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Hands Fit For Holding

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By the time he gets A’Xu to an inn, his forehead is damp with sweat and he’s only still walking because Wen Kexing is holding him upright and moving them both forwards. The inn steward frowns suspiciously at them; it’s the middle of the afternoon, and an early hour to be apparently drunk to the point of incoherence.

“I need a room with a large bed,” he says, flattening out the innkeeper’s frown by placing a whole tael of silver on the counter. “My...partner is unwell and needs to rest.” He bites down xinshangren and zhiji both; he won’t share more of himself than he has to. No one deserves to know who Zhou Zishu is, what Zhou Zishu is to him. The way the innkeeper looks at him, he suspects he hasn’t succeeded, but there’s no point in dwelling on that when A’Xu is burning up and incoherent. He was lucid for just long enough to tell Wen Kexing, in too much obvious pain for embarrassment, exactly what he’d been poisoned with. Wen Kexing did not ask how he knews.

It’s only when the door is closed behind them and A’Xu is laid on the bed—restless and  twitching after Wen Kexing when he rose to close the screen doors—that Wen Kexing kneels next to him on the floor and presses his eyes against his palms, shutting out the sight of A’Xu lying there even if he cannot shut out the rasping sound of his breaths. So. Fatal if untreated. He knows, of course, what he will do. Knows what kind of creature he is. It will not be enough, just to know that A’Xu is alive in the world; how could that possibly be enough? He’s always been selfish.

He has never made any real effort to contain his desire, did not even consider suppressing the impulse to stick close to A’Xu and chase after him in the hope that he’d turn around, look back, allow Wen Kexing to see more of him. There would have been no point. He is not a good liar, so the truth became part of the mask. Underneath, where people have a heart inside their core, he has an emptiness that screams, a cliff edge with hellfire at the foot. It shouldn’t surprise him that a ghost with only this thing that burns inside him would only ever hurt A’Xu, in the end; it shouldn’t surprise him that that knowledge isn’t enough to keep him away. Hasn’t he already hurt A’Xu with his selfishness? Hasn’t he already ruined what little time they’ve had with his demands?

No more of that, now: he must attend the present, not lose himself in the past or future. He opens his eyes and methodically strips off his boots and socks, unties his belt, and shrugs off his outer robe. There is a longing in him to press kisses across A’Xu’s face, to lick into his mouth and taste him there, but he won’t. He won’t take more than he has to. A’Xu has not offered him this—yet, he sometimes thinks or hopes, but even to hear zhiji from A’Xu’s lips hit him like a physical blow—and perhaps now never will. Likely never will, after this has passed between them. A’Xu might hate him after this, and he’d be within his rights to: Wen Kexing has hated and does hate people for much the same. Has gutted people for taking what he would never have offered freely, and has held their eyes to watch their horror and pain and fear before they turn glassy and empty in death.

A’Xu is blinking at him, eyes glazed and mouth moving soundlessly. He needs to begin. First he’ll need some oil: he’d go down to the kitchens to procure some but won’t leave A’Xu alone, so instead he rummages through their belongings looking for something that will do. A’Xu has a pouch full of medicines, mostly pills, but also a jar of some sort of salve. Wen Kexing opens the jar, smells it carefully, and then applies a tiny portion to the inside of his nose, waiting to see if it irritates. It’s a yellowish grease, probably beeswax and yarrow and some neutral oil; it’ll do.

So. He removes A’Xu’s boots and socks, too—he has beautiful ankles, of course, and small feet—and is undoing his belt when he realises he must decide how to do this. He’s aware some joining is necessary, skin to skin at the meeting of governing and conception vessels, but that does not suggest a way around. Would it be easier to climb on top? He won’t do A’Xu the indignity of undressing him completely, having him come back to himself stripped naked, so he undoes the belt and shoves up A’Xu’s robes around his waist, then tugs off his under-trousers. His cock is hard and leaking, an angry dark red, and Wen Kexing’s breath stops as A’Xu’s hips jerk and he moans at the drag of fabric. He has a sudden, vivid image of A’Xu lying on his back, Wen Kexing slowly sinking down onto him, feeling steadying hands on his hips as A’Xu looks up at him and says, “Lao Wen, Lao Wen,” just as breathless as he is now. It makes his eyes and throat burn. Immediately, there’s a much worse image: nearly the same, but instead of A’Xu’s gaze holding him, he’s blank-faced, eyes closed, eyelids flickering a little in pain as Wen Kexing seats himself. It’s more dreadful than anything his dreams could conjure up.

It shouldn't be a problem to go through with it regardless, but it would be. There's some part of him that knows he can't, not like this and not right now. Well, can't—he would, of course, if there were no other choice. He has gritted his teeth and forced his recalcitrant flesh through enough torments to know that the edge of can't is very, very far out, even in the depths of pain and injury: there is only whether you can bear to drag your screaming body along the ground, how much it will cost you to bloody your own tongue and stay quiet, or to scream until your throat is raw and your guts empty even of bile. Past the edge of human limits, where one becomes a ghost, it makes little difference.

He could do it, if it were just his own pain he were swallowing. He’s better placed to make this less uncomfortable if he is inside A’Xu, he thinks, and wonders if this is selfishness again. He knows what it is to be so invaded. But, no: the precise placement of flesh on flesh is not what crawls in and rots inside you, and traitorous response of the body can be worse than anticipated pain. So. Logistics: whether A’Xu will be easy to move, if he can hold A’Xu’s legs against his chest if he—if he resists somehow, if Wen Kexing can bear to look down at his face while he’s in pain, perhaps, although the toxin should prevent that if Wen Kexing is careful—but no, surely there’s an easier way. On his front? But people suffocate so easily, and if he were to come back to lucidity with Wen Kexing on top of him, face mashed into a pillow of Wen Kexing’s robes—not that, either.

The choice is obvious when it comes to him: he turns A’Xu safely on his side and settles behind him, pressing a slicked finger inside. A’Xu is unexpectedly tight; has he never…? Wen Kexing’s jaw clicks painfully, but he must continue, so he does, carefully observing A’Xu’s reactions for evidence of pain. He knows what those will look like, but there aren’t any, just sounds and uncontrolled movements that seem to be pressing back against his fingers. A’Xu is so, so hot inside. Wen Kexing can count the vertebrae of his lower back, could follow the curve of his iliac crest with his free hand if he dared to. If he were given permission to. Instead he settles closer until his face is pressed into the nape of A’Xu’s neck, and tries to tell himself it’s necessary to be this close. He knows qi circulating techniques to ready a man if the flesh will not cooperate, but will not need them. The smell of A’Xu’s hair and sweat-damp skin in his nose, and the heat and pressure around his fingers are more than enough. Any shame is washed away in relief that his body cooperates as he has trained it to, every part of him leveraged to his own ends, and never again anyone else’s. He will never again give anyone who has not earned them so much as a brush of his robes.

He presses inside, and has to close his eyes again against the rush of sensation, against the screaming thing inside him that wishes, senseless and desperate, for A’Xu to say something, to encourage him on, for this to be anything except what it is. He can tell by the sounds that A’Xu is getting close, quickly, and by now he sounds almost pained, hand wrapped vicelike around Wen Kexing’s wrist where he placed it on A’Xu’s hip to hold him in place. It hurts, but distantly, a bone-deep ache, a counterpoint to his unsettled stomach. A’Xu’s orgasm hits quickly, his body squeezing around Wen Kexing’s cock and thrashing so wildly that Wen Kexing has to hold him more firmly, relieved not to see his face. It feels a little like he’s fighting him, though not the kind of fights they’ve had; it feels like holding someone’s throat in his hands when he doesn’t know their name, like a hand on the back of his head pressing him down—

“H...huh? What?” A’Xu says, slurred and far away. “Wha—uh, Lao Wen?”

He has to force his jaw open consciously. “It’s me,” he says. “You know me that well without seeing my face?”

A’Xu shifts, and shudders. “Your—hands,” he says. “I. The poison? I think?”

Wen Kexing nods, and then remembers he has to speak. “Yes. It isn’t quite done, I think.”

“I can…” He moves his hips, takes a sharp inhale. “I can. Feel, yeah.” A pause. “Are you shaking?”

“No,” says Wen Kexing, but his voice shakes and makes him a liar. He hadn’t known he was lying. “I—” He really is shaking now, his body trying to curl in on itself in a way he can observe and decide not to act upon, but the shaking can’t be stopped. He remembers that much.

A’Xu moves off him, and that’s—no, if they’re going to have to do this then at least let it be done—but then he turns over, Wen Kexing’s wrist still in his hand, and Wen Kexing can’t look at his face, can’t stop his body from curling in, around his own insides: the earliest reflex a martial artist is trained out of. There’s a hand on his wrist, less tight now; there’s a hand on his thigh (there isn’t), wrenching it back and open, ragged nails digging into his skin but never quite breaking it (he isn’t moving), and he can’t move. Can’t speak.

“Lao Wen,” comes a voice. “Lao Wen, what is it?”

There isn’t an answer to that question; there’s a hand on his wrist, a thumb rubbing smooth circles against his pulse point, a hand on his thigh raking, a hand in his hair pressing his head down, a hand on his shoulder gently shaking, and that hand moves to his neck, and there’s a ringing in his ears like the aftermath of a scream,and then nothing at all. There are no hands on him, but he can feel everywhere they’ve been.

“Please,” he hears, and it’s A’Xu’s voice.

Wen Kexing opens his eyes. A’Xu’s face is there, a foot away, flushed and sweaty still, but at least lucid and present, alive and looking at him. A'Xu's hand hovers above his left shoulder but does not touch. Wen Kexing lets out a breath that comes out as a sob. “I. You’re… all right?”

A'Xu tilts his head in a tense gesture that isn't quite a nod. He takes away his hand. There's a thin layer of cold air between them at every place they're nearly touching. “I’ve been worse.”

Wen Kexing can’t hold his gaze. He wants to bury his head in A’Xu’s shoulder; he wants not to be touched at all. “What a coincidence. I’ve also been worse.” He swallows and bites his own lip, hard. Not hard enough to draw blood, just hard enough to feel something in his body again. “We need to.”

A’Xu takes an audible breath. Ragged. Then another. He opens his mouth. “Can I touch you?”

No. “Yes.”

A’Xu’s eyes don't move from Wen Kexing's face. "Where?"

There isn’t an answer to that question, either. “I—don’t know.” Another pause. He has to try. “Ask me?”

A flicker of tongue wets cracked lips. “Can I kiss you?”

Wen Kexing freezes, not breathing. Looks away. Looks back up. A’Xu’s gaze is steady, unreadable. “You want to?” He doesn’t like how his voice sounds, childlike and bewildered.

A quiet huff. “Yes. Unless you don’t want to.”

He remembers wanting to. Remembers feeling sick with rage and fear that he couldn’t. “Then, yes,” he says.

A’Xu’s lips are soft, a gentle press. Wen Kexing doesn’t know how hard that is, how much effort it takes to hold back the poison, but A’Xu is. He pulls back, quite far, and slowly lifts his hand between them. Then he cups Wen Kexing's jaw, lets it rest there for a few long heartbeats before he leans in for another kiss. Wen Kexing expects this one to be fiercer, to go somewhere—surely they're running out of time, surely this one gesture is all he ought to need, to know that A'Xu is all right and is at least willing to get on with it—but it doesn't. He can hear A'Xu's slow measured breathing in time with air brushing his face, and A'Xu's thumb moves across his cheekbone in a matching rhythm.

"Here," he says, moving to take Wen Kexing's hand and placing it against his neck where his pulse beats, wiry and taught. Not a healthy pulse, but that’s expected under the circumstances. It's slow, though, and steady. Wen Kexing can feel his own breath moving again. The hand on his face moves to pull blankets over them. "Lao Wen," A’Xu asks. "Are you here?"

Wen Kexing allows himself one long blink, one moment of blackness and not-being. "I'm here," he says.

A'Xu smiles, a small flickered version of the real ones that Wen Kexing can hardly look at. "Good. If I'd woken up in a brothel I'd have thrown you in a lake."

It startles a laugh out of him that wants to turn shaky and wet; he cuts it off before it can. Easy to say now, perhaps. But still, still. Perhaps A'Xu will forgive him eventually, when the poison has run its course, if he hasn't used up all of A'Xu's forgiveness with his own desperate selfishness.

A'Xu's hand threads through his own, squeezing in a rhythm. Rivulets of sweat run down his face, and his palm is clammy. It would be so much easier not to be here, to retreat back to that place where he's a ghost possessing his own body, piloting without sensation or emotion. Or that distant place where there isn’t anyone in his body at all. It's a current as strong as the Yellow River that tries to pull him out to sea, but he holds A'Xu's hand and squeezes back. Wen Kexing isn't sure if it's even better to do it this way, isn't sure it wouldn't be better to allow the river to wash him into oblivion until it's over, but A'Xu wants him here. A presence, not just a body.

Strange. He knows he's beautiful, and it's usually that that people want from him, although he doesn't often give anyone what they want. A'Xu's other hand reaches, slowly, for his, draws it to his lips and kisses the knuckles. Wek Kexing twitches, expecting a tickling brush, and receives warm pressure in answer.

"How do you want to do this?" A'Xu asks. His pupils are huge and take up most of his eyes, making them look black.

There isn't an answer to that question, and then, after a few breaths in sync, there is. He knows he can't speak it and doesn't try, has only ever thought about it with awful memory or nauseated arousal. He would like to hold at least one memory of this that is full of something else, like the relief of A’Xu’s recovery. Perhaps he will even get to see something like pleasure on A’Xu’s face, and it’s that that sets his mind.

He hooks his right leg over A'Xu's hip and rolls them over, until A'Xu is looking down at him, looking openly awestruck. "Like this?"  Wen Kexing manages a nod. He shifts his left leg so A'Xu is between his thighs, his weight firm and real. Wen Kexing isn’t hard anymore, but A’Xu does not mention it as he takes up the jar of salve. Instead he catches Wen Kexing’s gaze and says, “It’s fine if you want to do this part.”

“No,” blurts Wen Kexing. “No.” He could choke down the words if he had to, but he doesn’t have to. “I don’t want to.” It feels like some kind of purging to say it. Not swallowing down his nausea, but spitting it out.

“It’s okay,” A’Xu says, opening the jar then placing one hand back on Wen Kexing’s hip, a firm grasp but without pain. “It’s okay that you don’t want to.” His hands are so hot, far too hot, and the flush makes its way all the way down between the folds of his robes. How is he so steady and calm? He should be desperate, should be holding Wen Kexing down to take whatever he needs—

Wen Kexing’s hand is moved to A’Xu’s shoulder. “Stay,” A’Xu says. “Hold on as hard as you like.” It’s easy to forget that A’Xu was a commander, but not for very long; there are cadences in his voice that wrap around you and steady you, that give orders you want to obey.

Wen Kexing nods, and wraps his other hand around A’Xu’s wrist, the one that weighs down his hip. He squeezes both his hands and meets firm resistance; it’s enough that he can part his thighs further in invitation. He flinches when greased fingers touch him, but A'Xu holds his gaze, steady against the sudden clench of Wen Kexing's hands. He wants to look away, and never wants to look away again. 

A'Xu's fingers stroke him, not even inside yet but he keeps flinching, small twitches of muscle now that hitch his breath. A'Xu doesn't hesitate or seem to react at all, just moves slow and steady; he bends to press a kiss to the centre of Wen Kexing's chest as he presses one finger inside, not breaking eye contact, and all of Wen Kexing's flinches slide together in a long shudder. A'Xu still doesn't even pause, or go faster or slower, as if he knows Wen Kexing couldn't bear that. The rhythm of his movement feels as essential as the weighted hand on his hip, as the tight thrum of his own pulse.

There's a second finger inside him, and Wen Kexing's own nails dig in to A'Xu's skin hard for a few long breaths before his body registers the lack of pain. His legs want to kick a little, restless muscles jumping, unsure what to do without the pain to brace against. The underlying sensations are—strange, and strangely unfamiliar, and then A'Xu's expression turns introspective and concentrating, and it changes again. It changes and is so much that his leg does kick, heel thumping on the bed.

"Is it all right?" A'Xu rasps, sounding far less calm than he looks from the controlled way he's moving. Wen Kexing's hips jerk, a pointless movement; he's not trying to shake A'Xu off and he's not trying to press harder against him, he just can't stay still.

He opens his mouth to attempt some answer, and a sound he's never heard falls out of it. "Ah, Ah," he seems to be saying in little gasps, and his hands are clenching in rhythm, less a flinch now than a grounding. “It’s,” he tries, even though he has no real answer, because A’Xu is still holding his gaze. “It’s good,” he finds himself saying, and only then does the searing of his nerves resolve into pleasure.

A’Xu makes a bitten-off sound, and his the muscles of his shoulders flex. Wen Kexing tugs at his wrist. “Come on,” he says.

A’Xu nods and gently removes his fingers, wiping them on his robes. Then he lines himself up and presses in agonisingly slowly, both hands now bracing Wen Kexing’s hips, and there isn’t space in Wen Kexing’s body to breathe. It aches a little, like the deep stretch of a tense muscle, but then A’Xu’s hips meet his and A’Xu seems to lose himself for a moment, eyes flickering shut as his head tips back. He lets out a long, desperate groan, as though Wen Kexing’s body is a desert oasis instead of—instead of whatever it is. When A’Xu opens his eyes again, he takes both of Wen Kexing’s hands in his own, interlocking their fingers, and it feels like Wen Kexing’s body is A’Xu’s.

Better that it is. If his body belongs to A’Xu, then it won't be used to hurt him. His own hands are a place tools break; A'Xu has learned to use people gently.

He moves, with the patience somehow to move slow and deep, and Wen Kexing is unmade. He can't look away from A'Xu's gaze, more open than he's ever seen it, and not open like a box of secrets: open like a still, empty lake; open like a bedroom door. Wen Kexing makes space inside his body for A'Xu when he's never made space in his body for anyone, and A'Xu makes space for Wen Kexing here, in his hands and in his sight. Wen Kexing's body responds in ways he did not know it could: his still-restless legs find their purpose at last and lift to coil around A'Xu's waist. His ankles cross and his heels dig in, holding, squeezing with his thighs when the muscles want to shake, which is whenever A'Xu lands a firm, deep thrust. His breath comes out shuddering, but every part of him that holds onto A'Xu is steady.

Unexpected pleasure is harder to hold back, Wen Kexing finds, than any kind of pain. Or maybe he's just lacking in practice. It's not as if he hasn't pursued pleasure wherever he could find it, but that pleasure was always stolen and never gifted. He has no idea how it can be like this, how A'Xu can stroke his thumbs along the sides of Wen Kexing's hands where their hands are laced together, how he can lean down for a kiss that feels like a brand even where it's soft and patient. Wen Kexing has never done anything but thrown himself at pleasure, but this feels like it could break him open, empty him out entirely and leave everything about him bare. There isn't anything to be done. He'll make that trade, to hold A'Xu here, keep him inside: and suddenly his grasping hands and twining legs make sense to him, the world lurching sideways and clicking into place. He wants this, wants it now, wants it again, wants it forever.

Their hands are pressed against the bed: A'Xu lifts their joined left and right hand to his, drops a kiss on Wen Kexing's wrist, and places the hand on his shoulder. He's panting now, but his rhythm doesn't falter and he catches Wen Kexing's eyes again with a smile playing at the corner of his wet mouth. Wen Kexing wants to—wants to everything. Has forgotten all the things he's used to wanting. A'Xu trails his free hand down Wen Kexing's chest and stomach, a firm smooth stroke that leads, unexpected somehow, to wrapping around his cock. It isn't much more, really, than just A'Xu inside him, but it is different, more urgent, and it makes him dig his nails into A'Xu's back and say, "Yes."

A'Xu pitches forward onto his elbow then, face suddenly wild with something for the moment that Wen Kexing can see it before he buries his face in Wen Kexing's neck, moaning into his skin and coming, rhythm finally, finally faltering; it doesn't matter, because Wen Kexing's hips move in their own new rhythm, fucking up into A'Xu's hand only once or twice before he too succumbs.

Surely A'Xu's exhausted weight on him should be uncomfortable, but it's the opposite: the warmth of him is everything Wen Kexing needs, the press of his chest as he inhales, the kiss of air against Wen Kexing's neck as he exhales, and the slight rub of his damp skin.

"The poison?" he asks eventually, because he would do it again if he had to, would not even have to brace himself for it, now he knows how it can be. He'd just prefer to lie here a little longer. His arms are unwilling to move from where they're threaded around A'Xu's neck.

"It's…finished," A'Xu says, neutrally. Too neutral. He tries to move, which is not at all what that was supposed to do, and Wen Kexing tugs at his arm to try and stop him. "Lao Wen, I'm not going anywhere, it's just hard to talk with my face—anyway." He shuffles but doesn't go far, turning on his side; in a display of incredible forbearance and magnanimity, Wen Kexing allows this. "I just want to see your face. How are you?"

What an awful question to be asked.  "I don't know," he says eventually: A'Xu's eyes on him are too close. Those eyes flicker a little at his answer. "I was worried you were going to die, then worried you'd never look at me again after I cured you, and then—" He doesn't know how to explain the next part, but at least something in him has eased, some terrible empty hunger he had not even noticed has been filled by A'Xu pressing close, not pulling away even now, bare legs still tangled with his. Their left and right hand are still laced together, as they should be. He squeezes his hand. "But you're still here."

A'Xu's face is—for a moment, he'd call it terrified. But it smooths out, and he squeezes back. "I'm still here," he agrees.

"You had better be," Wen Kexing says and then, feeling bold, inches forward for a kiss, pausing just before their lips touch in a question, reeling with delight when A’Xu closes the last inch. It's a little different without the taste of desperation. He'd been so soft despite it, careful, and now he's a little sloppy with tiredness, the kiss wet and inelegant. Wen Kexing wants to know what it's like to take A'Xu inside when he's not holding back, however—however grateful he might be that he had. One of the many twisted parts of him knows he could in some way like it anyway, if A'Xu held him down and forced his thighs apart. It makes him feel a little sick, and it makes arousal curl in his belly.

Perhaps he wouldn't have been able to bear A'Xu's kisses after that, and the thought is so awful that he makes a desperate noise and tugs A'Xu towards him again, so they're touching everywhere.

"Will we do this again?" he hears himself say, and that's it after all. "A'Xu, you made this poor philanthropist wait so long, how cruel you've been to me."

A'Xu snorts. "I'm not naive enough to think I can keep your hands off me now."

The flinch takes him by such awful surprise that he can't hold even a bit of it back, nor the wounded noise he makes.

“Is that really what you think of me?” He feels himself laugh, joylessly. “I didn’t have to do this, you know; maybe I should have tossed you through the brothel doors with three taels of silver.”

“I don’t want your pity!” A’Xu says between gritted teeth. They've had this argument before. Wen Kexing could not bear to meet his eyes, last time, to see the terrible expression there. Anger, fear, bitterness, and the faintest traces of what could be a thousand other things, or could be just a ripple in the lake.

Wen Kexing is not drunk, this time. "You don't have it," he snaps. "But if you'd really rather have died than touch me, then it doesn't matter either way, because you're going to die anyway and—" A taut silence. A’Xu breathes hard. Their hands are still laced together despite everything, and his fingers have A'Xu's in a death grip. “I don’t want to let you go,” he says, more or less; halfway through it dissolves into an ugly, wet sob.

"I know," A'Xu says in an entirely different voice. His free hand moves over Wen Kexing's face and hair and neck, sounding shaken for the first time. "I didn't want to be out of my mind the first time you fucked me, and I didn't want you to be gone somewhere in yours the first time I fucked you. I had to keep you here." His fingers are too firm now, raking and desperate. Like he should have been under the influence of the poison, except that he didn't want Wen Kexing to be—for it to be like the other times he's used his body for some desperate end, or allowed it to be used. "It had to be you; I wanted it to be you."

Wen Kexing wants to scream, or vomit; he wants to slice open his belly and let A'Xu read his entrails to see what the inside of him is like; he wants to wade into A’Xu’s dreams to see what’s there that he can’t yet interpret. His body curls in like before, as if he’s been stabbed in the belly, his sobs a heaving, purging thing. A’Xu swipes tears off Wen Kexing’s face almost angrily, and when he drags Wen Kexing by the hair for a kiss it’s too fast to be tender or gentle, too hungry. What is he hungry for, now? Wen Kexing will feed him anything he needs. Perhaps he'll cut out a chunk of flesh, somewhere soft and juicy.

"I’m not going anywhere yet," A’Xu says, holding Wen Kexing’s face and gaze so close that A’Xu’s face is all Wen Kexing can see. The hand on his jaw is shaking, and so is the hand in his own hand. Wen Kexing squeezes it.  “All right? So—we can do this again. While we’re both here.”

Wen Kexing presses his face into A'Xu's neck, burying himself in A'Xu's smell and soft skin. Sometimes A’Xu is like this: speaking to him is like being flayed open down to the bone. People aren’t meant to see that much of themselves, he thinks; they throw up or faint when they see their own scraped bones, and you have to drug them or make them look away to attend it. A’Xu is cruel to make him look. 

“All right,” he says against A’Xu’s pulse point, surprised to feel a release of tension in the muscles under his lips. He’d thought all along that it was A’Xu holding them back, keeping that last inch of space between them, but perhaps it was Wen Kexing. Perhaps it was this last acceptance, staring down A’Xu’s mortality with him and leaning in regardless, that was missing.

Not leaning in. Holding on. He lifts his free hand, slow and unsure where to put it, and then rests it against the back of A’Xu’s head. A’Xu’s hair is soft under his fingers, and he indulges their wish to stroke through it. With another suggestion of pressure, A’Xu’s face turns again so they can kiss, wet and salty, breathing each other’s air.

He wants this forever. He isn't going to get forever. It isn't enough, to feel the ache of where A'Xu has been and have A'Xu's sweat cooling on his skin, but it's enough for now. He would give everything of himself for this again, if it came to it. It will come to it.

It’s a peaceful thing, for once, to know what kind of creature he is. To know that he is A’Xu’s creature.

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