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Waiting Feels Like Forever

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Changcheng had been brave when that terrible man had pulled a gun on him and Da Qing. He'd been brave when he'd climbed into the dark rear of the reinforced van, and he'd heard the doors slam, and his stomach had lurched with the panicked realization that they were really being kidnapped. He'd prayed that it would be Chu-ge and the others who opened the van doors, and told him and Da Qing how foolish they'd been to be scared and how lucky they were to have such awesome friends.

He'd been brave when it wasn't. And when the gunman had locked the two of them into the apartment. He'd been hopeful, even, when kitty-Da Qing disappeared up into the ceiling tiles with Changcheng's cell phone and their best chances of summoning help.

But now that he was alone, in a sunless apartment with no clocks and no food and no idea what came next…

Now it was harder to be brave.

If you have to be nervous, at least do something useful with all that energy, his grandma used to say. Grandma always knew those kinds of things.

Changcheng nodded firmly to himself and decided to do a sweep of the scene, just like Chief Zhao had taught him. OK, that was for crime scenes, but kidnapping was a crime, right? And so was extorting ransom. Maybe he could find some helpful clues and be able to give a good report on what had happened when they finally came for him. Maybe they would have to leave really fast together but thanks to his foresight, they'd have enough information to track down the bad guys before anyone else got hurt. That thought cheered him up a little.

It didn't end up helping as much as he'd hoped it would. The place was unsettlingly wrong in a way that went deeper than what he could see. People hurt other people here.

It was the big things, like how well the windows were boarded up and how it looked like it had been done a long time ago. Like the dearth of furnishings: two metal folding chairs, a card table, one stained mattress right on the floor (ew), a refrigerator empty except for some old takeout condiments.

Maybe even more, it was the little things. The cutlery, dishes, and cups were all plastic. There were no knives. No locks on any of the inner doors, not even the bathroom.

He tried not to think about the dents in the plaster where something or someone had hit the walls with force. Or about the thick layer of grime on the floor, everywhere except the irregular patches that had been scrubbed really really clean. Patches where someone had wanted to hide something that'd happened.

He missed Chu-ge. It was much easier to feel brave when he was there.

He did find one exciting thing: a length of loose pipe, tucked into a loose panel at the back of the bathroom closet where the water shut-offs were. There was a bunch of debris and things like someone had been working in there and finished in a hurry.

He hefted the pipe, testing its strange unbalanced weight in his hand. He wasn't used to using weapons. But it was good to have something just in case, right?

Oh! He could practice his exercises and see if the pipe could fit in anywhere. That's something Chu-ge would do to prepare himself if he were kidnapped.

Unfortunately he had barely started (drop kick, front kick, now higher, left side, right side–) when he heard keys in the apartment door. The spike of anxiety made him stumble on the back kick--he had such a hard time with that one– and he was trying to scramble to his feet when a heavy boot caught him in the chest. He crumpled.

The kidnapper yanked the pipe out of Changcheng's hand. "What the hell is this?" he demanded. "Where did you find a freaking pipe?"

"It-it was in the bathroom. The closet. It looks like someone had been working on the plumbing and–"

The kidnapper cut him off. "Where's your friend? No, you can stay down there on your knees. I don't need any more trouble today."

Changcheng swallowed. Could he maybe escape? The man must have his gun with him--men like that seemed to carry their guns around everywhere–but he couldn't see it. And now the man had the pipe. He glanced at the door. Locked again, of course.

A large hand clamped on his shoulder and shook him hard. "I said I don't need any more trouble. You go for that door, you won't like the consequences. Where is your friend?"

Changcheng's head was spinning too much to come up with a good lie. "H-he climbed up into the ceiling."

The man stared at him. He scowled and shook his head and looked up… at the ceiling tiles that Changcheng had forgotten to replace. Oops. Well, maybe that mistake would help him now.

The man shook the pipe menacingly at him, then dragged over a folding chair and climbed up for a look.

"I don't see anything up there. No footprints."

Oh. Um. Of course, in that kind of dust there should be– and there wouldn't be--he tried to think fast. Maybe Da Qing had dragged his belly and disturbed some streaks of dust? "He crawled in on hands and knees."

The man glared down with narrowed eyes. "He was way too short to get up there."

"I helped him." Please please let the team get here soon…

"You're tall enough. I suppose you could've. But those tiles won't bear a man's weight." He climbed down from the chair and came to stand really close to Changcheng, close enough that it was hard not to cower back.

He could be brave a little longer.

"So, how did your friend crawl out through the ceiling without breaking through it?"

"He ... he ... I guess he's ... very careful?"

The man leaned down to grab a fistful of Changcheng's hair. "Don't lie to me!"

"He's not here!" Chabgcheng protested, grasping at the other's fingers, trying to relieve some of the painful pressure on his scalp. "And there really isn't anywhere else he could have gone. And, and ..."

"And what?" interrupted the other. He wrenched Changcheng's head around until he thought maybe his neck would break, until his eyes swam with sparks of light blurred by unshed tears.

He tried to find another excuse. He really did. But he was hurting and he couldn't think straight and– and he was scared. This wasn't something they'd trained for.

His voice came out small and weak. Like him. "And my friend can turn into a cat."

His tormentor got even angrier. "What kind of nonsense are you trying to peddle? People can't turn into cats! Do you think I'm stupid?" He gave Changcheng another teeth-rattling shake.

"I'm telling the truth!" Changcheng tried desperately to pull away.

The man tightened his grip. "You don't think I recognize a lie when I hear one?"

Changcheng saw the pipe swing toward him. The hand entwined in his hair kept him from dodging. And then–the whole left side of his face exploded with pain. He tasted blood. He felt the thump-crunch as his body collapsed onto the hard floor.

The monstrous shadow looming over him was speaking, but the words slid around his ears like… like something really slippery. He didn't know. He didn't know anything except pain and the terrifying movement of his attacker raising the pipe to hit him again–

Blue strings whipped around the pipe and yanked it away.

Changcheng's heart leapt. Was that--had they--yes. Yes! That was Chu-ge's half-feral protective growl.

Chu-ge was here. He almost cried with relief. It was going to be ok.

There were sounds of voices and movement around him. He could just… lie here and exist until someone needed him. Not like he was capable of much else right now.

He tried to sit up, just to see if he could. Everything went woobily. The left side of his face felt swollen now, bad enough that moving his lips or eye was really hard. It pulsed between pain and numbness in a way that he would probably find interesting later, when it wasn't so uncomfortable.

Chu-ge’s strong hands steadied his shoulders. He gave his friend a lopsided grin. The man’s ever-present black drapey top always smelled like musk and sandalwood. It smelled like comfort, like safety, like peace.

"Changcheng? How are you?" Chu-ge asked, gently smoothing hair away from Changcheng's cheek. His brow furrowed with worry at whatever injuries he saw there.

"Much better now that you're here," he reassured. He tried to smile more widely and winced a little as the bruised skin stretched.

Da Qing called, "Didn't you hear me before? No flirting."

Who was flirting? Changcheng blinked slowly. Oh. Chu-ge didn’t usually use his first name. Was that flirting? Maybe. What would that mean?

He decided that was too big a question for today. "Sassy cat," he said fondly as he curled into Chu-ge's arms and took a deep breath. "I think ... I can stand up now."

Chu-ge let him test his feet. He always did that, Changcheng thought: let him see how much he could do on his own, while staying close to catch him if he stumbled. It was… really nice. Lots of people either expected him to do too much and then got mad, or didn't let him do things at all. Chu-ge always seemed to do it just right.

Dizziness and pain washed over him, and the room tilted and wobbled. Oh. Maybe standing was a little ambitious right now.

"Lean on me," said Chu-ge. "There, that's better."

It was, and not just because his head stopped spinning so much. Chu-ge wasn't exactly a cuddly person. Changcheng decided he could get used to being wrapped up in these arms. He tucked himself into the hollow of Chu-ge's shoulder and nestled close.

Chief Zhao was having a conversation with the kidnapper (who was now handcuffed) that sounded important. Something about Changcheng being targeted on purpose to try to get at his uncle and the Ministry. He thought of Uncle worrying because his nephew was going to get hurt if he didn't do what some criminal wanted. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

He couldn't hold onto it long, though. His head wasn't spinning anymore, but he was starting to feel… floaty. And tired. The room blurred in and out of focus. He blinked, trying to make it stop.

"You ok?" Chu-ge asked softly, gathering Changcheng closer to him. "Hey, dumbass, stay with me."

"I'd love to." Changcheng sighed contentedly and nuzzled into Chu-ge's chest. Nice chest. Broad. Sturdy.

He could feel a hitch in Chu-ge's breathing. Before he could work out what it meant, though, Professor Shen's concerned voice said from nearby, "I think I'd better open a portal to the hospital."

That sounded like a lot of noise and lights and moving around and--and he was so tired. He frowned. "Don't wanna go to hospital. Wanna go home."

"You need to get checked out, you idiot," said Chu-ge firmly. "I'll take you home when they say you're okay."

Hmm. "Stay with me?"

A hand ruffled his hair, carefully avoiding the hurt places. "Yeah. Yeah, of course."

"All right, Chu-ge."


Chu-ge and Professor Shen guided him through a portal. It probably would’ve been pretty cool if it hadn’t made his head spin and his stomach turn all over again. He couldn’t focus his eyes at first, on the other side. There were bright lights. A lot of white. Hospital smells. He wrinkled his nose and blinked owlishly, trying to get oriented.

Chu-ge guided him over to something that–well, it wasn’t soft exactly, but it was a place to lie down, and it turned out that was just what he needed to feel a little less awful. It was hard under his head. He fidgeted, trying to avoid hurting the bruises from his fall or the wound from where the man had hit him.

Chu-ge was sitting right there, he realized. Surely his friend’s lap would be more comfy. It would be reassuring, too. He scooted until he could nestle himself into place. The effort left him a little breathless.

"That's better,” he murmured into the folds of black drapery. “Thank you, Chu-ge."

"You're welcome, Changcheng," he replied, with just the faintest hitch in his voice.


People came and went. They pushed and pulled Changcheng, lifted him and prodded him and shined lights into his eyes. He protested and tried to struggle–not that he could do much, he was so tired and it felt like his body was made of jello or stuffed with cotton or maybe both. He just wanted to be left alone, not touched by strangers.

Then Chu-ge’s broad, gentle hand came to rest on Changcheng’s shoulder. Changcheng let his head fall to one side and pressed his cheek into the back of that hand, breathing deeply of the man’s scent. Ok. Ok, this was better. He smiled and tried to relax.

It didn’t last. They chased Chu-ge away so they could bandage his wound, and then there was some quiet talking, and then they wheeled him off down the hall and up an elevator and down another hall until he had absolutely no idea where he was or how to get back to his friends. His friends trusted them, so he would too, he decided. They were helping him. It was ok.

Chu-ge wouldn’t really leave anyway, would he?

Changcheng hadn’t thought he had asked out loud, but one of the nurses smiled down at him. “Your friend will be along shortly, don’t worry. We just have to get you settled in your room first. We’re letting him stay overnight so you won’t be alone.”

Relief flooded through him. He beamed at her and said, “thank you,” and finally let his eyes slide shut.


He was drifting on the hazy margins of dreaming when Chu-ge came. He felt as much as heard his friend’s arrival. The room got warmer, cozier. He couldn’t quite open his eyes–they were so heavy now!--but he smiled and sighed and snuggled a little lower into his blankets.

There were comforting sounds, soft footsteps and rustling and settling. The creak of a cot. The deep hfff of Chu-ge relaxing when he thinks no one is looking. More rustling.

A shadow passed over Changcheng’s closed eyelids. And then–warm lips pressed to his forehead.


Maybe the flirting thing was a good question to think about today.

"I'm not asleep, you know," he said softly, prying his eyes open a little. He saw Chu-ge outlined in the dim light that seeped under the door to the hallway. The man’s face was shadowed, but his posture said that he had not in fact known.

His tall, solid shadow shifted. The bedside chair creaked. Changcheng felt Chu-ge’s hand–usually so firm–skim over his forearm, uncertain.

He shifted to lace their fingers together. "That was nice," he said. "I'm glad Brother Cat isn't here to scold us."

Chu-ge huffed out a small laugh and squeezed their entwined hands.

"I love the way your smile sounds," said Changcheng. He took a deep, contented breath. "I'm pretty sleepy. You probably need to lie down too. I'll see you in the morning, Chu-ge… thank you for coming for me.”

“Did you think I wouldn’t? Idiot.” The man’s other hand ruffled Changcheng’s hair fondly. "Go to sleep. I’ll be right here."