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Mind the Gap

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"THE DOORS ARE CLOSING---"

The warning for the doors was barely heard over the frantic beat of Guanshan's heart in his ears.

BEEP---

His breathing laboured, not only from the sudden sprint but also due to fear.

BEEP---

Raw, unadulterated fear of what would happen to him should She Li get his hands on him.

BEEP---

Guanshan didn't dare turn but he knew She Li was still on his heels, could still feel his heavy grip on his shoulder.

BEEP---

But, his escape was so close now. He could see the shocked faces of the boys he refused to call friends but that were sticking to him no matter what. That despite all his fuck-ups and his short temper actually wanted to stick around. The idiots that kept reaching for him regardless of how many times he turned them down. The same idiots that was Guanshan's first and only thought when She Li blocked his path.

BEEP---

Zhan Zheng Xi. Jian Yi. He Tian. He Tian, He Tian, He Tian--

The subway glass doors slammed shut, the noise of which coincided with Guanshan's hands and then body slamming into it in full speed. His laboured breaths fogging up the glass in an instant, but not before he locked eyes with He Tian. The black-haired boy's brows were furrowed but his eyes wide, mirroring Guanshan's own shock. And then, realisation.

Guanshan's stomach dropped so fast he got lightheaded.

He didn't make it.

Before he could begin to process a new escape plan his body was suddenly and violently thrown backwards. The last thing he caught sight of being the subway train slowly beginning to move out of the station before he was horizontal, his head snapping back from the force of the throw to the stone floor of the platform beneath him. Barely registering the dull pain before the brightly lit roof was replaced by the crazed expression on an all too familiar vile face.

She Li looked murderous.

Guanshan tried to scurry away but the white-haired psychopath sneered and threw himself over Guanshan's smaller body. Chest heaving and eyes wild, She Li was beyond reasoning at this point. His rough hands found their way around Guanshan's throat and panic blossomed like wildfire in him as She Li pressed down on his windpipe.

Hard.

Hands flailing, Guanshan tried to push the heavier man off him. His body attempting to rise off the floor and physically shove She Li to the side but to no avail. His previous gang leader's grip tightened and the pain caused tears to form in the corner of his eyes. His own hands were now trying to find purchase on She Li's ripped sweater. To push, to tear, to bruise and hurt? Guanshan didn't know. All he knew was that She Li's grip on his throat was too strong, as Guanshan's breath was struggling to make it through already, and his panic and fear was only exacerbated by the mania present in She Li's features.

"You won't play nice? Of course you wouldn't. Always needing to do things the hard way with you, huh, you never did learn any other way," She Li's spit out. Each sentence short and ragged from the earlier sprint. Guanshan tightened his own grip on She Li's arms, sinking dull fingernails hard into whatever he could, hoping the ripped sweater didn't afford too much protection to She Li's skin underneath. But the man didn't even flinch. Guanshan knew he wouldn't, knew She Li didn't feel a thing, but maybe his muscles would react to the pressure and allow him a moment's breath.

It didn't.

The forced tears in his eyes streaked down the side of his face.

Fuck, fuck, fuck---

"Hey! Stop this immediately!"

Someone yelled. Maybe a guard. Guanshan couldn't see. Blood was pooling in his face, he could feel it. He was now battering She Li's arms with tight-fisted punches, but Guanshan could already feel the desperation take hold and many missed their mark. But a guard, a guard could help---

"What are you doing?! Get out of my way! Let me through-"

"Nothing to see. Move along."

"Are you joking right now?! That boy just slammed into a subway door! Let me through so I can check on him!"

"He is a classmate. We are taking care of him."

Of course, She Li's subordinates would keep people from interfering. From helping. Fucking perfect. Guanshan's efforts to bodily force She Li off him intensified as he realised help wasn't getting to him in time. The image of the shocked expressions on those three idiot friends of his entered his mind. Guanshan wanted to scream but no sound left him. If only he had ran faster.

If only he hadn't fallen. If only--

She Li slammed Guanshan's head back against the floor, the action prompting further pain to strike as lightning through his skull followed by a ringing sound filling his ears. He must have looked quite out of it because Guanshan could feel his head be jostled once more.

"Don't let your mind fucking wander," She Li said through bared teeth with such displeasure Guanshan could almost feel it drip down his face. That or more tears were forming in his eyes. He wasn't sure which was worse. "If your mind strays, it would really hurt my feelings. Don't you think?"

The rough hands pushed further into his throat, and Guanshan couldn't stop himself from trying to cry out as the pain grew impossibly more intense. The noise that escaped didn't sound human. It was strangled and raw but so incredibly pitiful and panicked that it scared him more than the crazed yellow eyes staring down at him in sadistic pleasure.

Guanshan couldn't deny the tears now. The fear and the pain too much. His hands gripped the ones around his throat. Pleading? Guanshan wasn't sure, but whatever it was it wouldn't work. He had never seen She Li this manic before. Guanshan wasn't getting away and his time was running out.

It was too bad. He had been so close too. Maybe it was the blood in his brain talking, but Guanshan could have sworn he had seen He Tian reach out as if to catch him. He Tian. Who teased and pushed and shoved his way past all lines of decency and with no regard to Guanshan's boundaries. Or at least, he had. Forced Guanshan to the brink where there was no saving whatever they were at the time. But somehow, He Tian remained. Where all others would have walked away, He Tian stuck around. His antics less spiteful, his remarks less blatantly teasing, his eyes... He Tian's eyes were terrifying before, a gaze telling as much as a touch about a troubled, explosive, and dangerous side of him. But now, now Guanshan think He Tian's eyes were his favourite.

They were nothing like the dead ones staring him down right now.

"You are pathetic, you know that?" She Li scoffed as he leaned in closer, "You were running to him for protection? As if that spoiled brat could ever care about anyone but himself. He Tian doesn't care about you."

You could be right, Guanshan thought as he could feel his vision darken, but I want to find out on my own.

"He just enjoys taking toys from others. Especially mine. Like you."

I want to find out.

"Remember where you belong. Who you owe your life to. If I decide it is time, then I will call in that debt. I made you and I can unmake you if I so please. Do you understand? I own you---"

She Li's body went tumbling off him so fast Guanshan barely registered it, the sudden access to air momentarily overwhelming. He took a far too rapid inhale and the euphoria mixed with pain was almost enough for him pass out. His body convulsed into a coughing fit as blood rushed from his head and his sore windpipe protested to the action. Hands were suddenly back on his person as he was struggling to sit up, and immediately he flinched before he could stop himself.

Not She Li's. Not He Tian.

"Red-head! You're alive, right?! What did that fucker do, are you concussed?! Do you remember this face, it's me, your best friend in school?!" Jian Yi's high-pitched voice betrayed his distress, that idiot always did broadcast his emotions for everyone to see. Wearing his heart on his sleeve. It was infuriating. But right now, it did calm Guanshan's galloping heart slightly.

He opened his mouth to talk but only a weak croak escaped his lips, his throat still dry and swollen. He drank down air like a desperate man and tried to swallow to be able to form a sentence, anything, but only ended up coughing again. Jian Yi did not seem satisfied with his lack of response, his platinum blonde mop of a head turning sharply to the side.

"He Tian, get your ass over here! He'll pay for it later, I need your help," he shouted towards the direction She Li had went flying but Guanshan still wasn't properly upright or able to see what was going on. He wasn't sure he wanted to either. Focusing his strength on lowering his frantic heart, to push down the bile rising in his abused throat, to clench and un-clench his fists to feel the blood pumping. His fingernails had some fresh red stains on them. He must have managed to fight back more than he thought.

"He Tian, you neanderthal! Get over here god dammit, red-head is dying!" Jian Yi shouted once more, but this time clearly over-exaggerating in his need for attention. Guanshan furrowed his eyebrows and tried to focus once more on the boy in front of him.

"-diot...'m... no-..." The words didn't come out right, they barely came out at all. But it was too late, he could feel hot hands replace Jian Yi's smaller ones and suddenly he was face to face with He Tian instead. And his eyes...

The pain remained, the one on the back of Guanshan's head as well as his throat. His fingernails were still disgusting. His chest heaving, his hands shaking, his face was probably still red like his hair and his eyes bloodshot. The trails of involuntary tears drying on his cheeks. His stomach still upset and he was pretty sure he could throw up at any second. But when he looked at He Tian's eyes, the emotions within grounded him more than Jian Yi's presence had. The pit in his stomach dispersed and immediately Guanshan knew.

I am safe.

"Is it true?" He Tian's voice was tense and eyes scanned across Guanshan's body so thoroughly, but most time was spent staring into his own eyes, as if he could discern anything and everything about him if he stared hard enough. But it didn't feel exposing, or calculating. It was scared, and frantic, but comforting none the less.

Guanshan didn't feel like answering. It was a stupid question. Clearly he wasn't dying. He probably could have tried to respond this time. His throat slowly regaining some moisture and the coughs had stopped even though he still sucked in air in big, labored, breaths. But it hurt still, and Guanshan knew he would sound so small and weak and he would not give it to She Li to reduce him to that twice in one day.

Raising one arm to wrap around He Tian's shoulder, Guanshan leaned forward so he could rest his head on the taller boy's collarbone for a bit. Later he would blame the blood rushing around his head for it, as relying on others was not something he enjoyed or allowed himself to do normally. But with his head tucked close to the crook of He Tian's neck, with the other man's hands firm on his own shoulders, he could be shielded from the bright white lights of the still very public subway platform. He could pretend the flush returning to his cheeks wasn't real, that the way his breathing started to ease up as the other man pulled him reassuringly closer wasn't connected.

But, Guanshan felt safe. And it was good.

Familiar lips were placed near his ears and whispered for only him to hear.

"You're scaring me," if Guanshan hadn't known it was He Tian he would never have recognised it, that fragile tone of voice, "tell me you are not dying, please."

There was a weight behind those words, a burden so heavy it saturated every word as if they had been spoken once before. Whispered not unlike this, but by a He Tian foreign and different from the one today. Maybe then his voice had cracked in the same spot it did now, maybe it hadn't. There was a lot to unpack in those words, and Guanshan did not know if they ever would get the chance to. But what he did know was that he could not deny He Tian an answer this time.

"... Not-... Dying," Guanshan's words came out ragged but with more conviction than he was expecting. It still sounded raw, coarse, and strange to his ears. No doubt to the other boy's ears as well, as Guanshan could feel He Tian tense up instantly, before he visibly deflated and Guanshan was wrapped in an even more protective embrace.

Guanshan's ears were on fire, not because it was embarrassing, but of how it struck him how little that fact bothered him right now. He could feel one of He Tian's hands rest on the back of his neck, careful but reassuring touches along exposed skin there. In the distant he could hear Jian Yi and Zhan Zheng Xi argue with someone, the voice of the guard close by, but Guanshan trusted them to handle it. It surprised him but he really did.

The fact that he felt the need to clutch He Tian impossibly closer to him, how focusing on their syncing breaths calmed his erratic heartbeat, was perhaps a part of it. He Tian's tentative but comforting touches seemed to erase all traces of She Li's previous ones, even if Guanshan knew there was no way he wasn't about to look like a hanged man sporting a nasty bruise across his throat in the morning. He Tian must also have known, but his attempts made Guanshan feel better.

Feel safe.

Feel loved.