Wen Kexing has a weakness.
If pressed, he’ll never admit to it of course. He has a reputation to maintain after all. But the dirty, awful truth remains that he has a secret shame, and there’s nothing he can do about it. He must simply soldier bravely on and hope that no one ever notices.
Well, the weakness in question has a name - Zhou Zishu. The eternal object of his affections, his no-so-secret crush, the man for whom he would destroy a thousand mountains. And the individual who is currently sitting in his backyard by the grill, wearing crocs.
This, of course, is completely forgivable. Wen Kexing has proven himself incapable of holding any kind of grudge against his A-Xu, let alone a fashion-based grievance. No, the fault here entirely lies within himself. It’s not the fact that Zhou Zishu regularly leaves the house in the dreaded crocs-and-socks combo; it’s the fact that Wen Kexing now finds himself unconditionally and irrevocably attracted to them. The sight of a single foot encased in that odd plastic material is enough to set him yearning.
Gu Xiang finds him leaning against the back door, brooding over his dilemma while nursing a large glass of white wine.
“Hey, aren’t you the host of this thing? Isn’t this my birthday party? Why are me and Weining the only ones doing anything around here!” she huffs as she pokes at him with her foot. Wen Kexing chooses charitably to ignore her. She follows his gaze, eager to find out what’s distracting her brother so much, then rolls her eyes. “No. I can't deal with your weird little thing today. I’d give you advice but you’re both useless. I want you to know that from the bottom of my heart. Take this and try to be normal for five minutes.” She shoves a platter of kabobs into his arms and pushes him towards the grill with her foot.
Balancing his wine glass and food, Wen Kexing makes his way over to where Zhou Zishu sprawls in a lawn chair next to the smoking grill. His self-loathing spikes along with his heart rate when he takes in his beloved’s current outfit: in addition to the cursed crocs, he’s wearing cargo shorts, a bucket hat, and an open button up that appears to feature Spiderman lounging on a beach. And most excruciatingly of al, he’s paired it with a tshirt that says “wifey” in pink, sparkly cursive. It’s the tshirt that he bought as a joke a year ago and presented to A-Xu with a smirk; the very same tshirt that Zishu has worn at every available opportunity since then. Wen Kexing has nightmares about that thing and the worst part is that he’s only brought it upon himself.
While he struggles to control himself, Zhou Zishu peers over the rim of his sunglasses and raises an eyebrow. “Is there something you actually need or did you just want to come over and stare at me?”
“I always want to stare at you,” his mouth replies automatically. “But A-Xiang wants you to get these on the grill.” Zhou Zishu’s perfunctory eyeroll is softened by his wide grin. This is a dance they’ve been doing for years now, practically since the moment they met. Wen Kexing says something shameless, Zhou Zishu rolls his eyes, they verbally spar over drinks until they end up crashed on one of their couches watching terrible cooking shows. If they usually end up snuggled under a blanket, nobody says a word. It’s just- it’s just what friends do.
They’re friends. Friends who flirt like school children. Friends who hold hands every so often. Friends who’ve bared every secret in their past over and over again. It doesn’t matter if Wen Kexing has never felt less friendly about another person in his life. A-Xu is a friend, his best friend even, and he needs to stop lusting over his regrettable footwear.
Luckily at that moment Cao Weining saves Wen Kexing from the ledge by knocking a cooler of drinks off the deck - if he wasn’t A-Xiang’s fiance, Wen Kexing really might kill him one day. By the time they’ve cleaned that up, Aunt Luo and Qian Qiao show up with Shen Shen and Chengling in tow, and Wen Kexing is too busy socializing to deal with the Zhou Zishu problem. However, his sister’s words won’t stop playing over in his head. It’s not the first time she’s made fun of his helpless crush, but there’s something bothering him about the way she phrased it this time. Throughout the evening, while they eat, the even as he watches Shen Shen insist on starting the firepit himself and almost singeing his eyebrows, Wen Kexing turns it over in his mind.
It’s not until later that it hits him. Most of the guests have gone home, leaving himself and A-Xu to mind the fire while his sister and Weining retreat to the house with Chengling and Xiaolian to watch a movie. They’re propped up against one of the old logs that Zhou Zishu hauled over a couple years ago (“It’s basically free furniture” he’d said. Wen Kexing had launched into a spirited monologue about why random wood from A-Xu’s backyard did not qualify as actual furniture for actual adults while they’d arranged them around the fire pit. They were still here in his yard). Everything feels hazy and soft. Wen Kexing lost count of his glasses of wine a while ago, but he knows that his blood is singing with more than just alcohol.
Zhou Zishu is telling him about the latest batch of students at his martial arts studio. “There’s this kid - Kexing you have no idea, he has to be a clone of you. I can barely get through a sentence without him interrupting with a thousand questions, or god trying to compliment me.” He pivots to look directly at Wen Kexing, grinning. “Are you sure you don’t have some kind of illegitimate running around this city?” he asks with a smirk before taking another gulp of his beer.
Wen Kexing doesn’t answer because he’s too busy staring. Thankfully A-Xu has ditched the horrible bucket hat; the fire makes his loose hair glow like a painting against the night sky. His skin reflects the soft light as though he's glowing. Fuck that Thomas Kinkaide guy - here’s the real master of light.
Apparently he's said that last part out loud, because Zhou Zishu barks out a laugh. “A-Xing, you never can hold your alcohol.”
“Shut up,” he says, reaching up to push A-Xu’s face away. To his eternal chagrin, Zhou Zishu just captures his hand with another laugh and holds it between them. “Give that back,” he mutters, his face flushed with more than just the wine.
Zhou Zishu replies, “Mmmm, don’t think I will. Your hands are dangerous. Could hurt someone left unattended. You need adult supervision.”
Well now he’s been wronged. He tries to extract his hand, but Zhou Zishu just keeps holding onto it. He does his valiant best to ignore his best friend’s nonsense, but he can’t help his gaze from turning to Zhou Zishu with a start as the other man straightens out his fingers and then holds up his other hand against his, putting them palm to palm.
“What are you doing-”
“Hush,” Zhou Zishu cuts him off. “You know, your fingers are longer than mine but they’re so, like, delicate.” He presses their hands together again and then turns his face back to Wen Kexing with a moony smile. "You should've played piano instead of getting into finance. I know girls who would die for fingers like this. Or guys. Y'know."
That’s when the phrase his sister had used finally clicks in Wen Kexing’s brain.
“You’re both useless.”
For years, they’ve been doing this idiotic dance. Flirting, pushing, teasing. Spending more time together than most reasonable humans do. But Wen Kexing has assumed at every moment along the way that, well, he was the only one invested in a more than friendly way. If Zhou Zishu meant anything by it then surely he would have said-
But he’s holding Wen Kexing’s hand and smiling, and Gu Xiang thinks they’re both useless.
He comes back to the moment and A-Xu is staring at him, clearly waiting on a response to something Wen Kexing missed entirely. But that’s so unimportant right now.
“A-Xu,” he blurts out. “What… what are we doing?” Zhou Zishu looks at the fire then back at him with confusion written on his face, but Wen Kexing shakes his head. He reaches out with his other hand and envelopes both of their hands that are in A-Xu’s lap. “A-Xiang thinks we’re idiots,” he says, like that explains it all.
And maybe it does, because Zhou Zishu blushes and looks away, biting his lip. “I mean, she thinks most people are idiots…” But he cuts his eyes back at Wen Kexing. “The better question is if you think we are.”
Of course Zhou Zishu would cut straight to the heart of the issue. Honestly, he’d planned on spending the rest of his life thirsting over A-Xu from one foot away, so he's probably not the most qualified person to handle this. He needs a proxy service. But Zhou Zishu is asking and he’s never lied to him before. So.
“Well... you’re sitting in my backyard in crocs and a goddamn wifey tshirt and I still want to jump your bones. So probably yes. Idiots.”
Wen Kexing barely has time to register the sharp intake of breath next to him before his lap is full of his best friend. The hand he was just holding plunges into his hair as Zhou Zishu crushes their lips together, leaving him helpless to do much besides hold on for dear life. As soon as he gets over his shock he kisses back with gusto. It's so easy to get lost in the push and pull between them, lips and tongues sliding together like they've done this a thousand times, his heartbeat pounding out a staccato rhythm in his ears. He would think this is a dream, but Wen Kexing is reasonably sure that he wouldn’t have imagined their first kiss smelling like woodsmoke and grass and the cheap beer that Zishu insists on drinking - but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Zhou Zishu pulls back panting and closes his eyes for a moment. “Okay,” he breathes out, “useless idiots. Yes. Established.” Wen Kexing’s eyes shine as he looks up at the man sitting in his lap. The firelight creates a soft halo behind his head, and he can’t stop himself from reaching up to run his fingers through his hair. He would keep A-Xu like this forever, flushed and ethereal and most importantly in his lap -
“What the FUCK -” Gu Xiang’s voice from the porch cuts through the night before it’s suddenly muffled. Zhou Zishu freezes for a moment, eyes comically wide. There's the sound of struggling for a second and the door shutting, quickly followed by it opening again. “It’s my BIRTHDAY-” The door slams one more time.
Both of them stay motionless for a few moments, waiting to make sure that there won’t be any more explosions from the house. But then A-Xu catches Wen Kexing’s gaze and quirks an eyebrow, and like that they both dissolve into giggles. Zhou Zishu collapses against his chest, face nestled in his shoulder as he tries to catch his breath between laughs. Wen Kexing tightens his arms around him, memorizing every tremor. He's pretty sure that his life has never been better and will never be better than in this moment.
“Oh my god,” Zhou Zishu laughs out against his neck. “She’s going to actually stab you this time.”
“Mmmm, worth it. Though to be fair this is really your fault. I was an innocent bystander.” Wen Kexing hears A-Xu squawk in protest but he doesn’t give him the chance to continue, pulling him into another slow and messy kiss. By the time Zhou Zishu pulls back, they’re both panting.
“So…” he starts, but drifts off for a moment looking down at Wen Kexing. “I… hmm.”
“Yes?” Wen Kexing knows he has a shit-eating grin right now and can’t bring himself to care.
Zhou Zishu glares down at him but it’s much less effective when he’s sprawled on top of him, lips swollen and red in the firelight. “I just have to check. You - you mean it, right?”
Oh, so he is in fact in love with a moron. “You’re sitting on me. We kissed. And I have, incidentally, spent the last ten years telling you that you’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen. Zhou Zishu, in what universe would I not mean it?”
“I mean.” Zhou Zishu looks up at the sky, visibly steeling himself for the next sentence. “You. You tend to do that. You know. Flirt. I didn’t want to assume.”
“... you didn’t want to assume.”
“Yes,” he snaps back, rolling his eyes before looking back at Wen Kexing. “I didn’t want to assume you meant it and look like an idiot. Or just be some, I don’t know, itch you need to scratch.”
And Wen Kexing really can’t blame him for that one, can he? The shameless flirt thing has been his reputation since college, when he was known for doing the walk of shame from a different guy’s room every week. But then he’d met Zhou Zishu, and well - the playboy thing suddenly wasn’t as appealing anymore. But he’d been twenty and absolutely petrified of the depth and suddenness of his feelings, so he’d done what he always did - said exactly what he meant with enough of a smirk that no one would believe him and settled into orbit around his A-Xu.
“I can assure you,” he says, reaching up to rub his thumb along Zishu’s cheek, “you’re not an itch.”
“Well then, A-Xing, what exactly is it that you want? You going to break a bunch of your suitors’ hearts? Because I'm not a sharer-”
Wen Kexing laughs. “That’s easy. There hasn’t been anyone else for a while. There was no point. They weren’t you.”
Eventually they do have to put the fire out and head inside. As they wind their way back to the house, Wen Kexing glances down and groans. “I still can’t believe I fell for a man wearing crocs.”
“Well I wouldn’t want to offend Lao Wen’s eyesight, I guess I’ll have to throw them away-”
“Don’t.” His sharp protest catches them both off guard. Zhou Zishu takes one glance up at him and immediately splits into a wide grin. “Shut up, I’m not talking about it,” Wen Kexing gripes and moves more quickly to the house.
They find all the kids piled onto the couch, completely ignoring whatever movie is playing in the background as their heads turn in unison at the sound of them walking into the kitchen. Gu Xiang still seems like she might throw something, but everyone else looks unbearably smug.
Wen Kexing shifts from foot to foot as he waits for Zhou Zishu to answer the door. He feels off-kilter - he’s had a key to his house for years - but they’re trying to do this entire dating thing right. As much as he’d wanted to take A-Xu apart right by that firepit, he also wants to make sure he knows this is the real deal to him.
Unfortunately the past couple weeks haven’t been conducive to romantic activities. First Zhou Zishu had to go out of town to accompany some of his students to a martial arts competition, then Chengling had managed to catch some kind of bug the night before what would’ve been their first real date. By the time Zhou Zishu had called him the next day, both of them had been feverish and sweating. Of course that hadn’t stopped Wen Kexing from showing up an hour later with enough supplies to make soup for a small army. He’d then sent both Chengling and A-Xu to bed while he started cleaning the house. Well, tried to in A-Xu’s case, who had insisted on staying on the couch to “supervise”. By the time Wen Kexing finished, he’d been passed out where he sat. When he’d woken up hours later to find several blankets draped over him and his head pillowed in Wen Kexing’s lap, he’d grumbled about everyone being sick now. And of course he’d been right, but Wen Kexing privately thought it had been worth it.
So tonight counts as their first official childless and illness-free date. He’d told Zhou Zishu to dress up for dinner, but as he stands there in his button up and vest he suddenly starts panicking about being overdressed. What is he doing - after all, this is A-Xu. He doesn’t care about this crap. The man lives for comfort. What if he’s trying to force him into some mold he doesn’t want?
Luckily just as Wen Kexing starts to properly death spiral, Zhou Zishu opens the door.
Wen Kexing’s brain just stops.
“A-Xu…” is all he manages to get out, mouth hanging open. There isn’t a cargo short or croc in sight. He’s wearing a light blue oversized silk shirt tucked into perfectly fitted slacks, complete with leather boots that look like they were custom-made. Even his normally messy shoulder-length hair is pulled back into a half-bun, loose strands of hair perfectly framing his face. The overall effect is devastating. Wen Kexing thinks he might cry.
Zhou Zishu smirks. “What? Didn't think I knew how to dress?”
“... you said Chengling is staying at Shen Shen’s again this weekend, right?” Zhou Zishu nods.
Wen Kexing walks him backwards through the door and slams it behind them in an instant. Crowding Zhou Zishu up against the wall, he yanks him into a searing kiss. A-Xu reaches out and snakes his long hair out of its elegant bun, then pulls. Before Wen Kexing can react, his clever lips are on his throat, drawing out a low moan.
"Who taught you to be a fucking vampire," he hisses.
Zhou Zishu responds as he trails kisses down his throat. "I've had… too much time… to think about this… you and all this… skin all the time…" His teeth scrape over his neck with the last word, and Wen Kexing has to bite his own lip in a desperate attempt to not lose control.
Well, two can play at that game. He begins to roll their hips together, chasing that delicious friction. He hears a low moan, and then Zhou Zishu goes boneless beneath him. Taking advantage of the moment, he scoops his hands under his legs and lifts. Zhou Zishu's eyes go wide and he laughs, delighted. He rests his forehead against Wen Kexing's.
"Upstairs?" he asks with a crooked grin. He looks like a debauched angel, all missed hair and glowing skin. Wen Kexing can't believe he gets to have this, to keep this. Instead of answering, he grabs A-Xu's wrist and closes his mouth over it.
They don't make it upstairs.
They don’t make their dinner reservations either.
The next morning, Wen Kexing eyes the crocs by the backdoor as they drink their coffee. Zhou Zishu catches him and laughs.
“They’re comfortable, you have to give them a chance.”
Wen Kexing shakes his head. “No, I just realized that they’re the way the universe has nerfed you. You’re too powerful otherwise.”
The crocs stay.