Zhou Zishu's next door neighbour is a man-eater.
And not of the "love them and leave them" variety. No, the endless parade of people he brings home just... never seem to make it back out. And then there are the noises. It’s not that they’re that loud, really. The average person would probably assume it’s just rather kinky sex, but Zhou Zishu is very familiar with the sound bones make when they snap.
Somehow, he’s not Zhou Zishu’s worst neighbour. No, that distinction goes to the woman who blasts upbeat pop music at the asscrack of dawn. (He’d tried to get her to knock it off, once, but she’d been supremely unimpressed by his best threatening aura, haughty despite the fact that it was 4 AM and she was wearing booty shorts and a pink sports bra. She’d looked him up and down, said he’d probably be cute if he cleaned up, and that he could hit her up if he ever got his shit together. I’m sick , he’d said, because that usually got people to do whatever he wanted. Sucks to be you , she’d replied before slamming the door in his face. He’s not sure if the people in this building are all freaks or if he just got unlucky.)
They've never actually met, in the months since Zhou Zishu moved in. They both keep odd hours, and Zhou Zishu is hardly ever up before noon. The apartment next door has usually been vacated long before that. Except, one night, he comes back from a grocery run (that is to say, picking up as much beer and instant noodles as he can reasonably carry) and there are two people in the hallway.
For all that he hasn’t seen him before, he knows which one of them is the neighbour instantly. Tall and pale and almost stunningly handsome, in an extravagant purple coat, and effortlessly manoeuvering his companion with one arm around his waist while speaking into his ear in honeyed tones. The guy looks like a serial killer.
The other man is pretty nondescript by comparison, dressed like an average office worker. The poor bastard seems a little tipsy, and like he can’t quite believe he got this lucky.
The neighbour starts to usher him inside. Zhou Zishu can’t quite make out what he’s saying, but the man looks eager.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," Zhou Zishu says, feeling uncharacteristically charitable.
"Mind your own fucking business," the stranger replies, pulling Zhou Zishu's neighbour closer. He lets himself be pushed around, laughs softly and whispers something, and they seem to forget Zhou Zishu’s existence altogether.
He shrugs and unlocks his own door, aware of the suddenly sharp gaze on his back. He doesn’t look. It was stupid of him, he thinks, to say anything. Now he’s drawn attention to himself.
When the screaming starts, a little later, he puts on his headphones.
The next morning, he wakes to insistent knocking. He drags himself out of bed, tired and achy and starving. Unsurprisingly, his neighbour is standing in front of his door. Less predictably, he’s holding a container of something that smells very good.
He really is good looking, Zhou Zishu idly notes. It’s no wonder he never runs out of prey. But there is something off-putting about him too, in soft natural light. His eyes are too dark. He doesn’t blink enough.
Zhou Zishu, not being a complete idiot, wonders if the door would stall the neighbour long enough for him to make a quick exit through the closest window. As he decides to put this theory to the test, however, he finds that he can’t move.
Shit. This really isn’t your average psycho.
"Hey neighbour,” the man says, and his voice sends a shudder down Zhou Zishu’s spine. It’s deep and pleasant and makes his instincts scream danger .
“I brought you breakfast! I realised yesterday we’d never talked before. I thought we should fix that. My name is Wen, Wen Kexing."
Zhou Zishu’s voice, at least, doesn’t seem to have betrayed him.
"I'm vegetarian," he lies. He doesn't particularly want to know what kind of meat this man might serve him.
The man smiles. It doesn’t reach his eyes.
“They’re just custard buns. I made them myself.”
He hands over the container, and Zhou Zishu is suddenly able to unpeel his hand from the doorknob. He peers down at its contents dubiously. The buns look perfect; whatever else he is, this guy is a good cook. Zhou Zishu has no idea what he wants with him.
Maybe they’re poisoned. His stomach rumbles at the smell and he decides that he’s too hungry to care.
“Thanks,” he says halfheartedly. “I have to go now.”
This time, he manages to close the door.
He doesn’t die. He leaves the empty container in front of his neighbour’s door in the futile hope of avoiding any further interactions.
A week later, his neighbour brings someone else home. Zhou Zishu has had a shitty day, and what he wants is a shower and enough alcohol to forget about it and pass out in peace. What he doesn’t want is to be reminded of whatever the fuck is going in that apartment.
Irritation and exhaustion make him careless enough that he bangs on the wall. The screaming stops abruptly, and Zhou Zishu has a good night’s sleep for once.
It’s not much of a surprise when Wen Kexing is at his door the next morning.
“Sorry about last night,” he says cheerfully. “I’ll try to be more careful, but I’m sure you know how it is. Sometimes people get… carried away,” he adds, tone suggestive.
Zhou Zishu does know. He’s murdered a few people in his time, though presumably less messily. He’s never tried to pass off the screams as some kind of tryst, though.
He raises a dubious eyebrow.
Wen Kexing’s expression turns sheepish. It’s a weird look on him, doesn’t quite belong on his features. He still doesn’t blink.
“It seems I haven’t been the best neighbour. Let me make it up to you! You should come over, sometime. I’ll make dinner.”
“No thanks. Find another snack.”
Wen Kexing shows no reaction to the fact that Zhou Zishu knows what he gets up to.
“A-Xu! Can I call you A-Xu? A beauty like you? It would be such a waste, I would never. Well, not that way anyway.”
“Zhou Xu” is the name on his lease, so the fact that Wen Kexing knows it is mildly concerning, but not as much as if he’d somehow learned Zhou Zishu’s actual name.
He winks and leans against the doorway, expression so sleazy it’s a little sickening. Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes.
“Does that usually work on people?”
Wen Kexing looks more amused than deterred.
“Yes. All the time!”
“You’re lucky you’re pretty,” he says, more honest than he normally would be.
That earns him a delighted laugh and he grits his teeth. He feels a little hazy, like he’s had three or four beers. So this is how it works, he thinks.
“Cut that out. Whatever you’re doing.”
Wen Kexing blinks, a flash of actual surprise in his expression.
“Just being friendly,” he says.
“Well, stop it.”
Zhou Zishu considers his offer. It’s been a long time, since he’s had dinner with someone. Drinks and conversation and a home-cooked meal. He can’t remember when the last time was.
“Fine,” he says, because moving to a new place would really be a lot of work.
Wen Kexing looks at him curiously.
“Your dinner invitation.”
There’s a moment of unnatural stillness that stretches a little too long as Wen Kexing processes this, and then he bursts into motion again.
“Alright! You won’t regret it!”
Zhou Zishu isn’t so sure about that.
Wen Kexing, it turns out, is good company. A gracious host and an excellent cook. He moves in the kitchen like he belongs there and chatters endlessly. He complains about his little sister’s useless boyfriend and workplace politics, has opinions on wine pairings. He keeps Zhou Zishu’s glass full and puts the best prawns on his plate.
It’s like a perfectly normal first date, or so Zhou Zishu supposes, aside from the fact that Wen Kexing doesn’t touch the food at all. He only watches Zhou Zishu eat, eerie gaze never wavering.
Against his better judgement, Zhou Zishu has a good time.
The apartment looks a lot like his. There are a few family photos held up by colorful magnets on the fridge, the only touch of warmth in the place. Everything else looks spotlessly clean and modern and expensive. Impersonal, like he bought everything in sets. Zhou Zishu can tell because he did the same.
After dinner they have a few more drinks and watch a mediocre action movie and Zhou Zishu feels… comfortable. As ways to die go, this wouldn’t be so bad. Better than his body slowly, painfully failing.
But nothing happens. They chat until Zhou Zishu feels tired, and when he gets up to leave, Wen Kexing says:
“I’ll walk you home.”
“I live next door.”
Wen Kexing pouts.
“Just let me be a gentleman, A-Xu.”
Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes, but lets him.
When they go out — usually in the middle of the night, and Zhou Zishu has no interest in nightclubs, so that rules out most of Wen Kexing’s usual haunts — they mostly go for strolls around the city.
The most surprising thing about Wen Kexing is the way he gets excited over mundane things. Zhou Zishu takes him to a night market, once, and he flutters from stand to stand with wide eyes like an overgrown moth, for all that he doesn’t touch anything himself. That doesn’t stop him from borrowing Zhou Zishu’s wallet and stuffing his arms with more food than he can possibly handle.
“What am I supposed to do with all of that?”
Wen Kexing looks at him like he’s the one being ridiculous.
Once he’s satisfied, they climb their way up to a roof they’re not supposed to be on and watch the moon as Zhou Zishu slowly munches his way through their pile of snacks.
“Aren’t you hungry?” Zhou Zishu asks. Wen Kexing is watching him like he’s the most interesting thing in the world.
“No.” Wen Kexing says.
Zhou Zishu knows it’s a lie. He thinks that maybe Wen Kexing is always hungry. He wonders how he eats, exactly. He doesn’t dump the bodies, so he must consume them more or less whole. Maybe he unhinges his jaw like a snake.
He doesn’t ask. Maybe one day Wen Kexing will tell him.
It’s not all moonlit dates. Some nights, when he gets back from work, Wen Kexing can smell the blood on him. It makes him possessive and restless, irritable.
“It’s not my blood, Lao Wen,” Zhou Zishu tells him, a little exasperated.
“I know that,” he snaps. “But it could be. If anyone hurt you—”
“You’re not the only dangerous person in this room,” Zhou Zishu snarls at him and when Wen Kexing refuses to back down, they fuck about it.
Wen Kexing is careful with him, usually. Restrained, which Zhou Zishu resents a little but understands. He is no stranger to pain, but he also likes being able to walk.
But this time Wen Kexing descends on him like he’s prey, with none of the usual teasing and near-reverence. Zhou Zishu is a little faster and has no qualms whatsoever about fighting dirty, but once Wen Kexing pins him down there is no breaking free.
He does that thing with his eyes too, that leaves Zhou Zishu feeling dazed and less inclined to struggle.
“Bastard,” he snaps when he realises what’s happening.
Wen Kexing kisses him so hard he bleeds, and Zhou Zishu viciously pulls at his hair in retaliation.
Maybe now he’ll kill me , he thinks absently, and wraps his legs around Wen Kexing’s waist to pull him closer.
He survives the encounter with nothing worse than an impressive assortment of bruises and bites, and the knowledge that his whole body is going to hurt in the morning.
“Sorry A-Xu,” Wen Kexing says, after. His hand rests delicately against Zhou Zishu’s neck, thumb over his still-settling pulse. “I just worry, that’s all.”
It makes Zhou Zishu laugh. When’s the last time anyone worried about him? Really cared whether he lived or died?
A few weeks later, Zhou Zishu announces his retirement by slitting his boss’s throat, fakes his death, and calls Wu Xi.
He meets Wen Kexing’s little sister. She seems… oddly normal, if somewhat poorly socialized. Unsurprising, given that Wen Kexing raised her.
“What’s so special about you?” The girl asks, looking skeptical, when Wen Kexing excuses himself to go work on dinner. “Ge doesn’t usually… do boyfriends.”
Which is putting it mildly.
Zhou Zishu doesn’t know either. Maybe his illness makes him unappetizing, though he’s slowly been improving (Wu Xi had been furious with him for not reaching out sooner. Beiyuan had looked upset. Getting soft in their old age, Zhou Zishu had thought, but he’d let them start putting him back together). Maybe that’s what Wen Kexing’s waiting for. For his health to improve, fattening him up so he makes a better meal. He thinks of Wen Kexing spending hours in the kitchen, humming to himself. Of his smiles whenever Zhou Zishu genuinely praises his cooking. Of the harried look he gets when Zhou Zishu just sits around drinking instead of making himself useful by chopping the vegetables.
He doesn’t know why Wen Kexing does any of it. But it would be a ridiculous amount of effort to put into any kind of deception.
The question stays with him, though.
“How come you don’t want to eat me?” he asks the next day. Wen Kexing is sitting on his sofa, watching a cooking show and taking notes in his elegant handwriting. An old coworker had spotted him while he was out buying socks, of all things. Zhou Zishu had had to kill him. It was messy and bloody and he has a headache and maybe he’s looking for something stupid to argue about.
He can’t blame Wen Kexing for being caught off-guard. They’ve never directly discussed his diet.
“You heard me.”
Wen Kexing looks at him anxiously, agitated. His neat little notebook is getting creased under his clenched fingers. Zhou Zishu reaches out to pluck it out of his grip, smoothing out the paper. Wen Kexing lets him.
“What kind of question is that? A-Xu, you— I would never!”
“Not a lot of meat, I guess. Probably not much of a meal,” he guesses. He is more or less skin and bones nowadays, though rest and homemade meals have filled him out a little in the past few months.
Wen Kexing is still looking at him like Zhou Zishu is the one who sometimes eats people,
Wen Kexing’s expression keeps wavering between mild offense and great confusion. Zhou Zishu has never seen him so off-balance, and he can’t help a smile from tugging at the corner of his mouth, suddenly in a better mood.
When he notices that Zhou Zishu is making fun of him, Wen Kexing settles for being annoyed.
“It’s not that I don’t want to. But I would have to be very stupid, to eat the person I love.”
Zhou Zishu has nothing to add to that.
After that, Wen Kexing abandons some of his carefully crafted facade of normalcy. Zhou Zishu likes it, for the most part. He hasn’t been anything like normal in a long, long time and it’s comforting, not to have to pretend that their hands aren’t blood-soaked. But sometimes it leads to odd conversations:
“Your eyes are so beautiful,” Wen Kexing says. “Sometimes I think about plucking them out so I can carry them with me always.”
Zhou Zishu pauses, finishes chewing and swallows his mouthful of rice.
“That would be inconvenient.”
“A-Xu, I’m being romantic.”
“You’re being a creep.”
Wen Kexing pouts, then grows quiet, thoughtful as Zhou Zishu keeps eating.
“A-Xu, do you think I’m a monster?”
Wen Kexing looks away, expression darkening and, absurdly, Zhou Zishu feels the urge to comfort him. He sighs.
“I don’t care what you are, Lao Wen.”
“You’re hardly the worst thing I’ve seen.” Or slept with , he doesn’t add, because Wen Kexing wouldn’t like that .
Wen Kexing kills to eat, after all. Zhou Zishu has done far worse for far less. Wen Kexing seems cheered up nonetheless.
“Such a sweet-talker, my A-Xu”
Zhou Zishu’s lease ends. He idly mentions it as Wen Kexing is meticulously folding his laundry. Zhou Zishu had not asked him to, but he’s not going to complain. Wen Kexing is great at getting bloodstains out of his shirts.
Wen Kexing goes unnaturally still.
“Are you… thinking about moving?” he asks.
“I’m at your place most nights anyway.” He explains awkwardly. He hadn’t thought he would have to. “I don’t see why I need to keep paying rent here.”
Suddenly, Wen Kexing is picking him up, twirling him around like he weighs nothing. He’s done it before, but it never gets any less unsettling. Zhou Zishu swears and kicks him, hard. Wen Kexing barely seems to notice.
“Of course you can move in with me!”
For a moment he’s practically beaming, and then he remembers something and grows hesitant, sets Zhou Zishu down.
“I’ll still have to bring people home.”
Zhou Zishu shrugs. He’s made his peace with it, more or less. What difference does being one wall closer make?
He’s reading in the bedroom when he hears a key turn in the front door. He wasn’t expecting Wen Kexing back so soon— he must’ve gotten lucky.
There’s some muted laughter from the living room, as Wen Kexing brings a glass of wine to his guest, voice low and hypnotic.
Zhou Zishu can’t help but scowl. Wen Kexing would laugh and laugh, if he knew that Zhou Zishu is, occasionally, a little jealous of his prey.
“Keep it down!” he shouts in their direction, and he hears the man stammer, breaking out of whatever trance Wen Kexing had him in.
“Sorry, A-Xu.” The voice is tender and low, projected for Zhou Zishu’s ears only.
There is a gross squelching sound. He puts his noise-cancelling headphones on and goes back to his novel. Less than an hour later, Wen Kexing comes to bed freshly showered and curls around him, warm and sleepy and content.
Zhou Zishu pets his head.
“Hmm.” Wen Kexing yawns. “What do you want for breakfast tomorrow?”
Zhou Zishu puts his book aside, settles down next to him. Wen Kexing buries his face in his neck.
“Whatever, as long as it’s not your leftovers.”