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Kitten

Chapter Text

Shen Wei glanced at the clock in his office, sighing when he saw that it read seven pm. He had wanted to return home early today, but it seemed fate would not allow it. Ever since class had ended at four, he had been pestered endlessly by a gaggle of students who had questions for him concerning the next research project. A number of them had legitimate concerns, but he still felt that half of the girls had a ridiculous crush on him, something he thought would be settled once he had a wedding band on his finger. On the contrary, though, his students only found a new interest in him.

Professor, how is your husband? Is he attractive? Of course, he is, silly, he’s married to Professor Shen!

Then, when he and Zhao Yunlan had adopted Da Qing, the students’ interest had skyrocketed.

Oh my god, a baby?!? Let me see pictures, Professor! He’s so cute! Look at those round, chubby cheeks! Oh my god, I can’t take it – my heart is going to explode.

Shen Wei had been legitimately concerned about the health of that one student’s heart – much to the amusement of the others – but now had become mostly immune to their babbling and constant requests for pictures of Yunlan and Da Qing. Shen Wei was a private person, after all, and he preferred it that way. Most of his students knew that by now, but some didn’t, much to his annoyance.

“Professor?” a small voice asked, and Shen Wei blinked himself out of his thoughts to smile down at his senior student.

“Ah, Li Qian. I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. What was your question?”

Li Qian frowned up at him, a furrow between her eyebrows.

“Are you all right, Professor Shen?” she asked. “You seem to have a lot on your mind.”

Shen Wei chuckled.

“Is it that obvious?” he asked. When Li Qian just fixed him with an even stare, he sighed. “Da Qing has been sick for the past few days,” he admitted. “This is my first day not by his side.”

Li Qian’s eyes widened.

“Da Qing’s sick?” she asked. “Is he okay?”

Shen Wei sighed heavily, pushing his glasses to the bridge of his nose.

“He should be,” he answered after a moment. “He’s only three, after all. Three-year-old’s are likely to fall ill at some point.”

“That doesn’t mean it can’t be bad,” Li Qian said. “What’s wrong with him?”

“A cough and mild fever. He got worse on the second day, although yesterday he seemed a lot better.”

“Well, that’s good to hear then.” Li Qian nodded and then looked up at Shen Wei again. “Why don’t you go home, Professor? I can answer the other student’s questions, and if I can’t, tell the other students to wait to speak to you tomorrow.”

“I-”

Li Qian fixed Shen Wei with a steady glare and placed her hands on her hips.

“You should go home now, Professor. Your poor husband has been alone with a sick three-year-old all day, and if I remember right, three-year-old’s are a terror even when they’re not sick.”

Shen Wei sighed in defeat.

“All right, all right,” he conceded. “I’ll go.” He collected his papers and swept them into his leather briefcase. “Thank you, Li Qian. Call me if anything comes up.”

Li Qian waved her hand.

“Yes, yes, now go, Professor!” 

Shen Wei smiled and dipped his head at Li Qian in thanks. The girl grinned at him and waved farewell, her well-wishes for Da Qing the echo to Shen Wei’s departure.

 

Chapter Text

“Shh, shh, look Da Qing-er,” Zhao Yunlan said, bouncing the toddler on his hip. He shook the stuffed orange kitten in his son’s face, pretending the toy gave him a kiss. Da Qing, who usually would have shrieked in delight at his father’s antics, only whined and swatted the toy away, pushing it to the floor. He buried his small face in the crook of Zhao Yunlan’s neck, and the man frowned at the heat of his son’s skin; he definitely needed more rest. “How about we lay down again, Da Qing?” he said, heading back to his son’s room.

Da Qing shook his head furiously, too-long black bangs brushing across the top of his brown eyes.

“No!” he yelled, tugging on Zhao Yunlan’s sweatshirt. “NO! Don’t wanna, Dada!”

“Ow! Okay, okay,” Yunlan said. He stopped his trek down the hall and tried to pull Da Qing’s small, chubby hand from his grey sweatshirt, grimacing when the toddler only held on tighter, tiny fingers digging into his skin with impossible strength. “Aiyo, Da Qing, how are you so strong?!” He curled his calloused fingers around Da Qing’s small, soft ones and eventually pried them loose, but only after much effort. 

“Dada!” Da Qing wailed, his face screwing up miserably. Zhao Yunlan tensed at that tone and expression – it meant an oncoming meltdown – and hurried back to the kitchen where Da Qing’s toy cat had been dropped. Keeping his son propped on his hip, he picked up the toy and held it up to him.

“Look, Da Qing-er, it’s okay. It’s all right. Look who it is. It’s Professor Whiskers!”

Da Qing blinked a few times, brown eyes huge and watery, lip trembling, as if deciding whether or not to have a complete breakdown in Zhao Yunlan’s arms. After a moment though, he reached forward and grabbed the stuffed cat, holding it close.

Zhao Yunlan sighed in relief. Thank God that had worked. When Da Qing had meltdowns, they usually lasted an hour or more and that was when Shen Wei was around. When he wasn’t the toddler could go on screaming and crying for three to four hours. The doctors said to let Da Qing’s tantrums and fits run their course, but Zhao Yunlan was hesitant to do so now, especially with the cough still lingering in his son’s small lungs.

He’d been sick for a few days now, all of it originating from a cough that he picked up from some brats at the playground. Shen Wei, worrier that he was, had been overly concerned and had spent the past few days at home with Da Qing, keeping him isolated from everyone and everything, despite the fact that the pediatrician assured them over the phone that it was probably nothing more than a mild cold and he should be better in a week at the latest.

Today was Shen Wei’s first day back at work and Zhao Yunlan hadn’t been too worried about watching Da Qing. Shen Wei told him that during the day their son could be restless and a tad feverish, but he usually spent most of his time asleep. That translated to Yunlan as a day off peeking in once and a while on his dozing son.

But, of course, that was not what happened.

The moment Shen Wei left for work Da Qing woke up with a terrible coughing fit and Zhao Yunlan had honestly been scared enough that he was going to call his husband back home. But as soon as he had Shen Wei’s number pulled up, Da Qing’s coughing ceased and he nestled into Zhao Yunlan’s chest with a shiver, murmuring something or another about “Dada” and “thirsty.” So obviously Yunlan had to get him something to drink which then turned into getting him something to eat which turned into spending the whole day on the couch in front of the TV trying to coax the feverish, coughing toddler to take medicine he despised. By the evening, Da Qing was anxious and upset and clearly missing his other father, and Zhao Yunlan was inclined to say he felt much the same.

“Dada,” Da Qing whispered, leaning his head against Yunlan’s shoulder and smothering a cough, “when is Baba coming home?”

Zhao Yunlan could do nothing but sigh.

“I wish I knew, kitten,” he said, patting Da Qing’s back gently. “But we can wait for him in the living room. That way we’ll see him right when he comes in.”

Da Qing nodded tiredly and yawned. He snuggled closer to his father as Yunlan made his way to the living room and then readjusted himself to lie on Yunlan’s chest when the man settled himself on the couch. Yunlan chuckled and ruffled his son’s greasy hair; he hadn’t a bath in a few days.

“You really are just like a kitten, Da Qing-er,” he said with a smile. “So cute.”

Da Qing only mumbled in response and wrapped his arms around Yunlan’s neck. Yunlan’s smile faltered; he was still so warm – was the medicine not working? As he thought about this and when Da Qing’s next dose of fever reducer was due, the door opened with a soft click and swung open. Zhao Yunlan let out a huge sigh of relief, but didn’t move from his spot on the couch, his son laying heavily on his chest.

There were soft noises as Shen Wei deposited his bags and slipped off his shoes at the entryway, then footsteps. They stopped near the kitchen, confused, and Yunlan spoke up and raised his hand to indicate where they were.

“We’re here, Xiao-Wei,” he said, allowing exhaustion to seep into his voice. Shen Wei walked to them quickly, looking over the couch at his husband and son.

“How is he?” he asked without preamble.

Zhao Yunlan laughed. 

“Nice to see you too, dear,” he said.

Shen Wei only threw him a look and rounded the couch to kneel in front of the pair, peering closely at Da Qing’s round face. He was asleep, thank goodness, but that seemed to be where the good news ended. His face was pale and white, but a red flush had crept over the tops of his cheeks and the tips of his ears. He was all but limp against Yunlan’s chest, Professor Whiskers nestled between his left arm and belly. Most worrying of all though, was the slight rasp to his breathing, the whistle that left his lips with every exhale. Frowning deeply, Shen Wei laid a gentle hand across Da Qing’s back, seeing if he could feel any rattling in his lungs.

“What are you doing?” Yunlan whispered, and Shen Wei shook his head at him, biting his lip.

“He’s getting worse,” he said after a moment, pulling his hand away. “Why didn’t you call me, Yunlan?”

“I can handle him on my own,” the chief responded. “It’s not like he’s dying or anything.”

Shen Wei stiffened.

“Don’t say that,” he said, voice painfully quiet. “Don’t. . .”

Zhao Yunlan winced. He pulled his hand from the top of Da Qing’s head and took Shen Wei’s hand. Squeezing it reassuringly, he smiled at his husband. 

“Relax, Xiao-Wei,” he said. “It’s just a cough. And the doctor said he would get worse before he’d get better, didn’t she?” Shen Wei nodded reluctantly. “Then you don’t need to worry so much. For all we know his fever will break tonight and he’ll be all gross and sweaty in the morning.”

Shen Wei smiled faintly at the image.

“You’re right, Yunlan,” he said. “Of course, you’re right. I’m just worried, is all.”

Yunlan barely bit back a snort.

“Well, yes, you’re such a worrywart!” He motioned to the toddler on his chest. “Why don’t you take him and get him ready for dinner? I’ll get the food ready.”

Shen Wei’s delicate eyebrows rose.

“You?” he asked. “You’re preparing the food?”

Aiyo, Shen Wei, you make it sound like I don’t know how to do anything for myself!” Zhao Yunlan groaned. “I was quite the eligible bachelor before I married you, you know!”

Shen Wei’s lips quirked up in a faint, but honestly amused, smile.

“Were you?”

“Of course! I cooked delicious meals all the time!”

“If you say so, Yunlan,” Shen Wei chuckled quietly, and Yunlan glared at him. He opened his mouth to speak when Da Qing fidgeted on his chest. Shen Wei’s eyes immediately snapped to the boy, attentive and worried. “Da Qing-er?” he said, voice soft and soothing. “Da Qing, kitten, are you awake?”

Da Qing whined and pulled his hand from Professor Whiskers, reaching out for Shen Wei. Eagerly the professor scooped his son up from Zhao Yunlan’s chest to hold him close, trying hard to ignore how hot the boy felt against his skin.

“Baba. . .”

“I’m here,” Shen Wei soothed, running his fingers through Da Qing’s hair. “I’m here, baobao. It’s okay.”

“Tired. . .”

“I know. Dada told me that you had a long day.” He looked at Zhao Yunlan who sat up and nodded. For the first time, Shen Wei noticed how exhausted he looked. Cradling Da Qing with one hand, he reached forward and squeezed Yunlan’s knee with the other. He smiled when Yunlan looked up at him, surprised. Thank you, he mouthed. Yunlan smiled, all gentleness and kindness, and got to his feet. He laid a kiss on Da Qing’s head before kissing Shen Wei on the cheek.

“Da Qing-er was very good today,” he said. “He didn’t feel good, but he wasn’t mean.”

“That’s wonderful,” Shen Wei said, smiling down at the boy in his arms. “Thank you for being so nice to Dada.”

Da Qing nodded and rubbed at his left eye with a chubby fist.

“’M tired, Baba.”

“I know,” Shen Wei said, patting his son’s back gently. “You can sleep after you eat something and take your medicine. How does that sound?”

Da Qing’s small face scrunched up.

“Yucky.”

His parents laughed and Yunlan leaned forward to ruffle his son’s hair before heading towards the kitchen.

“You would say that, kitten!” he said. He opened the refrigerator, tapping his chin as he examined its contents. “Now, what do you want to eat?”

Shen Wei swung Da Qing onto his hip and the pair followed Yunlan into the kitchen, standing behind him at the open refrigerator door. Da Qing sighed heavily in relief; the cool air from the refrigerator felt amazing on his feverish skin. Shen Wei held him a little tighter as the toddler fidgeted in his arms, eager to be close to the cold.

“Easy,” he soothed, “it’s all right, Da Qing. Dada asked you what you wanted to eat; do you remember?” Da Qing made a face and then nodded, falling back against Shen Wei with a pout when his father refused to let him closer to the inside of the refrigerator. His big brown eyes swept over the contents of the fridge, taking stock of the food.

Vegetables (yucky), meat (not today), chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs (hmm. . . no). There was more food, of course, but Da Qing quickly lost focus and hid his face in Shen Wei’s soft blue sweater.

“Not ‘ungry,” he whispered, voice muffled.

Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei exchanged worried looks over Da Qing’s head. The toddler was always hungry – whether it was first thing in the morning or late at night, Da Qing seemed to always have something in his mouth, usually dried fish or seafood of some type. Shen Wei didn’t particularly think the salt intake was good for the boy, but Yunlan shrugged his concerns away, saying that all Da Qing’s running about was sure to benefit his health enough that the salt didn’t matter.

So, the fact that Da Qing, the most veracious toddler Zhao Yunlan, Shen Wei, or anyone in the SID had ever met, was saying he was not hungry was a huge red flag.

“How about some dried fish snacks, Da Qing-er?” Yunlan asked, forcing a smile over his face that he hoped would mask the concern he felt in his heart. Da Qing looked up at him for a moment, clearly debating whether or not he would eat what his father suggested, before he shook his head and dropped back against Shen Wei.

Zhao Yunlan looked helplessly at his husband.

“We can’t give him the medicine without food,” he said, keeping his voice low. He was sure Da Qing didn’t know or care what they were talking about, but he could tell his son was exhausted and so kept his voice quiet and calm for his benefit.

Shen Wei hummed and swayed back and forth, peering at Da Qing’s paper-white face. He bit his lip.

“Is there something we have that would be easy on his stomach?” he asked. “If we don’t have anything, we could always order-”

“Oh!” Zhao Yunlan cried, clapping his hands together softly as inspiration struck him. “I can make congee!”

Shen Wei blinked at him in disbelief.

“You. . . You can make congee?”

“Of course! My mom used to make it for me when I got sick as a boy.” Zhao Yunlan smiled, although it did not reach his eyes. “She taught me her recipe before she died.”

Shen Wei nodded and smiled softly, gaze gentle.

“All right,” he said. “Do we have the ingredients for congee here?”

Zhao Yunlan snorted.

“We have more than enough rice,” he said. “You buy bags of it each week even though I tell you we don’t need that much.”

“Da Qing-er eats so much-” Shen Wei began, but Yunlan cut him off.

“We have salt, of course. And chicken broth.” He frowned and tapped his chin. “Do we have a knob of ginger?”

“Ginger?” Shen Wei asked. When Yunlan nodded, his lips pulled down in an unhappy frown. “I don’t think so. Can you make it without ginger?”

“Of course not!” Yunlan cried, outraged. “It wouldn’t be my mother’s recipe without the ginger! Oh, and eggs!”

Shen Wei sighed.

“Yunlan, Da Qing hates eggs.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right.” The chief laughed and patted his son’s back gently. “I got a little too caught up in that recipe there, kitten.”

Da Qing mumbled something unintelligible and snuggled closer to Shen Wei with a feverish shiver, tossing his arms around his father’s neck. Shen Wei frowned deeply and ran his fingers through Da Qing’s hair, grimacing when they came away greasy and oily.

“All right, Yunlan,” he said, continuing his gentle swaying. “I’m going to give Da Qing-er a bath while you make the congee. It should be ready by the time we’re done, yes?”

Zhao Yunlan frowned.

“Well, not if I go out and get the ginger first.”

“Yunlan. . .” Shen Wei sighed. “Does it really need the ginger?”

“Yes!” Yunlan cried, outraged. Da Qing winced at his father’s loud voice and Shen Wei threw his husband a withering look. Yunlan winced in turn. “Sorry,” he apologized, laying a hand on Da Qing’s small back. “Look, Xiao-Wei,” he said. “Ginger will clear the sinuses and make it easier for Da Qing-er to breathe. I think we need it.”

Shen Wei pursed his lips and flicked his gaze down to his son, who’s breathing was raspy and wet against his neck. The little boy coughed, his grip on Shen Wei’s sweater tightening and his face curling up miserably.

“Okay,” Shen Wei relented. “You’re right.” Zhao Yunlan grinned in triumph, but Shen Wei continued speaking before he could get too far ahead of himself. “But I want you to stay here and start making the congee. Call someone in the SID and have them bring over the ginger.” Da Qing coughed, the sound wet and painful, and both fathers winced, patting their son’s back reassuringly. “Preferably a few knobs of it.”

“Yeah, of course. You go get him in the bath, I’ll start on the congee. I’ll make enough for us too.” Zhao Yunlan smiled at Shen Wei, brown eyes sparkling. “It’s delicious, Xiao-Wei. You’ll love it.”

“I’m sure I will, Yunlan,” Shen Wei answered, and he stood still for a moment, watching as his husband went about gathering pots and bowls from the cupboards to prepare the congee. How had he been so lucky? Zhao Yunlan was so caring and loving and everything a husband and father needed to be. Shen Wei nearly always found himself overwhelmed by his love for the other, and now was one of those times. However, his attention was quickly turned back to the little boy in his arms when he coughed and pushed his feverish face closer to his father’s porcelain neck with a whimper.

“Baba. . .” 

“I know,” Shen Wei murmured. “Let’s go take that bath now, kitten.”  

Chapter Text

A half hour after Zhao Yunlan had called the SID and ordered them to bring him knobs of ginger on the threat they would be fired if they didn’t, there was a knock on the front door. Zhao Yunlan hopped up from the couch where he was lying, ran to the entryway, and all but wrenched the door open.

There, standing on the welcome mat, were Chu Shuzhi, ever-familiar grimace on his face, and Guo Changcheng, looking as awkward as ever, in his scrawny arms a huge grocery bag of ginger knobs. Saying nothing, Zhao Yunlan reached forward and snatched the bag from him, then turned and went back inside, leaving the door open behind him.

“You’re welcome,” Chu said dully as Zhao grabbed a piece of ginger and ran it under the kitchen sink to clean it. Without turning, Zhao waved a hand at them.

“Yeah, whatever, thanks,” he said, grabbing a knife and chopping the ginger into slices before throwing it into a pot.

“H-How is Da Qing-er, Chief Zhao?” Guo asked, soft footsteps padding down the hall and stopping right before the kitchen. “Y-You sounded upset over the phone.”

Zhao Yunlan tossed a liberal amount of rice into the pot before glaring at Guo over his shoulder. The young man winced and took a step back. Chu came up behind him and clapped a hand over his shoulder; Guo flinched at the unexpected contact and yelped. Chu rolled his eyes.

“You check on Professor Shen and the kitten,” he said, pushing Guo in the direction of the bedrooms. “I’ll help Chief Zhao out here.”

Guo gaped at Chu helplessly.

“B-B-But-”

“But what?”

“W-Well, I-I don’t know where they are.”

Chu looked over at Zhao Yunlan. Without looking up from his task, Yunlan sighed. 

“Shen Wei is giving Da Qing a bath,” he said. When Guo began to stammer in protest, Yunlan turned to him and rolled his eyes. “You’ve changed that boy’s diapers since the day he was born, Xiao-Guo. You can go in and help.” He sighed heavily and ran a hand over his face. “Besides, his fever is up anyway; I doubt he’ll even really react to you.”

“Oh,” Guo said. He had lost some color by the end of Zhao’s short speech, but he nodded resolutely, gaze flicking between Zhao and Chu. “I’ll head off then.” Without further words, he disappeared down the hall and there was a quiet knock and then the click of the bathroom door as it opened and closed.

When Chu was sure Guo was gone, he strode up to Zhao and poured the measured chicken broth into the bowl of congee before flicking on the oven. Zhao was staring blankly at the pot, eyes faraway and clearly not present, and Chu bit back worry. Pretending not to be concerned, he snapped his fingers in front of his boss’ face, raising a brow when the man jumped back with an alarmed yell, brandishing the ladle in his hand like a weapon. After a moment, he seemed to become aware of where he was, and he dropped his hand with a blush. 

“Gah!” he cried, punching his thigh angrily. “This is so frustrating!”

“Chief Zhao,” Chu said, voice oddly gently and worried; Zhao hated it. “How sick is Da Qing?”

“He’s not that sick,” Zhao responded quickly. “It’s just that he’s never been sick before so it’s…overwhelming. He’s barely sleeping, I’m barely sleeping, Shen Wei is barely sleeping…”

“Maybe you should take the kid to the doctor,” Chu suggested, taking the ladle from Zhao’s hand and turning to the congee. He stirred it a bit so that the rice wouldn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn before turning again to his boss. “Have you done that yet?”

Zhao Yunlan tossed himself into a kitchen chair and propped his feet up on the table.

“No,” he said. “We called the doctor, and she said she thinks it’s just a cold, but you might be right. His cough is all gunky and gross now.”

Chu frowned.

“Is he having trouble breathing?”

“No,” Zhao Yunlan answered with a shake of the head. He allowed his eyes to drift shut for a moment, content to let Chu take over cooking the congee. However, Chu’s next words startled him back to his feet in a moment, heart beating a mile a minute.

“If he has trouble breathing, you need to take him to the hospital.”

Before Zhao Yunlan really knew what he was doing, he was in front of Chu and grasping his arms tightly enough to leave bruises.

“What?!” he cried, horrified. “What are you talking about?!” 

“As if you didn’t already know,” Chu said, easily shaking off the exhausted father. “Da Qing-er’s airways are smaller than yours or mine. If he has trouble breathing, he’ll need more help than you or Professor Shen can give.”

“Oh,” Zhao Yunlan said, “oh. You’re right.”

“I’d recommend making that doctor’s appointment soon,” Chu said nonchalantly, trying not to be alarmed by how pale and tense his boss was. He looked in the direction of the bedrooms and bathroom, heart growing uneasy, hoping Guo, Professor Shen, and Da Qing were better off than he thought they were.

Chapter Text

When Guo stepped into the bathroom, he first thought he was going blind. Or maybe he had cataracts? Or glaucoma? What was the condition that made your vision all blurry again. . .?

But then he realized that it was just really, really steamy in the bathroom and that Professor Shen had done that on purpose, probably to help loosen the gunk in Da Qing’s lungs.

But gosh, it was hard to see. . .

“Xiao-Guo, we’re over here,” Professor Shen’s quiet, smooth voice said, and Guo followed the sound to find the professor kneeling at the side of the bathtub, dark blue sweater discarded on the floor and button up shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looked up briefly and Guo saw that he had taken off his glasses; he forced a smile at Guo. “Can you help me with him, please?” he asked, dipping his head at the little boy in the tub. “He’s not cooperating with me.”

“O-Oh, of course!” Guo began to kneel down, but Shen Wei’s hand shot out and he shook his head.

“Take off your sweater and socks first and leave them outside,” he said. “And your bag. You’ll probably get wet.”

“O-Okay, Professor Shen.” Guo complied, hastily tugging off his tan sweater and socks and stuffing them in his black bag before laying it out carefully in the hall. He briefly heard Chu-ge and Chief Zhao say something about the doctor and the hospital but figured that his responsibility was with Professor Shen and Da Qing in the bathroom and chose to ignore them. He quickly returned to the professor’s side.

“I’m back,” he said. “What do you need me to do?”

Professor Shen smiled at him, grateful, and Guo blushed. It really wasn’t fair that he was so handsome, really. Chu, of course, was the only man for him, but Guo wasn’t in the habit of denying others’ beauty. He swallowed the big lump in his throat and focused on the words Professor Shen was saying.

“-and get him dry and in his room. All right?”

Guo blinked, completely confused, and Shen Wei sighed.

“I’m just going to put him in your arms so we can start drying him off and we’ll get him completely dry in his room,” he repeated. “I need to take his temperature.”

“I understand,” Guo said. “Where do you want me?”

“Sit on the toilet,” Professor Shen said, pointing at the shut toilet nearby. “It will be easiest to move him to and from there.”

Guo nodded and settled himself on the edge of the toilet seat. He took the handful of towels Professor Shen handed to him, draped a few over his chest and lap, and laid the others on the sink counter nearby.

“Okay,” Professor Shen said. “Ready?”

Guo nodded resolutely and watched the proceedings nervously. Shen Wei fell to his knees next to the tub again, where the water had been drained, and spoke to his son, who was wrapped in a brown bear-themed bath towel, which had a hood stitched with a bear face, bear ears, and a little bear tail at the bottom of the towel. Guo watched through the steam as the toddler shivered violently and drew away from his father with a long whine, small hands coming up and pushing Shen Wei away when the professor reached for him.

“Da Qing,” Shen Wei said, voice small and wrecked and worried. “Da Qing-er, baobao, it’s me, it’s Baba. Come on, it’s time to get out of the bath.”

“Noooo,” the little boy keened, slapping Shen Wei’s hands away again. “No, Baba!”

“Let’s go back to your room and put on something comfy,” Shen Wei said, tone soothing and soft. “I don’t think it’s very comfortable in the hard bathtub.”

There was a pause, clear hesitation, and Guo watched as the boy lightly tapped his small fingers against the floor of the porcelain bathtub.

“…No,” he mumbled, bringing his thumb to his mouth. “Want out.”

Shen Wei almost folded over in relief.

“All right, okay,” he said, holding out his arms. He slipped his hands under Da Qing’s armpits and hefted him up in one swift movement, wrapping the bear-themed bath towel tighter around him as he did so. Da Qing shivered and pulled himself close to his father, heedless of his wet skin.

“Baba. . .”

“I know, Da Qing,” Shen Wei soothed. “I’m going to hand you to Changcheng-gege now. Is that all right?”

Da Qing turned and squinted, noticing for the first time that Guo was sitting on the toilet seat. The young man waved at Da Qing, a soft smile on his face. 

“Hello, Da Qing-er. I’m sorry you don’t feel good. That’s not very fun.”

Da Qing blinked a few times and then nodded. He wiggled against Shen Wei’s chest and held out his arms toward Guo. With a grin, Guo accepted the toddler and held him loosely in his lap. Concern blossomed in his chest at the heat that emanated from the little boy’s skin, despite just having what Professor Shen had told him was only a lukewarm bath at best, and he pulled the bear-themed hood off Da Qing’s head with a frown. Da Qing whined in protest, hand going up to his wet hair.

“Changcheng-gege, no! Put it back!”

“It’s okay, miao,” Guo said, taking a towel from the counter and beginning to dry the boy’s hair. “Aren’t you hot?”

Da Qing shook his head and pouted.

“No, ‘m cold.”

“That’s the fever, kitten,” Shen Wei said, appearing at the pair’s side. In his hand he was holding a reusable pediatric thermometer, one of the ones that Guo recognized that you used by placing the tip of the thermometer in your ear. When Da Qing saw it, he flinched away from his father.

“No!” he cried. “Baba, no!!”

Shen Wei sighed.

“It will only take a moment, Da Qing-er,” he said. “And I need to see how high your fever is.”

Da Qing shook his head furiously.

“Nu-uh!” he yelled. “No!!”

“Da Qing.” Shen Wei leveled his son with an even stare. “I know this hard and that you don’t feel good, but you can’t yell at me. You know better than that.”

Da Qing’s lip wobbled dangerously, and he looked up at Guo from his place on his lap. Guo swallowed nervously.

“U-Uh, Da Qing. . .”

“Changcheng-gege, I don’t wanna!” the little boy cried and suddenly he was actually sobbing, huge fat tears rolling down his fever-flushed chubby cheeks. Guo felt at a complete loss; he didn’t want to upset Da Qing further but it’s not like he could let down Professor Shen when he was looking at him so expectantly.

“W-Well, Da Qing, it’s just to see how sick you are,” Guo eventually managed. “It won’t hurt.” Da Qing sobbed again, louder and more miserably, and Guo flinched. He looked helplessly over at Shen Wei, but the professor was only staring at him, waiting. Guo gulped.

“Da Qing-er, listen to me.” Guo pulled the boy into a loose hug, careful to keep him from getting over-hot. “I know that you’re scared and upset, but your baba just wants to help you. He won’t hurt you. You know he would never hurt you, right?” Da Qing nodded but continued to cry; Guo sighed. “Why don’t we do this, then? Why don’t I take your temperature and your baba holds you? Is that better?”

“Dada!!” Da Qing yelled, face screwing up. “Want Dada!!”

Guo looked up at Shen Wei, eyebrows raised, and the man nodded.

“All right, baobao, I’ll get Dada. But then you have to let me take your temperature, okay?” Da Qing nodded, tears still streaking his face, and Shen Wei leaned over him, sweeping his dark hair away from his brow. He smiled softly at his son. “It’s okay, Da Qing-er, I promise. I’ll be right back. Be good for Changcheng-gege.”

Da Qing nodded and Shen Wei left the bathroom for a few minutes, leaving the door open behind him. Guo stayed seated on the toilet seat, Da Qing in his lap, attention torn between the voices coming from the kitchen and Da Qing’s noisy breathing. The longer Professor Shen was gone, the greater Guo’s concern grew. Da Qing’s breathing didn’t change, but he grew limp against Guo’s chest and stopped crying, head lolling against the young man’s collarbone. Guo swallowed nervously when Da Qing’s grip on his t-shirt went completely slack and he craned his neck to look at the boy’s face.

“Da Qing?” he said, voice pitched high in nervousness. He bounced the toddler on his knee, trying to get a reaction. “Da Qing, are you awake?”

Footsteps came all but running down the hallway and Chief Zhao burst into the bathroom, eyes wide with near-panic. Professor Shen was just behind him, seemingly more composed, but Guo could tell that he was just as nervous as the chief.

“What’s wrong?” Zhao demanded, rushing towards Guo and Da Qing. “What’s going on?” He turned to look at Shen Wei. “Xiao-Wei, you told me he was sobbing.”

“He was,” Shen Wei said, stepping into the bathroom. He crouched next to Guo and Da Qing, frowning when he saw his son’s slack face. He tapped his little cheek with a finger. “Da Qing?” he said. “Da Qing-er, can you hear me? It’s Baba.”

“Guo, what happened?” Zhao asked, and Guo looked up at his chief, his eyes wide with panic that matched his boss’ own.

“I-I don’t know. He was c-crying but then he got q-quiet, so I thought he f-fell asleep.”

“Idiot! He’s clearly passed out! Why didn’t you-?”

“Yunlan, please,” Shen Wei said, voice tense and clipped. “Don’t do this now.” He looked up at Guo, eyes shining with concern through his glasses. “Guo, can you move him to his room? I need to call the doctor.”

“Now?” Zhao Yunlan asked, turning to his husband. “It’s nearly ten pm, Shen Wei.”

“She has an emergency after-hours number I can call,” he said, helping Guo wrap Da Qing securely in towels and get to his feet. “Yunlan, can you take his temperature and try to wake him up?” 

“Of course.”

“All right, then.” Shen Wei nodded tersely, holding onto Guo’s elbow as they headed out of the bathroom and into the hall. “I’ll grab my phone and call the doctor. Yunlan, I’ll trust you to do the rest. Xiao-Guo can help.”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Zhao Yunlan looked down at his quiet son, limp in Guo’s arms, and bit his lip. “Hurry up and call the doctor, Xiao-Wei. I have him.”

Shen Wei nodded and hurried off. Guo and Zhao paused in the hallway for a moment, both of them gazing at Da Qing and listening to his wheezy breathing, before Zhao Yunlan quickly bustled Guo down the hall to Da Qing’s room.

Chapter Text

Da Qing-er was very fond of all living things, plants and animals and insects, but he adored cats above all else. The obsession had begun when he was around one and a half and his parents had found him in the neighbor’s yard surrounded by all five of their cats, each of them purring happily around him as he tried to pet them with his pudgy hands.

When he was two Zhu Hong had found him in the back alley of the SID feeding feral cats his dried fish snacks. He had a tantrum that lasted for two hours when the woman had brought him back inside that was only ended by the acquisition of Professor Whiskers, which Lin Jing had bought the boy as a bribe to get him to stop screaming and crying. Shen Wei had not approved of this method of calming, but it had worked, and Da Qing had been glued to the toy at the hip ever since.

For his third birthday the entire SID and all of his friends from daycare had spoiled him rotten with cat-themed presents. Cat stuffed animals that meowed when you squeezed them, model jungle cats that fit in his hands and Shen Wei worried were choking hazards, headbands with cat ears, cat-themed board games and flash cards, a fuzzy blanket patterned with black cats that Da Qing adored, and a large collection of cat-themed clothing. His entire room was basically a shrine to cats now, Zhao Yunlan joked, and teased his son that he would turn into a cat if he kept this up. Da Qing laughed in delight whenever his father said this, loud and pleased, and it made both fathers’ hearts light with joy.

Now, however, neither father was joyful, and Da Qing was not laughing. He remained limp in Guo’s arms as they stepped into his little bedroom and not even a protest left his lips as Zhao Yunlan swept aside his toys and blankets to make room on the bed.

“Lay him down,” Zhao Yunlan ordered, and Guo nodded. “Keep him covered in the towels,” he added when Guo began to unwrap the boy. “We don’t want him to catch a chill.”

“Yes, Chief Zhao.” 

Zhao Yunlan turned to his son’s dresser and rummaged through it for a clean pair of underwear and pajamas. He grabbed a pair of blue Superman underpants and a pajama set comprised of a t-shirt and shorts patterned with a cat on a surfboard; it wouldn’t do for Da Qing to be wearing long sleeves and pants when he was already baking from fever.

He collected the clothing and hastily returned to his son’s bedside, where he was lying on his side, Guo kneeling next to him with his hand on his back. Zhao Yunlan shoved the pajamas at the young man.

“Here, make yourself useful,” he said. “Get these on him.”

“O-Okay,” Guo stammered.

Zhao Yunlan and Guo unwrapped Da Qing from the mass of fluffy white towels and rolled him onto his back. His breathing immediately worsened, and he tried to draw his legs and arms inward with a shiver, obviously trying to keep warm. Zhao Yunlan stared at his son for a moment, horrified. He was whiter than the towels underneath him besides the fever’s flush on his cheeks, ears, and neck, and the noises leaving his lips were nothing if not ugly. Zhao clutched the Superman underwear in his hands tighter, heart twisting in panic. When did he get so sick? When had this happened? 

Guo, sensing that his boss was near panicking but also that Da Qing was miserable, grabbed the sleep shirt that Zhao Yunlan had given him and popped it over the boy’s head. He gently grabbed the tiny arms, skin too hot against his hands, and laced them through the sleeves, murmuring words of comfort as the boy trembled in misery.

“It’s okay, miao,” he whispered. “It’s okay. We’re just getting you dressed. It’s me, Changcheng-gege, and Dada is here too.” Guo turned and nudged Zhao Yunlan gently with his knee. “Right, Chief Zhao?”

At the touch and question, Zhao Yunlan seemed to come out of his stupor, and he nodded with a weak smile.

“Yes, that’s right, kitten, I’m here. Dada is here.” He expertly pulled the underwear onto the compliant toddler and then the sleep shorts, then pulled the child up a bit to place a few pillows under his head and shoulders. Guo nearly slumped over in relief when his breathing eased a bit and he coughed. “Watch him for a minute,” Zhao Yunlan said to Guo, “I need to get the thermometer from the bathroom.”

Guo nodded and stayed kneeling at Da Qing’s bedside, taking the little boy’s hand when he whimpered in clear discomfort. Zhao Yunlan reappeared relatively quickly, thermometer in hand. He sighed as he laid it on the nightstand and pulled Da Qing into his lap.

“Xiao-Guo,” he said, “do you know how to use this?”

Guo blinked.

“W-What?” he stammered. “N-No! Chief Zhao, I think-”

“I’ll do all the pulling on his ear,” Zhao Yunlan said. “I just want you to put it in. All you need to do is place the tip in his ear and then press the button. Keep it in his ear until it beeps. That’s all.”

“B-But-”

“I think he’s going to get upset, Xiao-Guo,” Zhao Yunlan explained, leveling his subordinate with an even stare. “I’ll need to keep him still or we won’t get an accurate reading.”

“O-Oh.” Guo paled but nodded in understanding. “Then I’ll d-do it.” 

“Good. Then go for it.”

Guo took the thermometer from its charging case and popped a clean plastic cover over the tip of the thermometer. When he nodded at Zhao Yunlan, indicating he was ready, the chief held his child to his chest with one hand and with the other gently tugged on Da Qing’s ear and pulled it back. At the motion, Da Qing’s face curled up and he tried to bring his hands up to swat his father away but was stopped by Zhao Yunlan’s arm around his chest. He whined and Zhao nodded at Guo. 

“Okay,” he said.

Guo quickly placed the thermometer in Da Qing’s ear and pressed the button on the instrument, eager to get this done with as quick as possible. He remembered this experience as a child, and it had never been pleasant.

Apparently, Da Qing thought much the same because he tried to wrench his head away from the thermometer, only stopped by Zhao Yunlan’s firm grip on his head.

“Shh, shh,” the chief soothed, kissing his son’s forehead, “shh, it’s all right, Da Qing-er, it’s all right.” A moment later the thermometer beeped, and Guo pulled it out of the toddler’s ear. “Look, all done. All done, kitten. Good job.” Da Qing keened miserably, turning his face into his father’s chest, and began to cry. Zhao sighed and patted his back, opening his mouth to speak more words of comfort when Guo’s nervous, wobbly voice cut through him with panic.

“C-Chief Zhao, you should s-see this temperature. T-This isn’t good.” 

Zhao Yunlan took one look at the numbers and went cold. He clutched his son impossibly close to his chest.

“Tell Shen Wei we’re going to the hospital,” he said.

Chapter Text

Shen Wei was sitting at the kitchen table, speaking with the pediatrician on the phone about Da Qing, when Guo rushed in, face completely devoid of color. Whatever the doctor was saying to him was completely lost as Guo rushed over and pulled at his arm, trying to pull him to his feet.

“Professor Shen!” he cried. “Professor Shen! C-Chief Zhao says, Chief Zhao s-says-!”

“Calm down!” Chu snapped. Guo spared him a glance in which the two clearly said a lot more than was spoken, and Guo released Shen Wei. “Now,” Chu said. “What’s going on? Tell us slowly.”

“C-Chief Zhao said that he’s taking Da Qing-er to the hospital,” Guo said. “I-”

Shen Wei didn’t hang around to hear anymore, instead rushing down to his son’s room where he knew Yunlan and Da Qing would be. Sure enough, there were the two people he loved most in the world, Da Qing lying on his side in bed and breathing harshly as Zhao Yunlan rushed about the room stuffing things in their son’s small backpack. Shen Wei suddenly felt smaller than he ever had in his life.

“Yunlan?” he squeaked, and his husband turned and spared him only a glance before jerking his head at Da Qing.

“He’s virtually unresponsive,” he said to Shen Wei as he continued to pack things up. “And his temperature is 103.4.”

“His breathing sounds worse too,” Shen Wei said, seating himself on the edge of Da Qing’s bed and biting his lip. He truly did look worse than even a half hour ago. . .

“Professor Shen!”a tinny voice cried, and Shen Wei suddenly realized that he was still on the phone with the pediatrician. He jumped and put the phone on speaker.

“AhQi-yisheng,” he said, blushing and exchanging a look with Zhao Yunlan. “I’m sorry, I forgot I was still on the phone with you. It seems that Da Qing-er is worse and we-”

“Tell me what’s going on, please,” the doctor demanded in a clipped, worried tone. “All of Da Qing’s signs and symptoms, including the newest ones.”

Zhao Yunlan relayed the information, the scratch of a pen heard on the other end of the line, and by the end of the story, the doctor seemed to be stressed.

“Take him in now,” she said. “Dragon City Children’s Hospital. I’ll have a physician I know waiting for you at the emergency department.”

Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei shared a panicked look, Shen Wei grasping Da Qing’s arm tightly.

Yisheng, what’s going on?”

“You two don’t have time to waste,” she said, short and to-the-point. “I’ll meet you there.” Without further preamble, she hung up the phone. Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan stared at each other for a moment, each feeling panic stepping up in their chests, and then Da Qing coughed violently, small body shaking in the bed with the force of it.

Shen Wei didn’t wait for the coughing to subside; he wrapped Da Qing in his favorite blanket and left the boy’s bedroom, not waiting for Zhao Yunlan to follow him. After a moment, the chief did, their son’s small backpack in tow.

When the family stepped into the kitchen, Guo and Chu jumped to their feet. 

“What’s going on?” Chu demanded.

“We’re taking Da Qing to the hospital,” Shen Wei said, heading to the front door. He slipped on his shoes but didn’t bother with Da Qing’s; he wouldn’t need them.

“Let us drive you,” Chu volunteered, and Guo squeaked in agreement.

“Fine, but take our car,” Zhao said, tossing the keys to Chu. “Da Qing’s car seat is in it.”

“All right.”

Everyone seemed to be ready to go in record time, out the door and in the elevator within minutes of the doctor ordering them to go to the hospital. Shen Wei looked down at the blanketed bundle in his arms and began to sway gently back and forth, biting back the panic in his heart.

Chapter Text

Da Qing’s car seat was in the middle seat of the back of the car, so the sick toddler was nestled between Zhao Yunlan on the left and Shen Wei on the right, one of them holding each of his hands as he stayed somewhere in between consciousness and unconsciousness. Sometimes Shen Wei would kiss his forehead or Zhao Yunlan would sing a little song, but most of the time it was quiet, every adult listening anxiously to Da Qing’s whistling breaths. Guo and Chu were in the front, Chu speeding down the highway to get to the hospital faster, Guo chewing his lip nervously, the sight of the usually active toddler so quiet in the backseat beyond disturbing.

Halfway there, Da Qing went stiff. Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei exchanged alarmed looks.

“Da Qing?” Shen Wei asked, squeezing his son’s hand. “Da Qing, baobao, can you hear me?”

A low, deep groan bled its way from the bottom of Da Qing’s throat and Guo jumped in the front seat and whirled.

“What was that?” he cried, alarmed. “What’s happening?”

“Drive faster,” Shen Wei demanded, forcing calm into his voice. He looked up at Zhao Yunlan, eyes shining through his glasses. “Yunlan, try talking to him. I’ll call the doctor again.”

Yunlan nodded resolutely and began to speak to his son, voice low and soothing. 

“It’s all right, kitten,” he said. “It’s okay. You’re safe. Me and Baba are here and we’re taking you to get help. It’s okay, Da Qing-er, I promise.”

Da Qing groaned again and then violently tossed his head back against the car seat. Zhao Yunlan flinched, and Guo gasped. Da Qing began to shake, limbs trembling as if he was cold. Vaguely, he heard Shen Wei over the phone speaking to the doctor and saying something about a seizure.

Oh, that’s right. This was what a seizure looked like. Da Qing would go between being completely limp or convulsing violently, and sometimes he’d stop breathing. Zhao Yunlan didn’t know how long the seizure lasted for but by the time it was over, Chu announced they were nearly at the hospital.

Zhao Yunlan could do nothing but sit next to his son’s car seat and watch him seize, helpless and afraid, watch as his small fingers twisted into shapes he didn’t think possible, as his toes curled into his feet and his knees locked.

Then his son made a terrible gurgling noise, and Shen Wei reached over and forced his head down, allowing some thin trickle of vomit to fall from far-too-pale lips. Zhao Yunlan wiped the excess vomit away from Da Qing’s chin without a second thought, wincing when he caught sight of the whites of his son’s eyes.

“Da Qing-” he began, but the car suddenly screeched to a halt and both Chu and Guo jumped out.

“I’ll get help!” Guo cried, rushing inside the automatic sliding doors of the hospital emergency department as Chu wrenched open the back seat. His eyes widened at seeing Da Qing still seizing in his car seat.

“How long has it been?” he asked, leaning over Zhao Yunlan to unbuckle the toddler; Yunlan pushed him away and began to take Da Qing out himself, holding back a cry of pain when one of Da Qing’s seizing hands, clenched tightly into a fist, hit him squarely in the jaw.

Aiyo, kitten, you’re strong,” he grunted, hefting the boy into his arms and climbing out of the car. “Super strong.”

Shen Wei scrambled out after them, nearly falling on his face in his haste. Chu caught him before he fell, and Shen Wei nodded at him in thanks. He rushed forward and grabbed Zhao Yunlan’s elbow, pulling him towards the entrance of the emergency department. His heart was beating fast, far too fast, as Da Qing seized in his husband’s arms, head banging against Zhao Yunlan’s collarbone and fists beating against his chest.

Suddenly though, everything changed.

There were voices, so many voices, and strangers everywhere. They surrounded him and Zhao Yunlan in a swarm and tried to pry Da Qing from them without warning, hands all over his tiny seizing body. Zhao Yunlan growled at them like a guard dog and held his son closer as Shen Wei shoved away a pink-clad stranger who was far too close for his liking.

“Get away!!” he snapped, voice high-pitched with panic, and he pushed himself closer to Da Qing and Zhao Yunlan in a protective stance. “Stay away!”

The voices got more worried, slightly more panicked, but Shen Wei wasn’t listening to them – he only cared about his son and his husband, nothing else mattered –

Professor Shen!!!”

Shen Wei came back to himself with a violent flinch, recoiling from the loud voice at his ear. He blinked, eyes huge, to find Chu Shuzhi at his side, a worried frown plastered on his face. He was clutching tight to his forearms, shaking him.

“Professor Shen stop this!” he snapped. “We’re at the hospital! You have to let the doctors and nurses take Da Qing! Let them help!” 

Shen Wei blinked rapidly a few more times and then brought his hand to his temple, coming to himself in one swift moment. Who had been strangers surrounding them were now doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals dressed in colorful scrubs, a gurney lying in their midst. Next to him stood Zhao Yunlan holding Da Qing, who was still seizing – how was he still seizing? – and Xiao-Guo was speaking to him rapidly, gesticulating to the group of medical staff at the entryway. As Shen Wei watched, Zhao Yunlan seemed to come to himself and he suddenly turned to a nurse dressed in blue scrubs.

“Help him,” he said, voice wrecked, and the nurse rushed forward without further preamble, taking Da Qing from Zhao Yunlan’s arms and laying him on the gurney. They immediately rushed the toddler into the emergency department, spouting medical terms and jargon, leaving the family outside to reel in their horror and shock.

Chapter Text

When Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan had recovered enough that they were able to walk into the emergency department relatively clearheaded, they were immediately accosted by a nurse.

“You brought in the little boy with the seizures, right?” she said, face stressed and worried. The panic that Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan had worked so hard to fight off in the parking lot returned in a moment.

“Yes, we did,” Zhao Yunlan said. “We’re his parents.”

The nurse nodded.

“Come with me,” she said. She turned on her heel and headed down a hallway, not waiting for Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan to follow her. They did, of course, leaving Chu and Guo in the waiting room to update the rest of the SID on what was going on.

“What’s going on? What’s wrong with Da Qing?” Zhao Yunlan asked, jogging to catch up to the nurse as she made her way down the crowded pediatric ER hallway. Children were screaming and crying in individual rooms and cubicles nearby and nurses and doctors darted in and out, making it difficult for Zhao to focus on exactly what the nurse was saying, but he did his best. 

“Da Qing?” she said, eyes cutting briefly to Zhao Yunlan’s face. “Is that his name?” When Zhao nodded, she hummed. “That’s a very nice name,” she said. She turned a sharp corner and Shen Wei nearly plowed into Zhao Yunlan at the unexpected move. “Here we are,” she said before Zhao Yunlan could ask her anymore questions. “Let me get the doctor for you and she’ll answer your questions.”

The nurse left in a hurry, leaving Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei gaping at the scene that was unfolding before them. Da Qing was in a room far larger than the other’s in the emergency department, a large number of doctors and nurses swarming around him. He was lying on his back on the same gurney they had placed him on outside, but they had propped the head of it up, probably to make it easier for him to breathe. Zhao Yunlan saw with relief that Da Qing had stopped seizing and was now lying quietly, eyes closed despite the chaos surrounding him. There was a doctor sitting on a rolling stool by his head, so he couldn’t see anything outside of his son’s eyes, but he seemed to have improved.

Shen Wei, however, was horrified. All he saw was chaos and organized panic, and, reading the doctor’s expressions, he saw how stressed they were. Da Qing had been stripped of his pajamas and was covered only in a thin lavender sheet. He had an IV poking out of his left hand, the rest of the arm securely tied down to a padded arm board, heart leads were placed on his chest, an automatic blood pressure cuff was attached to his right arm, and an oxygen saturation monitor was taped around his left big toe. Shen Wei’s eyes traveled to the monitor and his eyes widened in alarm.

HR: 77

RR: 30

BP: 100/59

O2: 86%

Shen Wei recognized that although Da Qing’s blood pressure was on the lower end and his respirations were slow, his oxygen saturations were definitely far too low. They needed to be in the 90s. He unconsciously stepped forward when the doctor seated by Da Qing’s head looked up at the monitor and shook her head. 

“Can I have some oxygen on the ventilator please?”

Wait.

What.

Ventilator? What ventilator?

Shen Wei’s eyes widened in shock and horror and he looked around the room for what he was hoping desperately not to find. After a moment though, he saw it. A small, square box with flashing green numbers and complicated graphs, from its side a tangle of blue and white tubes. Eyes impossibly wide, Shen Wei followed the ventilator tubing from the machine to where it rested on the gurney. Although he couldn’t see Da Qing’s face, the implication hit him like a freight train. Shen Wei weaved and clutched at Zhao Yunlan’s arm hard enough to hurt.

“Ai, Shen Wei, that hurts! What are you-?” Zhao Yunlan stopped, words dying on his lips, when he saw that his husband had gone ashen white, eyes huge with fear. “Shen Wei?” he said. “Shen Wei, what’s wrong?”

Shen Wei licked his lips before speaking, tripping over his words in an uncharacteristic way that sent Zhao Yunlan’s heart lurching to his throat.

“He-Da Qing- he-” Shen Wei’s knees wobbled, and he listed into Zhao Yunlan; his husband caught him with ease.

“Whoa! Shen Wei are you all right?! What’s wrong?”

“Vent. . . Ventilator. . . .”

Zhao Yunlan frowned deeply.

“Ventilator? Shen Wei, what are you talking about?”

A soft voice from behind them nearly startled Zhao Yunlan into dropping his husband onto the colorful hospital tile floor. He turned and saw two doctors and a nurse in purple scrubs standing there, all solemn-faced and serious. His heart clenched nervously.

“Zhao-xiansheng, Shen-xiansheng,” said the more senior of the doctors, her greying hair pulled into a tight bun at the back of her neck, “we have a lot to discuss. Why don’t you come to my office?”

Zhao Yunlan’s grip tightened on Shen Wei and his eyes darted back to the chaos in his son’s room. He shook his head at the doctor.

“No offense, yisheng, but we’d prefer to stay here. We’re not leaving Da Qing alone.”

**********************************