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no make up on (that's my sugar)

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  "A-Xu, are you ready?"

 

  Pulling back from his reflection in the bronze mirror, Zhou Zishu sets down the brush he'd been using to stroke powder across his eyelids, then molds his lips together to solidify the rouge he'd applied earlier. His face stares back at him, enhanced in beauty. He quite likes the look if he's being honest with himself — it's an arch one, with the capability of elegance if he angles his jaw just so. Twin wings of powder, black and red, and the paste he'd meshed up to curl his lashes a little enhance the full onyx of his eyes. He hasn't darkened his skin tone, for once, instead dabbing on fingertips of pink dust on his cheekbones and the bridge of his nose. 

 

  He reminds himself of a lord's concubine and has to suppress a smile. Truly, what sort of disguise would this make? Everyone would look at him.

 

  Though, again, if he's frank with himself — twice in a day, heavens above, he's going mad! — Wen Kexing will likely drag attention to himself like a horse snuffling for treats in its owner's satchel. Zhou Zishu could lug on a mask so hideous it turns his ancestors in their graves and Wen Kexing would yet find a way to keep the public eye on them. Frustrating, incorrigible man.

 

  "A-Xu!"

 

   Speak of the devil

 

  He turns in his seat, meeting Wen Kexing's gaze across the room. He more than expects his travel companion to have a word of spite for the mini pots and nothings that is his makeup assortment. Wen Kexing is far too obsessed with his real face (and Zhou Zishu hasn't forgotten his original reaction to seeing it) and would probably claw off any mask he dons now. So, knowing this, Zhou Zishu braces himself for the incoming needling.

 

  Except, it never comes. Instead, a peculiar expression ripples over Wen Kexing's face, a pebble tossed in a calm, still lake. It morphs in a way Zhou Zishu has seen only once before, and a vague sense of doom blooms in his chest.

 

  This. This is the same face Wen Kexing made when he'd first seen Zhou Zishu without his mask. 

 

  "Lao Wen?" he urges. That expression flickers, and something else flits to the surface. Wen Kexing takes a step forward, stunted, as if hesitating. His eyes never stray from Zhou Zishu's face, absorbing it in a ravenous greed reminiscent of peddlers in rags and children thin as twigs. His hands, usually gesturing wildly to emphasize his words, hover at his sides in half-closed fists. Another step forward, dazed, uncertain. His eyebrows curve upward at the ends. There's a strange film on the bend of his cheeks, rosy in the pale sunlight.

 

  Zhou Zishu squints. What on Earth is going on with him?

 

  And then it hits him — a spark, a snip, and then a swell of smug, smug understanding.

 

  Wen Kexing, Philanthropist Wen, his Lao Wen, is shy.

 

  Must be the make up, Zhou Zishu muses, watching on in silence as Wen Kexing glides towards him. If this is what it takes to shut him up, I should wear a little rouge more often .

 

  The idea is amusing. Tapping on some powder just to stun the ever-chatty Wen Kexing into wordless stupors. It would prove an advantage. Zhou Zishu has to work to smother a grin at first, but as Wen Kexing nears, sinks down to his knees before him and leans into his personal space, Zhou Zishu finds that his humor fades rather quickly.

 

  The memory of their shared kiss beside the banks of a crystal river shudders down Zhou Zishu's spine, an errant rope swinging out of place in his carefully knotted labyrinth of control. He'd been trussed up in emotions at the time. Hardly focusing, only feeling and thinking, feeling and thinking and—

 

  He hadn't had the chance to savor whatever taste Wen Kexing left on the roof of his mouth. The scope of his hands, large and greedy, on his body. 

 

  There's a rekindle of that desire in the darkened chasm of his travelling companion's gaze. Perhaps even fiercer than before. A man caught in the heat will never forget the thirst quenched by sweet, cool water, even if he is no longer in need of it. The forbiddenness of a fruit makes even the taste of a lemon sweet . And hasn't Zhou Zishu declared himself forbidden?

 

  Zhou Zishu swallows. Wen Kexing's mouth parts, his jaw working in jerking clicks, as if biting back some carnal urge. Silence billows between them, thick in Zhou Zishu's lungs, in the stiffness of his fingers.

 

  "What?" he snaps, though it comes out half-hearted at best and wanting at worst. Wen Kexing doesn't even blink, yet a word slips past his clicking jaw—

 

  " Pretty ."

 

  Breath hitching, Zhou Zishu's heart gives a valiant throb, a cough in the space between two beats. He can't muster a reply, however, because Wen Kexing surges up and closes that final distance between them, slotting their lips together in a press so bruising that a startled grunt escapes Zhou Zishu.

 

  Hands curl at his face, guiding him further into Wen Kexing's questing mouth with long fingers lacing to the back of his head. It's soft , supple against his, with a warmth so potent that even Zhou Zishu's dull senses pick it up with frenzy. Wen Kexing molds them together, captures Zhou Zishu's bottom lip between sharp teeth and coaxes his mouth open. His lashes are trembling, cast over his cheeks, his forehead creased in concentration.

 

  "Lao Wen– mm…" he gasps, brows furrowing. Oh, to hell with it , he thinks, and closes his eyes. He nips back, hands clutching the slippery satin of Wen Kexing's outer robe to haul him in, and drape him over Zhou Zishu's dying, willing body.

 

  They kiss, starving, until Wen Kexing's tongue finds his, and Zhou Zishu swears against all his ancestors for birthing his miserable life. His tongue is textured, rough, yet so slick that the friction is nothing but delicious. His toes curl with the faint scratch of it, with the twisting of their lips to make way for shared, harsh breaths. Wen Kexing is such a good kisser, it's absurd. How breathless he makes Zhou Zishu with something so juvenile. How he throws everything into rendering him mindless, aching, as if this is his life's aspiration. To kiss Zhou Zishu until his heart gives. And how Zhou Zishu lets him. Reciprocates. Steals his teeth, his tongue, his hands and lets himself be devoured.

 

  Unbidden, he moans again. Wen Kexing hums in reply, softly, parting away for a split second before diving in once more. Insatiable, demanding, one hand dares to drift downward to the cleft of Zhou Zishu's shirt, clearly intending to draw it open.

 

  Even as he takes pleasure in the thorough exploring of Wen Kexing's mouth, he imagines that devilish tongue descending. Tracing the muscled tendons of his throat, arching over his pulse and sampling it's racing. Lower, to the jut of his collarbones where aroused sweat collects, licking up the salt, sucking marks into the flesh so deep that even make up wouldn't cover it. Lower still, to the line in the center of his chest, closing over the first cursed embedded nail—

 

  Zhou Zishu breaks their kiss. His tongue hovers, disturbingly cold now that it isn't held in the insistent cavern of Wen Kexing's mouth. Wen Kexing's mouth, which Zhou Zishu can't help but admire, is smeared with red makeup. Abruptly, Zhou Zishu remembers himself and where they are, and ducks away.

 

  "You smudged it," he grumbles, holding this snarling, decadent man at bay before he does something stupid like knock him down and find other uses for that gorgeous mouth.

 

  "Sorry, A-Xu," Wen Kexing says, panting, and he doesn't sound repentant whatsoever. "Couldn't help myself."

 

  "Bastard. Get off me." 

 

  Wen Kexing laughs, bright and unhinged, his eyes glassy and his stupid, stupid mouth wet. Zhou Zishu shoves him off and faces the bronze mirror, careful to avoid whatever debauched look his ruined courtesan makeup has given him. Seriously, the insolence of this asshole…

 

  Wen Kexing drops down beside him and reaches for the porcelain jar of moldable clay at Zhou Zishu's right. "What's this for?" he asks, the air of an unaffected, curious traveller. 

 

  Zhou Zishu mourns the tingle of his lips, recalling how long it stayed the first time they'd kissed, and watches Wen Kexing's features sour in disgust at the stench of the clay.

 

  "Eugh! Do you apply this to your face ?"

 

   Brat . Zhou Zishu takes to explaining himself, gaze occasionally slipping to check on the reddening of Wen Kexing's abused lips. They banter, poke and snark. Nothing new. Nothing changed.

 

  Perhaps this, too, will remain unspoken for now.