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gently into morning

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It took three days to make certain neither of them was going to die. It took longer to believe it.

After Wen Kexing had finally stirred awake, after Zhou Zishu had felt the flow of his energy — faint and sluggish but there, meridians intact — Zhou Zishu yelled until he was hoarse. Wen Kexing bore it placidly, lying back with his eyes half-closed and smiling.

“You can go on, if you want,” he said when Zhou Zishu stopped for breath. “Scold and punish me for seven years, then I will scold you for the next seven, and then we’ll have to find something else to do.”

The thought of years took any other words out of his mouth. Zhou Zishu had gotten used to measuring time in thimblefuls. A New Year’s day, a drift of peach blossoms blown off the trees: each one, perhaps, the last he would see. There wasn’t a container in his mind big enough to hold years, decades, centuries.



He explored the mountains, reveling in his full strength. He found them a cave, well away from the armory and anyone who might come back to it. He went to the tiny town below and bought furs, made up a bed in the corner of the cave. There was space for a fire, but they didn’t need it much. The cold was a fierce, protective thing, and they learned to accept it without flinching.

At night they lay close together. Wen Kexing slept heavily the first few weeks, and then for a while it seemed he’d stopped sleeping at all. Some nights he would slip away and leave the cave, and in a while Zhou Zishu would hear distant sobs. Perhaps Wen Kexing thought he was far enough away not to be heard; perhaps he thought Zhou Zishu was still sleeping. When he returned in the pearl-gray morning to tuck his face against Zhou Zishu’s neck, Zhou Zishu would let him think so.

They touched each other often like that, and not at all in other ways. They were both avoiding even the clumsy fumbles and heated kisses that had made up most of their past intimacies. Zhou Zishu could guess at some of Wen Kexing’s reasons for this. His own were less clear to him. It was something about scale, something about the monumentality of this and every step they might take together. All they had was each other and time, and in that large openness every movement carried, like the sound of a stone falling across the mountain.

He was sharply aware of the differences in his own body. His senses had dimmed so gradually, and he’d never wanted to measure the changes, except as he needed to to adjust his fighting style. Now his body had roared back to full life, and it was hard to believe that he’d ever seen so keenly, felt so vividly, even before the first nail entered his chest. And alongside sight and smell and taste came wanting. It burned inside him, flaring up at the smallest provocation or none at all. He’d wanted before — he’d wanted Wen Kexing before — but he hadn’t been hungry like this. It felt unwieldy, unmanageable. It felt like being a person Wen Kexing had never met.

One morning he woke up hard, and half-asleep, he moved against the thigh Wen Kexing had entangled with his. Wen Kexing started away from him, pulling out of his arms and scrambling away, while Zhou Zishu blinked awake. He started to frame a confused apology, Wen Kexing laughed, high and sharp.

“A-Xu! I thought you’d brought your sword to bed.” He laughed again, and avoided Zhou Zishu’s eyes, and after a minute of trying and failing to get his more serious attention, Zhou Zishu gave it up. He grumbled and rolled onto his side, so they could both pretend he was going back to sleep. He lay quiet, heart thudding with worry and still miserably aroused, until Wen Kexing came close again and nestled against his back.



One night Wen Kexing left his side again, and though Zhou Zishu waited and listened, he heard nothing. Perhaps he’d gone farther, this time. He lay still and reminded himself that he must be patient. They both had much to recover from. If Wen Kexing needed to grieve alone, they had space for that, and time.

He dozed fitfully, and woke to bright sunlight and panic. Wen Kexing still wasn’t back, and Zhou Zishu’s fear roared past all the patience he had tried to spread over it.

The fear wasn’t being left alone here: he knew exactly what he would do if that should happen. The fear was believing he was left alone, and finding out too late that he had been wrong. He rose, unable to rest, and began following the tracks Wen Kexing had left in the snow.

The sun was high before he found him, on his knees and staring bleakly at a distant peak. “Lao Wen,” he said, and when the other man did not move, he came to kneel in front of him. Wen Kexing ducked his face away and began scrambling back. Zhou Zishu caught his arm and held tight; Wen Kexing pulled once and then went slack, head bowed.

The futile, hopeless gesture struck Zhou Zishu with horror and he dropped Wen Kexing’s wrist as though it had burned him. But his own desperation was still pounding in his chest, and he whispered, “Please don’t leave me.”

“Don’t look at me,” Wen Kexing whispered back.

Zhou Zishu’s chest was heaving. Wen Kexing was as still as a hunted hare. Slowly, Zhou Zishu made himself turn around, turn his back, give Wen Kexing what he asked for. He couldn’t stop himself from saying again, “Please don’t leave me.”

The sun climbed to the top of its arc while they knelt there, still and silent. It was starting to descend again when Wen Kexing said, “I wish I had more happy memories.”

He understood. There was no wine here, no busy streets and lantern-light. There was so little to hide behind; Zhou Zishu had been living with his own memories too. Mostly of the dying eyes of people he had loved, or killed, or both.

But Zhou Zishu had already spent eighteen months meditating on those faces while he drove nails into his own body. If he avoided them now, it was because he preferred not to dwell on them, not because he couldn’t bear to. And Zhou Zishu had at least had a childhood. There was nothing he could say to Wen Kexing.

Zhou Zishu felt the robes at his back shift as Wen Kexing grasped them, felt Wen Kexing’s forehead come to rest between his shoulders. “A-Xu, couldn’t you have come sooner? Couldn’t you have given me more good memories?”

Ah. There were, after all, still knots of regret he hadn’t yet untangled. Here in the silence and span of years, would he be able to leave any of them untouched?

“Tell me one,” he said, looking for a reprieve.

A pulling at the robes at his back. Wen Kexing’s voice, quiet. “They played a game. They made me run and hide, and then they would see who could be the first to find me.”

Zhou Zishu had meant to ask for one of the good memories, but the words were falling fast from Wen Kexing’s mouth.

“I wouldn’t play along with most of their games, but I ran and hid when they wanted, because they would fight while they looked. They would fight each other and hurt each other to be first to — the prize.”

He kept talking, rapid and harsh, sparing no details. Zhou Zishu concentrated on breathing evenly, on letting the rage pass through him. If he focused and held it, it might ignite the mountaintop, but that was no use to anyone, now.

“I killed them,” said Wen Kexing, half under his breath. “I killed every one of them. Why is it still…” His voice was shaking. The hands at Zhou Zishu’s back trembled. Zhou Zishu wanted desperately to turn around.

“Lao Wen,” he said after a few seconds of silence. “Shidi. Will you come sit closer to me? I won’t look, if you don’t want me to.”

He held his breath, then closed his eyes as Wen Kexing began to move. He could have cried with relief to feel Wen Kexing settle against his chest, heavy and warm, still shaking. Zhou Zishu embraced him and then thought, he might feel trapped. He settled his arms uneasily at his sides, but Wen Kexing grabbed them and pulled them back around himself. Zhou Zishu held him close.

“If I tell you all of them,” Wen Kexing said, “will they leave me alone?”

“I don’t know.”

Wen Kexing sighed, and tipped his head back onto Zhou Zishu’s shoulder. After a minute he began to speak again. He told story after story, cruel and sickening. Sometimes his voice was flat and mechanical, sometimes it quivered. Sometimes it went entirely quiet, but Zhou Zishu could feel his mouth moving silently, picking up with speech again some time later. Their cheeks were nearly touching, and Zhou Zishu knew that some of the wetness that trickled down to his neck was his own, but maybe not all of it. Zhou Zishu held himself quiet, even when he wanted to shout in rage or cry in horror or protest against the harsh words Wen Kexing turned against himself. He held himself quiet, and let Wen Kexing speak until the sky turned violet overhead.

Finally Wen Kexing began to rasp and cough, and then to laugh. “A-Xu, would you believe I could talk so long? Are you even awake? Anyway, I killed them all.” He started coughing again.

“Shhh,” said Zhou Zishu. He reached for a handful of snow, cupped it to make a soft, melting lump, held it to Wen Kexing’s lips. Wen Kexing’s lips were warm against the side of Zhou Zishu’s hand as he let the snowmelt dribble into his mouth. He sighed a little, and Zhou Zishu took another handful of snow.

“I’m tired,” said Wen Kexing, letting his head fall back onto Zhou Zishu’s shoulder after drinking. “Shixiong, carry me home.”



They didn’t talk about it again, but Wen Kexing’s laughter came easier in the next few days, and his silences felt lighter. Once when they were out walking together, he made a dry joke at the sight of a vulture digging out the bones of a young ibex. It was a grim, rather horrible joke; it did also make Zhou Zishu laugh.

He knew he would have to talk about the terror that had driven him out to look for Wen Kexing that day. He waited for a day that felt easy and bright, then waited until Wen Kexing had finished moving through the forms he was practicing to rebuild his strength.

“Lao Wen. Promise me something.”

Wen Kexing flopped to the ground beside him. “My life is yours, my heart is yours, my promises are yours. What is it?”

He’d been flirting more, the last few days. His eyes sparkled up at Zhou Zishu, and Zhou Zishu’s heart stuttered in his chest. He almost let himself be distracted — almost asked for something else entirely — but he got a grip on himself.

“Only this: if we ever leave here, we leave together.”

“You’re the one who’s been down the mountain without me.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

Wen Kexing looked entirely puzzled, and then sat up abruptly. “What are you talking about? Why would we leave?”

“Ye Baiyi did.”

“Ye Baiyi was alone.” He frowned. “A-Xu. Are you unhappy?”

He wanted to be able to say, I am happy. It was almost true. He could see the shape of happiness in front of him, and nothing blocking the way. Still, he wasn’t sure how to step into it.

“Not unhappy. I was afraid. When I woke up and didn’t know where you’d gone, I was afraid.”

“I’d have come back.” Wen Kexing lay back down, and reached for his hand. “Don’t I always come back to you? Even when you didn’t want me to.”

“I always want you to.” He squeezed Wen Kexing’s hand, laced their fingers together. “I always did.”

Wen Kexing brought Zhou Zishu’s hand to his lips. “Then what is there to fear?”

“Nothing but time.” He tried to smile down at him. “When I only had a little time, it didn’t seem hard to throw the rest away.”

“Ah,” said Wen Kexing, kissing his knuckles one by one. “And now you are like a rich man, who thinks every day of the thieves that may steal over his walls.”

Zhou Zishu nodded, then shook his head. “Lao Wen. If it was my time alone, it would still be easy to throw the rest away. Do you understand?”

“I understand.” He gave a little, huffing laugh. “Seems to me I should be asking you to make the promise.”

“I will.” He lay down beside Wen Kexing. “If we ever go, we go together.”

“Good,” said Wen Kexing into his hand. “And we can share another jug of wine at last.”

“Several jugs of wine, at least. And several good meals.”

Wen Kexing closed his eyes. “You’ll make me cook for you, I suppose.” He bit at the soft meat below Zhou Zishu’s thumb.

“Shouldn’t you cook for me?”

Wen Kexing bit harder, then turned to look at him. “Not yet, though,” he said quietly. “Not yet, right?”

Zhou Zishu spread his hand to cup the side of Wen Kexing’s face. “Not yet. I’m still getting used to my riches.”

Wen Kexing rolled up to lean over him, smiling bright and sweet. The white hair brushed against Zhou Zishu’s cheek. “And what will you do, wealthy sir, with all this that is yours?”

Zhou Zishu stroked his hair back, mouth suddenly dry. He wanted so fiercely that it seemed impossible to actually take. Impossible that a want this large could be filled.

Wen Kexing’s smile faltered. That would not do. Zhou Zishu took his face in both hands and drew him down for a kiss.

It felt like a second life. It felt like a first kiss. Wen Kexing’s mouth moved softly over his, and he had not been prepared. He had not been prepared. He’d never kissed Wen Kexing like this, with his senses fully alive, with arousal coursing fire through him. The golden-bright taste of him, the melting softness against his lips. He loved Wen Kexing too deeply to only now be learning what he tasted like. Overwhelmed, he started to shake.

Wen Kexing pulled back with another questioning look.

“It’s different now,” Zhou Zishu tried to explain, his heart pounding in his ears.

“Me?” Wen Kexing asked.

He shook his head. “Me. I can feel… so much more.”

“Ah,” said Wen Kexing, settling back on his side. “It’s good?”

“It’s good.”

Wen Kexing closed his eyes and took hold of Zhou Zishu’s hand again, kissing the fingers, running the fingertips against the soft inside of his lip. Zhou Zishu kept perfectly still, desperately wanting more, hardly able to bear even this much.

"A-Xu," Wen Kexing said, looking into his eyes, "do you—"

They both froze, listening. The sound was quiet but unmistakable: footsteps outside, coming up the mountain.

Wen Kexing released his hand and sat up. “Has it started already?” he said with false lightness. “I thought we might get a few decades’ peace before being disturbed by seekers. We will have to cultivate a reputation of being terrifying and capricious, or they’ll be here at all hours.”

“We are terrifying and capricious,” said Zhou Zishu. He found his sword, without looking like he was overly concerned about it. How far had Wen Kexing recovered? A quarter of his strength? A third? He should have been paying more attention.

“It doesn't matter what you are, only what they believe you'll do.” They were both on their feet now. They exchanged a glance, and stepped together to the mouth of the cave.

“Shifu! Shishu!” They barely had time to register Chengling’s face before he was a grey blur, racing up the path to stand in front of them. “You're here! You're both here! We were looking and looking and they said in the town a man, and I didn't know if..." He trailed off, looking wide-eyed at Wen Kexing. "You really did it!”

“Of course I did. Didn’t you have any faith in me?”

“I did, I just —” Chengling’s face trembled a little, and then he dove between them, wrapping an arm around each of them and burying his face in their shoulders.

Zhou Zishu started to stir after a minute, and Wen Kexing slapped the back of his hand and squeezed them both tighter.

“This child,” said Wen Kexing, smiling over Chengling’s head. “I hope you didn’t travel this whole way by yourself.”

“No,” said Chengling, muffled. “Qiye and Da Wu have been with me. They’re in the town below."

"Are you hungry?" Zhou Zishu asked. "We can find some food." It might be difficult; the mountain hares were few, and wary.

"I brought some!" said Chengling, pulling back and looking at them brightly. “I knew you wouldn't have any.”

They built a fire and settled around it. It was suddenly all very familiar: a cave, a fire, the three of them. It felt like home. Wen Kexing sparkled and teased, and Chengling sat on the earth and ate dry bread and looked like he’d never been happier.

He told them about his travels with Qiye and Da Wu. They told him about what they’d found in the armory. He kept looking between them, beaming. He looked longer at Wen Kexing.

“Alright, bold child, if you’re going to stare then you can tell me how it looks,” Wen Kexing said at last, smoothing his own hair back. “A-Xu won’t say a thing about it.”

“Did you ask?” Zhou Zishu retorted.

“Hush. I’m asking my child. Is it a shocking change?”

“I think it looks nice,” said Chengling. “It’s very striking. It suits you.”

Wen Kexing looked so inordinately pleased that Zhou Zishu laughed.

“Lao Wen, so vain, even on a lonely mountaintop.”

“Is the flower vain that blooms on a remote peak?”

“No flower talks as much nonsense as you.”

They were smiling at each other. Chengling was smiling too, and for some reason a little teary-eyed.

“Here,” said Zhou Zishu, “are you sure you have enough food? Or should we send this one off to try and catch you something?”

“I have plenty,” said Chengling. “I’d rather sit and talk with you both as long as I can.”

“It’s getting dark,” said Wen Kexing. “Can you stay the night, or will we have those two rushing up the mountain to look for you?”

“I can stay. We were pretty sure of finding one of you, at least. I promised to be back tomorrow by sundown.”

“Then tomorrow you can show me how you’ve progressed,” said Zhou Zishu. Chengling, good boy, nodded eagerly.

In a moment of quiet, a certain hollow look came over Wen Kexing's face as he stared into the fire. It was a look Zhou Zishu had come to know. He let his hand rest against Wen Kexing's side, there if he wanted it.

Across the fire, Chengling saw it too. He said, “I go to her grave as often as I can. I make offerings for both of them.”

Wen Kexing looked up, eyes filling.

“Xiao Lian jie goes sometimes too. She says she was a nice girl.”

“Hah. She wasn't.” He was half-smiling, tears quivering in his eyes. He took Zhou Zishu's hand and squeezed it, painfully hard. “Tell her… tell her…”

“I'll tell her all about you."

Wen Kexing nodded, and squeezed Zhou Zishu’s hand until he thought the bones might snap. He didn’t protest. Bones would mend.



They pulled a few of the furs from their bed for Chengling to sleep on. Lying together in the dark, hearing the boy’s breathing a few feet away, it felt like something fitting softly into place. The nights flowed in a continuous stream: a barn smelling of dirt and blood; another cave, with the sound of rain; the grace and quiet of Four Seasons Manor. And now here. The same road, after all, and he knew how to walk it.

They were lying decently side by side, for Chengling’s sake, but his fingers found Wen Kexing’s, and they curled together in the dark.



Zhou Zishu didn’t go easy on Chengling in the morning’s training. He watched him demonstrate what he’d learned, and then corrected his moves and made him repeat them until Chengling’s back was wet with sweat despite the cold.

“A-Xu! Have pity on the boy. Are you trying to fit a whole month of training into one day?”

“I wish I could. I’ve only just corrected that form, and who knows if it will be sloppy again by the next time we meet?”

“I’ll remember, shifu,” said Chengling, breathing hard.

“Well, do it ten more times to be sure.”

“You’ll wear him out,” Wen Kexing protested. “He still has to walk down the mountain.”

Zhou Zishu shook his head, but after ten solid repetitions he told Chengling it was enough. “You’ve progressed,” he said. “Keep it up.”

“I will,” said Chengling, beaming. Strange, good, brilliant boy. Zhou Zishu’s eyes clouded a little, looking at him, and he blinked fast to clear them.

It was hard to think of sending him on his way again so soon. “I wish I could send a pigeon here, to carry letters,” said Chengling a little hopefully.

“Any pigeon up here would be eaten by hawks,” said Wen Kexing, and then turned thoughtful. “Perhaps I can train a hawk.”

They walked with Chengling until the snow began to thin on the slopes. When he turned and looked at them, his lips were trembling.

“Can I come back and see you?”

“Of course.” Zhou Zishu had to clench his jaw to keep his own face steady. “But you must keep up with your training, and other obligations.”

Chengling nodded. “I will. And… can you ever come down the mountain? Do you have to stay here all the time?”

They exchanged a glance. “After your shishu is fully recovered we can come down for a little while, now and then.”

“In a month or so,” said Wen Kexing.

“A few months,” Zhou Zishu said, shooting him a stern look. He foresaw some quarrels about this in the weeks ahead.

“That’s not so long,” said Chengling, with such obvious forced bravery that Zhou Zishu pulled him into a hug to hide his own tears. Wen Kexing didn’t bother trying; he sniffled into Chengling’s hair and patted his cheek, and Zhou Zishu had to hold his arm and half-pull Chengling away before all three of them turned into a weeping mess. With admonitions to be good, and promises to see each other again soon, they sent him down the mountain.

They leaned on each other for a while, hands clasped, watching where he’d gone. Wen Kexing was still sniffling lightly. “A-Xu,” he said softly. His eyes were shining with sorrow and joy and pride and unfathomable loss. Wen Kexing was always beautiful, but when he showed himself like this, when he let Zhou Zishu see him like this, it took his breath away.

Wen Kexing’s lips parted — he drew breath to speak — then his mouth twisted in a flash of a grin. “Race you home,” he said, and took off.

Zhou Zishu stared after him for a minute, and then scrambled to catch up. He started to gain and then Wen Kexing leapt into the air, gliding up the mountain. Zhou Zishu wanted to scold him for spending his energy so frivolously, but to do that he’d have to catch up, so he flew up after him. Wen Kexing threw a dazzling smile over his shoulder, and maybe it wasn’t so frivolous after all. He touched down at the mouth of the cave as Wen Kexing was turning, laughing, and they slammed together into the rock wall.

Wen Kexing’s mouth found his and then they were gasping together, pressed so close he could feel the other heart hammering. He couldn’t catch his breath and he couldn’t stop kissing Wen Kexing, kissing his jaw, kissing his neck. Hands fumbled at his belt, warm hands slid around his sides, pulling at his hips. He was achingly hard, pressed against Wen Kexing’s outer robe, the friction driving him out of his mind.

We should take our time, he thought, we have so much time, but his hand searched urgently for the opening of Wen Kexing’s robes. He was burning, burning, and then Wen Kexing’s sharp moan undid him completely. He pressed their lengths together, stroked them together, fast and desperate. Wen Kexing was keening into his mouth, hands frenzied and clutching. Release hit him so hard and fast he couldn’t feel the ground under his feet. He was spinning — earth and sky changed places — and when he came back to himself Wen Kexing was holding him up by the arms, guiding him slowly to the ground, laughing, laughing.

“A-Xu,” said Wen Kexing, leaning over him, still laughing. “I’ve never seen you look like that before.”

Zhou Zishu tried to blink the stars out of his eyes. “It’s never felt like that before.”

Wen Kexing kissed both his cheeks, then his forehead. “So you’ll be satisfied, here with me.” There was a bright spark in his eyes, an afterimage of doubt.

“Lao Wen,” he breathed, taking Wen Kexing’s face in both his hands. No words were enough to say what he felt — my heart, my life, my beauty — but he let it fill his gaze. Wen Kexing’s lips parted on a strange, almost pained little breath. Zhou Zishu drew him down and kissed him deep.

They lay that way for a long time, kissing luxuriantly, twined together. Some time later — minutes or hours or days, it hardly mattered — they both started to grow hard again, kisses turning more heated.

“How do you want me?” Wen Kexing said softly, rolling his hips up with devastating slowness. Zhou Zishu searched his face quickly, but found only pleasure and want.

“Every way,” he said. “Every way I can have you.”

Wen Kexing laughed. “My A-Xu, so greedy and impractical. How do you want me now?”

Zhou Zishu dropped his head to Wen Kexing’s chest, mouthed along his collarbone. “I want to ride you,” he said at last. “I want to feel you everywhere I can.”

“Alright,” Wen Kexing whispered, and watched, bright-eyed and still, while Zhou Zishu prepared himself and then sank down around him slowly. He wanted the burning as much as the pleasure; there had hardly been any of either, last time. It was so good, to hurt in a way he chose, the sharpness of it saying unmistakably: alive. Alive. Here. With you.

Wen Kexing’s fingertips traced his forehead and cheek. “A-Xu.” Zhou Zishu wondered what his own face was doing, to make Wen Kexing look at him like that. He kissed the thumb as it traced over his lips, then made them both gasp as he sank all the way down. “A-Xu, A-Xu.” Wen Kexing pulled him close and kissed him, wild and sweet, hips rolling up to move inside him. Their ribs moved together as they breathed; Zhou Zishu imagined sinking through the skin, their bones interlacing.

“A-Xu,” Wen Kexing whispered against his lips, “can we stay like this forever?”

“Yes.” He kissed Wen Kexing’s cheeks, kissed the corners of his eyes, tasted salt there. He’d always supposed it was because he was dying that Wen Kexing cried, but neither of them was dying now.

“Lao Wen,” he said, pulling back a little to look at him. Wen Kexing turned his face into Zhou Zishu’s hand, smiling even while he smeared tears across the palm.

“Don’t stop,” he said into the heel of Zhou Zishu’s hand. “Kiss me. Don’t stop.”

Zhou Zishu kissed him, swallowing his gasps and cries as they moved together. They went slow until they couldn’t anymore, and then Wen Kexing reached between them and took him in hand and he was coming, overwhelming, unstoppable.

It went on a long time, waves crashing over him while he shook in Wen Kexing’s arms. He thought he might shake apart, if not for the solid warmth all around him. His forehead was resting on Wen Kexing’s collarbone; Wen Kexing’s lips were in his hair.

“I’m not used to that,” he said when he could speak.

“I could get used to it.”

They both laughed, giddy and soft. Get used to it rang amazed and joyful in his head.

After a little while they rolled onto their sides and lay looking at each other. The evening light was gold, and it made Wen Kexing’s hair shine. Zhou Zishu ran a few strands through his fingers.

“I like it,” he said quietly. “I never said.”

“You didn’t. You let me think I’d become hideous to you.”

“You didn’t really think that.”

Wen Kexing smiled. “No? You said yourself, I'm terribly vain.”

Zhou Zishu leaned over to kiss his cheek, the point of his jaw. With his lips close to Wen Kexing’s ear, he said, “To my eyes, you could not be anything less than perfect.”

He pulled back in time to catch Wen Kexing’s stunned expression, and kissed him again.

Eventually Wen Kexing bullied him up to deal with the stickiness. It was almost pleasant, to wash in icy water with the promise of tumbling back into bed immediately afterward. They draped on their inner robes but didn’t bother to tie them, and lay back down, skin against skin. Zhou Zishu was filled with drowsy satisfaction, enjoying the prickling of cold where they didn’t touch, and the warmth where they did. Alive. Here. With you.

Wen Kexing moved a little, restlessly, tucking his face deeper into the hollow of Zhou Zishu’s neck. His fingers found Zhou Zishu’s lips, tracing along them lightly. Zhou Zishu felt sleep tugging at him, but he was just as happy to lie here, stroking Wen Kexing’s hair, dropping snowflake kisses on his fingertips.

“A-Xu. How many nights will it take, before I stop being afraid I’ll wake up and find this was a dream?”

Oh. He pulled his arms tight around Wen Kexing, kissed his forehead. “I’m here.” Then, “I don’t know how many. We can count them together.”

“Mm,” said Wen Kexing, and sighed. “Say it again.”

“I’m here.”

He felt Wen Kexing smile into his neck. “Good.”