It’s just Mo Ran’s stupid, stupid luck, that the night the fire alarm jolts him from his sleep at three in the goddamn morning, it’s pissing-down rain outside.
It’s also his stupid luck that he had gone to bed in nothing but his underwear, and he doesn’t have the presence of mind to even grab a hoodie as he stumbles his way out the door, the howl of the alarm ringing in his ears and rattling his skull as he staggers down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor.
By the crowd outside, it’s clear that the alarm’s been going off for some time, and Mo Ran wonders just how long. A few titters of laughter greet him as he flaps his way bare-footed and bare-chested down the steps of the building, and he grins sleepily at the huddled group of girls standing together on the lawn, saluting blearily at old Mrs. Ye on the other side. The grin melts away fast though, running away with the freezing cold rain swiftly plastering his hair to his forehead.
“Fuck,” he grumbles, swiping water out of his eyes and curling his arms around himself, settling in to wait. He glances to the person nearest to him, shrouded underneath their umbrella. The rain patters off the canvas, rolling to disappear into the damp grass around his neighbor’s soaking house slippers. “I don’t see a fire. Do you think it was kids messing around? When’s the fire department going to get here and switch that damn thing off?”
The person scoffs lowly. “How should I know?”
Mo Ran wrinkles his nose. “Just making conversation.” His skin prickles with goosebumps, a shiver wracking his body. His nipples could cut glass right about now, he notices with a humorless chuckle to himself, and he lifts his hands to chafe the skin of his arms, dancing in place to warm up. “I hope it’s soon,” he says. “Fucking freezing out here.”
The umbrella tilts fractionally, revealing a sliver of a sharply angled jaw. The person’s throat works in a swallow, and then the umbrella is back, blocking Mo Ran’s view of their face. “Perhaps you should have put on more clothes.”
Mo Ran squawks a protest. “Listen, I didn’t exactly have time to pick out an outfit before I came out here. How was I supposed to know it’d be raining?”
He takes in his companion, notices the once neat button down, wrinkled around the shoulders, the forearms creased from where they had recently been folded up to the elbows, the slim pants that taper down long legs and dip in at a trim waist. That waist sure is something.
But—wait. It’s three in the morning, and this guy looks like he just got home from a long day at the office. “Hey, did you just get off a night shift or something?”
The umbrella tilts again, this time far enough to reveal the high arch of a cheekbone, the flash of a phoenix eye beneath sword-straight brows, slightly furrowed. “No.” He meets Mo Ran’s gaze this time and he looks a little flushed in the rain-dulled light drifting from the nearby streetlamp. “Why would you ask that?”
Mo Ran chuckles to himself, rocking back and forth on his heels. “Then, did you sleep in your clothes?”
The man glances down at himself, as if noticing them himself for the first time, then back up at Mo Ran. “I didn’t sleep.”
Come to think of it, there is the sweep of dark circles under those sharp, stunning eyes. “Oh, that sucks, man. Not that any of us are getting much sleep tonight, I guess. Did you, uh. Do you have insomnia or something?”
That’s a scowl now for sure. “I can’t see how that’s any of your business.”
Mo Ran shrugs, unphased. “It isn’t, I guess. Just, you know, wondering.” He wishes he had pockets to shove his hands into; his fingers are going numb. He can’t feel his toes in the wet grass, and his boxer briefs, the only scrap of clothing on his frigid body, are plastered to every line and crevice of his junk. This guy could probably see his entire dick, if he cared to look.
(He hopes he doesn’t. His dick is really much more impressive when it’s not withered up from freezing cold rainwater.)
“Anyway, it’s cool, no worries.” He fights against the chatter of his teeth. “Fuck, it’s cold though, huh?”
A soft hum, considering, then, softly: “You could... share my umbrella.”
Mo Ran’s head comes up like a hound scenting its quarry, his face brightening instantly. “Yeah?”
The sliver of mouth Mo Ran can see beneath the brim of the umbrella turns down, the brows drawing closer together. “Nevermind, it’s—”
“No!” Mo Ran darts in closer, bending his head to dip under the umbrella. “No, thank you, I really appreciate it. Thank—”
He stops. He’s very, very close to the man under the umbrella, who is. Well. Devastatingly beautiful. The smudge of shadow under his eyes only sharpens his cheekbones, throwing his beautiful eyes into sharp relief below those elegant brows.
“—You,” Mo Ran finishes lamely, licking rainwater off the bow of his lips. He drags his gaze away, hunching even as the man raises the umbrella higher to accommodate Mo Ran’s greater height. He’s so warm, and Mo Ran huddles as close as he can without touching, stifling the urge to shake the rainwater out of his hair like a dog.
“Jesus, thank you,” he repeats, sighing in relief. He pries a hand free from under his armpit where he had jammed it for warmth, extending it to his savior. “I’m Mo Ran, by the way.”
The man looks at his hand and then back up at his face before slowly shifting the umbrella to his left hand. His hand, when he takes Mo Ran’s, feels searing warm as his elegant fingers curl around Mo Ran’s broad palm. “Chu Wanning.”
The umbrella shifts above their heads and Mo Ran heaves a sigh of relief when the rain ceases to fall on his drenched shoulders. He’s still cold, rainwater beading on his skin, but he feels better here beneath the shelter of the umbrella, the rain a soothing drumbeat above him now that it isn’t falling on his head, and Chu Wanning here next to him, so warm and close.
“I haven’t seen you around before,” Mo Ran comments. “What floor do you live on?”
Chu Wanning tilts his head to frown up at him. There’s a little smear of something dark on the graceful arch of one cheekbone, something like oil, or maybe ink. It’s on his fingers too, and Mo Ran imagines an absent brush of those fingers, their owner lost in thought and unthinking of his actions. It’s charming. “I’m not going to answer that.”
“Why not?” Mo Ran pouts. “I’m not going to come murder you in your sleep or anything! Not after you just saved me from dying of hypothermia. I live on the third and I know you don’t live on that one. I definitely would have noticed you.”
That’s a glare now, directed up at Mo Ran from under those ferocious brows and it makes Mo Ran grin. “I would! So that only leaves nine floors to choose from. Funny that we haven’t run into each other in the elevator or something, though.”
Chu Wanning is quiet for a moment, before he answers, “I keep to myself.”
Mo Ran interprets that as I don’t get out much. “Oh sorry. You probably work really hard, huh, since you stay up all night sometimes? Do you do that often? What do you do?”
That’s an eyeroll. That’s definitely an eye roll. “Why do you care?”
“Because you’re interesting! I’m interested.” He puts on his best winning smile, the one that usually gets him what he wants with all manner of people. “Aren’t you interested in me, Chu-Laoshi?”
The glare is thunderous now. “If you’re going to mock me, you can stand back out in the rain.”
“I’m not!” Mo Ran protests. “I’m really not.”
Chu Wanning doesn’t reply, and Mo Ran bites his lip, pulling his arms in tighter to his chest and swaying maybe just a tiny bit closer to Chu Wanning’s dry warmth. He opens his mouth to ask another question, but he’s interrupted when one of the girls across the lawn lets out a joyful cry, pointing to the street. The crowd of apartment residents turns en masse as a fire truck with lights blazing rounds the corner, its siren adding to the din of the ongoing fire alarm still echoing from the apartment.
A cheer starts up from some of the residents; a couple of the girls clap their hands and hug each other. Mo Ran grins and turns toward Chu Wanning, throwing his arms wide.
“A hug to celebrate?” Mo Ran asks, and he thinks he sees Chu Wanning’s eyes dart down to his bare chest and muscled stomach before they flicker back up to his face. Mo Ran’s grin widens; if he knows one thing, it’s when someone is checking him out. If only it wasn’t so dark—he could see if that was really a blush staining Chu Wanning’s cheeks. He thinks it’s probably pretty cute.
“Shameless!” Chu Wanning hisses at him, and Mo Ran lets him turn away, but his smile doesn’t fade.
They watch as the firefighters troop into the building. It seems to take an age for them to complete their inspection and Mo Ran fights the shiver gathering at the base of his neck. “Shit, can they hurry up? I’m freezing my balls off.” He shuffles surreptitiously closer to Chu Wanning’s warmth, until the fabric of his sleeve brushes against Mo Ran’s bare arm. He expects Chu Wanning to pull away but he doesn’t; he only adjusts the umbrella above their heads, his grip closing tighter around the handle. “One thing’s for sure: I’m never going to go to bed without pants on ever again.”
There it is again, that swift flicker of Chu Wanning’s phoenix eyes down Mo Ran’s body, as if he can’t help it. “Perhaps this will also be a lesson to you to put on a coat on the way out the door.”
“I’m so glad gege was here to shelter me from the rain,” Mo Ran says, and he lets the flirtation creep into his tone for real this time. “What would I have done without you, Wanning?”
Chu Wanning turns to look up at him and Mo Ran’s heart skips in his chest. HIs brows are still furrowed, and Mo Ran is sure that’s a flush across his cheeks, staining them what must be such a pretty pink and—
A cheer goes up again, and Mo Ran looks up, startled, to find the firefighters filing back to their truck, and his assorted neighbors streaming back into the open doors of the apartment building.
“Oh thank fuck,” Mo Ran says, his breath shaking on its way out. It’s the cold, seeped down deep into his bones, and it’s Chu Wanning’s eyes as he tears them away from Mo Ran’s gaze.
“Come on,” Chu Wanning says, and he’s moving without waiting for a response, and Mo Ran is left scurrying to keep pace. He doesn’t feel another drop of rain, though, safe and secure under Chu Wanning’s umbrella.
Under the eaves of the apartment building, Chu Wanning closes the umbrella and carefully shakes it off, raindrops glittering like scattered diamonds in the lights streaming through the lobby windows. Mo Ran follows him in through the doors, nodding at the harried building manager and flicking her a smile as he passes.
The other residents have already filed up into the building, leaving the two of them alone in the quiet of the lobby, the alarm shut off with a ringing silence in its wake. The heat of the empty lobby washes over his skin like a balm and he breathes a sigh of relief. He can barely feel the knobby carpet under his frozen toes as he crosses to the elevator after Chu Wanning, watching the slim shoulders beneath that rumpled dress shirt where it tapers down to that narrow, narrow waist.
The left side of Chu Wanning’s shirt is… wet? It’s dark, soaked through with water and clinging to his arm and left shoulder. But—Chu Wanning had been holding the umbrella. How…
Mo Ran swallows hard as the realization comes to him. Chu Wanning had held the umbrella over Mo Ran, keeping him dry and sheltered from the rain. But it’s not an overly large umbrella, not intended for two people, and certainly not two grown men, one of whom is broad as Mo Ran is. But Mo Ran hadn’t felt a single drop once he stepped underneath its shelter.
And Chu Wanning’s shirt is wet.
Mo Ran looks up, startled, to find Chu Wanning holding the elevator door open, his brows drawn together in irritation. Mo Ran’s heart does another flip as he scurries into the elevator after him. Numbly, he punches the button for the third floor, and watches as Chu Wanning selects the tenth. The elevator shudders to a start, and Mo Ran knows with sudden clarity what he wants, but he’s out of time, digital numbers over the elevator door ticking slowly over from 1 to 2.
“Listen, Wanning.” Mo Ran licks his lips, turning to face Chu Wanning. Now or never. “We had fun tonight, didn’t we? Hanging out. Do you want to… go out with me sometime?”
Chu Wanning’s eyes widen, his mouth falling slack for a moment before he presses his lips tight once more, swallowing. The elevator slows to a stop, a cheery ding signalling the third floor. They stare at each other.
“Why?” Chu Wanning asks finally. “Why would you want to…?”
The door threatens to close and Mo Ran shoots out an arm to stop it. It shudders reluctantly back open. “Because you’re interesting. And beautiful. And I want to get to know you.” And you sheltered a stranger from the rain, he doesn’t say, even if it meant going out into the storm yourself.
Chu Wanning just stares at him and Mo Ran feels himself flush, the sensation strange on his freezing cheeks. It goes on for so long the elevator door tries to close again, and this time when Mo Ran stops it, it makes an angry buzz of protest. Mo Ran winces.
“Right. I understand,” he smiles at Chu Wanning, reassuring. At least, he hopes it comes off reassuring. “Thanks for keeping me safe, Wanning. Get some rest, alright?”
He turns from the elevator, from Chu Wanning’s shell-shocked face, finally letting the door slide closed behind him. He sighs, raking a hand through his wet hair, laughing ruefully at himself as he makes his way down the hall, already dreaming about warm tea, or maybe a hot shower. Definitely lots and lots of blankets.
He’s almost at his apartment door when the elevator dings once more, and then a voice calls, “Mo Ran!”
He turns, his heart leaping up into his throat. “Wanning?”
Chu Wanning is there, stepping out of the elevator. He looks uncertain, and there’s definitely a flush there, as pretty as Mo Ran had imagined it must be. Prettier. He clutches the umbrella with both hands, the knuckles turning white.
“Mo Ran,” he says again. “You’re cold. Would you... like to have some tea? With me. In my apartment.”
Mo Ran turns away from his door, taking a few steps down the hallway. A smile creeps across his face, slow and tentative like the rising of the sun, like sinking into warm water after being out in the cold. He stops in front of Chu Wanning. “Right now?”
“I-if you want,” Chu Wanning says.
“What about what you want?”
Chu Wanning colors further. God he’s so pretty. He scowls and it makes Mo Ran want to laugh, joy bubbling up inside his chest. “If you don’t want to—”
“Hey,” Mo Ran says, and he’s full-on grinning now. He registers dimly that he’s still nearly naked, still soaked to the bone, but he doesn’t feel cold anymore. Maybe if he’s really, really good, it won’t be only tea warming him up. He reaches out and snags Chu Wanning’s hand, his chilly thumb skating over Chu Wanning’s warm knuckles. Chu Wanning’s fingers tremble under Mo Ran’s. “I want to.”
“Well, fine then,” Chu Wanning says, his voice grumpy, and he turns back towards the elevator, but he doesn’t let go, his fingers tangling with Mo Ran’s as he leads him by the hand. Mo Ran tucks his chin to his chest, his smile threatening to overwhelm him, as he lets himself be led.