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Broken Words

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Someone kept shouting his name, shaking his shoulder. Chu would get up, he would, he just needed another…

He cracked open an eye, taking in Chief Zhao a few inches from his face.

“Hey, there we go. Don’t close your eyes, stay with me.”

He tried to tell the chief he was fine, tried to roll over so he could push himself up. He was just cold, but- he couldn’t get anything to work.

“Hey!” his face was patted again. “Stay awake, okay?”

He just wanted to curl up and sleep, at least until Da Qing pressed something against his leg. The hot flare of pain shot up his spine, exploding into stars behind his eyes. Things faded into grey, Zhao’s voice distorting.

“Lao-chu, lao-chu, stay with me, breath for me.” it took a while to remember how to pull air into his lungs and he was cold, so cold. “We just have to stop the bleeding, okay? Keep your eyes open.”

Zhao’s hands were on his face, hot compared to his skin. He tried to say something, tried to ask for something to… it was hard to keep his eyes open, to try and breathe in because it hurt and he was exhausted.

“Are you cold? You’re shivering.”

“Y-yeah.” he managed. Da Qing was still doing something with his leg, the hot pain receding into something cold and numb. The world tilted and shifted as he was propped up, Zhao's warmth suddenly against his back, wrapping around his chest. It wasn’t so hard to breathe now with the change in position.

He slowly realized he could taste blood, a bubbling in his chest when he took a breath. A background murmuring, words fading in and out.

“Lao-chu, wake up, don’t go to sleep on me.” he forced open his eyes, he hadn’t realized he’d closed them. His face was pressed up against the man’s neck, vaguely registering how intimately he was being held. “I know you’re tired, I know it hurts, but you have to stay awake.”

“Hei pao shi…” he mumbled into his boss’s shirt, the scent of blood and smoke filling his nose.

“Shen Wei will be here soon. Don’t worry.” a rough hand was on his face again, on his forehead, on his cheek, tilting his head up. There was a hitch in his chest and he had to cough, that iron taste filling his mouth again. He was shifted again and he couldn’t help but moan, vision fading out.

“Hey, hey don’t go out on me. Not until Shen Wei comes. You don’t want him seeing you sleeping on the job.”

He wanted to, he wanted to open his eyes, he just… couldn’t anymore. It was hard enough to keep breathing, keep focusing on Lao-Zhao’s voice.

“Can you squeeze my hand?” he could, just a bit. “Good, good. You’re doing so good.”

That burning hand was on his forehead again, wiping the sweat off. If he could stop shivering-

Another hitch and it burned deep inside his lungs, chest too tight to let air in. He could hear the whine as he struggled to get something in, to not just let go and sink down past the pain.

There was a ringing in his ears, his brain trying to warn his body that he needed to breathe, that he needed air.

The voice of Chief Zhao was very faint above the ringing, he should squeeze his hand to let him know that… to know…