A thousand miles
He was a doctor, yes, he had seen blood, he had put together bones and muscles and nerves, and yes, pus and faeces were something he was, sadly, all too familiar with. Point being: he wasn’t delicate. Still. With a disgusted grunt, he pulled the fabric of his shirt from his sweat-soaked back and pushed his equally wet hair out of his face.
He was a doctor, but he was also a sophisticated man and was used to a lot more air conditioning than was currently available.
And all of this because of this English person! Hadn’t they done enough already? Now they also were out to conquer the man of someone else.
The driver who had bought him to the remote area where the archaeological site was located looked at him with big question marks in his eyes and Jin Tang maybe should tone down the muttering to himself.
He had no idea what Andy had said to everyone to make them believe he was part of the international archaeology team working in Mali at the moment, but as always Andy had worked his magic and when Jin Tang had stepped out of the plane at the airport in Bamako someone with a plate with his name on it had already waited for him. After three changes and almost no sleep all Jin Tang had wanted was to curl up somewhere and be comatose for a few days BUT! But he had to kick an English ass, preferably out of the tent of Jin Tang’s love.
Which was a problem in itself because Jiang Zhao Peng had no idea that he was Jin Tang’s love, but he wasn’t here to confess, wasn’t he? He was here to make sure that Gege’s generosity wasn’t exploited.
And because stupid Xiao Yi had made that speech about “Once you miss the opportunity, it will turn to regret.”, and he wanted to punch Tang Yi right now and regretted it immensely that he had been baited to fly to Mali.
The driver had left him at the edge of what looked like the base camp of the expedition, which was a little village of beige tents, flattering lightly in what had to be the driest, hottest wind Jin Tang had ever felt.
Okay, he was here. And now?
Jin Tang turned his head left and even though he was hot, sweaty and sleep-deprived he couldn’t stop the smile when he saw Zhao Peng a few metres away from him, looking at him in disbelief.
“Surprise!”, he yelled, because, really, what else should he say? I travelled a thousand miles because of a jealousy fit and because Tang Yi was unbearable when in love?
He shouldered the big backpack and took his fill of Zhao Peng, whose hair was longer, not as carefully coiffed as usual and Jin Tang was delighted to see that it already showed its tendency for curls. And gosh he had a designer stubble situation going on and Jin Tang felt sixteen again and wanting to crawl all over Zhao Peng. His smiled dimmed when behind Zhao Peng a man appeared, lanky, but with broad shoulders and of freaking course the guy had red hair.
He plastered a smile on his face when Zhao Peng was in front of him in a few long strides and got a tight hug for all his troubles.
“Jin jin! What are you doing here?” Zhao Peng beamed at him and a little bit of the stress fell off Jin Tang. This was almost worth it. A shower would make this perfect.
“Are you the new doctor?”, the red-haired nuisance asked behind Zhao Peng in English and for a moment Jin Tang had no idea what he meant. Oh, yes. If Andy did something, he did it right, which most likely meant he had smuggled Jin Tang as a doctor into the team.
“Ah yes, the new doctor. You know with all the sharp… stones you have lying around here”, he answered and maybe he should have looked up archaeological terms before he came here but Zhao Peng just smiled at him. He should just shut up and nod when someone made assumptions about the why’s in his story.
“So where can I sleep?”, he asked to make them move out of the heat, he waggled his eyebrows at Zhao Peng. “Is there a place for me in Gege’s tent?”
Zhao Peng laughed and took the backpack from him. “You can make yourself fresh in my tent and then we will find our coordinator. She will know with whom you share your tent, the medical team has its own ‘district’ in the base camp.”
“Say fresh one more time and I will give you everything you want,” Jin Tang groaned and didn’t even care that the red-haired I-don’t-care-about-him-guy followed them.
“Oh, this is Barrett Hall,” Zhao Peng said as they made their way through the camp. “He’s my roommate.” Barrett Hall, the backstabbing, lover-stealing… jerk waved cheerily at him and Jin Tang acknowledged him with a nod.
“My name is Jiang Jin Tang,” Jin Tang said because he wasn’t raised by wolves.
“Oh!”, Whatshisname exclaimed as Zhao Peng was working on the zippers of his tent, “You have the same surname as Zhao Peng. Are you relatives?”
You wish, Jin Tang growled in his mind.
“Nope,” Zhao Peng said, “purely coincidence, but our families are close. It’s a funny story actually.”
It wasn’t a funny story, but Jin Tang was too tired to roll his eyes and stop Zhao Peng.
“Our grandfathers met in college and became best friends. They even built their houses next to each other. They declared their two families as one clan because we share the same surname.”
Zhao Peng grinned at both of them and Jin Tang saw a helpless smile on Whowashe, which was totally fair.
“You promised me water,” Jin Tang said and then almost started to cry because Zhao Peng showed him a basin full of water which wouldn’t even help him get his upper body clean and told him that the water tanks for a full shower were at the other end of the camp.
Fuck his life.
He would never again save Meng Shao Fei’s life or help Tang Yi with relationship problems… okay, he would save Meng Shao Fei’s life but then he would advise him to just dump Tang Yi’s ass.
It was hot and he found this whole digging around in dirt stupid and yes, he talked like that because he missed home and why was this Whoagain always right behind Zhao Peng like an annoying wart with a posh accent?
Jin Tang took off another sweaty top and then held it against his mouth to muffle a scream. Which was disgusting but he had to take what he got.
The only good part about all of this was that Zhao Peng sought him out whenever he wasn’t out cataloguing dirt, digging up dirt, cleaned dirt or sifted dirt. Jin Tang could count on a joyous ‘Jin jin!’ and an arm around his shoulder pulling him closer. That was nice.
And he knew that he had to end this charade soon because he wasn’t made of the stern stuff you need to be a doctor in a remote area, he wasn’t too arrogant or unobservant to claim that about him. At least he could say with certainty that there was nothing going on between Zhao Peng and Whowasheagain, which cemented the fact that Andy and Tang Yi had been on this together and he feared that there had been a reason they had needed him out of the country and he would culture something mean just for them, something untraceable. That would show them.
The zipper of the tent made its unmistakable sound of getting opened and Jin Tang threw his shirt at Zhao Peng’s face the moment he stuck his head into the tent.
“Hey!”, Zhao Peng complained, “Is that how to treat a patient?”
“You’re injured?”, Jin Tang asked and hurried over to inspect Zhao Peng’s body. “Where? What happened? Are you bleeding?” Of course, something like that would happen in this cursed expedition! He would patch up Zhao Peng and then wrap him up to fly back to Taiwan! No one would be able to stop him.
A finger was trusted into his face.
“I got a papercut,” Zhao Peng said, and Jin Tang didn’t even hesitate, he pinched him in the belly, hard.
“Hey! This could get infected and then my finger would get amputated!”
“Oh yes, I will amputate it right now.”
Zhao Peng pouted at him which was always a sight because he was unfairly sexy and handsome, but Jin Tang would never describe him as cute.
“It burns,” he mumbled, and Jin Tang took pity on him.
“Sit down, I will disinfect your wound and you will get a plaster.”
“And that’s the reason why you are the best doctor,” Zhao Peng proclaimed and sat down on Jin Tang’s camp bed. Jin Tang took his first aid kit from his backpack and sat on a chair in front of Zhao Peng. The wound didn’t even bleed, he thought in exasperation. Nevertheless, he sprayed a disinfect on the cut and enjoyed the little hiss from his patient.
He wanted to ask where Zhao Peng’s English shadow was but if he would talk about him, he would most likely summon him, and it was nice to have Zhao Peng for himself for a while.
“Dinosaurs or kitties,” he asked and when Zhao Peng frowned at him in confusion, he held to the box with the plasters out for Zhao Peng to inspect. He only had the ones with motives with him, if Zhao Peng wanted a more mature plaster, they would need to visit the emergency tent.
Zhao Peng huffed.
“Dinosaurs. I’m an archaeologist.”
“Sure, sure,” Jin Tang said and put the plaster on the little cut. “So. Here. Everything is fine. No worries about an amputation.” But before he could stand up Zhao Peng put his uninjured hand around his wrist and stopped him.
“Jin Jin”, he said in that deep, male voice of him which made all of his student’s swoon Jin Tang would beg. It made him swoon too, but he was used to it and good at hiding his reaction to Zhao Peng. “Jin Jin. When are you going to tell me why you are really here?”
“What?”, Jin Tang spluttered, “What? I’m here as a doctor, I’m. What else should I be doing here? What?”
Zhao Peng took his hand to cradle it between his own two, calloused and warm and that was totally unfair because for a moment Jin Tang was sure he would just combust. Then Zhao Peng started to move his thumb over the ball of his hand and little flashes shot through Jin Tang’s body. He suppressed a whimper.
“We both know that you hate places with no 24-hour services. You are a city doctor. And you never visited me before on an excavation site because, and I quote, you ‘despise rocks’.”
“I don’t despise rocks,” Jin Tang murmured, hypnotised by the way Zhao Peng moved his thumb. “And I visited you once!”
“Greece doesn’t count. You made me visit you in your six-star-hotel.”
Jin Tang couldn’t say anything against that because it was true. But it had been a great hotel!
“Did something happen at home?”, Zhao Peng asked, and he sounded so soothing and familiar like when he had talked Jin Tang through the panics of taking his last exams to be a doctor.
“No,” Jin Tang sighed. “It’s just… Tang Yi and his epic love story, can you believe he shot him, and they are living together now? And Andy and Chong Jian are talking about marriage! Marriage! Andy! That’s just…”, he waved his free hand around, “I just thought I want to be around someone who enjoys bachelor’s life as much as I do,” he finished lamely.
“And that’s it?”, Zhao Peng asked and Jin Tang almost opened his mouth because gosh he was in love with this idiotic man for as long as he could remember and the hurt was often a silent throb in the back of his consciousness but in moments like this it flared up like someone poured gasoline on a fire.
“I—“, he started but the tent got opened again and Heagain walked in. Jin Tang snatched his hand back and swore that he would find a way to forbid every English person to put a foot on Taiwan’s ground.
The airport made it feel like the last three weeks in the Malian desert had been a fever dream and Jin Tang’s eyes were glued to the monitor in the waiting hall for the information that his flight was ready for boarding. He still had to go through security, but he wanted to enjoy the last moments with Zhao Peng who had come with him to the airport.
“Don’t forget to tell my family I miss them,” Zhao Peng said, and Jin Tang nodded dutifully.
“I will tell them you forgot how emails work.”
Zhao Peng ruffled through his hair and Jin Tang had to sigh at the thought that he wouldn’t see him for a couple more months. Why couldn’t he be an accountant? But maybe his crush survived for so long because he never saw Zhao Peng that often. Maybe he would feel totally disgusted by him if he had him around more often.
“You should go through security already, get that over and done with,” Zhao Peng said, and Jin Tang nodded. He would be underway for a lot of hours and maybe he didn’t want to return without having done something about this crush.
They hugged and when they parted Jin Tang cradled Zhao Peng’s face between his hands. Those stubbles really did something for him.
“I love you,” he said and wow that hadn’t been easy at all.
Zhao Peng smiled at him and put his hand over Jin Tang’s and he already knew that he didn’t get it.
“I love you too Jin Jin,” he said and if something could hurt more than an unrequited love then this.
Jin Tang let him go and turned around to start is travel back home and to at least some months wallowing in heartbreak.
Jetlag sucked. Jin Tang stared at the clock in his kitchen and it was almost three o clock and here he was, standing at the stove as if it was almost seven in the evening making himself something to eat. He stirred around in the pot and longed for the days when he hadn’t been wide awake in the middle of the night. Two weeks back from Mali and his body refused to accept the rules of time zones. Forcing his body back to a normal schedule sounded easy but he was a doctor and couldn’t afford to fall asleep on his patients. He had one more week to get a grip before his first shift after his hiatus took place and he was not looking forward to that.
He turned off the heat and put the pot on a coaster when he heard his door making the unmistakable sound of his code being punched-in correctly.
If this was Tang Yi who had shot Shao Fei again and needed medical attention, he would kick him out of the house, he thought bitterly and fastened the belt around his dressing gown in indignation. There was a time and a place for that kind of emergencies and Tang Yi had already used up his quota.
“Tang Yi! I swear to—Oh my god!” Jin Tang almost jumped to the ceiling as the person coming through the door just tossed two heavy backpacks inside with a grunt.
“What the hell?” He switched on the lights in his entrance area and then stared at Zhao Peng, with even wilder hair, sunburned nose and dirty clothes. “Zhao Peng?”
“Hey,” Zhao Peng answered and waved at him as if it was perfectly normal to appear in the middle of the night even though one should be a thousand miles away.
“Did something happen?”, Jin Tang asked because there was no other explanation for this.
“You could say that,” Zhao Peng answered with a too-wide smile and maybe he had gotten hit by one of his rocks.
“Are you hurt?”
Zhao Peng shook his head which wasn’t good enough of an answer for Jin Tang who was a doctor and got lied to by eight-year-olds on a regular basis.
“Okay… I think it’s good that you came to me. We should, we should go inside, right?” He approached Zhao Peng as if he was a wild animal and gosh, he smelled like dirt and sweat, and someone should have told him that airport toilets existed.
“I don’t want to agitate you further, but shouldn’t you be in Mail right now?”, he asked when they were in his living room.
“I’m not agitated,” Zhao Peng answered with a frown and Jin Tang considered on how he could inspect Zhao Peng’s head for injuries without startling him. He made a step forward but froze in his steps when Zhao Peng announced: “Barrett Hall confessed to me.”
Oh, of course, he did that pesky little… but Jin Tang took a deep breath because Barrett Hall wasn’t around so he most likely bit on granite with his confession.
“Yes.” And suddenly Zhao Peng’s wild eyes got focused and Jin Tang felt caught. “And it got me thinking.”
Oh no, oh boy.
“It’s pretty late,” Jin Tang said but of course Zhao Peng barrelled on.
“Because the way he said it made me think of you and I couldn’t forget what you said on the airport; it drove me crazy, so I’m here, to ask you what you meant by that.”
Jin Tang started to massage the bridge of his nose because of freaking course Barrett Hall would be the cause to start making Zhao Peng think and why couldn’t this guy dig up rocks in Britain?
“Zhao Peng…”, he started but his words got stuck in his mouth when Zhao Peng took him by the shoulders.
“Please, be honest with me. What did you mean?”
His mouth felt dry and he had said it already and it had felt horrible but saying it twice? Jin Tang wasn’t sure if he was able. He felt his heartbeat in his throat and tried to avoid Zhao Peng’s eyes but there was no escape from him.
“I love you,” he said, and it was more of a whisper and he wanted to take the words and eat them up.
“Zhao Peng! What do you want me to say? Everyone knows I love you since I was sixteen! You are the only one too dumb to see!”
Zhao Peng opened his mouth, shock evident on his face and he mouthed ‘since’, and Jin Tang really wanted to hit him.
“What does it matter anymhmp.”
His sixteen-year-old self had envisioned their first kiss always differently. Earlier, for one and less… smelly. Present Jin Tang stood still for the seconds his brain needed to catch up and then he buried his hand in the black mob to get a better angle.
They parted with heavy breathing and Jin Tang felt light-headed and…
“Oh my god I hit my head somewhere because of the jetlag and this is a dream,” he said but arched his body towards Zhao Peng who laughed against his cheek, all rough and breathless and it was the best dream ever.
“Dream you needs a shower,” he told Zhao Peng, who just nodded and kissed him again.
“I love you too,” Zhao Peng would tell him later in the shower, would tell him again when they ate in the kitchen with only towels around their waist and would tell him again when they greeted the sunrise, still wide awake.