Do not check your phone.
Do not check your phone.
Do not check your….
Xie Lian tapped on his phone screen for what felt like the hundredth time that night and checked his phone again. There were still no new messages. A few months ago, Xie Lian barely even used his phone and mostly kept it to contact work and for emergencies. He didn’t have many friends to speak of, so he didn’t have much of a reason to use it. Sometimes his childhood friends called or texted once in a while to make sure he was still alive, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Xie Lian to take a day or two before responding. They were all adults now and lived in different cities with busy lives.
Since meeting Hua Cheng, however, Xie Lian’s phone had practically become a third limb. Always within reach, usually in use. They texted pretty much constantly from the moment they woke up until late into the night, talking about their day and sending photos of whatever caught their eye. Sometimes Hua Cheng would take a little longer to respond if he was in a meeting, and Xie Lian couldn’t always respond while at work, but they kept a pretty constant flow of conversation.
Xie Lian worked odd hours, working three part-time jobs to make ends meet. There weren’t a lot of opportunities for unmated omegas to find stable work. Xie Lian was one of the lucky ones, or as fortunate as an unmated omega his age could be. He didn’t have a nice apartment, but at least he didn’t have to share the small space with five other omegas like some of his neighbours.
Hua Cheng, on the other end, had a beautiful home. Or at least Xie Lian assumed it was beautiful. The alpha was mega-successful. Ranking top five in Business Today’s thirty under thirty list for owning not one but two luxury hotels, Paradise Manor Hotels had everything anyone could ever dream of. A waterpark, an arcade, a shopping district, many fine restaurants, and from what Xie Lian heard, a top-notch casino. Hua Cheng lived in the penthouse suite of one of the hotels, and from how luxurious it was on the outside, Xie Lian could only imagine what it looked like on the inside. Of course, it would be improper for him to visit Hua Cheng’s home, even with a chaperone, but Xie Lian selfishly hoped one day he’d get the chance to see it for himself.
They’d only known each other for a short time, but these past few weeks had been the best of his life. Xie Lian felt like he was in one of those cheesy romance movies he’d always pretended to be indifferent to but actually adored. When they met, he’d been rushing between jobs. Xie Lian had never been late to work, but that day was looking like it would be his first. He had only a few more blocks to go, but even if he ran, Xie Lian was sure he’d be a few minutes late. He couldn’t afford to be late.
Terrified of losing his job, Xie Lian had been running as fast as he could on the busy sidewalk. When he got to the road, the light was green, but he didn’t check to see if the coast was clear. The only thing on his mind was that he had to cross the road to get to work on time and didn’t see the car speeding to run the light until it was too late.
Everything had happened so fast. Xie Lian was sure this was how he was going to die. First, he heard onlookers gasp and shout for him to get out of the way, and then at the last second, someone had grabbed him, yanking Xie Lain into their arms to safety.
“Are you okay?” the man had asked, and Xie Lian felt his whole world tilt. Not only was he in the arms of the most beautiful man he’d ever seen, but at that moment, some missing piece of his soul seemed to click into place. Xie Lian only had a moment to appreciate the feeling of wholeness before he remembered where he was and why he had run into oncoming traffic in the first place.
“I’m late.” Xie Lian replied, out of breath, and tried to step away from his saviour. But the man only held him tighter.
“Where to?” The man, who Xie Lian could now tell was an alpha, pointed to a shiny, expensive-looking black car. “I can drive you.”
His parents had always warned him to be careful around alphas, and getting into an alpha’s car who was a stranger was probably the most foolish and most dangerous decision Xie Lian had ever made in his life. But, he had been desperate. In the few moments they’d known each other, Xie Lian had felt safer with this man than he had in a long time and hoped he wouldn't regret agreeing. When Xie Lian nodded, the man seemed to relax a little, a happy smile played on his lips.
The car ride had been short. They only truly had enough time to exchange names and for Xie Lian to express his sincere thanks before Hua Cheng had pulled up to the bakery where he worked. Xie Lian didn’t want to leave, but the clock on the dashboard told him he only had a few minutes before his shift. So he thought he would thank this man for coming to his rescue, go into work, and they’d never see each other again.
It felt wrong, so very wrong, but Xie Lian needed this job more than he needed anything else. He didn’t have an alpha to provide for him, nor had he ever wanted one. Xie Lian was fine on his own, always had been. Ignoring his desire to stay in the safety and security this alpha seemed to exude, Xie Lian reached for the car door and expected that when he’d close it and enter the bakery, he’d be okay with never seeing Hua Cheng again. He’d have to be.
But Hua Cheng had surprised him.
He’d also gotten out of the car, waited for Xie Lian to get behind the counter, placed one of the largest orders Xie Lian had ever taken and asked for Xie Lian’s number. Xie Lian had embarrassed himself, thinking Hua Cheng was asking for the number of the bakery for his order. Instead, Hua Cheng had laughed and clarified that he’d actually wanted Xie Lian’s number to grab a coffee, and Xie Lian had just gaped at him. It had been so long since someone had desired his company, date or otherwise.
Since then, the two had met only a handful of times, but Xie Lian had cherished every moment with Hua Cheng. They were both very busy, but after each get-together, they made plans to meet again. For the first time in years, Xie Lian could say he was happy. It was rare for them to go more than a few hours without messaging each other, which was why Xie Lian had been checking his phone every few minutes like a teenager waiting for their crush to text them.
They had been texting about one of the books Xie Lian had recommended to Hua Cheng when the alpha suddenly stopped answering. At first, Xie Lian didn’t think much of it. He just waited patiently for Hua Cheng to reply to his latest message. Then an hour had passed, then two, then four, and Xie Lian was beginning to get antsy.
Really, Xie Lian should have more self-control than this. He was closer to thirty than he’d like to admit. There was no reason for him to be acting so childish. Hua Cheng was a busy person. Xie Lian knew this. But alone, in his apartment, with only his TV and thoughts for entertainment, doubt began to creep in. Had he said something wrong? Was Hua Cheng losing interest in him? Had these past weeks been nothing but a dream? Did that car actually hit him, and this was just his version of heaven? Or worse, Did something happen? Was Hua Cheng hurt?
Something twisted painfully in Xie Lian’s chest at the thought. Taking a deep breath, Xie Lian tried to tell himself that he was being irrational. But the lack of contact for this long was so unusual for them.
Something had to be wrong.
Maybe he was overreacting. Perhaps he wasn’t.
It was late. Xie Lian looked at the clock and knew he should go to bed, but they hadn’t said goodnight yet to one another. Since they’d met, they hadn’t gone a single night without wishing the other pleasant dreams or a restful sleep. But, even though it was probably all in his head, Xie Lian believed he had been sleeping better lately. He was also more relaxed and felt more content than he’d been since before his parents died.
Xie Lian picked up his phone again, just to check one more time before calling it a night. Then suddenly, as if willing it into existence, Xie Lian’s phone began to ring. In his shock, Xie Lian nearly dropped the phone, startled.
However, it was not Hua Cheng calling.
Xie Lian had pretty much every person he knew number saved in his phone. He didn’t recognize the number calling, but it had a local area code. The Xie Lian of the past probably wouldn’t have even been close enough to his phone to answer the call. If he had been, he would have probably ignored it. But Xie Lian was not the same person he was a few weeks ago.
Xie Lian answered the call.
“Hello?” Xie Lian said tentatively, his heart pounding nervously.
“Hi, is this Xie Lian?” a calm, neutral voice asked. Whoever this was, they spoke with an even, metered tone that set Xie Lian’s hair on edge.
Not recognizing the voice, Xie Lian hesitated, then said, “Yes, this is Xie Lian.”
“My name is Yin Yu. I’m Hua Cheng’s assistant.” Hug Cheng had mentioned his assistant before in passing, but he’d never told Xie Lian his name. “I don’t have a lot of time to explain, but there is a car on its way to pick you up. There’s an emergency, and I think Hua Cheng could use your assistance.”
Xie Lian’s blood ran cold at Yin Yu’s words. He knew something was off. He should have trusted his gut. Xie Lian should have probably asked why he was needed or how this stranger, Hua Cheng's assistant or not, knew his address, but instead, Xie Lian agreed and raced to get himself ready to go. He wasn’t sure where he was going or what he’d need, but he packed a bag with a few essentials and then paced his apartment restlessly.
Being an omega meant Xie Lian had to be more careful than most. He needed to ensure his scent was hidden as much as possible and that his neck and wrists were covered when out in public. It always rubbed Xie Lian the wrong way that it was the opposite for alphas, but there was nothing he could do about it. That was the world they lived in, and it was easier to conform than to try and enforce change. Being an omega was hard enough. Small steps had been taken, and opinions were slowly changing, but they still had a long way to go.
His phone pinged, this time with a text from Yin Yu, saying the car had arrived. Before Xie Lian could second guess himself, he grabbed his keys and left his apartment.
As he walked down the silent hallway, Xie Lian did his best to stay calm. His building was eerily quiet, and Xie Lian couldn’t hear anything but the sounds of his hurried footsteps and racing heart. He lived in a quaint, omega-only building full of older and unmated people like himself. Most self-respecting omegas wouldn’t be caught dead leaving their home this late at night. He didn’t know what was going on, but Xie Lian would do anything he could to help Hua Cheng, no matter the consequences.
The car waiting for him was one of those expensive town cars the wealthy alphas rented for their mates to spend the day doing whatever it was wealthy omegas do while their mates were at work. He’d seen them many times before, but he’d never been in one himself. The driver, a beta from what Xie Lian could tell, held the door open for Xie Lian expectantly. Xie Lian made a point to remind himself not to make accepting rides from strangers a habit. But when he thought of Hua Cheng and of the first time they’d met, he steeled his nerves and got into the car without a word. His parents were probably turning over in their graves.
As the car pulled away from his building, Xie Lian was left with nothing to do but think and wait. The car was lovely. Soft buttery leather seats and warm blankets and pillows stacked neatly to the side. Under any other circumstances, Xie Lian would have enjoyed the ride, taking advantage of the cozy atmosphere. But he couldn’t. Xia Lian was a ball of nerves, in a town car, on his way to an undisclosed location, in the middle of the night, on his way to presumably see an unmated alpha. Yin Yu had been so vague...
He wondered if maybe he should let someone know what was going on.
Hua Cheng didn’t have the best reputation, many thought of him as sketchy. How could such a young alpha acquire such wealth and success seemingly overnight? Hua Cheng had been nothing but kind and sincere with Xie Lian, so he’d never asked the alpha about the rumours he read online or heard whispered when they were out together. They were just rumours. People's opinions didn’t sway Xie Lian in the slightest, never had.
But Xie Lian was too anxious to ask the driver where they were going, and he wasn’t sure if he should text Yin Yu. He decided, just in case, that maybe he should text someone. However, after skimming his contacts, he realized he didn’t have anyone to tell. The person he was closest to was Hua Cheng even though they'd only just grew acquainted. Others might describe Xie Lian as a loner but he'd never felt lonely. Not really. He tried to think of what Hua Cheng would say if things were different. He’d probably tell Xie Lian that he was acting rash, to go home and go to bed. But Xie Lian felt the need to see this through.
He spent the whole ride nervously clutching at his phone, hoping that maybe Hua Cheng would call him to tell him what the hell was going on. Hearing his voice would have alleviated all of Xie Lian’s uncertainty. But obviously, something had happened which made it impossible for Hua Cheng to contact him.
They hadn’t been messaging for very long, but Xie Lian was sure Hua Cheng had enjoyed their chats and looked forward to them just as much as Xie Lian did. He wouldn’t just ghost Xie Lian all night long then have his assistant whisk him away in the middle of the night for nothing, right?
All of Xie Lian’s instincts were screaming at him that something was wrong and Hua Cheng needed him. There couldn’t be any other explanation.
When Xie Lian realized they were pulling up to the hospital, dread completely overwhelmed him. Before the car had come to a complete stop, Xie Lian opened the door and ran towards the entrance, his bag left forgotten on the seat. He heard the driver calling after him, but Xie Lian paid him no mind. Bursting through the revolving doors, Xie Lian frantically looked around for an information desk. Before he could panic any further, a hand gripped his shoulder.
“Xie Lian, I presume?” a man with a calm expression on his face said. He let go of Xie Lian immediately, a hint of guilt showing in his eyes. It only took Xie Lian a moment to know why. The man had the scent of an alpha. He was doing his best to retrain his scent, but Xie Lian still took four steps back in a hurry.
“My apologies, I’m Yin Yu.” Yin Yu said with a slight bow. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll bring you to Hua Cheng. He’s in the alpha ward.”
Xie Lian began to follow Yin Yu until his words caught up to him. If Hua Cheng was in the alpha ward, Xie Lian really shouldn’t have come. Only mates and close family were permitted, and Xie Lian was neither. “I can’t go to the alpha ward.”
Yin Yu paused, “You have special permission. The doctors will explain everything once we arrive.”
The alpha wards were the most secure area of any hospital, built to retrain and care for alphas in their most primal state. Xie Lian wasn’t scared to go to the ward itself, but what it meant for Hua Cheng. If Hua Cheng had been admitted to the alpha ward, this was serious. He followed Yin Yu attentively, hoping that the alpha would tell him what was going on. “I’m sorry we’re meeting under these circumstances, but I think you’re the only hope Hua Cheng has. Of course, he’ll be furious that I involved you in this, but it’s worth the risk.”
“Can you please tell me what’s going on?” Xie Lian pleaded. He thought Yin Yu owed him that much.
Yin Yu shook his head. “It’s best to let the doctors explain.”
Xie Lian wanted to argue, wanted to demand an answer, but he bit his tongue. They bypassed the security check and were ushered into the ward by a nurse right away. Once through the doors, Xie Lian saw what looked like just another door in another long hallway, except once inside, Xie Lian saw the person his heart had been yearning for.
Behind a floor-to-ceiling glass window, Xie Lian saw Hua Cheng strapped down to a hospital bed by metal restraints around his wrist, ankle, and neck. He was thrashing violently against the restraints. His chest was bare and completely covered in blood and lose bandages. The sight squeezed painfully at Xie Lian’s chest, and for a moment, he felt like he couldn’t breathe. Then, Xie Lian heard a distressed, painful sound come from somewhere, and it wasn’t until the nurse had her arms around him to catch his fall that Xie Lian realized the sound came from him.
“He’s responding as a mate would.” A female voice said, snapping Xie Lian’s attention away from the traumatic sight in front of him. The woman was wearing a doctor’s coat, and her gaze was boring into Xie Lian’s. With a nod of her head, the doctor knelt next to where Xie Lian had crumpled to the floor. “I’m sorry we had to test you like this, but we needed to be sure for your safety.”
“Sure of what?!” Xie Lian practically screamed. He was feeling too many things at once to make sense of what was going on and what her words meant.
“The alpha in that room is suffering from multiple stab wounds, and the wounds and blood loss have triggered a feral state. Usually, once at the hospital, we can break that state by releasing synthetic pheromones into the room to treat the patient. This treatment is highly effective but doesn’t work at all on mated alphas. It’s dangerous, but in order to treat the patient, we ask their mates to attempt to calm them with their scent.” The doctor explained.
“But I’m not his mate...” Xie Lian trailed off, the words burning and leaving a horrible pain in his soul. He wanted to help Hua Cheng. A part of him selfishly wanted to be his mate more than anything. But there was no way he could be.
In the privacy of his own thoughts, Xie Lian had dreamed that maybe one day he would bond with Hua Cheng. But Hua Cheng was the perfect alpha in every way. Xie Lian was too old and too poor to catch anyone’s eye, let alone Hua Cheng’s. That they had formed a friendship at all was enough for him. It had to be enough. Sure, they’d been on a few dates, but Xie Lian wasn’t even sure if they were dates. Friends got coffee and ate dinner together all the time.
“The synthetic pheromones had no effect on him.” The doctor repeated. “They made his condition worse. Whether you are his mate or not, this alpha recognizes someone as his mate even without a bond. So we asked his assistant, and you’re the only person he believed could fill that role.”
Xie Lian felt a shiver of pure joy rush through his whole being at hearing the doctor’s words, true or not.
“We asked him not to tell you anything. To see if just the mention of him needing you would coax you into coming. It did, and when you arrived, you responded the way every mate does when they see their alpha in distress. Unfortunately, Hua Cheng doesn’t have a lot of time. He’s been in his feral state for too long. Either you can help him, or he’ll be so far gone into his feral state that we’ll have no other choice but to let him succumb to his wounds. We cannot treat him in that condition, and if he doesn’t calm down soon, he will likely bleed to death.”
Another whimper left Xie Lian’s throat. He couldn’t let that happen. He wouldn’t let that happen.
“It’s dangerous for you to go in there even with the restraints, and we’re not sure if this is going to work, but it’s the best shot he has to recover. Will you help?”
Xie Lian nodded without a second thought. Since the moment he saw Hua Cheng through the glass, he’d been yearning to go to him. To try and comfort him and tend to his wounds. He wasn’t worried for himself in the slightest, even though he probably should have been. If Hua Cheng were strong enough to break through the restraints, he would probably attack anyone on sight, not being able to tell friend from foe. While one part of his brain believed it impossible that Hua Cheng saw him as a potential mate, the other returned the sentiment and gave him the confidence to agree.
“Under normal circumstances, we would have you fill out some consent forms, but there really isn’t any time.” The nurse said as she helped Xie Lian to his feet. “All we need to know is if you want us to intervene if we think things are not going well.”
“I’ll be fine on my own.” Xie Lian replied with more confidence than he felt.
“We’ll be monitoring from out here, and once we believe it to be safe, we’ll start to release the restraints.” Another nurse said. “Get him calm, then if you can, disinfect his wounds. None of the stab wounds are too deep, but he will heal faster in this state, and we don’t want an infection to set in. If he keeps thrashing around like that, he will bleed out, but the bleeding should stop if you get him calm. He probably won’t let anyone else in for a while, so it will be up to you to care for him.”
Amongst all the warring emotions, Xie Lian felt a sense of satisfaction rush through him. He had never understood why other omegas had gushed about wanting to care for an alpha. Now he did. Now he wanted to. Xie Lian felt himself be led towards a corner of the room beside the window where a door with a punch code protruded. “Once this door opens, you’ll enter a smaller room. First, you’ll be sprayed with a scent nullifier to get rid of any lingering scents on your clothes. Then, the door will allow you in. We’ll be able to hear and see you, but you won’t be able to hear or see us. If you need anything, please ask.”
“Okay, thanks,” Xie Lian whispered, waiting for the doors to open.
“Good luck.” The nurse replied, almost melancholy. When the door opened, he stepped inside, anticipation growing.
The neutralizing spray spooked him, shooting out puffs of air all around him in quick succession. Then the second set of doors opened, and Xie Lian saw Hua Cheng twist to look at him through the restraints. For the first time since Xie Lian had arrived, Hua Cheng’s thrashing ceased. He was so still, Xie Lian felt frozen himself. Taking Hua Cheng’s reaction as a good sign, Xie Lian took a tentative step into the room.
All the scents in the room hit him at once, making Xie Lian’s head spin. The strong neutralizing spray, the calming synthetic pheromones, and the feral, furious alpha. Xie Lian had no experience with alphas, especially feral ones. In the movies, whenever an omega detected a feral alpha, one of two things usually happened. The omega’s fight or flight instincts had them running for their lives, or they attempted to stand their ground to ward off the alpha. Xie Lian, however, did neither.
Slowly, Xie Lian took one more step inside, then another, until he was so close to the hospital bed that if he reached out, he could touch it. The only sound in the room was his heavy breathing and the constant rumbling growl coming from Hua Cheng’s chest. He sounded angry, but that anger did not seem to be directed at Xie Lian.
“San Lang?” Xie Lian said, so calm and soothing even to his own ears. He’d never heard his voice sound so warm. Hua Cheng had insisted on the nickname ‘San Lang’ after they met, even though it seemed Xie Lian was the only person who referred to him as such. At the time, it made him feel special. So he hopped when Hua Cheng heard it now it would help.
“San Lang, can you hear me?”
Heterochromatic eyes stared back at Xie Lian, one crimson red, the other black as night, both unblinking. Xie Lian loved the look of them, even though Hua Cheng did not seem to share the sentiment. Hua Cheng once said that he was mistreated as a child for his red eye and often tried to cover it up. Xie Lian was thankful he didn’t feel that way about himself now. Hua Cheng was beautiful, inside and out. Without any fear, Xie Lian met Hua Cheng's intense gaze and waited.
Hua Cheng showed no reaction to hearing his name or Xie Lian’s presence at first, other than to take a deep intake of air. Then Xie Lian remembered what he was supposed to do, and he removed the scent patches he’d placed before leaving his apartment.
Xie Lian felt self-conscious removing them in front of another person, especially with how intense Hua Cheng watched him. He was sure his face was as red as it felt, flushed from the alpha’s gaze alone. When they were off, almost instantly, Xie Lian’s scent filled the space as if trying to drown out everything else in the room. Xie Lian always had reasonable control of his scent, so he was surprised when the room became covered in his calming pheromones in a matter of seconds. It was like his scent had wrapped the space in a thick, warm blanket, and it eased any lingering doubts Xie Lian was feeling.
He could do this.
Even if it turned out that Hua Cheng didn’t see him as a mate, his calming pheromones should work better than anything synthetic, he reasoned.
Hua Cheng’s reaction was instant. His glowing feral eyes stretched wide, and after a moment, the alpha was pulling against his restraints again, straining in Xie Lian’s direction. The reaction should have scared him, or at least be somewhat alarming. Instead, Xie Lian sensed nothing but relief. Closing the distance between them felt as easy as breathing, necessary yet unconscious. Xie Lian reached his fingers out to Hua Cheng’s sweaty brow in an attempt to soothe and settle him.
Xie Lian believed he could do this.
Now that Xie Lian was closer, he could see just how much blood covered Hua Cheng’s body. Thick streams of scarlet soaked the bandages around his chest and the white sheets below. He was practically naked, with only a pair of loose-fitting shorts covering his most intimate areas. Under normal circumstances seeing Hua Cheng in such a state would be indecent, maybe even arousing, but not now. All Xie Lian could focus on was the blood and the three oozing wounds.
Xie Lian quickly realized that the blood covering the alpha wasn’t all Hua Cheng’s. He could smell the blood of other alphas on him, and he shivered at the thought of how it got there. He missed it at first as the different scents in the room had been strong, but now the distinction was unmistakable. The doctor had said he had been in a fight. Had he been attacked? Why were other alphas trying to hurt him? If he fought that many alphas alone, Hua Cheng could have died. He could still die. At the reminder, Xie Lian let out a distressed whimper unwittingly.
Alpha is hurt.
Alpha needs help.
Instincts Xie Lian didn’t know he possessed took over, and in a matter of moments, Xie Lian’s grief and concern for Hua Cheng laced into his scent. Of course, Xie Lian had felt distressed and worried all evening. However, in front of Hua Cheng and his injuries, something in Xie Lian’s chest caved. Before he realized what he was doing, Xie Lian had climbed onto the bed next to Hua Cheng and was burrowing his nose into the delicate curve of Hua Cheng’s neck.
The metal restraint around Hua Cheng’s neck was hard and warmed from Hua Cheng's heated skin, but Xie Lian did his best to nestle himself as close as he could. His actions were shameful, sinful even, but with the state of Hua Cheng’s injuries, he didn’t have the capacity to care. It was clear Hua Cheng was not the only one not in their proper state of mind. How dare Xie Lian get anywhere near Hua Cheng’s neck. He had no right. But he remained anyway.
Hua Cheng’s simmering growl from before became replaced by a soothing rumble that filled the room louder than before. Xie Lian could feel the vibrations coming from Hua Cheng’s chest, and it made some of the unease that had been building recess. Hua Cheng was the one in desperate need of calm and comfort right now, yet here he was doing his best to soothe Xie Lian in his state. At least he didn’t seem angry or appalled at Xie Lian’s shamelessness. It took Xie Lian a moment to realize that his actions seemed to be welcomed, reciprocated even.
Being as close to Hua Cheng’s scent gland as he was, Xie Lian could smell some of the feral angry tones ebb to something less intimidating, more reassuring. Even with the restraints still in place, Hua Cheng did his best to return Xie Lian’s affections. Their scents mingled, and Xie Lian, all of a sudden, had the overwhelming desire to bottle it. To preserve this moment of perfection among the pandemonium. Everything smelled so good, so safe, that despite everything Xie Lian found himself relaxing. A purr began involuntarily in Xie Lian’s chest to match Hua Cheng’s deeper soothing rumble.
It was like a dream. Xie Lain wanted more, so much more than anything he had ever wanted before, for Hua Cheng’s reactions to be genuine and not out of pity. He didn’t think he could go back to a world where this, this easy happiness, wasn’t reciprocated wholeheartedly.
He imagined for a moment that instead of a hospital bed, they were in Hua Cheng’s penthouse, lounging about, spending a lazy morning in bed. He imagined how he would dote on Hua Cheng and likely be doted on in return. He imagined getting the dinner table set for five as three energetic pups chase each other around the dining room.
Xie Lian was so lost in his fantasies that he didn’t hear the sound of one of the restraints unlocking. However, he felt it when Hua Cheng’s arm came around him, and his fingers began running pleasant strokes along Xie Lian’s back.
It felt so lovely.
Time became irrelevant.
At first, Hua Cheng’s touch had been tentative. Lazily, as if they had all the time in the world, Hua Cheng’s fingers gently grazed up and down along Xie Lian’s spine. Then as time passed, his touch became bolder. His hand began to massage the tense muscles of Xie Lian’s back, his neck, all the while pressing his wrist into Xie Lian’s skin and clothes, covering Xie Lian in his scent. Xie Lian loved it. All was well and good until Hua Cheng’s fingers grazed Xie Lian’s scent gland, and they both stilled.
The action sobered Xie Lian somewhat, enough to remind him that Hua Cheng was literally still bleeding and in need of medical attention. It was harder than he’d be willing to admit to peel himself from Hua Cheng’s bloody chest, which was then only made harder when Hua Cheng's grip tightened in an attempt to force Xie Lian to stay. Hua Cheng’s free hand tangled itself in Xie Lian’s hair and pressed him back to Hua Cheng’s side. When Xie Lian tried to pull away again, Hua Cheng let out a growl that jolted through Xie Lian like a bolt of lightning.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Xie Lian soothed, trying to lace his words with as much intent as possible. “I just want to look at your wounds.”
Hua Cheng made a noise deep in his throat that said I don’t care, don’t you dare move and Xie Lian couldn’t help but relent. Hua Cheng hadn’t shown any aggression towards Xie Lian thus far. However, Xie Lian was not prepared to test Hua Cheng’s patience. Xie Lian knew that in his right state of mind, Hua Cheng would never harm him. Ever. But Hua Cheng had gone feral. Xie Lian could still smell it and could still see it in Hua Cheng’s eyes. He might be acting calm at that moment, but this was not his Hua Cheng. This was a feral alpha in his most primitive state.
In the past, when alphas became feral, the community had no choice but to hunt and kill the alpha. As a result, many lives were often lost and many more harmed. With the help of modern medicine, alphas who were more prone to aggression could take medication, and medical professionals were trained on how best to deal with feral alphas. Most of the time, the condition was reversible. Hua Cheng’s doctor believed Xie Lian to be the solution, so Xie Lian had to do everything he could to help.
“Please, alpha,” Xie Lian crooned in a way he hoped sounded alluring and not foolish. “Let this omega care for you. Let this omega see your wounds.”
The noise Hua Cheng made in response had Xie Lian stifling a laugh. If Hua Cheng were conscious and aware of his actions, Xie Lian was sure he’d probably want to die from embarrassment. Still, when Xie Lian met Hua Cheng’s feral eyes, he still did not look convinced. Even though Hua Cheng could not speak in his state, he was easy to read, like an open book. Xie Lian could see Hua Cheng warring with himself.
It was apparent Hua Cheng wanted Xie Lian to stay right where he was, while another part of him wanted to comply with the omegas request. Counting this indecision as a small win in his favour, Xie Lian upped the ante, pouring his desire into his scent and resumed caressing Hua Cheng’s face. Then, like a cat, Hua Cheng began to nuzzle Xie Lian’s hand, and it was enough of a distraction for him to get a better look at Hua Cheng’s injuries.
Xie Lian was relieved to see that the nurses were right. Most of his wounds were not deep, and he was right before when he assumed a good portion of the blood on him belonged to others. Xie Lian could detect at least four other scents now that he was really looking for it. The other alphas’ smell made Xie Lian feel nauseous, and he needed to get the smell of them off of Hua Cheng immediately.
Next to the bed, Xie Lan found clean water, fresh towels, a hospital gown, some antiseptic and ample gauze already waiting for him. The nurses must have left them here for him to use once Hua Cheng had calmed enough to be treated. The room didn’t seem to have much else in it but was more than enough for Xie Lian to tend to Hua Cheng for now.
Xie Lian noted that the large window he’d seen Hua Cheng through when he arrived was a one-way mirror. Were the nurses and doctor watching them right now? Did they see how shameless Xie Lian had been acting this entire time? They had told Xie Lian they would be watching and listening, but Xie Lian had forgotten. He must have allowed some of his concern to bleed into his scent because, at that moment, Hua Cheng started up his soothing croons again, even deeper this time. Xie Lian couldn’t help but swoon a little at his alphas' concern for him. His alpha was so good to him, just the best! As a reward, Xie Lian found himself scratching Hua Cheng behind the ear and pressed a kiss to Hua Cheng’s feverish cheek.
They both froze.
What in heaven’s name was Xie Lian doing? Xie Lian thought, horrified. However, Xie Lian did not have the time to be embarrassed by his boldness.
Xie Lian had always thought Hua Cheng’s voice was sexy. Deep and smoky in a way that made Xie Lian a little weak in the knees. Now, however, with the stress of the evening and their combined scent making Xie Lian more than a little pheromone drunk, the sound of Hua Cheng’s voice was both a relief and major turn-on. His voice was strained from disuse and his condition, but oh, wow, so hot. Xie Lian felt the need to scold himself. Now was not the time for impure thoughts.
Shaking the thoughts away, Xie Lian took a moment to observe Hua Cheng. He could tell that Hua Cheng’s feral state was still lurking beneath the surface of his consciousness. But hopefully, for now, at least, the worst was over. If Hua Cheng was talking, it meant the fear of losing his mind to his primitive self forever was no longer as big of a threat.
“Oh, thank heavens.” Xie Lian practically sobbed as relief overwhelmed him. His previous endeavour to treat Hua Cheng’s wounds was momentarily forgotten in Xie Lian’s delight. Once again, he found himself burrowing his face into Hua Cheng’s neck, letting his scent reassure him. Hua Cheng felt tense from shock under Xia Lian, but it only lasted a moment before he reciprocated by hauling Xie Lian into a crushing hug. It seems the nurses must have released Hua Cheng’s other arm now that he was more himself. Both wrapped around him snuggly, Xie Lian sighed. The restraints at his ankles and neck remain, but Xie Lian allowed Hua Cheng’s embrace to calm the remaining fears in his chest.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.” Xie Lian said, choking back his emotions. “I was so worried.”
“I’m sorry to have worried you.” Hua Cheng replied, sounding less feral with each word spoken. “What are you doing here? You should have never come. I could have hurt you.”
Rejection stung Xie Lian’s heart. Of course, he had come. He didn’t know the details, but Xie Lian wanted to be by Hua Cheng’s side no matter the danger. The words hurt more than they should.
Xie Lian whispered, “Do you want me to go?”
Hua Cheng let out a snarl, more vicious and terrifying than anything Xie Lian could imagine a person capable of. Instead of frightening him, however, the sound filled Xie Lian with incomparable pleasure. “Never. Stay.”
Xie Lian really should have been more focused on treating Hua Cheng’s wounds. They also needed to talk desperately. But he could not find it in himself to move from Hua Cheng’s hold. So instead, they laid together for a while, neither willing to speak nor part from the comfort of the other.
Reaching out without a thought, Xie Lian resumed his caresses and placed his hands anywhere he could reach. Hua Cheng’s face, his shoulders, his arms, his chest. Slowly tracing unknown patterns into Hua Cheng’s heated and blood-stained skin. Hua Cheng did not seem to react at all to Xie Lian’s touch. Only watching Xia Lian with an intense gaze. The blood was mostly dry now and clung to both of them.
“I really should tend to your wounds now.” Xie Lian sighed after a while, not wanting to move but knowing he must. “I must be aggravating them.”
“They’re not that serious.” Hua Cheng replied in a blatant attempt to keep Xie Lian where he was, but Xie Lian was already sitting up.
“The faster we get this over with,” Xie Lian mumbled with a blush. “The faster we can get back to this.”
“This?” Hua Cheng asked, amused.
Xie Lian huffed, “Don’t make me say it.”
The sound of Hua Cheng’s laughter was music to Xie Lian’s ears.
It took Xie Lian a while to wipe all the blood away. Thankfully, there was a sink in the room, and after having to go back and forth for freshwater and to rinse out the towels for the better part of an hour, they were as clean as they both could get without taking a proper shower. The restraints around Hua Cheng’s neck and ankles were still in place even though Hua Cheng had calmed considerably. They made it difficult for Xie Lian to get Hua Cheng dressed in the hospital gown, but eventually, he managed. Xie Lian was desperate to know how Hua Cheng had ended up like this, but talking about it now seemed like a bad idea.
Hua Cheng was still quick to temper, despite his best efforts to remain level-headed. The antiseptic alone had Hua Cheng growling furiously every time it touched his skin. Xie Lian did his best not to laugh, but it was hard.
Hua Cheng was acting like a big baby.
Xie Lian loved him.
The revelation should have shocked him more than it did. Instead, Xie Lian just accepted it. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and Xie Lian loved Hua Cheng with everything that he was. Their feelings were palpable, permeating the room and filling Xie Lian’s lungs.
Yes, they needed to talk, but now wasn’t the time.
It was incredibly late. They were both exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. Even with Xie Lian half on top of Hua Cheng, the hospital bed really hadn’t been built to accommodate two grown men comfortably, but they made it work.
When Xie Lian woke a few hours later, he was greeted with the sight of his beloved sleeping face. Hua Cheng looked so young in his sleep, so beautiful. He wanted to wake up to this every morning minus the hospital setting. They could make the growing bond between them permanent, Xie Lian could move into Hua Cheng’s home, and Xie Lian would live every omega’s dream life.
But bonding with an alpha had never been Xie Lian’s dream.
Once upon a time, when life was good, and his parents were alive, and well, Xia Lian lived a life of luxury. His family came from old money, and alphas from all walks of life fought to win Xie Lian’s favour. But none of them had wanted Xie Lian for who he was. Only for what marrying him could bring them.
Money, status, luxury.
Then when word got out that Xie Lian’s father’s company was failing and broke, no one had wanted him. Everyone they knew distanced themselves from the family, his parents grew depressed, and eventually, they decided that life without money, status, and luxury was not a life not worth living.
Money destroyed dreams. Status killed one’s purpose. Luxury was an illusion.
Aside from his grief, Xie Lian was just as content living his life poor as he was rich. He didn’t want an alpha when they wanted him then, nor did he believe that he wanted someone now, ever. Not until he met Hua Cheng.
Hua Cheng seemed like he wanted Xie Lian for Xie Lian. For his company, for his smiles, for his love. The things money, status, and luxury couldn’t buy. Like an alpha in a movie, Hua Cheng could be Xie Lian’s happy ending. But he needed to be sure. His father had done many questionable things to try and keep his business afloat, and if the rumours were true about Hua Cheng and his company, Xie Lian needed to know more before he agreed to spend his life with the alpha.
They’d only just met, but Xie Lian knew Hua Cheng was the only alpha for him. Others had bonded over less and had long happy bonds with their mates. They’d both avoided talking about anything too personal, too painful. It was time they stopped. He wanted things between them to work out, to ride off into the sunset, the end, play credits, but life wasn’t a movie.
Slowly Hua Cheng woke. When he noticed Xie Lian looking up at him, he rubbed his eyes as if to make sure they weren’t playing tricks on him.
“You’re still here.” Hua Cheng breathed in both relief and awe.
“Of course I am. You’re here.” Xie Lian winced at his cheesiness. He needed to spend less of his free time watching romance flicks. However, Hua Cheng didn’t seem to mind, humming his agreement instead and pulling Xie Lian closer to him. The scent of feral alpha had dissipated entirely. All Xie Lian could smell was their mutual contentment. So it made sense that the doctor chose that moment to enter the room.
Hua Cheng reacted better than Xie Lian anticipated. With some of the restraints still in place, there wasn’t much Hua Cheng could do other than to express his displeasure with a growl and his scent. It didn’t take much for Xie Lian to help calm him down, though, and thankfully that allowed the doctor to give the all-clear for the restraints to be removed for good so long as Xie Lian remained close by. Overnight deep purple bruises had formed around the areas of the restraints, but the doctor assured them they would heal quickly. Hua Cheng insisted he looked worse than he felt.
“We’ll keep you at least one more day for observation, but with proper rest and care, you should be fine to return home in a day. Your wounds have begun to heal, and I have a feeling when we check your blood today, there won't be signs of your feral episode having harmed you long term.”
Xie Lian was relieved, of course, to hear Hua Cheng would make a speedy recovery, but a part of him mourned the loss of their newfound closeness. Even if they decided to bond today, it would take them weeks, if not months, to go through the proper registration steps, and Xie Lian knew they needed to take their time before making a decision. It was heavily frowned upon for intended mates to move in with each other before their bond was official. Xie Lian was less concerned about how it would affect him, even though he would shoulder most of the heat, and more about how it would affect Hua Cheng and his reputation.
“One more thing.” The doctor said to bring Xie Lian’s attention back to her. “I was wondering if you would be willing to be tested as well, Xie Lian.”
“Me?” Xie Lian asked, confused. “Why me?”
“I’ve never seen an alpha recover from being so deep in a feral state so quickly. I truly believed he was too far gone for him to make a full recovery, especially when he wasn’t responding to treatment. I have a hunch, but I’d like to test it first and consult my colleagues before I say more.”
Xie Lian agreed, and a nurse came in shortly after to take both his and Hua Cheng’s blood. Once they left, Xie Lian was alone with Hua Cheng once again. The easy calm from before hadn’t faded entirely, but there now hung an unavoidable unsettling feeling in the air.
“I know we need to talk,” Xie Lian began hesitantly. “And I know you’re doing better, so we don’t need to be so close anymore. But if you don’t mind….” Xie Lian trailed off, unable to voice his desires.
Thankfully Hua Cheng didn’t make him, opening his arms for Xie Lian as if he too believed Xie Lian belonged in them. Talking always made Xie Lian uneasy. He’d gone so many years with no one to listen to him he found it hard to open up. But from within the safety of Hua Cheng’s arms, Xie Lian felt like he could do anything.
“I’m sure you have questions.” Hua Cheng began as he ran a hand through Xie Lian’s sleep-tangled hair. “Ask me anything.”
Xie Lian had a million questions, but he wasn’t sure where to start. After some consideration, Xie Lian asked. “Is Hua Cheng your real name?”
The fingers in Xie Lian’s hair continued their gentle caress, but Xie Lian could smell Hua Cheng’s surprise. “It is my legal name, yes, but it wasn’t the name given to me at birth.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Mostly on the streets.” Hue Cheng replied, as simply as if he was talking about the weather. “I didn’t have a stable home life, and if I didn’t come home, there was no one to care.”
“I’m so sorry.” Xie Lian whispered. “You didn’t deserve that.”
Hua Cheng just shrugged. “What else?”
Xie Lian took a moment to think before replying, “Do you know about my family?”
“Only what you can read online. I -” Hua Cheng paused before admitting. “I may have looked up your name online after we met.”
Xie Lian laughed, “Don’t feel guilty. I did the same.”
At that, Hua Cheng groaned, making Xie Lian laugh harder. “Most of it is nonsense, Gege, I swear. The true story really isn’t all that interesting.”
Xie Lian asked, “Will you tell me anyway?”
“I will do anything for you.” Xie Lian flushed at the sincerity he heard and felt. “I had nothing to lose in the beginning. It started with small bets and card games, just enough to get a meal and the occasional roof over my head. Then as I continued to win, I took greater risks. Illegal horse racing, underground gambling dens, trading on the black market. If it was shady but could turn a profit, I probably had a hand in it at some point, except for drugs or people. I had at least some morals back then, lines that I wasn’t willing to cross. But I wasn’t in a good place, and the people I surrounded myself with weren’t the honourable type. So then, when I had enough money, I left that life behind, changed my name, and started lending it to the wealthy, believe it or not. You’d be surprised how many rich folks are willing to pay a ton of money to keep up appearances.”
“I know.” Xie Lian sighed, thinking of his dad and his own history.
“Then one day, a long-time acquaintance of mine told me that his family’s hotel business was suffering. Their books had been mismanaged for too many years, and they were going under. The location was great, but the building was in poor condition, and it needed a major facelift if it wanted to continue. I decided to invest all I had and borrowed the rest from the banks, and my gamble paid off. Within the first year, I was able to pay off my loan. By the second, I was in talks for opening my second hotel.”
“You’re amazing.” Xie Lian said, nuzzling closer.
“Just lucky, Gege.” Hua Cheng pressed a kiss into Xie Lian’s hair. “Just lucky.”
They talked for hours, but it only felt like minutes. Exchanging questions and stories with ease. Occasionally someone would check on them. The nurses were kind. Asking if they needed anything as they checked over Hua Cheng’s vitals while insisting Xie Lian stay where he was. They even brought an extra meal tray for Xie Lian, which he was pretty sure wasn't usually allowed. He was sure they all knew that he and Hua Cheng weren’t bonded, but they didn’t seem to care or give them any disapproving looks. Xie Lian was grateful, but he knew that courtesy would vanish as soon as they left the safety of the hospital room.
When Yin Yu arrived later with the bag Xie Lian had forgotten in the car from the night before, Hua Cheng let his assistant have it. He was angry that Yin Yu involved Xie Lian in all this in the first place, but Xie Lian could tell he was mostly all bark and no bite. Hua Cheng was just as content with how everything played out as Xie Lian was, all things considered.
While the two chatted amicably, Xie Lian took the opportunity to slip away. He was thankful that he managed to pack a change of clothes and more scent blockers in his frazzled mind. The ones he wore were currently covered in Hua Cheng’s scent and specks of blood. He’d have to ask if he could be resprayed by that strong neutralizing spray before going home. Xie Lian was sure that if he went home smelling of alpha, his neighbours would talk, and Xie Lian would be reminded of the rules. Any official courting must be notified to the board. Failure to do so, and Xie Lian could be kicked out. No respectful building would take him in after such a faux pas. Xie Lian could also lose his jobs.
He’d have to find the courage to ask Hua Cheng about his intentions before they left. The thought of leaving the hospital should be a relief. Hua Cheng was okay. Their budding relationship was stronger than ever. Xie Lian should be happy. But the thought of returning home, to his lonely apartment, or anywhere without Hua Cheng made his heart hurt. Xie Lian couldn’t imagine what it would feel like truly being bonded to Hua Cheng if he already felt this much. How did other couples cope with having to wait so long to be bonded?
When Xie Lian finished up the bathroom, Yin Yu had already left. The alpha seemed nice enough, but Xie Lian still felt on edge around any alpha that wasn’t Hua Cheng. The doctor warned Xie Lian that this might be the case for a little while, and if he needed a medical note to excuse him from work, she could provide one.
“You changed,” Hua Cheng noted, a hint of disapproval in his tone. At first, Xie Lian didn’t understand why that would bother Hua Cheng. Then he realized that it was likely since his previous outfit was covered in Hua Cheng’s scent. The apology was on Xie Lian’s tongue, only for Hua Cheng to say first, “You look lovely, Gege. Sorry, I’m still a little on edge. Don’t mind me.”
“Are you feeling okay?” Xie Lian made his way back to the bed, caressing Hua Cheng’s cheek to check for any lingering symptoms.
“I’m fine.” Hua Cheng sighed and snuggled into Xie Lian’s hand. “Yin Yu was just telling me what happened to the idiots I fought with last night.”
“What… did happen?” Xie Lian asked hesitantly.
Hua Cheng took Xie Lian’s hand and pressed a kiss to his wrist. The act was improper, and maybe if Hua Cheng had done so the night before, Xie Lian would have scolded him. Today, however, it felt natural. Xie Lian wasn’t even sure if Hua Cheng was conscious of having done it.
“I was leaving the office later than usual. My phone had died, and I was itching to leave so I could charge it in the car to tell you I was on my way home. When I got to the parking garage, there was a group of about five alphas waiting for me by my parking spot. I knew the smart thing to do would have been to turn around and call security, but I’d had a long day, they looked like they were asking for trouble, and I thought I could deal with it quicker myself.”
“San Lang!” Xie Lian gasped.
“I know, I know.” Hua Cheng sighed. “But in my defence, I deal with knot heads like them all the time. Anyways, it started fine. Their boss had collected a considerable debt at the casino. I banned him from returning until he paid. He didn’t take to it well, same old story. For whatever reason, the punks thought it would be wise to threaten me. In the past, threats meant nothing to me. They were just words. I could protect myself, my staff, and my business. I had nothing they could threaten me with that I wasn’t confident I could deal with. Then I thought of you, and I just snapped. One minute I was myself, then the next it was like a red smoke fogged my brain, and I couldn’t think for myself. Luckily the parking garage has security footage, and the police were able to deal with the trash, and I won’t be charged with anything since they provoked and attacked me first and no one was severely hurt. I might have to provide a statement, but this will likely all go away very soon. You have nothing to worry about. The authorities will deal with it.”
But Xie Lian was worried. Not so much about the attack itself. Xie Lian believed Hua Cheng was strong enough to defend himself against others. What worried him was Hua Cheng’s reaction. “Was that the first time you’ve ever gone into a feral state?”
Xie Lian meant to ask the question as calmly as possible, but his scent did not hide his unease. Some alphas, after meeting an omega they liked, would become overprotective of them. Their alpha side would become infatuated with the omega to an unhealthy degree, causing the alpha to be more prone to going feral over the slightest thing.
Xie Lian knew some of the omegas that lived in his building were there because they had escaped abusive alphas. Many had had a bad experience with an alpha and refused to enter another relationship with one, while others had been bonded to their abusers and had to go through the painful process of reversing the bond. The medical procedure to do so didn’t always work, and sadly, sometimes, for some omegas, the pain of being separated from their mate was worse than the threat of violence. Xie Lian did not believe Hua Cheng to be one of those alphas, but something about all of this didn’t sit right with Xie Lian. He felt like he was looking at a puzzle with missing pieces to it.
“It was, I swear.” Hua Cheng said, almost desperate. “It caught me completely off guard.”
“I believe you.” Xie Lian said, but he didn’t sound convincing, distracted by his thoughts.
Hua Cheng sat up, bringing Xie Lian along with him. Grabbing both of Xie Lian’s hand’s Hua Cheng brought them close to his chest, his gaze boring into Xie Lian’s “I admit, my feelings for you are stronger than anything I’ve ever felt before, but please, believe me when I say I would never hurt you. I would rather kill myself a thousand times in the worst possible ways than live in a world where you fear me even in the slightest.”
“I don’t.” Xie Lian said quickly. “Really, San Lang, this whole time I’ve felt nothing but safe with you.”
Hua Cheng still didn’t seem persuaded. Xie Lian squeezed Hua Cheng’s hands a little tighter and said, “From the moment we met, I have felt nothing but…”
Xie Lian paused, trying to find the right word but came up short. There wasn’t just one word that could sum up just how much Hua Cheng made him feel. All of it good, all of it welcome. The silence hung between them, neither of them really knowing how to proceed.
“I’d always wanted a home.” Hua Cheng said after Xie Lian had been silent for too long. He was unable to meet Xie Lian’s gaze as he spoke and he looked as apprehensive as Xie Lian felt. “I always thought that if I had enough money to buy my own house I would be happy. That the missing, broken pieces inside me would fix themselves once I proved myself worthy of a place to call my own. I didn’t think I needed anyone else and I believed my success would be enough to make me content. Then one day, after dropping off my dry cleaning I got this feeling of panic that wasn’t my own. It was so strong and caught me completely by surprise. I looked around but I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling this way or where it was coming from. Then all of a sudden, I saw you, I saw the car trying to make the light, and I moved so fast I thought we’d both be hit. I just remembered feeling this overwhelming pull towards you and thinking, if this is how I go the only regret I would have had was that I didn’t get to know your name before we died. But even then, I was okay with that because you were there. It was so strange but from that moment I knew the home I’d desired my whole life was not a dwelling but a person.” Xie Lian felt tears sting his eyes, but he did nothing to prevent them from falling. “When I felt you in my arms, I knew with everything in me that I never wanted to let you go. When I looked into your eyes, just as wide and shocked as I felt, I fell in love with you. And when you tried to leave I knew I would follow you wherever you wanted to go because you were my home. My feelings scared me, they still kind of do honestly but for the first time in my life, when I’m with you I feel-”
“Whole.” Xie Lian finished, his voice thick with emotion. It was as if Hua Cheng had taken the words right out of his mouth. Since they met, Xie Lian had been in denial. A part of him felt his life began the moment they met and everything before that had been meaningless but Xie Lian did everything he could to brush off that feeling. That was crazy. Or so Xie Lian had thought.
“Yes, whole.” Hua Cheng pressed a kiss to Xie Lian’s temple and rested his head atop Xie Lian’s.
“I knew something was wrong with you before Yin Yu had even called me.” Xie Lian admitted and Hua Cheng jerked away, finally met Xie Lian’s gaze. “When you stopped answering at first I didn’t think too much of it. Then I started getting this feeling that something had happened. It was all I could think of. When your assistant called I didn’t even question him. I just got into the car blindly because some stranger told me it would take me to you and that you needed me.”
Hua Cheng was doing a good job at keeping his expression neutral but Xie Lian could smell his anger at Xie Lian’s words.
“Then when we pulled up to the hospital something just came over me and I ran inside. I had to find you. Before I could panic about how Yin Yu took me here and when I saw you behind the glass my legs just gave out.”
“Were you hurt?” Hua Cheng asked, scanning Xie Lian’s body for any signs of possible injury.
“No, but…” Xie Lian trailed off. The doctor had said Xie Lian had acted like a mate. He’d only been allowed in because Hua Cheng was not responding to treatment as he should have. They were not bonded, but everything about their behaviour since they had met sounded an awful like how the movies depict a bond to feel like. “I think I know why they took my blood sample.”
Xie Lian ignored Hua Cheng’s look of confusion and pressed the red button by Hua Cheng’s bedside. Xie Lian had to be wrong. There was no way they were mates. They hadn’t even held hands before Xie Lian had arrived at the hospital, let alone done anything that usually accompanied bonding. Xie Lian felt himself begin to panic. This wasn’t normal. Something had to be wrong with them.
“Gege, please, tell me what’s wrong.” Hue Cheng pleaded, trying to get Xie Lian to meet his eyes. The door to the room slid open and Hua Cheng moved to shield Xie Lian, blocking his view of the door and in full-blown protection mode. The switch was so fast and jarring it brought Xie Lian back to his senses. That seemed to keep happening. When Xie Lian needed him most, Hua Cheng responded in the exact way he needed to regain his equilibrium and vice versa.
“San Lang, it's okay.” Xie Lian tried to get Hua Cheng to relax, but it seemed his instinct to protect Xie Lian right now was too strong.
“Is everything alright in here?” The nurse asked.
Hua Cheng tisked, annoyed but he didn’t tell the nurse to leave.
“Have our test results come back yet?” Xie Lian asked as he peaked over Hua Cheng’s shoulder. He knew Hua Cheng was larger than him, but Xie Lian hadn’t realized just how much broader Hua Cheng’s shoulders were before.
“Yes, but the doctor on shift right now hasn’t had a chance to go over them with you.” The nurse replied. She seemed sweet, short with long black hair that was tied into a ponytail. Xie Lian wondered if she had an extra hair tie he could borrow. He hadn’t packed a brush and there were only so many tangles he could fix with his fingers.
“Wasn’t the doctor in here less than an hour ago?” Hue Cheng asked.
The nurse looked between Xie Lian and Hua Cheng, clearly weighing her words. “We’re not waiting on the alpha specialist.”
“Sorry, sorry!” Another voice yelled, sounding as far away and slightly out of breath. The door was still open and Xie Lian strained his neck to see if he could see who was coming. “What room are they in?”
A muffled reply could barely be heard then a few moments later a stocky man appeared behind the nurse. He wore thick glasses and was carrying a small stack of folders in his hand.
“Excuse me, hi, thank you! I’ll take it from here.” The doctor said to the nurse. “Just shut the door behind you when you go!”
The nurse gave the doctor a look before she nodded and left the room. When the door closed the doctor looked to where they were sitting, a wide grin on his face. “Hello, my name is Dr. Ha, it's truly a pleasure to meet you both. I specialize in omega health, bonds, and fertility. May I come in?”
Dr. Ha's gaze was directed at Hua Cheng and he waited. When Hua Cheng nodded the doctor beamed and made his way over. He grabbed the chair from Hua Cheng’s bedside, moved it a little further away from the bed and took a seat. “I’m so excited to be the first to talk with you both. I apologize for making you wait so long but I made the labs test your samples twice to make sure the results were correct.”
“Is everything okay?” Hua Cheng asked, still clearly confused and on edge.
That's when things clicked for Xie Lian. He was almost certain his suspicions were correct, but he was having a hard time believing them.
“Oh yes, everything's fine.” Xie Lian didn’t think it was possible for the doctor's smile to grow any wider, he was wrong. “I just have to ask you both a few questions first before I go over the results. Nothing too scary I promise.”
“Please, go ahead.” Xie Lian said, moving so he was better seated next to Hua Cheng and could see the doctor better. Hua Cheng spared Xie Lian a glance before wrapping an arm around him and setting too.
“Ah yes,” Dr. Ha said, looking down at the files in his lap. Plucking a pencil from behind his ear the doctor opened one of the files and scanned the page. “Xie Lian, how old were you when you presented?”
“Seventeen.” Xie Lian answered automatically.
Dr. Ha nodded, “So that would mean Hua Cheng, you were fifteen when you presented, correct?”
“Yes.” Hua Cheng agreed.
“Perfect.” Dr. Ha seemed thrilled. “And how many days since you two met?”
“Days?” Hua Cheng asked.
“It's been longer than a few days?” Dr. Ha replied excitedly. He opened another file and flipped through a few pages.
Hua Cheng looked at Xie Lian. “It's been a few weeks.”
“Weeks! Really, wow.” Dr. Ha sounded even more excited than before. “Are you both on suppressants then?”
“Yes,” they both answered at the same time. It wasn’t uncommon nowadays for people who were unmated to be on suppressants. To have to spend a heat or rut alone wasn’t enjoyable and Xie Lian could never afford the time off work even if he’d wanted the experience.
Dr. Ha opened another file and scanned the pages. “I didn’t have them test for that but that makes sense to me. We might have to switch your prescriptions before you leave if you decide you want to still be on them.”
“Dr. Ha,” Xie Lian said, and the doctor looked up from his notes. “Can you please fill us in on what's going on with us?”
“Of course,” Dr. Ha replied. “I’m sure you’re both confused. We tested your HoB levels.” Dr. Ha skimmed through his files again, pulled out two pieces of paper, and handed them to Xie Lian. “They’re a group of hormones that relate to bonding. Usually, we only look at HoB levels when couples are looking to bond to try to predict to see if they would be compatible or if mates are having trouble conceiving then it might mean their levels are imbalanced. You are both unmated, so your levels should be in the low fifties. Mated pairs are often somewhere between eight hundred to a thousand.”
Xie Lian read the numbers on each page, then read them again, just to make sure. “Our levels are closer to three thousand.”
“Correct.” Dr. Ha said. “That's why I had them redo the test.”
“What does that mean then?” Xie Lian asked. Hua Cheng seemed to be frozen next to him.
“It means I believe you two are biologically bonded. It's an extremely rare condition but not completely unheard of. The last biologically bonded pair was studied about fifty years ago but technology wasn’t what it is now back then.”
“Biologically bonded?” Hua Cheng asked, sounding bewildered.
“Yes,” Dr. Ha confirmed. “Or if you prefer, the term true mates is also sometimes used.” Xie Lian didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. True mates were a thing of fairy tales. Xie Lian didn’t think it was a real thing. But it was the only explanation that made sense to him. However, even after hearing Dr. Ha confirmed his suspicions Xie Lian was still in disbelief. “What we do know about the condition is mates usually present around the same time, they’re unable to form relationships easily with people of the opposite orientation, once the pair meets their symptoms are triggered and if they don’t initiate the bond within a few days it can have negative effects on their health. Usually, the omega goes into a drop but in your case, it looks like it caused Hua Cheng to go feral. Suppressants are still fairly new, only being around the last forty years or so, so I wonder if they suppressed any negative side effects.”
Both Xie Lian and Hua Cheng were stunned, but listened attentively to the doctor’s explanation and asked a few clarifying questions.
“I know this is a lot to take in,” Dr. Ha said, after having answered all the questions they could think of. “But medically, the only thing we can do to ensure neither of you suffers from any further side effects is to recommend you bond as soon as possible. We’re lucky this time Hua Cheng was the one in need of treatment. Omegas can be unpredictable if they believe they’ve been rejected, and delaying your bond could do that. If Xie Lian goes into a drop and falls unconscious, we might not be able to wake him.”
Hua Cheng’s arm around Xie Lian tightened. “How long do you think we have then?”
“We can likely prolong things by giving you both a more potent suppressant but I do not recommend waiting longer than a week since it's already been so long. We really do not understand much about those who are biologically bound so in my professional opinion, I would not recommend it. What I suggest is we have you both sign your intent to bond paperwork immediately so we can sign off on it before you leave the hospital. There is a protocol in place for this but none of us have had to deal with it before so please be patient with us as we figure things out on our end as well. I know most mates like to hold a ceremony first but I worry having too many people around will trigger one or both of you. You’ll likely find it difficult to be apart from one another so I suggest you go home together and remain somewhat isolated until you both come to a decision. The hospital will provide you with any further documentation you require for your residences or places of work. If you don’t have any pressing questions I’ll get on that now so we can hopefully arrange for your discharge in a few hours.”
“I think that will be all, thank you, Dr. Ha.” Xie Lian said with more calm than he felt. He was processing a lot and was thankful to have a moment to collect himself and speak with Hua Cheng.
“I’ll give you two some time to talk in private while I get the paperwork together for you.” Dr. Ha stood. “Oh and um, let me be the first to congratulate you both.”
“Thank you.” Xie Lian answered, meekly and watched as the doctor left the room.
When the door slid shut Xie Lian closed his eyes. Whether it be fate, destiny, or biology, he was literally meant to be Hua Cheng’s mate. Xie Lian had always thought the idea of finding your true mate to be the epitome of romance, but now that he was facing the reality of the situation himself he felt doubt. Were his feelings for Hua Cheng real? Or were they a result of something medically wrong with him? From Dr. Ha’s explanation, this all seemed more like a condition that needed to be treated rather than something out of a fantasy. Then again, Xie Lian’s mother had always told him true love was a little crazy and nonsensical at times.
Xie Lian honestly didn’t know what to think, and looking at Hua Cheng it didn't seem like the alpha was faring much better. Usually, when faced with a problem he couldn’t solve right away, Xie Lian felt panic. A part of him was worried and feared the unknown of their situation, but when he really thought about it, the anxiety Xie Lian felt was more anticipation than nerves. Xie Lian was excited. Not only had Xie Lian found someone to love, but there was physical medical proof of that love. Xie Lian decided, right there and then, that he wouldn't let the particulares get him down. Wasn’t he just upset not even an hour ago at the prospect of going home without Hua Cheng? From everything Dr. Ha said they would be officially able to bond before the day was through.
Xie Lian could go home with Hua Cheng. Spend his life with Hua Cheng. That was what mattered now.
“What are you thinking, Gege?” Hua Cheng asked. He’d been studying Xie Lian for a while now, looking anxious and more handsome than any man had any right to be. Xie Lian didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He ended up doing a mix of both.
Alarmed, Hua Cheng looked at Xie Lian with doubt written all over his face. His arms hovered in midair, wanting to comfort Xie Lian but unclear if the gesture was welcome. Xie Lian couldn’t stand for it a moment longer.
“I’m sorry.” Xie Lian said doing his best to sound serious as he dried his cheeks. “Something like this has to be said clearly.”
Hua Cheng nodded, looking forlorn but ready to hear whatever it was Xie Lian had to say. Xie Lian only waited for a second to appreciate his soon-to-be mate's expression, full of love, respect, and care before falling into Hua Cheng’s arms. His home. There were no words that could express adequately what Xie Lian was thinking. So instead of trying to stumble his way through the landmine that was his emotions, Xie Lian let his actions speak for him. With one arm still secure around Hua Cheng’s waist Xie Lian looked up to meet Hua Cheng’s eyes and removed the scent blocker from his neck. Hua Cheng’s scent spiked with surprise and excitement as Xie Lian’s scent told Hua Cheng all that he couldn’t. The alpha’s gaze grew heavy, and after receiving Xie Lian’s permission Hua Cheng lowered his head until his nose was pressed up against Xie Lian’s scent gland.
When Hua Cheng let out a content sigh and placed a delicate kiss on Xie Lian’s most intimate spot, Xie Lian knew he’d made the right choice. He trusted Hua Cheng. He loved Hua Cheng. The rest, they would figure it out over time together.