meant everything they didn't say to one another on a day-to-day basis. And anyway, what did it matter if things got said? What was important was that they were known, and after three years, Gong Ji didn't know everything, but he knew some things for damn sure.

He shivered as he felt his orgasm start at the top of his spine, then creep all the way down, shuddering electric through him until it exploded out his dick, all over Din's chest and stomach. A few moments later, Din -- ever the competitive one -- groaned and arched his back beneath Gong Ji's body, and came into him, all heat and slick, and Gong Ji bit his lip to bleeding to keep from making a sound at either event, when all he wanted to do was shout and let anyone in the vicinity know how fucking good it all was, how safe he was when he thought he'd never be again.

Presently, the muscles in his thighs began to tremble, and he pulled himself off Din and collapsed next to him in a single exhausted flop. He kissed Din's jaw, too tired to lift his head much more than that, and ran his fingers through Din's long hair. With a sharp tug, Din pulled the lightest sheet over their bodies, and Gong Ji kicked it off from over him as much as possible. He yawned and pillowed his head against Din's shoulder, and settled in to falling asleep.

He was nearly there, in fact, when he heard a cautious whisper, barely loud enough to be anything more than a wordless exhale: "...I do too."

Swallowing back a sudden lump in his throat, Gong Ji stretched his long hand along the side of Din's perfectly unmarked cheek. "I know," he said, but it turned into a yawn, and by the time he had finished, he had fallen asleep inside the warm, protective circle of Din's arms.


Morning brought a pounding on the door from a toddler who had mercifully learned how to knock. Gong Ji lifted his head, surveying the scene from where he'd taken over at least nine-tenths of the bed. "Baby?" he asked blearily, thinking how much he sounded like Yi when he wasn't awake yet.

"Feed baby," Din ordered, though his commanding tone was somewhat lost in the pillow beneath his face.

"Find pants, then feed baby." Gong Ji winced as he tried to sit up.

Din drew the covers closer to his face. "On the floor."

"Baby on the floor?" asked Gong Ji, pushing slowly toward awakeness.

"Pants on the floor," Din grunted, and put the pillow over his head.

Din's directions were correct, but Gong Ji's aim was off, and he grabbed Din's pants instead, which stopped nearly at his knee. With a vindictiveness born out of love, he opened the door and swept Yi into his arms, then deposited them both squarely on top of Din, laughing all the way.

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