Wen Kexing woke to find himself alone in an unfamiliar room. The room smelt of musky incense and light streamed through the thin paper windows. Disoriented, his first thought went to Ah Xu, feeling panicked that he wasn’t lying beside him or holding his hand waiting for him to wake. His hand went to touch the wound on his chest which throbbed with pain. Groaning, Wen KeXing forces himself to sit up in bed. Despite the pain from his wound, he feels ok and rested. Pushing open the door to his room, Wen Kexing realizes that he is back in Si Ji manor.
Wen Kexing wanders outside, feeling alarmed as he hears worried voices from Ah Xu’s room. He pushed the door open and all eyes turned towards him.
His eyes immediately goes to Ah Xu who was sitting slumped on the bed while Qi Ye was transferring internal energy into his body. Sweat beads were visible on Qi Ye’s face as he struggles with the tremendous amount of energy required to heal Zhou Zishu. Cheng Ling was standing with tears running down his face, he looked stunned. Da Wu was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, Zhou Zishu coughs and blood flowed from his lips and onto the bed. Wen Kexing rushes over, finally able to unfreeze himself from the shock of seeing Ah Xu in this state, and took Qi Ye’s place behind Ah Xu. Ah Xu’s body fell back against his, still unconscious.
“What’s wrong with him?” Wen Kexing asked frantically, his eyes darting between Qi Ye and Cheng Ling. They both avoided his eyes and remained silent.
“Ah Xu! Ah Xu!” He shook Ah Xu gently, desperate for him to wake and reassure him with his words. He grabbed Ah Xu’s hand and felt a rising panic in his chest at how cold they were.
Da Wu suddenly burst into the room with a bowl of steaming medicine. Ye Baiyi followed behind with a frown on his face.
“Hold him up. We must get him to take this medicine.” Da Wu said. He barely acknowledged Wen Kexing’s presence. It was useless. Zhou ZiShu was too weak, the medicine trickled from his lips with little being ingested. Everyone looked at each other helplessly.
“Qi Ye, you must be honest with me. What’s wrong with Ah Xu? How long have I been unconscious for?” Wen Kexing asked Qi Ye.
A frown creased Qi Ye’s face and he finally spoke with solemn graveness. “It’s been 3 days. We found Zishu carrying you back to the Ghost Valley before collapsing himself.”
“Was it the injuries he sustained during the fight? He said he was ok...I believed him...I should have been there to protect him instead of being weak." Wen Kexing dug his knuckles into the bed in despair.
“No, Wen Gong Zi, the nails have been removed. ZiShu removed them himself.” Da Wu said.
Wen Kexing was shocked. “He removed them? Why? Why would he do such a thing? We had a plan to heal him!”
The whole room looked back at him bleakly.
“Someone answer me!” Wen Kexing shouted. His voice broke with emotion.
He didn’t realize his hand were gripped tightly around Ah Xu’s when he felt the weak pressure of Ah Xu squeezing his hands back. Ah Xu woke, coughing weakly.
“Lao Wen, are you okay? Zhou Zishu turned his head to look deep into Wen Kexing’s eyes, searching for any signs of reassurance that his soul mate was okay and recovering from his injuries. He was relieved to find that his senses had returned to him temporarily so that he could at least see the calming familiarity of Wen Kexing’s face again.
“I’m fine, you fool! What about you? Did you take the nails out? Why did you do it?” Wen Kexing was almost irrational in his alarm at the prospect of loosing his Ah Xu.
There was a long silence and everyone shifted awkwardly in the room as if they were witness to a domestic disagreement.
“Lao wen, when you jumped, I jumped after you. What did you think I would have done if, to my knowledge, you were dead.”
Wen Kexing looked at Zhou Zishu in horror as the realization dawned on him.
“No, no, no, no, no...” Wen Kexing shook his head. He felt tears prickle his eyes, his vision went blurry and his whole heart ached. “I’m sorry.” He whispered, so softly that only Zhou Zishu could hear. He felt torn apart by guilt and grief. It was he, himself who had destroyed his only chance at happiness with Ah Xu.
“I’m not afraid of dying, Lao wen.”
“Don’t say that, Ah Xu! You’re not going to die. I won’t allow it.” Wen Kexing said softly, gritting his teeth. He turned to Da Wu and Ye Baiyi “Right. What do we need to do to save him?”
“I’m afraid there’s no other way Wen Gong Zi. Once the nails are out, it is only a matter of time before his internal energy will destroy his meridian and he dies...” Da Wu said sadly.
Cheng Lin dropped to his knees. “Shi Fu. How are you feeling? Do you feel bad?”
Zhou Zishu shook his head gently. “No, not too bad. I don’t feel any pain.”
Turning to Da Wu, he asked “How long do I have?”
Zhou Zishu nodded slowly, he felt himself tremble although he tried to hide it from Wen Kexing. A fear overcame him. Not the fear of his own impending death but grief for the lost prospect of growing old with Wen Kexing, a life he envisioned would involve lots of bickering, eating and drinking to their hearts content. He also worried terribly about how Wen Kexing would cope with his death.
“Leave us please. I need some time alone with him.” Wen Kexing said. His expression was impossible to read.
Everyone silently left the room until it was only Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu left. Wen kexing silently supported Zhou Zishu as he set up some pillows behind his back. He blew on the medicinal soup to cool it down before feeding it to Zhou Zishu who grimaced and coughed when the medicine touched his lips.
“No, I can’t taste it.”
There was a long silence as Wen Kexing fed Zhou Zishu the remainder of his medicine, with a fierce focus on finishing the task. After the medicine was finished, Wen Kexing gingerly helped Zhou Zishu lay down again. He leaned over, brushing Zhou Zishu’s hair away from his shoulders whilst glancing deep into his eyes.
“I can’t go on without you, Ah Xu. I don’t know how to.” He said softly.
“It’s going to suck...I won’t lie about that...you have permission to miss me for 1 year, then only every year thereafter on my death anniversary.” Zhou Zishu said with a sad smile.
“I can’t believe how stupid I was. I thought to protect you was to shield you from my plan to fake my death. I didn’t count on you jumping after me and I never thought that you would remove your nails...”
“You underestimate how important you are to me, Lao Wen. I needed my full powers back to avenge you and then I would have no regrets of following you in death. I know that you would do the same for me.”
Wen Kexing nodded silently. The paleness of Ah Xu’s skin, the blood tinged lips and his vulnerability made his heart ache. He was close to death and Wen Kexing knew it. What he wouldn’t give to have Ah Xu healthy and strong in front of him.
“I want you to live, Lao Wen. You told me that night that being a good person was the most relaxing thing you’ve ever done. After I’m gone, take care of Cheng Ling, and rebuild Si Ji Manor...” Zhou Zishu’s voice trailed off as he felt what little strength he had leave him. He tried to put on a brave smile, looking at Wen Kexing through blurry eyes as he drifted off into exhausted slumber.
“I’m not going to let that happen. Rest Ah Xu. You’re not going to die.”
Wen Kexing covered Zhou Zishu with a blanket, holding his hand, as he himself fell into a restless sleep.
To be continued...