They were officially underway with the rehearsal phase of Les Miserables, and Zed was exhausted. Between normal studying, being at four-hour rehearsals each and every day, and cramming for his organic chemistry final, it felt like years since Zed had gotten a proper night's sleep. Of course, all of this was compounded by his usual insomnia. Smoking usually helped him relax enough to fall asleep, but recently, no amount of THC was helping him at night. So he just resigned himself to drinking absurd amounts of coffee and taking cat naps where and when he could.
Like now, for example. Their dance choreographer Irelia was working on the dance for Master of the House with the chorus members, which means Zed, Rakan, and some other lead characters were shooed off the stage. Zed immediately headed to the men's dressing room and shoved four folding chairs together to drape himself over. He laid an arm over his eyes, imagining he was somewhere more comfortable. Like a bed. Or a couch. Or literally anywhere but a dressing room, lying on a row of folding chairs. Maybe lying on the makeup counter would be more comfortable...no, too close to the lights. He would have to settle.
Shen was already in the dressing room, opting to sit on the floor for some reason unknown to Zed. He had his back against the wall and his backpack next to him, and he had been working on something when Zed came in. Things had smoothed over considerably since Shen, Zed, and Jhin all confronted each other about Zed's choice to out Shen. Their friendship had repaired itself with near immediacy, as if they never truly stopped being friends in the first place. Of course, Zed placed all of this on Shen's endlessly forgiving, selfless nature. And he imagined it was that same nature that prompted Shen to say, "That doesn't look very comfortable."
Zed couldn't disagree. Already, his back was protesting the flat, cold material. He sighed and tried to shift onto his side, and nearly fell off the chairs. "It isn't."
He heard Shen chuckle, and then say, "Come here."
"Hm?" Zed lifted his arm off of his eyes.
"Come here." Shen gestured to the space on next to him, and Zed immediately wrinkled his nose.
"On the fuckin' floor? Yeah, no, I'm good." He tried once more to turn over, but miscalculated and ended up slipping off of the chairs entirely.
Shen laughed, undoubtedly shaking his head as Zed groaned and sat up, shoving one of the traitorous folding chairs aside. "It seems you're on the floor anyway. May as well join me, right?"
Zed weighed the pros and cons of Shen's implicit offer to cuddle up to him. Pros: Shen was way more comfortable than the folding chairs or the floor, and way warmer. Plus, Shen was touch-starved as hell and would probably appreciate it. Cons: Zed really couldn't think of any. He was way past the stage of thinking that platonic cuddling somehow made him less of a man, and even if it did, dammit, he was tired and cold. Zed sighed and trudged over to Shen, curling up next to him and laying his head on his shoulder.
"Still think you'd prefer the folding chairs?" Shen asked teasingly, wrapping an arm around Zed. He picked his pencil up again and continued working on something that Zed couldn't understand. It was a jumble of numbers and equations, along with notes in a strange combination of English and དབུས་. Zed knew that Shen usually was thinking in a couple different languages, having grown up speaking two concurrently and learning a third and fourth soon after, and his writing reflected that. And even though Zed spoke half of the languages in Shen's notes, he had no fucking idea what was happening on the page.
"What class is this for?"
That made Zed groan, because it reminded him of the ninety-point lab report he was meant to be working on. Shen chuckled a bit and nudged Zed with his elbow. "Come on, it's not that bad. We're in the same unit, aren't we? I can explain this to you if you're not getting it."
"Go ahead, it'll bore me to sleep," Zed grumbled. Shen just laughed again and held Zed a bit closer. With the warmth of Shen at his side and the white-noise like effect of his pencil scratching across the surface of the notebook paper, Zed finally felt relaxed enough to fall asleep.
And, of course, right as he was about to doze off, Shen tapped his arm twice.
Zed groaned, leaning further into Shen. "Fuck off, 'm sleeping," he mumbled, eyes still closed.
"Let up me up for a second."
"Nope. I'm comfortable here."
"I'm bleeding, man. Let me up so I can grab some Kleenex."
Zed made a disgruntled noise but complied, sitting up enough that Shen could stand up. He yawned and tipped his head back against the wall, waiting for Shen to return.
And he did a minute later, holding a roll of paper towels in one hand and using the other to pinch a fistful of tissues over his nose. Already, Zed could see red soaking the tissue paper. Neither of them were particularly bothered by it- Shen had always been prone to nosebleeds. He sat back down next to Zed, roll of paper towels lying next to him, and let Zed lean into him again.
This time, Zed was able to fall asleep. He woke up to the sound of the dressing room door opening, and slowly registered Khada walking in, looking frazzled and distinctly put-off. "These idiots can't dance for shit," he complained, pulling the elastic out of his hair and running a hand through it to tame it. "Irelia's been going over the same twenty-four beats for forty-five minutes now and they aren't getting it."
Zed muffled a yawn into his hand. "Not everyone was born with innate dance skills, Khada. And half of the chorus is freshmen. Cut them some slack."
"I've cut them plenty," Khada muttered but relented, pulling his hair back into a tight, neat ponytail. Zed closed his eyes again, still feeling exhausted, but opened them again when Khada said, "Jesus, how much have you been bleeding?"
"More than I would like to be," Shen replied. Zed glanced over and sure enough, there was a pile of bloodied paper towels next to Shen. He still had a couple pinched around his nose, and Zed could see blood staining his fingertips. He frowned and sat up so Shen could move, eyes still locked on the blood-soaked paper towels.
"You could have woken me up," Zed said as Shen used his newfound freedom to throw the blood-soaked paper towels away. "Did it stop at all? Or get any lighter?"
"You looked way too relaxed for me to wake you up. And no, it hasn't." Shen folded the paper towels in his hand over, trying to find a dry patch, and blood immediately began running down his face. He sighed, burying his face in them again. "It's been this way for an hour now."
Khada frowned. "Aren't you meant to go to a hospital if it hasn't stopped after, like, twenty minutes?"
"Yeah, but this isn't too abnormal for me. I'm sure it'll stop soon."
It didn't. Irelia eventually called it quits with the choreography and separated the chorus members who could actually dance, bringing them to the front of the stage, while those who couldn't would stand at the back and perform a simple box-step while they sang. Shen wasn't needed on stage while they ran Master of the House, so he stuck to the edges of the auditorium and watched along with everyone else who wasn't in the scene. Zed, despite Shen's protests, hovered and continually asked if he was alright.
"Zed, it's a nosebleed. I'm not hemorrhaging to death. Relax," Shen had instructed, and Zed had tried his best. He couldn't help but feel worried, though, especially when rehearsal finally came to a close (half an hour later) and Shen was still bleeding.
More than that, though, he looked pale and disoriented. That was motivation enough for Zed to all but drag Shen to his car, shoving him in the passenger seat and firmly declaring, "Alright, we're going to the hospital."
"Come on, this isn't necessary," Shen insisted. "Seriously, ER nurses are already overworked and I'm sure there are people who need the care more-"
"Holy fuck, Shen, please think of yourself for once," Zed all but pleaded as he got into the driver's seat. This was the downside of Shen's limitless magnanimity; he was so eager to place others' needs in front of his own that he sometimes neglected caring for himself. Shen sighed and tried a new angle.
"This is overkill. You're gonna have me sit in a waiting room for three hours just for them to give me some gauze and send me home with a sixteen-hundred dollar fee," Shen complained, trying to buckle himself in with one hand. He managed after a moment and leaned back in his seat, looking as exhausted as Zed had felt earlier.
Zed honestly couldn't say that Shen was wrong. What did hospitals do for endlessly bloody noses, anyway? Was there some sort of medication? A shot? Would they just tell Shen to keep his head between his knees and try not to swallow any blood? Did Shen have health insurance? Zed didn't know the answer to any of those questions, but they kept swirling around his head until Shen finally said, "dude, you're thinking so loudly that it's giving me a headache. Relax. I'm sure this isn't anything serious."
"Yeah, no, definitely, this is just one of those regular two-hour long nosebleeds that totally healthy people get," Zed muttered. His knuckles were white from how hard he was gripping the steering wheel, and he found himself glancing over at Shen every couple of seconds. He didn't understand how his friend was so nonchalant about this.
By some miracle, the emergency room waiting area was sparsely populated. The triage nurse predicted their wait to be around an hour (and graciously gave Shen a box of tissues, since blood was starting to pool in his palm from the soaked paper towels he was fruitlessly pinching over his nose). Zed had Shen sit down but found himself unable to do so. He was too anxious to keep still, much less sit silently in a chair. Shen didn't have the energy to tell him to stop pacing, it would seem.
Only forty-five minutes later, Shen was called back into an examination room. For the next forty minutes, Zed paced the length of the hallway outside the waiting room, finding there were fewer people to stare judgmentally at him.
When Shen came back out, he looked marginally better. He was no longer bleeding, although the skin around his nose was stained red from how long he had been. "What did the doctors say? Are you alright?" Zed asked immediately.
"I'm fine. They gave me a nasal spray that stopped the bleeding, along with an uncomfortable amount of gauze, and then an IV." Shen reached into the pocket of his hoodie, pulling out a couple of papers. "And a prescription for aminocaproic acid."
Shen began walking towards the exit with Zed. "It's mean to prevent excessive bleeding. I have to take this while I wait for the results of my blood test. The doctor thinks I have a clotting disorder, so they need to do a platelet count and some other stuff."
Zed frowned as he got into the car, trying to recall where he had heard the phrase 'clotting disorder' before. "That's the thing where you can, like, bleed out from a papercut, right?"
Shen shrugged. "Hemophilia is. But there are other clotting disorders as well." Once they were in the car, Shen rolled up his sleeves and examined his arms. "Apparently that's why I bruise easily, too."
Zed looked over and sure enough, there was a smattering of faint yellow-purple bruises scattered around Shen's arms, mostly around his wrists. There was a patch of gauze taped over his antecubital fossa from where the IV had been, and Zed had no doubt that would leave a killer bruise as well. "Do they hurt?"
"Not really, they just look ugly. That, and the nosebleeds, have always happened for me. I just assumed it was normal."
"Weird," Zed muttered, pulling out of the parking lot. Once they were on the road, he glanced over and said, "Email your professors and tell them you won't be coming in tomorrow." He continued speaking even as Shen protested, raising his voice a bit to be heard. "No, I don't give a shit what's due tomorrow. You were just bleeding from your face for two straight hours. O-Chem can fucking wait. You need to rest."
Shen looked like he was going to put up a fight for a moment, but even he couldn't deny that the whole afternoon had been exhausting. He sighed and pulled out his phone, sending a quick email to his professors.
They continued to drive in silence for a bit. Zed figured it had been a while since Shen had last eaten and said, "Hey, we're near a Panera. Do you want some soup or something?" He got no response, and glanced over. "Shen?"
To his absolute endearment, Shen had dozed off. Zed chuckled and pulled into the drive-thru anyway. He was starving. After ordering a sandwich and a soup that he was pretty sure was vegetarian and free of suspect spices (Shen had once explained the dietary restrictions of a Buddhist, but Zed hadn't retained much of it), they were back on the road.
Once they were back at the apartment Shen shared with Akali and Lee Sin, Zed leaned over and nudged him awake. Shen made a sleepy noise and curled up further, and as adorable as it was, Zed wanted to get back to his own apartment so he could eat. "Wake up, shithead."
"You're such a jerk," Shen mumbled, slowly straightening up and rubbing at his eyes. "Seriously. I just got out of the hospital, and this is the abuse I get?"
"Yeah, and who took you to the hospital? If you had your way with it, you'd probably be passed out in a practice room somewhere, bleeding all over the floor," Zed teased, reaching over to ruffle Shen's hair. He would normally go for a punch to the arm, but he felt guilty hitting someone, even jokingly, who had just gotten discharged from a hospital. Plus, it would probably leave a bruise.
Shen swatted Zed's hand away, stymieing a yawn into his elbow. "Yeah, I guess so," he murmured. "Thank you for taking me, by the way. You really didn't have to stay the whole time."
Zed just rolled his eyes and handed Shen the cup of soup, which was still warm. "It's tomato. You can have tomatoes, right?"
Shen opened the cup and sniffed it experimentally. "Tomatoes, yes, but not garlic." He capped the soup with an apologetic smile.
"Fuck, garlic," Zed groaned. He knew there had been something he had forgotten.
"Don't worry, I'm sure Akali or Lee will eat it. And I appreciate the effort nonetheless." Shen smiled warmly at Zed, and he couldn't help but return it. Shen's smile was both disarming and contagious, and although he would never admit it, just seeing Shen's smile raised Zed's spirits. "Seriously, thank you for everything."
"Of course, man. I wasn't about to let you bleed to death during rehearsal." Zed fiddled with the bluetooth on his radio, trying to get it to hook up to his phone. "Go get some rest. If I see you in class tomorrow, I'm gonna kick your ass, hospital or no hospital."
Shen chuckled, sliding out of the car with the cup of soup. "Duly noted. I'll see you for rehearsal on Wednesday, then." With that, he disappeared into the apartment complex.
Zed finally got his phone to connect and pulled back out onto the road. He got home quick enough and realized how tense he still was, even though Shen was safe at home. They had, collectively, dealt with plenty of nosebleeds, but this one had been particularly terrifying. What if it had been worse? What if Shen had refused to go to the hospital with Zed? What would his blood test reveal?
Zed's thoughts remained restless until he was in bed, under the covers and scrolling through twitter. A notification popped up and he grinned when he saw who it was from.
[Private Chat: deathmark, twilightassault]
twilightassault: I know you're still up Zed
twilightassault: Go to sleep, you need to rest as well!
Well, if Shen was feeling healthy enough to hound Zed about getting enough sleep, then all was normal. Zed locked his phone and plugged it in, then rolled back onto his side and closed his eyes. Before he knew it, fatigue had caught up with him and dragged him under.