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Zhou Zishu is at his seventh schmoozing event this quarter when he decides he's had enough. All these people getting together to have overpriced alcohol and hors d'oeuvre that will never fill them, and for what? To gossip and act like old friends while planning to betray each other as soon as they're able.

This is not where he pictured he'd be ten or even fifteen years ago. If he had dreams back then, he's forgotten them, but it can't have been this – endlessly making nice with people he'd rather stab with something a little bigger than a dessert fork.

He will give Helian Yi one last night, then he's handing in his papers and leaving, regardless of what the Director has to say on the subject. He only took over the position as CEO of Tian Chuang Holdings because Helian Yi begged him. They built the company together, yes, but Zhou Zishu never pictured that he'd run it. That was mean to be Helian Yi's job – until, of course, Helian Yi got an offer to run one of his father's companies. Tian Chuang Holdings has been Zhou Zishu's burden ever since.

It has been five years, each of them more eventful than the last, though none of them more so than the past twelve months. Too many convenient scandals involving Zhou Zishu's (and Helian Yi's) old friends. Small companies virtually burned to the ground just so their intellectual property could be bought for a song. Discrepancies in accounts that were always brushed off as human error and followed by promises that they would be audited and fixed. And now he's had enough.

Zhou Zishu passes off the empty champagne glass to a nearby waiter and doesn't even allow himself to consider if it's a good idea before grabbing another. He's not going to survive tonight sober.

"You look like you're either too sober or not sober enough for this," Han Ying says as he walks up.

"The former," Zhou Zishu answers. He's always liked Han Ying, which is why he rarely lets it show. The people he got along with always seemed to get relocated. Of the original group that helped create Tian Chuang Holdings, Zhou Zishu is the only one still on the payroll. Everyone else has been fired or quit.

"I hear you," Han Ying says, gesturing with his own glass. "I'm not much for these things either."

"Then why come?" Zhou Zishu asks a little rougher than what's probably necessary. "You don't have to be here. I do."

Han Ying's cheeks look oddly flushed. "Oh, I -"

While there's no way a whole room can fall silent all at once, Zhou Zishu swears it happens. Zhou Zishu doesn't know if it means the Gods favour him or want him to suffer, but he's given first-row seats to the show all the same.

A man and a woman are standing in the overly extravagant doorway to the equally extravagant ballroom. The woman is pretty, dressed in a purple dress that is practically modest compared to some of the other dresses on display. It would surprise Zhou Zishu if she was a year over 21, if that, which makes her far too young for him. The man, however...

It shouldn't look good on him, but he somehow manages to pull off a wine-red two-piece suit. His hair is styled to perfection, and his smirk promises nothing but trouble.

"Who's that?" Zhou Zishu nods his head sharply.

Han Ying jolts and looks over his shoulder hesitantly. His eyes widen when they find their target. "Oh, uh -"

Nearby gossipers, however, beat Han Ying to the punch.

"Is that the CEO of Gui Gu Incorporated?" someone whispers – or so Zhou Zishu assumes, though their voice is far from quiet. "I thought he was still overseas."

"Didn't you hear?" someone else whispers back, voice as loud if not louder than their companion's. "He flew in late last night. There was a huge commotion at one of their hotels only a few hours later. The police had to be called. They say he was having an orgy in the presidential suite."

Zhou Zishu resists the urge to roll his eyes, but only just.

Han Ying's cheeks are somehow pinker than they were before.

"That him?"

Han Ying nods.

"Great." Zhou Zishu sighs. "One more smug, self-serving bastard that I have to avoid before I'm finally free."

Han Ying chokes. "S-sir?"

Zhou Zishu shakes his head. "Forget it." He downs the champagne in one go and sets the glass aside.

It's tempting to tell Han Ying that he's quitting, but it's too much of a risk. He doesn't think Han Ying will sell him out, but walls always seem to have ears at the worst possible times. "I think I've mingled long enough," he says instead. "I'm calling it a night. I'll see you."

If Han Ying returns the sentiment, he doesn't hear it, already well on his way towards the door.

It takes some work to make it through the room without getting accosted. It doesn't help that he's already made the rounds and shaken 'the right' hands and said 'the right things.' For all that he's known for detesting gossip, they always try to make him hang around for more or seek him out later.

Zhou Zishu is almost home free when someone steps directly into his path. His smirk is even more dangerous up close. He sounds far too interested when he says, "I don't believe we've been introduced. Who might you be, handsome?"

"No one important," Zhou Zishu says in the hopes that this guy will leave him alone.

"That suit doesn't say 'no one important,'" he purrs, leaning in closer and seemingly not caring about the drink he's precariously close to spilling. "That suit says -"

"Boss!"

A flash of irritation crosses his irritator's face.

Zhou Zishu recognises the woman. Or, more accurately, he recognises her purple dress. So, not boyfriend and girlfriend, then. An assistant, maybe. Well, it's not like this guy would be the first to sleep with his assistant.

The woman looks between them, and an unabashed look of disgust crosses her face. Zhou Zishu takes a step to the side, though she seems more interested in having a staring contest with her boss. He doesn't know which of them is winning, nor does he particularly care.

"I won't keep you," Zhou Zishu says and makes to leave.

"Aiyo, who says you're keeping me?" He drapes an arm around Zhou Zishu's shoulders and doesn't even seem to notice that Zhou Zishu shrugs it off immediately. "Stay for a while."

"Can't," Zhou Zishu says unapologetically. "I'm busy."

"On this fine evening, at this," he gestures around the room, "spectacular event? Surely not."

"You must not come to these things often," Zhou Zishu says bluntly. "These events are many things, but spectacular is not one of them."

His eyes are practically gleaming. "If you're a part of them? I find that hard to believe."

"Boss -"

"Whatever it is, A-Xiang, it can wait," he says and waves a hand at her.

The woman – A-Xiang – scowls at him and visibly stomps her foot before stalking off, muttering rude words under her breath that are undoubtedly directed at her boss. Zhou Zishu sympathises. He's tempted to do the same.

"Now," he grins, "I believe we were ever so rudely interrupted just as you were about to give me your name."

"It's customary to give your name before asking for someone else's," Zhou Zishu says instead of leaving as he obviously should.

Somehow, this only makes him smile wider. "Of course, where are my manners? My name is Wen, Wen Kexing."

"Nice to meet you, Boss Wen," Zhou Zishu says, voice just this side of dry. "Unfortunately, I have to go. We will have to resume this some other time."

Instead of insisting that he stay, Wen Kexing gives an amused smile and says, "I will hold you to that, handsome."

Zhou Zishu tries not to feel wrongfooted – and then tries not to wonder why he would be feeling wrongfooted. He decides to ignore all of that and starts walking before Wen Kexing can change his mind.

"Fated people are meant to meet again," Wen Kexing calls after him – which is predictable in a way that the words aren't. "I look forward to our next meeting."

May it be never, Zhou Zishu thinks to himself as he steps out of the ballroom – and, finally, out of the dreadful high-class life.

 


 

It's been three months, but he's still not quite used to his new circumstances. Helian Yi, predictably, didn't take too kindly to his letter of resignation. Zhou Zishu had to remind him of how far back they went before he would agree to let Zhou Zishu go, and even then it was because Zhou Zishu didn't deny that he might come back one day. It's a lie that might come back to haunt him, he's too relieved to worry about that now.

Of course, leaving the company wasn't the only item on his agenda. He sells his apartment and most of his things before moving to the first remote place he can find on a map. He rents a small studio apartment with furnishings that haven't been replaced in the last century or so. He gives everything a deep-clean before settling in properly.

He has more than enough money than he could ever spend in a lifetime, but the money is stuck in a bank account that Helian Yi can get access to if he decides Zhou Zishu has been gone for too long. He closes that account and moves all his money to a locked savings account. While he knows Helian Yi can find him if he becomes persistent enough, it doesn't hurt to make it more difficult. And at least the people at this bank won't automatically bend to Helian Yi's will just because they do business with his father.

The last thing he does is to get a job. The first thing he finds in the papers – the actual papers because he's determined to stay far, far away from the internet – is in sanitation. Somehow, he gets the job. The hours are brutal, and he tests the hot water supply in the building every time he has to shower off the stink, but the pay is decent, and the work keeps him occupied and tires him out enough to get a decent night's rest.

People might think it's hard to go from having everything to having almost nothing, but not for Zhou Zishu. If anything, it's freeing. There are no people constantly vying for his attention or trying to catch him off-guard for some story. Instead, there's just him and a grumpy stray that hangs around his apartment building. He's named the cat Baiyi for no other reason than the fact that its coat is white – and a little because it reminds him of one of the uncles in town.

His days start at 5 AM sharp. He wakes up, has a small breakfast, gets dressed and throws some scrap at Baiyi before heading to work. He gets home around 1 PM, showers for as long as the pipes can handle and has a quick second lunch before crashing for a couple of hours. He spends most of his free time outside, just enjoying the fresh air without being worried about getting photographed doing something he shouldn't. He joins the uncles at the park every weekend and lets them berate him for wasting his youth while correcting his stances like he hasn't been taking martial arts since he was five years old. The aunties watching always try to matchmake him with their grandkids even though he keeps telling them he's happy alone.

It's a good life.

Of course, it can't last.

He's exhausted when he comes off his shift. They've gotten another rowdy tenant at the building who doesn't seem to realise that the walls are paper-thin and keeps blasting their music way past sensible hours. He's left several messages with the landlord but knows it's unlikely that anything will come from it. But until the landlord finally gets off his ass and does something, or the tenant gets bored and leaves, Zhou Zishu knows he'll be running on less sleep. He blames those things for almost bowling someone over.

"Sorry," Zhou Zishu says, already moving to walk past them.

"Easy there, friend," a familiar voice says as a hand lands on his shoulder.

Zhou Zishu stills. He doesn't know why the voice is familiar, and that has him on edge. He looks up through the bangs he hasn't bothered to get cut since he left and immediately wishes he hadn't.

"Why, hello," Wen Kexing says, eyes gleaming far too brightly. "Don't I know you?"

"No," Zhou Zishu says brusquely, brushing off his hand. "Excuse me -"

"No, I'm sure I do," Wen Kexing insists as he steps into Zhou Zishu's path. "What's your name, handsome?"

Zhou Zishu can't help it. He stares at Wen Kexing through his sweat-dried bangs. He's largely given up on shaving, he knows there's dirt somewhere on his face that he hasn't been able to scrub off, and his baggy overalls couldn't state his chosen profession any louder. If Zhou Zishu was more familiar with the man, he'd worry about Wen Kexing's eyesight.

"What's your  name," Zhou Zishu says instead, not even bothering to make it into a question. Maybe if he's rude enough, Wen Kexing will leave him alone.

"Wen, Wen Kexing. And how may I address this handsome one?"

No such luck then.

"Zhou Xu," he says, giving his new name because it's the first thing he can think of, and there's no way he's giving Wen Kexing his real name.

Wen Kexing's smile widens. "It's lovely to meet you again, A-Xu."

Zhou Zishu almost jolts back. "What did you just -"

"Let me buy you lunch," Wen Kexing interrupts. "You look starving."

Wen Kexing's picture must be in the dictionary next to insufferable. Nothing else would make sense.

"I have somewhere to be," Zhou Zishu says, "so if you'll excuse me -"

"Is that so?" Wen Kexing cuts in yet again. "Let me walk you!"

Perhaps Wen Kexing was dropped on his head as a child. Several times. In rapid succession.

"That's unnecessary," he says. "Feel free to go about your day."

"But my day was so bleak until you walked into it!" Wen Kexing says at such a volume that it's a wonder they aren't drawing stares. Or maybe they are. Zhou Zishu doesn't feel like checking. "How could I let you simply walk away now that life finally feels like it has meaning again?"

Zhou Zishu stares at him. What.

He's so shocked that he doesn't react in time to avoid Wen Kexing's arm draping itself over his shoulders. It's like Wen Kexing can't even see the dirt on his clothes – or maybe doesn't care that the dry-cleaning of his suit would cost more than Zhou Zishu's favourite corner store profits in a month. "Come. Lunch. I insist."

"No." Zhou Zishu brushes him off. "I  insist. Goodbye."

Wen Kexing sighs dramatically. "Oh, very well," he says, sounding quite put-out. "I can see you're busy. Give me your number, then."

"Don't own a phone." Zhou Zishu starts walking. Maybe that would make Wen Kexing take the hint.

"Who doesn't own a phone?" Wen Kexing says from where he's now walking beside him. Is Zhou Zishu never going to be rid of this pest?

"I  don't."

Phones could be traced, so that was one of the things he got rid of when he moved. He's saved everything remotely important on a USB-stick, and he knows all of the numbers he needs by heart. There are still phone booths in this part of the world. If he needs to call someone, he knows where to go.

"I can buy you one if -"

"No," Zhou Zishu says firmly. "Please stop following me."

Wen Kexing doesn't give him a verbal answer to his plea, but his next reply is distant – as if he stopped walking when Zhou Zishu asked it of him. "I will stand on this corner every day and wait for you if I have to, A-Xu. We're fated, you and I!"

Zhou Zishu only just holds himself back from asking Boss Wen how many people he's called himself 'fated' with. Something tells him it would be a high number, and he doesn't want to think about why that potentially would feel upsetting.

 


 

Wen Kexing, true to his word, is waiting for him at the same corner they almost bumped into each other the next day. Zhou Zishu's already persistent headache starts pounding harder.

"A-Xu!"

"I'm going to get a restraining order," Zhou Zishu says as he walks past.

"Is someone bothering you, A-Xu?" Wen Kexing says, clearly not getting the idea as he moves into step with Zhou Zishu. "Tell me their name. I'll take care of them for you."

"I can take care of them myself," Zhou Zishu says brusquely.

"Oh, I don't doubt it, A-Xu, but if you need help -"

"I wouldn't ask you," Zhou Zishu interrupts.

"A-Xu!" Zhou Zishu doesn't dare to look to check, but it sounds like Wen Kexing is pouting. He's a grown man, for heaven's sake. "Words hurt, you know."

"I'm tired, Lao Wen," he says, as much as the admission hurts him. "Can we not do this today?"

Wen Kexing is silent.

Even though he knows he shouldn't, Zhou Zishu stops and turns. Wen Kexing is standing several steps back, staring right at him.

"Wen Kexing?"

"Of course, A-Xu," he says then as if woken to life by the sound of his name. "Anything you desire."

Zhou Zishu frowns. That sounds far too accommodating.

"As long as you keep calling me Lao Wen," Wen Kexing adds, just to prove Zhou Zishu right.

He bites back a sigh.

"I will see you tomorrow, then. Should I bring some headache medication?"

Zhou Zishu turns around and starts walking again. "Don't show up," he throws over his shoulder. "That should cure my headache."

"A-Xu!"

Zhou Zishu just keeps walking.

Even though his head is still killing him, he doesn't immediately head home. He buys some headache medication, trying not to let his thoughts drift to Wen Kexing, and waits for it to start working while the old computer at the internet café boots up. He enters Wen Kexing's name into the search bar and massages his temples while the computer processes his request.

Baidu finally spits out an answer to his request about a minute later. The first result is a row of pictures of Wen Kexing smirking at the camera from different angles. Most of the pictures are paparazzi shots from various events. One is from the cover of a magazine. Zhou Zishu thinks they might have done an article on him, once, or at least Tian Chuang, but he can't remember. He forces himself to look away from Wen Kexing's glimmering eyes and scrolls down to the articles.

Wen Kexing, 30 years old, single, and current CEO of Gui Gu Incorporated. He's the youngest CEO of the company ever, or so the article claims, having taken over at 'the tender age of 27.' It describes the change in leadership as 'bloody,' and gleefully explains that most of the board of directors were swapped within the first few months of Wen Kexing taking over. The company has been on the rise ever since, firmly establishing itself in the hotel and entertainment industry. The article lists the capital as the location of GGI's headquarters, with several hotels throughout the largest cities in the country. None of that explains what Wen Kexing is doing in Zhou Zishu's neck of the woods.

Switching his search to focus on GGI locations and hotels doesn't help. There isn't a GGI hotel within four hours of his current location, nor are there any rumours of a hotel or 'entertainment establishment' being built anywhere close by. Wen Kexing's presence makes no sense.

Zhou Zishu leaves the internet café with more questions than answers and a bad feeling in his gut.

 


 

Zhou Zishu feels wrongfooted when he doesn't meet Wen Kexing the next day or the one after.

No, not wrongfooted, he feels...ill at ease. He doesn't know why Wen Kexing was in town – if he's still in town – and whether he recognised Zhou Zishu and is just waiting for the right moment to start blackmailing him. Even though it doesn't sound anything like the man Zhou Zishu has met so far, Zhou Zishu can't let himself forget that Wen Kexing has corporate blood. People like him can be far more brutal than they seem at first glance.

"Your stance is all wrong," Uncle Gu, predictably, says when Zhou Zishu shows up ats the park that weekend.

For once, Uncle Gu is right. Zhou Zishu mumbles an apology and corrects his stance.

"You all right, boy?" Uncle Long asks.

"What?" Zhou Zishu blinks. "Yes."

"You've never apologised before," Uncle Long points out.

Uncle Li coughs a laugh. "He's right, kid. You always just glare. This is a nice change of pace!"

Zhou Zishu bites back a sigh. "I'm fine."

Uncle Ye harrumphs. "Youth is wasted on the young," he says like he wouldn't look a day over 30 without the grey streaks in his hair. Depending on his mood, Uncle Ye claims to be everything between 50 and 150. He still hasn't forgiven Zhou Zishu for naming a stray after him.

The uncles end their session soon after. Zhou Zishu is bowing to them when he hears someone calling his name.

"A-Xu!"

It can only be one person.

It's too late to run away. The uncles are already looking over his shoulder with interest, which means the aunties are probably already gossiping away. If he doesn't face the music now, he'll be in for it next week.

He could, of course, just stop showing up at the park. Except that one of the aunties runs the corner store he shops at, and the town is small enough that they would easily be able to track him down if he changed stores. And if he leaves now, he can't control the narrative. Wen Kexing cannot be around these people alone. Who knows what he might say?

Zhou Zishu likes this town. He's settled. Yes, he could pull up roots and move, but he doesn't want to. Not yet.

Cursing Wen Kexing's name, he turns around to face the demon.

Wen Kexing is beaming brightly when their eyes meet. He's waving eagerly like he thinks Zhou Zishu somehow missed Wen Kexing calling his name.

"I missed you," Wen Kexing says far, far too loudly.

Zhou Zishu approaches him briskly – if nothing else than to stop Wen Kexing from shouting. "It hasn't even been three days."

"Incorrect," Wen Kexing says, looking far too gleeful once they both come to a stop. "It has been three days and two and a half hours, give or take a couple of minutes."

Zhou Zishu stares at him.

"I'm sorry we kept missing each other," Wen Kexing continues and moves to put his arm around Zhou Zishu again. Zhou Zishu only just side-steps him. "Work kept me away. Not to worry, I won't let it happen again."

There is tittering coming from the benches the aunties are sitting at. Zhou Zishu doesn't blush often but finds himself suppressing the urge now.

"Who's worrying?"

"Awww," Wen Kexing grins and leans closer, "are you blushing, A-Xu~?"

"Why are you here?" Zhou Zishu asks roughly.

Wen Kexing's grin is practically unholy in its glee. "To see my A-Xu, of course!"

Zhou Zishu chokes. "Your -"

"Xiao Zhou!" one of the aunties calls out. "Come over here and introduce us to your friend."

Zhou Zishu hates that he can hear the quotes around 'friend.' His reputation is forever ruined with the aunties – and the uncles, he corrects after looking over at them. They're visibly as eager for gossip, just less willing to be upfront about it. Even Uncle Ye is eyeing them.

Before Zhou Zishu can react, Wen Kexing has already grabbed his wrist and started pulling him along. He pulls out of Wen Kexing's grip, even folds his arms over his chest for good measure, but the damage has already been done. The aunties are visibly gossiping about it even as they get closer.

"Hello, ladies," Wen Kexing says, smiling like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "My name is Wen, Wen Kexing. It is wonderful to meet you." The bastard even bows. No less than three of the aunts are tittering. One is even fanning herself.

"Have you known our Xiao Zhou for long?" Auntie Long asks, sounding innocent enough. Zhou Zishu knows better.

"Not very long at all, Auntie," Wen Kexing says with a smile. "But we're soulmates. I can tell."

Zhou Zishu has to resist the urge to punch Wen Kexing right in his perfectly punchable face.

The aunties, of course, titter giddily.

"Where have you been hiding this one, Xiao Zhou?" Auntie Zhang asks. "He's adorable!"

"We met less than a week ago," Zhou Zishu hears himself say as if in a haze. Now he has to resist the urge to punch himself.

The aunties aww  and coo.

"What can I say?" Wen Kexing says and somehow manages to link their arms even though Zhou Zishu's are still folded. Zhou Zishu tries to shake him off, but Wen Kexing doesn't even blink. "I saw him and knew I'd met the one."

The aunties aww  loudly.

Zhou Zishu is developing a twitch in his eye.

"I'm so glad you've finally found yourself a boyfriend, Xiao Zhou," Auntie Rong says and even winks at him for good measure.

"He's not my -"

"Thank you so much, Auntie," Wen Kexing interjects smoothly. "I will do my best to look after our A-Xu."

Somehow, the aunties manage to coo louder.

"We'll be taking our leave now," Wen Kexing says like he has the authority to speak for them both. "It was wonderful meeting you."

"Oh, do come again, dearie," Auntie Zhang says. "Any friend of Xiao Zhou's is a friend of ours."

"I'm sure our husbands would love to meet you too," Auntie Long says pointedly.

"Next time," Wen Kexing says smoothly. "I can tell our A-Xu is eager to get home."

The aunties somehow find it necessary to titter even louder.

Zhou Zishu allows himself to be tugged away if only because he'll eventually have the privacy that he needs to scream at Wen Kexing. Who  does he think he is?

Wen Kexing, of course, doesn't unlink their arms when they're a respectable distance from the park. It's up to Zhou Zishu to shake him off.

"What do you think you're doing?" he snaps.

"Walking you home, of course," Wen Kexing says like it's obvious.

Zhou Zishu points at him angrily. "You're not walking me anywhere."

"Aww," and there it is, the pout in all its glory, "A-Xu -"

"Why did you tell the aunties we were boyfriends?"

"Technically, I didn't," Wen Kexing says, shrugging easily. He leans in closer to whisper, "I just didn't correct them."

Zhou Zishu stares at him. "That's not better," he says. "That's still lying."

"Only because I haven't asked you to be my boyfriend yet," Wen Kexing says with a grin. "Say, A-Xu -"

"No."

Wen Kexing gasps and presses a hand to his chest. "So cruel to your soulmate!"

"Who's your soulmate?" Zhou Zishu says brusquely.

"You, of course," Wen Kexing says without an ounce of shame.

Zhou Zishu tries not to start swearing at him. "You don't know me!" he says instead.

Wen Kexing only grins. "Of course I do," he says far too earnestly. "You will see, A-Xu."

He's insane. There's no other explanation.

"I'm leaving," Zhou Zishu says bluntly. "Don't follow me." He starts walking without waiting for a response.

"Until next time, soulmate!" Wen Kexing calls after him.

Zhou Zishu bites back the urge to shiver.

 


 

Zhou Zishu stays perfectly still as he waits for the call to connect. He could have bought a disposable cell, of course, but buying a phone felt like a concession. Like he might be thinking about going back. This is better.

"Hello?"  Han Ying is audibly wary when he picks up, but at least he answered.

"It's Zhou Zishu," he says, keeping his voice low.

"Boss Zhou?!"  Zhou Zishu can practically picture Han Ying's look of surprise. "Is that you? What happened? Where did you go?"

"I had to take a leave of absence," he says as vaguely as he can. "Sorry, but I can't tell you more."

"O-of course,"  Han Ying says, audibly rattled. "I'm so glad you called. Is there anything I can help you with?"

Zhou Zishu bites back the urge to swallow. "I need everything you can find on Wen Kexing."

"Wen Kexing?"  Han Ying echoes, sounding confused. "The CEO of Gui Gu Inc.?"

"That's the one."

"Of course, Boss,"  Han Ying says, even though he still sounds confused. "How can I get it to you?"

That is the one kink in his plans. He licks his lips. As much as he'd prefer to have it emailed or even sent through the post, there is an infinitely safer method. Provided that Han Ying follows Zhou Zishu's instructions. "I'm going to need you to bring it to me. When's your next day off?"

 


 

Han Ying almost walks past him, even though there's no one else in the park. His cheeks are flushed when Zhou Zishu waves him over.

"I'm sorry, Boss," he says as he slumps onto the bench beside him. "I didn't recognise you."

"Have I let myself go that much?" Zhou Zishu says dryly.

Han Ying's cheeks turn even pinker as he starts digging through his messenger bag. He pulls out a folder and holds it out to Zhou Zishu.

Zhou Zishu accepts it and immediately slips it into the bag he brought for the occasion. "You weren't followed?"

Han Ying shakes his head. "Everyone thinks I'm visiting my aunt today."

"Good. Good."

"Boss..." The questions are so loud in Han Ying's eyes that it almost would have been better if he'd asked them out loud.

Zhou Zishu places a hand on his shoulder. "Don't ask questions you aren't prepared to hear the answers to."

Han Ying lowers his head.

"Thanks for the folder," he says. If it sounds like a dismissal, well, it's not without reason.

Han Ying nods and pushes to his feet. "It was nice seeing you again, Boss," he says, looking up. "Everyone at the company misses you."

"I'm sure Duan Pengju is doing a fine job." He didn't stick around to oversee the entire transfer of power, but he knows who the CEO position went to. Zhou Zishu may have his reservations about the man, but Duan Pengju is undoubtedly a better fit for the current climate in the company.

Han Ying's expression goes a little pinched, but he doesn't speak. Zhou Zishu tries not to think about what that might mean.

Zhou Zishu nods towards the road. "I'll try to check in more often, all right?" he says, even though he shouldn't.

Han Ying practically perks up. "Talk to you later, then, Boss!"

Zhou Zishu just nods.

Han Ying is still visible in the distance when someone else plops themselves down onto the bench next to Zhou Zishu, far closer than Han Ying dared to sit. Zhou Zishu isn't even surprised when he turns his head to find Wen Kexing looking back at him.

"Who was that?" Wen Kexing says, nodding towards Han Ying's form just before it slips around a corner and is gone.

"No one important," Zhou Zishu says before he can think it through.

Wen Kexing arches an eyebrow. "He didn't look too important, no," he agrees, "but he was talking to you. And you, A-Xu, are very important."

"I'm no one," Zhou Zishu disagrees and pushes himself to his feet.

"You're my soulmate," Wen Kexing says as he pushes himself up as well. "No one is more important than you."

Zhou Zishu looks at him through lidded eyes.

Wen Kexing makes no sense. Zhou Zishu doesn't have to look at the papers Han Ying gathered for him to know that there will be nothing in it that can explain what the CEO is going in this backwater town. By all accounts, even if he did have business somewhere nearby, it should have concluded days ago. And yet, here he remains.

"What are you doing here, Lao Wen?"

Wen Kexing's mouth twitches. "Here, on Earth?"

"Here, in this town," Zhou Zishu says before Wen Kexing can start waxing poetic again.

Wen Kexing smiles. "Falling in love."

Zhou Zishu scoffs. "You can't be serious for one second, can you?"

Wen Kexing's smile disappears in a flash. "I would never joke about my feelings for you, A-Xu," he says, sounding as serious as he looks. "I couldn't."

"You don't know me," he says dismissively.

"I know the important bits," Wen Kexing says, sounding unconcerned as he slips his hands into the pockets of his undoubtedly expensive slacks. "Everything else is just minor details. I can learn those in time."

"We haven't even known each other for a week," Zhou Zishu hears himself say without quite knowing why. He should leave. There is no point in humouring Wen Kexing. He clearly won't be moved.

"Love at first sight," Wen Kexing says. "My mother swore by it. She says she took one look at my father and just knew she had to marry him. I didn't believe her, not really. Not until I met you."

"Chemicals in the brain," he says even though he knows there's no point.

"Most things are just chemicals and neurons firing in the brain, A-Xu," he says. "That doesn't invalidate them."

He should leave. He should call the police, get a restraining order. He should move.

"Name one thing you know about me," he says instead.

Wen Kexing smiles. "You're proud, and you care more than you like to show. You're here not because you have to be, but because you want to be. You have something to hide, but so do we all, A-Xu. Don't let that worry you," he says like he thinks he's assuring Zhou Zishu with his words. And then he keeps going. "You've been trained in martial arts since you were young, but you're still nice enough to let the uncles bully you about your form. You abhor gossip, but you still let the aunties gush and needle you. You like cats, though I don't know what you see in that old monster. You enjoy the simple things in life, not because wealth is out of your reach but because simple things are just that – simple. Uncomplicated. True. And you've been around enough fake things that you can't stomach them anymore. How am I doing so far?"

Zhou Zishu notices then that he's grabbing onto his bag far tighter than what is strictly necessary. He forces himself to loosen his grip. "I think I should be filing for a restraining order."

Wen Kexing doesn't even look worried. "I know you, A-Xu. I won't apologise for that, but I will apologise if that frightens you."

"You don't frighten me," he says, more on autopilot than because it's true.

Something unfamiliar is shining in Wen Kexing's eyes when he says, "And that  frightens you, doesn't it?"

Zhou Zishu doesn't answer. He leaves instead. Wen Kexing, blessedly, lets him go.

 


 

He makes a pit-stop to call in sick to work and spends the rest of the day pouring over the folder Han Ying gave him.

Nothing in it explains why Wen Kexing is there or why he seems so fascinated by Zhou Zishu. All the folder teaches him is that Wen Kexing was orphaned at a young age and grew up in the system. He emancipated himself at 16, promptly tested himself out of high school, and breezed through a Degree in Business and another in Economics. He interned at Gui Gu Inc. while still in college and was snapped up as soon as he finished his last degree. He rose through the ranks quickly until he finally takes over as CEO.

According to the documents, Wen Kexing rooted out a good chunk of corruption during his take-over. No charges were filed, but plenty of people were let go and has since vanished from the business world.

The folder paints Wen Kexing as a cold, ruthless, and ambitious man that isn't afraid of going after what he wants. And that is not the man Zhou Zishu has met at all.

Oh, Wen Kexing has made sure that Zhou Zishu knows that Wen Kexing wants him and isn't afraid to keep trying after Zhou Zishu has already brushed him off, but he's not ruthless. He's not cold. Manipulative, yes, and not afraid to lie either. But not...not at all like Zhou Zishu thought he would be when he first saw him at the other end of the ballroom. Not even how he thought Wen Kexing would be when he flirted with Zhou Zishu for the first time.

Another document reveals the identity of the woman Wen Kexing showed up at the gala with. Gu Xiang is 21, and Wen Kexing's adoptive sister/assistant. Zhou Zishu isn't sure how that works, nor does he care to find out. Zhou Zishu is surprised to find that Gu Xiang is married and that he's heard of her husband – and not just in passing. Cao Weining is a lawyer at Mo & Mo Associates, most known for taking on more pro bono cases than a lawyer technically should. He used to be in hot water with the former Boss Mo quite often until the firm's leadership got a bit of a shuffle. Now that Mo Huaikong has taken over and let Mo Huaiying's son fill in as the other Mo at the firm, things are running much smoother.

Somehow, the strangest fact is that while there is plenty of gossip surrounding Wen Kexing's love life, none of it can be proven. All the rumours of his sex parties and orgies seem to be just that – rumours. Started by whom, and for what reason, Zhou Zishu doesn't know. Or care. Though somehow, it wouldn't surprise him if Wen Kexing is the master behind it all. After all, if he didn't want to be known as the biggest flirt and sex fiend in the capital, then he has enough money to make it all go away. But he hasn't. Which begs the question why.

The sun is about to peek up over the horizon when Zhou Zishu puts the last page back into the folder and closes it. His eyes are burning, but he doubts he'll be able to get any sleep. There is just too much going on in his head. All the same, he puts the folder somewhere safe before lying down on the ratty futon. He stares up at the ceiling while his mind churns and churns.

Zhou Zishu doesn't remember falling asleep, but it's midday when he next opens his eyes. He curses himself for not setting an alarm, fully aware that his sleep-schedule is now well and truly fucked  for his next shift.

After a breakfast that is technically more of a lunch, he heads out. If his schedule is already on the fritz, he might as well do his weekly shopping early.

Baiyi is waiting by the front door when he steps outside. The cat hisses when it spots him and runs towards its favourite spot – the alley between Zhou Zishu's building and the one opposite.

Zhou Zishu finds himself pausing. For some reason, he finds himself remembering what Wen Kexing said. Wen Kexing called him a cat person and Baiyi an old monster even though Zhou Zishu doesn't know when  Wen Kexing would have met the grumpy feline.

A look towards the alleyway reveals two glimmering eyes pointed at him. The cat hisses like it knows that Zhou Zishu can see them and isn't happy about it. And yet, Baiyi had waited by the door for him.

Zhou Zishu pulls out his wallet and does a quick count of the money there before going left when he would usually be going right. He has a few extra things to shop for.

 


 

"I cannot believe you've adopted that old monster, but still won't let me see where you live," Wen Kexing says when Zhou Zishu sees him next.

Zhou Zishu decides not to ask how Wen Kexing knows that he spent the rest of the day before slowly coaxing Baiyi out of the alley and into his arms. He's a little worried that the apartment will be a mess when he comes back, but there's nothing in there that he can't replace if the landlord makes a fuss about it. The furniture may be old, but everything was already scuffed and worn-in before Zhou Zishu set foot in the apartment.

"I've known Baiyi for longer," Zhou Zishu says dismissively.

"But I'm your soulmate, A-Xu," Wen Kexing says, clearly pouting at him for all that Zhou Zishu refuses to check. "Not that monster."

"Watch who you're calling monster. He's family now."

Wen Kexing sniffs.

It should probably worry him that he's not more worried or bothered by Wen Kexing following him down the sidewalk through town. Technically, Zhou Zishu could ask his team to drop him off in front of his building at the end of their shift, but it's always seemed better to walk from the depot. The depot isn't far from his apartment, and then he gets his daily walk in. He spends most of his day sitting or hanging off a vehicle, after all, and he's always felt restless if he spends too much time sitting around. A short walk to and from work at least fills his daily quota.

"Don't you have more important things you should be doing?" Zhou Zishu asks while they're waiting for the light to change.

Wen Kexing sighs dramatically. "I told you, A-Xu, nothing is more important than -"

"I'll keep not believing you," Zhou Zishu cuts him off.

"So cruel  to your soulmate."

Zhou Zishu starts walking instead of acknowledging Wen Kexing's ridiculous statement.

Several things happen in quick succession.

"A-Xu!" Wen Kexing shouts suddenly, sounding worried.

Zhou Zishu turns, catching a glimpse of headlights in the corner of his eye.

Wen Kexing grabs onto his arm and pulls.

Zhou Zishu is getting dirt, and who knows what else all over Wen Kexing's previously pristine suit while Wen Kexing clings to him.

There's a honk as a car flies past them right where Zhou Zishu was just standing.

For a moment, Zhou Zishu can't move. He's only distantly aware of Wen Kexing's arms around him and the heart that he can feel pounding in Wen Kexing's chest. The only thing running through Zhou Zishu's mind is that he almost walked in front of a moving car – and Wen Kexing saved him.

Oh.

Oh.

"-Xu? A-Xu! A-Xu, are you all right?!"

The sounds filter in slowly. There's a murmur of other worried voices, but Wen Kexing's is the loudest by far.

Zhou Zishu shakes his head slowly and tries to push himself away from Wen Kexing's body, only to be stopped.

"You're not?" Wen Kexing says, sounding devastated. "Somebody call an ambulance!"

"I'm fine," Zhou Zishu says. For some reason, his voice sounds distant, almost like he's not even in the same room as himself – and isn't that an odd thought?

Wen Kexing pulls back then, sharply, and stares at him from an arm's length. He still hasn't let go of Zhou Zishu's shoulders. "You're not fine," he snaps. "We're getting you to a hospital."

"I'm fine," he repeats. "Lao Wen," he says when it becomes clear that Wen Kexing is going to argue, "I'm fine. I just wasn't expecting that, is all."

Wen Kexing stares at him.

Zhou Zishu pats one of the hands that Wen Kexing is using to grab onto him. "I promise."

The breath that Wen Kexing releases is the furthest thing from steady. He's clearly reluctant to do so, but he releases his grip on Zhou Zishu all the same. For some reason, Zhou Zishu's shoulders feel cold now.

"You can walk me home," Zhou Zishu hears himself say, "if you're so worried."

Something seems to both mend and break in Wen Kexing's eyes. The grin he plasters on is forced, and Zhou Zishu doesn't know why he wishes that it was genuine instead. "If A-Xu wishes for me to walk him home, of course I have to say yes."

Zhou Zishu allows himself to let out a sigh. "You don't change, do you?" he says.

Wen Kexing doesn't answer.

A hand slips into his while they're waiting for the light to change. Zhou Zishu says nothing, just shifts his grip to accommodate Wen Kexing's hand better.

 


 

"That cat is a menace," Wen Kexing hisses as he dabs a wet tissue over the scratches on his hand.

Zhou Zishu tries not to start smiling too obviously. "You didn't have to come up," he says as he closes the door to the bathroom. He doesn't know how Baiyi will react to being stuck in there, but only time will tell.

"Of course I did," Wen Kexing stresses. "You had a shock earlier, and you came home to a demon. What kind of soulmate would I be if I left you alone to deal with that?"

Zhou Zishu walks over to the fridge and grabs a bottle of water. He takes a couple of swigs from it before holding it out to his guest.

Wen Kexing doesn't even blink. He grabs it and finishes off half of it in one go, seemingly without caring that Zhou Zishu's mouth was there a moment before. He hands the bottle back once he's done, and Zhou Zishu decides he might as well finish off the rest. Wen Kexing is looking at his mouth when he lowers the bottle and twists the cap back on.

"You saved me a trip to the hospital back there," Zhou Zishu says as he places the bottle by the sink, "or maybe even my life."

Wen Kexing rests his hip against the counter and bats his eyes. "Does that mean I deserve a reward, A-Xu?"

Zhou Zishu doesn't let himself think. He pushes into Wen Kexing's space, cups the back of Wen Kexing's neck with his palm and presses the lightest of kisses to his lips.

Wen Kexing is still when Zhou Zishu pulls back. His eyes are blown wide, and his mouth is slightly slack with shock. Zhou Zishu can't resist the urge to nudge his knuckle under Wen Kexing's chin until his mouth clicks shut.

"Thank you, Lao Wen," he says, his voice coming out softer than he was expecting it to. "I don't like owing people favours, least of all of this magnitude. If there's anything I can do to repay the favour..."

Wen Kexing swallows. "Don't joke, A-Xu," he says, voice surprisingly hoarse. "Not about this."

"I wouldn't," he says seriously. "I won't kill to repay the life I owe you, but I'm open to suggestions."

"Call me soulmate," almost seems to tumble out of Wen Kexing's mouth.

"Soulmate," Zhou Zishu says easily enough.

"Like you mean it," Wen Kexing says, sounding almost desperate.

Zhou Zishu presses him against the countertop and plasters himself against Wen Kexing's front. "My  soulmate."

Wen Kexing shudders.

Zhou Zishu sees the kiss coming and stays perfectly still. Wen Kexing's mouth is just as desperate as the hands that latch onto his waist. Zhou Zishu cups the back of his neck and rubs his thumb along the short hairs there until Wen Kexing practically collapses against him.

They stay there kissing until Baiyi starts making an unholy racket in the bathroom. Zhou Zishu feels reluctant even as he makes himself pull back. He has to force himself to resist Wen Kexing trying to kiss him again.

"I should check on him."

Wen Kexing hisses. "Old, cock-blocking monster."

Zhou Zishu bites back a laugh as he untangles himself from Wen Kexing's grip. "If you think you would have gotten any if he hadn't been here, you're sorely mistaken," he says as he heads towards the bathroom.

He almost regrets having his back to Wen Kexing because the resulting silence is nothing short of comical. He can feel his lips – pleasantly warm and tingling from Wen Kexing's mouth – curling a little in the corners. He doesn't resist the urge to smile, just this once.

"A-Xu!" Wen Kexing whines just as Zhou Zishu opens the door, and Baiyi practically comes flying out. And then, with a very different feeling as Baiyi makes a beeline for him, "A-Xu!"

Zhou Zishu can't help it; he laughs.

 


 

Even though Wen Kexing keeps begging Zhou Zishu to spend the night at a hotel 'just this once,' he never suggests getting rid of 'that demon cat.' He doesn't complain about the apartment, even though they both wish it was cleaner, outfitted better and came with more considerate neighbours. Wen Kexing sleeps on Zhou Zishu's crappy futon nonetheless, clinging to Zhou Zishu the whole night through. He whines whenever Zhou Zishu has to get up for work, but he never asks Zhou Zishu to quit. Well, not outright. It's there, right between the lines, whenever Wen Kexing calls him cruel for abandoning his soulmate for half of the day.

Baiyi has kept them from taking things further than making out, but Zhou Zishu doesn't mind. Sex has never...mattered  before. It does now. And for all that Zhou Zishu doesn't believe in soulmates, he'd rather Wen Kexing knew the truth – or some of it – before they start sleeping together. Sex is messy enough without adding secrets to the mix.

In the weeks they've known each other, Wen Kexing has yet to see him without any scruff on his face. Wen Kexing has whined and pouted about having to suffer his bristles when they're kissing, but he's never outright asked Zhou Zishu to shave.

Zhou Zishu does so now, hair still damp from the shower. It's strange to see his smooth cheeks in the mirror again. He can't resist taking a moment to look at himself properly. He doesn't know if he's changed in the months since he left his previous life, but it feels like he should have. Maybe he has, and he's just too close to see the whole picture.

He snorts, shaking off the pensive mood. He brushes the still too-long hair from his forehead before stepping out of the bathroom. Maybe he should go to a barber next, see about getting his hair done. He comes to a stop almost as soon as he crosses the threshold.

Wen Kexing is right where he left him, draped over his couch in a pair of Zhou Zishu's sweats and the same undershirt he slept in. Wen Kexing is holding a treat out to Baiyi, keeping perfectly still as the feline sniffs at it before lunging for it. Wen Kexing retracts his fingers just in time to avoid Baiyi's perfectly sharp teeth. There is a curl of a satisfied smirk on Wen Kexing's lips. "Little monster," he says smugly.

Baiyi sends him a one-eyed glare before hopping off the arm of the couch. The feline slinks over to Zhou Zishu, weaving between his feet just long enough to say hello – or mark him, as Wen Kexing claims – before heading for the kitchen nook. Zhou Zishu fully expects to hear yowls about empty food-bowls before long.

"You're getting along," Zhou Zishu says as he turns his head back towards Wen Kexing, who is staring after Baiyi with something almost like contempt. Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes.

"Oh, we'll get along just fine," Wen Kexing says mildly while pushing himself upright. "The monster just needs to learn their place."

"He," Zhou Zishu corrects as he makes himself comfortable in Wen Kexing's lap.

"That's what I said," Wen Kexing says as he turns a smile on Zhou Zishu. "Hello handsome," he says as he slips his arms around Zhou Zishu's waist and pulls him closer. "I missed you."

There are many things Zhou Zishu could say. 'I was only gone for fifteen minutes,' is high on the list and usually his go-to, but not today. Zhou Zishu takes in the complete lack of surprise on Wen Kexing's face and comes to an important realisation. "You knew."

"That there was a handsome face hiding under that scruff and dirt?" Wen Kexing leans in and nuzzles their noses together. "Of course."

"Who I really am." It's not a question.

There's a pause before Wen Kexing leans back with a sigh. "Of course I do, A-Xu."

"Then say my name."

"Zhou Zishu," Wen Kexing says, not even blinking. "But you'll always be A-Xu to me."

Zhou Zishu leans back heavily.

Wen Kexing tightens his grip around Zhou Zishu's waist – not to keep him there, but to help keep him steady. He hasn't looked away from Zhou Zishu once.

"Did you come here looking for me?"

Wen Kexing tilts his head just a little. "Would you believe me if I said no?"

"Would you lie to me?" he counters.

"I would obscure the truth or talk around it, but I wouldn't lie," Wen Kexing says truthfully. "Not to you, A-Xu."

"Then tell me the truth."

"I came here looking for dirt on the Zhang family," Wen Kexing says. "It was fate that brought us together, just as I said it would."

Zhou Zishu snorts. "I don't believe in fate."

"That's ok," Wen Kexing says, pulling him closer. "I'll believe in it enough for us both."

Zhou Zishu kisses him silent, and Wen Kexing happily lets him.

"Which Zhang family?" he asks once they pull apart to breathe. Baiyi has been suspiciously silent for a while, but he decides he can worry about that later.

"Which do you think?" Wen Kexing counters. "Those  Zhangs."

Zhou Zishu stills. "Then you were visiting the park..."

"To sweet-talk Auntie Zhang." Wen Kexing, at least, has the decency to look slightly apologetic about it. "I now know they're not the ones I was after. A-Xiang thinks it might be Zhao Jing and his ilk, but we'll have to look closer."

"Why are you looking into the Zhangs anyway?"

"Because why wouldn't I?" is the answer. "You think I would settle for only cleaning my own house?" He tsks. "Oh, A-Xu."

Zhou Zishu sends him a warning look, and Wen Kexing kisses him in apology. Zhou Zishu allows it. "Why?" he asks when Wen Kexing pulls back.

"Because I don't like corruption," Wen Kexing says easily. "It leaves a sour taste in the mouth. I simply have to wash it away."

"With blood?" he can't stop himself from asking.

Wen Kexing's smile has a teasing edge. "Has somebody been reading my interviews~?"

"Lao Wen."

"Whenever necessary," he answers. "Usually, a good scare will do. Or a pay-out. Sometimes both."

Zhou Zishu sighs.

Wen Kexing leans back against the couch. His voice is carefully neutral when he says, "You disapprove."

"You should have started cleaning house before I left," he says. "Maybe I wouldn't have left the capital and Tian Chuang then."

"But then we couldn't have met like this," Wen Kexing says, drawing him close. "I like my A-Xu like this," he purrs.

"In sweatpants and with dirt on my face?" he drawls. "Should I return the suit I bought, then?"

"Ah, let's not be hasty now!" Wen Kexing says quickly. "Shouldn't I be allowed to see it first?"

Zhou Zishu snorts.

 


 

Zhou Zishu loses his cat the same day he first has sex with Wen Kexing.

Wen Kexing insists on getting a cat harness for Baiyi, citing that Baiyi used to be an outdoors cat so taking him on walks only seems logical. Zhou Zishu doesn't see the trap until it's already sprung. All it takes is one meeting between the parties, and Uncle Ye no longer seems offended that Zhou Zishu decided to name a stray after him. In fact, one of the last things he does before walking off with the cat is to praise Zhou Zishu for picking a worthy name for the feline.

It feels a little weird, but he's sad to see the cat go. Baiyi has been his constant companion since moving to the town, and now the feline is gone. He can, of course, just ask Uncle Ye if he can visit, but Zhou Zishu doesn't think he will.

When Zhou Zishu turns to look at Wen Kexing, he looks far too smug for his own good. Zhou Zishu holds in a snort. He should have known.

"How did you know he was a cat person?" Zhou Zishu says once they're back at his apartment.

"Oh, that's easy, A-Xu," Wen Kexing says, draping himself over Zhou Zishu. "I used my eyes."

Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes. "Getting answers out of you is like getting blood out of a stone."

"For everyone else, yes," Wen Kexing agrees, curling his arms around Zhou Zishu's body. "You're the only exception, soulmate."

Zhou Zishu scoffs. He brushes off Wen Kexing's arms and throws himself down onto the couch.

There's a pause before Wen Kexing follows. When he does, he doesn't plaster himself against Zhou Zishu's side like he usually does. There's practically room for another person between them. Zhou Zishu frowns.

"You're not mad, are you, A-Xu?" Wen Kexing asks, and he looks so genuinely worried that it feels cruel to give him anything but a proper answer to his question.

"Not all cats deal well with moving," Zhou Zishu says, "and I'm not going to stay here forever. He seemed to like Uncle Ye well enough. It's probably better for him to stay here."

There's a brief pause before Wen Kexing tentatively slides closer – until only a small animal could fit between them.

"And I suppose it would be better to get a pet that likes us both," he reluctantly admits.

Wen Kexing practically perks up. "Aw, A-Xu, you say the sweetest things~" he says as he swoons dramatically and lands once more draped over Zhou Zishu's shoulder.

"Don't make me take it back," he warns.

"I won't, I won't," Wen Kexing says sweetly.

Zhou Zishu snorts.

"But you know, A-Xu," Wen Kexing says as one of his hands slips under Zhou Zishu's hoodie, "there is a perk to having the apartment to ourselves." He presses a kiss to Zhou Zishu's neck.

Zhou Zishu pushes him down onto the couch and climbs on top of him. Wen Kexing blinks up at him, the confusion lingering just long enough for Zhou Zishu to see it before it's replaced by a smirk.

"Why, A-Xu, if you wanted to be on top, you should have just said~"

"You should have told me what you wanted to do today," he says, settling firmly into Wen Kexing's lap. "I don't like surprises."

Wen Kexing teases his hands up Zhou Zishu's waist. "I will tell you next time, A-Xu, I promise."

"I will hold you to that," Zhou Zishu says as he leans down to kiss him.

Wen Kexing kisses him back eagerly.

This time, when his blood threatens to start burning, Zhou Zishu doesn't stop it.

"You should go put on the suit you bought," Wen Kexing says while Zhou Zishu kisses his way down Wen Kexing's neck. "Oh, A-Xu, you don't know how much I wanted you the first time I saw you. I wanted to press you up against a dark corner and devour you."

"Who is devouring who?" Zhou Zishu says and tugs aside the collar of Wen Kexing's shirt to bite into the hollow of his neck.

Wen Kexing tips his head back as he moans.

"Do you really want more layers between us right now, Lao Wen?" Zhou Zishu says into his neck right before he rolls his hips.

"No," Wen Kexing snarls after he's finished shuddering. He pulls Zhou Zishu up to bite at his mouth and Zhou Zishu lets him. "Take off your clothes, A-Xu. I must have you."

Zhou Zishu grabs his hands and presses them to the cushion beneath their bodies. "Where have your manners gone, Boss Wen?" he tsks.

Wen Kexing looks up at him, cheeks flushed, and mouth red and slick from their kisses. He's panting ever so slightly and, as Zhou Zishu watches, his tongue flicks out to lick his bottom lip. "A-Xu will have to pardon this lowly one," he says. "I was overwhelmed by my need for you."

"Was?" Zhou Zishu says, rocking his hips into the obvious tent in Wen Kexing's previously pristinely pressed pants.

"Ah!" Wen Kexing cries. "Is! Am! I am  overwhelmed, A-Xu, please."

"I should make you come in your pants for your insolence," Zhou Zishu growls, and Wen Kexing moans.

Zhou Zishu stills. Wen Kexing doesn't seem to notice, too busy arching up into him. He swallows. There is definitely a conversation to be had, here, but Zhou Zishu doesn't think either of them has the brainpower for that now.

"Lao Wen?"

"Please, A-Xu, please. I will go mad if I can't touch you."

"You're already mad," Zhou Zishu says, but with none of the usual drawl in his voice. Instead, he sounds hoarse.

Wen Kexing doesn't even disagree. He just latches onto Zhou Zishu's waist as soon as Zhou Zishu releases his wrists and starts moving desperately against him.

Zhou Zishu braces himself on the couch and tries to match Wen Kexing's rhythm.

Wen Kexing's fingers eventually find themselves on Zhou Zishu's ass, digging in like the denim isn't even there to block their path. Zhou Zishu works his way down Wen Kexing's chest, unbuttoning his vest and then the shirt underneath.

It hasn't escaped his attention that the colours Boss Wen wears his pictures are bold and dark, and yet the clothes Zhou Zishu has seen him in since the gala have all been lighter. When he does wear dark colours, they're always paired with something that makes them seem almost gentler. Like dark teal softened with crimson or light blue, and slate grey paired with soft pinks or purples. Today, however, Wen Kexing is wearing dark blue pants with a matching vest and a shirt that is so light it's almost white. Zhou Zishu would accuse him of deliberately dressing so they would match, but Wen Kexing hasn't changed since he showed up at Zhou Zishu's apartment that morning. Perhaps Zhou Zishu, in grabbing the white hoodie over his usual blue one, is the one that is guilty of the crime.

Zhou Zishu shakes the thought out of his head and keeps kissing his way down Wen Kexing's chest instead. Wen Kexing is reluctant to let go, even after Zhou Zishu undoes his belt and carefully lowers the zipper over Wen Kexing's straining erection.

Wen Kexing only removes his hands when Zhou Zishu curls his fingers around cock. His hands dig desperately into the couch cushions as he calls, "A-Xu, ah."

Zhou Zishu scoots back and leans down to wrap his lips around the head of Wen Kexing's cock.

That is all it takes. Wen Kexing cries out as he comes, somehow managing to stay perfectly still. Zhou Zishu thanks him for it as he swallows what he can and licks the rest from Wen Kexing's softening cock.

"Don't mock me, A-Xu," Wen Kexing pants when Zhou Zishu raises his head. "I finally had your mouth on me after so long. I couldn't help myself."

Zhou Zishu snorts and leans up to kiss Wen Kexing's flushed cheek. "I would never, Lao Wen."

Wen Kexing turns his head and claims his lips, clearly not caring where Zhou Zishu's mouth was only moments before. And while he keeps Zhou Zishu's mouth occupied, Wen Kexing's clever fingers make short work of Zhou Zishu's zipper before pulling out his cock.

Zhou Zishu hisses as Wen Kexing curls his fingers around him and starts stroking. "I'll get it on your suit," he says.

"I don't care," Wen Kexing says and flicks his wrist. "I want to make my A-Xu feel good."

Zhou Zishu's breathing hitches. "You can do that without ruining your suit."

"That's why dry-cleaning is for, A-Xu." Wen Kexing sucks on his bottom lip. "Let me make you feel good, please. I don't want to wait any longer."

Zhou Zishu is helpless to do anything other than do as Wen Kexing wishes. He doesn't think he breathes as he comes all over Wen Kexing's hand. Wen Kexing strokes him through it, not stopping till Zhou Zishu shivers from overstimulation.

When Zhou Zishu pushes himself up to see what's become of Wen Kexing's suit, its owner merely raises a hand to his mouth and starts lapping lazily at it. Zhou Zishu stares at him, but Wen Kexing only winks in answer.

Zhou Zishu snorts. "You're a menace," he says as he pushes himself out of Wen Kexing's lap.

"Your menace," Wen Kexing agrees before sucking one of his fingers into his mouth in a far too phallic attempt to clean it.

Zhou Zishu doesn't bother to say anything as he tucks himself into his jeans and does up the zipper. A quick look reveals that Wen Kexing's clothes have been spared. Only a few drops got on Wen Kexing's abdomen, and those Wen Kexing happily scoops up with his fingertips and cleans with his tongue.

"There are subtler ways of advertising what else you can do with your mouth," Zhou Zishu says as he makes himself comfortable on the floor by the couch. He'll think about walking and maybe getting cleaned up properly when his legs feel a little less like jelly.

Wen Kexing winks at him. "None that are quite as fun."

Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes.

"And what are you doing on the floor?" Wen Kexing pouts at him. "Come back up here."

"No."

"Then I'll just have to join you."

"What? Lao Wen!"

His protests go unheard. Wen Kexing pushes himself off the couch and is visibly on his way to sit down when Zhou Zishu rises and forces him back down onto the couch. Wen Kexing looks smug when Zhou Zishu has no choice but to sit down beside him.

"There," he says, sounding just as smug as he looks. "Isn't that better, A-Xu?"

"Menace," is all Zhou Zishu says.

"Soulmate," Wen Kexing returns.

 


 

They shower sometime later – separately, because there's barely enough room in Zhou Zishu's shower for one man, let alone two – before eating a quick dinner. Wen Kexing insists on making it, having already learned not to trust Zhou Zishu to cook. The sky outside is dark by the time they lay down on Zhou Zishu's crappy futon. Even though it's likely going to do away with both of their backs one of these days, Zhou Zishu is willing to risk it for one more night. One last night.

It's impossible not to start thinking of the future now that they have laid most, if not all, of their secrets bare. Zhou Zishu strokes his fingers along the back of the arm that Wen Kexing has curled around his waist. Wen Kexing hums, breathing softly against his ear.

It almost seems stupid to feel the need to ask the question, but just because Wen Kexing calls them soulmates doesn't mean he will automatically want to help. Zhou Zishu has learned not to take things for granted.

Wen Kexing mumbles something intelligible when Zhou Zishu turns in his arms. He doesn't open his eyes, just stays still until Zhou Zishu settles again, this time so they're face to face.

He really is a beautiful man, Zhou Zishu finds himself thinking. Beautiful and deadly when he wants to be. Zhou Zishu reaches up and strokes a finger down Wen Kexing's nose and doesn't kill the smile when the nose wrinkles adorably at the touch. Wen Kexing opens his eyes just enough to look at him curiously.

Zhou Zishu settles his hand against Wen Kexing's chest, feeling the way it rises and falls in time with his breathing. "Will you come back with me and help me clean house in Tian Chuang?"

Wen Kexing's eyes are glimmering in the dark when he says, "Why, A-Xu," voice full of mischief, "I thought you'd never ask."

 


 

THE END