Mo Ran enters the ward with his coffee in hand to find a whirlwind zipping through the cubicles.
When Xue Meng deigns to come around to the orthopaedics wing, it usually means he’s the radiology resident responsible for consults for the day. He’ll drop by around four in the evening for bedside ultrasounds, nose wrinkled in mild disgust as he picks his way through the general chaos of the ward. It’s a quarter past four now, but instead of checking up bed 33’s knee for effusion, he’s placing patient charts bedside with a manic intensity that he usually reserves for grand rounds to impress senior faculty members, or—
“What are you looking at, Chu Wanning is going to be here in about five minutes, you know how he gets when he doesn’t find all patient records bedside—”
Mo Ran winces, flicks away hot coffee from his fingers, and steadies his cup with both hands.
“You’re not even in this department,” he reminds him, leaning against the doorframe leading into the cubicle. He feels suddenly winded, although it’s been only a two minute walk to and from the coffee machine outside. “Chu Wanning is coming here?”
“Yes,” says a nurse, busily clearing out her desk. “He called just now to check if a patient he got a consult for is in their bed right now, so he can come and see them.” Mo Ran glances around to find a flurry of activity across the ward as everyone tries to make the place look a bit more presentable.
Meanwhile, Xue Meng freezes in his tracks and looks at him, wild and bug-eyed. “Oh,” he says, brandishing a file at him. “You think Chu Wanning’s going to care I’m not in this department? You think he’s going to see me and say, oh, you’re from radiology, you’re just here for a consult, of course you’ll stand around while the orthopaedics ward is going up in flames around you?”
“Aiya—that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?” says Mo Ran. He’s an orthopaedics resident. This is about as pretty and organised as his ward is ever going to be.
Xue Meng rolls his eyes as he turns around to head into the next cubicle. “Looks like two months of your internal medicine rotation shadowing Chu Wanning last year wasn’t enough. Maybe I should let dad know you want a refresher course.”
Mo Ran does, of course, know what he’s talking about. At a visceral level, in fact. It isn’t a memory Mo Ran had expected to revisit today, but it’s the only other reason Xue Meng would be this worked up. It’s been a whole year since they’d been starry-eyed final year medical students learning how to insert arterial lines from legendary resident Chu Wanning with his notoriously high standards and aura of untouchability, but old habits die hard.
Mo Ran has to laugh at the irony of that. Aura of untouchability. If he’d known back then that just months later he’d have the terror of Ward 4B naked and sprawled under him, glassy-eyed and clenching around him, then—well, he probably wouldn’t have ended up learning a thing.
... He might as well have not learnt a single thing in his entire life, with the way his brain is immediately wiped clean of every coherent thought he’s ever had the moment that particular image enters his brain. Everything besides the flush on Chu Wanning’s cheeks, seared into his memory like he’s right in front of him, under him, right this instant. His eyes, wide and glassy with wetness around the corners. His lips, half-parted and kiss-bruised—Mo Ran’s doing. His body, curving off the bed and legs trembling around Mo Ran’s waist—Mo Ran’s waist—the dark marks already forming on that pale skin, from Mo Ran’s mouth—the soft gasps he’s trying and failing to hold back, stuttering in time to Mo Ran’s thrusts into him—
Mo Ran frowns. His memory usually embellishes it a little more than that, making him sound breathier, needier. In reality, it had been a quiet exhale. Not too far from his usual voice, clipped and firm like when he’d snap at them for leaving gloves by patients’ bedside or messing up while calculating their water deficit. Nothing but the faintest quiver and the way the word trailed off at the end, noticeable only to someone who knows him, to tell you he was in the process of being fucked.
Not that there’s anyone else who could have heard him sound that way. Mo Ran is reasonably sure of that. Chu Wanning is too cold, too prickly for anyone to deal with it, and it has nothing to do with the violently ugly feeling that explodes in Mo Ran’s chest the moment the possibility comes to mind.
Once again, it sounds clipped and stern. Too close to how he really sounds. Mo Ran doesn’t like to remember it this way. He’s never really tried to parse why. Now, he can tell it’s because it feels too real, almost palpable, like he’s back in that moment, on that bed, and Chu Wanning is—
—Standing right in front of him.
Mo Ran takes a particularly lengthy blink. Maybe it’ll go away eventually. But when he opens his eyes, Chu Wanning is still there, irritation written plainly on his face.
“Uh,” says Mo Ran, intelligently.
“Get out of my way,” Chu Wanning says, as unimpressed as ever.
“Uh. Yeah. Sure.” Mo Ran says, darting quickly to the side as his brain catches up eventually.
He watches Chu Wanning sweep inside past him, not deigning to acknowledge his existence a moment longer. He doesn’t miss the scent of flowers that trails behind him, a jolt of something shooting up his spine at the memory of burying his face into soft, mussed hair, rumpled sheets, waking up to an empty bed—
Mo Ran turns and begins to walk in the opposite direction. He’s not sure where he’s going. All he knows is it has to be somewhere far, far away. He ends up at the nurses’ station, looking aimlessly down the list of new admissions for the day. It’s oddly therapeutic, the lines of text and the chatter of nurses around him slowly lulling his brain.
Wang Lei, 34, ?osteosarcoma. Li Qiang, 19, ACL tear. Li Jie, 56, fracture neck femur—
He’s not sure how long it’s been when soft footsteps approach the nurse’s counter, and the friendly chatter among the nurses comes to an abrupt halt.
“Please get ready to shift bed 7 out,” says the voice he’d been trying so hard all this time to stop thinking about. Firm and low, not like the way Mo Ran’s memory embellishes it. This is too real. Mo Ran’s chest twinges in an unfamiliar way. Perhaps this is the reason his brain makes him sound different in all his memories of that night. Self-preservation or something.
Then Mo Ran’s brain stutters back to life.
“Wait, bed 7?”
He jumps from his seat, only to sit back down again at the icy look on Chu Wanning’s face.
“Wait, bed 7?” he repeats, quieter, repeating the process of getting out of his seat in slow motion as if that would somehow atone for his sin.
Chu Wanning’s glare remains fixed on him. Mo Ran swallows. The last time he’d seen those eyes trained on him like this, they’d been clouded over with lust and tears as Mo Ran had come inside him. He’s tongue-tied for a few moments, and Chu Wanning’s frown deepens.
“She’s my patient,” he adds at last, with significant effort. Oh. Of course. He’d sent the consult to cardiology himself that morning, when she’d complained of chest pain and her ECG had shown low voltage complexes. He hadn’t expected Chu Wanning to be at the other end, reading it.
There’s a pause. “Your patient,” Chu Wanning answers. “I see.”
There’s a strange look on his face. Surprised? Impressed? Mo Ran doesn’t quite understand it, but it’s oddly satisfying. He’s pretty sure the girl’s primary cause for admission—a fractured humerus—had been managed perfectly. It’s definitely as though Chu Wanning hadn’t expected him to be in charge of her.
Mo Ran chest flushes with pride at the thought that he’d been able to tease a reaction like that out of Chu Wanning. I’ve been great, he thinks with a touch of viciousness. I’m fucking thriving.
“Clinically, it looks like pericardial effusion,” Chu Wanning says, a moment later. “What is your further plan? The notes were illegible.”
Mo Ran’s face grows warm. It hits him then that Chu Wanning must have actually gone through his progress notes in the patient’s file. The consult he’d typed up that morning too, half-awake and late for rounds. He cringes internally, trying to remember if he could’ve made any spelling mistakes.
“Uh, just what we discussed on rounds,” he says almost defensively, holding himself a touch straighter. I’m thriving. “ECG, a cardiology consult—”
“Have you been to medical school?” Chu Wanning interjects. Mo Ran can practically see the vein throbbing at his temple.
Mo Ran’s face grows warm. The truth is, he has in fact developed a few theories about the patient. He’d never ventured his opinion on rounds, mostly because he wasn’t sure if it was acceptable for an orthopaedics resident to think about their patients beyond screws and nails.
There’s one theory seems right, though. Mo Ran isn’t sure why. He feels like it’s something out of a distant memory, though he can’t remember of what.
“Lupus,” he says eventually. His heart is in his throat, and he looks at his feet because he doesn’t think he’d be able to handle watching Chu Wanning’s lips curl in disgust when his stupid theory would inevitably be ground to dust. He’s stupid. This is so fucking stupid. But he got himself into this, so he has no choice but to go on. Still resolutely avoiding Chu Wanning’s eye, he goes on. “The girl took some medications for bone pains a couple of years ago. She’s not sure what, but she responded to them—they were probably steroids. Uh, I think—I mean, I’m pretty sure she has mild anaemia too. So. It’s a reach, but it’s possible the primary disease is lupus, partially treated, now presenting with complications. Steroid induced osteoporosis causing the fracture, and pericardial effusion.”
When Mo Ran finishes his speech, his heart is pounding in his ears. He doesn’t look up, as if hoping if he stays that way they’ll be able to pretend this entire embarrassing ordeal never happened. But there’s no response at all, and he wonders for a brief, sickening moment if Chu Wanning had decided at some point he was wasting his time even listening to him speak, and walked off.
Then all of a sudden, someone speaks. It isn’t Chu Wanning, though.
“Why do you remember all that?”
It’s Xue Meng, rolling the ultrasound machine out, his back to the nurse’s station. He must have heard Mo Ran’s monologue, but definitely hasn’t realised he’d been addressing it to Chu Wanning. There’s no way he’d be talking so loudly in the middle of the ward if he had.
Mo Ran’s eyes shift to Chu Wanning to see how he’s reacted, and finds his eyes still fixed on him. For some reason, Mo Ran’s chest lurches as he their eyes meet. Under his white coat, Chu Wanning has on a white shirt and light grey slacks. Mo Ran had always wondered how he kept them so clean, because as far as he’s aware the hospital laundry services only extend to OR scrubs. Bulk orders? Sneaking his regular clothes in with his scrubs anyway? All of that sounds more legit than Chu Wanning actually doing his own laundry.
He’d never got around to asking him, though. He flicks his eyes down to the files Chu Wanning has in his hand. Mo Ran doesn’t know if he’s on call today, if he’s been seeing outpatients—nothing. He hasn’t even properly seen his face in a whole year now.
“You were so relieved after we graduated med school,” continues Xue Meng, still blissfully unaware of Chu Wanning’s presence in the ward as he cleans the ultrasound probes before putting them in place. “You couldn’t stop talking about how much you hated internal medicine and couldn’t wait to never think about it again once you started ortho. Like, they couldn’t get you to think of a differential ever again if they paid you. So. How the fuck?”
Xue Meng turns around, and Mo Ran watches his soul leave his body as he spots Chu Wanning a few steps away from him. With a terrified squawk, he jumps about half a foot in the air, nods, and proceeds to go completely rigid, face a bright red.
An awkward silence settles, and Mo Ran starts to think of the question Xue Meng had asked. Now that he considers it, he concedes it does make sense.
In their final year of medical school, they were allotted residents to shadow in the wards by rotation. This included bedside clinical classes with those residents every evening, that Mo Ran would always find an excuse to skip. Until they’d been allotted to the erstwhile resident in charge of internal medicine ward 4B, a name you’d usually hear spoken in hushed voices.
Chu Wanning. Brilliant. Ridiculous work ethic. Extreme perfectionist. The stuff of nightmares.
Of course, Mo Ran had still skipped the first day. He hadn’t expected to wake up next morning to loud, insistent knocks at his door spearing through his bleary half-consciousness.
“What the fuck,” he’d groaned, hobbling over without bothering to pull on his shirt, “I’m coming, I’m com—”
He’d opened the door, to find a man around his own age standing in front of him. Several inches shorter than him, dark-haired, with the prettiest eyes Mo Ran had ever seen. He’d leaned against the door, a doubtlessly obnoxious grin on his face. “Hey,” he’d said, lowering his voice several octaves. “How can I help you?”
The man had lifted his eyes up quickly to look at a spot over Mo Ran’s shoulder. “You weren’t at my class yesterday,” he’d said, a wrinkle of irritation forming over his brows. “And your phone wasn’t reachable.”
Mo Ran had gone pale. No way. No fucking way.
Before his panicked brain could come up with a reason Chu Wanning would come all the way to their dorm, or at least remember where he’d left his shirt, he’d had a piece of paper shoved at his face.
“These are all the patients I expect you to work up in detail and present to me at six p.m. today,” Chu Wanning had declared. Excellent. No room for a: You emailed me? Must have ended up in my spam folder, oh no. “You’ll be shadowing me the next two months. Your performance,” he’d added with a touch of distaste, as he’d turned to leave, “will reflect directly on me. I don’t tolerate inefficiency.”
Mo Ran’s gaze had drifted lower as he’d walked away. What a waste of an ass this perky on someone so nagging, he’d thought.
Standing in front of the nurse’s station, facing Xue Meng and Chu Wanning in the midst of his orthopaedics ward more than a year later, Mo Ran has his answer to Xue Meng’s question.
He’d remembered all of this because it was Chu Wanning who’d drilled it into his brain. Mo Ran hadn’t understood back then how hard it’d been for Chu Wanning, taking time out of his day to teach medical students. Now that he’s a resident himself, body and soul in shambles at the end of each work day, he can barely wrap his head around the concept.
“I—” He glances at Chu Wanning for a split second before swiftly turning away. “I heard it somewhere,” he says finally, awkward.
He can’t help looking around at Chu Wanning again for a moment, but there’s no sign on his face that he’d had any reaction at all.
Mo Ran clenches his teeth. Of course he wouldn’t react. Reacting would require him to remember. As if that’s a possibility.
“I’ve already told the nurses, but please get ready to shift bed seven out,” says Chu Wanning. He seems done with the conversation, already making his way to the exit. “I’ll see her at the cath lab in fifteen minutes.”
Mo Ran watches his slim form retreat towards the door. His white coat and too-large clothes overwhelm him, but it doesn’t stop Mo Ran’s memory of that slim, sinewy form under him, moving up the bed in time with the pistoning of his hips.
Did the air conditioning start to malfunction? Mo Ran’s face is aflame as he turns to ask the nurses, when Chu Wanning’s last words register in his brain.
Mo Ran has his patient on the trolley in twenty minutes, which he feels he has the right to be reasonably proud about, considering the patient in question is a twelve year old girl who insisted on going to the lavatory first and spending a whole eleven out of those minutes in there. Mo Ran knows this because he’d counted, bouncing on the balls of his feet in a fit of nervous energy right outside the bathroom door.
When they’re finally rolling her out into the corridor, Mo Ran feverishly takes a quick repeat history from her as he jogs along in case he’d missed anything. He hadn’t expected to draw family trees again after starting a residency in orthopaedics, but that was before he knew Chu Wanning would ever get his hands on his progress notes.
“You’re sure no one in your family has joint pains?” he insists, Pencil hovering over the screen of his iPad. When Chu Wanning had seen the family tree Mo Ran had drawn for their first practice OSCE together, complete with cartoon genitals, he’d thrown the page back at him and given him five more patients to work up for the next day. But he’d blushed behind his ears, and Mo Ran had found himself wondering inexplicably where else he could blush like that.
“No,” the girl answers, pushing herself up on her elbow on the trolley like she’s on her living room couch. “I think I told you that like, five times already.”
“So, you’re positive? Never?”
“Uh, sure, like if we fell down, or—”
“I told you, I meant joint pains that happen mostly in the morning, not associated with trauma—”
The girl giggles, cutting him off. “I was just messing with you,” she says brightly. “You look really stressed. Are you that scared of Dr. Chu?”
Mo Ran feels his face grow hot again. He bends his face low, angling up his iPad as if to shield himself from the sun. “No, why’d you think that?”
The girl cranes her neck to look at him closer, eyes large and curious. Then she settles back comfortably. “I guess I would be too, if he looked at my work that closely.”
“He looked at my work?” Mo Ran asks, a beat too quickly.
“Oh, yeah. Cross-checked all your findings, too.”
Mo Ran bites the inside of his cheek. That does seem like something Chu Wanning would do. He’s always done everything on his own, refusing to leave his patients if they’re particularly sick, even if it isn’t his turn to be on call, checking on them through the night with almost frightening precision, forgetting to eat till late in the evening, or sleep till he—
Mo Ran gives himself a shake. It doesn’t matter. Not anymore. Chu Wanning wants it this way. And for all Mo Ran cares, he can continue to do just that.
Then the girl says, "Oh, he also asked me which doctor was in charge of me."
Mo Ran snaps his head back to face her. "What?"
The girl looks at him like he’s a particularly fascinating specimen in a jar.
"Yeah,” she says, pausing for dramatic effect. "Asked me if it was the tall, dark one."
Mo Ran’s face heats up again. The tall, dark one? He bites his lip. It means nothing. None of this means anything. To Chu Wanning, it’s just a couple of adjectives. To Mo Ran—just his foolish, bumbling body reacting to the thought of Chu Wanning perceiving him in any manner at all.
“Oh, and then he said he’ll put a tube thingy in my chest to drain out the water around my heart,” the girl goes on, distracted by her own imagination as she makes vigorous yanking motions with her arms, “and once that’s out, it won’t hurt anymore…”
The tall, dark one, Mo Ran thinks, barely registering anything she’d just said before pulling up short.
Pathetic. Fuck Chu Wanning.
Once they reach the cardiology wing, the nurse turns to Mo Ran.
“What room did Dr. Chu ask you to bring her to?”
Mo Ran stiffens. In the trail of thought his brain had decided to take as Chu Wanning walked out of the ward, he’d missed that particular detail. He isn’t even sure if Chu Wanning had mentioned it. He takes his phone out, and begins to type into the search bar of his contacts.
Just like that, his number shows up on his screen. Exactly the same as that morning one year ago, when Mo Ran had stared down at on his phone as his fingers trailed over to the smooth, cold, empty sheets on the other side of his bed.
Mo Ran’s finger hesitates over the green call symbol. Does Chu Wanning even use the same number anymore? The same phone, even? Mo Ran had teased him several times about his old and battered phone, and how Chu Wanning would probably never replace it till it literally started to crumble.
But that was then. Now, Mo Ran can’t say he knows anything about him anymore.
Before he can talk himself out of it, he jabs down on call. Some distance ahead of him, a familiar tone starts to ring.
Looking up, Mo Ran sees Chu Wanning taking his phone out of his pocket as he walks towards him. His eyes widen a fraction when he looks down at the screen, and he comes to an abrupt halt.
Mo Ran swallows. It’s the same default ringtone it used to be, and his stomach coils tight. Chu Wanning looks up to face him, phone forgotten in his hand as it continues to ring out in the silence of the empty corridor.
Then the nurse speaks, and the moment shatters. “What room do you want her in?”
A crease appears between Chu Wanning’s brows as his gaze lingers on Mo Ran. Then he looks away abruptly, face impassive as ever as he begins to pull the trolley along. “Room four.”
Mo Ran follows, feeling vaguely like he’d just missed something. Like he’s supposed to have known that somehow.
The nurse is at the back end of the trolley, leaving Mo Ran to support the middle. With Chu Wanning right in front of him, he slowly feels his brain start to get foggy. It’s that scent of haitang flowers again, the only trace he’d had left behind on Mo Ran’s pillow and sheets.
Mo Ran feels irritation simmer under his skin, the further they keep walking. It should be illegal to wear a scent this overpowering, right? This is a hospital. Suffering patients, with all manner of ailments. It’s one thing to inhale this in when you have your nose buried in his neck, his sweaty body flush against yours—
Mo Ran coughs, and quickly glances around at the nurse behind him, and the girl lying on the trolley. Both of them seem blissfully unconcerned. Frowning, Mo Ran recalibrates his senses and takes a discreet sniff. But the scent of haitangs is faint, and suddenly Mo Ran can’t even tell what’s a memory and what’s real anymore.
Then Chu Wanning comes to an abrupt stop, and Mo Ran just about manages to stop himself from colliding right into his back. But his relief is short-lived, because even though he’s saved himself from physically touching him, they’re suddenly very close.
Close enough to see that tiny mole behind Chu Wanning’s ear that he’d first discovered that night. A light, hidden spot that you wouldn’t know was there unless you were very, very close. It had been thrilling to find it as he’d been kissing up his neck, knowing it something no one had seen before.
A cold feeling descends in his stomach as he wonders if that’s still true.
“Please bring her inside, we’ve reached.”
Mo Ran starts at the sharpness in his voice, and finds Chu Wanning glancing at him over his shoulder. Once again struck with the sense he’d just missed something, he looks in through the door.
Echo room four.
It’s then that he realises he knows this place.
Mo Ran had been at the clinic for eleven whole hours when he’d finally stumbled his way out, legs wobbly from exhaustion. The last thing he’d had was half a sandwich at seven in the morning on his way to the hospital, but somewhere during the course of the day he’d gone past the point of hunger to a state of blissful numbness. It’d been a couple of weeks into his internal medicine rotation, but he hadn’t quite managed to get used to sitting at the clinic with Professor Xue Zhengyong all day. To make matters worse, a diplomat of some sorts had popped in for a check-up just when Mo Ran had been about to go to take his lunch break, and that had been that.
As Mo Ran walked down the corridor, he’d taken his phone out and found Chu Wanning’s number. It had taken a split second; it was his most frequently used contact lately.
Mo Ran (07:46): hey i’m done for the day, right?
The reply had come in seconds.
Chu Wanning (07:47): You left your iPad in the ward. It’s with me.
Panicking, Mo Ran had patted down his bag, only to confirm he didn’t have it.
Mo Ran (07:49): fuck omg thank you so much. where are you?
Chu Wanning (07:49): Echo room four.
With a sigh of relief, Mo Ran had made his way towards the cardiology wing. When he’d reached, he’d spotted a pair of feet under the curtains hiding one of the cubicles from the rest of the room.
He’d felt an awkward jolt up his spine as he’d paused for a moment and stared at those feet. Chu Wanning had rough, perpetually ink-stained hands, but his feet—
Bare, with his clogs toed off to the side, were pale, soft-looking, much smaller than his own, almost dainty, and… ridiculously… pretty?
What the fuck, he’d asked himself, blinking a couple times to put a swift end to that train of thought. He must’ve been more tired than he’d thought.
Approaching the cubicle, he’d suddenly come to a stop yet again as he caught a faint voice on the other side of the curtain. He hadn’t been expecting to find another person in the room. It was almost seven thirty, and this wing was reserved for outpatients, who should have all left by now.
“Feels sticky,” an unfamiliar voice had said.
Mo Ran had frowned in confusion. Sticky?
“Move,” Chu Wanning had said then, his voice low and breathy. “There.”
Eyes widening, Mo Ran had felt like his whole life had just flashed before his eyes in one split second. A relentless buzz in his ears, he’d strode right up to the curtain and dragged it open.
Chu Wanning had blinked up at him from his seat by an elderly patient’s side, echo probe held just over his chest.
“You’re—” Mo Ran had spluttered.
Not having sex on hospital premises, after all? Listen, it wasn’t as ludicrous as it sounded. Happened all the time on western medical dramas, didn’t it?
Mo Ran had just been—curious. And worried for Chu Wanning’s safety. He’d have to shadow him for another month now, what would he do if something horribly traumatic happened to him?
Educational purposes. His own academic future. That had been it. That’s why he’d had to intervene.
Nothing more, obviously.
“Your iPad is on the desk outside,” Chu Wanning had said coolly, eyes trained on the monitor again.
“Oh,” Mo Ran had said. He’d taken a step backward. It’s not like he’d been expecting anything more. Sympathy? An offer to treat him to dinner?
This was Chu Wanning, though. Chu Wanning didn’t do sympathy. Wouldn’t blink if he heard you’d been at the clinic eleven hours a day without so much as a single meal. Anything less would be slacking off to him, and he’d expect the same of everyone.
He probably had no need of something as banal as food, anyway. Mo Ran had ignored the twinge in his chest when he’d realised in that moment that he’d never actually seen Chu Wanning eat in all this time. The other residents joined them from time to time at the canteen, but never Chu Wanning.
It’s just as he’d wanted for himself, Mo Ran had reminded himself, biting back the question that had suddenly risen to his lips. He’d felt warm all over as he’d pictured how that conversation would go.
“Chu Wanning, have you eaten dinner?”
In reply: that cold, icy glance that never failed to make you want to bury yourself six feet under the ground.
Shuddering, Mo Ran had taken another step backward. Suddenly, a voice had spoken out.
Chu Wanning had had his eyes fixed on the monitor. “There’s a box of food in my bag. Shi Mei left it for you.”
Mo Ran had nodded, and quickly crossed over to the table outside where Chu Wanning had left his bag. Heart soaring, he’d taken out the small lunch box he’d grown used to seeing lately. Soon after this rotation had begun, Shi Mei had started to send him these packages of food, leaving them at the resident’s room with Chu Wanning. It was sweet and thoughtful, just like Shi Mei, and Mo Ran had found himself wondering if he was too shy to give them to him himself. If he maybe liked Mo Ran. Mo Ran would eat the inexpertly cooked food after a draining day at the ward, and find warmth spread to the ends of his toes.
Maybe he’d ask Shi Mei out for dinner after he was done with this rotation. A date.
This month had clearly been getting to him, anyway. Looking at Chu Wanning’s ankles and thinking pretty and almost asking him if he’d eaten dinner yet? A date was definitely what he’d needed.
When they’ve wheeled the girl into the room, Mo Ran watches the nurses settle her onto the table as Chu Wanning starts up the echo machine next to him. Suddenly, he remembers something.
“This was your favourite one!” he blurts out, before thinking.
Chu Wanning freezes in the motions of pulling on his gloves. “What?”
“You always liked this cubicle—you know, back when—”
Voice trailing off, he gives him a helpless sort of grin in a hope he’ll understand.
Chu Wanning’s eyes go wide for a second, then he quickly turns back around towards the basin. “Nurse Wang, please do up my gown.”
The nurse looks up from where he’s laying out a few instruments on a tray. “Bit busy here,” he says apologetically, then turns to Mo Ran. “Could you, uh, you know—”
Mo Ran stares at him, nonplussed.
No, he wants to say, he doesn’t know.
Because, and Mo Ran glances over to Chu Wanning, it sounds like what he’s asking him to do is to—do up—Chu Wanning’s gown?
The world couldn’t be this sick and twisted.
He’s just standing there in the middle of the room, gaze travelling from the nurse to Chu Wanning, when a voice speaks out.
“Mo Ran, if you could please.”
Mo Ran swallows. As he starts to walk over, his heart sinks to somewhere around the vicinity of his toes. He stops just behind Chu Wanning, and takes two of the strings in his hand. Eyes focused on the strings alone, he pulls them close to tie them up.
The last shred of sanity Mo Ran had been gripping onto slips. “What?” he chokes.
“Ah—more tight,” says Chu Wanning quickly. “The ends. Of the gown. Please pull them tighter.”
“Right,” Mo Ran says, reeling. Fingers fumbling, he begins to do it up.
“This cubicle,” Chu Wanning says, after a moment that seems to stretch for eternity. “You called it—”
Mo Ran tears his eyes from that mole behind Chu Wanning’s ear, trying very hard to wipe his brain clean of the memory of the noises he’d made as he’d sucked at it. “Ah,” he says. “You always liked this one. You know, back when you’d come here to practise doing echoes.”
Chu Wanning is quiet for a long moment. “It was a long time ago,” he says stiffly at last.
“A year,” Mo Ran says without thinking. "Not that long.” He bites his lip before he can say another word.
Chu Wanning nods. “I didn’t think you would—” he begins, then goes quiet for a moment. “Is it done?” He tilts his face around a fraction.
Mo Ran glances down, realising he’s done up all the ties. He steps back at once. “Yeah,” he says quickly.
Turning around, he walks away.
What didn’t you think? he doesn’t ask. That I wouldn’t remember?
As Chu Wanning sets to work, it doesn’t take Mo Ran long to see he’s still mesmerising to watch. With the patient ready and draped on the table, Chu Wanning runs the echo probe over her chest with swift, precise movements.
“Moderate effusion,” he says briskly, probe on the lower end of her sternum. “Decent window. Should be easily accessible.”
Mo Ran watches the monitor. “Non-loculated.”
Chu Wanning gives him a look. “Yes,” he says.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Mo Ran laughs. “You taught us, remember?”
Chu Wanning lowers his head, but there’s a faint flush on his cheeks.
Mo Ran swallows, an irrational thought floating into his head. Had Chu Wanning ever heard anyone thank him for how much he’d taught?
Then Chu Wanning says, “You didn’t seem interested.”
You didn’t seem interested.
It’d been more than a year since Mo Ran had heard that last.
He’d found Chu Wanning in the resident’s room one evening, studying cardiac MRI scans on the computer. Shi Mei had left his usual box of food with Chu Wanning again, and Mo Ran had come up to collect it before checking out for the day. Everyone else had gone home already; Chu Wanning, on call for the night, had been the only one left.
It had only just struck seven, but everyone tended to leave early on Chu Wanning’s call nights. It’s not like he needed help; he’d only get annoyed at people for interfering with his work.
Mo Ran had lingered at the door, bag slung over his shoulder. Chu Wanning was hunched over, nose inches away from the screen as he’d pored over the images. Sighing, Mo Ran had set his bag down and walked over to him.
“You’re lucky I don’t take a picture of you like this,” he’d said, stopping behind him. “And put it up in the clinic. All those patients you lecture about posture? They’ll never take you seriously again.”
Chu Wanning had sat up straight, almost comically quick. “They are high risk,” he’d argued. “Elderly, low bone density, family history of—”
Placing his hands on Chu Wanning’s shoulders, Mo Ran had steadied them. “If I remember correctly,” he’d said, pretending to sound pensive, “Low bone density comes from low vitamin D, and a certain someone quizzed me on vitamin D metabolism just a week back, and I think a major step involved was sunlight—?”
“Your point being?” Chu Wanning had said, trying to squirm his way discreetly out of Mo Ran’s hold. “I get plenty of sunlight exposure.”
“If our stars align and we ever both get the morning off on a day that’s sunny enough, I’m taking you for a ride in my car. Roof down. We’ll see how long you last.”
It hadn’t struck him till later how that might have sounded, or the way Chu Wanning had suddenly gone very still.
Distracted by the scan open on the screen, Mo Ran had suddenly asked, “Hey, what’s that?”
Chu Wanning had taken a moment to react. “Left atrial myxoma.”
Mo Ran had frowned. “You mentioned that one time,” he’d said. “Uh, this is the one where you hear a tumour plop, right? And, um—”
“This patient has a pituitary adenoma as well, and skin pigmentation.” Chu Wanning had rapidly scrolled up to a section of the brain, then changing the tab to one with a picture of the patient’s skin, tinged blue.
“I know this,” Mo Ran had said, surprised. He’d discovered in his years at medical school that his forte was instinct, not rote learning. He’d been the kid side-eyeing the one rattling off the components of Kawasaki disease and wondering if it was from their cardiology or gynaecology modules. But the name had come easily to his lips this time. “Carney complex.”
He’d looked down at Chu Wanning, suddenly wondering how he’d remembered. Frowning, he’d started to realise in retrospect that he’d been hanging on to every word Chu Wanning had said. Not just that, but the exact cadence of his voice as he’d spoken. The way his lips had formed the words—
Suddenly panicking, he’d pulled his hands back from his shoulders.
What the hell?
Straightening his back, Chu Wanning had switched tabs back to what he’d been looking at.
“You must be getting late,” he’d said.
“Why don’t you teach me a bit?” Mo Ran had blurted out, before realising what he was doing. “You know, about these cardiac MRIs you’re looking at. If you have time, that is.”
Chu Wanning had swivelled his chair round. As their knees knocked together, Mo Ran had swiftly retreated a few steps back.
“You want to learn?” Chu Wanning had asked. “From me?”
Mo Ran had nodded, grinning. He’d prove it. He wouldn’t pay attention all, wouldn’t register a word of what Chu Wanning would say, and remember nothing of this day the moment he left this room.
It had seemed like an achievable plan at the time.
“I didn’t think you were interested.”
More than a year later, Mo Ran finds himself staring into Chu Wanning’s eyes, still just as wide and surprised as they’d been that day.
Truth is, it doesn’t matter what Mo Ran thinks. Chu Wanning had spent the night with him, and left his decision in the empty cold bedsheets in the morning.
So Mo Ran lets him go. He’d made his own decision too that morning, when he’d found a box of warm, just-made dumplings on the kitchen table that Shi Mei must have left on his way to work. He must’ve woken up early to make them, and let himself into the flat with the spare key Mo Ran had given him in case he ever locked himself out. As Mo Ran sat alone at his counter to eat them, he’d felt that familiar warmth fill him up from the insides again.
An unreadable expression on his face, Chu Wanning steps to the side to walk towards the patient lying ready on the table.
Chu Wanning is just an efficient a cardiology fellow as he’d been an internal medicine resident, and before Mo Ran knows it, Chu Wanning is dressing the patient’s wound and asking her if she’s okay.
“Yeah,” the girl nods as she sits up and looks down at her bandaged chest in slight awe. She’s surprisingly quiet as she looks up at Chu Wanning after a long moment. “It doesn’t hurt.”
“All the fluid surrounding your heart has been drained,” Chu Wanning tells her matter-of-factly. “That’s what was causing you pain.”
“It doesn’t hurt,” the girl says again, still looking at him like he was the most wonderful thing she’d ever seen. Mo Ran frowns, turning back to Chu Wanning.
“Please don’t move too much. Your nurse will instruct you how to bathe and change your clothes. If it gets dislodged this will have to be done all over again.” Chu Wanning heads to the bins to discard his mask and gloves, missing the way she stares at him like she wouldn’t mind if they had to do this every day.
Mo Ran watches her follow him with her eyes with unbridled wonder. Irritation creeping up his skin, he starts to walk towards Chu Wanning in her direct line of vision.
“So,” he says, as he stops behind by the basin. He gathers his thoughts. He has several, because he’s come over to him because he has something to say. Something very pressing, and definitely nothing to do with him getting jealous of a twelve-year-old girl. “That was pretty quick.”
Chu Wanning doesn’t look up, eyes trained on his arms as he lathers soap up to his elbow. “I have had a year to practise.”
Mo Ran doesn’t know how to reply to that for a moment. A year. Just like Mo Ran has left medical school, Chu Wanning has left internal medicine behind too. A year in cardiology, that Mo Ran knows nothing about. How many teams do they have? Who’s his department chief? Mastering the art of pericardiocentesis in a year is only one of the many things Chu Wanning must done in the course of it.
Slowly, he answers, “It’s still impressive, though. My seniors don’t even trust me to be second assistant during arthroplasties yet.”
Chu Wanning pauses in the motions of wiping his hand on the towel. “Not yet?”
“Right?” Mo Ran whines. “I told Professor Xuanji I’m ready, then he pointed out I had nine post-op patients to dress wounds for. That’d take me at least two hours, and the surgery would be over by then.”
Chu Wanning frowns. “Post-operative wound dressing is usually a first year’s job, but the curriculum recommends at least scrubbing in for a few of the major surgeries each month.”
“I know!” Mo Ran cries out. “It’s boring as hell, too. If I wanted to do the same thing every day I’d just take up family medicine or something. But tell that to Xuanji.”
He bites his lip, suddenly self-conscious. He hadn’t meant to share this much with Chu Wanning, but for a moment he’d forgotten why he shouldn’t.
To his utter surprise, Chu Wanning’s frown deepens. After a long pause, he says, “It’s an oversight. I will speak to Professor Xuanji—”
“No need!” says Mo Ran, flushing. He wills his heart to slow down, reminding himself this isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Anyone would offer to do this in this situation, if they had the power to help. Like Chu Wanning, allowing all his colleagues to leave early on nights when he’s on call. They all must have done the same for each other, and Mo Ran is just forgetting.
Chu Wanning turns to the side, looking slightly discomfited. “Yes, that’s overstepping—but if you need—”
“It’s okay,” Mo Ran says gently. “Thank you.”
Chu Wanning stops worrying the edge of his sleeve and looks up at Mo Ran.
“Thanks,” Mo Ran says again, “For doing this tonight. I know you’re busy, since you’re on call.”
“How do you—”
Mo Ran huffs. “Really? You think I didn’t notice your usual stash?” He tosses his head towards the desk where Chu Wanning had set his bag, the largest pocket unzipped. A small pouch with a floral print on it peeks out through it. “Chocolate to keep you awake when you’re monitoring patients with funky heart rhythms all night?
Chu Wanning flushes, looking speechless for a moment. “I hadn’t—didn’t know,” he says quietly, “That you’d notice.”
As if I wouldn’t, Mo Ran doesn’t say. It doesn’t matter anymore.
None of this does.
“Can we shift her back to the ward?” a voice calls out behind them. It’s the nurse, who’s helped the girl onto her trolley.
Chu Wanning nods, looking at Mo Ran. Suddenly, the silence between them feels impossible to bear.
“You should drain her fluid whenever she’s symptomatic,” Chu Wanning says.
“Heparinise well, especially if the fluid is bloody.”
“And make sure to be perfectly sterile, because—”
“Pyopericardium,” Mo Ran cuts in. “I know. There was that one patient you had while we were shadowing you. You demonstrated the procedure to us once, and you pretty much struck the fear of god in many hearts that day.”
Chu Wanning looks surprised again, like he hasn’t heard anyone say something like that before. Mo Ran is hit again with that fleeting thought he’d had, now with a sudden ache to keep telling Chu Wanning how well he remembered everything he’d taught him. Just so he won’t keep looking so surprised every time he mentions it.
It’s not his place to do that, though. Maybe someone else will. Some day.
A sick feeling appears in his stomach so abruptly, he takes a step back. “I’ll head out, then.”
Chu Wanning nods.
“I’ll call you,” Mo Ran says. “If I–If I need help on anything!”
“See you around.”
Another ache. Where’s around for you? Mo Ran doesn’t know anymore. He hasn’t seen him at all this past year, for all the times he’s whipped around to double-check every lean, dark-haired figure in white crossing the periphery of his vision.
“We’re heading out,” the nurse calls out, cutting him off as they start to wheel the trolley towards the exit.
“Yeah,” says Mo Ran. “See you,” he says, tearing himself away before he asks him something ridiculous. He doesn’t look back.
When Mo Ran arrives at the canteen later, Xue Meng is attacking a sandwich with a fervour befitting a radiology resident who’s probably done at least two hundred ultrasound consults around the hospital today.
“You’re alive,” he says by way of greeting when Mo Ran brings his tray over to sit opposite him.
“Stop sounding so surprised,” Mo Ran says, popping a fry in his mouth. “I survived two whole months shadowing him last year, remember? An hour is nothing.”
“Really?” asks Xue Meng pensively. “On a night when he’s cardiology resident on call, high strung already from the fifty pages he must be getting an hour for suspected infarcts in the emergency. Alone in the cath lab, with no one to know where he could’ve dumped your body? Debatable.”
“You’ll be pleased to know we scheduled a second meeting too,” Mo Ran says smugly. He isn’t about to mention that that had been completely hypothetical.
“Did you,” says Xue Meng, pensive. He looks closely at Mo Ran.
“What?” Mo Ran asks, with a nervous huff of laughter. “Of course we did.”
“Why?” asks Xue Meng, eyes narrowing. “Why are you meeting him again?”
“Wh—” Mo Ran splutters, face going warm. “Why else? For my patient, of course.”
“Hmm,” says Xue Meng, swirling his noodles around with his chopsticks.
“What?” Mo Ran demands, defensive.
“I just think you’d have a really good reason for willingly meeting up with Chu Wanning again, wouldn’t you?”
Mo Ran twitches. “Ah. Of course!”
“Because you hate him.”
Mo Ran nods.
“He terrifies you.”
“So,” says Xue Meng, managing to sip his banana milk in a way that feels threatening. “Why?”
Mo Ran tugs at his collar. The room seems to have suddenly grown way, way too warm. “Uh, you know. It’s recommended to schedule an echo the day after the procedure to check for normalisation of pressures and rate of fluid refilling.”
Xue Meng’s brows have been rising slowly as Mo Ran had been speaking. They stop just to graze his hairline. After a long pause, he says, “How do you know that?”
“All that. How did you know? You never remember details like that.”
He’s right, of course. Mo Ran knows he has his streaks of brilliance thanks to his general instinct and surgical skill, but he’d never cared too much for procedure. He’d thought he was above that, but that was before he’d seen Chu Wanning work. He’d tried his hardest, but he couldn’t deny it in the end. Both detail-oriented as well as with razor-sharp instinct, Chu Wanning had enthralled Mo Ran from the very first time he’d seen him effortlessly revive a patient with a systolic pressure in the sixties.
“You know, I never quite got it,” Xue Meng continues.
“What happened between you and him.”
Mo Ran very nearly chokes. “What?”
“You used to hate him,” says Xue Meng, deep in thought. “Back when we started to shadow him. But you always end up staying back on his call nights. Everyone else left, because it was Chu Wanning, right? If he’s on call, everyone can breathe easy and call it a night, because he’d just take care of everything. Right? Everyone’s patients, even if he’s not directly in charge. So they’ll leave the ward as early as like, five p.m. on his call nights. Except you.”
Mo Ran remembers walking back to the ward one day to pick up his bag, only to find Chu Wanning orchestrating one patient’s CPR whilst inserting a central line for another patient who’d started to crash.
Already advanced life support certified, Mo Ran had ended up taking over the CPR attempt. Once the patient had been revived and the other one Chu Wanning had been working on stabilised, Mo Ran had followed Chu Wanning to the next cubicle as he’d started to perform a quick lung ultrasound on another patient.
As he’d stood awkwardly behind him, thinking of various things to say and finding each more ridiculous than the last, Chu Wanning had noticed him. “Do you need something?”
That was when Mo Ran had realised that people left Chu Wanning alone on his call nights not just because they trusted him to manage their patients well, but because Chu Wanning would do it. Too proud to ask for help even as his eyes drooped in exhaustion and his fingers trembled slightly over the ultrasound probe he was running over the patient’s chest.
“J-Just wanted to watch a bit,” Mo Ran had told him. He hadn’t been able to understand why he’d suddenly been able to turn back and just go home.
Facing Xue Meng over the table more than a year later, Mo Ran knows slightly better.
For example, he knows why he’d stayed back on that day and many days after that.
Chu Wanning was brilliant and fascinating, and Mo Ran didn’t want to see his fingers tremble like that ever again. So he’d stuck around, pretending to watch him work. Not just that night, but all his call nights thereafter. Order dinner for the two of them, leaving Chu Wanning no choice but to eat with him. To coax him to take naps, which he’d never do if he were left alone.
Mo Ran knows this, just like he knows they were destined to part after that one night together. It’s exactly as it should be. Just like his father had left his mother and him on a winter afternoon, and his mother had lay dying in his arms a year later, Chu Wanning was always going to end up leaving him too.
The girl remains asymptomatic overnight, and greets Mo Ran next morning by holding up her phone to show him her favourite boy band’s latest comeback teaser image. Mo Ran types out a consult for her routine echo, agonising over every word as he pictures Chu Wanning reading it.
This isn’t a fucking love letter, his brain screams as he finds himself zoning out at the thought of Chu Wanning’s nose scrunching up ever so slightly as he’ll read these words off the screen.
The echo reveals a significant improvement in cardiac function, and when Mo Ran comes over to the cardiology wing to find the resident who’d done the echo, he’s told she’s pretty much clear from their end. They’d consider removing the catheter after a week, but barring any other issues she’s ready for discharge right now.
Mo Ran nods, discreetly looking around him. He can’t see Chu Wanning anywhere in the room.
Not that he’d been looking or anything.
Next morning, he approaches Dr. Xuanji after rounds.
“The girl with the humerus fracture, post-op day six. Shouldn’t we follow up with cardiology again, maybe consider a repeat—”
Dr. Xuanji frowns at him. “Why? She seems to have no fresh issues. In fact, why don’t we plan for discharge?”
“Discharge?” Mo Ran repeats blankly.
“Of course. Attach her to cardiology and rheumatology on follow-up; she should go home.”
“Right,” Mo Ran says quietly as Dr. Xuanji walks away without another word.
He’s happy the girl gets to home. That she can watch her favourite boy band’s comeback on her living room couch, instead of on a hospital bed. That there’s no reason for him to contact Chu Wanning at all anymore.
He really is.
Later that evening, Mo Ran gets called to the emergency for a young man with a fractured forearm.
“What are you doing?” the man asks suspiciously, as the nurse gives him a mild sedative and Mo Ran pulls on his gloves and approaches him.
“Popping your arm back in place,” says Mo Ran cheerfully, glancing at the name on the patient file. Nangong-si. “Please cooperate.”
“It’s going to hurt, though, right?”
Mo Ran sighs. It’s the fourth time in the past hour he’s had to explain the same thing to the guy.
“On the bright side, you’ll find a better way to impress your girlfriend next time,” he says. “Instead of doing cycling stunts on a concrete road without protective gear.”
“Not a girlfriend,” the guy mutters, with a sigh.
Mo Ran raises an eyebrow.
Mo Ran follows his gaze to the friend who’d accompanied him. A girl with short hair, dressed in a baggy jumper and jeans.
“Yeah?” asks Mo Ran. “How’d you meet?”
“She’s my dad’s secretary,” says the guy, lowering his eyes. “So about a year back, when I was—WHAT THE FUCK?”
Mo Ran gives him a quick nod, and steps away to take off his gloves.
“Hey,” the man demands. “What the hell was that, without any warning—”
“When you’re done talking, you can go home.”
The man looks at him incredulously. “What the hell—” He moves his arm to make a gesture, then abruptly goes quiet. Eyes widening as he looks down at his arm, he watches himself move it around, side to side, flexing and extending.
“Yeah,” says Mo Ran, stripping off his gloves and discarding them. He’s turning around to ask the ER resident if there are any more ortho cases pending review, when he catches a figure at the other end of the room.
It’s not strange that he notices him so quickly, of course. It’s not like Mo Ran has been looking past every corner, turning around behind down, looking down the stairwell, stopping the elevator because he’d caught a glimpse of—
That would be utterly ridiculous. Clearly.
The moment they make eye contact, Chu Wanning turns a rapid one hundred and eighty degrees. When Mo Ran approaches him, he looks up at the wall Chu Wanning is currently staring at.
“Six warning signs for a heart attack,” Mo Ran reads from the bright coloured poster on the wall meant for patients. “Mmm, our cardiology department has been slacking, if that’s what their star fellow is revising between consults.”
“Get out of the way,” Chu Wanning says icily, turning to the side to leave. Except he’s effectively trapped by Mo Ran’s frame, and freeing himself would require him to make some form of contact with Mo Ran’s body.
“Not before you tell me what I was doing wrong,” Mo Ran says.
“Wrong?” Chu Wanning frowns, and looks up. He’s not a small man by any means, but it’s still satisfying to be towering this much over him. Mo Ran grins, the irritated look on Chu Wanning’s encouraging him to play around with him a little longer.
“You were looking at me,” says Mo Ran. “Across the room. What else would I be doing?”
“I was not,” Chu Wanning says tightly, looking over Mo Ran’s shoulder. “Looking.” His gaze drifts briefly down Mo Ran’s upper arm, then darts back up again.
The thought that Chu Wanning might have been watching him reduce Nangong-si’s fracture from across the room crosses his mind. There’s that annoying haitang scent clouding Mo Ran’s brain again, and for one wild moment it doesn’t seem as irrational a possibility as it should.
“Just like you’re not looking at a chart of six warning signs for chest pain?” he says, crowding in closer.
There’s an alarm bell ringing in the periphery of his awareness. What the fuck is he doing, what the fuck what the fuck—
Chu Wanning’s breath hitches, just like he did when Mo Ran had tugged at his—
He tears himself away.
They’ve done this before, he reminds himself. It’s already happened. And Chu Wanning could not be more plain about what he’d seen it as.
Mo Ran watches Chu Wanning straighten himself off the wall, and smooth down his coat. Just like he must’ve smoothed down the sheets on his side of the bed before he’d left Mo Ran’s flat at the crack of dawn, like the last night hadn’t happened at all.
“Wanning,” he says.
“Don’t call me—”
“We’re discharging her tomorrow.”
Chu Wanning frowns, then nods. “Makes sense. You have done everything for her that you could.”
Mo Ran nods. “She’ll follow up with cardio and rheumatology.” He smiles slowly, thinking back to the conversation he’s just had with her. “She seems to think she’ll see you next time. I couldn’t tell her you can’t technically do that since you’re a fellow, and follow-ups are only seen by faculty. Her mother will give me a call me before they arrive. Will you be able to take time out to see her, just to humour her?”
Chu Wanning stiffens. “You’re creating unreasonable expectations,” he says. “Whatever happens this time, I can’t promise if I’ll even be on clinic duty every time she visits. I may be otherwise occupied, at the cath lab, holter—”
“But you’ll be there, at least the first time? Just this once?” Mo Ran cuts in, heart squeezing in his chest as he watches Chu Wanning’s resolve crumble. Hopelessly endeared before he can help it, his fingertips itch with the want to reach out and hold him.
He’s already done that, though, he reminds himself once again. He’s had his chance.
Chu Wanning tightens his arms around himself, turns his face to the side, and nods. He’s always done that. Holding on to himself, too proud to lean on to anyone or anything other than himself. Mo Ran has tried and failed to erase the memory of him clinging desperately to his shoulders as they’d fucked.
“Really?” says Mo Ran, face cracking into a smile. “She’ll be so happy.”
“I’m not making promises,” says Chu Wanning, lips forming into a small pout. He almost certainly doesn’t realise that he’s doing it.
“That’s fine,” Mo Ran says, definitely not thinking about what it’d be like to kiss that pouty mouth right now. “You’re sweet to humour me.”
“I’m not—” Chu Wanning says, hackles raised at once. “How dare—”
Mo Ran reaches out, puts a hand in the breast pocket of Chu Wanning’s coat and extricates a sweet wrapper.
If Chu Wanning were a furry tailed animal, his tail and all his fur would be standing on end right now. Mo Ran can’t help picturing it, smiling to himself at the thought.
The smile seems to irritate Chu Wanning even more.
“That’s old,” he says. “It’s not from today.”
He turns his face to the side, his whole face and neck flushing pink. Mo Ran’s mouth goes dry. Suddenly, it’s all he can do to hold himself back from pinning him up against the wall, kiss him furiously till he can’t breathe anymore, all the way down his neck—
He pushes away from the wall, putting a good few feet between himself and Chu Wanning.
“Anyway,” he says, even his voice sounding strained. “You probably have somewhere to be.”
An odd look crosses Chu Wanning’s face. He pulls his arms across himself again. “You’re discharging the patient, so you won’t be needing anything more.”
“Right,” says Mo Ran. “Uh—sorry, if it’s been a bother, I guess.”
“You should be heading out.”
“Yes,” says Chu Wanning. Then he seems to snap out of something, and take a step towards the door.
Mo Ran watches him go. This is it, he thinks. They’re done. Fucking relief. He won’t have to see him anymore, keep up this stupid façade of civility, feel these stupid fucking emotions that his body keeps tricking him into feeling—
—And won’t let him go just yet.
Chu Wanning turns around quickly, and looks at him in surprise.
“I need—to ask you a few things,” Mo Ran blurts out. “About, uh… her advice on discharge.”
“Oh,” says Chu Wanning. “All right.”
Mo Ran bites his lip. “So, would you like to do this at the canteen?”
Mo Ran doesn’t realise what a terrible mistake he’s just made till he faces Chu Wanning across the table in the corner of the canteen.
Their table, an annoying little voice in his head supplies.
On one of Chu Wanning’s call nights, Mo Ran had stayed back with him a little too late. They’d been up trying to stabilise a young boy with refractory ventricular tachycardia, finally managing to stabilise him just as it had struck one.
Watching Chu Wanning type up the event notes, Mo Ran had felt his stomach growl and realised they’d forgotten to have dinner in the chaos. Doing a cursory check of Ele.me, he’d found their only options limited to ice cream and burgers. He’d been making a conscious effort to order healthy food, though, since Chu Wanning didn’t seem to pay much attention to the nutritive value of what he ate.
He’d just been doing his bit to keep the man alive long enough to teach him his course requirements. Just his luck to be assigned to shadow the one internal medicine resident with the sense of self-preservation so bad Mo Ran even had to fear for his life. He couldn’t wait to be done with this.
So it stood to reason that they’d end up at the canteen together at two in the night, Mo Ran trying to sneak some extra greens onto Chu Wanning’s plate from his own.
“It’s three o’clock,” Chu Wanning had said suddenly, looking at his watch.
“Shit,” Mo Ran had said, suddenly embarrassed. He hadn’t realised this much time had passed. “Did you have something to do?”
“No,” Chu Wanning had said. There had been a look of quiet wonder on his face. Almost to himself, he’d added, “I have never eaten so slowly in my life.”
For some reason, Mo Ran had felt his face heat up at the words.
It hadn’t been the last time they’d eaten there together, but Mo Ran hadn’t been expecting to be back a year later. He looks at Chu Wanning across the large tray between them, loaded with cakes and tarts and one lonely egg sandwich just as a formality, and suddenly wants to run.
Chu Wanning hasn’t seemed to be in any hurry to find out what Mo Ran had brought him here for, attacking the food with vigour, he notices how Mo Ran is frozen in place. Looking up at him through those achingly pretty lashes, he asks, “Why aren’t you eating?”
“I am,” Mo Ran says quickly, flushing. He’s just reached for the nearest item of food—an egg tart, he notices after the fact, just as his chopsticks collide with Chu Wanning’s. He’d been aiming for the same item too, and instantly withdraws.
Lifting up the tart, Mo Ran raises it to Chu Wanning’s lips without thinking. “Sorry,” he says. “You can have it.”
He’s realised what he’s done instantly and an apology is at his lips, when Chu Wanning, eyes trained directly at the tart, leans in to take it in his mouth. Right off the end of Mo Ran’s chopsticks.
Mo Ran doesn’t spontaneously erupt into flames, but it’s a close thing.
Then Chu Wanning licks his lips, and Mo Ran feels like his last shred of sanity slips out of reach. “Oh,” he says, before he realises how that’s going to sound. “You liked that, huh?”
There’s a pause after that. Mo Ran’s face suddenly feels extremely warm, and Chu Wanning’s cheeks turn bright red. The air conditioning always did malfunction a bit, especially around this corner of the canteen where they’d sit.
To break the silence between them, Mo Ran scrambles around for something to say. A vague recollection of the reason they’d come here appears in his brain.
“The discharge!” he says, and Chu Wanning looks relieved. “So, uh, I had questions.”
“Yes?” Chu Wanning prompts.
“Many questions,” says Mo Ran, solemnly. Then he draws a blank. What the fuck did he want to ask, anyway?
“Oh,” says Chu Wanning, chopsticks hovering over the tray but not quite catching what he means to catch. “What are they?”
Mo Ran coughs. Tries desperately to think of what he’d been typing earlier. “Hydoxychloroquine,” he says.
Chu Wanning’s chopsticks stop in their tracks. “What about it?”
Mo Ran looks at his face. Really takes in all of him. The steady, unwavering gaze that makes him feel like he could do just about anything. The whirlwind in his brain slowing at last, he says, “Two hundred milligrams twice daily,” he says, echoing the same doses he’s heard Chu Wanning prescribe so many times in the clinic he’d shadowed him at. “Forty milligrams prednisolone, for three days.”
Chu Wanning nods, and Mo Ran feels like he could just about go to war right now and win.
“I remembered right, didn’t I?” he asks, softly. “Lupus pericarditis. I did see one of those patients with you at the rheumatology clinic, back then.”
“You remembered,” says Chu Wanning.
This time, Mo Ran can’t help himself. It doesn’t matter. They’re probably never going to see each other after this anyway. “I remember everything you said,” he says.
For a moment, Chu Wanning stares at him. Then he turns his face away.
It’s too much, and all of Mo Ran’s carefully constructed defences unravel at once. His head is flooded with a steady stream of I remember everything we talked about, everything we ate together, every time I made you smile and felt like I could take one step and land on a different planet, every kiss we shared, every moment of that night we spent together, everything—
Going quiet just as abruptly as they’d both started to speak, they stare at each other for a moment. Waiting for the other to make a move.
Somehow, Mo Ran has both nothing and everything to say.
“That’s all, right?” he asks, quietly. “For her advice on discharge.”
“Yes,” says Chu Wanning. Mo Ran looks at the tray between them, at what’s left after the whirlwind that is Chu Wanning had passed through. Looks up at Chu Wanning, and smiles.
All of Chu Wanning’s life, he’s had people make decisions for him. They’ve decided he’s efficient enough to manage the ward on his own when he’s on call, that it won’t matter to him if they leave early. Decided that he’s above banal needs like sleep or food, forgetting to invite him to the canteen for group meals. Decided this whole icy, unfeeling persona that he’s known by everyone to have.
But Chu Wanning had left his own decision for once, in the empty half of Mo Ran’s bed that morning. And Mo Ran will let him go.
“Okay,” he says. “Thank you, I’ll head out now.” He gets to his feet, gives him a final quick smile, and heads towards the exit.
When the weekend arrives, Mo Ran misses the distraction that work had offered all this time. He’s buried himself in it headfirst all week, staying at the hospital so long he passes out immediately the moment he came home. It’s worked for him well.
For one, he hasn’t had the time to look over to the other side of his bed when he wakes up.
Groaning, he hauls himself out of bed and grabs his phone. Then he texts his groupchat with Shi Mei and Xue Meng:
Mo Ran (08:49): out of bread. you guys wanna head over to mengpo hall to grab breakfast in case you haven’t eaten yet?
Xue Meng (08:50): you’re lucky my stock of beluga caviar just ran out so I need something greasy to numb the pain.
Shi Mei (08:50): Sure, A-Ran! I already ate something, but since we haven’t all been together in a while I don’t mind a second breakfast!
An hour later, Mo Ran walks into the crowded restaurant to find Xue Meng and Shi Mei already seated at a corner table.
“I don’t understand how you’re the last person here when you suggested this in the first place,” says Xue Meng irritably, plucking a grape from the plate in front of him and popping it in his mouth.
“Good to see you,” says Shi Mei, smiling. “God, it’s been ages since we all met up, right?”
Mo Ran tries to think how long it’s been, then finds he doesn’t have an answer. Shi Mei and Xue Meng start to talk about something, leaving Mo Ran a moment to really look at Shi Mei.
He’s really tried. It would have been the best distraction after whatever had happened with Chu Wanning, if he could just have been able to ask him out.
He doesn’t get it. He’d felt the warmth in the food Shi Mei would pack for him, in that adorably clumsy way he’d cut tomatoes for the sandwiches, and the seal wrapped all the way around the lid. As he’d eat the food, Mo Ran would find his mind drifting to the thought of kissing the fingers that had done that for him, a brief lull in the hellscape that was medical school.
But when he’d find time alone with Shi Mei, he’d look at his perfect, lovely face, prepare to say the words, and panic.
Because the face that would float into his vision as he’d get ready to say the words would be pale, straight-nosed, thin-lipped, with none of the softness of Shi Mei’s features, but stern, with the prettiest golden eyes curving sharply upwards, framed with long lashes that he’d kissed—
He’d jump to his feet, make an excuse, and postpone it to another day.
“Mo Ran?” Shi Mei asks, gentle as ever.
Mo Ran still wants to like him. Wants so badly to ask him out. Feels like he should, but the crushing guilt of balking at the last minute and picturing another man’s face has made him avoid him this whole year.
“Ah, yeah,” he says, with an apologetic grin. “Sorry, been a bit out of it.”
“We were just talking about how we’d hardly seen you all year, actually.”
“You know how it is,” says Mo Ran. Shi Mei’s in neurology; it’s not as stressful as orthopaedics, but first year isn’t easy on anyone.
“We met up a couple times,” says Xue Meng, motioning between Shi Mei and himself. “You, on the other hand—”
That suspicious look on his face is back. Mo Ran hadn’t missed it one bit.
Shi Mei laughs placatingly. “Ah, I’m sure he was just busy,” he says, waving his hand. “Ortho is more demanding than neurology and radiology.”
Xue Meng gives Mo Ran a look that says very plainly: sounds fake but okay. “The last time we all hung out together without you giving some excuse and running off in five minutes was what, our graduation party?”
Mo Ran grabs the nearest glass he can find and downs it in one go. He grimaces. Belatedly, he realises it’s one of Xue Meng’s green detox juices, that taste just as ghastly as they look.
“Yeah,” Shi Mei’s saying, tapping his chin, “You left us pretty abruptly that night, too.”
Sure, Mo Ran’s brain fills in. Because he’d followed Chu Wanning outside, dizzy with want for the guy he’d been thinking about every waking moment for weeks now. Found him with his drink, standing in the shadow of one of the marble statues dotting the grounds.
They hadn’t returned to the party after that.
“I got a headache,” Mo Ran says quickly. “Thanks for the food you left me next morning, though. Really helped.”
Shi Mei stares at him, looking nonplussed. “What?” he asks politely.
“The dumplings,” says Mo Ran, grinning. “The food packages you used to send me when I was rotating in internal medicine.”
Shi Mei is quite for a long moment. “I—” he begins, presses his lips together for a second, then goes on, “I really have no idea what you’re talking about, A-Ran.”
Mo Ran barks out a laugh. “Hey, I thought I was special,” he says, heart suddenly starting to race for some reason he can’t quite understand. “Just how many other people have you been making food for?”
“A-Ran,” says Shi Mei, lifting up a hand awkwardly. “I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding.”
Mo Ran tightens his fingers in the fabric of his jeans. He’s heartbroken. Shi Mei isn’t the person who’d sent him those food packages after all.
He’s heartbroken. He really is.
He’s just numb for now. It’ll take a bit to sink in.
“It wasn’t you?” he asks quietly.
“No,” says Shi Mei.
“You’ve been getting food packages?” says Xue Meng, narrowing his eyes. “What, was someone trying to poison you?”
Mo Ran swallows. “Uh, yeah,” he says. “Not poison me! They—they were really nice. The entirety of my internal medicine rotation—you know, when you’re too busy to eat meals on time. They’d leave them alone at the resident’s room—”
With Chu Wanning.
There’s no way, Mo Ran thinks, even as his heart thuds in his chest and every nerve ending in his body burst to life all at once. It can’t be possibly be Chu Wanning.
He shakes his head so violently the two others across the table stare at him in shock. “Sorry,” he says, embarrassed once he’s realised what he’s been doing. “I felt like there was a fly.”
Mo Ran doesn’t hope. He doesn’t.
So he builds up the walls in his head all over again, and starts to attack his breakfast.
They’ve just parted at the front of Mo Ran’s building, when Mo Ran’s phone buzzes in his pocket. Pausing just outside the entry, he answers.
“Hello, doctor?” says a woman.
“Who’s this?” Mo Ran asks, instantly on alert.
“It’s my girl,” the woman answers, and suddenly starts to break out in sobs. “Ling-er—she had fractured her arm, and you discharged her just last week! I’ve brought her to the emergency, but you’re not there, they told me it’s your day off and I’m so sorry, but—”
“Calm down,” says Mo Ran. “What happened?”
“She tripped and fell in the bathroom. She was fine after that for a while, but then the chest pain started acting up again. She started getting really sick, really quick, breathing hard, and—and now she’s looking drowsy—”
“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” Mo Ran says, and makes a hundred and eighty in the direction of the hospital. The moment he hangs up, his fingers scroll down to find a number on autopilot.
“Hello,” he says, when there’s an answer. “Sorry, but I think I need your help.”
The girl doesn’t look good. She’s gasping when Mo Ran pushes past people in the crowded ER to find her. He skids to a stop in front of her and takes her wrist immediately; her pulse is thready.
“How much fluid have you given?”
“Second bolus,” the intern in charge replies nervously.
Mo Ran reaches for the IV tube to lower the rate, when his hand bumps against something. He turns to find Chu Wanning on the other side of the IV set, their palms just barely touching over the tube.
When his brain realigns, he pulls back quickly.
At once, Chu Wanning looks away from him and turns to face the monitor. Her blood pressure is borderline, her saturation dipping.
“Have you tried draining pericardial fluid via the catheter?” he asks the intern.
The intern looks ready to cry. “I did, but there wasn’t any—”
“Cath lab stat,” Chu Wanning cuts in, nodding at the nurse. He turn to the patient’s mother. “The inner tip of the pigtail catheter probably got dislodged when she fell. It likely injured an artery, causing blood to seep into the area around her heart. That’s why she’s breathless. The blood must have started to clot, blocking the way so the catheter that we’d inserted earlier is now useless. We’ll repeat the procedure we did, and drain the blood to relieve the pressure on her heart.”
The mother nods blankly, looking very much like she hadn’t registered a thing. “Will she be okay?” she asks, face pale as a sheet.
Chu Wanning is quiet for a moment. “She’s very sick right now. We’ll do our best.” He turns to Mo Ran. “I’ll go first to prepare. Please accompany her on the way. And—” Something in his gaze shifts. “Please don’t delay intubation if you feel she needs it.”
Mo Ran’s heart comes to a stop.
“Yeah,” he says, and nods. He’s a fucking professional. “Got that.”
He busies himself with gathering up the notes the intern had taken of her stats on arrival, when he suddenly notices Chu Wanning still standing back him. There’s a look on his face like he wants to say something.
Mo Ran inhales. “I’ll be okay,” he says, quietly. “You should go.”
Chu Wanning nods, and turns around to leave.
Mo Ran has his heart in his throat as he accompanies the trolley down corridors that suddenly seem unreasonably long. He shifts his gaze between her stats on the monitor, and back to the girl.
She’s almost gasping for breath. The sheets rise and fall with every inhale and every exhale, weaker and weaker each time, eyes glazing over as the young, boyish face drains of colour—
Mo Ran blinks, and the girl’s face comes back in view.
Fuck, he thinks. How much further does the corridor run?
When they’re in the cath lab, Chu Wanning is already scrubbed up and ready. He takes a brief look at the girl and the monitor on her trolley, then turns to Mo Ran. For a brief moment, he searches Mo Ran’s face.
“Did you call the cardiac anaesthesia fellow?” he asks the nurse.
“He was busy with a paediatric MRI. Told me to—”
“We are starting the procedure now, why isn’t she here yet?” Chu Wanning demands.
The nurse balks, and scurries over to the side room to try his phone again.
When the girl is transferred to the table and hooked onto the monitors again, it’s getting bleaker by the second. Her heart rate is in the fifties now, dipping every second.
“Incision,” Chu Wanning says sharply, holding out his hand. The nurse passes him the scalpel, and Chu Wanning sets to work.
In seconds, the guidewire is in. Eyes trained on the image displayed by the C-arm, Chu Wanning negotiates the wire up her femoral vessel, inching towards her heart.
Mo Ran’s mouth goes dry as he watches her heart rate plummet. 48, 46, 42…
“Nurse, did you get her on the line?” Chu Wanning asks, and if Mo Ran didn’t know better he wouldn’t have been able to catch the edge of panic in his voice.
“Sorry, her line is busy, I’m trying, but reception is terrible at the MRI facility—”
Mo Ran’s heart skids to a halt once again.
“Intubate,” says Chu Wanning. He tears his gaze away from the screen showing the guidewire he’s moving up—not fast enough, though.
Mo Ran pulls on gloves and a mask like he’s in a daze and takes his position at the patient’s head end.
“Are you ready?” Chu Wanning asks, from far, far away.
Mo Ran nods. Maybe. He isn’t really sure if this is happening anymore.
“Ketamine,” instructs Chu Wanning, as he continues to insinuate the guidewire with one eye on Mo Ran as he does.
The nurse hands Mo Ran the laryngoscope, and Mo Ran takes it. With the cool metal in his gloved hand, Mo Ran finally feels his throat close up.
Mo Ran glances up just as Chu Wanning tears his eyes away from the screen for a split second.
“You’ve done this before,” he says calmly. “I showed you. You said you remembered.”
Mo Ran breathes. Chu Wanning turns back to what he’s doing, but Mo Ran’s gaze lingers on him a fraction longer.
He places his hand on the patient’s chin, and moves the scope forward.
Mo Ran is still standing at the patient’s head as things happen around him. The nurse secures the tube, Chu Wanning replaces the pigtail, and the alarms on the girl’s monitor stop as her heart rate picks up.
40, 48, 64, 72, 88—
“Could you give me some room?”
Mo Ran blinks, and steps aside for the nurse. He walks slowly to the basin and discards his gloves and mask. Then he turns and looks at the girl’s monitor again.
Blood pressure 126/84, heart rate stable in the nineties, saturation one hundred percent.
That’s how it had started in the bronchoscopy room, two weeks into Mo Ran’s internal medicine rotation last year.
“Are we sure?” the other resident had asked, looking uncertainly at Mo Ran.
“Professor Zhengyong has given permission,” Chu Wanning had answered briskly. “It’s part of his course requirement.” He’d looked at Mo Ran like he always did, as if Mo Ran was a particularly annoying itch he’d like to scratch out as soon as possible.
Mo Ran had preened internally. He’d intubated before. He was confident. It didn’t matter if Chu Wanning didn’t think much of him or that he’d floundered when quizzed on Mallampati grading. The orders had come from way higher up this time, and there’s nothing Chu Wanning could do about it.
“Vitals stable,” the anaesthesia resident had called out. “Just pushing in the succinylcholine. You okay there, kid?”
Mo Ran had nodded, brimming with adrenaline.
He’d advanced the scope into the patient’s mouth. It had been dark inside, even with the light from the instrument.
Suddenly, Mo Ran’s fingers had started to fumble.
“What’s taking so long?” the anaesthesia resident had barked. “We’ve paralysed the patient, stop fucking around.”
Stop fucking around, stop fucking around, stop fucking around—
Suddenly, Mo Ran’s mother’s pale, gasping face had appeared before him as he’d clung helplessly to her, watching the life drain from her inch by inch.
“Can you see the glottis?” a voice had asked sharply.
“I—” Mo Ran had croaked, his voice too dry to say another word.
“Give me the scope,” the voice had said, soft amidst the blaring alarms. Head foggy, Mo Ran had loosened his hold on the scope. A firm hand had grasped it then, taking over. Mo Ran had stood frozen to the side, watching Chu Wanning advance the instrument with steady hands even as the alarms had started to blare around them.
Mo Ran snaps back to the present. He steps to the side as Chu Wanning stops in front of the bin, pulling off his gloves to discard them.
Mo Ran nods. Licking his lips, he asks, “How’s the girl doing?”
“Stable. No more bleeding vessels. She’ll be fine.”
Mo Ran lets out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding. “That’s good,” he says. “Thank you.”
“It’s fine,” Chu Wanning answers curtly.
“It was your day off,” Mo Ran says. “I mean it.”
Chu Wanning nods, awkward. There’s a long moment of silence between them. They undo their mask and gowns, and discard them in the bin. Suddenly, Chu Wanning says, “The intubation—”
At the same time, Mo Ran blurts, “So, earlier—”
They both come to a stop, and Chu Wanning nods at Mo Ran to continue. Mo Ran inhales.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” he says, staring down at the gloves he’d just tossed in the bin. “It’s just—been a while.”
Chu Wanning stirs next to him. He looks like he wants to say something, but can’t figure out how.
Mo Ran smiles at him. “Thanks for helping me out,” he says. “Again.”
“I didn’t help,” Chu Wanning answers stiffly. “You—You did well.”
Mo Ran thinks back to the way he’d looked at Chu Wanning’s face and felt immediately like he’d be able to do anything, and is inclined to disagree. He isn’t sure how he’ll explain that, though. “That time,” he says instead, “You were the reason a perfectly healthy twenty year old kid didn’t end up dying on me before a minor hernia operation. I never thanked you properly for it, but back then—”
He breaks off, but Chu Wanning looks steadily at him. Like he’s waiting. Mo Ran takes a deep, shuddering inhale.
“—I saw my mother, you know.”
He’s looking down at his discarded gloves again, but he can tell Chu Wanning is listening closely.
“I was seven. She had asthma—really bad asthma. We couldn’t afford her inhalers anymore. I saved some money and managed to buy one, but on the way back this guy on a bike—Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I came home empty-handed, found her in the middle of an attack. She died in my arms. When I was intubating the kid—” Mo Ran grips the sleeve of his shirt to stop himself from fitfully clenching and unclenching like his dreams of pumping empty inhaler canisters into her mouth, hoping they’ll make her wake up. “Sorry, I know it doesn’t matter. I’m a professional. That’s no fucking excuse.”
He looks at Chu Wanning and finds him still looking at him with an inscrutable look in his eyes, a tiny crease between his brows.
“That’s why I want to thank you,” Mo Ran says. “For giving me a chance this time, after that time I fucked up—”
“I didn’t know,” says Chu Wanning. Mo Ran jerks his head up to find his face turned to the side, fists clenched. “As the resident you were shadowing, I should have known—”
“I’ve never told anyone,” says Mo Ran, almost to himself. “I—I didn’t think it was something that—that needed to be said. I chose this field, I should’ve got over it.”
Chu Wanning shakes his head. “Still,” he says, voice so low Mo Ran barely catches it. “After that, I—”
Mo Ran laughs. He remembers quite distinctly being blown apart by Chu Wanning afterwards, too numb and sick with guilt and rage at his own inefficiency to say anything back. Fortunately, that was the first evening he’d received one of those food packages from Shi Mei.
Not Shi Mei, his brain amends.
“It’s okay,” he says honestly. “I deserved that. And worse, probably. And besides, there’s nothing a good meal can’t fix.”
“A meal?” Chu Wanning asks.
“Yeah,” says Mo Ran. “The ones Shi Mei used to leave with you at the residents’ room while I was shadowing you? Oh, by the way, it’s funny, but I think there’d been some kind of misunderstanding because I just met—Hey, is everything okay?”
Chu Wanning has turned around abruptly. “They helped?” he says, voice low.
“What?” Mo Ran asks, confused.
“Yeah, a lot,” Mo Ran answers. “So anyway, about what I was saying—I just met Shi Mei today, and—”
“I have—” Chu Wanning cuts in. “Some work to do. Goodbye.”
He stalks off with impossibly long strides, leaving Mo Ran to stare behind in bemusement.
Mo Ran is about to exit the hospital when he realises he’s forgotten his ID. It’s probably back at the cath lab where he’d left it while changing for the procedure. He heads all the way back, only to stop dead at the door. It’s locked.
Of course it is; without the ID of someone from the cardiology department, he wouldn’t even be able to open it. Groaning, he retraces his steps. He brightens when he finds a figure at the end of the corridor, sweeping the floor.
“Hey, can you open that door for me?” he asks, running up to him.
“My ID isn’t authorised for that,” the man replies, stopping to stretch out his back. “You’ll need one from the cardiology department for that.”
Defeated, Mo Ran heads in the direction of the cardiology wards. It takes him a couple of minutes to get there, and locate the fellows’ room. It’s ajar, so he pushes past to enter.
At first glance, there’s no one there. Mo Ran is just about to leave, when he spots something lumpy and probably human-sized on the swivelling chair by the window.
The object doesn’t move at all. Curious, Mo Ran finds himself walking inside, right up to the chair.
It’s a person.
He’d look asleep to a casual observer, but Mo Ran knows better. Chu Wanning doesn’t sleep with his legs stretched like this, or his arms hanging limply by his sides. When he sleeps, he curls in on himself to make himself as small as possible.
“Hey!” Mo Ran calls urgently, tapping his shoulder. Chu Wanning’s face is ashen and sweaty, his lips very dry. Quickly, Mo Ran finds the water dispenser, fills up a glass and raises it to his mouth, shaking him as he does. “Hey, get up.”
There’s a soft groan from him at last, and Mo Ran almost slumps over in relief. Chu Wanning tips his face just enough to graze the surface of the glass, and Mo Ran tilts it.
“Do you have any food?” he asks. He looks around, and finds a half-eaten protein bar lying on a bed. Disgusting, but it’ll have to do. Reaching out to grab it, he hands it to Chu Wanning. “Eat up.”
“I’m fine,” Chu Wanning says, but he eats it. He sits up, rests his head on his hand to look at the half-completed discharge summary on the computer screen before him and reaches for the mouse.
“Yeah, that’s not happening,” says Mo Ran firmly. He pulls the chair back, and hauls Chu Wanning bodily to his feet.
“What are—Put me down!” he gasps, trying to shove Mo Ran off. He’s so weak it ends up looking more like he’s just pawing at him, though. Mo Ran flushes, grabbing both his wrists in a tight grip to make him stop.
“Work with me, please, or I’ll have to carry you in my arms,” he splutters, and that shuts Chu Wanning up for a bit.
It’s going to be a long journey.
He tries not to put his arms around Chu Wanning’s waist. He really does. But when he tries to hold him higher up it doesn’t seem to offer enough support, and when he tries to go lower his hand grazes his ass, and he pulls away like he’s just been electrocuted.
That’s how he ends up holding Chu Wanning by the waist against his side, walking him slowly to the door. He takes Chu Wanning’s bag from the back of the chair where he’d hung it, slinging it over his other shoulder. Chu Wanning manages to walk in step with Mo Ran, but it’s slow, and seeps all the energy out of him so he goes quiet. By the time they reach the elevator, his head has flopped onto Mo Ran’s shoulder.
Mo Ran blinks at the elevator door, trying extremely hard not to tilt his face just a fraction to see Chu Wanning’s eyelashes fan out over his cheekbones. His ear. That mole he knows is behind it. His lips—
He opens the door, hitching Chu Wanning closer against him. His hand spans almost halfway around his waist. Mo Ran thinks this is what they mean when they talk about your whole life flashing before your eyes.
They make their way outside. Mo Ran glances down at Chu Wanning. He knows it’s a shorter distance to his own place, but there’s a part of him that wishes it took longer just so he’ll get to hold him.
Fuck, he thinks, taking one quick look down at his face before they set off, in front of the hospital building as hundreds of people rush in every direction around them. He’s completely, utterly, extraordinarily fucked.
What Mo Ran had thought would be the longest journey of his life ends up being the shortest. When he finds himself at the door to his room, he looks back down the corridor, wondering when he’d ever made it this far.
This is good, though, he reminds himself. He takes one look down at Chu Wanning. His eyes are half-closed now, and he probably doesn’t even realise he’s reached out a hand to clutch at Mo Ran’s sleeve. This means he’s going to get Chu Wanning to sleep sooner, and that’s good.
Once they’re inside, Mo Ran kicks the door shut behind him, sets Chu Wanning’s bag on the ground and toes off his shoes.
“Hey,” he says, softly. He hesitates, then says “Wanning—”
Chu Wanning doesn’t react to that like he normally would, and Mo Ran feels his heart skitter. “Wanning,” he says again, like he just wants to keep saying his name now that he has the chance, “Take off your shoes, okay?”
Chu Wanning is barely conscious at this point; there’s no answer. Mo Ran bites his lip. Crouching, he takes Chu Wanning into his arms and sets him on the nearest chair he can find. Then he kneels to takes his shoes off for him. As he’s doing so, his fingers graze the soft skin of his ankles. They trace the sides of his feet, right up to his toes as he pulls them off completely.
Mo Ran swallows.
Fuck you, he tells himself. You do not have a fucking foot fetish.
He tears his gaze away to look up, as if to prove a point. From this position, kneeling between his legs, it’s very much like—
Mo Ran scrambles to his feet before that particular train of thought can go any further.
He helps Chu Wanning up off the chair, but it’s clear he’s in no state to walk. As he slumps against Mo Ran’s side, Mo Ran swallows several times in succession as he steels himself for what he’s up to do.
Chu Wanning barely even stirs as Mo Ran lifts him into his arms. Mo Ran makes the mistaking of looking at him—his face so close to Mo Ran’s like this that he can almost feel his gentle exhales against his neck. Once he’s taken a look at him, he can’t tear himself away.
It’s probably the last time he’ll ever get to see him this close. It’s okay to be selfish—just this once, right? It’s not like Chu Wanning will ever know.
That is, till Mo Ran stumbles against the corner of his table and nearly falls over.
He holds Chu Wanning steady, of course, but his eyes flutter open. They’re even closer now, since Mo Ran had pulled him tighter as he’d been about to fall. If he’d fallen a little further, their lips would be touching now.
Mo Ran really wishes his brain hadn’t chosen this particular moment to impart this information to him.
Chu Wanning takes one look around him, seems to sense nothing wrong, and tips his head once more onto Mo Ran’s chest. He’s fully asleep now, his chest rising and falling steadily as his face smooths out. Mo Ran can’t remember him ever sleeping in the resident’s room in front of anyone, certainly not with a face this relaxed. He slows his pace, inching towards the bedroom to make sure he won’t awaken again.
Mo Ran carries him into the bathroom, and sets him on the counter. He goes back out to his bedroom, opens his wardrobe and proceeds to have a crisis.
Chu Wanning is in his hospital clothes, and he needs to get him out of them. There’s no other viable choice.
In the end, he closes his eyes and blindly reaches into the area where he dumps the clothes he wears around the house and grabs the first shirt and pair of shorts he touches. Making his way back to his bathroom, he finds Chu Wanning leaning back against the mirror, fast asleep.
Mo Ran watches him for a moment. The last time he’d seen him this relaxed, Chu Wanning had been drifting off to sleep next to him, his bare shoulders bathed in moonlight streaming through Mo Ran’s window. He wonders if anyone else has ever seen him like this, that knot in his stomach starting to form again.
He exhales, and starts to unbutton Chu Wanning’s shirt.
When Mo Ran had left their graduation party to find Chu Wanning, he hadn’t intended to actually talk to him. Mo Ran’s internal medicine rotation had ended a month ago, and in the chaos of finals prep he hadn’t seen him at all. Chu Wanning had arrived late—not that Mo Ran had noticed. Glancing over at the entrance from time to time all evening, he’d spotted Chu Wanning the moment he’d walked in.
He’d only wanted to look at him one last time, before they parted ways. Mo Ran to orthopaedics, Chu Wanning to cardiology. Two specialties that couldn’t be further apart. Fitting, really.
Then Chu Wanning had turned around to look directly at him, as if he’d sensed him even with all that distance between them. Mo Ran had approached him, every synapse in his body in flames. He’d stopped before him, trying his best to not crush his glass in his bare hands from how hard he’d been gripping it.
“When are you joining your program?” Chu Wanning had asked. Pointless. Every residency and fellowship program in the country started on the same day.
“First of August,” Mo Ran had replied. “And you?” Again.
“The same,” Chu Wanning had answered.
“Cool,” Mo Ran had said. Chu Wanning had undone the top button of his white dress shirt, but there’d still been beads of sweat dotting his neck. Mo Ran’s mouth had suddenly gone very dry. “So, uh. Cardiology, huh. Bet you’ll be really busy.”
“Yes. Orthopaedics is quite busy too. ”There’d been a bead of sweat running between Chu Wanning’s clavicles to disappear beneath his shirt, and Mo Ran had been too distracted by it to notice how fucking inane the conversation had been getting. On both sides.
“Yeah, I heard,” he’d replied.
He’d cringe later over what he’d say next. Try to explain it away as the heat messing with his head. At the time, there’d been so many thoughts swirling around in his brain that it’d been easier to bury it all with white noise.
Thoughts like: How’ve you been? Couldn’t revise for thirty seconds all month without thinking of your stupid, annoying, frowny face as you dragged me for getting a question wrong. Are you staying up all night hunched over typing discharge summaries again? Premature scoliosis is not a good look, even for someone like you who’s maybe reasonably cute. I guess. Anyway. Can’t sit at the canteen without thinking of you, us, there at our corner table eating lotus seed buns at three in the morning.
Instead, he’d flexed his arm. “I’ve been working out in preparation. Do you think it’ll still be that hard for me?” He’d tilted his arm innocently towards Chu Wanning, offering it to him to touch.
Still, he hadn’t been prepared for Chu Wanning actually reaching out and touching him. Mo Ran had stared down at the slim fingers on his arm, and started to feel his paper-thin resolve start to crumble.
“What do you think?” he’d asked innocently. Starting, Chu Wanning had pulled his fingers away as if he’d been burnt.
Mo Ran had bent down, placing his glass on the floor. Then he’d grabbed Chu Wanning’s hand and held it up between them. As if addressing it, he’d asked, “So, what’s the verdict? Am I a legit ortho resident now?”
“Mo Ran—” Chu Wanning had said, and he’d sounded so flustered it had driven Mo Ran even wilder with want. Could Chu Wanning—icy, unfeeling, untouchable Chu Wanning—be attracted to him? He’d felt dizzy even thinking of the possibility.
Growing bolder by the second, he’d tugged Chu Wanning closer by his shirt. “I could give you a more hands-on demonstration,” he’d said, too foggy with need to even cringe at his monologue. He’d be grateful later he hadn’t at least stooped to metaphors involving screws and nails.
And then Mo Ran had noticed something that had made him stop dead. Chu Wanning hadn’t actually smacked him away.
He hadn’t snapped at him for daring to call him that, either.
“Wanning,” he’d murmured, leaning closer to nose against his neck. It’d been a mistake. He’d inhaled, Chu Wanning’s stupid flowery scent tipping him closer to the edge. “If you keep doing this, I’m going to think you’re into me.”
There’d been no answer.
Tearing himself away, Mo Ran had pressed his forehead against Chu Wanning. “Fuck, baobei, you drive me crazy—” he’d groaned. He’d known in some corner of his corner of his consciousness what a terrible, horrible, deranged idea this was. But there’d been no way he could stop. “Do—do you want to come to my place?”
A sharp inhale. Fingers tightening almost imperceptibly against Mo Ran’s. In that wild, impossible, ridiculous moment, Mo Ran had realised that Chu Wanning wanted this too. Even if it was just for this night. He’d wanted it. And Mo Ran—stupid, stupid dog that he was—had decided to take what was offered to him, and think about it in the morning.
Five minutes later, they’d stumbled into Mo Ran’s flat, Mo Ran barely knocking the door shut behind him as he’d pressed Chu Wanning against the wall and attacked the buttons on his shirt like they’d personally offended him.
In his bathroom, Mo Ran pulls his hoodie over Chu Wanning’s head as swiftly as he can. It feels wrong even to look at his bare skin. One year ago, Chu Wanning had smoothed the sheets before he’d left, like he’d wanted to erase every trace he’d been in that flat at all. Once he’s in Mo Ran’s hoodie and shorts, he carries him to bed and lays him down.
Chu Wanning doesn’t stir, and in moments he curls in on himself. Mo Ran smiles, and pulls the blanket over him. He lingers a moment, then tears himself away.
When he’s shut the bedroom door behind him, he grabs himself a beer and sits in front of the television. He flips the channels to something bright and lively, but he isn’t really looking. He isn’t really thinking at all, the steady thrum of the sounds from the television helping to drown out every thought in his head.
He falls asleep about five minutes into the opening scene of Ip Man, which he’d started hoping an action film like that would at least distract him a bit and help the time pass. It works a bit too well. Mo Ran wakes when the movie ends, and the end credit music stops. The flat falls silent suddenly, and Mo Ran starts bolt upright.
Stretching, he gets to his feet and goes over to his bedroom. When he tilts the door open, he finds Chu Wanning still fast asleep. The blanket must have fallen off at some point to bundle up in a heap under him. Mo Ran pulls it back over him. As he’s about to pull away, he notices Chu Wanning’s nose scrunch up a little. There’s a wisp of hair over it, probably tickling him. Mo Ran reaches out to tuck the hair behind his ear. Then Chu Wanning lets out the softest of snores, and Mo Ran jumps back in alarm and hurries out of the room.
He makes his way to the kitchen next, starting up the stove, boiling some chicken, and preparing some celery, ginger and spring onions. In an hour, there’s a bowl of steaming hot soup ready on the counter, enveloping the whole flat in a warm and flavourful aroma.
Mo Ran realises, stomach dropping as he carries the bowl to the bedroom, how easily he could get used to this.
When he opens the door, Chu Wanning is awake. His eyes are open, a little hazy from sleep, but the moment Mo Ran enters he sits up very straight.
“I—” He turns his eyes away from Mo Ran, placing his hands gingerly on the bedspread. “I should change back into my clothes.”
Mo Ran kicks a chair over by his side and sits next to him. “You’re not doing anything till you’ve eaten.”
Chu Wanning opens his mouth to answer, but his stomach is faster to reply with a loud rumble. “I’m not hungry,” he says anyway.
Mo Ran dips the spoon in the bowl and holds it up to Chu Wanning. Frowning, Chu Wanning looks to the side.
“Eat it yourself,” he says, folding his arms
Mo Ran sighs. He really doesn’t want to go there. “You’re not getting your clothes back till you’ve eaten.”
“You—!” He splutters, but his stomach gives another rumble. Frowning, he leans in to take the spoon in his mouth.
Mo Ran’s mouth goes dry. For all his hubris, he doesn’t think he’s prepared himself for this.
It doesn’t stop. Chu Wanning looks like he’d been fully prepared to demand for his clothes after a single sip, but that one mouthful seems to have put his plan on hold. He looks at the bowl again, and Mo Ran finds himself dipping the spoon in it again.
Mo Ran knows, somewhere in the back of his head, that this isn’t a good idea. But there’s too much cotton wool in there, and his hands are on auto-pilot. He isn’t sure how long it’s been when a fleck of the soup lands on Chu Wanning’s chin. He reaches out to wipe it away.
That snaps them both out of it.
Chu Wanning lowers his eyes, reaching for the bowl wordlessly. It’s almost half-empty now. Just how long had they been doing this? Handing it over to him, Mo Ran gets to his feet.
“You should shower,” he says. “I’ll get your clothes.”
Chu Wanning nods, eyes on the bedspread. “I have a fresh set in my bag.”
Mo Ran nods, and makes his way outside. Not long after, he hears the shower turn on in the bathroom. Where Chu Wanning is taking a shower. In his bathroom.
For a while he putters around to distract himself, finally giving up when he finds himself smoothing out his tablecloth like an overzealous housewife. Grimacing at himself, he heads over to get Chu Wanning’s clothes out for him.
There’s a lot of junk in his bag. Mo Ran retrieves at least two years’ worth of printed research papers with scribbles and highlights all over, a bag of milk candies that expired six months ago, at least twenty tongue depressors and a couple of tuning forks that are sticky with some unknown residue.
Mo Ran sighs, taking everything out one by one. Someone has to clean this bag—Mo Ran has one that looks pretty similar, and Chu Wanning isn’t likely to notice if he discreetly replaces it. As Mo Ran is rummaging through the items, his hands hit something soft and fluffy.
He draws out an embroidered lunch bag. It’s empty, but it’s clearly been made to fit a lunch box inside.
Mo Ran knows this because he made it.
Holding the bag in both his hands, he leans back against the table. Smooths it out, his fingers tracing the small haitang blossoms he’d embroidered into it. He’d needed a reference for the gift he’d wanted to make to thank Shi Mei, and he’d found the design on Chu Wanning’s little candy pouch come in handy for inspiration.
Mo Ran feels his chest tighten so much he’s barely able to breathe. Wanning, he thinks, digging his nails so hard into his sides he feels like he’s about to bruise—
—Why do you still have this?
All at once, everything Mo Ran had tried to bury in the deepest corner of his brain starts rushing back. Shi Mei denying he’d had anything to do with the packed lunches, Chu Wanning just so happening to find them in the resident’s room every time, telling Mo Ran with confidence that they were from Shi Mei—
Mo Ran passes a hand over his face, every nerve in his body alight as he tries and fails to explain it away, because it can’t be, can it? There’s no way—he can’t allow himself to hope, can’t tip over the edge of this cliff there’s no way back from—
Wanning, was it always you?
He doesn’t notice the shower stop. The soft footsteps padding out into the bathroom. The door open.
Then Chu Wanning appears at the bedroom door in Mo Ran’s fluffy blue bathrobe, and freezes.
Mo Ran doesn’t know what to do with the bag in his hand. He hadn’t wanted to embarrass Chu Wanning this way, but he’d simply not been in a state to react.
“Wanning,” he croaks. “I—”
Face draining of colour, Chu Wanning turns around. He looks especially small in Mo Ran’s bathrobe, and Mo Ran crumbles.
Pushing himself off the side of the table, he walks up to Chu Wanning. Stopping right behind him he quietly asks, “Wanning, will you turn around?”
Chu Wanning doesn’t turn, but he tilts his face to the side just so Mo Ran can see the silhouette of his face. He hasn’t dried his hair properly; beads of water trickle down behind his ear to trail down his neck.
“I gave this to you,” Mo Ran says. He’s trying very hard to keep his voice steady. “I told you to give this to Shi Mei when he came back to get his lunch box. It was a gift, for making me food all those times before. But the other day, Shi Mei told me he doesn’t have any idea about any of this. Wanning—” his voice breaks at last, “Was it you?”
Chu Wanning’s shoulders tighten under the fluffy fabric of Mo Ran’s bathrobe. “I was only—” His tone is sharp, but there’s a waver in there that Mo Ran manages to catch. “You were shadowing me, so I was only doing—”
Mo Ran takes a step forward. Chu Wanning’s breath hitches, and his voice comes to an abrupt stop. This close, Mo Ran can almost feel the heat from the shower radiating off Chu Wanning’s skin. He’s red—
“I hoped it was you, you know,” Mo Ran says, with a short laugh. “Never admitted it though, not even to myself. Because it was crazy, right? Why would you waste your time on someone like me?”
Chu Wanning tightens his arms around himself again. Mo Ran holds up the lunch bag in his hand and smiles down at it.
“I made this for the person who’d done that for me,” he says. He reaches out around Chu Wanning, to find his hand. Taking it in his, he traces his fingers. He’s very close now, a hair’s breadth away from pressing into Chu Wanning’s back. “Kept thinking of the hands that made them for me. You told me it was Shi Mei, and my brain was aware it was Shi Mei, but I—it was the way it made me feel, unwrapping those cutely packaged boxes and eating those cute little dumplings made for me. No one—” he inhales sharply, and squeezes his eyes close, “no has ever made anything like this for me.”
Chu Wanning doesn’t answer, but he doesn’t move or push Mo Ran away either.
“Fuck, Wanning,” says Mo Ran, voice straining. “I’m not good with words, and I don’t want you to say anything, I understand, but I—”
He dips his head lower, his nose grazing Chu Wanning’s dark, damp hair. Inhales. The musky scent of his own shampoo mixing with Chu Wanning’s soft haitang scent. His heart squeezes painfully.
“—I like you, Wanning. I like you. I know I had my chance, and I know that you—you didn’t want more after that, but it’s been eating at me, and I knew if I never—”
There’s a sudden, firm tug at his fingers, and Mo Ran stops dead.
Chu Wanning is quiet for a long time. He’s still very red. Mo Ran hasn’t heard of anyone staying this red so long after a hot shower. Maybe he needs to get himself checked out or something.
“That night,” Chu Wanning says at last. His voice cracks at the edges, but he refuses to turn around. “It was wrong, but I thought—It was my only chance—Because you liked Shi Mei, and—”
He comes to a halt, his whole body trembling. Mo Ran’s eyes go wide, a sharp inhale escaping his throat.
If Chu Wanning thought that night would be his only chance, and that Mo Ran liked Shi Mei—
“Wanning,” he murmurs, head buzzing with a solitary question that finally, finally bursts up to his lips, “Wanning, do you like me?”
Chu Wanning exhales, curling in on himself, pulling his arms closer around himself, but his fingers hold Mo Ran’s imperceptibly tighter. And suddenly, Mo Ran knows.
Pressing closer, he drops his head onto Chu Wanning’s shoulder. “But you left that morning—and I thought—”
Chu Wanning turns his face just enough for Mo Ran to see his eyes. “I thought you would want to forget,” he says quietly. “I’ve—Nobody has ever liked me, so I thought you would want to forget it had ever happened—”
Mo Ran reaches out the hand not in Chu Wanning’s, and clenches it in the fabric of his bathrobe. “I thought you left,” he says quietly, voice straining at the edges. “Everyone leaves.”
He feels Chu Wanning’s breath catch, his body freeze in place. There’s silence for a while. Then Chu Wanning reaches out to hold Mo Ran’s hand properly, palm to palm. “I didn’t want to.”
Mo Ran lets out a soft gasp. “You didn’t want to,” he repeats, like it’s finally really hit him. “You didn’t want to leave. You made the dumplings early that morning, and I avoided you afterwards and thought ever since then that you were—” Straightening up, he properly pulls Chu Wanning into his arms. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I like you. I’ve always liked you. Fuck, I’m an idiot.”
Chu Wanning is still red, and Mo Ran is starting to think it’s not just the hot water. He wonders if he’ll go any redder if he kisses him.
He noses Chu Wanning’s ear. “Can I—?” he murmurs helplessly, and when Chu Wanning inhales sharply but slowly slides his hands to cover his own, Mo Ran lunges forward and presses his lips against his skin.
Chu Wanning is sensitive—just as sensitive as he remembers, and Mo Ran feels like he’s about to lose his mind as he rolls his head back as Mo Ran kisses up his neck, body going limp in Mo Ran’s arms. When Mo Ran kisses the mole behind his ear that he hasn’t gone a day without thinking about all this time, Chu Wanning can’t hold back a soft, high exhale, and Mo Ran pushes himself off him at once.
He’s going to do this right. He’s going to take him on a date, court him properly, make out a few times—
He turns around.
“Where are you going?”
He glances back to find Chu Wanning facing him with an annoyed expression on his face. His bathrobe has come untied, hanging loosely over him. If he just moves a little bit, it’ll fall open. Mo Ran squeezes his eyes shut briefly, and turns back towards the door.
“I—I should leave,” he says.
“This is your flat.”
Mo Ran blinks, and looks around him in a daze. “Right,” he says slowly. “It is. Huh. I—I need to—to get my ID card. I left it. At the hospital.”
“Now?” Chu Wanning asks. “It’s ten p.m.”
“Yeah,” says Mo Ran. “I—I have to go now. To get it. For—For tomorrow morning.”
A pause. Then: “Fine, if that’s what you want.”
Mo Ran turns around. The temperature in the room seemed to have suddenly plummeted. With a swish of his bathrobe, Chu Wanning makes to head back into the bathroom. The robe slips off one shoulder with the movement, and Mo Ran is only human.
Before he knows it, he’s right behind Chu Wanning, one hand on his hip. “What did you mean by that?” he says, his voice sounding raspier than he’d intended.
“I—Nothing,” Chu Wanning says primly, trying to pull the bathrobe back up.
With one rough shove of his hand, Mo Ran pushes the bathrobe right off. Pulling him closer by his hip, he presses his nose into Chu Wanning’s bare shoulder.
“Mo Ran, what are you—”
“What I want, Wanning? I—Fuck,” he says, arousal skittering through every nerve in his body. “What I want is you, so much I think I’m losing my mind, but I want—want to do it right this time, treat you right—”
For a long moment, Chu Wanning doesn’t move at all. But the colour on his skin deepens, leaving Mo Ran to wonder how low that colour goes.
He isn’t expecting to get an answer. With a quick, almost imperceptible tug, Chu Wanning pulls the other sleeve of his bathrobe to leave the fabric of the bathrobe to pool somewhere around his hips.
“Wanning, are you—” Mo Ran swallows. Then swallows again. Blinks a few times. Chu Wanning’s whole torso is laid bare for him, flushed pink and damp from his shower.
With a soft groan, Mo Ran presses a kiss to his shoulder, trailing his mouth up to his neck and tilting his face around. Taking a moment to look at him, he finally crushes their lips together.
It’s not their first kiss, or even their second, but Mo Ran thinks it’s not going to matter. Whether it’s their tenth, or thousandth, or millionth kiss, it’s still going to make Mo Ran feel more alive than he’s ever felt before.
It doesn’t take long before the kiss deepens, and Mo Ran turns Chu Wanning in his arms to face him. He’s palming over his back, discreetly dropping lower, when he notices the bathrobe isn’t around him anymore.
Breaking the kiss, he looks back and finds the bathrobe fallen in a heap on the floor at some point during the kissing. Chu Wanning hasn’t even noticed, eyes hazy and wet and face flushed as Mo Ran holds his completely naked body in his arms.
Mo Ran feels slightly unhinged. “Can I—” He presses closer, and strokes Chu Wanning’s hips, lays his palm against his waist. “Can I take you inside?”
Chu Wanning doesn’t answer, but Mo Ran hears him in the hitch in his breath and the curl of his fingers against his shirt. Taking him up in his arms, Mo Ran carries him inside and lays him on his bed.
There’s a part of him that kind of likes this. Chu Wanning completely bare under him, like he’s been laid out for him. There’s something primal in Mo Ran that wants to unzip his trousers and enter him just like this, almost fully clothed, like he hadn’t been able to hold back long enough.
But he crawls over him, kisses down his neck and chest, and wants to get closer. Skin to skin, till he can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. As he runs his tongue over one nipple and teases the other with his finger, Chu Wanning gasps, then smacks Mo Ran’s head in mortification.
“What are you doing?” he snaps.
Mo Ran grins dopily at him, before proceeded to pin him down and attack his chest again. When he’s done, several long, tortuous minutes later, he looks up at Chu Wanning again.
“You were saying, baobei?”
It takes Chu Wanning a while to blink himself back to full consciousness. He pushes Mo Ran off him by the shoulder and crosses his arms in irritation. “You—” he begins. Then he stops, face growing redder by the second.
“Yeah?” Mo Ran asks, leaning in to nibble at his jaw.
Chu Wanning yanks him off again. “Take off your clothes,” he demands.
Mo Ran stares at him. Then his lips curl into a grin. “Wanning wants me to take of my clothes?” he teases. He remembers the evening at the ER a couple days ago, and something slots into place. “Wanning wants to feel my muscles again?’
He can practically see the vein throbbing in Chu Wanning’s temple.
“It’s okay, baobei,” Mo Ran croons. “You don’t have to wait around at the ER to hope to see me reduce fractures with my bare hands anymore, you can do what you want—wh—?”
Brows furrowed in irritation, Chu Wanning reaches out and rips Mo Ran’s shirt clean off his chest.
In the time it takes for Mo Ran to register what had just happened, Chu Wanning takes his fill of looking. Eyes wide, mouth slightly parted. Mo Ran doesn’t think he’s ever been this turned on his life.
It’s a blur after that. Mo Ran shrugs the remains of his shirt off and lunges forward to press him into the bed, kiss him till he can’t breathe, then touches him with his fingers and lips everywhere he can reach. He takes him in his mouth, looking up at Chu Wanning as his whole body arches up off the bed. It’s not the first time he’s done this to him, either, but it’s the first time he’s done this knowing Chu Wanning’s feelings as well as his own. He lifts his mouth off for a slip second, arousal skyrocketing at the petulant gasp that Chu Wanning can’t hold back, then moves lower to lap at his entrance.
“Mo Ran—!” Chu Wanning actually shouts his name, and Mo Ran thinks he could come like this, untouched, only from the taste of this man on his tongue and the pull of his hands on his hair as he throws his legs around Mo Ran’s shoulder and squirms wonderfully under him.
There are tears forming at the corner of Chu Wanning’s eyes as Mo Ran straightens up, grabs a condom and lube from his table at the side. He works him open, kissing his open mouth through it and thinks he wouldn’t mind doing this for hours.
Right now, though, he’s too turned on to hold on to his sanity for very much longer, so he pulls off, rolls the condom on him and enters Chu Wanning face to face. He looks at Chu Wanning’s face, bright and real, feels the clench of him around his length, and memorises the soft gasps that escape his throat as he thrusts into him.
“Mo Ran—” Chu Wanning says, just loud enough for Mo Ran to ear, digging his fingernails into his shoulders, as if to remind him there’s no need to memorise any of this. That he’ll be there the third, the fourth, and as many times as they’d have together after this, making new memories.
“Wanning—” Mo Ran chokes out, as he comes inside him just as Chu Wanning spills all over their stomachs.
After Mo Ran cleans them both up, he watches Chu Wanning drift off to sleep in the moonlight next to him for the second time in his life.
Mo Ran wakes up at some odd hour of the early morning. There’s sunlight streaming in through the window, and the other side of the bed is empty.
His heart sinks. Of course, he thinks, of course, of course—
Then he rolls on his side, and runs his fingers over the sheets. They’re rumpled, and there’s a loose hair on the pillow. Straighter and darker than his own. The door is ajar, and there’s a smell of cooking wafting in from outside.
Mo Ran gets up in his boxers and walks outside.
In the kitchen, he finds Chu Wanning, stirring a pot of congee. He’s wearing Mo Ran’s hoodie again. It skims the bottom of his ass, and Mo Ran has a wild feeling that he’s not wearing anything underneath.
“Mo Ran!” Chu Wanning yelps, as Mo Ran paws under his hoodie. “You stop that—”
“Shameless,” Mo Ran teases, voice still heavy from sleep as he gives him a particularly unforgiving squeeze. “In my hoodie, cooking breakfast for me, without any underwear—baobei, are you planning an RCT on which of these is the strongest risk factor for sudden cardiac death?”
Chu Wanning smacks his hand away, stirring the congee. “I couldn’t find mine—”
He’s probably right. Mo Ran had put his clothes in the washing machine last night and may have forgotten to turn it on. Of course, he ignores that and milks the opportunity to the fullest. “What a tragedy,” he murmurs into Chu Wanning’s ears. “Looks like the only way to get it back is to kiss the fool who’s in love with him.”
Chu Wanning stiffens, and Mo Ran realises what he’d just said.
He tightens his arms around Chu Wanning. “The fool who’s in love with him,” he repeats, quietly. “It’s me. I’m the fool in love with you.”
Chu Wanning’s hands stop stirring. He turns the stove off, and ladles the congee into a bowl. Dips a spoon into it, and holds it up for Mo Ran without a word.
I love you too.
Mo Ran hears him, and presses a kiss behind his ear.
He leans in towards the spoon he’s holding out for him, and takes it.