It was a stupid misstep, like so many of the things that led to Wu Xie’s injuries. If a stone didn’t move under his weight and trigger a collapse, or a wall shift under his touch and send them careening into another chamber, Wu Xie would find his own trouble - like tripping over a tree root as they ran for their lives through a jungle full of danger. The danger of the moment was wasps - a large, angry swarm of wasps with powerful, venomous stings that would fell a grown man in moments. Xiaoge had muttered that they weren’t deadly, but rendering someone dead weight for a while was deadly in itself when you were tomb raiding.
There was supposedly an old tomb underneath one of the largest trees in this jungle, according to a rough map Wu Sanxing had drawn; he’d even sent some of his newer recruits to “help” them, though the men were green, far too new to tomb raiding for such an expedition. Of course he saved the most skilled men for his own expeditions, Wu Xie had thought resignedly when these guys showed up. The manpower was useful for carrying their supplies, but not much else; Pangzi, for one, was only too glad to hurl his backpack at one of them when he needed to shimmy through a small gap somewhere.
Normally, the Iron Triangle knew better than to disturb a nest of near-deadly wasps, amongst the snakes, insects, and rodents of unusual size they’d already encountered in this particular jungle. But Wu Xie had made a poor joke at the wrong time, and Pangzi had hurled a can of something at him; when he’d dodged, it had knocked loose something a little too bright-red in color and a little too reminiscent of a hornet’s nest, from a tree behind him. Xiaoge’s shout of warning was all they needed to start running,
Pangzi, the culprit, was in the lead, indignant in his backwards yells about abandoned ramen and the cooking stove he’d saved up for over the past few months (in fact, he had about a dozen of the same one for these very occurrences). Close on his heels was the entirety of Wu Sanxing’s recruits, with Xiaoge further behind them, darting glances back every few seconds to ensure Wu Xie was right behind him .
Wu Xie had taken the time to lecture those new recruits on some basic tactics during their expeditions - tuck your pants into your boots, keep footwear laced, take your damn backpacks off when navigating narrow tunnels - but apparently neglected to follow his own advice. His right boot betrayed him, the laces loosening and rendering his footing unsteady just as he made to catapult over the large roots of a tree that snaked across the path ahead. He went down hard, the breath knocked out of him as the root hit him in the stomach, and he subsequently rolled to the ground, groaning, even as the alarming hum of the approaching swarm grew louder in his ears.
Gritting his teeth in pain, Wu Xie reached for the offending boot and quickly secured the stringy offenders. Just as he made to pull away his hands and rise to his feet, a loud buzz interrupted his movements, far too close to his ears. One of the poisonous wasps, identifiable by their strange, vibrant green color, appeared, crawling nonchalantly across the back of his hand. Wu Xie’s eyes widened as he froze, only his eyes raising to spot the swarm gaining on them swiftly.
“Wu Xie!” Xiaoge’s harsh whisper signaled his arrival, and a black, hooded figure appeared at his side, kneeling quickly. Wu Xie made the mistake of jerking to the side as he arrived.
“Xiao-” was all he managed before he felt a sharp pain in his wrist, and he hissed in pain at the burning sensation that followed. Those things had large stingers that went deep, tearing skin open as they withdrew, allowing the venom to spread. They were effective for tomb guardians, such deceptively small creatures, Wu Xie thought woozily. He swayed into Xiaoge, who was plastered to his side, hand clutched between both of his own as he examined the sting that had begun to bleed freely.
“Sorry,” blurted out Wu Xie, and then everything was going black, but he thought he felt an arm wind around his waist and another beneath his knees before his eyes closed.
Xiaoge would get him out of this, he always did.
Wu Xie awoke momentarily to a cave ceiling above him, firelight flickering against it. He was still woozy, eyes already flickering shut when a sensation at his wrist brought him one more second of awareness. Pain and...more. Something warm moving against the thin, sensitive skin on the underside of his wrist - when he tried to look, all he could see was a dark, blurry shape that had to be Xiaoge. A half-gloved hand carded through his hair then, bare fingertips gentle against his temple. Wu Xie fell asleep again to the soothing touch, garbling out some nonsense about it feeling nice.
Zhang Qiling had a limp Wu Xie wrapped in his arms before his head hit the ground, hoisting him and quickly moving for a thicker copse of trees to try to hinder the wasps' pursuit. He was thankful it wasn’t a deadly poison, thankful he'd been closest when Wu Xie had run into trouble as he always did, thankful a handy cave presented itself as he sought refuge for them.
He quickly laid Wu Xie down inside the small stone cavern, pausing to listen. The buzzing of the wasps had receded; most likely, they'd followed the loud hollering of Pangzi and the others, whom he'd signaled to keep moving as he fell back to grab Wu Xie.
Quickly, he built a fire, knowing the heat would both encourage Wu Xie to sweat out the poison and keep him warm when the fever set in. The man in question was already reacting to the poison, writhing, his wrist bleeding down the sleeve of his jacket. Swiftly, Zhang Qiling stripped him of the coat, rolling up the sleeve of his shirt to get at the wound. It was unfortunately placed, on the underside of the wrist, stung right into the veins there. He couldn’t afford to waste any time and bent his head, lips latching on to the weeping wound and sucking.
Wu Xie groaned then, unconsciously, brow furrowing in pain as the blood forcefully left him. Zhang Qiling kept the wrist at his mouth with one hand, the other moving to pin Wu Xie in place as he started shifting in discomfort, then card through his hair when he settled. The man was still very out of it, muttering escaping his lips in his haze of pain. His eyes opened but only for a short moment before he passed out again; in that instant, Zhang Qiling thought he caught his name, the low “Xiaoge” almost whimpered, but decided he was imagining things.
He tried not to think about what he was doing, tried to keep it clinical - wound care, first aid, that was all it was. It didn't matter that he had Wu Xie's pulse, his very life force, throbbing under his bloodied lips, had Wu Xie's blood in his own mouth. He sucked, leaned to the side to spit out a toxic mouthful, and sucked again. At last the blood seemed cleaner, brighter in appearance, tasted less wrong somehow, and he was again grateful it hadn't been a worse venom. Wu Xie was paler for the blood loss now, though, face wan in the dim light of the cave. He would have to convince him to take some of his own blood later, it would help.
Zhang Qiling rummaged through the pack he’d kept on - the rest of the team, including Wu Xie, had left theirs behind in the mad dash to safety - and was glad to find bandages and antiseptic among his sparse supplies. He rarely needed much, so there was plenty. He liberally cleaned and wrapped Wu Xie’s wrist, rolling his sleeve back down and putting his jacket back on, moving slowly and gently as he tugged the fabric back over him. Then he set to making a fire, spotting Wu Xie already shivering minutely.
When Wu Xie awoke again what had to be hours later, his muscles were sore and stiff, and he was thirsty as hell. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision, and tried to sit upright - too quickly, it seemed, because everything shifted sideways until an arm across his shoulders steadied him.
"Xiaoge?" he tried through cracked lips, but managed a weird croak instead. A canteen was pushed against his lips and he drank gratefully, the cool liquid against his throat bringing instant relief. When he had swallowed, Wu Xie slumped into the grip across his back, smiling feebly at his savior. But something was weird - Xiaoge's fringe obscured most of his expression, but his lips were visible, and there was blood on them.
Wu Xie instantly shifted in alarm. "Xiaoge?" he asked, hand moving to gesture at his own lips. That was when he noticed a crisp new bandage around his wrist where he'd been stung. He blinked a further question at the quiet man, who shifted in what, if Wu Xie didn't know better, looked like embarrassment.
"The poison," came the quiet reply, as Xiaoge steadied Wu Xie by propping his back against the cave wall, then turned to poke at the fire. A black sleeve moved sheepishly to scrub at his lips, or would have, if Xiaoge did anything sheepishly. "Had to suck it out."
Wu Xie blinked, processing the implications. Then he remembered waking up to a warm sensation at his wrist, and-
"You suc- " he choked out, voice shrill, and he began to feel hot, face flushing with heat that had nothing to do with any residual venom in his veins. Wu Xie cleared his throat, aiming for dignity and failing miserably - it sounded like a goose coughing. The thought of Xiaoge's lips on the pulse at his wrist, though…His wrist tingled then, underneath its bandages, at the phantom sensation of Xiaoge’s mouth pressed against the delicate, sensitive skin there. He tried to shove the limb away, tried to banish the thoughts from his mind as he moved his hand out of sight beneath his jacket.
"Where are Pangzi and the others?" He managed a moment later, pleased his voice sounded normal again.
“They went ahead,” was the short response. Wu Xie grinned despite himself; Pangzi, too, knew that Xiaoge had his back; and someone had to keep those new men of Wu Sanxing alive long enough to get them fired.
Wu Xie looked beyond the circle of firelight, taking in their surroundings for the first time. The cave wasn't spacious, and with their heights it had to have been an uncomfortable day for Xiaoge, flexibility aside, hunching over Wu Xie for hours. There was a slice of daylight coming in from the cave opening, and it looked to be about sunset, red light seeping in to join the firelight.
They sat in companionable silence for a while, Wu Xie evaluating his various aches and pains, Xiaoge silently tending the fire, his hooded silhouette against the flames an indescribable comfort to the injured man. Eventually Wu Xie began to doze, on and off, rousing at one point enough for Xiaoge to hand him a bowl of broth and more water.
In the middle of the night, Wu Xie's body began to fight the rest of the poison's influence. First he woke feeling hot, then began to sweat, head aching, even as the rest of him shivered. He made an unconscious noise of discomfort, and Xiaoge, who luckily never seemed to need sleep, was instantly at his side. A hand checked his forehead, and Wu Xie realized Xiaoge had actually removed one of his gloves to clap his palm across his forehead, expression calculating. "Fever, still" he murmured as if to himself, and Wu Xie groaned weakly. "Those things are so small to pack such a punch," he muttered grumpily, trying with shaking hands to tug his jacket tighter around himself.
There was no verbal response, but a glint of steel later, Xiaoge was holding a bloodied palm out to Wu Xie. The patient blinked, unsure if he was hallucinating the gruesome offering at this point, and stared hard at Xiaoge in question. “It will help, like before,” was the only reply, and Wu Xie realized what he wanted - to give him his blood like before, the mystical Zhang blood that served as bug repellent, medicine, and who knew what else.
Well, Xiaoge had tasted his today, after all. Wu Xie swallowed thickly, assuming the pounding in his ears was from the fever’s headache, and inclined his head to lap at the bleeding wound on Xiaoge’s palm. The taste of copper on his tongue was not unfamiliar to him, with all the shenanigans the Iron Triangle got up to, but it was always strange taking Xiaoge’s blood. Xiaoge’s fingers flexed under his mouth briefly, like the hand wanted to clench, but he kept the palm open.
Any awkwardness Wu Xie felt was dispelled a moment later when sheer relief hit him, pain ebbing from his head, his wrist, everything feeling cooler. Rain had begun falling outside the cave, he could hear it starting to patter against the entryway of the cave; everything felt sharper, senses undulled by the fever and sharpened further by whatever it was that made Zhang blood so special. At last he pulled away from Xiaoge’s hand, murmuring his thanks and shifting back into a more comfortable position to resume sleeping. He managed to shuffle onto his side, facing the fire and pillowing his head on his good arm.
He was still cold.
The rain continued to fall harder and harder outside, the wind strengthening with it and chilling him to the bone, outside of any poison side effects or fever. He’d never get more rest like this. Trying not to let his teeth audibly chatter - who knew the jungle could get so cold - Wu Xie shifted closer to the fire, attempting to make the movements look casual. A soft huff of laughter reached his ears then, and he looked up to see Xiaoge rounding the fire, expression gentler than he’d ever seen it.
He had restrained himself enough over the years, Zhang Qiling thought, and Wu Xie was visibly cold. That wouldn’t do, he decided, and moved to lay next to the shivering man in his too-thin jacket. Maybe he could convince him to wear hoodies like he wore - thick, durable, structured hoods that stayed up despite combat - but for now, he silently laid down alongside Wu Xie.
He was turned on his side towards the fire and still a little pale, so Zhang Qiling moved to his back, blocking any breeze from the mouth of the cave. The Zhang blood would help a lot, but it wasn’t a cure-all, so he reached an arm around Wu Xie’s chest, cautious and alert for any resistance on the injured man’s part. There was none, his offering accepted, and Zhang Qiling pulled his body flush against his own, back to chest.
The injured man’s hand came up to clasp the hand wrapped around his chest, body already relaxing more at the additional warmth. “Xiaoge,” came Wu Xie’s affectionate name for him, uttered through a contented sigh, and Zhang Qiling tightened his grip, moving his other arm to pillow Wu Xie’s head.
He’d say it was a moment of weakness, when he confronted himself later; that he was emboldened by the night, the rain, Wu Xie’s injury, to complicate things among a crew that worked so well together. But the truth was that Zhang Qiling himself genuinely enjoyed the comfort too, the feeling of having Wu Xie recovering and warm against him, and wasn’t sure he’d be content with anything less moving forward. He felt at peace like he hadn’t in a long time as their breaths synced; the privacy of the moment, when they were so often surrounded by Pangzi and anonymous crewmen, was just what he hadn’t known he’d needed.
Tomorrow, they would rejoin Pangzi, who would resume blowing things up and cackling madly at his brilliant ideas. For now, such an unexpected respite from their normal chaos gave the time an ethereal quality. Neither spoke, content to absorb the company of the other, and if Wu Xie brought Xiaoge’s hand to his lips at one point, or Xiaoge pressed a kiss to Wu Xie’s hair, only the night would know.