Ming Shu didn't whimper or whine. This was his territory, and he was Ming-ge. He couldn't let his peers call him that for nothing.
Even if it was his gege, he couldn't afford to be afraid.
But when he shuffled closer and snuck a glance up at Xiao Yu'an, there was still a hint of trepidation in his eyes.
The sun was already starting to set, and in autumn, the air grew colder as soon as night fell. But Ming Shu's gege was still only wearing his basketball uniform with a track jacket draped over his shoulders. It seemed the heat and energy from his basketball game had yet to fully dissipate.
Ming Shu lowered his head, barely daring to peek up at Xiao Yu'an. "Gege, I'm here."
Elementary school students got out of school early, compared to older kids, and it was Friday, which meant they got out of class even earlier than usual. Only a handful of kids who'd just finished their after-school duties were still on campus, and a few of them peered over curiously from a distance.
Xiao Yu'an didn't care if people were watching. He didn't intend on scolding Ming Shu right then and there, anyway. As soon as Ming Shu approached, Xiao Yu'an turned and made his way towards the school gates without looking back even once.
He knew Ming Shu would follow him.
Ming Shu stood in place for a moment. Seeing his gege walk off, without a word, left him feeling truly panicked. His gaze fell upon his gege's long shadow, stretched out by the setting sun, and he quickly, almost subconsciously, hurried to catch up.
If his gege wanted to berate him, even if he wanted to berate him right there out in the open, Ming Shu could have lived with it. But he couldn't handle his gege walking away without a word. He didn't even get a chance to explain himself.
Du Hao had already told Ming Shu everything, and Ming Shu knew he could explain his actions. He could explain the fight, and he could explain the misunderstanding over skipping class. He hadn't been the one to get all those other kids involved in skipping at all.
Gege had misunderstood him.
Gege seemed to be disappointed in him.
As he followed along, quickening his pace to keep up, Ming Shu's palms began to sweat.
He had never been so nervous.
In the past, whenever Ming Shu misbehaved, his gege would just scold him. But this time, it seemed his gege didn't even feel like scolding him.
His disappointment was so much worse than anger. What was Ming Shu supposed to do now?
As they left the school behind, the streets around them filled up with people. Xiao Yu'an took long strides, and the much shorter Ming Shu could only run to keep up.
Ming Shu was so anxious and discomfited that he started panting as he ran.
Normally, his gege would always slow down or wait for him. His gege had never acted this way before. Ming Shu suddenly felt himself getting afraid after all. If his gege continued walking like this and left him behind, what would he do? What would happen to him?
Ming Shu knew he'd made a mistake. He shouldn't have skipped class. But since he knew it was wrong, he would change. He wouldn't do it again.
He wanted to shout, but his voice wouldn't come out. The sudden change that had come over his gege had made his mind go blank with shock and panic.
Xiao Yu'an knew Ming Shu was still following him, and he knew Ming Shu was getting anxious. But he had to do this. Otherwise, Ming Shu wouldn't take this lesson to heart. He wouldn't learn from his mistakes.
Ming Shu didn't have any parents who could teach him these things. Wen Yue and Ming Haofeng lived their own lives comfortably, hardly ever returning to even take a look at their son. They didn't care about anything that went on in Ming Shu's life, and Ming Shu's grandparents had a problematic way of 'teaching lessons'.
If he hadn't started taking care of Ming Shu all those years ago, he wouldn't care. It wouldn't matter to him whether Ming Shu was skipping class or getting into fights. But since he'd taken Ming Shu in, he had to take responsibility.
A little kid getting into a big fight wasn't actually that big of a deal, and Xiao Yu'an knew Ming Shu had been protecting the weak. Skipping class was a pardonable offense as well; Du Hao had already confessed that Ming Shu had nothing to do with the other boys skipping class.
But Ming Shu had promised Xiao Yu'an that he would go back to class. And, in the end, he'd still skipped. Ming Shu had lied, and that was why Xiao Yu'an gave him the silent treatment now.
It may not have seemed like a big deal, but if Ming Shu got used to being pampered and spoiled, he would think he could get away with these things without ever suffering any consequences.
Xiao Yu'an did spoil Ming Shu too much. And it wasn't just him. Didn't everyone in his family spoil Ming Shu? But there came a point when enough was enough. If Xiao Yu'an let things go on like this, Ming Shu would grow up into a complete and utter delinquent.
And the Xiao family didn't raise delinquents.
Ming Shu had walked this stretch of road, from the elementary school to their residential community, with his gege countless times before. But the trip had never left him so flustered and alarmed.
When they reached the Xiao family's house, Ming Shu was struck by a bolt of fear that his gege would go inside and leave him there. He couldn't hold back any longer. He leapt forward and grabbed onto his gege's arm, holding on tight. But he still didn't speak; he kept his lips tightly pursed.
Xiao Yu'an looked down at the messy whorl of the little kid's hair.
Ming Shu fiercely shook his head.
Xiao Jincheng was sticking his head out of a window on the second floor, straining to watch.
With Ming Shu still stubbornly attached to his arm, Xiao Yu'an made his way into the courtyard, hauling Ming Shu in with him.
Xiao Yu'an led him over to the garden faucet and told him to wash his hands and face. But Ming Shu still wouldn't let go.
"You want to go into my room when you're this dirty?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Ming Shu's eyes instantly widened with realization. He wasn't going to be abandoned outside. His gege was going to take him to his room!
Once they got inside, Xiao Yu'an took off his jacket and tossed it over the back of his chair. Then he took a seat in that chair and looked at Ming Shu.
Ming Shu closed the bedroom door, and he even locked it. Part of him was afraid his gege would try to throw him out. And part of him thought his gege was going to whoop him, which was something he didn't want Xiao Jincheng to see.
That would be too humiliating.
But his gege didn't seem to have any intention of lifting a hand against him. His gege only told him to come a little closer.
Ming Shu scooted over at a snail's pace, stopping two steps away from his gege.
Xiao Yu'an lifted a hand and waved him even closer.
Ming Shu shuffled another step forward.
Xiao Yu'an simply looked at Ming Shu for a while, thinking back to what Ming Shu had been like when he was only five. Ming Shu had been extremely timid back then, and his teacher had said that was caused by the lack of affirmation he received in his day to day life.
Now, all traces of timidity were gone from Ming Shu's eyes. Ming Shu probably didn't remember a time when he'd been so withdrawn.
"When I told you to go back to class, did you or did you not tell me you would go?" Xiao Yu'an asked coldly.
Ming Shu nodded. "I did."
"Then why didn't you go? You lied to me?"
Ming Shu fidgeted. His panic was rising again. "Gege, we only had gym in the afternoon."
"It doesn't matter what class you had. You agreed to do something, but you didn't do it." Xiao Yu'an paused for a moment. "It wasn't that you couldn't do it. You had no intention of going back to class when you told me you would."
Ming Shu pursed his lips again.
His gege wasn't wrong. He had indeed agreed unthinkingly, without any intention of actually going back to class. It just hadn't seemed like a big deal to him. As long as he hid himself well, his gege never would've found out. And even if Ming Shu was caught, his gege wouldn't get angry. His gege doted on him…
If he'd known his gege would be angry, and disappointed, Ming Shu definitely wouldn't have skipped class or lied.
"Speak." Xiao Yu'an gave Ming Shu's calf a light kick, barely more than a nudge.
Ming Shu had no idea what he was supposed to say. After fidgeting for a long moment, he managed to confess, "I was wrong."
"Wrong about what?"
"I shouldn't have skipped class."
"That isn't the important part."
"I shouldn't have lied to you."
Xiao Yu'an let Ming Shu stand in silence for a while before he continued, "You think you can do anything you want. You think even if you do something you know is wrong, I won't blame you."
Ming Shu lowered his head.
"And even if I blame you, I'll forgive you as soon as you throw a little tantrum."
Ming Shu couldn't argue. Because he really did think that way.
"I admit, it's my fault you turned out this way. When Yang-laoshi first told me about your behavioral problems, I thought it was fine because you were just a little kid," Xiao Yu'an said. His voice was steady and calm. There were no traces of heat or anger in his tone, but that only made Ming Shu feel more anxious. Xiao Yu'an continued, "But now, it's become a big problem. If I keep spoiling you like this, there's no telling what kind of trouble you'll get into in the future."
Ming Shu didn't like the sound of any of that. Quietly, he mumbled, "Ge, I won't. I'm not a troublemaker."
"Do you want me to count up all the messes you've made since fourth grade?" Xiao Yu'an asked.
Ming Shu's meek temperament had really been destroyed. He hadn't dared say anything when he was afraid his gege would throw him away, but now that he knew his gege wouldn't do that, he felt a sort of stubbornness taking root within him. He still wanted to argue.
He was wrong to fight, and he was wrong to skip class. But his gege had done something wrong too.
Xiao Yu'an could tell from Ming Shu's expression that the kid still had a lot he wanted to say. He didn't just want to scold Ming Shu today; he also wanted to hear what Ming Shu was thinking. If Ming Shu had something to say, Xiao Yu'an would hear him out.
"You don't agree with what I'm saying?" Xiao Yu'an asked. "Do you think I've said something untrue?"
At that, Ming Shu couldn't tamp down his retort any longer. "I did something wrong, and I admitted it. But you still haven't admitted what you did wrong."
Xiao Yu'an raised his eyebrows. "Me? What did I do wrong?"
"You're dating at school!" Ming Shu accused. "I saw everything, and you haven't admitted it!"