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counting stars

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"Lao Wen, you'll catch your death of cold out here."

Wen Kexing doesn't turn around, but he hears the creak of the platform behind him as Zhou Zishu climbs the short set of steps up to it and on to the platform itself. There's a soft rustle of clothing, and then he feels the heavy weight of silk on his shoulders as Zhou Zishu wraps a cloak around him.

He smiles as Zhou Zishu settles down next to him. The platform on the deck of the boat, although a makeshift one, is comfortable enough with the silk sheets and cushions the servants have arranged on it. Zhou Zishu is in his inner robes as well, same as he is, but he too has a cloak around his shoulders. He must have woken up, discovered Wen Kexing gone, and come out on deck to look for him.

"Thank you, A-Xu," he says. "Always so thoughtful."

"It's just a bother if you were to die on me, and of a cold of all things," Zhou Zishu says. "After all the time you spent making sure I didn't die."

Wen Kexing stretches a hand out at that, finds Zhou Zishu's hand resting idle between their bodies, and intertwines their fingers together. Zhou Zishu's fingers are warm and comforting against his own. Wen Kexing still remembers a time when they were freezing cold always, even in the heat of summer, or warmed over a brazier or against Wen Kexing's body. His skin and extremities had always been cold when he still had the Nails in him.

They sit in silence for a while; neither of them have brought a lamp up with them, but the light cast by the moon is sufficiently bright and illuminates them just enough that Wen Kexing can turn and make out Zhou Zishu's features clearly: long lashes fluttering against his cheeks, his sharp nose, his thin lips. He's twisted his hair into a loose knot on the top of his head and pinned it haphazardly, using one of Wen Kexing's hairpins, not his own.

"What are you doing up here in the middle of the night?" Zhou Zishu asks finally.

Wen Kexing tears his eyes away from Zhou Zishu with some difficulty. Six months: it's been half a year since Zhou Zishu recovered, and still Wen Kexing can't keep his eyes or hands off him, to both see and feel that A-Xu is alive, and healthy, and whole.

"Looking at the stars," Wen Kexing replies. He tilts his head back and points heavenwards with his chin.

There had never been stars for him to look at, in the Ghost Valley.

Zhou Zishu doesn't say anything, but Wen Kexing feels his fingers tighten imperceptibly, and Zhou Zishu lifts his head to gaze at the endless dark bowl of the night sky, speckled with innumerable tiny blinking lights.

"I like that constellation, A-Xu," Wen Kexing says. He points at a cluster of stars, sketching it out in the air with his finger, joining the dots.

"Ah," Zhou Zishu says. "That one is the Willow, is it not?"

"It is," Wen Kexing says. "The line of stars from north to south, signifying a willow branch; and the stars themselves, like the catkins - xu - on the branch."

Zhou Zishu doesn't say anything, just smiles. The moonlight limns the contours of his cheeks, captures the curve of his smile.

"We must be close to Nanjiang by now," Zhou Zishu remarks, after another few minutes of silence. In the past, Wen Kexing would have chattered volubly at him, tried to fill this silence with poetry, flowery words of seduction, with teasing - anything at all to have A-Xu look at him, talk to him, assure him that he was right here, that he wasn't going to slip away. But now - silence is good. Silence means he can feel the bumpy ridges of A-Xu's knuckles under his stroking thumb, hear the steady sounds of A-Xu's breath, feel A-Xu lean gently against his shoulder as they look at stars, and know that A-Xu is always going to be next to him, woven inextricably into the fabric of his soul.

"Remember when you complained endlessly about us going by boat?" Wen Kexing teases. Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes, but he leans harder into Wen Kexing's shoulder anyway.

It had been Zhou Zishu's idea to make a visit to Nanjiang, see Beiyuan and Wu Xi; but it had been Wen Kexing's idea to buy a pleasure boat and sail it all the way down south. Zhou Zishu had called it an insane idea; Wen Kexing overrode his complaints by going ahead to buy the boat anyway, and then pointing out that Beiyuan had mentioned how much Zhou Zishu had enjoyed the boat he used to have, so he couldn't have hated being on one as much as he was making out.

Weeks in, and Wen Kexing is finding the journey more pleasurable than he'd first thought: exploring little towns and villages along the riverbank as the boat makes its way south, watching Zhou Zishu's skin go soft and tanned from lounging on the deck in the sun all day, having Zhou Zishu seated on his cock in their room with both of them barely needing to move, the rolling and shifting of the boat on waves doing it all for them.

He turns his head, noses into the soft spot under Zhou Zishu's jaw. There's a mark he left there, purpling dark enough that Wen Kexing can't see it in this light, but he knows it's there.

"A-Xu," he says against Zhou Zishu's skin.

"You're incorrigible," Zhou Zishu says. He sounds all kinds of annoyed, but Wen Kexing knows very well that if he truly is annoyed, he'd be shoving Wen Kexing off him right now. "We just - two hours ago - "

"Why, I didn't know there was such a thing as a set number of times each day for this," Wen Kexing says, and licks a long stripe from Zhou Zishu's earlobe down the tendon of his neck. His skin is salt-damp from both the river air and their activities earlier.

"I didn't bring the oil up here," Zhou Zishu grumbles, even as he tilts his head to give Wen Kexing better access. "And, Lao Wen - the servants - "

"There are no servants up here at this hour," Wen Kexing says. "Everyone's in bed." He reaches out, gets his hands on Zhou Zishu's waist, and pulls Zhou Zishu into his lap.

"Like you should be too," Zhou Zishu says; but he allows Wen Kexing to undo the cloak from around his shoulders and toss it aside; to loosen the tie of his inner robes, allows Wen Kexing to ruck them up around his hips, and when Wen Kexing dips the tips of two fingers into his hole to feel it, his thighs begin to tremble.

Zhou Zishu is still slick with oil, still wet inside from Wen Kexing's spend earlier. It takes almost no effort for Wen Kexing to pull open his own robes so he can press his cock into Zhou Zishu again, swift and easy. Zhou Zishu shifts carefully on top of him once he's fully seated, adjusting his knees on either side of Wen Kexing.

"You're a madman," he says, even as his hips are rolling slowly, rocking Wen Kexing's cock in and out of him. The river is calm tonight, but there's enough height to the waves still, to roll the two of them rhythmically back and forth against each other. "How is this not enough for you?"

Wen Kexing finds a new place to latch onto: the deliciously tempting triangle of skin exposed just above where Zhou Zishu's inner robes are wrapped over his chest. He scrapes his teeth over it, feels the jump of Zhou Zishu's heartbeat under his mouth; sucks another lingering bruise there to add to the ones he's already left on Zhou Zishu's collarbones, neck, thighs. He doesn't know how to tell Zhou Zishu that it's never enough, that he could devour him whole and it'll still not be enough for him. How do you ever get enough of someone you love with your entire soul and nearly lost forever, only to have him returned to you safe and whole? He can only explain this to Zhou Zishu with the marks he bites into him, the primal need to engrave himself into Zhou Zishu's skin and heart.

Zhou Zishu's breathing is coming faster now; he grips Wen Kexing's shoulders, presses their foreheads together. He's riding Wen Kexing in earnest, the muscles in his thighs rippling as he raises himself up and down, clamping tight on Wen Kexing's cock with every push of his body downwards. His hole is slippery and hot around Wen Kexing.

"Lao Wen," he says, gasps, as Wen Kexing pulls the top of his robes open, bites another mark into his shoulder. "Lao Wen," he says again, his cock jerking between them, against the fabric of Wen Kexing's thin inner robes, when Wen Kexing moves his mouth downwards to wrap his lips around Zhou Zishu's nipple, swollen from hours of Wen Kexing sucking and biting at them.

"A-Xu," Wen Kexing says. He's mildly surprised to hear how hoarse and deep his voice sounds. "A-Xu - I love you so much - "

Zhou Zishu cries out, a soft, choked cry, before he buries his face into Wen Kexing's neck to muffle his moans as he squeezes tight enough around Wen Kexing's cock to make his breath stop, and comes like that, spilling over the fabric of their robes.

Wen Kexing tightens his grip on his waist, fucks his hips upwards through the tight clenching resistance of Zhou Zishu's hole, and lets his own orgasm tear through him as he spills for the second time that night into Zhou Zishu.

Afterwards, Zhou Zishu peels himself away from Wen Kexing. His knot has come loose; stray locks of hair droop from it, framing his face. He lifts himself up and off Wen Kexing's cock, his face scrunching into a wince; and cups his hand between his legs to catch Wen Kexing's come leaking out of him.

"You are terrible," he grouses. "Terrible, incorrigible, greedy, filthy - "

"You didn't say you didn't want it," Wen Kexing points out. He pulls at one of the silk sheets the servants piled on the platform until it comes loose, and heedless of the mess, he rubs a corner of it between A-Xu's legs, along his inner thighs. Takes A-Xu's hand from between his legs and licks the sticky come off it, watching A-Xu's long lashes flutter as he does so.

"Madman," Zhou Zishu says again, with absolutely no heat behind it.

Wen Kexing presses a kiss to his palm, and rewraps him in his cloak before drawing him down to lie down next to him, cradled in the crook of his arm.

"You don't want to go back?" Zhou Zishu asks.

"I want to look at the stars," Wen Kexing says. "Do you want to stay with me?"

Zhou Zishu turns his head, looking up at the sky. Wen Kexing can feel the thumping of Zhou Zishu's heart, pressed against his own ribcage. His heartbeat is steady, strong, full of life.

"Of course, Lao Wen," Zhou Zishu says softly. "Always."