There are a hundred words, in A-Xiang’s rough estimate, to describe her brother and his—well, whatever the hell Zhou Zishu is to her brother.
(She wants to say friends—hell, she’d even go as far as to say best friends—and while that isn’t completely off the mark, it’s still pretty far off.)
Idiot, for example, would be a good start to that list.
As much as Wen Kexing likes to tease her for being naive, she’s not unobservant. In fact, she’s been watching him closely ever since he met his A-Xu. Her observations have been fruitful but as confident as she is in both her conclusion and her ability to read her brother, she still doubts.
(And for a good reason. Much as she loves him, she can’t deny that her brother is an obnoxious flirt. She says this with all the love in her heart.)
She sneaks a glance to where her brother currently is and—oh, how quickly and deeply she regrets doing so. There he is, cross-legged on the floor beside his A-Xu with textbooks and notes scattered all over and around them. There he is, looking at his A-Xu as if– as if—
“What?” She asks as she turns her attention towards Cao Weining, who, for the past 10 minutes, has been staring at her.
“Hm?” He asks in return with that strange, yet terrifyingly familiar, look on his face.
Confused, she frowns. “What are you looking at me like that for?”
“Like–!” She gestures at him and then at the two sitting a few feet away from them—unsure herself of how to describe it.
Then, her comparison gives her a rude awakening. She whips her head back to where her brother and Zhou Zishu are and observes a little more. She thinks back to all those people he’s flirted with before—the way he looked at them, if he had been looking at all, and compares them to how he’s looking at Zhou Zishu now.
Her brows furrow and—there it is! How did she not see it before? How could she have been so remiss in her scrutiny that she kept missing it all those times before?
Her brother is an obnoxious flirt, that much is true, but not once has she seen him truly look at anyone with anything other than a fleeting, faster-than-you-can-say-hey, interest. But watching him now, focus undivided with that soft (disgusting, really) look on his face as he listens to whatever his A-Xu is explaining, she’s never seen that on him with anyone else.
(It’s even more baffling how he doesn’t even spare a glance at anyone else now.)
He’s looking at his A-Xu as if he wouldn’t mind listening to him for however long and then some more.
Zhou Zishu must have finished whatever it was he was explaining because her brother nods with that look on his face intact even as he reluctantly looks away.
(It’s not until much later, when her brother, unsurprisingly, fell asleep on top of their notes, that she witnesses that very same disgusting—albeit a little more low-key but no less fond—look on Zhou Zishu’s face as he covers him with a blanket.
She snorts, crosses out a word from her list, and wonders what’s the opposite of the word subtle.)
To be fair, Zishu is not trying very hard to be subtle. Or maybe he isn’t aware he’s been doing it at all. Either way, Beiyuan notices it all the same and knows that Wu Xi has too.
It’s a rather amusing sight, he thinks, watching Zishu and his Lao Wen bicker. They could outmatch a married couple with just how much they look at each other like that while bickering.
“Are they together?” Wu Xi, adorably confused, asks.
He grins but shakes his head.
Wu Xi nods and then turns to spectate the fight too. “In a weird mating ritual, then?”
A startled laugh leaves him but does not miss the way Wu Xi smiles at him. Once he reduced his laugh into bursts of giggles, he hums an affirmative.
“They are, and here’s the best part.” He turns in his seat to look at Wu Xi, mischief clear in his eyes. “They’re not even aware they’re doing it.”
“You’re not going to tell them but you’re also not going to miss the opportunity to tease Zishu.”
It’s not a question nor is it a reprimand, just a stating of fact, so he only grins wider.
He turns back to watch the two again and thinks: Ah, Zishu, did you really think no one would notice how you look at him when you think no one’s paying attention?
When Zhang Chengling heard that he would be staying with his èr jiù for three weeks while his māma and bàba leave for a business trip, his mother could only laugh at the way he nearly vibrated out of his skin out of excitement.
His èr jiù had been teaching him martial arts and while he knows—his parents even suggested so—he could go to a proper school for it, he just doesn't want to learn it from anyone else.
Besides, how else would he call his èr jiù, shīfu?
It's 2 days before his parents leave when his èr jiù stops by early to have dinner with them before he takes Chengling.
The doorbell rings and he, very nearly, trips over his own feet to open the door. As soon as he does, he launches himself towards the man and hears an oof followed by a chuckle.
When he lets go, his èr jiù flicks him on the forehead. "You didn't even check if it was me, you brat. What if it hadn't been me?"
He didn't pout and was about to answer when another voice cut in.
"A-Xu, don't be mean."
He looks behind his èr jiù and sees a man he's never met before. He blinks up at his èr jiù in question.
"Chengling, this is Wen Kexing." His èr jiù gestures at the man who gives him a smile and a small wave. "Lao Wen, this is Chengling."
He doesn't miss the fondness in his èr jiù's tone as he says the familiar term. He returns the smile and nods while he has an internal debate whether he could get away—he knows it’s most likely a bad idea but he wants to know if he can get away with it anyway—with asking his èr jiù if he’s brought home Wen-shu to introduce him to everyone.
Then, remembering his manners, he leads them into the living room. His mother comes in a few seconds later, takes one look at her brother, then at Wen-shu, and greets them both warmly with a knowing glint in her eyes with most of it directed at her brother.
(Later, when his dà jiù, wài pó, and wài gōng arrive, they all give èr jiù that same meaningful look.
Whether he truly saw his èr jiù flush with something wài pó said to him after dinner or if he hallucinated it, he will never know.
Much, much later, Chengling will always remember that dinner to be an interesting one, to say the least.)
A week into living with his èr jiù and Wen-shu he can’t help but observe something about the latter.
Wen-shu is always sneaking a glance at èr jiù. Sometimes unsure but most times—
The memory of the countless times he saw his bàba give that same kind of regard to his māma flashes in his mind. When he asked his bàba about it, he laughed and said 'It’s because I can’t believe my luck.'
It became clear to him then. Most times, Wen-shu looks at èr jiù like he can’t believe his luck.
Whatever that means, his Wen-shu looks happier for it—his Xiang-jie said so herself.
Ye Baiyi considers actually doing one—or a few, if they’re too obtuse—of the many, many, questionable things those little rascals Zhou Zishu and Wen Kexing call friends and family.
(Which, grudgingly, by extension, his too. He’d sooner let Wen Kexing beat him at martial arts before he admits that though.)
One memorable suggestion, and he quotes, was: “How about we ship them off somewhere? A nice little vacation?”
“What, like a honeymoon?”
“Sure. They’re already practically married anyway.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they eloped.”
He has to admit, that’s not a quarter-bad plan. The other three quarters range from worst to lousy.
Another great plan someone suggested was to do a social experiment on them. (Read: Make one of them jealous and see how the other reacts.)
He’s not even going to start with that one.
There is one he could let pass as not a half-bad plan.
“Let’s just lock them in a room. What are they gonna do? Not talk?”
“I hate to break this to you but there are lots of things to do in a locked room with the person you’re pining for that involves a lot less talking.”
A hush falls over the room full of faces stuck in an expression ranging from disgust to abject horror.
“I’m sorry I asked.”
Like he said, not a half-bad plan. Either he watches one of them pine after the other in a never-ending cycle or watch them be even more disgusting when they do get together; he’s damned if they do and he's still damned if they don’t.
(It’s like those two idiots had made it their mission to make their pining everyone else’s problem.)
Of course, it’s always an option to close his eyes and pretend he does not see but another problem arises and it's that he could still hear.
Rong Changqing stops midway from sipping his tea and observes something over Ye Baiyi's shoulder, an astonished look takes over his usually calm expression before inelegantly snorting. Ye Baiyi gives him a questioning look.
“Behind you,” is all the explanation Rong Changqing gives, tone bordering on amusement, before returning to his tea.
He turns around and—gods above, why can’t he just catch a break from those two and whatever the hell they’ve got going on between them.
He’s certainly much too old for this kind of bullshit and he’s nearly at his wit’s end, it’s not going to be his fault if he actually does as those brats suggested.
Then, as if the universe is testing the true limits of his patience today, he witnesses the very thing he does not want to see.
Wen Kexing is pointing and looking at something, that for once isn’t the man in front of him, somewhere off to the right and Zhou Zishu is openly staring at him. It would’ve been bearable if it was his usual blank looks but the pure and unbridled affection is enough to make anyone who can see go blind.
He sighs and turns back to Rong Changqing and thinks: “That’s it. I’m going to lock them in a room and call it a day.”
The first time Gu Miaomiao met Zhou Zishu, it was over a less than desirable circumstance. All because her son is as foolish as he is intelligent and had gotten sick because he thought it would be a good idea to get soaked for hours in the rain.
Zhou Zishu had called to let her know that her son was an idiot and was still being an idiot by refusing to eat.
That was a lengthy video call that started with her yelling her son's ear off and ended with Zhou Zishu gaining her approval.
The second time she met him, he didn't even know she was anywhere near the vicinity. She had decided to surprise them with a visit but stopped by the grocery to pick some things up for them. Coincidentally, Zhou Zishu and her son were also there.
They didn't see her and she didn't let herself be seen, simply content on watching them from afar. It was a sight to see for a mother, to see her son so animated and happy. It is one thing to see it and another to understand why.
The whole time he was looking at Zhou Zishu, his smile—the genuine one, the bright one—never once faltered. Steady and warm. And when she looks at Zhou Zishu, she sees her son's affection being reflected back at him.
(It says all she needs to know even before those two figure it out.)
She has to admit, Zhou Zishu's façade of stoicism is convincing but she is no fool and her eyesight is still so much better than her husband's—she is simply relieved her son is in good hands.
She makes her way down another aisle separate from them.
By the fifth time she's met him, she makes sure her son knows she has an opinion—one that works for all of them if she's right, and she knows she most definitely is—by cornering them both with teasing.
If she suggested Zhou Zishu to stop calling her ā yí and start calling her ā niáng with how much she already considers him to be her own, then who's to say she's mistaken for suggesting so?
(Definitely not her foolish son who just choked on air nor her husband who's of the same opinion as her and definitely not Zhou Zishu who simply smiles and calls her so.)
Time flies by quickly, she finds. Quick enough that on her son's and Zishu's last visit, the white jadeite ring on her finger leaves with her son, safely tucked in a box in his pocket.
Zhou Zishu’s afternoon goes just like so: he has lunch, he goes back to his room to finish up replying to his students' emails, and between one moment and the next, the door opens and in stumbles Wen Kexing and then he hears the audible click of the door being locked from the outside.
He and Wen Kexing stare at each other for a full minute, utterly confused, before he shrugs and lifts the cover to let the other slide in next to him.
It’s only after Wen Kexing is fully settled next to him does he ask, baffled and amused, “They still haven’t caught on, have they?”
Wen Kexing snorts, looks at him with so much glee and mischief—and everything Zhou Zishu feels for him being mirrored—and shakes his head. “And they had the audacity to call us dense, A-Xu!”
“So their plan was to lock us together?” Zhou Zishu laughs. “In our bedroom? In our own place?”
Having Wen Kexing anywhere near him, he knows well enough by now that he’s not going to finish replying to his remaining emails and quickly types out a draft of the rest of his instructions before hitting save.
“I’m more surprised about Chengling and A-Xiang not knowing, considering they might as well be living here.” Wen Kexing tugs on the front of his shirt and whines. “A-Xu, lǎo gōng, look at me!”
Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes, closes and sets aside everything, and rolls on top of Wen Kexing—the white jadeite ring strung around Zhou Zishu's neck, dangling in the space between them.
He leans down to rest his forehead against Wen Kexing’s. “Lao Wen,” he calls—hears the way he says it, how he always has, and remembers Beiyuan’s words.
‘Of all the sceneries you have seen—and I know you’ve seen many—he’s the one you never want to look away from and risk missing a single thing. That’s how you call his name too—with reverence.’ Teasing as the tone was, his words held the most simple and obvious truth.
Zhou Zishu closes whatever distance is left between them and kisses him until their lungs protest. And again. And again—until Wen Kexing is a giggling mess with kiss-swollen lips underneath him.
Zhou Zishu looks at him the same way he loves him—with no shame, no limit, as clear as day, and says, "I'm always looking at you."