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The Start of Forever

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The first thing Zhou Zishu saw, touched, and experienced with his newly restored senses was Wen Kexing collapsing to the side, pale as death, hair silver, hands cold.

“Lao Wen!” Zhou Zishu seized his hands and tried to keep him from falling, but he flopped around lifelessly. A panicked qi-check showed he had none left -- his meridians were shattered and empty. Panic thrummed through Zhou Zishu as he checked Wen Kexing’s pulse -- nothing. 

A sob caught in his throat. “No. No!” Just like that, angry determination replaced his fear. “You don’t get to leave me here alone, you bastard.”

He laid Wen Kexing down on the floor gently, then scrambled to open and read through the Yin Yang Manual. There had to be something, anything, that would help.

After a few seconds of frantic scanning, he found two things that might work. One, a method of refining and passing qi back and forth that seemed a lot like what they’d started with the Combined Six Cultivation Method. It was incredibly taxing and could very well kill both people involved, but if it worked, it would link their qi and they would be able to continue refining it together. 

And the second… dual cultivation. But Zhou Zishu refused to cross that line. He didn’t want their first time to be forced by the situation -- and while Wen Kexing was unconscious.

So he settled down again, crossing his legs, and forced a calm through his system. He picked up both of Wen Kexing’s hands, interlacing their fingers, and closed his eyes. 

The qi that flowed through him now felt wild like a fire, and it took all his years of discipline to seize and channel it. But he did it, forcing it through his palms and into Wen Kexing’s body. 

The bodily reaction was brutal. The qi seized him, squeezing him, rioting through his reconstructed meridians. He desperately wondered if he’d even be able to handle this much qi in his system without Wen Kexing to share it with. He tasted blood on his tongue as qi flared violently, protesting being forced out. I don’t care if this kills me. If it does, I’ll kick his ass when we get to the afterlife. At least if they met there, they’d have the opportunity to reincarnate together and hopefully end up with a better fate than this life.

But just as that depressing thought seemed close to reality, Zhou Zishu felt the fingers laced with his twitch. His heart leapt.

The hope helped him focus. He reined in the violent qi like a dragon tamer, and moved to the next stage. Now that Wen Kexing had the qi in his system again, he opened the path back, accepting some of the qi back, refining it within himself, then passing it back again. The metallic taste of blood became more pronounced and his head swam, but he didn’t falter.

Finally, the hands he held seized him. Zhou Zishu’s eyes snapped open just in time to see Wen Kexing take a great, gasping breath, back arching up off the floor. His eyes fluttered.

Zhou Zishu let the qi between them dissipate, heart pounding, and hauled Wen Kexing closer to him, almost into his lap.

The silver-haired man’s eyes fluttered open and he squinted up at Zhou Zishu. “Ah-Xu,” he breathed, voice hoarse.

Zhou Zishu seized his wrist and checked -- his meridians were reconstructed, just as his own had a few moments before. The intense qi rioted through them, but not as harshly as it had before it had been refined. His pulse was a little thready, but there. A sob of relief slipped through Zhou Zishu’s lips.

He didn’t think at that moment. He simply did what felt natural. He leaned down and pressed his lips against Wen Kexing’s.

They were warm, which was a comfort after the cold hands Zhou Zishu had held mere moments before. Wen Kexing released a puffed out breath into his mouth. He tasted of blood, just as Zhou Zishu likely did. 

A weak hand wrapped around the back of Zhou Zishu’s neck, tugging him closer. He leaned further down, gently coaxing Wen Kexing’s lips open so he could slide his tongue inside. Wen Kexing valiantly tried to kiss him back, but his motions were weak and uncoordinated. 

After a moment, Zhou Zishu felt his hand slip away. He pulled back immediately, breathing uneven. Wen Kexing was limp in his arms again -- but before Zhou Zishu could panic, he saw the jump of a pulse in his neck and the long, even rise and fall of his chest. Despite this, Zhou Zishu couldn’t resist checking his pulse again. It was stronger and steadier than earlier, which placated the panic Zhou Zishu felt tugging at him.

Relieved, Zhou Zishu felt a tear slide down his face and he cuddled Wen Kexing’s limp form closer to him. “You need to stop doing this to me,” he whispered.

***

Wen Kexing slept for nearly a month. Zhou Zishu busied himself with putting the Armory to rights, and setting up some semblance of a living space within. The avalanche would likely trap them well into the spring once a thaw reached the mountain top. But even once they were let out, they’d likely need to use this space, since they needed to stay where it was cold to maintain their immortality.

Immortality… sometimes, if Zhou Zishu thought about that word for too long, it became impossibly intimidating. In the span of a day, he went from expecting his immediate death, to contemplating an endless amount of years stretched out before him.

He never would’ve agreed to immortality if he hadn’t thought Wen Kexing would be there right next to him. What use did he have for centuries of time, alone? Did he want to become like Yi Baiyi? Lonely and grouchy, and unable to hold a civil conversation with anyone?

And then the bastard tricked him, and nearly left him behind. Sometimes the thought was sour on his tongue, as he sat by Wen Kexing’s bedside every day, watching him sleep. He would’ve left Zhou Zishu here, alone, forever.

But then, when he was feeling calmer, Zhou Zishu would berate himself. If their positions were reversed, he would’ve done the same thing. He would’ve wanted Wen Kexing to live a full life, even be immortal, even if it cost his own life.

Each day, Zhou Zishu checked Wen Kexing’s condition. He improved each time, meridians growing stronger, qi calming down. Once or twice, Zhou Zishu had to repeat the refinement ritual, to help the process along, and soothe any rebellious qi that seized either of them. But that became more infrequent.

Zhou Zishu set up a decent living space, a little away from the center of the Armory. He found some smaller rooms and created two bedrooms, as well as a living space. He even found a large enough basin for a bath, and set that up as well. Luckily, the Armory was well ventilated, and several rooms had fireplaces built into them. Not that either of them needed to worry about freezing to death any longer -- but Zhou Zishu found he still preferred the warmth of a fire to the cold chill of rock and ice.

Zhou Zishu settled Wen Kexing in one bedroom, and himself in another. He didn’t always want to look at Wen Kexing’s comatose form when he was trying to sleep. Or when he was angry. But after a while, the separation grew depressing. 

More often than not, Zhou Zishu had nightmares of losing Wen Kexing. Sometimes it was watching him fall off the cliff, or finding his body in the storage shed. Sometimes it was opening his eyes to see a silver-haired and lifeless Wen Kexing before him. 

One such nightmare assaulted him, four weeks after they’d first arrived at the Armory. He jerked awake in a cold sweat, panting and shaking. He sat upright and took deep, steadying breaths. Despite reassuring himself that it was a dream, he still felt like ants crawled all over his skin, so he threw off the covers and shrugged on a heavier robe over his sleeping one. Then he did what he always did after a nightmare: he went to Wen Kexing’s side. He couldn’t stop himself from doing it. Consoling himself by holding his warm, if limp, hand. Checking his state. Reassuring himself that he was alive, only unconscious.

He sat by his bedside, leaned forward and head resting on his arms on the bed, Wen Kexing’s hand caught in his own. The warmth of it anchored him, and he found himself nodding off. He didn’t notice when the hand held in his own twitched.

“Ah-Xu?”

Zhou Zishu’s head shot up, immediately wide awake. 

He found Wen Kexing levered up on one elbow, looking at him, expression bleary.

Crushing relief crashed over Zhou Zishu so hard he felt his throat tighten and tears well. “Lao Wen.” His voice came out strangled.

Wen Kexing’s eyes scanned over his face searchingly, then around the room. He sat up and Zhou Zishu released his hand, trying to quash the tears that still threatened to spill over. Wen Kexing seemed to notice his silver hair for the first time and snatched it, examining a loc closely. “Well, that’s unfortunate. It’ll detract from my good looks.” 

Wen Kexing’s concern for his looks, after being unconscious for a month and nearly dying, was so absurd it made Zhou Zishu break into hysterical laughter. He immediately felt the tears he’d barely held back overflow down his cheeks and had to take sobbing breaths between peals of laughter. Wen Kexing’s gaze snapped back to him, morphing immediately to concern. 

Zhou Zishu’s gaze grew blurry and he dropped his head back to rest on his arms again. He felt the sobs tearing at his chest and quickly, the laughter stopped, leaving only wracking sobs in their wake.

“Ah-Xu.” Wen Kexing’s voice sounded alarmed. And Zhou Zishu knew he should collect himself and check his zhiji over, make sure he was fine now that he was awake. He should explain what happened, and how their qi was connected now. But he couldn’t. He could barely breathe as the sobs wracked him. A mixture of relief at not being alone, and pain at the fear he’d felt, and grief for the time he’d spent alone as Wen Kexing slept attacked him all at once.

He felt Wen Kexing’s arms wrap around his shoulders, pulling his head and arms up off the bed. Zhou Zishu leaned into him, burying his face into Wen Kexing’s chest, wrapping his arms around him. Wen Kexing petted at his hair, breathing in and out slowly. The sound of his heartbeats and the steady rise and fall of his chest anchored Zhou Zishu and brought him back from hysteria. After several long moments, he stopped sobbing, simply holding Wen Kexing closely. Wen Kexing didn’t say anything for a long moment, letting him stay as he was. 

Finally, after a long moment of silence, Wen Kexing spoke. “I’m sorry.” His voice was soft.

Zhou Zishu tightened his arms around Wen Kexing’s waist. “I’m glad you’re awake.”

***

It took a few days for Wen Kexing to really come back to himself. At first, moving was difficult, and he staggered around. The new qi in his system disoriented him. Zhou Zishu explained the method he’d used to share their qi back and forth, and the two sat down to practice it now that Wen Kexing was awake. It was still brutal, but it got easier each time. And afterwards, both of them felt more in control, and more connected to each other.

But after those first few days, a bath, a change of robes, and a cold meal, Wen Kexing was back to normal. But there was something… odd between them.

Zhou Zishu thought that Wen Kexing would want to talk about their kiss. In fact, he suspected the taller man would bring it up almost immediately. But as days stretched into a week, he didn’t mention it. And, unsure why, Zhou Zishu felt he couldn’t bring it up himself.

Occasionally, Zhou Zishu would find Wen Kexing looking at him with an odd expression. Once, he even found him chewing on his bottom lip. But he never said anything. The looks would pass as quickly as they came.

Zhou Zishu wasn’t sure what to make of it. Perhaps… his zhiji didn’t view him that way? Perhaps he’d gotten carried away in the heat of the moment, merely reacting to Zhou Zishu because he was weak. Perhaps he only wanted to be platonic soulmates. And Zhou Zishu could be okay with that… they could be immortal soulmates, if not immortal lovers.

But… it was odd. After all, on their journey together, there were times that Zhou Zishu thought Wen Kexing was flirting with him. Specific looks, suggestive remarks, looks and touches that lingered a little too long. Once, at Four Seasons’ Manor, an energized moment that they drifted closer together, and for a moment he thought they might kiss. But then he, himself, leaned away, placing distance between them.

It had always been him. Pulling away from lingering touches, scoffing at flirting, bantering off suggestive remarks. And he knew why he did it. 

But… perhaps… Wen Kexing hadn’t been flirting with him at all. Perhaps he was just like that with everyone. Zhou Zishu found himself surprisingly disappointed by that thought, but schooled himself carefully. He couldn’t get greedy now. Wen Kexing was his immortal zhiji. They would be together for years, centuries -- until they grew tired of life and chose to bring it to an end. He didn’t need to create an awkward wedge between them just because he wanted physical intimacy. Even if waking up from a nightmare without Wen Kexing next to him in bed each night wore out his soul.

***

As their fifth week in the Armory came to a close, Zhou Zishu prepared for bed. He’d parted with Wen Kexing a little while earlier, both returning to their separate rooms, as they did each night. For some reason, tonight, Zhou Zishu had to bite on his tongue extra hard to keep from asking Wen Kexing to join him in bed. Or perhaps, offer to crawl in next to him. He didn’t care which, he just knew he didn’t want to sleep alone.

But he’d wished his zhiji a goodnight as usual, then retreated to his own room, ignoring the tight ball of frustration and disappointment in his chest. 

After some meditating and unwinding, he stripped out of his day robes down into his under-robe, then leaned over the basin of water to splash it on his face. The shock of the cool water helped to calm and temper him. As he patted his face dry, he absently wondered if he’d manage to sleep without nightmares tonight. Watching his zhiji die each night wore on him in a deep, soul-crushing way. Especially now that he didn’t really want to go to his side in the middle of the night to reassure himself.

He let out a sigh and straightened up, hanging the piece of cloth up to dry neatly. Before he could turn and walk toward the fire to set it up for the night, he heard the door behind him creak open. He stopped where he stood, and heard the door shut again, then the brush of bare feet against stone.

“Ah-Xu.” Wen Kexing’s voice was low and a little bit nervous, and it raised gooseflesh on Zhou Zishu’s arms. He turned around.

Wen Kexing stood before him in only his under-robe, hair down out of its usual style, and brushed back over his shoulders. He wore no shoes, and Zhou Zishu pointedly tried to ignore the shadows that danced over his collarbones, exposed by the loose collar of his robe. The firelight in the room burnished him a coppery-gold, and made his silver hair sparkle with gold  like veins of precious metal through rock. Had he always been this beautiful? Or were Zhou Zishu’s newly returned senses just more attuned?

“What is it?” asked Zhou Zishu. The tension between them in the room made him speak softly.

Wen Kexing swallowed once, Adam’s apple bobbing, then spoke. “I can’t go to sleep before I ask you something.”

Zhou Zishu raised both his eyebrows. “Ask me what?”

Wen Kexing looked at him closely for a moment. When he spoke, the words came slowly. “Ever since I recovered from my coma… every night I’ve had a dream.” Zhou Zishu blinked. Wen Kexing continued speaking. “It’s the same thing, every night. I dream that I woke up sooner -- right away, after you performed the qi ritual. And I dream that you… you -- you kissed me.”

Zhou Zishu stared at him, the knot in his chest starting to loosen. It’s not that he hasn’t wanted to talk about it. He doesn’t remember.  

Wen Kexing took a step closer to Zhou Zishu, and the tension in the room only seemed to grow. He continued speaking, eyes never leaving Zhou Zishu’s face. “It might seem absurd but… it feels so real. Almost more like a memory.” He paused for a brief moment, swallowed again, then spoke quickly. “So I have to ask. Is it a dream…?”

Zhou Zishu felt a worm of anxiety and anticipation in his stomach. But he couldn’t lie to his zhiji now. “It’s not.”

A flicker of something passed across Wen Kexing’s face, gone too quickly for Zhou Zishu to interpret it. He tried not to show how hard his heart pounded as he waited for a reaction of some sort. 

Wen Kexing took another step forward, until he almost stood on top of Zhou Zishu. They shared the same intermingled breaths. Zhou Zishu had to look up into his face, wondering how many of the feelings rioting through him were obvious. “You kissed me,” whispered Wen Kexing, almost sounding disbelieving. Zhou Zishu nodded once, feeling uncharacteristically tongue-tied.

A small smile turned up the corners of Wen Kexing’s mouth. “And I kissed you back, didn’t I? Not my best performance. I hope you haven’t passed judgement on my kissing skills based on only that. You should at least get a second taste before coming to a conclusion.”

Zhou Zishu stared up at him, eyes darting between his eyes and his lips. He moistened his own lips with his tongue, before speaking, voice low and tight with barely-suppressed desire. “Are you talking like this because you want me to kiss you again?”

Wen Kexing’s hand found its way around the back of Zhou Zishu’s neck again. The other landed on his waist, gathering a handful of his robe. He drew them even closer, so his every breath landed on Zhou Zishu’s lips.

“No,” Wen Kexing whispered, lips almost brushing Zhou Zishu’s. “This time, I want to kiss you.”

Zhou Zishu let out a breath and parted his lips. And Wen Kexing leaned forward, fitting their mouths together.

It was so much better than last time. Wen Kexing tasted like spiced wine, deep and rich. His lips were soft and warm, molding against Zhou Zishu’s in a way that felt deliciously right. Zhou Zishu let out a jagged breath and wrapped both his arms around Wen Kexing’s waist, pulling them flush together.

Wen Kexing’s tongue slipped into his mouth, tangling with his own. Zhou Zishu ran his tongue along the underside of Wen Kexing’s, coaxing a punched out moan out of the silver-haired man. The sound ignited something in Zhou Zishu, who took handfuls of his robes, fingers dragging against the skin underneath as he tried to pull them impossibly tighter.

Wen Kexing reacted the same way, the hand at the back of Zhou Zishu’s neck sliding up to take a handful of his hair, tugging on it deliciously. He deepened their kiss, lips and tongue becoming rougher. Zhou Zishu felt as though Wen Kexing was trying to devour him, or glue their lips together permanently. He responded in kind, yanking him as close as possible and biting down on his tongue just hard enough to make him jump and groan.

After a moment, their fervor died down slightly. They lingered in the kiss, letting it grow more languid and relaxed. Then, after a moment, they parted lips. 

Wen Kexing rested their foreheads together, breathing uneven, arms still wrapped tightly around Zhou Zishu. He was glad of the support, because his legs had gone weak with desire, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand on his own just yet. Wen Kexing’s kissing skills were significantly more impressive this time around, just as he’d implied.

Wen Kexing let out a quiet laugh, eyes finding Zhou Zishu’s. “I didn’t think you wanted me like this,” he said, voice uneven and rough. 

Zhou Zishu let out a low sigh, nuzzling his forehead against Wen Kexing’s. “I’ve wanted you like this since the beginning.”

Wen Kexing drew back slightly, examining Zhou Zishu’s face. He didn’t release him yet, still holding his waist and keeping a hand tangled through his hair. Zhou Zishu would never complain. He’d wanted Wen Kexing’s touch on him for so long, he would take it anywhere, anyway he wanted. “Why did you push me away?” asked Wen Kexing, eyes searching over Zhou Zishu’s face. “All those times I tried to bridge the gap between us. You balked.”

Zhou Zishu let out a low sigh, twisting his fingers through Wen Kexing’s thin sleeping robe. “It’s because I was scared,” he admitted, voice low. He studiously examined Wen Kexing’s chin, instead of looking at his facial expression. 

“Of…?”

“I was dying.” Zhou Zishu let out a jagged breath. “I was scared of regretting my actions. Of getting attached to you, and cursing myself for how little time we had together. And…”

Wen Kexing’s fingers tightened slightly through his hair, but Zhou Zishu couldn’t look at his expression yet. “And what, Ah-Xu?” His voice was low, but not angry.

“I wanted to keep you at arms length,” admitted Zhou Zishu, voice soft. “I was scared if I let you have me the way you wanted -- if I let myself have you the way I wanted -- that you’d fall for me. And when I died, it would be excruciating for you.” He let out a low, almost bitter, laugh. “From the moment we met, I knew I should’ve put more distance between us. But I’m selfish. I wanted you with me. But I wasn’t willing to make you suffer the pain of loving me, and losing me.”

The fingers tangled through Zhou Zishu’s hair tightened, yanking against his scalp. Surprised, Zhou Zishu winced, but let Wen Kexing pull his head back, exposing his neck. Before he could react or say anything, he felt Wen Kexing bite down on the sensitive skin of his neck -- hard. The sudden pain surprised him into making a whimpering gasp. Wen Kexing soothed over the mark immediately with his tongue, then moved down his neck a little and bit at another patch, worrying it between his teeth.

“Lao Wen --” managed Zhou Zishu, desire coiling in his stomach as Wen Kexing ran his tongue over the new mark.

“You’re so stupid,” muttered Wen Kexing into his neck.

“Excuse me?”

Wen Kexing pulled back and fixed Zhou Zishu with an annoyed look. “Do you really think that not being able to fuck you kept me from falling in love with you?”

Zhou Zishu stared at him, lips parted, mind blank. Some part of him told him he should say something in response. But before he could, Wen Kexing yanked him in close again, mouthing along his neck. Zhou Zishu found himself moaning, little whimpering noises of pleasure sliding between his teeth. 

The knot of tension that had lived in his chest for the last few weeks had finally faded, replaced immediately by desire and arousal, only egged on by Wen Kexing’s hot mouth on the sensitive skin right under his ear. A small, sensible part of Zhou Zishu’s brain chirped at him that Wen Kexing would leave marks on his neck, but he quickly disregarded that as unimportant. They were alone, after all -- there was no one else on the mountain to see the marks. Instead, he arched his neck further to the side, leavin Wen Kexing more room to work. He both felt and heard the light chuckle Wen Kexing let out at the motion. Zhou Zishu reached up to run his fingers through Wen Kexing’s sliver hair, twisting his fingers through it to tug and guide him toward an especially sensitive spot. Wen Kexing dove in to suck on it with gusto and Zhou Zishu let his head fall further back, not even attempting to stop the deep hum of pleasure that slipped out of him.

Zhou Zishu knew it wouldn’t be long until his arousal would be too noticeable to hide. But he didn’t care. Being wrapped up in Wen Kexing’s arms, their bodies pressed flush together, Wen Kexing’s lips and hands on him finally -- finally -- was what Zhou Zishu wanted more than anything else. Besides -- even though his brain was foggy with arousal, he was aware enough to notice a certain suggestive firmness pressing against him. It seemed Wen Kexing was just as aroused as Zhou Zishu was.

Still, a sudden jolt of clarity hit Zhou Zishu, temporarily easing the fogginess of his brain. He had something to say, and he wanted to say it immediately. He tugged on Wen Kexing’s hair. “Lao Wen, wait.”

Wen Kexing allowed himself to be pulled away from Zhou Zishu’s neck. His lips were swollen and bright pink, face flushed with obvious desire. He fixed Zhou Zishu with a half-blank, half-disappointed look. “What?”

“I love you.”

Wen Kexing blinked, and the disappointment faded from his expression. “I knew that already,” he said, a hint of a laugh in his voice, then leaned forward and pressed their lips together in a surprisingly chaste kiss. It lasted just a moment, then he pulled back and pressed their foreheads together once again. “And I love you, even if you’re impossible.”

Zhou Zishu frowned petulantly. “ You faked your death -- including a body -- and I am the impossible one?”

Wen Kexing laughed and shifted so he could suck Zhou Zishu’s earlobe into his mouth, nibbling on it. 

Zhou Zishu slipped a hand between them and seized Wen Kexing’s cock through his robes. There wasn’t much fabric between them, so he could feel the weight and size of it pretty clearly. Wen Kexing made a keening noise and rolled his hips a bit, eyes falling half-lidded.

“Are we going to fuck or not?” asked Zhou Zishu impatiently, stroking at him.

Wen Kexing laughed breathlessly. “I should’ve known you’d be like this. So demanding.”

Before Zhou Zishu could quip back, Wen Kexing silenced him with another kiss, licking into his mouth and sucking on his lips. Zhou Zishu stroked him again and he made a whining noise, then bore down on Zhou Zishu, forcing him to retreat backwards in a series of quick, hurried steps. The back of his knees hit the bed and the next thing he knew, they’d landed on the mattress in a heap. 

They both let out breathless laughs, and Zhou Zishu removed his hand from Wen Kexing’s erection, but only so he could start working at the ties of his under robe. Wen Kexing was faster, of course, and had Zhou Zishu’s stripped open in moments, pulling out from under him to toss it on the floor. Then he slid his hand down into Zhou Zishu’s trousers to palm at his cock. 

Just the feeling of Wen Kexing’s warm hand wrapping around him was enough to make Zhou Zishu’s back arch, his still-newly-returned senses dancing at the sensation. He stayed focused enough on his goal to get the ties of Wen Kexing’s robes open and peel it off of him, biting his bottom lip around a moan as Wen Kexing stroked at him. 

“Ah-Xu,” breathed Wen Kexing, leaning over him, silver hair falling over one shoulder in a shiny sheet, sparkling like starlight in the half light of the room. He’s completely stunning , Zhou Zishu thought foggily. Wen Kexing pressed a kiss against his neck, then levered himself up on one hand so he could look at Zhou Zishu’s face. “Have you ever been intimate with a man before?” he asked, voice breathless.

Zhou Zishu was still in a fog from the feeling of Wen Kexing’s hand stroking at him, but, thankfully, he paused for a moment and allowed Zhou Zishu to collect himself to respond. “No,” he managed. “You’re the first I’ve ever wanted.” Wen Kexing bit down on his bottom lip in response, the desire on his face only becoming more pronounced. “Have you?” Wen Kexing raised both of his eyebrows and Zhou Zishu immediately realized that was a stupid question. Of course Wen Kexing, the wanton master of ghost valley, had slept with men before. He undoubtedly slept with whoever he pleased, whenever he wanted, before he met Zhou Zishu. He didn’t love that thought, surprised at the curl of jealousy that sharpened his arousal, but he shook his head. “Never mind, I know the answer to that already.”

Wen Kexing’s lips curled into a smirk. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with a desire he didn’t bother to hide. “Then how do you want --?”

“I don’t care.”

“But --”

“However you want. Just stop talking and get to it already.”

Wen Kexing’s smirk turned into an amused smile. “As you wish, Ah-Xu.” He drew his hand out of Zhou Zishu’s trousers, but only to catch the waistband and tug them off. Zhou Zishu returned the favor, nearly ripping the fabric in his haste to bare all of Wen Kexing’s skin. His silver-haired soulmate laughed at his eagerness, then pressed him back down into the bed, kissing him roughly. Zhou Zishu once again wrapped a hand around Wen Kexing’s cock, drawing a shudder out of him as they still kissed. He liked touching it, knowing that it -- like the man above him -- were his now. And would be with him forever.

Wen Kexing’s hands hooked under Zhou Zishu’s thighs, parting them so he could settle between them. That was the only hint Zhou Zishu needed as to which way Wen Kexing wanted him. He, of course, knew what was involved when it came to sex between men, and he hadn’t lied when he said he didn’t care which way. But he was curious -- what would this feel like? Even if Wen Kexing had wanted Zhou Zishu to fuck him instead, Zhou Zishu probably would’ve requested for them to switch at some point in the future. To see what it was like. But he didn’t need to now. A thrill arced through him at the thought of Wen Kexing inside of him, claiming him.

Wen Kexing broke their kiss briefly to cast a quick glance around the room. “What?” asked Zhou Zishu breathlessly. 

“Oil would be helpful,” said Wen Kexing with a quick smile cast down at him.

Zhou Zishu pushed Wen Kexing off of him and rolled over, reaching down under the bedframe. After a moment, he found what he was looking for -- a vial of oil. He’d found it weeks ago and purposefully set it near his bed, just in case something like this happened in the future. But out of sight, lest Wen Kexing spy it and start asking awkward questions. 

He rolled back and held up the vial and Wen Kexing’s face split into a mischievous grin. “Ah-Xu, why do you have this under your bed? Did you have indecent designs on me from the beginning?”

Zhou Zishu tossed it to him and he caught it, still grinning. “Of course I did,” he shot back and Wen Kexing laughed, then pounced back on top of him, pressing him back down into the mattress. 

Though Zhou Zishu didn’t think he’d ever get tired of the sweet roughness in Wen Kexing’s lips, he was feeling pretty impatient. He expressed as much by stroking Wen Kexing’s cock roughly, mouth too full of Wen Kexing’s tongue to say anything to the right effect. 

Wen Kexing shivered, moaning into Zhou Zishu’s mouth, then pulled back. In one quick motion, he flipped Zhou Zishu over to land on his stomach with a surprised oof. Before he could gather himself, Wen Kexing’s hands hooked around his hips and pulled him up a bit. Zhou Zishu got his hands underneath him, so he was on his hands and knees. Wen Kexing’s hands caressed his hips for a moment. “It’ll be easier this way,” he said, voice low and soft.

Zhou Zishu didn't know what to say to that, but it didn’t seem like Wen Kexing needed a response. He nudged Zhou Zishu’s knees further apart, which left Zhou Zishu feeling incredibly exposed . He didn’t mind the feeling at all. After everything they’d been through, there was nothing worth being embarrassed about between them.

Since he was unable to see his soulmate, he attuned all his senses. He heard a cork pop, the slick sounds of oil being spread across skin, and the next moment the re-corked vial of oil landed on the bedspread next to his left leg. But he could no longer focus on that, because he felt Wen Kexing wrap one hand around his hip. The first touch of oil-slicked fingers against his puckered hole made Zhou Zishu unconsciously tense up, almost flinching away. Wen Kexing’s thumb rubbed soothing circles into the skin of his hip. “Relax,” he crooned, fingers still massaging at his hole.

Zhou Zishu managed to obey, forcing his muscles to relax. After all, it didn’t feel bad. In fact, it was quite pleasant, once the initial weird feeling faded. 

Wen Kexing’s clever fingers were clearly attuned to this. He moved at exactly the right pace, slipping one finger in just to the first knuckle once Zhou Zishu was relaxed enough to take it. He worked the rest of the finger in and Zhou Zishu bit his lip at the odd feeling. It didn’t feel bad. To his surprise, he liked this as well. 

Wen Kexing slipped far enough back to start working a second finger in and this time the stretch was more. Not enough to hurt, but enough that Zhou Zishu felt himself tensing again. Immediately, Wen Kexing paused, thumb still rubbing circles into Zhou Zishu’s hip. He didn’t say anything, but Zhou Zishu knew what he was thinking and forced himself to relax again. Wen Kexing slowly worked the two fingers the rest of the way in, then stretched them out, loosening Zhou Zishu up. 

Zhou Zishu focused on breathing steadily, already feeling a little weak in the limbs from Wen Kexing’s motions. He didn’t know if he was so susceptible because of Wen Kexing’s skill, his heightened senses, or because he’d wanted this so badly. But whatever it was, he had to put in conscious effort to suppress moans as Wen Kexing’s expert fingers worked at him, stretching him open while somehow causing no pain. 

“Ah-Xu,” whined Wen Kexing behind him. “I want to hear you.”

“Shut up,” shot Zhou Zishu between his teeth, still trying to restrain himself.

Wen Kexing’s fingers suddenly changed angle, hooking slightly, pressing against a bundle of nerves within him. Blinding pleasure arced through Zhou Zishu, making his back arch. A surprised moan -- almost more like a yelp -- broke between his teeth.

He heard Wen Kexing laugh behind him. “There, that’s better.”

Zhou Zishu half wanted to curse him out, still shaking from the unexpected jolt of pleasure, but Wen Kexing again twisted his fingers and dragged against the sensitive bundle of nerves and another moan fell out of his mouth. He didn’t even know he could make sounds like this. They were almost more like whines, interspersed with panting, as Wen Kexing continued his diligent duty of working Zhou Zishu open. In fact, he was so distracted by the mounting pleasure inside him, he barely noticed that Wen Kexing managed to work a third finger into him. 

As Wen Kexing once again stroked his fingers along the spot inside Zhou Zishu, he suddenly realized he was dangerously close to the edge. “Stop! Lao Wen, stop.”

Obediently, Wen Kexing stilled his fingers. “What is it?”

“Too close,” panted Zhou Zishu, trying to regain his breath, his bearings, and perhaps his dignity.

Wen Kexing laughed once again. “Already? Really, Ah-Xu, I thought this would be more difficult.”

“It’s -- my senses,” managed Zhou Zishu, still panting, containing himself with difficulty. “Ever since they-- returned -- everything feels -- sharper.”

Wen Kexing made an interested noise. “Well, that’s good to know. I bet we could make good use of that in the future.” Zhou Zishu was still too distracted to quite register the deviousness in Wen Kexing’s voice, which was probably for the best. 

When Wen Kexing drew out his fingers, Zhou Zishu surprised himself by making a small whining noise, feeling the absence keenly. But it didn’t last long. He felt and heard Wen Kexing scoop back up the vial of oil again. A moment later, it landed on the floor next to the bed, and both of Wen Kexing’s hands gripped Zhou Zishu’s hips.

Zhou Zishu felt the blunt press of Wen Kexing’s cock against him. “Oh.” He couldn’t stop himself from making that noise as Wen Kexing slipped into him. The stretch was more than his fingers, but, impressively, it didn’t hurt. Zhou Zishu found himself panting again as his body accepted Wen Kexing, inch by delicious, slow inch.

He felt Wen Kexing’s fingers tighten around his hips hard enough to undoubtedly leave a mark. “ Ah-Xu ,” he moaned, voice tight with pleasure. He finally bottomed out and both of them let out an identical moan, ringing out in harmony. It felt incredible. Zhou Zishu could only pant and feel Wen Kexing’s cock inside of him. 

Wen Kexing paused for a long moment, just resting inside of Zhou Zishu. He leaned down and plastered himself to Zhou Zishu’s back, all hard lines and dense muscle and scorching skin. He wrapped both arms around Zhou Zishu’s chest, pressing them tightly together. His breath was warm on Zhou Zishu’s neck.

As much as he enjoyed this still moment, Zhou Zishu’s impatience once again resurfaced. His cock already ached, feeling neglected. He experimentally swiveled his hips and it dragged a punched out whine out of Wen Kexing, his fingers digging into the muscles of Zhou Zishu’s chest. 

“Are you going to move or go to sleep?” asked Zhou Zishu, pointedly ignoring how whiny his voice sounded as he said it.

Wen Kexing’s laugh vibrated through him, and Zhou Zishu had to grit his teeth against a moan at the feeling. “So impatient.” But despite his teasing, he sat up slightly, bracing his hands against the bed. 

He slid back, then rolled his hips back, sliding back in slowly. The press of it was exquisite. Another moan slipped between Zhou Zishu’s lips. He felt Wen Kexing lean down and press his lips against Zhou Zishu’s left shoulder blade. He rolled his hips slowly back and then in again, dragging another quiet moan out of Zhou Zishu, then pressed his lips against the right shoulder blade.

“Ah-Xu, I want to see your face.” Wen Kexing’s voice sounded wrecked, breathy and shaking.

Zhou Zishu registered his words and reacted immediately. He expertly slid out of Wen Kexing’s grip, then turned them both over on the bed in a heap, until Wen Kexing was beneath him. He looked shocked, face flushed red, silver hair in a halo around him on the bed. Zhou Zishu sank back down onto him again, letting out a low moan, and Wen Kexing’s eyes stayed locked on his face, hands finding his hips. Once again, Zhou Zishu swiveled his hips and it dragged a keening noise out of Wen Kexing, fingers tightening through the flesh under his hands.

Zhou Zishu used his knees as leverage, pushing himself up, then dropping down onto Wen Kexing again. He closed his eyes and didn’t bother trying to contain his moans anymore, letting his head fall back, repeating the motion. Wen Kexing seemed to enjoy calling his name, and each time Zhou Zishu dropped down onto him, he whined it, a breathy Ah-Xu . Gradually, he sped up, setting a slightly faster pace each time. Wen Kexing kept his eyes locked on his face, rapt with attention.

After several moments, the angle wasn’t quite right anymore, so Zhou Zishu leaned forward, resting his hands on Wen Kexing’s shoulders, intending to adjust himself slightly. Wen Kexing didn’t wait for him to mov any further. Instead, he planted his feet on the bed and thrust up into Zhou Zishu, hard enough to make him see stars. His hands collapsed and he landed across Wen Kexing’s chest. 

Wen Kexing wasted no time, but flipped him over until Zhou Zishu’s back was pressed against the mattress. He slammed into Zhou Zishu, setting a brutal pace, and Zhou Zishu arched his back against the bed, throwing back his head, eyes falling shut. He couldn’t do anything but moan, wriggle, and feel, as Wen Kexing wrapped a hand around his neglected cock. The new angle allowed Wen Kexing to hit the sensitive spot inside of him with each thrust.  

It was mere moments before Zhou Zishu’s orgasm rose to the surface, building and building with each thrust and pump. “Lao Wen --” he whined, but Wen Kexing just doubled down, pounding into him even harder.

“Come for me, Ah-Xu,” he said, voice tight and strained.

Zhou Zishu’s back arched off the bed again, whole body gathering tight as a bowstring as he did what Wen Kexing said. The climax knocked the wind out of him. He could vaguely hear himself calling Wen Kexing’s name once again, voice completely wrecked. “Beautiful, Ah-Xu.” Wen Kexing continued to thrust into him, pace fast and rough. Zhou Zishu’s orgasm couldn’t recede with the stimulation and he whined and wriggled, bordering on the edge of overstimulation. 

Then, with one last, hard thrust, Wen Kexing spilled himself. His body shook with the effort of staying upright, hands still planted on the bed. Zhou Zishu took great gulps of air, winded as though he’d run several miles. Wen Kexing’s eyes fluttered open again and he leaned down, pressing their lips together again.

Zhou Zishu wrapped his arms around Wen Kexing’s neck, reveling in the afterglow. This moment was almost better than the orgasm. The casual intimacy of Wen Kexing kissing him, cock still buried inside him, both of them feeling relaxed and languid.

Finally, Wen Kexing broke their kiss and pulled out, rolling off to land on his back. Both of them caught their breath, laying side by side. The cool air of the Armory felt nice against Zhou Zishu’s sweat-dampened skin. He felt unpleasantly sticky from the spend on his stomach and inside of him, but currently didn’t quite have the energy to move.

Wen Kexing let out a low laugh, still sounding a little breathless. “Why didn’t we do this before?” he asked, still looking up at the ceiling.

“We couldn’t have,” murmured Zhou Zishu, though he was smiling.

Wen Kexing rolled up onto one elbow and raised his eyebrows. “Why not?”

“My senses were failing, remember?” Zhou Zishu reminded him, looking at him softly, eyes half lidded.

“So…?”

“I doubt I could’ve… participated.”

Wen Kexing’s eyebrows raised further. “You couldn’t get hard?”

“Well I didn’t exactly try ,” said Zhou Zishu with a roll of his eyes. “But I doubt I could’ve. Especially near the end.”

Wen Kexing shook a loc of silver hair out of his eyes. “You’re doubting my abilities, Ah-Xu. I could’ve gotten you off, regardless.”

Zhou Zishu laughed and shook his head. “Whatever you say.”

“You wound me, Ah-Xu,” whined Wen Kexing, sticking out his bottom lip. “Was I not impressive enough? Next time I’ll make you believe me.”

Zhou Zishu couldn’t help laughing again, closing his eyes. “Have pity on me, Lao Wen, I feel so raw.”

“Good.” Wen Kexing’s voice sounded smug. Zhou Zishu felt him shifting on the bed and opened his eyes to see Wen Kexing fishing one of their robes up off the floor. Quickly and easily, he cleaned them both up, then bundled up the robe and tossed it across the room.

“We need to do laundry,” commented Zhou Zishu, starting to feel sleepy.

Wen Kexing paused, still sitting upright. He glanced at Zhou Zishu, who was surprised to see his eyes were glossy.

“What is it?” he asked, surprised.

Wen Kexing laid down on his front, levered up on his elbows. He looked closely at Zhou Zishu’s face. “It just struck me how badly I wanted this,” he said, voice soft.

“Wanted what?” Zhou Zishu raised an eyebrow, glancing at the bundled up robe. “To do laundry?”

“You’re so unromantic,” sighed Wen Kexing. “No. What I wanted was… the domestic side. Of being with you. As lovers, not soulmates. I’ve wanted to live with you, peacefully. Do laundry and cook and clean together. Without people hunting us or spying on us. Just… us. At peace. Together.” 

Zhou Zishu reached out and tugged Wen Kexing closer to him. He went, agreeably, and allowed Zhou Zishu to hold him, cuddling him close to his chest. “I’ve wanted that too,” he agreed, voice low.

Wen Kexing pressed a kiss against Zhou Zishu’s jaw, then settled in, curled up in Zhou Zishu’s embrace. After a moment of silence, Wen Kexing spoke again. “I could get used to a forever like this.”

Zhou Zishu laughed his agreement, then curled up tighter, pressing his cheek against Wen Kexing’s hair, and fell asleep. For the first night in a long time, he slept without nightmares.

***

At an inn near the base of the mountain, Lord Seventh picked at his food, anxiety tightening through his stomach. Across the table, neither Chengling, nor Wu Xi seemed to have much of an appetite either.

None of them could do much of anything against Wen Kexing’s determination, after Yi Baiyi blew into their home and sent him off on a death mission. They knew what he was going to do -- save Zhou Zishu, at the cost of his own life. He’d said as much in the note he left behind, asking them to look after Chengling. 

They’d been left behind in the dust, and it had taken them quite a while to discover where the Armory was, and then travel to it. They ventured up the mountain earlier that day, hoping to find some signs of Zhou Zishu or Wen Kexing. What they’d found instead was the Armory, completely buried in ice and snow from an avalanche.

Beiyuan was sick with worry about his friend. If the plan succeeded, that meant that Zhou Zishu was likely trapped inside with his soulmate’s body. That was enough to damage the mind and soul of anyone. He worried what state he’d find Zhou Zishu in, when they found their way inside.

But they couldn’t do much that day. So they’d retreated down and stayed at the inn. Wu Xi went off, dependable as always, to recruit some locals to go up the mountain and help dig out the Armory. 

And now, they had to wait.

 

***

It took another several days for the locals to dig out the bulk of the snow. It was tedious, dangerous work, that could very well bring down yet another avalanche. The locals tried to tell them they should just wait until spring. But that was still months away, and Beiyuan dreaded to think of what state he’d find Zhou Zishu in if they left him there that long.

As the second full month since they’d parted ways with Zhou Zishu came to a close, the locals finally dug out the Armory. Beiyuan and Wu Xi paid them handsomely, then dismissed them, not wanting any strangers when they entered the Armory. 

Once the last of them left, he and Wu Xi exchanged a bracing glance. “Chengling, why don’t you stay out here?” suggested Beiyuan, voice gentle.

Chengling puffed up slightly. “No! I want to see what happened to my shifu and shisu.

Beiyuan gnawed on his lower lip. Based on Chengling’s tight expression, he was well aware of what they might find inside. Still, Beiyuan’s instinct was to protect the child from the horror he might find.

He felt Wu Xi’s hand slip into his, intertwining their fingers. “Let him come. He deserves to see.”

Beiyuan sighed and nodded. “Very well.” He turned toward the entrance to the Armory, fingers tightening around Wu Xi’s. “Let’s go.”

As a tight cluster, the three of them walked into the Armory. Chengling stayed right on Beiyuan’s heels, almost clinging to his sleeve. Beiyuan knew his hands were shaking, and Wu Xi’s grip around the one he held tightened, anchoring him in place. 

Great tall bookshelves stretched before them as they entered the first room. Books were strewn about on the floor, and Beiyuan wondered who left them like that. Zhou Zishu? Or the people who came before?

They continued further in, finding a larger room with grains and farming supplies. But still neither hide, nor hair of Wen Kexing’s body, nor Zhou Zishu.

Wu Xi suddenly tugged on Beiyuan’s hand. “Over there.” He pointed, and Beiyuan belatedly spotted what Wu Xi’s sharp eyes saw right away. A glow of light through an archway, barely visible. They exchanged a quick glance. This time, Chengling really did cling to Beiyuan’s sleeve, and the three continued forward. Beiyuan’s heart pounded, chest tight. Zishu, I hope you’re all right.

They followed the light through a series of corridors, going deeper and deeper into the mountain. It was no wonder Zhou Zishu hadn’t been waiting. From this deep, it was likely he hadn’t heard any of the excavation noises.

Finally, they stepped out of the corridor and into a room lit with a cheerful fire. A low table sat in the center of the room, with pillows around it to act as chairs. 

And, sitting at the table, dressed in a silver robe, was a very familiar figure. He’d glanced up at their entrance, clearly sensing them. 

Shifu! ” called Chengling, sounding relieved.

And sure enough, it was Zhou Zishu. Looking better than they’d seen him in years, as well. He glowed with vitality, skin no longer sallow and sickly. He’d been reading a scroll and dropped it on the table, looking surprised. “Beiyuan! Da Wu! Chengling!” He offered them a grin and stood upright, shaking out his sleeves. “I thought I heard something weird earlier. How did you get in here?”

His complete calm and normalcy was almost more alarming to Beiyuan. He cast a quick glance around the room, looking for any sign of Wen Kexing’s body. He saw nothing, of course. 

Wu Xi answered. “We hired people to dig you out.”

Zhou Zishu laughed and shook his head. “I should’ve known. I thought we’d be stuck in here until spring.”

We? A worm of fear latched onto Beiyuan and he felt Wu Xi’s fingers twitch in his grip. Has he lost his grip on reality? If he’s alive, that means Wen Kexing must be… dead.  

Zhou Zishu continued talking, seemingly oblivious to his friends’ worries. “We weren’t expecting visitors, so we don’t really have anything hot to eat…” He glanced over his shoulder, toward the archway at the back of the room. “Lao Wen! Come here, we have guests.”

Beiyuan’s gut clenched. He’s lost his mind. He and Wu Xi exchanged a quick glance, clearly both thinking the same thing.

But then the next instant a tall, silver-haired figure walked into the room, glowing with vitality and very much alive, punching the air out of Beiyuan and Wu Xi simultaneously.

Wen Kexing grinned at the sight of them. “What an unexpected pleasure! Da Wu, Lord Seventh -- and you, little melon head -- welcome!”

Beiyuan stood stunned, floored, mouth hanging open. Chengling reacted faster, running over and practically tackling Wen Kexing, wrapping both arms around his waist. “Shisu!”

Wen Kexing staggered and laughed, ruffling his hair. “Watch out, little idiot, you’re getting too tall for that. Next time you’ll knock me clean over.” Chengling ignored him, sniffling into his robes. Wen Kexing’s grin turned into something softer and he wrapped both arms around Chengling’s shaking shoulders.

Wu Xi seemed to regain himself and paced further into the room, staring between Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu, contemplative. He reached out and checked both of their pulses, which he was allowed to do without complaint. He looked baffled. “The Six Cultivations energy -- it’s in both of you. How did you manage that?”

Wen Kexing and Zhou Zishu exchanged a quick glance, then smiled. “It’s a long story.”

Finally, Beiyuan managed to recover himself. He strode into the room and yanked Zhou Zishu in for a fierce hug. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”

Zhou Zishu laughed and slipped easily out of his grip. “Come now, Beiyuan, aren’t we getting too old for this kind of sentiment? And you, kid, stop your sniveling, we aren’t dead. Take a seat, everyone, and I’ll tell you what happened.”