Wen Kexing takes Zhou Zishu back to Four Seasons Manor on his own horse, with his zhiji pressed to his front, caged by his arms. It’s perhaps not the most practical way for them to travel, but he can’t bear to let A’Xu leave his reach or his sight. Not yet. He’s surprised when Zhou Zishu doesn’t try to fight him or argue about this, but he won’t question such a gift.
They outpace the rest of their group by hours, his horse sensing his eagerness to be gone, to be alone. Once they arrive, Wen Kexing busies himself readying a bath, then bustling Zhou Zishu towards it.
Zhou Zishu appears tired beyond anything he’s seen from him before. Pale and quiet, and most worryingly, biddable. When Wen Kexing reaches to help him remove his ragged and blood-stained robes, the other man doesn’t protest or strike out at him.
A ragged hiss escapes his lips as he sees the state of A’Xu’s chest under the clothing. He has to force his hands to unclench and they still shake a little when he begins to remove the perfunctory bandages.
“Lao Wen.” He ignores the soft name and continues to glare at the damage those fools had done to his A’Xu. “Lao Wen. You’re going to set the cloth on fire with those eyes.”
He looks up at him then, sees the gentle humor and understanding in A’Xu’s deep eyes. “I should have killed them,” he spits.
Zhou Zishu nods, raises a hand and pats his shoulder like he’s a child. “I know.” And it’s the calm acceptance he sees on his beloved’s face that allows his rage to melt away. He can think about what he will do to everyone who hurt A’Xu later. (And he will. At length.)
Now he guides him to sit on a stool next to the tub and sets to work cleaning out the deep punctures in the other man’s shoulders. He works as gently as he can, and Zhou Zishu betrays no sign of pain. Wen Kexing directs his qi into the wounds directly as he works, feeling the weak circulation of his love’s energy, infusing him with the strength to heal. Already the wounds are closing, though with the nails weakening him it will take some days yet until they are nothing but scars. Less, if Wen Kexing has anything to say about it.
Throughout, Zhou Zishu offers no commentary on his actions, does not tell him to stop, does not complain, merely sits and watches him. It would be frightening if his face wasn’t so soft. Instead it’s unsettling in a different way. Wen Kexing begins to fear perhaps the experience in the palace has broken something in Zhou Zishu. Snapped something vital in his being. But other than his strange stillness and gentle expression, there’s no indication of anything actually wrong.
Finally, wounds cleansed and re-bandaged cleanly, Zhou Zishu stands and moves towards the steaming bath. Wen Kexing hovers, hands ready to catch or steady him if he stumbles. Instead Zhou Zishu just shoots him a look, one corner of his mouth lifting for an instant, and then unselfconsciously sheds his trousers and steps into the tub.
Wen Kexing stands frozen for a time, trying to recover from the shock of his brief glimpse of his love fully bare. His heart pounds in his chest, not in lust or anything so simple, but from the sudden shift in Zhou Zishu’s behavior. The sudden openness in the man. Perhaps he’s simply too tired to play the game any longer.
Wen Kexing comes back to himself and realizes he’s standing frozen beside the wooden tub, and with a simple downward glance he can see straight through the water, all of Zhou Zishu bared before him. He takes a hasty step backward, heat rising across his entire chest.
The sensation of the flush is so strange he loses more time in contemplation of it. He’d thought all shame and embarrassment burned out of him a long time ago. And yet he’s almost blushing, like a virgin youth.
Besides, he should be ashamed. A’Xu is injured and exhausted and clearly too weak to even care if Wen Kexing invades his privacy.
He looks to the screen that shades this part of the room from the rest and wonders if he should retreat. But he can’t bear to. It would be the decent thing, but he’s never been decent.
“Can you wash my hair? It’s filthy.” The words are so loud in the hushed space. A’Xu is looking at him, holding up the soap.
“Y-yes,” he replies, licking his lips, “Of course.” He kneels down next to the bath, and then realizes his heavy red robes are a problem. Looking around, he thankfully spots the belt of A’Xu’s clothing, which he winds around his shoulders to tie back his sleeves. Then he reaches up and removes the fastening from Zhou Zishu’s hair, which falls around his shoulders, pooling in the water.
Wen Kexing uses the dipper and soap to wet and lather his hair, working carefully to avoid dousing the bandages. He works his fingers through the strands, rubbing soap into his scalp. He just barely hears a soft exhale of relaxation from A’Xu. So he massages a little harder, fingertips to temples. Zhou Zishu’s head tilts back further, pushing into his hands.
Slowly and painstakingly, he works the soap from the root to the ends. He realizes it’s been years since he did this for anyone, and even then, it was A-Xiang as a child. When he had been barely more than a child, himself. He’s never done this for a lover. If anyone was pampered in his past affairs, it had always been himself, as befitted the Master of the Ghost Valley.
But he finds himself happy to simply kneel here and serve, if it’s A’Xu. If he is allowed to touch, to be of use, to give even simple and uncomplicated pleasure, he would stay here like this forever and ask nothing more.
“Lao Wen, I think it’s clean,” says Zhou Zishu at last, humor in his tone.
“Oh. Right.” He fumbles reaching for the dipper, almost knocking it to the floor. But he recovers and rinses out the soap and then, reluctantly, stands up and steps back. The water has gone tepid, so Zhou Zishu pushes up, climbing to his feet. Wen Kexing is there in an instant, though, supporting him with a hand on his left arm and another pressed to his wet back, just below the level of the bandages. He feels the slick softness of wet, bare skin and his instincts want to slide his hand down, to touch and touch, but he forces himself to merely support. Zhou Zishu shakes him off lightly once he’s upright and steps out of the bath on his own.
Wen Kexing’s eyes sweep down once, taking in the whole of the front of him, but only for a moment. Still, that moment burns through him like a physical thing as he turns his body to the side and picks up the waiting towel. He shakes it out and holds it in front of him like a veil to keep his eyes from wandering. He can’t help wondering, however, if the way A’Xu’s member swung weighty as he climbed from the tub was a measure of his normal size or a sign of arousal. His own cock between his legs feels heavy, not hard but just beginning to swell, just from having his hands on A’Xu.
To his surprise, instead of taking the towel from Wen Kexing’s hands, A’Xu steps forward towards it and then stops. Waiting.
Wen Kexing looks into his face, blank. A’Xu raises his eyebrows and looks to the towel and then back at Wen Kexing.
“A’Xu?” he asks, sounding a little strangled.
Zhou Zishu grins. “Aren’t you going to dry me off, shidi?” Then he pouts, bottom lip shoved out in a way that sets a fire up Wen Kexing’s spine. “I’m too tired to do it. And my shoulders hurt.”
So Wen Kexing presses the sheet to his body, awkwardly against his stomach and chest. He moves gently, not liking the way the towel catches on the nail scars. The air in his lungs feels thin, like he can’t get enough and it’s making him dizzy. He moves around Zhou Zishu, wrapping the towel over his arm and drying his back. He stares at the strip of bare skin between the bandage and the edge of the towel as he works, the creamy, smooth skin dipping between his shoulder blades... He burns with the need to duck his head and kiss it, to drop the towel and press his bare hands there, and simultaneously he can’t imagine doing such a thing. Imagine, here with the opportunity, and too shy to take it!
He moves his hands lower, cupping the curve of A’Xu’s buttocks with the cloth. The touch is gentle, perhaps too gentle, for his attention is drawn by the droplets of water running down Zhou Zishu’s bare legs. So he kneels on the floor again, eyes down as he dries first one leg and then another, saving the upper thighs for last, finally looking up to see the tender inner flesh of them, the bare swell of ass right in front of him. Several new droplets from A’Xu’s hair run down, curving temptingly, as if begging him to reach out with his dry mouth and slake his thirst.
He doesn’t move. The towel rests on his knees, knuckles white where he grips it.
And then the body in front of him turns around. And a hand lands softly on the crown of his head, a repeat, a flash back to that gesture of benediction when he’d knelt to his lord earlier.
He looks up. Up those strong legs, taking in the swollen length at eye level, up higher to see A’Xu looking down at him. His lips are parted and his eyes...he can’t tell from here if those are tears in them, but they are certainly shining.
“A’Xu,” he says, breathes. It’s a plea.
“Lao Wen.” An answer.
Wen Kexing sucks in a loud breath. Exhales. Swallows. And then, slowly, he moves forward. Reaching with his lips. Slow enough that Zhou Zishu could stop him, if he wants. But he doesn’t, and so his lips come into contact with the warm, silky cock in front of him.
He presses a kiss to the tip of it. Then opens his lips and takes it in, sucking, drawing it forward into him. He feels the flesh between his lips harden almost instantly. Fingers dig into his hair and he takes in more, pressing tongue to the length, beginning to slide back and forward. A’Xu grows steel hard in his mouth and it’s so satisfying. He puts all the skill he knows into it, begins to pick up his pace and the forcefulness of his pressure.
Zhou Zishu lets out a soft moan from above him and Wen Kexing makes it a life goal to make him do it again. And then louder. He worships A’Xu’s flesh, digs one hand into his thigh and uses the other to stroke the base of him. He’s listening so hard for Zhou Zishu’s noises, but he has to strain over the sounds of his own heart in his ears, the wet sucking of his mouth.
He can taste the faint acrid tang of A’Xu increase as he gets closer to release and that just spurs him on. He moves his right hand to massage his balls and when that produces an audible groan he begins to rub two fingers into the skin behind. He can feel the cock in his mouth jump so he keeps at it. He wants A’Xu to come apart under his hands and mouth, wants to taste him and hear him lose control. He teases the other man’s rim with his fingertips even as he continues to play with his balls with his palm.
Zhou Zishu’s hips start to rock more noticeably. He’s fucking into his mouth now, a little bit, driving just barely against the opening to his throat. Just enough to be on the verge of losing control.
And then, “Ah, ah, stop, Lao Wen, I’m…” The hand in his hair is tugging, too, trying to pull Wen Kexing off his cock, but Zhou Zishu should know how stubborn he can be. Wen Kexing just shoves himself forward and takes him deep into his throat. He nearly chokes, makes himself swallow instead around the head of him, and that’s when A’Xu cries out brokenly and salty fluid begins to pump into him.
He takes it all greedily, humming to himself in pleasure. He loves every bit of that moment, from the bitter flavor to the two strong hands gripping his skull to the aching throb of his own neglected cock beneath his heavy robes.
He pulls off finally, gasping for air, lips clumsy and swollen, mouth sticky. Zhou Zishu sways on his feet and Wen Kexing is upright and catching him in his arms an instant later. The look his love turns on him is unfocused: still hazy with orgasm, but there’s a touch of amusement there as well. Wen Kexing grins at him, blood pounding through his whole body, and then ducks to lift the other man bodily into his arms in a bridal carry.
A’Xu squeals in protest, striking out at his shoulder with a poorly directed fist, but he ignores it, sweeping towards the bed and sitting his prize down on the edge. Zhou Zishu nearly falls off immediately because he’s still flailing but catches himself, glaring at him the entire time. Wen Kexing only laughs, pure delight thrumming through him.
“You need to rest,” he says through his smile. “You’re weak.”
A’Xu opens his mouth and then balks, unable to find the words for this moment. Or perhaps overcome with too many things he wants to complain about at once. He’s still entirely nude, scarred and wounded and yet flushed, eyes burning with life. Wen Kexing stands fully clothed and watches him with pride. His A’Xu.
Zhou Zishu opens his mouth again but Wen Kexing hurries to sit next to him and moves in close. He catches A’Xu’s chin in his hand and takes advantage of the moment of surprise to dart in for a kiss. His zhiji only stiffens for an instant before his spine releases and he grabs Wen Kexing’s head and kisses him back.
The taste of A’Xu’s seed is still in his mouth as their tongues intertwine. Something in his chest settles at the enthusiasm of Zhou Zishu’s kiss, the lack of restraint or disgust at the sharp flavor and the evidence of what they’d just done. After a time he presses against A’Xu, slowly moving him back to lay down on the bed, covering him with his own body.
They kiss like that for ages: shrouded by Wen Kexing’s hair and the folds of his red robes. His lips ache with it. They both sport red marks under their jaws and down their necks where they’ve kissed and bitten and sucked.
And then an arm snakes down between their bodies and a warm hand pushes its way under his waistband to grip his neglected cock. He groans loudly, the relief profound after so long a time. Zhou Zishu strokes him roughly, the angle awkward, but it doesn’t take much. Within a very short time he’s panting and whimpering into the skin of his beloved’s throat, shaking on the edge.
“Look at me,” A’Xu says urgently and so he does, lifting up and meeting his intense eyes. He comes like that, panting hot breath against Zhou Zishu’s lips, staring into his eyes. He forces himself not to look away, to keep his eyes open as A’Xu seems to demand, and he succeeds.
It’s perhaps the most intimate moment of his life.
Afterwards he is wrung out, collapsing next to him, barely avoiding falling on his injuries. He lies flat on his back, panting, feeling the mess in his pants cool. He looks over and sees A’Xu watching him, gently, no demands in his face now. It’s strangely comfortable, but Wen Kexing closes his eyes all the same, to let himself recover.
After some time Zhou Zishu’s hand finds his own and interlaces their fingers. Wen Kexing returns the grip and smiles.
“Alright?” asks A’Xu.
“Mmm,” he agrees. “I’m happy.” To his ears the simple words have complicated resonances. He wonders if A’Xu can hear them too. Probably.
The hand in his own squeezes. “So am I,” replies Zhou Zishu. Wen Kexing’s heart contracts as another pulse of happiness passes through him. He’s nearly vibrating on the inside, wanting to do so many things, to reach and hold and touch and kiss and fuck and yet also he’s perfectly content to simply lie here in the growing dark next to his love and hold hands in silence.
“What are you thinking about?” asks Zhou Zishu after a time.
“Thoughts of my lord my fond heart fill…” he replies. He hears A’Xu puff out a breath of amusement.
“Hopefully not ones of anguish,” he says.
“No.” He smiles and then raises their joined hands so he can kiss the back of A’Xu’s hand. “Give me your hand to hold…”
“And we will live together until we’re old?” Zhou Zishu’s voice is soft.
“Mmm,” he agrees.
“If we get that long.” Wen Kexing sighs at the reminder, but then releases that concern. They fall quiet again. Finally he makes himself release Zhou Zishu’s hand and pushes himself up.
“I need to get cleaned up. You should rest.” A’Xu makes a noise of agreement and when he looks down on him he can see the fatigue in his face again. He bends down and places a chaste kiss on his hair. “Sleep.”
“My hair needs to be combed. It’s a mess.”
“I’ll do it for you in the morning.” Unbidden, Wen Kexing’s hand rises to his own hair and just brushes the hairpin holding it in place. He smiles to himself at the sudden idea. “I need to have my own bath. You left me filthy.”
“Complaining?” teases Zhou Zishu.
“Not at all. Now sleep, A’Xu. I’ll be back in a little while.”
Wen Kexing smiles to himself as he strips out of his soiled underclothes and gathers up the dirty laundry to carry from the room. By the time he is heading through the door, he’s fairly sure A’Xu is asleep.
He closes his eyes for a moment in gratitude for his love’s safety and for everything else this day has brought. In the morning he will comb his hair and gift him the hairpin. Then he will kiss him and see if A’Xu will let him disarrange his hair all over again. That would be the perfect morning, he decides, then sets about mentally planning a menu for breakfast. Something to give A’Xu plenty of strength and energy. He will need it.