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There are no people in the Ghost Valley that could sneak on Wen Kexing, even in his sleep; when his ears catch the sound of another person’s quiet breathing, he does not need to look to know who it belongs to. 

“A-Xu,” he acknowledges with satisfaction before he turns around. 

“Let me do your hair,” Zhou Zishu says in return. He is casually leaning against the doorway to Wen Kexing’s– Valley Chief’s bedchamber, beautiful in the deep blue robes Wen Kexing has picked for him, with an unmistakable jade pin holding up his hair. He looks soft and relaxed as if he belonged here, here in this cursed, nightmarish place, here in the midst of the darkness that raised and shaped Wen Kexing into the ghost he was before they met. Mine, mine, mine, Wen Kexing wants to scream except his lungs seem to be lacking in the air at this moment.

“A-Xu,” he repeats instead. He clears his throat and Zhou Zishu’s mouth curls into a smug smile. This, at least, is grounding, familiar. "A-Xu!” he exclaims with pretended affront. “Were you watching me dress?” 

“Oh? And what if I did?” Zhou Zishu asks, raising his brows. “Would you not want me to?” He is still smirking and Wen Kexing cannot stop himself from smiling back. “You look good in red.” 

“I always look good,” Wen Kexing answers, his hands returning to fastening the second to last layer of heavy, rich robes he prepared for Gu Xiang's wedding. “A-Xu, did you kill the guards before my quarters, or do I have to do it myself now that they proved useless?” 

“Lao Wen,” Zhou Zishu chides, pushing himself off the doorway and entering the chamber. “Don’t talk about killing people on a wedding day, it’s bad luck. And besides, it’s on you that everyone around here seems convinced they have to listen to me now.” 

“How is that on me?” Wen Kexing asks, looking up just as Zhou Zishu enters his personal space, even more beautiful up close. Wen Kexing wants to push him to the floor and kiss him until their lips are swollen and wedding-red. 

“Well, you made it known that I’m your shixiong, so of course that I get this through seniority,” Zhou Zishu mutters, reaching up to trace a finger down Wen Kexing’s throat, an amused glint appearing in his eyes. “And second of — all ghosts tremble on their knees before their Valley Master and you think they could not tell who their master kneels for?” 

“A-Xu, this is Ghost Valley,” Wen Kexing tells him as he leans in, trying to take advantage of his height. “You don’t want to declare dominance you might not be able to assert.” 

Zhou Zishu just laughs at it, the smug bastard, before his smile softens. He reaches up and cups Wen Kexing’s face with unbearable gentleness as he brings their faces closer for a kiss that is fond and tender and nothing like what Wen Kexing wants at this moment but perhaps a lot like what he needs. He sighs into the kiss and Zhou Zishu laughs again, pulling away. 

“Lao Wen," he mutters, his voice sweet like honey, and it means I see you and I have missed you and You are mine. His hand moves down to Wen Kexing’s neck and he twists a strand of his hair on an index finger, pulling with just enough force to make him wince. “Sit down. I want to brush your hair.” 

“What if I want you to do other things?” Wen Kexing asks innocently. 

“Must be difficult to be you,” Zhou Zishu says dismissively, although he cannot stop the corners of his mouth from raising. “Sit down,” he repeats, tugging on Wen Kexing’s hair once more before he releases him and pushes past him to approach the dressing table. He picks up the comb and turns around with an expectant expression. “Well?” 

And, well, it is not like Wen Kexing actually wants to refuse him anything, and especially not this. He sits down obediently, making sure that his festive robes do not wrinkle and then leans back in the chair. 

“Where’s Chengling?” he asks, trying to sound indifferent. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll lose your silly disciple in a new place?” 

What he does not say out loud is: this is not a place where children should ever be left alone. 

“Don’t worry,” Zhou Zishu says mildly as if he heard it anyway. “A-Xiang took him for a tour and besides Beiyuan is watching over them. Relax.” 

His fingers card through Wen Kexing’s hair, massage the scented hair oil into his scalp before putting the comb to work on the tangled strands. Wen Kexing closes his eyes and sinks deeper into the chair, cherishing the sensations. Zhou Zishu’s hands are gentle and efficient and it is moments like these when Wen Kexing likes to remember that they are the hands of a professional killer, the hands that know how to break necks and crush windpipes and slit throats. It is thrilling to know that and yet know that Zhou Zishu would not wish him any harm; but even more so because it reminds Wen Kexing that after all of these exhausting years of choosing to survive, his life and death are not his to decide on anymore. 

It ends up all too soon, as all good things do, and Wen Kexing cracks his eyes open after Zhou Zishu puts the comb down and starts styling the hair. There is this melancholy on his face, one that he only allows when he thinks nobody is watching him; too bad that Wen Kexing can rarely look away. He knows that Zhou Zishu thinks himself a heartless man, thinks that he left his regrets behind, but there is this grief at the core of him that never goes away, a loss so deep that it cannot ever be faced directly. Knowing that him — his stupid plan — had added to it, made Zhou Zishu believe he had yet another person taken from him, makes Wen Kexing want to tear his wrists open with his teeth and offer them to Zhou Zishu to drink from. He bites down on his tongue instead, shutting his eyes closed. 

“What are you doing?” he asks lightly after he has composed himself, looking into the mirror again. Zhou Zishu has brushed all of his hair back and parted it in the middle, incorporating the whisps of hair Wen Kexing usually lets down loose into two tight braids. He watches as Zhou Zishu gathers it all into a high ponytail and then ties a knot on it to hold it together, in a way Wen Kexing has never worn it before, not since they have met each other anyway. He turns his head slightly to see it better and gets instantly disciplined with a pinch to his neck. 

“Do you want it crooked?” Zhou Zishu scolds and Wen Kexing flashes him an innocent smile in response. 

“A-Xu, do you like me like this?” he asks and Zhou Zishu looks up and into the mirror, considering it. It always concerns Wen Kexing, these little pauses Zhou Zishu needs to make whenever asked about his preference, as if he buried his desires so deep within himself it requires him a moment to find them underneath all the guilt and pain. 

“Not particularly, no,” Zhou Zishu says, reaching for the golden ornament prepared on the table. 

“Put it down then,” Wen Kexing demands and Zhou Zishu smiles with one corner of his mouth only. 

“Isn’t A-Xiang like a daughter to you?” he asks and Wen Kexing stops himself from tilting his head and raises a brow instead. “You should look respectable on her wedding day then. Like an adult for once.” 

“A-Xu!” Wen Kexing protests with amusement. “How do I look usually then, if not like a respectable adult?” 

“Hmm.” Zhou Zishu puts a golden pin between his teeth as he places the ornament in front of the topknotted hair. “Like a spoiled puppy,” he mumbles before he pulls the pin out to secure the hairdo. 

“It’s not my fault you spoil me,” Wen Kexings says with a pout and Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes with an indulgent smile, running his hand over the ponytail. He looks into the mirror again, their eyes meeting, and his expression softens even further. 

“When I was fifteen,” he starts slowly, as if unsure of the weight of his words yet. “Shifu has sat me down one day and started talking about how a wise master should always pay attention to how he presents himself to the world. It is not right to judge someone by their appearance but one should always be prepared to be judged accordingly to how we’re seen. Not many will recognize a prince in beggar’s clothes or a violent man in robes of a humble scholar.” 

He smiles back at Wen Kexing’s amused grin and then pauses for a moment, his hands coming to the sides of Wen Kexing’s head and guiding him to turn it right and left and then to tilt it forward and back before he decides he is satisfied with his work. He bends down to plant a kiss on Wen Kexing’s forehead before he releases him. 

Shifureminded me of the secret technique in our sect,” he continues, his hands sliding down to rest on Wen Kexing’s shoulders. “A technique allowing for concealing or changing one’s appearance. It was the day on which he started to pass it onto me. And at end of the conversation, he put all of my hair into a topknot for the first time, saying that since I’m an adult now, Four Seasons Manor’s first young master, then I should start looking like one.” 

There is a beat of silence and then Wen Kexing twists in the chair urgently to look at Zhou Zishu’s face. 

“A-Xu,” he manages to whisper and Zhou Zishu smiles softly, patting Wen Kexing’s cheek. In the warm candlelight, his eyes glisten as if filled with tears. 

“I figured no senior has ever done this for you before, shidi,” he says, his expression so painfully tender that Wen Kexing has to stop himself from biting at his finger just to have him drop it. “Here, now you can marry your daughter off.” 

“Ayia, don’t call A-Xiang my daughter,” Wen Kexing protests because it is easier than expressing anything else he feels currently. “You already made me look old.” 

“You don’t look old,” Zhou Zishu says with a roll of his eyes. “You look good. Regal.” 

“You said you don’t like it.” 

“Why would I want you to look regal?” Zhou Zishu asks, flicking him in the ear. “Your self-importance could already match that of an emperor.” 

“Slanders,” Wen Kexing shots back, turning back to the mirror and tilting his head to see his new hairdo from different angles. “You’re not wrong though, I do look good.” 

“Peacock.” 

“Oh? I thought I’m a puppy.” 

“Annoying is what you are,” Zhou Zishu tells him but he still cannot conceal the fondness in his voice. Wen Kexing turns around to look into his face again. 

“A-Xu. Da-shixiong. Thank you,” he says quietly and Zhou Zishu sighs and looks to the side as if embarrassed for the two of them; still, his arms open in an obvious invitation. Wen Kexing twists further in the chair to hug his waist, carefully at first before Zhou Zishu’s arms close around him, pressing his face against soft, blue robes. Wen Kexing is still unused to it: to his touch being welcomed, to being handled with care, to Zhou Zishu’s seemingly infinite reservoirs of gentle affection, but he does not think he could live without it anymore. 

“A-Xu,” he mutters into the fabric. “From now on I will brush your hair every morning, and you will do mine, alright?” 

“Every morning?” Zhou Zishu asks. “Don’t I have enough responsibilities already?” 

“Every single one until we die,” Wen Kexing demands easily and Zhou Zishu’s arms pull him closer still. From this position, Wen Kexing does not even have to try too hard to sense the flow of the qi in Zhou Zishu’s body, faster and smoother than he ever felt it before, almost worryingly so since it has been mere days since the treatment was introduced. He turns his head to press the ear to the fabric and moves up Zhou Zishu’s chest but before he can hear the rhythm of his heartbeat, his shixiong pulls away. 

“I’m not done with you yet,” he says in a voice that is slightly off; looking up to his face Wen Kexing catches just a glimpse of the same melancholy he has noticed earlier but then Zhou Zishu turns around watching over the dressing table. “Where do you keep...?” 

“Keep what?” Wen Kexing asks with some delay, distracted by the sight of Zhou Zishu’s back and the easiness with which he moves in this space, as if they were back in the Four Seasons Manor, as if it was a given that whatever belongs to Wen Kexing belongs to him as well. 

“Mhm, got it,” Zhou Zishu mutters, starting to rummage through the small chest containing all of Wen Kexing’s beauty products. Wen Kexing raises his eyebrows, looking up to try and see into Zhou Zishu’s face. 

“What do you need these for?” 

“To paint your face, of course,” Zhou Zishu says putting a couple of jars on the table and then trying two brushes on his palm. Wen Kexing needs to swallow before he speaks again. 

“What for?” 

Zhou Zishu looks up to catch his gaze in the mirror before he answers. 

“To hide that maiden blush,” he offers, raising a brow and Wen Kexing might not actually be blushing but he does feel hot suddenly, for reasons he decides to brush under the rug for now. “Isn’t this your Valley Master thing? 

“It’s my Lunatic Wen thing,” Wen Kexing says, his mouth dry. Zhou Zishu hums in answer and shrugs as if it was the same for him, picking yet another small jar to inspect. “You put so much effort to make me look respectable and now you’re going to ruin it immediately?” 

“If you fail at looking respectable, it is on you. I know what I’m doing,” Zhou Zishu answers with barely concealed amusement. Wen Kexing shakes his head. 

“Oh, right, our A-Xu is just effortlessly great at everything, how could I forget?” he teases which turns out to be a mistake. When Zhou Zishu finds his eyes in the mirror this time, his smirk spells trouble. He opens up the box containing red pigment and before Wen Kexing can as much as take a breath, he picks some of the colour onto his finger and brings it to his own eyelid, applying it evenly in short confident strokes before he moves to the other eye. Somehow, it is an exact copy of the way in which Wen Kexing wore it during his dramatic rescue and it looks... He barely registers the quiet gasp that escapes his lips but Zhou Zishu’s eyes darken immediately, his smile turning dangerous as he picks Wen Kexing’s fan from the table and turns around. 

“A-Xu,” he whines in a voice that is not Wen Kexing’s but is not far from it either; he snaps the fan open with an elegant, measured flick of his wrist as if he spent a lifetime doing just that, his posture shifting as well. Wen Kexing slowly lets the air out of his lungs, his eyes transfixed. “A-Xu,” Zhou Zishu repeats, his voice, Wen Kexing’s voice, lowered seductively now. He leans forward, covering half of his face with the fan. “Although the traveler's journey is said to be joyful, it is not as good as early return home.” 

There is a knot tightening in Wen Kexing’s stomach, not quite arousal and not quite terror. His nails dig into his palms while he takes it in: his jade pin, his red eyeshadow, his white fan, the features that don’t match them yet ones he knows better than his own. He is not aware of his mouth hanging open, until Zhou Zishu closes the fan with a snap that sends a shiver down Wen Kexing’s spine, and presses a tip of it under Wen Kexing’s chin, shutting it for him. 

“What’s wrong, A-Xu?” he asks, pursing his lips, because he is an absolute asshole who cannot take a win gracefully. “You saw a ghost?” 

“You’re overdoing it,” Wen Kexing manages to tell him, grabbing on Zhou Zishu’s wrist just to have something solid to hold on to. Zhou Zishu gives him a long look before he lets out a laugh, breaking character finally. 

“I really don’t,” he says with amusement, the tip of the fan sliding down Wen Kexing’s neck and pressing in the centre of his chest, forcing him to lean back into the chair as Zhou Zishu bends down, bringing his mouth to Wen Kexing’s ear. “You are very, very easy,” he whispers before he pulls back to catch Wen Kexing’s gaze, the smug smile back on his face. Wen Kexing feels two more taps of the fan against his chest and then before he can come up with a response, Zhou Zishu pulls his wrist free and turns away, the fan returning to its place on the dressing table. Wen Kexing stares at his back and tries to remember how to breathe. 

“Won’t you keep it on?” he asks, watching Zhou Zishu approach a small basin filled with water and dip a handkerchief into it that he then raises to his own face. He tries to sound more teasing than disappointed but judging by the amused look that Zhou Zishu sends him through his shoulder he might be failing. 

“I’ll keep it for your eyes only, how about that?” Zhou Zishu offers before starting to rub the pigment away. Wen Kexing watches him in the mirror, still trying to process how effortless his metamorphosis has looked like. 

“Is this what our shifu taught you as well?” he asks eventually and Zhou Zishu blinks at his own reflection, looking for any missed spots of eyeshadow or maybe just revisiting some memories before he meets Wen Kexing’s eyes again. 

“It’s what I taught myself to seduce pretty young masters,” he answers with a twist to his mouth. It could be a joke; from what Wen Kexing knows of Window of Heaven, he suspects it to be true. 

“I bet it worked well,” he says, not his best line but it does its job; Zhou Zishu’s eyes return to the present, his smile playful again. 

“It still does,” he offers immediately, putting away the cloth and picking up the powder-box he has prepared a moment before. 

“A-Xu, have you just called me pretty?” Wen Kexing asks with a grin as Zhou Zishu turns to him again. “Is it all to seduce me? That’s embarrassing. If you want me in your bed, just ask nice-” he starts and does not get to finish because Zhou Zishu climbs into his lap without a warning, pushing his knees in the tight space between Wen Kexing’s thighs and the arms of the chair and grabbing the back of Wen Kexing’s neck as if he really needed it to keep balance. 

“Since when do I have to be asking?” he mutters with amusement, their faces barely inches apart again. Wen Kexing swallows down a stupid question about what is he doing, his hands instinctively going to Zhou Zishu’s hips to steady him as he settles down. “What else would I keep you for, if I didn't think you’re pretty?” 

“For my great personality, obviously,” Wen Kexing offers quickly, to cover for how embarrassingly bothered Zhou Zishu’s closeness makes him. “Benevolence, patience, modesty, and great wisdom.” 

“Alright, Great Philanthropist Wen, whatever you’re saying as long as you keep making dinner,” Zhou Zishu deadpans. “Close your pretty eyes so I can work.” 

Wen Kexing shakes his head with a theatrical sigh before he makes a show of leaning back and slowly letting his eyelids fall. “Ungrateful.” 

“Who’s ungrateful?” Zhou Zishu’s fingertips run down his forehead and cheeks, just the gentlest of caresses, as if he was mapping Wen Kexing’s face, and Wen Kexing somehow feels that touch in the base of his spine. “Am I not attending to you like a servant now?” 

The next line should be easy, something about serving properly, but here is the thing, is it not — Wen Kexing has had people attend to him before, in the rare moments he had the patience for it, and it was never like this, so intimate it feels like having his chest cut open. He just grunts quietly in response and then again, when Zhou Zishu’s thumb skims across his lower lip. He thinks that he can almost hear the self-satisfied smirk in Zhou Zishu’s next exhale and then there is a soft brush caressing his cheek and it feels even nicer than having his hair done. He relaxes slowly, paying attention to his breathing as if he was meditating until he is able to tell himself apart from Zhou Zishu’s overwhelming presence, which is also when he remembers his hands are still resting on Zhou Zishu’s hips. It feels like a waste of their great potential, to just keep them there, so he experimentally moves his thumbs up and down and then squeezes the flesh under his hands. There is no reaction so he decides that he is allowed to keep going, the fabric under his fingers so soft in comparison to Zhou Zishu’s scarred skin as Wen Kexing runs his hands up and down his back, idly at first, then finding his shoulder blades and tracing the familiar shape of them with his fingers, enjoying the brush of Zhou Zishu’s silky hair against his knuckles. When it does not give him a reaction either, the brush still moving steadily against his face, he lets his hands move lower again, one of them sliding past Zhou Zishu’s hip and down to his thigh, the other following his spine to its base before grabbing a handful of his ass. 

“Lao Wen,” Zhou Zishu says evenly, a mild threat in his voice. “Do you want to be stabbed in the eye?” 

“You could gouge out both of them if you wanted to,” Wen Kexing answers before he can bite his tongue. The brush freezes in the corner of his eye for an agonizingly long second. 

“I know,” Zhou Zishu says, almost softly. He reaches down to catch the offensive hand and brings it back to his hip. “Behave,” he admonishes in the same tone he uses to correct Chengling’s forms which is much less of a turn-off than he probably thinks it is. 

“Or what?” Wen Kexing prompts with delight. 

“Or I will break your arm,” Zhou Zishu says flatly. “And A-Xiang might get really upset with you on her wedding day,” he adds which is somehow more convincing. Both the brush and his fingers pull away from Wen Kexing’s face and he cracks his eyes open to admire Zhou Zishu’s ever-impressively flexible waist as he bends back to put the powder away and pick a dish with the dark product meant for painting brows instead. “Grind this if you cannot keep your hands to yourself,” he orders and Wen Kexing huffs and rolls his eyes but he picks the small bowl and does what he was told, a little blindly, since Zhou Zishu’s fingers return to his face, to gently wipe off the excess powder or apply blush, Wen Kexing is not sure.  

It proves more and more difficult to withstand Zhou Zishu’s proximity and unwavering attention and he starts wondering if this whole thing is not in fact a very elaborate punishment (or reward, maybe — the line is blurred anyway) but as he’s about to teasingly ask about it, he opens his eyes to a glimpse of some deep, soul-crushing grief before Zhou Zishu’s eyes meet his and the expression smoothens into absolutely neutral again. Don’t, Wen Kexing wants to tell him but Zhou Zishu opens his mouth first. 

“Thank you,” he says mildly, pulling the dish with the brow colouring from Wen Kexing’s hand and dipping a small brush in it. “Close your eyes, I’m almost done,” he continues, his voice still so terrifyingly soft that Wen Kexing does not dare to disobey.  

“A-Xu,” he starts after he composes his thoughts, trying to keep the rest of his face still as he feels the touch of the brush on his eyelid. “Can I ask you something?” 

“You want a beating, still having to ask that?” Zhou Zishu mutters, using two fingers to tilt Wen Kexing’s face to the side and waiting for his answer before putting the brush back to his eye. 

“Something is wrong.” Wen Kexing says carefully. “You are hurting.” 

Zhou Zishu finishes painting a line on his eyelid before he speaks again. 

“The nails don't bother me anymore,” he answers emotionlessly. 

“You know what I mean.” 

“Where is the question?” Zhou Zishu asks, tilting his face the other way now. 

“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” 

The long pause that he gets in response is an answer in itself. Zhou Zishu finishes with his other eyelid and stills for a moment longer before he speaks. 

“What, you think the world turns around you?” he says eventually, not even making an effort to sell it. “Open your eyes, look up,” he orders and he is looking at Wen Kexing’s eyes, as he does something to his bottom eyelashes, but refuses to meet them. “Close again. You cannot fix it anyway,” he adds in a voice that is almost kind. 

“I can, for you,” Wen Kexing argues, because it does not even matter that it is his to fix, it already feels as if it might kill him if he does not. Zhou Zishu lets out a breath and kisses his brow before exchanging the pressure of his lips for a caress of a brush. 

“Lao Wen,” he says after yet another pause and now he just sounds tired. “Today is a happy occasion. I don’t wish to speak about this now.” 

“A-Xu, if you don’t want to...” 

“Of course that I don’t want to,” Zhou Zishu snaps but there is more resignation than anger in his voice when he continues. “After the wedding banquet, alright? We’ll talk.” He gently rubs at the skin under Wen Kexing’s left brow, probably wiping some product away. “We’ll talk.” 

Wen Kexing swallows hard, his hands returning to Zhou Zishu’s hips to anchor him as he leans back again or perhaps to remind himself he still has him so close. 

“In this case,” he says, desperate to turn the conversation light and happy again. “Give me the date of our wedding banquet.” 

He cracks his eyes open and blinks innocently in response to Zhou Zishu’s incredulous look until eventually, his shixiong lets out startled laughter. 

“I have twenty young men to feed now, thanks to you,” he complains, composing himself quickly. “You’re not getting a wedding banquet.” 

“Aiya, A-Xu, think about our manor’s reputation,” Wen Kexing argues with raising glee. “Don’t be stingy.” 

“If I cared about our manor’s reputation, I would not take you in in the first place,” Zhou Zishu answers as the absolutely ruthless man he is but his eyes shine with affection again. “You’re insufferable.” 

“Personally, I think that next Thursday would be auspicious enough.” 

“Insufferable and shameless.” 

“Whatever my good husband says,” Wen Kexing answers, just to see if he can get another eyeroll out of Zhou Zishu but his A-Xu just stares at him for a moment, unblinking, before his eyes fall to Wen Kexing’s lips. Wen Kexing has it on good authority that for all his nagging Zhou Zishu appreciates at least some of the uses he can put his mouth to but it is never wrong to advertise them further, so he lets his head fall back a little and pushes his tongue out to seductively lick his lower lip. If anything, it does at least make Zhou Zishu roll his eyes now. 

“Are you done?” he asks with pretended sternness. 

“Well, are you done?” 

“Almost,” Zhou Zishu says, his face coolly professional again as he presses his thumb to the corner of Wen Kexing’s mouth and wipes it across his lips, wetting it evenly. Wen Kexing eyes close in response to the sensation and he expects to have a piece of rouge paper pressed between his lips next, which is why the warmth of Zhou Zishu’s mouth on his takes him by surprise, the gentlest of pressure sending a shiver down his spine. It seems like it is the only encouragement Zhou Zishu needs; he shifts closer, grabs Wen Kexing’s chin between his thumb and index finger, tilting his head back for better access. He presses his other hand to Wen Kexing’s chest, wordlessly demanding from him to keep still as he slides and rubs their lips together, not pulling away for even a moment but not pressing further either. It is driving Wen Kexing insane; his lips were already tingling before, his skin itching for Zhou Zishu for what feels like hours now and it becomes unbearable eventually, his fingers surely digging bruises into Zhou Zishu’s hips. 

A-Xu,” he pleads breathlessly and he must sound desperate enough because his soulmate decides to take pity on him, sucking Wen Kexing’s lower lip in between his teeth and biting down on it, agonizingly slowly, with just enough consideration to not break the flesh. He rolls Wen Kexing’s lip between his teeth for a moment, licks and sucks, and bites down again until all of Wen Kexing's senses are focused solely on this one point of contact. The feeling in his lip numbs significantly by the time Zhou Zishu lets it go, pulling back just for long enough to take a deep breath and then diving back in to focus on bruising Wen Kexing’s upper lips instead. It is not a kiss as much as an act of marking, Wen Kexing thinks dizzyingly, a signature on whatever letter Zhou Zishu was writing with a makeup brush, but before he can examine this thought further, Zhou Zishu licks into his mouth finally, giving him one proper, deep kiss before he pulls away. 

“Now,” he says then, his breath somehow quickened but his voice annoyingly smooth still. “All done.” 

“A-Xu,” Wen Kexing breaths out, grinning at his beautiful soulmate with what must look like an embarrassingly dreamy expression, not that he could ever care. “All of this built-up and one kiss is all I’m getting?” 

“Well, stop holding back on me,” Zhou Zishu says, squeezing Wen Kexing’s chin between his fingers before he lets go of it. “And maybe I won’t be holding back on you.” 

Who’s holding back on you, Wen Kexing wants to answer, but his shixiong is already watching him with that half-amused, half-fond expression on his face, one that says, I know you, idiot, and he realises that Zhou Zishu must have noticed it long ago, must had built his hypothesis and did in fact test it already through all of the teasing and pushing and poking he has done in the last twenty minutes. He is sure he could still go away with laughing it off, his A-Xu is kind like that, but he is, perhaps, tired of playing that part. 

“Not here,” he says quietly, refusing to look up at Zhou Zishu’s face. 

“What’s the difference?” Zhou Zishu asks mildly and Wen Kexing swallows, reaching up to trace the shape of Zhou Zishu’s collarbone hidden under so many layers of clothing. There is a spot there, right where it meets the neck, that he has bitten once, so hard he broke the skin — not on purpose, that time, and when he looked up with blood on his teeth and lips, alarmed, Zhou Zishu gazed at him through his beautiful eyelashes and laughed before leaning in for a kiss. Wen Kexing wants him so much sometimes it almost feels like going insane. 

“Not here," he repeats, letting his thumb slide up until he finds Zhou Zishu’s pulse on his neck, pressing lightly. “Not in this place.” 

“I see,” Zhou Zishu answers, so, so kind, and maybe he really does understand. Wen Kexing leans in to kiss the spot he just found, presses his throbbing lips against the cool skin and thinks about how easy would it be to bite down now, to suck in an obnoxious mark to match the jade hairpin. He does not do it; instead, he kisses it, once, twice, three times, until Zhou Zishu’s fingers curl into his hair as if he was ready to pull Wen Kexing’s head away. 

Shixiong, just be more patient with me,” Wen Kexing mutters into his skin. “We have time now.” 

Zhou Zishu’s fingers twitch in his hair before he takes a deep breath and loosens them. 

“We have time,” he echoes, a whisper against Wen Kexing’s temple. Wen Kexing kisses his neck again and then the line of his jaw as Zhou Zishu’s hand on the back of his head stops him from pulling away this time. 

“A-Xu, are you satisfied with your humble work of art?” Wen Kexing asks, kissing his way up Zhou Zishu’s cheek and he feels the slow exhale against his skin before Zhou Zishu gently tugs on his hair. 

“Hmm, show me,” he says and Wen Kexing kisses a corner of his mouth before he pulls back eagerly, giving him a charming smile. Being looked at by Zhou Zishu, being seen by him is always overwhelming, always too revealing but he might, unfortunately, be addicted to it at this point. 

“Do you like it? How do I look like now?” he asks, unsure about what. Like a human or a ghost king? Pretty enough for our A-Xu? Do I look like I’m yours too? 

“Happy,” Zhou Zishu says, quickly, as if the word was already on the tip of his tongue, so bluntly it almost does not cut. “So happy it makes you look stupid.” 

“Good,” Wen Kexing states, deciding to ignore the panic that spikes somewhere inside of him. It is good. He has earned it, to be happy. “I am very stupid about you.” 

“It’s my fault now? Were you ever smart before?” Zhou Zishu answers, again with that fond smile of his but his eyes look sad and guilty again, and Wen Kexing hates it. He cannot say anything about it and he cannot lovingly fuck it away, here and now, so he does the only other thing he was shown: he puts his arms around Zhou Zishu’s waist, pulls him closer, hooks chin on his shoulder to avoid leaving the freshly done makeup on Zhou Zishu’s robes, squeezes him until he can feel all of his ribs. Zhou Zishu freezes at first, the hypocrite, but Wen Kexing wills himself to keep still and eventually his shixiong lets out a long breath and allows his body to melt against Wen Kexing’s, turns his head just enough to be able to press his lips against Wen Kexing’s temple, slips his fingers under his shidi’s hair to gently scratch the back of his neck. 

“Lao Wen,” he says after another pause, his voice raw like a fresh wound and it sounds like Thank you and like I’m here and like I’m sorry. “It makes me happy as well,” he offers, so serious like he needs them both to know it, so honest that Wen Kexing cannot even make fun of it, although he feels desperately compelled to do so. 

“Embarrassing,” he eventually mutters into Zhou Zishu’s ear, earning a huff in response. 

“Embarrassing,” Zhou Zishu agrees, his fingers moving to scratch Wen Kexing behind his ear, as if he really was a puppy but it feels nice too, so he allows it. If he really has that power — to make Zhou Zishu smile, to make him happy, to rebuild his– their burned home then he is more than willing to spend the rest of his life doing just that. Perhaps if he can make Zhou Zishu laugh carelessly every morning, it will be enough to erase all of the bad karma he has been accumulating in this life. Perhaps one of these days he will be able to look into his past and see cherry blossoms instead of blood. Perhaps... 

“Wen-xiong?” Cao Weining shouts from somewhere outside of the chamber then, since he has apparently decided to live dangerously on his wedding day. Wen Kexing jumps instinctively, almost pulling away, which causes Zhou Zishu to snort into his hair. 

“Go away,” Wen Kexing shouts back, trying to regain some dignity. 

“Come in,” Zhou Zishu says at the same time and Wen Kexing pulls away just enough to send him an offended look. “What? You have no time for your son-in-law?” 

“I have no time to fight you over undermining my authority in my own valley,” Wen Kexing answers with pretended annoyance. “He won’t listen to you anyway.” 

“What authority?” Zhou Zishu asks, his melancholy replaced by amusement again. “Aren’t you a part of my household now?” 

“I want a divorce,” Wen Kexing tells him, causing him to snort again. 

“And then you’ll beg your da-shixiong to take you back to your sect?” 

“A-Xu, however you’ll take me I would always return back,” Wen Kexing answers, a truth so obvious it really seems funny. “Yet you won’t even give me some face?” 

“Oh,” Cao Weining says, entering the doorway. Wen Kexing turns his head to glare at him and tries to ignore both the wave of fondness he feels at the sight of his embarrassed expression and Zhou Zishu’s quiet, triumphant, Ha

“You brat, I told you to go away,” he complains, pushing his self-satisfied asshole of a soulmate off his lap. “Is it really a good time to get on my bad side? Why are you listening to him suddenly, hm? What does he have to do with your wedding?” 

“It’s not like this!” Cao Weining exclaims earnestly, gathering enough courage to look up from whatever spot on the floor he has looked at from the moment he entered the room. “It’s just that A-Xiang told me not to come back until I pass the message to you. How am I supposed to disobey her?”

Wen Kexing stands up and raises his brows, stopping himself from smiling.

“You aren’t even married yet and you already let her order you around.” He shakes his head theatrically, turning around to reach for his outer robe only to find Zhou Zishu already holding it out for him. “Trust me, if you continue like this, this little girl will be insufferable by the end of this month,” he adds as he puts his arms into the sleeves. 

“Don’t listen to him, Xiao Cao,” Zhou Zishu says, his mean smile heard in his voice. He pats down the fabric on Wen Kexing’s shoulders and walks around to smooth it down his chest. “He has never satisfied a woman in his life.” 

Wen Kexing smirks, raising his hand to swat at Zhou Zishu who avoids it easily and then backs away a couple of steps, tilting his head as he appreciates his own work. 

“He really has some audacity, doesn’t he?” he asks in Cao Weining's direction, the scolding tone of his voice at odds with the glint of his eyes. “Dressing like this for someone else’s wedding.” 

“I wouldn’t mind,” Cao Weining says with his unwavering honesty. “I will never pay Wen-xiong's generosity back. Ah, right!” he continues quickly before Wen Kexing can remind him whom the generosity really is for. “A-Xiang was taken away to be dressed now too but she first sent me to tell you that Qianqiao-jie is asking for you to come and approve of the dowry.” 

“Shouldn’t you be getting ready as well instead of playing a messenger?” Wen Kexing asks him, shaking his head again. The boy looks so overwhelmed and out of his depth any time A-Xiang disappears from his view, so heartbreakingly alone, it almost makes Wen Kexing regret how he promised to never go against Weining’s sect. Zhou Zishu seemingly notices it too, his eyes softening. 

“He’s right,” he says, putting an arm around Cao Weining’s shoulders. “Now, it is a pitiful equivalent for your sect brothers but how about me and Chengling assisting you?” 

“Zishu-ge,” Cao Weining responds, tears immediately appearing in his eyes. Between his sentimentality and A-Xiang's fierceness, their children will turn out to be insufferable, Wen Kexing thinks. “It would be an honour, I...” 

“Alright, let us leave first then,” Zhou Zishu says decisively, starting to pull Cao Weining towards the door. 

“Xiao Cao,” Wen Kexing shouts after a well-measured pause, making them stop at the door. “Don’t listen to any advice of his, he knows nothing about being a good husband.” 

“It was never me who claimed that I would make for a good husband,” Zhou Zishu shots back easily before he drags Cao Weining away, a pity since Wen Kexing does not get to see their faces at that. He grins to their backs, turning to pick his fan before he follows. It is only as he catches the sight of himself in the mirror when he remembers that Zhou Zishu has taken care of his unnecessary makeup. 

He blinks at his reflection, the smile disappearing from his face, replaced by vulnerable wonder, because whatever Zhou Zishu has done, the effect is the opposite to the demonic insanity he himself would usually aim at. His features seem sharper now, nobler, the attention drawn to his eyes, the thin dark lines framing them in a way that gives his gaze clarity and seriousness, no hint of red save for his thoroughly-kissed lips. He still looks like a merciless Valley Master but– this master could not be mistaken for a ghost or a demon, his cruelty exchanged for sternness, his anger and his favour controlled and measured. Just another mask; just another proof of Zhou Zishu’s affection.

I want for us to know each other, constantly through life with no end or decline,” he recites with a self-deprecating smile, making effort to stop himself from running after Zhou Zishu and clinging to his side for the rest of the day. He has A-Xiang's dowry to take care of and he has a valley to subdue before he can return home and, most importantly, it is not like he is running out of time anymore.