MINT-STAINED SHIRT

Chapter 19

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Ming Shu's thunderous cry split the sky. His piercing bawl rendered Xiao Jincheng, Chen Tie, and the other bullies motionless. They were all shocked beyond belief that this little kid who'd only seemed capable of whimpering could actually unleash such a tremendous wail.

If he could cry, why hadn't he cried sooner?

As the boys around him stood in place, stupefied, Ming Shu continued to sob. His eyes remained firmly fixed on Xiao Yu'an. How could he not cry now? He had resisted tears for so long. He had refused to cry when the bad guys bullied him and hit him, because he wasn't that weak. He even knew how to make a paper gun. He was just too small. Once he grew up, none of these bad people would ever dare bully him again.

But now that his gege was here, he wasn't afraid of anything anymore. He didn't cry out of fear. He cried out of excitement over seeing his gege!

Ming Shu watched as his gege and Mu'ting-gege streaked across his field of vision. The two older boys charged up the slope like a fierce gust of wind. Ming Shu hunched his shoulders and squeezed his eyes shut. He could hear the muffled sounds of fists slamming against bodies, and of a few people crying out in pain.

He cracked open one eye and snuck a peek at the fray just in time to see his gege kick down the bully who'd slapped him with a fan of foxtail spikes. His gege grabbed the bully's collar with his left hand and raised his right, balled up into a fist.

The bully on the ground screamed and squealed, shouting, "Xiao Yu'an, let go! Xiao Yu'an, listen to me!"

But Ming Shu's gege didn't listen to a word of it, and his fist came down.

Back when he would always climb the trees between their houses, Ming Shu had seen his gege fight a lot. But it had never been like this. Gege was angry now. He wasn't playing around the way he did with Jincheng-gege. He was really trying to hurt someone.

Ming Shu subconsciously balled his own hands up into little fists. His heart slammed against his ribcage. Those bullies had messed with him for so long. They'd pushed him down several times. His body was covered in bristly grasses, and his back and bottom ached from falling down so much. He'd even scraped his knees on the gravel littering the ground, and they were still bleeding now. Jincheng-gege had been hit a few times in the head as well. The bully in Xiao Yu'an's hold was such a bad person that Ming Shu wanted to hit him a few times too.

The grassy field atop the rocky slope turned into a battlefield.

But, in truth, it wasn't much of a battle. Although Chen Tie and his goons had an advantage in numbers, they were no match for Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting. And Xiao Jincheng was a clever little thing. As soon as two formidable allies appeared, he picked himself up and led Ming Shu off to the side, staying out of the fray.

"Sit right here. I'll explain what Xiao Mu'ting and Xiao Yu'an are doing," he said boastfully, as though he were a veteran of watching this sort of bloodbath. "You can start learning some of their moves."

Ming Shu was still scared. He'd started to calm down upon seeing his gege, but his heart was still beating a bit too fast. "What moves?"

Xiao Jincheng started to ramble and ramble and ramble until Ming Shu felt dizzy just listening to him. He kept slapping Ming Shu on the back as well, as though to prove he was totally calm in the face of these violent affairs. He boasted that there was nothing to worry about with the two older Xiao boys there, because no one was stupid enough to mess with them.

Ming Shu's gaze drifted back to his gege, and he started to pout.

"Hey, what's wrong with you! You get to watch a fight, and you're still upset?" Xiao Jincheng demanded. He lifted a hand, dirty from being stepped on, and poked Ming Shu's cheek. "No pouting. If you pout, your mouth will get longer and longer and turn into a pig's snout!"

Ming Shu hurriedly stopped pouting and pursed his lips instead.

Xiao Jincheng laughed himself silly. "So why aren't you happy?"

"You're their didi," Ming Shu muttered. "Of course gege would fight for you."

"So are you," Xiao Jincheng said. Among the Xiao family's boys, no one was more generous than Xiao Jincheng. Ming Shu's status as their didi seemed obvious to him. He didn't pick up on the small fluctuations in Ming Shu's mood as he reached out and ruffled Ming Shu's hair. "Didn't I fight for you too?"

"But you couldn't win…" Ming Shu mumbled.

"Oi! You're looking down on me with your short little arms and legs?!" Xiao Jincheng huffed. "Out of your three gege, I was the first to get here!"

Ming Shu's eyes widened. "Huh?"

"You're so stupid," Xiao Jincheng chided. He ruffled Ming Shu's hair again; he'd gotten a bit addicted to doing that. "We're all your gege. Of course we're all going to fight for you."

"Gege…" Ming Shu batted Xiao Jincheng's hand away and looked back over at Xiao Yu'an. "Am I a didi now?"

Xiao Jincheng thought this little thing was just too funny. Ming Shu had been coming over to their house every day for ages now, and he still hadn't realized he was their didi?

"Of course you're our didi!"

Xiao Jincheng had long since grown tired of being the youngest in the Xiao family. He'd always wanted a didi he could boss around.

"You're killing him, you're killing him!" one of Chen Tie's lackeys screeched. But Xiao Yu'an's rage was still burning. He threw several more punches before finally releasing Chen Tie.

Before the finals of the badminton tournament, Xiao Yu'an had thought it was a bit strange that he couldn't see Ming Shu in the crowd. But he'd never imagined Chen Tie would have abducted Ming Shu. When Xiao Jinlan rushed over to them with the news, Xiao Yu'an and Xiao Mu'ting had sprinted out to the slope as fast as their legs would carry them.

Chen Tie was a notorious bully, but Ming Shu was just a tiny little thing. A person had to be truly despicable to raise a hand against a five-year-old kid. When he saw Ming Shu flung to the ground, Xiao Yu'an had decided he couldn't let this slide. Even if it had been a kid he didn't know, he wouldn't have allowed someone to throw around a child like that.

And this wasn't just any kid. It was Ming Shu, who'd stuck to him for half the summer. Even though Ming Shu still ate and slept at the Ming family's home, he was no different from Xiao Yu'an's own didi.

Ming Shu's wail could have made anyone's heart ache. Just how much had he suffered?

Xiao Mu'ting had taught Chen Tie a lesson before. He called out to Xiao Yu'an, warning him not to hurt Chen Tie beyond repair. By the time Xiao Yu'an released him, Chen Tie's nose was bloody and his face was battered and bruised.

Chen Tie couldn't even cry or curse at Xiao Yu'an. He was used to being the toughest boy around, but he was all bark and no bite. When he encountered a tougher opponent, he could only wallow in self-pity over not being strong enough to win.

Though he'd stilled his fists, Xiao Yu'an wasn't satisfied. He shouted for Xiao Jincheng.

Xiao Jincheng instantly leapt to his feet, as though he'd been waiting for his name to be called. The pain of the blows he'd taken to the head was all but forgotten now. "Here!"

"Come here," Xiao Yu'an said without turning around. He kept his glare fixed on Chen Tie. "Ming Shu, you too. Come over here."

Xiao Jincheng led Ming Shu over.

Chen Tie's lip had been split. He scrambled back several steps, as though preparing to flee.

"Freeze," Xiao Yu'an commanded. He didn't lift a hand to threaten Chen Tie again, but when Chen Tie looked back, he saw Xiao Mu'ting right behind him. He was surrounded. There was nowhere to run.

"What are you going to do to me?" Chen Tie snarled, gnashing his teeth like a caged beast.

Ming Shu had been pretty meek and obedient while Xiao Jincheng led him over by the hand. But as soon as they neared Xiao Yu'an, Ming Shu wasn't meek or obedient anymore. He shook off Xiao Jincheng's hand and reached out for his gege.

At just that moment, Xiao Yu'an had reached out to him as well. He pulled Ming Shu close and set his hands on Ming Shu's shoulders, turning him to face Chen Tie.

"Apologize," Xiao Yu'an ordered.

His gege's voice was so different from usual that Ming Shu, standing in front of him, trembled. He instinctively craned his neck back to look at his gege.

Chen Tie's face was twisted into an ugly mask. He panted heavily while glaring fiercely at Ming Shu.

He was like a wild, rabid animal. Anger and malice made him ugly. Ming Shu thought all that privately and did his best to glare right back. He'd never glared at anyone before, but his gege was right behind him. So if someone glared at him, Ming Shu would glare back. He wasn't afraid of anything.

"Apologize," Xiao Yu'an repeated.

Chen Tie stalled and seethed for ages before he finally muttered, "Sorry."

Xiao Jincheng cupped both hands around his ears. "Can't hear you!"

Xiao Mu'ting was also still pissed. He fumed at the mere sight of Chen Tie. "You had that much energy when you were bullying little kids, and now you're running out of steam?"

"I'm sorry!" Chen Tie relented.

Xiao Yu'an frowned and took Ming Shu's hand in his own. "If you have a problem with me, take it up with me. If you ever touch Ming Shu or Xiao Jincheng again, I'll send you to the hospital."

Chen Tie's eyes widened with shock and fear. They'd fought before, but playground fighting was just playground fighting. Xiao Yu'an had never said anything about sending someone to the hospital before.

Xiao Mu'ting was running out of patience. "Get lost."

The bullies scattered like wild dogs, sprinting down the rocky slope. It was only then that Xiao Yu'an turned and knelt down in front of Ming Shu, looking him over and helping him dust off the grass clinging to his clothes.

Ming Shu stood still for a while, letting Xiao Yu'an pat off the grass. Finally, he whispered, "Gege."

Xiao Yu'an looked up. "Hm?"

Ming Shu whimpered, but said nothing before he flung out his little hands and leapt into Xiao Yu'an's arms.

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Chapter 19

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