It is raining when Taxian Jun returns from Yin Mountain.
It is a steady, driving rain, that soaks everything, pelts the top of the carriage he is riding in, turns the ground to mud, sends people fleeing out of his path.
Good, he thinks.
Things went well at Yin Mountain, all things considered—more of the cultivation world bowing to him, or at least too afraid to ally with Xue Meng and fight back. But the aftermath of violence has left him restless and volatile.
He should go to the throne room. He knows this. Song Qiutong is waiting, with her pretty eyes and prettier lips and her head held at just the right angle. And besides, there are other things to take care of, all the petty business of being an emperor.
But first, he finds his feet inexorably drawn to the water prison.
His Wanning had been so disobedient before he left. Nothing new per se, but Taxian Jun had grown tired of how silent he had been. How unyielding. Mo Ran had thought the water prison a fitting punishment—to lock Chu Wanning away someplace as heartless and cold as himself.
He is already thinking, as he enters the darkness of the prison, of the ways he will make Chu Wanning prove his obedience. Or, perhaps more enjoyable and certainly more likely, the way he will force obedience if Chu Wanning still looks at him with those frosty phoenix eyes and tries to refuse him. His hatred for his Shizun burns and coils, as it ever does, in the pit of his stomach and lower, in an angry inexplicable heat. He thinks about sinking his teeth in the pale line of Chu Wanning’s neck, leaving it marked and bruised, of dragging out half-swallowed strangled sounds from him, of watching his ears color in shame even as the rest of his face is pale with anger—Mo Ran palms his cock through his robes.
He is far enough gone that it takes him a moment to notice how uneasy the guards look. They keep glancing at him as he passes, as if bracing for something. When he notices, his pulse jumps and he cuts a glare so fierce it sends a guard skittering away. This does nothing to ease his sudden spike of anxiety. His pace quickens, half in anticipation, half in confused, angry fear. It must be something with Chu Wanning. He’s the only prisoner of value at the moment. But he can’t be gone or dead, of course. Taxian Jun would have heard already. He would know, even without being told. His hatred is too strong, this dead, curdled part of himself too utterly devoted to Chu Wanning to not know immediately if something irrevocable had happened.
Mo Ran needs to take a moment to compose himself as he reaches the prison and sees Chu Wanning swaying faintly where he is chained. He is alive. He is there. This is what matters. He pushes that last thought away, unsure where it has sprung from.
The water prison is dark. A single, high window lets in weak light, too diffuse to do much more than cast shadows. Chu Wanning’s soiled white robes nearly glow against the black water. “Shizun,” Mo Ran whines, sweet and cloying in a mockery of his days as an obedient disciple. Chu Wanning’s bowed head jerks in response. “Did you miss this disciple?”
Mo Ran saunters closer, and then abruptly hisses and rushes forward. He seizes Chu Wanning’s right hand where it is chained. Chu Wanning makes an aborted sound and turns his face away.
“Who did this?” Taxian Jun demands.
The ends of Chu Wanning’s fingers bloom with blood where silver thorns have been stabbed into his naked nailbeds. It’s almost pretty, like something Mo Ran might have done to him himself, capping his nails with silver decorations, delicate, like some expensive whore.
But the beds where his nails have been torn out are ragged and raw and hot with festering infection. And it doesn’t matter whether it is pretty or not, painful or not, because Mo Ran didn’t order this. This should not have happened. His Shizun is his to do with as he likes, his Wanning, and no one else should have dared to look at him, let alone touch, let alone do this—
Taxian Jun tightens his grip on Chu Wanning’s fingers, eliciting another pained gasp. “Who did this?” he repeats. “Look at this Venerable One, Wanning!”
Chu Wanning turns his head slowly. He meets Mo Ran’s gaze for a moment, before dropping his head to his chest. His eyes are angry and tired and glassy with fever. “Leave me alone,” he murmurs.
Mo Ran jerks Chu Wanning’s head up by the chin and slaps him.
“Tell me or don’t tell me,” he threatens, “this Venerable One will find out. But this Venerable One can either leave you here until your fingers rot off or bring you back to the Red Lotus Pavilion. That is up to you.”
Chu Wanning presses his thin lips together, his cheekbone coloring red. He fixes his gaze somewhere in the middle distance, and Mo Ran can see him deciding. He grasps his fingers again. Chu Wanning’s eyes widen and he grinds out, “Song Qiutong.” It sounds more like a confession than an accusation.
Mo Ran drops his hand as if it burns.
He stands for several heartbeats, paralyzed now with his own decision. The anger roils inside of him, howling for him to find Song Qiutong and rip out her nails, shove stinging thorns into her slender fingers. But that means leaving Chu Wanning, bloody and feverish, and Wanning is so delicate now without his cultivation, so prone to sickness…
Mo Ran sneers at himself in disgust. What is this Venerable One thinking? Chu Wanning is his Shizun! Chu Wanning beat him bloody with Tianwen! He saw Shi Mei dying in the snow and turned away! What does this Venerable One care if he dies before he returns?
Except that death would free Chu Wanning after a fashion. It would steal him from Mo Ran’s grasp, and he might even be reborn somewhere else, far beyond Taxian Jun’s reach. He isn’t finished with him. Not when he can still elicit that angry shamed face he makes when Taxian Jun fucks into him, too fast and too hard. Not when Chu Wanning has still never explained what he meant at Mo Ran’s coronation, when he said “It was this master’s fault…”
Mo Ran swears. He turns on his heel and stalks out of the prison. Behind him, Chu Wanning shudders and, as ever, is silent.
Mo Ran finds Song Qiutong waiting for him, half undressed in red silks. The moment he appears she is at his side, placing a hand on his chest, fluttering her eyes, tilting her head. Today, instead of softening him, it fills him with a hatred so hot and bright that he can’t see.
He waits to act, like a coiled viper.
“A-Ran,” she says. “I’ve missed you.”
He strokes the slim line of her neck and puts his thumb in the indent at the base of it. He presses, just a little. “This Venerable One found something most interesting when he returned home.”
Song Qiutong looks pleased with herself. “What was that, your Majesty?”
He hums in the back of his throat, low and dangerous. He runs his hands over her arms, calculating. She’s stronger than she looks. Her slight frame belies lean muscles. “Why don’t you tell me? It was most unexpected.”
She cries out when he grabs her wrist in a grip so tight that he feels the bones shift. “Your Majesty!”
“Who gave you permission to touch what is mine?”
“Your Majesty!” she gasps again. “A-Ran! You’re hurting me!”
“You are mine. I can do what I want with you, like I can do what I want with him. Who said you could hurt him?”
He shakes her once, violently, and then shoves her away from him so hard that she falls, sprawling onto the floor. The silk she was wearing, barely covering her to begin with, slips so that her left breast is exposed. She pushes herself up and goes to fix it, and then seems to think better of it.
She bites her lips so they flush and ghosts her fingers over her nipple so it puckers erect. “A-Ran,” she says. Her eyes fill with golden tears. “A-Ran, you’re scaring me. Please don’t hurt me.”
“How dare you hurt him?”
“I didn’t!” she protests.
“Didn’t you? Did this Venerable One dream that Chu Wanning’s nails had been removed? Did I dream that someone had forced stinging thorns in his fingers? And is there anyone in the world who would dare do that and risk this Venerable One’s anger?” He does not examine the way he doesn’t doubt for a moment the truth of Chu Wanning’s accusation. It makes too much sense, and anyway it doesn’t matter. It is a lesson that should be learned regardless. Chu Wanning is his.
Song Qiutong abandons for the moment her attempts at seduction. She scrambles to her knees and kowtows. “Please listen to me, A-Ran! It is not what you think! I had no choice.”
“What right did you have to touch him?” Mo Ran demands. He nudges her face with his toes. “Who said you could hurt him?”
“Your Majesty,” she says. She takes a deep breath and her voice steadies. “A-Ran,” she looks up at him through her eyelashes. “Will you believe him over me? He wants to turn you against me. He thinks if you are angry at me, you will kill me, like he killed Shi—”
Mo Ran presses his toes against her mouth. “Don’t say his name,” he hisses.
But he’s listening to what she is saying now. Shi Mei’s name has pulled him back to himself. He is not calmer, exactly, but he is regaining the uneasy equilibrium he exists in.
Song Qiutong pushes herself to her knees and clutches at the hems of Mo Ran’s robes. She stumbles through the rest of her explanation. “I went to inspect the prison, but when I arrived, Chu-zongshi told me to get lost, as if he thinks even now that he is the Yuheng Elder! And then, he insulted me again so coldly, and not only me, but A-Ran as well! The things he said! He is so cruel. He has never had a kind feeling in his heart. I couldn’t do nothing! It was not only my pride, but yours. I couldn’t let him speak that way of you.”
She begins weeping freely and shivering with such fear that the last of Mo Ran’s anger gives way to annoyance. He shakes her off the bottom of his robes.
“This Venerable One understands,” he sighs. She bursts into a new bout of sobs at this. He sneers internally and reaches down to pull her up by her shoulders. She collapses against him and clutches at his robes.
“I’m sorry if I was wrong!” she cries. Somehow, she manages to not actually get tears on his robes.
“Stop crying,” he says. He reaches down and absently pinches her nipple. “Fingernails will grow back. It’s all right.” She has slipped a small hand into his robes and wrapped it around his cock. She strokes him gently, and he feels himself getting hard in a detached, distracted way. “He is too willful still. Perhaps the punishment was too light. Next time, you ought to break his fingers.”
She looks up at him, her hand not slowing its movement, her eyes bright. “Do you mean it?”
She looks at him in the right way, and he lets his eyes fall closed, and thinks to himself, yes, of course Chu Wanning deserved this. He killed Shi Mei. What are fingernails, compared to the things he has done to this Venerable One?
He’ll have the guards who helped her executed, though.
He pushes her hand away, hikes up her skirts, and enters her cunt without forewarning. She makes a choked little gasp. Her fingers dig into his biceps. It would be better if he could imagine Shi Mei as he pushes her up against a wall and sets a punishing rhythm, but he doesn’t dare tarnish his memory. Instead of Shi Mei’s peach blossom eyes, he conjures Chu Wanning’s phoenix ones. Instead of Shi Mei’s gentle smile or his hands when he brought him wontons, he pictures Chu Wanning’s pale lips and his hands fisting in the sheets when Mo Ran takes him.
He thinks of haitang blossoms as he comes.
Taxian Jun leaves Song Qiutong near midnight, not much caring whether or not she wakes. He pulls on an outer robe and heads to the Red Lotus Pavilion.
Chu Wanning is asleep on the bed, clutching his hands tightly to his chest and curled in on himself. He’s still wearing the same robes he was in in the water prison. On the writing desk, a bowl of water and clean linen for bandages sit untouched, and a tub of bathwater has cooled without being used. Mo Ran sighs to himself. Wanning is truly hopeless.
He sits on the side of the bed and touches Chu Wanning’s shoulder. “Wanning,” he says. “Wanning, wake up.”
He shifts and frowns in his sleep, a crease appearing between his eyebrows.
“Wanning.” He lays a hand on his cheek, and then frowning, presses it to his forehead. His fever is still there. “Wake up,” he says more insistently.
Chu Wanning’s eyes flutter open. His gaze is soft and unfocused, half from sleep and half from the fever. “Mo Ran,” he murmurs.
Something tightens in Mo Ran’s chest at the way Chu Wanning is looking at him, and he looks away. “Your hands are still bloody,” he says.
Chu Wanning pulls his hands closer to his chest, and he must wake up fully, because his gaze is suddenly more alert and flashes angrily. “Get the hell out.”
Mo Ran smiles and shakes his head. “You’re not the one who gives orders anymore, Shizun.” He grabs Chu Wanning’s hand by the wrist, careful this time not to jostle his fingers. The thorns have been worked out, at least, but he has no way of knowing if Chu Wanning managed that himself or if Liu Gong did that when he escorted him back to the pavilion. Chu Wanning tries to pull his hand away, but Mo Ran tightens his grip. “Stop,” he warns. “Sit up.”
Chu Wanning glares at him for a moment more, before adopting his customary look of indifference and sitting up. He doesn’t try to pull his hand away, but he holds his other hand close to his chest.
The rain ended midafternoon, the clouds drifted away, and now the full, pregnant moon hangs in the sky. The moonlight is enough for Mo Ran to see that Chu Wanning’s wounds have indeed festered. They will need to be washed carefully, bound tightly, and watched closely to make sure they heal. Satisfied with his initial inspection, he drops Chu Wanning’s hand, and reaches to begin undressing him.
Chu Wanning jerks away. “Mo Ran!”
“Relax,” Mo Ran says, irritated. “I’m not going to fuck you.”
Chu Wanning looks dubious.
“You’re filthy,” Mo Ran elaborates. “Take a bath. Then let me bandage your hands.”
“It’s late. I’ll bathe tomorrow.”
“I’ll warm the bathwater,” Mo Ran wheedles.
Chu Wanning looks unconvinced.
Having run out of patience, Mo Ran says, “I don’t care if you strip yourself and walk over to a nicely warmed bath, or if I have to rip your robes off you and drop you in the red lotus pond.”
Chu Wanning’s eyes narrow, but he swings his long legs over the edge of the bed, away from Taxian Jun, stands unsteadily and begins peeling off his dirtied robes, one layer at a time.
Satisfied, Mo Ran goes and circulates qi through the water until it is steaming gently in the night air.
When he looks over again, Chu Wanning is bereft of everything but his pants. Mo Ran let’s his eyes drag slowly over his torso, drinking in his small waist, the tight, lean lines of his muscles, the scar over his heart. He sees the moment when Chu Wanning notices he’s looking and his ears grow dark. Mo Ran smirks.
“Come here, Wanning,” he orders lazily. As Chu Wanning walks over with jerky, uncertain steps, Mo Ran considers stripping himself and joining him in the tub, but he dismisses the thought after a moment. When Chu Wanning reaches the tub, he shucks off his pants quickly and before Mo Ran can even consider grabbing a handful of his ass, he’s lowered himself into the tub until he’s submerged up to his neck.
Mo Ran smells rather than sees the way the dried blood on his fingers begins to dissolve into the tub.
Abruptly, the faint arousal that had accompanied him since he came dissipates.
He reaches over the edge of the tub and begins to wash Chu Wanning’s hair.
Chu Wanning stiffens at the first touch of his hands. Mo Ran hums but says nothing, either to goad or reassure him. He concentrates on thoroughly wetting his long hair. He massages his fingers into his scalp and Chu Wanning—melts is the wrong word, because Chu Wanning never relaxes around him, except when he’s so fucked out that he’s gone boneless and weak, and even that’s not relaxed so much as it is helpless. This is different. He shudders once, deeply, and then goes still. He is not leaning into Mo Ran’s touch, but neither is he resisting it or simply enduring it as he so often is. When Mo Ran looks, his eyes have closed.
Mo Ran washes his face next. His hands feel clumsy and blunt against Chu Wanning’s high cheekbones. He cleans away tear tracks and old sweat until his face is pale and clear. He thinks, absently, without any sort of intention, how handsome his Shizun is.
He washes Chu Wanning’s limbs one at a time, starting with his feet. Chu Wanning tenses when he reaches up his thighs, but Mo Ran leaves him alone. He has a sense that if he tried anything it would shatter something fragile between them.
It won’t last past the morning, he’s sure, but for now…
When he’s finished, he leans down and picks Chu Wanning up out of the tub, sliding one arm behind his back and the other beneath his knees.
Chu Wanning’s fly open. “Mo Weiyu!”
“Hush, Shizun,” Mo Ran says, faintly amused. He sets Chu Wanning down on the bed, finds a robe at random and drapes it over Chu Wanning’s shoulders. “There.”
Chu Wanning turns his face away.
Taxian Jun fetches the clean water and the bandages and kneels before Chu Wanning. Chu Wanning looks down on him, surprise and something else complicated briefly flashing across his face before he schools it back into indifference. Mo Ran, never good with emotions to begin with, does not even try to parse it.
Mo Ran takes his right hand. “Does it hurt?” he asks.
Chu Wanning shakes his head once, sharply. “Not much.”
Mo Ran bows his head over his hand. “I’ll be gentle.”
Chu Wanning exhales and says nothing.
True to his word, Mo Ran is gentle. The bathwater had taken care of the worst of it, but he still wipes a damp cloth over each raw nailbed, cleaning away the last of the dirt and the dried blood, pausing whenever Chu Wanning hisses too sharply.
He has the inexplicable urge to bury his head in Chu Wanning’s lap and beg him for—what? Taxian Jun doesn’t beg. He takes, whether Wanning is willing or not. If he cannot take it, he simply does without, as he has done without so many things in his life. He doesn’t even know what he wants, but he knows it’s undefinable, untakeable, something that he can only get if Chu Wanning chooses to give it. He starts to say something, once, twice, falters both times, and instead winds bandages around Chu Wanning’s fingers.
He takes his left hand and begins again.
Chu Wanning’s gaze is lost somewhere over his shoulder. Mo Ran pauses, looking at the way the moonlight outlines his face.
“Shizun,” he says. “Please pay attention to me, Shizun.”
Chu Wanning turns to him, his eyes widening slightly. His thoughts must have been somewhere else, because his face holds, for the moment, no anger or reproach or disappointment. Mo Ran smiles broadly and easily before he can help himself.
Something in Chu Wanning’s expression breaks. He reaches his right hand out and touches Mo Ran’s cheek with his bandaged fingers. Mo Ran can feel the heat of his touch through the linen. He leans his face into his hand, and Chu Wanning strokes his cheekbone, once, twice.
Mo Ran’s smile fades. The moment passes. “Why did you disrespect this Venerable One?”
Chu Wanning’s face shutters abruptly, and he yanks his hand back. “Will you punish me now as well?”
Mo Ran shakes his head once. “Not now. But why won’t you be obedient, Wanning?”
Chu Wanning makes a small disgusted noise in the back of his throat.
“Ah, but still,” Mo Ran says. “This Venerable One shouldn’t have left you. I should have known she would do something.”
“You do worse.”
“That’s different,” Mo Ran says, tying the last bandage around Chu Wanning’s smallest finger.
“How?” Chu Wanning’s eyes are flinty in the moonlight.
Taxian Jun smirks and opens his mouth to say—he finds himself at a loss. Something cruel no doubt. Something about how powerless Chu Wanning is without his core. Something about how sluttish and soft and dirty Chu Wanning looks when Mo Ran makes him take his cock in his mouth. If Chu Wanning is going to look at him with that much hatred, might as well earn it.
Maybe it’s the moonlight, or maybe it’s that he still is cradling Wanning’s left hand in his own, but it is definitely not that he wants to chase after the lingering feeling of his fingers on his face.
“It just is,” he settles on, a beat too late. He presses Chu Wanning’s knuckles to his lips.
For his part, Chu Wanning presses his lips together and looks away from Mo Ran’s face again, but he doesn’t pull his hand away, and Mo Ran counts that as a win.
Satisfied with himself, he stands and crosses to the little writing desk, where he eventually manages to find a comb buried under the accumulated clutter. “Will you let me comb your hair, Wanning?” he asks, looking out the window. The red lotus pond ripples silver.
When he hears no answer, he looks back over at the bed. Chu Wanning sits with his back very straight. His hair is still mostly wet, and the thin inner robe Taxian Jun had draped over him clings to his back where it has been soaked through. He is looking over his shoulder—not at Mo Ran exactly, but somewhere near him. It’s enough to make him want to throw out all the careful self-control he’s been exercising over the past hour.
Patience, he tells himself. This Venerable One has as much time as he needs.
“Well?” he asks.
“You do what you want,” Chu Wanning bites out. “It doesn’t matter whether I let you.”
“I want you to let me.”
Chu Wanning lets out a sharp breath, in what might be an unamused laugh. He turns his face away again. He reaches back and pulls his hair over his shoulder and begins attempting to comb through it with his fingers. The bandages make it awkward. “Isn’t it enough that you have me? Do I have to want it now too?”
Yes, Mo Ran wants to say and doesn’t. He climbs onto the bed and settles himself on his knees behind Chu Wanning. He gathers Chu Wanning’s hair out of his hands and dries it with a cloth before starting the comb at the ends.
He worked out the majority of knots in the bath with just his fingers. Now, when he encounters one, he picks at it, careful not to pull on Chu Wanning’s hair. It doesn’t take long before he can pass through without finding any tangles. Nevertheless, they stay that way for a moment longer than strictly necessary, Mo Ran’s hands in Chu Wanning’s hair, and both their breathing quiet.
The moment breaks when Taxian Jun sweeps Chu Wanning’s hair over his shoulder and bends to kiss his neck.
Chu Wanning jerks away and is on his feet in an instant. His face is dark and accusing as he glares at Mo Ran. A high flush rises in his cheeks.
Taxian Jun smiles to mask the way his heart twists. “Do you hate me so much?”
“I’m tired,” Chu Wanning says.
“Then come to bed.”
He gives him a severe look.
“To sleep, Wanning. Just to sleep.”
Chu Wanning folds his arms across his chest, tucking his injured hands away. “I don’t believe you.”
Taxian Jun casts about for something he can threaten him with, and then, failing that, a promise he can make. Despite himself, he doesn’t particularly want to see Chu Wanning angry tonight. Maybe he’s being foolish. Maybe he’s tired as well.
“I won’t touch you,” he promises. “If I touch you, I’ll let you bar me from the Red Lotus Pavilion for a week.”
“A month,” Chu Wanning counters.
Chu Wanning breathes deeply. “Fine.”
Mo Ran shifts over eagerly to make room for him. Chu Wanning walks over, not looking at Mo Ran, and, lying down with his back to him, curls himself up as far away from him as he can manage.
“You’ll fall off.” Mo Ran grins. “Come closer.”
Mo Ran laughs.
The chill of the night air doesn’t bother Mo Ran, who runs warm generally, so it’s entirely for Chu Wanning’s benefit that, a few moments later, he pulls the blanket up over them both. True to his word, he doesn’t touch him, he just sort of tosses the blanket so it drapes half over him. If he wants more of the blanket, he’ll have to come farther on the bed.
Sure enough, a pale bandaged hand snakes up to grab the edge of the blanket. Mo Ran keeps a firm hold of his side of it when Chu Wanning tugs on it. Chu Wanning huffs an annoyed breath, but neither tries again nor moves.
Mo Ran counts his heart beats. He reaches one hundred twenty-seven before Chu Wanning shifts closer, slowly, like he’s hoping Mo Ran won’t notice. Mo Ran stays very still.
It’s not that different from hunting, Mo Ran thinks to himself. You wait and wait, until your prey forgets you are there, until it lets its guard down enough that you can strike.
He counts another two hundred so heartbeats, until he’s relaxed enough that he can’t feel his blood pounding through his veins clearly enough and loses count. After that, he counts Chu Wanning’s breaths, the rise and fall of his narrow chest, clearly still awake, clearly too on edge to fall asleep.
Somewhere around a hundred, still entertaining thoughts of hunters and prey, he drifts asleep.
He wakes up again a little later. His eyes still closed, he can feel the heat of another body, very close to his but not touching. A hand strokes the end of his hair where it is splayed across the pillow. “Ah, Mo Ran,” Chu Wanning says, so quietly in the dark that Mo Ran thinks he’s imagined it.
Mo Ran’s eyes flutter half open at his name. The moon has set; the room is pitch dark, and he can see just the shadowy outline of Chu Wanning’s shape facing him on the bed.
He’s dreaming, he decides. He murmurs as much out loud. Chu Wanning’s touch is too gentle for waking life.
“Yes,” Chu Wanning says. He pulls his hand away from Mo Ran’s hair. “It’s just a dream.”
Mo Ran reaches out and catches his hand. Chu Wanning makes a small surprised sound as Mo Ran brings it to his face, kisses his palm, and then lays it against his cheek. “Like that,” he says.
“All right.” Chu Wanning runs his bandaged fingers across Mo Ran’s cheekbones, over the bridge of his nose, the soft hollows beneath his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Mo Ran says. He isn’t sure what he’s apologizing for. His cheeks are wet. It will ruin the bandages, he thinks.
“Are you?” Chu Wanning sounds surprised.
“I’m sorry,” Mo Ran repeats. It seems terribly important.
“Ah, Mo Ran,” Chu Wanning says. His voice is sad and fond. “I’ve already forgiven you.”
“I think I’m drowning.”
He sees Chu Wanning’s eyebrows draw together. He’s still tracing his face.
Mo Ran tries to explain. Sometimes, it’s as if there is something else controlling his body, piloting him through his day, wrapping around his mind until everything seems to come at a great distance, like a voice calling out underwater. The words won’t come.
Instead: “Will you hold me?” He hadn’t planned to say it, and his voice comes out very small.
There is a long silence. “All right. Turn over.”
Mo Ran does, and a moment later, Chu Wanning’s arms wrap around him, and he feels the weight of a chin on top of his head.
“I’ve got you,” Wanning says.
Mo Ran nods. “This is a good dream,” he says.
Chu Wanning tightens his arms around him. “It is.”
Mo Ran keeps his eyes open as long as he can, although sleep is still trying to pull him under. He stares out the window, into the night, at the spot where the darkness turns mirror-like on the water.