Jing Yi had first seen him at the Peach Blossom tea house. He was dressed plainly, far too plainly for the quality of the jewel in his top knot that would have fetched a prince's ransom. 'Jewel' was sharing a table with the very man he'd been sent to investigate so he'd asked for a table close by and been graciously granted it after parting with a handful of coins.
While he could easily overhear their conversation it was polite and dull, the type of conversation one might hear anywhere between merchants who occasionally did business together, so it gave him a chance to study 'Jewel' more closely. While he was older and not as classically handsome as his Jinyu, there was no harm in calling him that in the privacy of his own mind, 'Jewel' was striking looking with a ready smile and intelligent and mischievous eyes, an irresistible combination.
If he'd needed any more evidence that 'Jewel' was not who he first appeared to be it came in the form of the equally plainly clothed man who whispered something in 'Jewel's' ear. Everything about how the second man held himself, how he scanned the room, how he subconsciously gripped his sword handle whenever the other occupant of the table leaned in too closely to 'Jewel' screamed 'personal guard.' He'd seen Wu Jiang act exactly the same way around Prince An often enough to recognize it. So 'Jewel' was probably a court official of some kind or at the very least a member of a high ranking family.
Very few people had Jing Yi's level of skill at disguising himself, currently dressed as he was as a nomadic tribesman, his hair in braids and his face adorned with a very convincing fake beard. With his hood throwing his face into shadow he knew even his own mother wouldn't recognize him.
"Jewel' made his apologies to his companion and rose from the table. As he passed he muttered "Jing Yi" in a low tone, the surprise of it almost causing him to fall off his chair.
The next time he saw 'Jewel' was at a private party hosted at the Restful brothel by General Zhou Han. This time he was resplendent in embroidered silk and the jewel on his top knot made the previous one look like cheap glass. 'Jewel' smiled and tilted his head in acknowledgement and Jing Yi much to his chagrin instinctively bowed in response. 'Jewel' smirked and returned to the engrossing conversation he was having with Zhou Han which in itself was worrying enough that he was going to have to find out exactly who 'Jewel' was this time.
A little glad-handing and a number of drinks later he knew 'Jewel' to be Jiang Xuanyu, a wealthy merchant from Suzhou, his dubious reputation that he could obtain almost anything for you for the right price. He was oddly disappointed by this news, given what he already knew about Jiang Xuanyu.
When they sat down to dinner, Jiang Xuanyu seated himself next to him, his personal guard coming to stand behind him.
'Good evening. My name is Jing Yi."
"The son of Jing Zhi. Prince An's deputy."
The last thing he should be in a room full of Zhou Han's confidants was flattered but he nevertheless was that Jiang Xuanyu knew of him.
It seemed like only good manners to ask who Jiang Xuanyu was, even though he too already knew. "And you are—"
"Thirsty." Jiang Xuanyu raised his wine cup to him and he toasted him back. Never let it be said the Jing family had bad manners.
They conversed with others at nearby tables, Jiang Xuanyu impressively well-informed on matters of the court, politics, trade, philosophy and art. Yet he never dominated the conversation, instead giving others a chance to shine despite clearly being the most highly educated and intelligent man in the room. To have the chance to dine in the company of Jiang Xuanyu and Jinyu both at once— He sternly remind himself that Jiang Xuanyu was in league with Zhou Han which made him highly suspect at best.
As the food was served, the dancing girls and musicians began performing and the formal rounds of toasting started led by Zhou Han as the host and everything got a bit hazy after that. Jiang Xuanyu used the noise of the now boisterous party as an excuse to lean in closer.
"It's good to see you again, Jing Yi. A man as handsome as you should never wear a beard—" Jiang Xuanyu's smile reached his eyes and he felt a momentary brush of a finger against his jaw line, too fast to be noticed by any of the other equally inebriated guests. "—or obscure your physique in such oversized robes. Often the best disguise is to hide in plain sight."
He hoped the flush from the alcohol he'd consumed would not be mistaken for blushing at such compliments. Jiang Xuanyu was very sure of himself and his talents and he'd always found that extremely attractive, having fallen at an early age for the unattainable Jinyu. Still, he was at heart a realist and took his consolation where he could find it... Perhaps he could even find out more about Zhou Han's plans in the process, self-justification being one of his own greatest talents.
Unconsciously, he'd began leaning into Jiang Xuanyu who while obviously more sober than anyone else in attendance didn't seem to mind they were now touching from shoulder to knee. Jiang Xuanyu had a friendly arm slung around him like he was trying to prevent him from falling face first into his dinner which was definitely feeling like more and more of a possibility. Jiang Xuanyu reached with his free hand to move Jing Yi's bowl away from him and under cover of his own sleeve and of Jing Yi's slumped figure slipped his hand inside the front of Jing Yi's robe, fingers hot against his stomach before withdrawing far too fast for his liking. Denial being another of his great talents, he put his disappointment with the speed with which Jiang Xuanyu had removed his hand, leaving a piece of paper behind tucked inside his robe, down to how drunk he was.
Sadly, he woke up alone and still fully clothed in a room at the brothel. When he went to sit up he could feel the outline of the paper against his chest. When he pulled it from his robe, it was addressed to Prince An so despite great temptation, he delivered it unopened. However, Jinyu shared the contents with him, information on Zhou Han's illegal trading of goods and unsanctioned use of the troops under his command. He would never have admitted it to Jinyu but he was delighted to learn 'Jiang Xuanyu' was merely an alias for none other than Xiao Song from the Ministry of Punishment, a man he'd admired by reputation from afar and now also admired in person from much closer range.
Three months later, he'd disguised himself as a dancing girl to infiltrate a secret meeting of smugglers at the House of Oriole. Everything had been going well until one of the drunken smugglers had made a grab for him and came away with a handful of cotton padding. As all hell had broken loose and knowing they'd be blocking the exits, he'd fled through the brothel, trying to find another way out. He'd thrown open two different doors to find the rooms occupied before throwing open a third door to find a large bath with a single occupant. Hearing the shouts of his pursuers down the corridor, he'd hurled himself into the tub, submerging under the water.
The bath's occupant had dragged him up and turned to trap him against the side of bath with his body.
As some of the men pursuing him burst through the door, Xiao Song kissed him, effectively hiding his face from his pursuers. Xiao Song then barked an order at them to leave in a tone that brooked no argument and they quickly retreated.
Alone, Xiao Song smiled at him in an amused fashion. "So what exactly have you been up to this time?" His eyes lingered over the wet remains of Jing Yi's dancing girl costume.
"Please excuse my intrusion, my lord."
Jing Yi started at the voice of the brothel's proprietress who had quietly entered the room but Xiao Song placed a calming hand on his arm.
"I came to inquire if my lord might desire a particular companion this evening after your bath?"
Jing Yi's hands were resting against Xiao Song's bare chest and where their lower bodies pressed together he could feel he was half-hard. He wrapped both arms around Xiao Song's neck and kissed him deeply.
Xiao Song pulled back slightly, touching his lip. "That will not be necessary, madam." Xiao Song smiled at him again. "My present selection could not please me more."
Jing Yi was relatively sure he could but knew at the very least it was going to be fun trying.