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you can love me, if you really want it

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Mo Ran isn’t an idiot. He’s not, no matter how much he sometimes feels like he is secretly a moron who just thinks he’s pretending to be one. 

But his solution of just asking Chu Wanning for things to see how far Chu Wanning will go? It feels a little stupid. 

Just money, at first. Asking if he can borrow a little bit of cash because he wants a coffee or lunch or some new game or whatever. Escalating amounts that never quite get into the realm of ludicrous but definitely get into the realm of more money than your boss should just hand you with no questions . Chu Wanning always gives it to him, his sharp brows doing that concerned little furrow they always do, and Mo Ran thanks him profusely until Chu Wanning waves him off, flushing red. 

And so then he starts dropping subtle hints about things that he wants, things he’s been looking at. Things like fancy coffee for the apartment, or a new pair of sneakers, or fairly cheap workout equipment. Little things, at first. But Chu Wanning just buys them and leaves them around the apartment without any fanfare, and so in desperation Mo Ran moves on to bigger things, and he finds that there’s literally no end to the amount of shit that Chu Wanning will happily give him. 

But if Mo Ran tries to show his appreciation for those gifts in any way other than a brief handshake or a casual ‘ thanks, bro ’ or something, Chu Wanning slips away, turtle-shells back into his little hole, glowers over the rim of his glasses at his computer screens, his face burning (cutely!) red, and works without pause for the next fourteen hours.

Which is how the caretaking shit starts. 

It’s just something that Mo Ran has noticed. Initially tried very hard not to notice, at first because he kept telling himself that it was none of his business if Chu Wanning wanted to live like an animal. He was getting paid an absurd amount of money to repair the barrier. He could afford a housekeeper or something. He could afford a laundry service. It wasn’t Mo Ran’s responsibility to take care of him.

Was it driving him a little bit batty? Sure. Mo Ran’s a young man, a young man who has for the past few years been living a life of luxury in a fancy sect, and who lived before that literally on the streets begging for scraps. No one would blink twice if he relied on maid services and laundry services and fucking chefs or whatever. Xue Meng has never held a broom in his life, probably. 

But there’s something about cleaning and neatness and organization that appeals deeply to Mo Ran. He likes having a space to keep tidy. He likes looking at his clean floors and his organized closet and his sparkling kitchen counters. Growing up with nothing has, maybe, given him the kind of deep appreciation for having something that a young master like Xue Meng just isn’t going to be able to understand. 

So of course the mess in Chu Wanning’s apartment makes his eyelid twitch. In between his regularly scheduled horny nonsense dreams, he has literal stress dreams about firing the maids and mopping the kitchen floor properly .

And after months of telling himself that it’s not his place, not his job, and after testing the Sugar Daddy waters for a few weeks with no further progress in the whole get my boss to break down and beg me to just fuck him already plan, Mo Ran’s own guilt is flying through the roof. 

The truth, and one of the reasons the Sugar Daddy plan was so stupid to begin with, is that Mo Ran hates accepting gifts.

The Xues took him in, saved him, gave him a purpose. He has been paying off that debt with his loyalty and his help and his refusal to leave the guard service even though Xue Zhengyong has told him multiple times that he would have no objections to Mo Ran trying to make his own way, leaving the service that underpays and undervalues someone with his spiritual strength. It’s just not in Mo Ran’s nature to not repay kindness. If someone does something nice for him, he remembers it forever. 

Asking things of Chu Wanning and tricking gifts out of Chu Wanning was funny at first because he was trying to figure out just how far Chu Wanning would go before finally snapping and asking Mo Ran to fuck him. Except Chu Wanning’s willpower is apparently unbreakable, and he doesn’t ask. And so this anxiety-inducing imaginary debt in Mo Ran’s mind just continues to run up the numbers, and Mo Ran starts to reach the point where he can’t stand it anymore. He knows it’s probably stupid. It’s not like Chu Wanning expects anything in return. He’s assuaging his own guilt even as he’s accidentally stoking Mo Ran’s higher. 

He just continues to do nice things for Mo Ran even though he’s practically working himself to death. Continues to visibly hate putting Mo Ran in danger. Continues to be cute and perfect and, terrifyingly, everything that Mo Ran wants, and maybe that’s part of why the debt looms so large. If Chu Wanning turned out to be a man like the one Mo Ran thought he was at the beginning—someone who didn’t care about people, someone who didn’t notice money only because he’d always had so much of it, only because he was so greedy as to hoard all of it to himself—it would be different. 

But he’s not that person. 

He isn’t an easy person to get to know, even now that they’re becoming more friendly with each other, but Mo Ran has picked up enough to form a more complete picture. 

Like how Chu Wanning was taken in by a man who called himself Chu Wanning’s father, but who abandoned him at the first sign of disobedience—Master Huaizui believed that he and his disciples should be above modern concerns, but Chu Wanning went down into the world during the calamity that claimed Mo Rans’ mother’s life, and he saw the suffering firsthand, and he could not remain hidden away from the world when he could instead use his strength to help it. He has spent his entire life since then trying to make up for the fact that he spent his early years so sheltered. It’s the same kind of guilt that drives Mo Ran, in a way, and it makes Mo Ran want to crack open his own chest so that Chu Wanning can look inside him and see how much they are the same. 

He learns about how Chu Wanning trusted Rong Yan, and liked her enough to work with Rufeng Sect for a while,but that he always felt like Nangong Liu didn’t have the best interests of the people at heart, and only cared about making his own sect more powerful so that he could live a life of leisure. His disgust with the upper cultivation world comes out in his words, in his every action, in the fact that he is spending so much of his time and energy on this thing that everyone says is impossible, and that the upper cultivation world actively is trying to stop him from doing. 

He learns so much about how good Chu Wanning is, and it’s all against Chu Wanning’s will, because Chu Wanning will only say the barest of minimums, and it’s up to Mo Ran to put the pieces together and see to the softness behind his icy tone. 

And it’s terrifying. Mo Ran is starting to care in a way that’s threatening to morph into something much bigger and much scarier than that very simple Desire to Rail. 

And so he starts taking care of Chu Wanning. 

Not openly at first, and never in a way where it looks purposeful, because he knows Chu Wanning wouldn’t allow it. But he starts doing all the dishes instead of just letting Chu Wanning allow them to pile up in the sink until the housekeeper’s once-weekly visits. He starts cooking when they’re in the apartment, pretending at being a beginner, getting Chu Wanning to try his “experiments”, figuring out what Chu Wanning likes to eat the best. It has the added benefit of getting Chu Wanning to at least do his late night office work in the apartment’s living room—Mo Ran just has to drop a hint about how he wants to learn how to cook better but never gets a chance since they’re at the office all day, and suddenly Chu Wanning is suggesting they head home early, packing up his laptop to do the rest of the work from the comfort of the couch. Mo Ran tells Chu Wanning that he likes cleaning, which is true anyway, and he sets about tidying up the clutter that has grown in the past few months thanks to the, in Mo Ran’s opinion, very inefficient maid service. Eventually, he talks Chu Wanning into letting him reorganize. Even more slowly, he works his way up to getting Chu Wanning to agree to let him tackle the bedroom. He has to frame it like it’s an exciting project, and Chu Wanning eventually caves. Mo Ran takes almost an entire afternoon while Chu Wanning hovers in the doorway, biting his lip to keep from apologizing again about the mess. Mo Ran is careful with Chu Wanning’s things, going through papers and bits of machine prototypes and sorting them all into a careful filing system. 

“It’s just going to get messy again,” Chu Wanning warns anxiously. 

“Then I’ll reorganize it again for you,” Mo Ran answers. 

It’s really too close to the truth. The truth that it’s about more than just the repressed lust and desire that Mo Ran now knows is behind Chu Wanning’s eyes. The truth that it’s about more than just impressing his boss, and maybe always has been. The truth that Mo Ran looks at Chu Wanning now and sees everything good in the world, and he has become just as bad as Chu Wanning about trying to figure out how to get it. Chu Wanning giving him gifts. Mo Ran offering care and attention. One of them has to snap eventually, right?

Mo Ran has never really been one for relationships. Which actually isn’t true, but it’s what he tells everyone, and it’s what he tells himself, because the truth is that Mo Ran is too suited for relationships. Every time he has tried seriously dating someone in the past, it blows up in his face because he gets too close too quickly. He loves too intensely. He throws his affections at the person until the person drowns in them, and then they beat a hasty retreat and tell him that he should tone it back a bit for his next unlucky victim. 

But Mo Ran just...doesn’t know how to do that. 

Functionally, sure. He could be as aloof and as bored and as disinterested as the next fuckboy, but he doesn’t see the point in it. It hurts his heart to ignore the person he likes, the person he loves, and he always hated to see the way his previous relationships would grow tepid and cold, colder the more he showed them bits of his heart. So after he failed spectacularly with Rong Jiu, and after he failed with Song Qiutong even worse, he kind of gave up on the idea of love. He isn’t made for it. He makes too much of it. He’s too broken, maybe, from those early years of not having enough, and now he doesn't know how to do it in moderation. He loves the same way he eats, and it invariably disgusts the people around him: he consumes selfishly, wholeheartedly, always convinced that something is going to snatch it away. Always convinced that the answer is to consume it faster .

And he can see the signs of it forming now, which is a problem. Chu Wanning doesn’t love him. Chu Wanning probably doesn’t even like him that much. He probably just feels guilty, and he thinks Mo Ran’s hot, and wants to fuck him. But Mo Ran finds himself doing things like memorizing exactly how much spice Chu Wanning can tolerate so that he’ll like the food Mo Ran makes, and rearranging things in the apartment so that Chu Wanning won’t have to spend any time looking for what he needs. And it’s all just very familiar. This instinct he has to protect the person he loves from the slightest inconvenience, and how weird they get when he does it too much, how concerned , like they’re just a hair’s breadth away from being frightened of him. 

Chu Wanning doesn’t seem frightened, not yet, but then again, Chu Wanning has no idea what’s going on in Mo Ran’s brain, what’s going on behind his eyes. Every time he looks at Chu Wanning and sees something helpless to be protected, he can feel it building in him. This pressure, this need to suffocate the target of his affections in layers of that protection. It’s disgusting. It’s shameful. He needs to grow up. 

He doesn’t.

Chu Wanning falls asleep at his desk again, and Mo Ran gets him up, gets him home, watches him stumbling sleepily through the motions as he gets ready for bed, and he desperately wants to crawl into bed next to him and hold him, soothing him back to sleep. He hasn’t even come close to fucking the man yet, but he’s already thinking about this kind of stuff. 

“You didn’t have to do that for me,” Chu Wanning says the next morning, embarrassed now that he’s gotten some sleep in him. 

“I wanted to,” Mo Ran says, and he hopes that Chu Wanning doesn’t realize just how much more he wants to do. 

He considers asking either Nangong Si or one of the Mei Hanxues if it’s still just a Sugar Daddy thing if he’s spending his free time looking up recipes for sweet desserts that he thinks Chu Wanning might like. Or, like, if he spends most of his time at work daydreaming about kissing Chu Wanning rather than bending him over his desk and making him cry (or, like, kissing him before bending him over his desk and making him cry, at least). Is it still just a sex and power thing then

He doesn’t ask, because he’s embarrassed to ask. 

And maybe a little afraid of the answer. 

Chu Wanning makes a breakthrough. 

And it’s great. It’s wonderful. They’re nearing the end of the line, and it’s an objectively good thing for humanity! Soon, Chu Wanning will be able to seal the barrier for good. They’ve been taking more frequent trips to the back hills, and Mo Ran can tell that they’re getting closer from the way that Chu Wanning begins to look less burdened as the days pass. Brighter, less haunted, less hungry for answers that he cannot find. 

Mo Ran is glad. He’s glad because once the barrier is closed for good, it will mean that the assassination attempts will probably stop. Chu Wanning will probably be safe. Unless some sect leader is feeling spectacularly petty, there will be no reason to kill him. 

It will mean that the most vulnerable people won’t have to worry anymore about the rift opening like it did the year his mother died. It will mean more safety and stability and it will mean that the upper cultivation world will have to find a new way to survive that doesn’t involve padding its charges so that it can continue to live in luxury while everyone else lives in fear. 

Mo Ran is glad. He is.

But doesn’t it also mean that Chu Wanning is going to leave? 

Chu Wanning hasn’t said anything about his future plans, and he seems happy here, especially now that Xue Zhengyong has convinced the board to fund most of the Guardian project. Xue Zengyong clearly wants him to stay, clearly hasn’t stopped attempting to woo him, and the sentiment seems to be pretty universal throughout Sisheng Peak. 

(Maybe not Tanlang Elder, but fuck Tanlang Elder. He’s just mad that Chu Wanning is supporting Xue Zhengyong about the theme park thing, because of course Chu Wanning likes the idea of making more money so that they can help more people, and of course Chu Wanning doesn’t care how they make that money as long as it’s done ethically.)

And so there are certainly signs that Chu Wanning is planning to stay for longer, but he hasn’t actually said anything! And Mo Ran feels this growing ache inside him. Pathetic and yearning and fearful of being abandoned by a man who has made him absolutely no promises. A man who’s literally just his boss , no matter how many awkwardly tender moments they’ve shared over wontons or early morning coffee!

He convinces himself that it will be easier to bear if he can fuck Chu Wanning once . Just once! Like, in the front of his mind he’s thinking once we fuck, I’ll feel like our unfinished business is finished, and I can be happy with whatever decision he makes , but in the back of his mind it’s just once I fuck him, he won’t want to leave .

He doesn’t let any of this show to Chu Wanning, of course. What would be the point? He watches Chu Wanning from the sidelines as Chu Wanning gets closer to achieving this thing that everyone said was probably not going to be possible. He watches Chu Wanning solve a problem that has existed for thousands of years. Every cultivator in history, all of the most powerful people, were unable to do this, but Chu Wanning will, and Mo Ran will be there to watch it, and that’s significant. It is. That’s a lot to celebrate. Mo Ran should not let his dick, well, dic(k)tate how he feels about this. 

Not that there’s much time for the useless pining Mo Ran wants to do. Chu Wanning getting closer isn’t a thing that can stay secret for long, considering all the holes that are apparently in Sisheng Peak’s security forces. There are more attempts. More attacks. None of them get very close, but they still keep Mo Ran busy in dealing with the cleanup and in trying to ferret out whoever in Sisheng Peak is selling information to the other sects.

(And does Mo Ran notice that, every single time, Chu Wanning rushes to check on him immediately after the threat has been taken care of? Of course he does. It’s the only thing he can notice!)

He almost starts to crave those little moments, which is super fucked up, right? There’s this feeling, even in the middle of an attack, of growing bliss, because he knows that Chu Wanning will tend to his wounds after, and will be worried for him, and will tell him that he did a good job. All delivered as prissily and as scaldingly furious as possible, because that’s just how Chu Wanning is, and Mo Ran wants that. 

He’s a grown man, and yet he’s seeing the praise of his boss like a child , and he has long since reconciled that, but still sometimes he’s amazed at his own shamelessness. 

All of the attacks are easy enough to handle, though word has apparently gotten around that Mo Ran is a force to be reckoned with, and a lot of the more sly cultivation sects try to get around the Mo Ran problem by trying to get him to go to their sects instead. Offering him riches, offering him higher-up positions, telling him that he doesn’t have to be a bodyguard all his life. Even if it wasn’t a transparent attempt to get Chu Wanning guarded by someone not quite as good as Mo Ran, he wouldn’t take any of the offers, and he’s fucking insulted that any of them thought to ask. The Xues are his family now, and he won’t leave them. 

If anything, those offers only increase his dedication to Chu Wanning. 

If they want Chu Wanning out of the way so badly, they’re going to have to go through Mo Ran to do it. As long as Chu Wanning will have him, Mo Ran will be watching his back. 

For the rest of his life, if he’s lucky.

And so the attacks continue. 

The big one, the last one, the one before Chu Wanning finally puts an end to it by closing the barrier, is more brutal than the others. Whoever hired the mercenaries wasn’t sparing any expense, and they hit the Sisheng Peak offices out of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Mo Ran isn’t sure how they got in, even, how they got past the guards, how they managed to pack so many people into the building so quickly. But they did, and they even got into the elevator before someone downstairs finally sounds the alarm. It’s reminiscent of that one really bad attack, the one where Mo Ran took a bullet before the fighting even started. But this time, they’re ready.

Chu Wanning is in his office, tapping away furiously at his keyboard, and Mo Ran is half-dozing on the couch, feeling particularly indulged because Chu Wanning told him to rest his eyes and rest his head on a pillow if he wanted. He’s up and awake the second the alarms start, summoning Jiangui. Chu Wanning is on his feet too, Tianwen glowing golden, dangling from his hand. They stare at each other in the moments before the chaos starts, and Mo Ran has this moment of thinking…. does he have as much to say to me as I have to say to him? 

But then the moment is over, and neither of them says anything to break the silence.

Mo Ran has always been a good fighter. It was always the thing he excelled at the most, the lessons he needed the least amount of time to master. Chu Wanning has taught him even more in the time in which they have been working together. But it’s like second nature already. He gets into a defensive position in the hallway, and he waits, and Chu Wanning waits behind him, ready to defend him too. Mo Ran knows that he should be telling Chu Wanning to get back inside his office, but he also knows that Chu Wanning wouldn’t listen anyway. Would never leave Mo Ran on his own. 

Because Chu Wanning is a good person, and someone wants to kill him for being too good a person, and Mo Ran allows the anger that he feels at the thought of that to fuel him. 

There is no one left alive of the mercenaries by the time five minutes has passed. 

Chu Wanning is fighting for his life. Mo Ran is fighting for his life. But he’s fighting for Chu Wanning’s life, too, and that gives him an extra edge. He had been afraid, when he first started recognizing that he was feeling something for Chu Wanning beyond the responsibility of keeping him alive, that he would become sloppy because of it. But the opposite is true. His every instinct seems honed, his every movement seems infused with more than just his usual spiritual power. He doesn’t give himself a chance to rest, doesn’t give them a chance to advance any further down the hallway. 

He takes a few injuries, but they’re so minor that he doesn’t notice them until after, until everyone in the hallway is dead, and then he’s leaning against the wall, half-collapsed there, breathing heavily, still waiting for more trouble, Jiangui coiled in his palm. 

Chu Wanning is in front of him suddenly, his eyes big and wide as he stares at the wounds along Mo Ran’s body. There are more of them than he thought. He can feel them now, the pain of them and the blood dripping down his arm. Can feel blood smearing on his face when he goes to wipe it. 

Chu Wanning isn’t injured at all. Mo Ran’s vision swims when he looks down at his boss, but he can tell that there’s no blood on him except what gets put there when Chu Wanning starts to try and clean Mo Ran’s face with his own sleeve. Mo Ran shrugs him off, forces himself to stop leaning against the wall, gently tells a doubting Chu Wanning, “I’m okay.”

He calls for Xue Zhengyong on the radio to report what happened. Xue Zhengyong promises to send someone to clean up once they’re done with the mess in the lobby, but Mo Ran doesn’t particularly care. He just wants to sit down. 

He does, sliding down against the wall. Chu Wanning tries to catch him, but can’t, and he says something about sending for Shi Mei. Mo Ran can’t figure out why for a few beats. 

“I’m fine,” he says, when his brain catches up. “I don’t need a medic.” 

He remembers the way, when he took that last wound, Chu Wanning flew into a fury. It’s not an easy thing, to fight with willow vines in a hallway like this, but Chu Wanning managed to use Tianwen to its full frenzied potential, made it look almost fucking easy . He had been practically glowing, or maybe that was already the bloodloss, getting to Mo Ran, making him see a halo of something around his vision. Maybe he was hallucinating the whole thing, but he prefers to think that he was seeing only exactly what was there. Chu Wanning fighting to protect him. Chu Wanning crying. 

He was crying, wasn’t he? Mo Ran remembers it. Remembers the way Chu Wanning cried out when Mo Ran fell. Mo Ran was back on his feet quickly enough, still fighting, not quite beaten, but he remembers that moment, thinks about how it would have looked, thinks that Chu Wanning probably believed he wouldn’t get up again. It does something to him. Gives him some reserves of strength he didn’t know he had. 

The elevator whirs to life, heading back down to the first floor. Xue Zhengyong is sending people up. 

“Wanning,” Mo Ran says. He forces himself to his feet. Chu Wanning is hovering anxiously. His eyes are still red-rimmed. Still wet. Maybe Mo Ran is a fucking idiot and he’s about to ruin ths whole thing. Maybe. Maybe he’s read all of this wrong. Maybe Chu Wanning was crying for Mo Ran just because he’s a good person and because he didn’t want his bodyguard to be hurt. 

But Mo Ran doesn’t think so. 

And so he  takes Chu Wanning’s face in his hands, and he kisses him. 

He doesn’t regret it immediately, but something like regret washes through him. Fear, maybe. Fear that can’t help but drown a little bit in regret because there’s no going back from this. He doesn’t know how Chu Wanning is going to react, and he doesn’t want things to be ruined, and he’s losing blood, and, and, and. Chu Wanning will be leaving soon, anyway. Chu Wanning is too good for him, too smart, too wonderful, too giving and kind, even if no one else notices. Even if it took Mo Ran himself too long to notice. 

What will he do when Chu Wanning turns him away? 

And what if Chu Wanning doesn’t turn him away yet, but then turns him away eventually because Mo Ran is too much, just like every other time? How will he survive that? Feeling the way he feels right now, how could he possibly endure that kind of rejection?

But…Chu Wanning kisses him back. That’s the first concern taken care of. Chu Wanning doesn’t yell at him and push him away or whip him to death with Tianwen.

No, he wraps his fingers in Mo Ran’s suit jacket, draws him closer, kisses him back. Kisses him with a hunger and a clumsiness that somehow encapsulates everything that Chu Wanning is to Mo Ran in a single kiss. Mo Ran’s heart feels like it’s literally soaring, literally becoming disconnected from his chest, something…something…he can’t come up with anything fancy to describe it! It just feels like pain, but like the opposite of that, somehow. Like his chest is hollowed out, but in a way that feels right . A kind of lightness. Just from Chu Wanning’s awkward kiss. Fuck, he’s got it so bad.

It doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters except for this, except for Chu Wanning’s face in his hands, Chu Wanning’s pulse throbbing under his fingertips where his hand slides down to the side of Chu Wanning’s throat. It makes him feel alive in a way he forgot he could feel. Like he’s never felt like this, even though he knows that isn’t true. He knows that he has cared for other people. He knows that he has felt love for other people before. But this feels larger somehow. New, impossibly large inside him in a way nothing ever has before.

When the elevator dings, they are as far apart as they can stand to be, which is several feet. They make it through the follow up discussion with Xue Zhengyong, they make it through Shi Mei checking them over and helping to treat Mo Ran’s injuries. No one would guess that anything was wrong at all. Xue Zhengyong tells them to head back into Chu Wanning’s office.

He says that he’ll clean up the mess.  

Chu Wanning closes the door. 

He locks it.

He! Fucking! Locks! It!

And he stares up at Mo Ran. 

Mo Ran initiates again, because he knows he’ll have to, because Chu Wanning looks so uncertain of his own welcome. Mo Ran needs him to understand. 

Mo Ran will kiss him whenever he wants, will fuck him right here against the door if it’s what Chu Wanning asks for. Anything that Chu Wanning desires, Chu Wanning can have.

Mo Ran doesn’t fuck him against the door, but only because there are people outside, and because he’s still injured, even with the painkillers and the hasty healing Shi Mei gave him, and even though he’s aching so badly for Chu Wanning that it almost hurts worse than the wounds. 

He can’t stop thinking about the way Chu Wanning looked fighting against those attackers. The way he seemed to burn hotter when Mo Ran was injured, the way he reacted with furious hate. It pings around in Mo Ran’s brain, thinking about the way that Chu Wanning cried out for him. Thinking about the way that Chu Wanning kissed him.

It’s not just how Chu Wanning looked so beautiful and so fierce fighting against the attackers. It’s not just any one thing at all. It’s everything that came before, when Chu Wanning looked at him like he was nothing, and it’s everything that has happened since. It’s Chu Wanning fumblingly trying to care for Mo Ran with gifts. It’s the way his long fingers had looked carefully folding those wontons. 

It’s all of it. It’s him. It’s all of Chu Wanning. His cold face and his sharp expressions and his hidden inner softness that Mo Ran has worked so hard to expose. It’s the fact that he looks the way he does, and it’s the fact that he lives his life the way he does, and it’s the fact that he’s so good, so good, and never asks for anything in return. Mo Ran wants to give him everything.

He kisses Chu Wanning again, hungry. Chu Wanning makes these quiet little noises against his mouth that seem likely to drive Mo Ran to madness entirely. Chu Wanning be mortified if he realized he was making any sound at all, but Mo Ran can just tell that he doesn’t, and he doesn’t want Chu Wanning to stop. He walks forward, edging Chu Wanning back towards his desk. Chu Wanning frowns a little bit at that, looking over his shoulder at the paperwork strewn across it. It makes Mo Ran want to laugh and push him harder, makes him want to wipe his hand over the entire surface, sending everything scattering to the ground. Completely wrecking Chu Wanning’s workspace. A petty little desire, like he needs to have more attention on himself. Like he’s not doing his job right if Chu Wanning is able to worry about his paperwork right now. 

“The door is locked, Wanning,” he murmurs into Chu Wanning’s ear, so low it’s almost like a growl. Chu Wanning shivers . “But that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to hear you if you get too loud.” 

That frown deepens, the furrow between Chu Wanning’s brows growing more pronounced. Mo Ran feels a kind of lightness that he can’t even understand starting to fill his entire body. It was meant to be a genuine warning, a reminder to Chu Wanning that he should be quiet if he doesn’t want Xue Zhengyong to hear. But something about Chu Wanning’s defiance, his clear acceptance of the challenge, makes Mo Ran feel utterly reckless; he wants to make Chu Wanning fail. 

He lifts Chu Wanning up by the hips, and he plops him down on the edge of the desk. Chu Wanning’s gray pants slide on the papers, and he frowns but seeks out Mo Ran’s lips for more kisses anyway, ignoring it. It feels like a victory. Mo Ran wastes no time in rewarding Chu Wanning by sliding his hand down Chu Wanning’s chest, reaching for and cupping his cock through the material of his pants. Chu Wanning gasps into his mouth. When Mo Ran pulls back from the kiss, Chu Wanning looks almost affronted. He licks his lips, reddened, his cheeks deepening with a blush as well to be looked at. Mo Ran thinks it might be some kind of miracle, the fact that he has managed to hold on to his composure for this long. Everything Chu Wanning does, every sound he makes, every time he looks bullied the way he looks right now, it makes Mo Ran want more and more. 

“Don’t look at me like that, Wanning,” he teases, caressing Chu Wanning’s inner thigh, making the muscles there twitch and jump beneath his fingertips. Mo Ran could watch him come apart for hours. Imagines wrapping Chu Wanning’s suit jacket around his elbows, tying his hands back, imagines Chu Wanning at his mercy. It’s a feast to his imagination. There was a part of him that had been convinced that Chu Wanning wouldn’t even want to be touched by him, and now the possibilities are opening before him, now that he knows that Chu Wanning does want it. 

“Like what?” Chu Wanning manages to ask, his voice low and half-broken. Dazed with even just this much. His hips hitch forward, chasing Mo Ran’s feather-light touches against his thigh, and Mo Ran feels an almost dizzying rush of arousal to watch his prim, uptight boss already starting to crack around the edges. The pristine mask beginning to slow-motion shatter under Mo Ran’s careful hands. 

“You’re thinking too loud about the mess,” Mo Ran says. “I’ll tidy it for you later.” He whispers the promise against the underside of Chu Wanning’s jaw as he nibbles on the sharp edge of it, as he laves his tongue over the jut of his throat. Chu Wanning gasps, a hand thrown over his mouth, knuckles white as he stares at the ceiling with fascinated horror. Mo Ran drags his fingertips again over where Chu Wanning is so hard already. He pulls back so that he can gently tug Chu Wanning’s hand away from his mouth, taking both his wrists and pinning them to the desk on either side of his hips. As Chu Wanning looks at him, helpless with want, he slots his thigh between Chu Wanning’s legs and presses it forward. Chu Wanning trembles as his shoulders hunch forward, something that Mo Ran can feel better like this, so close like this, with his thumbs digging into the thin skin of Chu Wanning’s delicate wrists on either side. 

Chu Wanning’s lips are pressed together, but sounds escape him anyway. Muffled, confused sounds that spur Mo Ran on. He releases one of Chu Wanning’s wrists so he can slide an arm around that slender waist, cup Chu Wanning’s ass, and pull him forward so that Chu Wanning is forced to rock against his thigh. Chu Wanning looks at Mo Ran with shock for less than a second before his eyes are squeezing shut and he begins to move, responding to the light pressure of Mo Ran’s hand against his lower back. 

It makes Mo Ran feel half feral to be guiding Chu Wanning like this, and even more unhinged when he stops guiding Chu Wanning and Chu Wanning just… keeps moving. 

There is nothing in the world he’s ever wanted as much as he wants to fuck Chu Wanning. Right now. Right here. On this desk, mere minutes after an assassination attempt that nearly killed him. Wounded him, at least, badly enough that he shouldn’t be fucking anyone. 

But he won’t fuck Chu Wanning now. He can’t. He knows that Chu Wanning has never fucked anyone before, and maybe there is a part of him that wants to bully Chu Wanning to a moaning, sobbing wreck right here, in this room where Chu Wanning spent the first months of their acquaintance studiously ignoring him. It’s what he’s been fantasizing about all this time. Bending Chu Wanning over the desk. Fucking him absolutely stupid.

Maybe, in the beginning, that’s exactly what he would have done if he had been given this chance.

But he feels differently now. It’s not just surging want. It’s a softness, a tenderness that wells within him as he looks down at Chu Wanning trying so hard to cling to control and utterly failing as he chases his own pleasure . Mo Ran wants to take him back to their apartment. He wants to lay Chu Wanning back on the bed, undress him slowly. He wants to take his time, and he wants to treat Chu Wanning gently, wants to take him apart and give him everything that he clearly doesn’t even know how to ask for. Mo Ran is so sure that this is the first time Chu Wanning has gotten off with anyone else. That thought doesn’t make it any easier to control himself, but he tries, for Chu Wanning’s sake. He can’t fuck him for the first time like this. Chu Wanning deserves something kinder, and softer, and less unhinged. They can work their way up to the desk fucking.

But this, they can do. Chu Wanning moving against him, making those absolutely filthy little sounds, drawing himself closer to something he doesn’t even seem to understand. Mo Ran could watch him like this forever. Could stay like this for hours, just staring at Chu Wanning’s face. Bullied and harsh and confused and tender. The way his eyes flit back and forth from Mo Ran’s face to Mo Ran’s chest to the place where his own crotch rubs ceaselessly in little circles against Mo Ran’s thigh. The way he then looks away, unable to keep looking at Mo Ran for long, like he thinks he won’t have to acknowledge what’s happening if he’s not looking at it. 

“That’s it,” Mo Ran says, even though he’s half convinced that trying to soothe Chu Wanning is going to get him clawed in the face. But right now, Chu Wanning looks like he needs it, looking up at Mo Ran with wide eyes, made guileless and unsuspicious by his pleasure, so trusting that it makes Mo Ran harder just by looking at him. He wants to take care of Chu Wanning. He wants to make Chu Wanning feel good. He wants to make Chu Wanning writhe and gasp and whine out his pleasure just like this for as long as Chu Wanning will let him. “That’s it,” he promises. “You’re doing so good.” 

Whispered words, breathy little gasps, but they sound insanely loud in the quiet of this office. The calm after the storm. They’re both covered in blood. This is probably gross. It doesn’t matter. Mo Ran doesn’t care. Chu Wanning finally comes like that, against his thigh. Mo Ran can feel it throughout Chu Wanning’s body, the tense lines of him under Mo Ran’s hands, his spine stiffening and then going slack, all the energy melting out of him. Mo Ran holds him up, and he has this moment of terrible epiphany. Or maybe it’s not terrible. Maybe it’s only terrible because he’s been trying to avoid looking at it, and now it’s staring him in the face.

He would do this every day, if Chu Wanning let him. He wants it. 

He wants to wrap Chu Wanning up in his arms, carry him all the way back to the apartment. Show Chu Wanning that he is wanted and loved with every atom of his existence. 

It’s the same thing that always happens. The slightest affection turned into deadly poison, turned into suffocation. 

And so Mo Ran does something unfathomably stupid: he opens his mouth. 

Later, he can hardly remember exactly what he even says . Something stupid and pithy about how finally they’re getting around to it after all those weeks of sexual tension. Which might be fine on its own, but it’s the way he says it! Dismissing what just happened. Belittling it in an attempt to keep Chu Wanning from seeing just how much he was feeling, watching Chu Wanning come apart against him. 

He definitely uses the words sugar daddy , because he’s the fucking worst, and because his instinct is to try to immediately put distance between them. His chest is just too full, almost bursting with this unlimited affection, this too-much love of his, and he never for a moment considers that Chu Wanning might feel the same. 

During the time they’ve gotten to know each other, it’s true that Chu Wanning has become a lot easier for Mo Ran to read. But even if he wasn’t, even if he was still as much of a mystery as he was at the beginning, Mo Ran would be able to read his expression now. It’s confused, then hurt, then shuttered off, gone cold and blank in that familiar way, and then Mo Ran’s arms are empty of Chu Wanning. He’s left standing there like an asshole, still hard, still warm and wanting, his arms literally still held open, waiting for Chu Wanning to walk back into them. But Chu Wanning is straightening his clothing, pretending that he didn’t just come on Mo Ran’s thigh. When his clothing is straightened up, he goes on to straightening his desk , which is when it really settles in to Mo Ran that he fucked up. Chu Wanning cleaning?  

“You should be at the infirmary, like Shi Mei suggested,” Chu Wanning says. His voice is cool and deep, but the remnants of those higher-pitched, almost whining moans, quiet as they were, are still echoing in Mo Ran’s ears. He can’t just pretend that didn’t happen, the way that Chu Wanning is apparently capable of doing.

“Wanning,” Mo Ran says, placating, even though he doesn’t know why, even though he doesn’t know what Chu Wanning is apparently angry about. He’s still reeling from the fact that Chu Wanning did that , and probably still reeling from his injuries, and sure, he’s definitely still a little in pain from said injuries. But there is a much stronger panic starting to build within him, and he hates that he feels like this, hates that he has been so easily kneecapped by his own fucking nonsense. Offended Chu Wanning with his words somehow. Implied something he didn’t mean to imply and embarrassed Chu Wanning in some way. 

Had he been too flippant? Too dismissive? Or had Chu Wanning seen through it to the ugly, yawning hunger beneath? 

“Get your wounds checked,” Chu Wanning says. He’s still looking at anything except Mo Ran. Moving papers around on his desk. Fussy, like he can’t believe the mess he’s been making of this desk for the past months and has just decided he has to do something about it. Mo Ran desperately wants to find it funny, but he can’t. Chu Wanning isn’t looking at him. He’s very pointedly not looking at him. 

But Mo Ran doesn’t know what to say, and he doesn’t have his head on straight enough to figure out something that’ll fix it. Not right now. A strategic retreat and regroup seems like the best choice, even if it’s also the last thing that he wants to do.

“If that’s what you want,” he says. He tries to keep his voice blank and unobtrusive, but surely Chu Wanning will be able to hear the way it breaks and cracks unappealingly. The way Mo Ran’s neediness comes through in the way he refuses to move for the door until Chu Wanning confirms it for him. 

“That is what I want,” Chu Wanning confirms, and so Mo Ran leaves.

He doesn’t spend very long in the infirmary. Shi Mei is overwhelmed with all the cleanup work, because the guards in the lobby ended up almost as bad off as Mo Ran, but he takes the time to check Mo Ran over again to make sure he didn’t miss any internal injuries in the immediate frenzied patch-up in the hallway. He basically just jabs Mo Ran full of painkillers and tries to send him on his way, and doesn’t do as good a job as he usually does at hiding how annoyed he is to be bothered.

“You’ll be fine,” he says. “Come see me tomorrow. It isn’t like you to seek treatment at all, and this is twice I’ve seen you in the last hour.”

He says it almost jokingly, and Mo Ran usually wouldn’t take offense, but he’s feeling a bit sulky and like a bit of a baby, so he can’t help but mutter, “I only came on Chu Wanning’s orders.” 

Shi Mei’s expression does something interesting at that; his eyebrows twitch a little, and the sides of his face, as if he’s trying not to laugh. When Mo Ran looks at him questioningly, Shi Mei looks away, finally allowing the grin to spread over his face. 

“Well,” he says. “That explains it.” 

“Shut up.” 

“You’re not as subtle as you think you are, A-Ran. You weren’t subtle with me, and I’m sure you haven’t been subtle with him.” 

“That’s not true. You had no idea until Xue Meng told you!” 

“I was politely pretending not to notice anything until Xue Meng blew my cover,” Shi Mei corrects him absently as he packs away his supplies. “It doesn’t matter. He’s not very subtle either, you know.” 

“What? Chu Wanning ? He’s a statue.” 

“How appropriate for the pedestal on which you have placed him,” Shi Mei points out with a cheeky little smile. This kind of teasing has basically defined their friendship since Mo Ran gave up on his crush, but still sometimes it’s a bit of a surprise how much Shi Mei likes to be a troll when he stops pretending to be nice. And he’s right, and it’s painful to be reminded, because the whole pedestal thing was the same mistake Mo Ran made with Shi Mei, and Mo Ran knows that he hasn’t grown. He has no idea how to love someone halfway; he only knows worship.

“I’m trying not to do that,” he says. “But I’m fucking it up the way I fuck up everything.” 

“A-Ran.” Shi Mei says it with an expression of pity, which Mo Ran really cannot stand seeing right now. He looks away, fiddles with the edge of one of the bandages that Shi Mei grudgingly redid for him. “You’re not listening to me.” 

“I’m listening.” 

“No you’re not. You’re hearing what you think I’m going to say. You always do that. Hate yourself before anyone has the chance to do it for you. It’s not as cute as you think it is.” 

“Yes it is,” Mo Ran mutters in reply, because he knows it’ll make Shi Mei do that soft, fond smile, even if it also makes him sigh. 

“You care for people very intensely, but they’re just people , A-Ran. Chu Wanning is just a person. He’s special, yes, fine. I completely understand what you see in him. But when you fall in love with someone, you only end up seeing the good parts of them. You make them into something they’re not.” 

“That’s not true.” 

“I know you don’t mean to, but you end up feeling like they’re something so much more perfect than what they are. And I’m telling you that it’s a lot of pressure to live up to, when it’s on you.” 

“Is that what I did to scare him away?” Mo Ran wonders. Shi Mei sighs and glances back at the rest of the infirmary, looking like he’s hoping that someone will be hovering on the edge of life and death and will need his intervention so he doesn’t have to deal with this. Unluckily for him, the other medics are doing a perfectly competent job, and he sighs and turns back to Mo Ran, leaning back against an unused cot behind him, folding his arms across his chest, overall looking like the very picture of regret. 

“Tell me what happened exactly ,” he says. Mo Ran tries not to visibly perk up, but he can’t help it. Shi Mei will know what to do. 

He launches into the story. He leaves out anything to do with Chu Wanning coming against his thigh, mostly. Has to kind of imply it to get the point across, but Shi Mei doesn’t just fling him out of the infirmary, so apparently he doesn’t mind. 

When he’s done, Shi Mei presses the back of his hand to his forehead, like a very disgruntled version of a wilting maiden. 

“A-Ran,” he says helplessly. “Sometimes I think you’re fucking with me.” 

“I’m not,” Mo Ran promises. 

“I know.” Shi Mei sighs again, and he grips Mo Ran’s shoulders in both hands, shaking him once, maintaining eye contact. “You thought you were saying something stupid to keep him from thinking you’d gotten too attached. Him , a man who famously keeps no company, who’s about as ascetic as they come, and who probably had to work up a great deal of courage in order to allow what he allowed. And by making some stupid comment about him sugar daddying you, a comment you can’t even remember the wording of, you basically accused him of using his position over you, and his comparative financial superiority, to buy sex from you.” 

Mo Ran can feel the world slipping away a little bit at that. 

“No,” he snaps. “No way. That’s not...that’s not what he was thinking.” 

“A-Ran,” Shi Mei says with more of that horrible pity. And Mo Ran knows that he deserves it, but that doesn’t stop his stomach from clenching with this horrible feeling of wrong-ness. 

Shi Mei is right, isn’t he? Mo Ran remembers the stiff way Chu Wanning had begun to hold himself in the moments immediately following Mo Ran’s stupid nothing of a comment. He thinks about the way his expression closed off like a wave, confusion followed by blankness. He’s been priding himself on recognizing Chu Wanning’s emotions better now, but he was too wrapped up in his own self-loathing to actually recognize the meaning of those emotions when it would have mattered the most. 

Fuck ,” he says. 

“You have to go,” Shi Mei points out blithely. 

“Yeah, I have to go.”

“You have to apologize.” 

“Shut up. I know what I have to do,” Mo Ran says, already heading to the door. “Thanks!” he calls back, on his way out, and he can hear Shi Mei laughing behind him. 

Mo Ran debates with himself all the way up to Chu Wanning’s office, and then all the way back down from the office when he’s told that Chu Wanning was escorted back to their apartment, and then all the way up to the apartment. He turns the premise over in his mind: was Shi Mei right? Or is Mo Ran maybe just seeing what he wants to see? Is it possible that he was right when he thought that Chu Wanning thought he was an annoying, clingy limpet who needed to be held at a distance? Or is that exactly what Chu Wanning wants? 

Is it possible that he didn’t hurt Chu Wanning with his careless attempts to distance himself?

Is it possible that Chu Wanning wants to be distant from him? That Chu Wanning wants to be left alone? 

By the time he reaches the front door of the apartment, he’s pretty sure he knows what the answer is. Mo Ran has never been the type to shy away from admitting fault when he’s hurt someone. He’s much better at blaming himself than he is at giving himself any kind of grace. It was instinct to think that Chu Wanning wanted him to stop clinging, and now it’s instinct to think that he hurt Chu Wanning with his callousness.

But it’s more than just instinct. When he remembers the way Chu Wanning looked at him, when he remembers the way his stomach sank…he knows. He knows exactly what the truth is. 

It’s just not an easy thing, to talk yourself out of feeling something that you’ve felt for basically your entire life. It’s not that no one has ever wanted Mo Ran, or even that no one has ever liked him. Since he arrived at Sisheng Peak, he has always been well liked. Charming. People flirt with him, they smile at him, they lust after him. They like spending time with him! But those are surface things, and surface likes. 

No one has ever wanted Mo Ran the way that Mo Ran wants other people. No one has ever felt for him the way that he feels for other people. When he loves someone, he wants to give them everything, and no one has ever wanted that from him.


He supposes he can see how Chu Wanning might be such a person. 

He thinks of Chu Wanning curling up alone at his desk, looking small and frail and lonely. He thinks of Chu Wanning’s visible surprise every time Mo Ran does something nice for him. 

He remembers those passing references to Chu Wanning’s early life. The adopted father who isolated him from every chance at friendship and then rejected him in the end. He thinks of how Chu Wanning always looks awkward, and lonely, and like he doesn’t have a place anywhere he goes. 

Isn’t it possible that a man like that might be able to withstand the onslaught of Mo Ran’s affections?

Isn’t it possible that a man like that might even be craving it?

He enters the apartment like it’s on fire and he’s bursting in to save Chu Wanning’s life. He’s not surprised when Chu Wanning startles himself badly enough to slam his knee on the underside of the table, where he has apparently been doing more work. The jarring motion knocks his mug of thankfully cold tea off the edge, splashing over the front of his oversized sweater. Chu Wanning sighs. His hair is wet and hanging unbound around his shoulders, and he looks up at Mo Ran with accusing, irritated eyes that somehow also hold so much uncertainty. Mo Ran could cry.

“I fucked up,” Mo Ran blurts. 

“I wanted to apologize,” Chu Wanning says, ignoring him, standing up smoothly, with the patient grace of someone who has been rehearsing this moment in his mind. 

“You...what?” Mo Ran asks. “Here, run that under water. Come here.” 

Chu Wanning allows himself to be led to the kitchen sink. Mo Ran can feel the tension where he grips Chu Wanning by the elbow. There’s a part of him that’s curious to hear the apology Chu Wanning wants to give him, but there’s a part of him that’s afraid to hear it. What if it’s convincing enough that he fools himself into believing it? 

“I wanted,” Chu Wanning persists fussily, turning steadily red as Mo Ran dabs with a wet towel at the front of his sweater. “To apologize. If...if that was the impression that I was giving off. If you thought that I...that I wanted…that you had to…” 

“No, nonono,” Mo Ran insists, cutting him off. “No. That’s was a joke! It was so stupid. I’m the one who should be apologizing. I just…” He stops, forces himself to ask, even though he knows that Chu Wanning is going to be mad about it. “Do you not want me to fuck you?” 

“No,” Chu Wanning splutters. “I don’t.” 

But Shi Mei’s words, and Shi Mei’s fair point, are very much at the front of Mo Ran’s mind. He does put people on a pedestal. He does end up worshipping the people he loves. And Chu Wanning is a wonderful person. He’s an inspiration. He’s one of the strongest cultivators of the modern age, possibly of all time! Mo Ran very firmly believes that. 

But he’s also just a man

And he’s a fucking liar.

“You’re lying,” he says. Chu Wanning tries to protest, but Mo Ran is laughing with delight, so relieved that he can feel it like a physical force, like something that’s plucking the tension out of his body by force. “You are! You’re lying. You want me to fuck you. I want that too. So badly. You have no idea.”

Chu Wanning breaks off into a strangled sound, seemingly forgetting what he was protesting. 

“What?” he finally asks, once he has collected himself enough to speak. It’s a quiet sound, disbelieving. Mo Ran has this moment of realization, then. Or maybe not realization. Maybe it’s not so concrete as that. It might just be faith , really. He looks at Chu Wanning, and he feels so certain that he has finally found the person who will be willing to accept all of the unseemly love that Mo Ran has to give. He sees the disbelieving, the hopeful look on Chu Wanning’s face, and he just...he knows . He knows. 

“Oh,” Mo Ran says aloud. “Fuck. Come here.” He pulls Chu Wanning in by the collar of his sweater. He kisses him hungrily. Chu Wanning lets him, and kisses him back almost shyly, kittenishly. Like he doesn’t quite understand but wants to kiss Mo Ran anyway. “I didn’t mean to make you think I didn’t want it. I didn’t want you to think I was getting too attached.” 

“I didn’t think that,” Chu Wanning says, still thinking he has to protect his thin face from Mo Ran’s probing gaze. Like it’s not too late. Like Mo Ran doesn’t already understand everything.

“I am too attached,” Mo Ran clarifies, meeting Chu Wanning’s eyes, making sure that Chu Wanning cannot mistake his words for anything other than what they are. “And I didn’t want you to realize it.” 

Chu Wanning stares at him, his face heating up.

“What does…I don’t know what that means,” he says. On anyone else, maybe it would sound like he was fishing for compliments, but it doesn’t sound like that on Chu Wanning.

“It means I want to fuck you,” Mo Ran says, feeling this kind of almost…anticipation, this fear, but also the courage to keep going. “But that’s not all I want. I want to wake up in the morning with you and make breakfast for you. I want to wake up in the middle of the night and see you sleeping next to me. I want…I want to, shit, I don’t know, go see movies with you, and hold your hand the whole time. I want to hold an umbrella over you when it rains. I want to take fucking showers with you, and go grocery shopping and be that annoying couple everyone hates and is secretly jealous of because we don’t need anyone else and they hate that about us! I always do this, I always want so fast and so much , and I know how it sounds. I know it’s a lot. I fell in love with you. I love you. It’s not just want, and I didn’t want to scare you away, because when I love someone, it’s always too much for them, and I was afraid of losing you before I even had the chance .” 

Chu Wanning’s eyes are so wide they’re practically round orbs bulging out of his face, but he’s not afraid. He’s not backing away. He’s not looking for the nearest exits like some soon-to-be-victim in a slasher movie. His face is still tinged pink with want, and he’s somehow, unbelievably, moving closer, like he’s waiting for Mo Ran to stop babbling so he can kiss him again. 

And when Mo Ran finally stops talking, panting like he’s run a marathon, kissing him is exactly what Chu Wanning does.

Mo Ran can practically hear the last restraints around his heart exploding into dust.

“I didn’t want...I didn’t want you to think it was…a condition of your employment,” Chu Wanning says between kisses, sounding prissy and silly and exactly like he always does. It only makes Mo Ran want him more.

“I quit, then,” Mo Ran says. Chu Wanning makes an affronted noise against his lips. “Temporarily. Until after I fuck you. And then we can renegotiate from there.” 

Another strangled sound, and Mo Ran realizes that this one is a surprised almost-laugh. Chu Wanning hides his face in Mo Ran’s shoulder after, as if he’s embarrassed. Mo Ran laughs aloud. He can’t help himself. All of the tension that has been in him for weeks feels like it has evaporated, leaving nothing inside him but warm contentment.

“Does that work for you?” he asks. “You’re not going to have me carted off for being a stalker or whatever?” He asks it more seriously than he means to. He thinks it sounds like a warning, and all things considered, maybe it’s meant to function like one. Chu Wanning is still smiling, but it fades slowly as he looks at Mo Ran, as if he understands exactly what Mo Ran is asking, as if he understands exactly what Mo Ran fears, and exactly what Mo Ran wants. 

“Yes,” he says finally. “That works for me.” 

It looks like it causes him physical pain to say it aloud. Mo Ran understands. He knows that it was difficult for Chu Wanning to admit that he wants anything.

But he did it. 

He did it, because he wanted Mo Ran to know. 

Mo Ran kisses him again. Less hungry, this time. Gentler, because he means to take his time. 

It takes Chu Wanning three more weeks to seal the barrier. Three more weeks, and Mo Ran is by his side for all of them. 

Well, by his side or inside him , but either way, he’s there.  

When Chu Wanning finally figures out the mechanics of strengthening the barrier, the whole of Sisheng Peak gathers to watch him do it, and afterward, they have a raucous celebration just for him. He plainly hates the entire thing. Scowls to see everyone’s eyes on him, fumbles over the speech that Xue Zhengyong insists he make. Glowers harder the longer he’s forced to deal with small talk. He endures for just long enough to put in an appearance before he allows his bodyguard to steal him away. 

They don’t get very far. Just an alley between two of the buildings, where Mo Ran captures Chu Wanning’s lips, and then goes to his knees in front of him, even though Chu Wanning puts up a token protest about how they’re going to get caught, and how it’s dirty, and how Mo Ran shouldn’t…

And then after, when Chu Wanning is holding onto Mo Ran’s shoulders, still quivering, still looking up at Mo Ran with those dew-wet eyes, looking aggrieved the way he always does after his bodyguard has been so shameless as to wring pleasure from him, Mo Ran presses his lips against the side of Chu Wanning’s neck, and he whispers his fondest hopes against Chu Wanning’s throat. 

And it’s just one word, repeated, stay, stay, stay

Chu Wanning clutches him tighter. 

And he promises, I’m staying, I’m staying, I’m staying.