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Jul 25, 2021 5:31 PM
ranwan beauty and the beast
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Shi Mei will absolutely not be going on any search parties. He is going to tend to his wounds at once and rest and not injure himself any further.

Chu Wanning will be going on search parties.

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Xue Zhengyong agrees with Chu Wanning, both about Shi Mei staying here and not exacerbating his injuries and about not being convinced that Mo Ran is dead. In the heat of such a moment, who knows what might really have happened? Memory can be so unreliable. 

 

 

Both Xue Zhengyong and Chu Wanning go out with the search parties. 

There are a lot of search parties. 

They look for a very long time. 

 

 

 

They don't find any trace of Mo Ran. 

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He doesn't speak to anyone. He stays out looking until his legs physically can't support him anymore, until his eyes burn and his head aches. Grief wracks his body so violently that he thinks it might kill him; he idly wishes it would. It hurts. The beats may have killed (no) Mo Ran (no), but its claws have sunk deep into Chu Wanning.

He goes home, moving slow and stiff as a board.

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Shi Mei is there. Shi Mei has stayed put just like he was told.

"Shizun, you're alright! Did..... did you find..."

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"I'm sorry," he whispers. "Shizun, you should sit down."

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Why.

He doesn't remember how to move anymore, but why should he bother trying? There's nothing he can accomplish by moving. There's nothing he can accomplish by existing. He could not protect his own apprentice, and now he dishonors him by failing to bury a body.

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Shi Mei puts an arm around Chu Wanning's back and ushers him gently to the bedroom, murmuring apologies. He shepherds Shizun into bed and tucks him in. Chu Wanning barely reacts to being moved, and he doesn't seem to process any of Shi Mei's words. Which is understandable. And fine.

It seems that Shizun needs someone to look after him for the time being.

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Objectively he does. Chu Wanning suffers from fever for the next week, brought on by exhaustion and emotional turmoil. He doesn't leave his bed. He doesn't move. He won't take any initiative to eat or drink or sleep.

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Shi Mei tends to him through his fever. A lucid Shizun would never accept coddling of any sort, but a catatonic feverish Shizun sometimes doesn't seem to notice. When he can get away with it and his teacher is at his least responsive, Shi Mei likes to lean Wanning up against himself and feed him broth spoonful by spoonful. Sometimes his fingers brush against Chu Wanning's lips, which is only natural during such an intimate process.

He does not get away with helping him bathe, but he does get away with watching.

He gets to comb Shizun's hair afterwards. He saw Mo Ran do that once.

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Xue Zhengyong takes Mo Ran's death very hard. 

Before he had actually met the boy, he had already been Xue Zhengyong's last link to his dead older brother, and as he came to know him, he came to love the boy for himself. 

Xue Zhengyong is significantly more functional than Chu Wanning. He does his best to support him, although he's incredibly grateful that young Shi Mei is doing most of the actual work and all Xue Zhengyong has to do is make sure the house regularly receives groceries and so on. But it's incredibly obvious to anyone who knows him that the death was a devastating blow. 

Xue Meng's reaction is a little more complicated--they were a vitriolic sort of friends--but they were friends, and even if they weren't, he still wouldn't have wanted Mo Ran to die, and even if he hadn't given a crap about Mo Ran dying, he would still be affected by how it's affected everyone else. 

He's...better at repressing his feelings than his father or his Shizun. But it sobers him. 

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Chu Wanning recovers from his fever. A month later, he starts to spend time out of bed again. He still takes zero care of himself and relies heavily on Shi Mei's support. He is still dazed and miserable and borderline unresponsive most of the time.

He endeavors to check on Xue Meng and Shi Mei as well. It would be inexcusable to fail his remaining students also, though it tears at his heart to see the two of them in his workshop without Mo Ran.

It tears at him to go anywhere and see anything without Mo Ran there, bringing warmth and brightness to his life.

Life goes on anyway, colorlessly. Chu Wanning goes back to work. He leaves his house, sometimes. He doesn't smile.

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He doesn't remember much. 

He knows that his name is Mo Ran, that he grew up on the streets with his mother and then in a brothel after his mother died. He also knows that he's significantly older than he was as of his last clear memory. He also knows that he was human as of his last clear memory.

He isn't human now.

He has no idea what happened, in the intervening years. There is nothing in this castle to give any clue. He can leave the front door, even leave the front gates, but if he tries to wander off into the forest the trees dump him right outside again before terribly long. 

He isn't happy. Sometimes he takes his unhappiness out on the furniture. But the castle is magic; its gardens see that he never goes hungry. He knows very well that it could be worse. 

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Two years after Mo Ran’s disappearance, Shi Mei proposes to Chu Wanning.

Wanning — did not see this coming. At all. He didn’t expect any proposals, from anyone, let alone his own apprentice. 

It’s his fault, of course, for leaning on Shi Mei so heavily when he was first grieving. Of course making someone tend to him personally for a year would give that person a sense of intimacy and invitation. Shi Mei was already practically part of his household.

But Chu Wanning feels sick to his stomach remembering how he required tending and how pathetic - visibly and outwardly pathetic - the whole affair had been. He cares deeply about Shi Mei as a teacher does a disciple, and maybe even as a friend, but nothing more. Even after they grew undeniably closer during Chu Wanning’s grieving, he still doesn’t feel like he fully knows Shi Mei.

Shi Mei is a beautiful and capable young man who any man or woman would be lucky to marry. Shi Mei should go find someone else young and beautiful who can make him happy. Chu Wanning turns him down.

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Is Shizun aware that he is, in fact, very beautiful?

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What! No! Don't bring up nonsense like that again!

Regardless of how he looks - that being definitively less beautiful than Shi Mei -- Shi Mei shouldn't waste his time on a bitter old widowed man!

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Shizun isn't even thirty!

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He will be thirty at some point! And that point will be considerably sooner than the point at which Shi Mei turns thirty!

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That doesn't matter to him. Shizun's experience only makes him a more attractive marriage candidate.

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That's enough. Chu Wanning isn't going to marry anyone and no one should want to marry him. If Shi Mei is deluded enough to consider Chu Wanning worth wedding, that sounds like a personal problem. This discussion is over.

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It's not, though. Lots of people actually have their eye on Chu Wanning in the village. Apprehensive eyes, for the most part, but still appreciative ones. Everyone knows that Chu Wanning is beautiful and eligible. Most of the townsfolk find him intimidating and strange, so no one has been brave enough to approach him before, but Shi Mei sees the looks they give him. It's only a matter of time before other, more powerful men or women attempt to claim him. Shi Mei needs to protect his Shizun from all the cruel, greedy people out there.

He backs off, for a little while.

Seven months later, he asks again.

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What? Still no!!

(Has he been doing something else to encourage Shi Mei during these months, something beyond the intimacy required for Chu Wanning's caretaking those years ago? Have there been other signals he's been giving out without realizing? Did keeping Shi Mei as his apprentice imply that he wanted the boy to try again? Chu Wanning has no idea how to tell.)

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Okay :)

 

But Shi Mei doesn't back down the same way this time. He starts courting Chu Wanning in earnest: giving him flowers and stroking his hair and pressing lingering kisses to his fingertips. He gives him lots of pear blossom wine, Shizun's favorite. He likes to be there when Shizun drinks.

At night, he creeps into Chu Wanning's bedroom and watches him sleep. One time he is even bold enough to gently kiss him; Wanning frowns in his sleep but doesn't stir.

Shi Mei knows that Chu Wanning cannot resist him forever.

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Shi Mei's original gambit, almost three years ago, to lure Mo Ran away, was a plausible one. The forest is large and full of interesting things. 

People have been more cautious about the forest since the village head's nephew died at the claws of a wild beast. But all that means is that Xue Meng lets people know exactly where he's going before he leaves. 

Xue Meng has lived near this forest his whole life. He's been exploring it since he was a small child. He knows it, and what's more, he knows to what extent he knows it. He shouldn't be able to get lost without deliberately straying. 

He's lost now. 

The trees are thicker and darker than they should be. 

Eventually he comes out of the trees and into a clearing surrounding what appears to be an old palace. 

 

Xue Meng knows that there used to be a noble family living in the area, before the whole family died or disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and that nobody could find their residence afterwards. They never had much contact with the village, but you hear about these kinds of things. 

The hair on the back of his neck rises. 

Going inside is probably a bad idea. 

Xue Meng goes back into the creepy trees. 

The creepy trees spit him back out in the clearing again. 

Well, fuck. 

He slowly makes his way in through the front gates, and knocks on the door. There is no answer. He opens it cautiously and peers inside. 

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