Zhou Zishu never knows how to bring it up to Wen Kexing that he's only ever been fucked by one man before. He knows that he's built up this past for him, where he was seducing people regularly to get information to help his prince, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Prince Jin would be far too jealous to ever let anyone else use his body, seeing every inch of skin as something that belongs to him and him alone.
Even Zhou Zishu does not own his body. He is only something to be used.
He doesn't remember when he gave his body to Prince Jin, only just one night he was tired and he ached, bruises covering his arms and legs, cum dripping out of him, staring at a naked chest while he was held tightly to a man fast asleep, and thought that he would never be able to leave. He would never be able to walk away. He is merely a tool, a toy, something that Prince Jin delights in. That's important. He was a thing, not a person.
(The most terrifying thing about Wen Kexing is how deeply he makes Zhou Zishu remember being a person again. He is not a thing. His skin is his own. It was always his, but why is it only just now feeling like it?)
He lets Wen Kexing believe his tales. It's easier. It can even be nice. He has been touched by so many hands that Prince Jin could never bother him. He would be able to forget them with ease. He wouldn't have to turn his head away when his soulmate touches him in a way that makes him forget for a brief moment what it's like not to own his skin, for the touch of hands to mean pain.
(The second most terrifying thing about Wen Kexing is that Zhou Zishu does not want him to own his skin, but he wants him to have his heart, his mind, his body. Wen Kexing would not mind the entire collection of the things that make him him , the collection of things that Zhou Zishu can only see as something battered and worn and broken as something that deserves to be polished and shined, a brightness in his life that his soulmate calls "A-Xu" as he presses kisses into his spine, something that Prince Jin never did, and give it all to Wen Kexing. Zhou Zishu would give it all, because he knows that he wants it all, not merely the holes that he can fuck and the hand that can kill.)
He learned long ago how to deal with pain, but he never learned gentleness and every touch that Wen Kexing bestows on him feels like a promise that is meant to be kept. He doesn't know how he can tell him that the only other hands he's known are pain, that when he was younger than Chengling he was brought to the Prince's bed and told that he was beautiful and talented and he couldn't take his eyes off him.
He believes him still, but it doesn't make it easier. Perhaps the Prince really did love him. Pain can co-exist with love.
He takes a deep breath as Wen Kexing kisses him gently, pulling Zhou Zishu in his lap as he kisses his neck, his fingers gently gripping his thighs before he runs them up, cupping his ass as his fingers go straight towards his hole, eager to fuck him until he's a crying and shaking mess in his arms. He welcomes it. He needs it.
But tonight it feels impossible. He can't stop remembering the Prince's touch, just how it felt on his skin. He can't stop feeling like he has things crawling all over him, as ridiculous as that sounds. He doesn't even know what set him off, what makes the touch of Wen Kexing wanting to worship him bother him so much. He wants to pull back, but he can't do it. He fears the idea of Wen Kexing realizing how broken he is and deciding he's not worth it.
(But he's pushed him away so many times already and he still came back. He doesn't know if there's anything that he could do that would make Wen Kexing think he wasn't worth love. And that's more terrifying than anything at all.)
But there must be something that he does so Wen Kexing can tell that he doesn't want to be fucked. He pulls back gently, one hand reaching up to slowly brush away hair from Zhou Zishu's face.
"A-Xu, what's wrong?" he whispers, but it sounds so loud in the quiet of the room. His eyes are bright and kind, and for all the violence that his hands have delivered onto others, he only touches him in careful and gentle ways. "You seem lost."
Zhou Zishu doesn't know what to say to him. He wants to tell him the truth, but he doesn't know how to form the words. He just curls himself into Wen Kexing, burying his face into his neck, clinging to him tightly. He trembles, feeling like he's about to suffocate under the weight of his past. Strong hands rub up and down his back, even as he feels his soulmate tense as he's unsure about why he's acting like this.
But how does he say these words?
"Before you-" he finally chokes out. "Before you, I've only been with one man." He clings to Wen Kexing tighter, afraid that he's going to be left now. He knows that it's ridiculous, but he can't stop the fear from rising up in his throat. "But I didn't- I don't think I wanted it." He shakes his head. Those are the wrong words. "I didn't want it. But he touched me and fucked me. And he was the only one. Before you." He blinks, his eyes filled with tears that are falling out, his nails curling into his palms as he tries his best not to cry.
He can feel Wen Kexing's arms tighten around him, a growl low in his throat as he clings to Zhou Zishu.
"He hurt you," he states, and Zhou Zishu nods. It hurt. It always hurts. Prince Jin had never gone out of his way to make him feel pain, but it had hurt all the same. "And you didn't want it." He never did. He hadn't wanted his touch. He hadn't wanted his praise. He had just wanted to be left alone. He nods again.
Wen Kexing's arms are so tight around him, and maybe Zhou Zishu should find this painful or restricting, but the only thing he can focus on is just how safe he feels. If he wanted to break free, he could. And not through fighting, but because if he were to ask, Wen Kexing would give him freedom.
Sometimes, Zhou Zishu does not want to fight for his freedom. He doesn't want to have to rely on his own strength every time he needs to breathe, because fighting only makes the suffocation worse. He wants to know that his freedom can be gotten just from him asking. He doesn't need to prove anything to anyone. He doesn't need to show his skills. He can just look at Wen Kexing and trust that he will be taken care of.
He's so different from Prince Jin. It makes Zhou Zishu aware of just how much he was drowning when he was with him. He doesn't know how he survived to end up here, but he's glad he did. He's glad that he has him.
"Thank you, Lao Wen," he breathes into his skin, his voice thick with tears.
"Why?" he gets back, confusion mixed with rage.
"For being you," he responds, and it should be so simple to realize, except then it hits him that Wen Kexing has never really had anyone other than Gu Xiang who was happy for him just to be him. And even Gu Xiang had expectations from him as a big brother. He tightens his own arms around him. "You're so good to me."
Wen Kexing lets out a deep breath. "You deserve to feel treasured, A-Xu." A hand lands over his back, over his hair, gently smoothing it out as he rubs it. For all that the man is shaking in anger, he is holding Zhou Zishu so gently. He's like a treasure to him. He's adored. He's needed.
He pulls back just enough to press a wet kiss to We Kexing's lips. It tastes of salt, but it's his kiss. He wants this. He wants to be touched by this man, so this man touches him. His skin is his own. He pulls back, knocking their foreheads together. He closes his eyes so that he doesn't have to see the look in his eyes when he admits this shame.
"I can't have sex tonight." His voice is still cracking, and he wonders if it would be possible to stop crying now. But the seal over his pain has been cracked, forced to fall out and he doesn't think he can bottle up these tears any more. "I'm sorry, Lao Wen, but I just-"
He can't be fucked when all he can think about is Prince Jin panting in his ear as he tells him that he's doing a good job of being a slut, something that Zhou Zishu never wanted. He wants his soulmate's soft touch, but it can't be sex. Perhaps not for a few days, though he'll try to get over this soon for Wen Kexing's sake. He takes another breath. "Can you please just hold me?"
He opens his eyes when he feels the world change, cradled in strong arms as he's walked over to the bed, held like he's something precious. The anger glinting in his soulmate's eyes is not towards him, but the man who hurt him.
He remembers a man flirting with him once, when he was newly a man himself. The Prince had already begun fucking him. He had found them, in a quiet place of a banquet hall, Zhou Zishu trapped there for reasons he can't remember.
He could have fought that man off. He could have fought the prince off. He could have stopped both of them if he wished. And he really wished. The man flirting with him had seemed kind enough, but Zhou Zishu hadn't wanted it and he wanted to be away, and he couldn't figure out how to make himself go away with his body. He could only understand how to do it with his mind.
The Prince had scared the man off, and then pulled Zhou Zishu away. He had slapped him as soon as they were alone in the room, then pushed him onto the bed. He had fucked him roughly, and then while he was waiting for his cock to stir again, fucked Zhou Zishu with various things around the room while he cried and begged for mercy.
He wasn't tied down.
He could have run away.
He didn't have to be fucked with a candle, a hilt, a fist, a wooden statue, then other things that he can't name, but just became mixed into that fog of pain.
He had not been able to walk for two days after that, every movement pure agony as he sobbed in his bedroom. He had been forced to crawl there after the Prince was done. He had to get up the third day because he was needed to kill, and the Prince wouldn't take no for an answer.
He never did.
Wen Kexing places him on the bed, gently sliding next to him so that he can wrap his arms around him. Zhou Zishu can lay his head on his chest, listening to that thumping heartbeat that proves they are both still alive. Somehow, they have both survived. He tangles his legs with his soulmate's, clutching his robes as he tries to pretend like he doesn't want to tear himself out of his skin.
It feels like something has truly snapped within him, and he wonders if this is the price of safety. Once you have it, the poison that you have caught from growing up feeling unsafe and unloved and constantly afraid is allowed to be slowly drained out of the body. Or perhaps it's a festering wound, cut and cauterized to allow it to heal, but the cure is pain.
The cure is tears.
"Do you know what it's like to be touched when you don't want it?" His voice is stilted, muffled, but he doesn't know why he is asking this. He just knows that he should.
"No," Wen Kexing whispers. "Ghosts are interested in many things. Some are interested in that. But no one was ever interested in me."
Relief bubbles up inside him. His soulmate doesn't know this pain. This pain is his to know. He doesn't wish it on anyone else.
He presses his face further against his soulmate's chest, as Wen Kexing holds him tighter. He isn't sobbing anymore, but the tears are still falling out of him. He lets them, as he knows there's nothing he can do to stop it.
"You can sleep," Wen Kexing tells him, and Zhou Zishu listens.