It must be uncomfortable for him, Zhou Zishu thought as he assessed the way Wen Kexing had curled up on the chair. Why was he sleeping on the chair? Before, he’s never been shy about barging in and claiming his own space in Zhou Zishu’s bed. Zhou Zishu didn’t know how long it’s been since they removed the nails. All he could remember was the blinding pain that flooded his veins and then nothing. He wondered if he had screamed before passing out. Wen Kexing was still asleep. For someone as aware of his surroundings as Wen Kexing, it should have been impossible for him to not notice being stared at like this. There was only one possible explanation—exhaustion. Has it really been that long since he passed out? Wen Kexing’s handsome face looked wan and haggard. There were slight bruises beneath his eyes, his cheekbones, a lot sharper. He looked so innocent like this, vulnerable. Zhou Zishu was well aware that Wen Kexing was neither innocent nor vulnerable. But his heart still ached a little at the way Wen Kexing held on to his hand. Too desperate. Too tight.
Zhou Zishu has never been one for soft emotions. The years at Tian Chuang had chipped away at anything that could resemble a weakness, which meant his ability to feel anything had been lost too as time passed. There was only so much you could take before you turned numb and inevitably, the same numbness had consumed him as well. Emotions made people weak. Zhou Zishu couldn’t carry out his duty if he was weak. A conflict of interests, really. So he had learned not to feel anything at all as his hands stained permanently in blood. It felt like a lifetime ago. Because ever since he met Wen Kexing, his heart has been learning to feel again.
Zhou Zishu didn’t know what it was about Wen Kexing that made him feel things he hadn’t in a long time. As the leader of Tian Chuang, he had been as cold and unmovable as the Changming mountain. But then, this stranger had crashed into his life, refused to move away no matter how much he pushed, and relentlessly pursued him until Zhou Zishu had no choice but to accept the fact that Wen Kexing was someone he didn’t want to lose. With Wen Kexing, he could be his moody, bitter, rude, cold, and cynical self and Wen Kexing wouldn’t leave him no matter what.
Fate, he called it. Fate that they met. Maybe he was right. Zhou Zishu had been ready to die when he left Tian Chuang. All he wanted was some peace and quiet for his last few years on earth. Chengling was an unexpected surprise. He hadn’t wanted the responsibility, but the boy had stuck to him like glue. Then there was Wen Kexing. Making him feel a million little things at once—the most unexpected of those, warmth.
Zhou Zishu had forgotten what it felt to be warm. Even when he enjoyed the sunlight, the warmth of it had only ever sunk skin deep. But Wen Kexing…
A-Xu, he’d called him without waiting for his permission. He had let him, hadn’t he? Even back then, he had let Wen Kexing use such a familiar name. No reason, no nothing. He had simply been...unable...to refuse. Before Wen Kexing, he couldn’t even remember the last time someone called him by a nickname. Had anyone even wanted to?
It had felt nice. To be A-Xu, instead of Lord Zhou.
Zhou Zishu looked at their joined hands once more. Wen Kexing was clutching it so hard. Almost like he was afraid that he would disappear. Almost like that time when he was dying and grabbed his hand with everything he had, defiantly declaring that yes, he wanted to live. But he had only agreed after Zhou Zishu had told him that he wouldn’t leave him. As if he was the only reason for Wen Kexing to say yes. What about himself? Would he want to live in a world where there was no Wen Kexing beside him? He looked at the man once more and then at their hands.
Wen Kexing’s fingers were long and graceful, his palm, rough with calluses and cuts. It was the hand of someone who’d lived a very hard life. Zhou Zishu’s own hands weren’t in any better condition. But they were smaller than Wen Kexing’s and he liked the way Wen Kexing’s larger hands enveloped his. A feeling of home. Someone to walk the world with. Someone who knew him and still decided to stay.
Zhiji, Wen Kexing had called them. Zhou Zishu hadn’t wanted to accept. Didn’t want that complication. He didn’t want it but he hadn’t known how much he needed it until he stood against the Scorpion, outwardly calm, but his heart going mile a minute in fear that Wen Kexing might die.
What would he even do without that loon in his life? The quiet way he cared for him. The annoyingly loud flirtations. The warmth that he brought him. Wen Kexing knew blood and death and pain. Wen Kexing knew it and lived through it and knew that the same ghosts haunted Zhou Zishu. Still, he had stayed by his side. Never wavering. Wen Kexing wasn’t his light. It would be too simplistic to call him his light.
Wen Kexing was the one who would willingly walk the dark path with him.
A hand to hold.
A tether to life.
They were both too jaded by life, but they could walk whatever remained of their wretched lives together, in dark and light. For people like themselves, finding someone like that...it was the miracle of miracles. A blessing that they didn’t deserve but something they won’t ever give up either. To see that person bleeding and almost dead, not even sure if they’d survive or not, Zhou Zishu had never known terror like that before. He was so cold, calculated, and indifferent all the time. But in that moment, he had been anything but. If Wen Kexing had said no to living...what meaning was there left?
It was one thing to walk alone until the end of your life. But to have someone beside you, holding your hand, hugging you despite the pain of your thorns...to have that person to walk with you for a while and then having to walk the rest of the way alone? Maybe, if he were a normal person, it wouldn’t have mattered. He would have survived and lived on like normal people did after the departure of a loved one. He himself had done it before. But Wen Kexing had joined him when he had given up on life, made him want to live again, and if Wen Kexing left, if that trash didn’t survive, who would hold him for no other reason than the simple enjoyment of it?
It had taken him too long to believe that he could actually have this. That Wen Kexing wasn’t with him because he liked a challenge and wanted the chase.
Wen Kexing had told him with the whole of his heart in his eyes, then proceeded to show him with his lips how much.
An affirmation. An acknowledgement. A benediction.
Zhou Zishu could never lose that. Not after that. If Wen Kexing weren’t literally dying behind him, he would have made sure every single one of those fuckers had died before turning his back on them. His rage had been vast, the sight of the Scorpion with that hook raised to wield against his idiot…
He remembered the blood that soaked him by the time he brought him down the mountain, Wen Kexing in his arms, pale and lifeless. Those two days of uncertainty and fear as he waited for Wen Kexing to wake up, the bone chilling terror that he might not.
What if I lost him?
No more smirks, no more fights, no more touches.
If he lost Wen Kexing…
It was because he had been through the same that Zhou Zishu knew how hard it might have been for Wen Kexing.
He smiled gently and caressed the back of Wen Kexing’s hand with his thumb.
“Lao Wen.” Zhou Zishu was taken aback by how raspy his voice was. It was whisper thin and barely audible. Huh. But Wen Kexing jolted awake as if he had been burned.
Wide eyes stared at Zhou Zishu for a few seconds without blinking. Zhou Zishu stared right back.
Wen Kexing blinked. Once. Twice. A third time.
“A-Xu.” Wen Kexing’s voice was too raw, too sharp.
Zhou Zishu cleared his throat and managed to snap. “Don’t just stare. Get me some water, bastard.”
Realization dawned and Wen Kexing scrambled away to fetch him water. Zhou Zishu sighed inwardly. It was clear from Wen Kexing’s reaction that it’s been some time since he lost consciousness. His poor wife must have worried so much.
Wen Kexing was extremely gentle as he helped Zhou Zishu sit up on the bed. Zhou Zishu frowned slightly, he wasn’t a delicate flower. But he bit back the annoyance.
“How long?” Zhou Zishu asked after he took a few sips.
Wen Kexing laughed, but the sound of it grated against Zhou Zishu’s ears.
“You dare ask me that? You’ve worried this poor li’l me for three whole months, A-Xu! How can any husband treat his wife like this? Look at how disheveled I am? How are you going to pay me back for the exceptional care I provided you for all this time? Could it be, A-Xu would finally let me make the move?” Wen Kexing waggled his eyebrows suggestively, leering at him. But under the lecherous sneer and laughing words, Zhou Zishu could still feel the slight tremor in his sound.
Zhou Zishu had gone crazy waiting two days. Lao Wen had done it for three months?
The weight on his chest was suddenly too heavy. But he knew Wen Kexing. Knew that if he showed any signs of sympathy, the man would bolt.
“Dream on,” he told him instead. Wen Kexing laughed harder, this time a bit relieved that he wasn’t being pushed.
“One day, A-Xu. One day, I’m going to wear you down and you’ll succumb to my irresistible charms. You just wait, A-Xu. I promise I’d be the best fuck of your life. So much so that you’d forget anyone else who came before me.”
Zhou Zishu stilled at the comment. Wen Kexing, taking advantage, leaned in further, his lips brushing Zhou Zishu’s as he spoke.
“Don’t you want to know? Aren’t you even a little bit curious, A-Xu?”
“No. I need a bath.” Zhou Zishu cut him off from speaking any more nonsense.
“Of course. Why fear when this wife is near. Isn’t it my life’s mission to service my Lord?” Wen Kexing bowed gallantly before trotting off to prepare his bath. Zhou Zishu looked at his retreating back and sighed. If Lao Wen wanted to talk about it, he’d talk about it. Zhou Zishu refused to push him. He knew when he was ready, Wen Kexing himself would come to him. It’s once he was out of his sight that Zhou Zishu realized how cold it was without Wen Kexing in the room with him. They were on the Changming mountain after all. But Zhou Zishu also knew it was more than that. He shivered slightly.
He looked at his empty hand, the hand Wen Kexing had been holding when he woke up. Three months. Too long, he’d spent holding his hand and Zhou Zishu hadn’t even known. Hadn’t been able to hold his back, tell him not to worry.
How lonely it must have been for him.
Suddenly, Zhou Zishu wanted him back in the room. To sit by him and hold his hand. Maybe, even pull him to the bed, have Wen Kexing wrap his arms around him, sleep just like that, twined together, comfortable in the knowledge that the person behind him wouldn’t hurt him, wouldn’t leave him, wouldn’t give up on him.
Wen Kexing was waiting with Beiyuan and Wu Xi when Zhou Zishu came out of the bath. Zhou Zishu let the Shaman examine him as he pleased.
“The worst is over, now it’s all up to you. You have to reconstruct the meridians on your own.”
“I can do that.”
“I know you can. If it were anybody else, I doubt they would have woken up at all.”
“Thank you for helping me,” Zhou Zishu responded.
“You need proper rehabilitation. The medicine I’ve prepared will be extremely painful. But you can handle it.”
Zhou Zishu nodded.
“We are both very glad that you’re awake, Zishu.” Beiyuan, kind as always told him. Zhou Zishu gave him a small smile.
“Surprisingly enough, I am glad to be alive.”
Wen Kexing, who was puttering around froze for a moment, then continued. But Zhou Zishu had already seen what he wanted to see. They left soon after, leaving Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing in that weird in-between stage of awkwardness and relief. Wen Kexing hadn’t stopped moving since forever.
“My hands are cold. Warm them.” Zhou Zishu extended both his hands towards Wen Kexing who looked slightly surprised by the demanding tone. Before, Zhou Zishu had always pulled back when Wen Kexing offered and Wen Kexing would forcefully take his hands in his to warm them up. It was the first time that Zhou Zishu had ever asked it of him.
“A-Xu, you don’t have to be so harsh with me. Say it with some kindness, won’t you?”
“Forget it,” Zhou Zishu turned his back on the man only to be enveloped by strong arms from behind. The hug was tight even though Zhou Zishu could tell Wen Kexing was holding back in order not to hurt him. Warmth spread across the entirety of his back as he collided against solid muscles honed by years and years of fighting for survival. Wen Kexing leaned down a bit and buried his head in Zhou Zishu’s shoulder.
“Don’t be like that, A-Xu.” Staying just like that, he walked them both backwards until he sat on the bed with Zhou Zishu between his spread legs. Then, Wen Kexing took one of Zhou Zishu’s hands in both of his own and started rubbing.
“If A-Xu is bothered by the cold, there’s a far more pleasant way to warm him up, you know?” Wen Kexing nosed down his neck. Zhou Zishu held a long suffering sigh.
“Don’t you ever have anything else on your mind?” Zhou Zishu asked tartly.
“Not since I met you, no.” Wen Kexing laughed, deep and seductive. Which was precisely how Zhou Zishu knew he was feeling far more than what he claimed to be feeling. He let it be.
Lao Wen’s hands were gentle in his ministrations, softly rubbing, twining their fingers together. Sometimes, Wen Kexing would lift his hand to his mouth and blow hot air on it. Or kiss his palm before continuing with whatever the hell it was that he did that made Zhou Zishu feel so good.
“You’re mine.” Wen Kexing said quietly from behind him. Zhou Zishu, who had fallen into a semi-sleep leaning against his chest could only hum in response. Wen Kexing’s fingers gently smoothed over the raised skin on his left wrist, over that mark he left that night as Zhou Zishu bled for him, never moving away, never asking him to stop.
“Dog.” Zhou Zishu muttered sleepily. He wasn’t sure how successful he was in hiding his fondness.
“Only for you.”
Zhou Zishu knew this. Knew it in the depth of his heart. It was only ever with him that Wen Kexing acted this way. Stubborn, crazy, loyal, whining, playful. Free. It was only ever Zhou Zishu who could make him feel that maybe, he could live once more too.
A-Xiang was different. Theirs was a bond forged in the deepest pits of hell where no human could survive with their hearts intact. But those two had managed somehow. Because they had each other. But A-Xiang was a little sister, a daughter, someone to take care of. He could never truly let go with her and create even more shadows in her heart. A-Xiang of the beautiful smile and fierce spirit. Zhou Zishu missed her.
If there’s any kind of justice in heaven, let that girl have a happy and safe life next time around, he wished silently. She deserves a better chance at life.
A loss Wen Kexing would feel till the day he breathed his last.
Not just him. I would too ...Zhou Zishu realized. A-Xiang and Cao Weining. Gone too soon. Now it was just them.
Wen Kexing. Zhou Zishu. Chengling.
Chengling was still young. He would find more people to love and care for him as he grew up. Wen Kexing and him on the other hand, they were too old and too jaded to form any more lasting commitments to someone else apart from each other.
Two lost souls. The worst of sinners. Murderers.
If Zhou Zishu killed with clinical precision and without emotion, Wen Kexing killed with a violent passion and delight that would terrify any other normal human being. Wen Kexing really was insane. A madness born out of a desperate need for survival, hatred, and revenge. But Zhou Zishu wasn’t afraid of him. Has never been afraid of him. Zhou Zishu could see all the terrible, ugly parts of Wen Kexing and still believe him deserving of a chance. They were so different, him and Wen Kexing. But they were also the same. Zhou Zishu recognized this. If he didn’t believe that Lao Wen could be redeemed, could he believe the same for him? He wasn’t condemned when he was with Zhou Zishu. So Wen Kexing had latched onto that chance that Zhou Zishu had offered. A thread to hold onto. Someone to make him believe that even someone like himself, reeking of blood and bones of the people he killed in cold blood could have a companion to walk the road with. Zhou Zishu had turned out to be that someone because he had walked the same path, had that same darkness in him. He had offered a shelter, a safe space for them in the raging storm while hatred and revenge ravaged the world around. A dog indeed. Jealously guarding the person it claimed as his, not so different from how Zhou Zishu felt about the man. Only, he didn’t need such beastly shows of ownerships to know that this person belonged to him.
However, despite everything, contrary to even their own beliefs before they met each other, they were also human. So very tangibly human. If they spent the rest of their lives helping others and gathering merits, will it be enough to save them from damnation?
There was one thing Zhou Zishu knew for sure. If he were to be damned for all eternity, even then, he wouldn’t be alone. Lao Wen would be right there with him. Just like he would be with Wen Kexing no matter where their path ended.
Two unworthy men, hoping for redemption.
Wen Kexing kissed that deep, deep scar. It would never fade, Zhou Zishu knew. His teeth had sunk so deep that night that Zhou Zishu had felt them scraping against his bone. If he wanted, Wen Kexing could have ripped him apart right then and there, his teeth over the most vital meridian of a martial artist, bleeding him.
If it were anyone else...anyone else but Wen Kexing...Zhou Zishu would have had them gutted before they even came close to that most vulnerable, vital part of himself.
But it was Wen Kexing. And Zhou Zishu trusted Wen Kexing. Could see the devastation and raw intensity in his eyes as he sucked and sucked and sucked as if wanting to consume Zhou Zishu in order to make him a part of himself and keep him alive. It was terror and anger and frustration and loss. It had hurt, but at that moment, Wen Kexing had needed it.
Since Wen Kexing needed it, Zhou Zishu had borne the pain. For that madman, there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do.
Wen Kexing was a part of him. A kindred spirit. The soul he had searched for throughout his life not even knowing that he was searching for it.
Someone to make life worth living.
For Zhou Zishu, that was more than enough.
That was his last thought as he fell deep into sleep.
Throughout it all, he never let go of that person’s hand. If he had any say in it, he never will again.
A sigh from above. A quiet murmur onto the crown of his head.
“A-Xu, don’t ever leave me.”
Zhou Zishu could only squeeze his hand once in reassurance.
“That’s enough. That’s enough.”