The little kid who wanted to take a mile after being given an inch lowered his head, embarrassed by the unreasonable demand he'd accidentally blurted out. He pursed his lips tightly, but snuck a glance at his gege.
When he found that his gege was looking straight at him, he quickly ducked his head again.
He didn't have much confidence in that moment. He'd done something wrong, and he knew it. He had no right to make so many requests. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that he'd said something wrong. Quietly, he mumbled, "If you have to date early, then you can date… I won't get angry."
When he didn't hear any response from Xiao Yu'an, he relented and offered even more of a compromise. "I… I'll support your relationship."
Ming Shu finally heard a soft sigh from his gege. He couldn't resist looking up again, just to sneak a peek.
"Alright," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu didn't understand right away. "Huh?"
Xiao Yu'an had wanted to have a good talk with Ming Shu that day, and they'd already more or less cleared the air. Ming Shu had admitted to his wrongdoing, and he looked so meek and pitiable as he sought forgiveness. He obviously didn't want Xiao Yu'an to start dating, but he'd even gone so far as to claim he would support him.
As if Ming Shu could actually support him.
Xiao Yu'an had always taught Ming Shu to be candid about what he was feeling. He'd told Ming Shu not to hold back his tears, and to speak up when he was wronged or when he didn't want to do something. In the Xiao family, no child suffered in silence.
If he made Ming Shu 'support' him despite Ming Shu's obvious discomfort, how did that make him any different from Wen Yue, who'd once told Ming Shu that boys weren't supposed to cry?
"Didn't we already talk about this last year?" Xiao Yu'an reminded patiently. "I won't date yet. I won't go out with Tong Yu, I won't go out with Xia Zhong, and I won't go out with anyone else. Your ge has college entrance exams coming up. I don't have time to date."
Ming Shu's nose twitched a few times. He looked as elated as a small animal that had just been rescued from a shelter.
The little animal blinked a few times and asked, "You really won't?"
"When has your gege ever lied to you?"
A little kid's mood could turn on a dime. Just one sentence could piss them off badly enough to cry, while one more sentence could soothe them and make them all happy again. Ming Shu flung himself at his gege, hugging him tight and nuzzling into his chest.
After he'd had enough of that, Ming Shu lifted his face again. "Gege, can you write me an oath?"
Xiao Yu'an raised his eyebrows.
Never in his life had he written out a promise for someone.
But in their family, they had a little kid who was obsessed with written promises—Xiao Jincheng. And Ming Shu, following in Xiao Jincheng's footsteps, had learned all about those written contracts last year.
Among elementary school students, writing out promises to one another seemed to be an extremely ordinary thing.
Ming Shu crawled to the edge of his hospital bed and took out a notebook from the nightstand. "Gege, just write that down for me. Okay?"
Xiao Yu'an was speechless. This kid may as well have asked him to play house.
But the little kid's eyes were so sincere. Xiao Yu'an suddenly realized that this note alone might be enough to relieve some of the worries lodged in Ming Shu's heart.
In that case, there was no reason he couldn't write a note.
Xiao Yu'an took the notebook and a pen hanging off the hospital bed, and he started to write.
Ming Shu craned his neck to watch. Bit by bit, the gloom in his eyes disappeared.
As all elementary school students knew, this was serious business. Spoken promises were meaningless, but written promises had to be kept.
Just then, footsteps sounded outside the door. Xiao Yu'an quickly turned around, expecting Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue. But it was Xiao Mu'ting and Xiao Jincheng.
"Didi! Baobei'er! My poor baby!" Xiao Jincheng exclaimed, rushing over to the bed to stare at Ming Shu with his eyes bulging out like a monkey's. "Let your Jin-gege take a look. Where are you hurt?"
That call of 'baobei'er' turned Ming Shu's face scarlet. When he first started going over to the Xiao family's house, Jinlan-jiejie had always called him 'baobei'er' and 'little baobei' and whatnot. He'd felt embarrassed about it even back then, but he had also been a little happy to be someone's little baobei.
Now, he'd already taken over for Xiao Jincheng as the boss of their school. He'd become Ming-ge. How could he let anyone call him 'baobei'er' now?
"What are you saying?" Ming Shu demanded. "Don't call me that. Other people will laugh if they hear!"
"What other people?" Xiao Jincheng asked with a carefree grin. "It's just your three gege here. Which one of us is an 'other'?"
Ming Shu had only blushed earlier, but now his eyes reddened as well.
He couldn't handle Xiao Jincheng saying such a thing now.
He'd been lonely for so long, locked up in his house. He'd been so scared that his gege didn't want him anymore, and after hitting Xia Zhong, he'd only become more afraid.
But his gege hadn't thrown him away.
And now Xiao Jincheng and Ting-ge were here too. Neither of them hated him.
"Hey, look!" Xiao Jincheng called out. "He's gonna cry!"
Xiao Mu'ting slapped Xiao Jincheng upside the head. "Isn't that all your fault?"
As the hospital room suddenly grew lively, Xiao Yu'an let out a breath of relief. Xiao Jincheng was pretty annoying, that couldn't be denied. But he could be sensitive, too. It was obvious he genuinely cared about Ming Shu. Neither Xiao Yu'an nor Xiao Mu'ting had the ability to lighten the mood like Xiao Jincheng. Between the three of them, they could have serious talks with Ming Shu when that was necessary, and they could cheer him up when that was necessary.
Ming Shu covered his eyes, refusing to let them see him cry. Xiao Jincheng suddenly caught sight of the notebook in Xiao Yu'an's hand and snatched it away, exclaiming, "My god! Xiao Yu'an, the man himself, has sworn an oath to not date in school? Oh! My! God!"
Xiao Yu'an was silent.
Xiao Mu'ting laughed helplessly. "No way, dickhead. What, really?"
Internally, Xiao Yu'an knew he'd done this just to reassure the little kid. But if he said that, a certain sensitive little sprout would take it to heart and start worrying again. So he simply took back the notebook, tore out the page with his promise on it, and handed it to Ming Shu.
"Keep it safe," he said. "I, Xiao Yu'an, your ge, swear not to date anytime soon. You feel better now?"
Ming Shu smiled with all his pearly white teeth and nodded with all his might. "Yes!"
The four of them played around for a while until Ming Han returned.
Their families were in conflict, and a barrier had formed between them. So after thanking Ming Han and promising Ming Shu they would visit again in a few days, Xiao Yu'an had to take Xiao Mu'ting and Xiao Jincheng and leave.
He'd been careful to avoid Ming Haofeng and Wen Yue this time, but when they made their way to the stairs, they still ran into Wen Yue. That was when Xiao Yu'an realized Ming Han had come back to warn them away.
Wen Yue had just finished speaking to Ming Shu's doctor. A faint smile remained on her lips, but when she saw Xiao Yu'an and the other two boys, that smile instantly vanished. Her expression grew cold.
Xiao Yu'an politely nodded to her. Xiao Mu'ting's smile also disappeared. Only Xiao Jincheng thought to say hello to her, seeing as she was Ming Shu's mother.
But the cold atmosphere made him shut his mouth.
Xiao Yu'an didn't want to get into an argument with Wen Yue, and he no longer had any positive feelings for this pair of parents. He'd given her an obligatory greeting, and that was enough. He passed her without a word, starting to head downstairs.
But after taking just three steps, he heard Wen Yue ask, "What are you all doing here again?"
Xiao Yu'an stopped, but he didn't turn around.
Xiao Mu'ting did turn halfway, shooting Wen Yue a displeased glare.
"What kind of look are you giving me?" Wen Yue demanded. Her voice trembled. She glared back at Xiao Mu'ting with a fiercely defensive look in her eyes.
To her, these three boys from the Xiao family were all more or less the same. They were all responsible for leading Ming Shu astray. Ming Shu may have been closest to Xiao Yu'an, but the other two were far from innocent.
Xiao Mu'ting instantly shot back, "How's that any of your business?"
Wen Yue was so angry that she shook. "Oh, I see, I see! No wonder Ming Shu turned out this way!"
"He was wrong to hit someone with his bike, but the ones who wronged him were you and Ming Haofeng." Xiao Yu'an finally turned around. "I would advise you to think about the root of the problem. Don't blindly blame everything on him. He's only in fifth grade."
"You think you can lecture me?" It was obvious that Wen Yue was doing her best to control her emotions. "Is that how you speak to your elders at home?"
Xiao Jincheng had hidden behind Xiao Mu'ting, but now he interrupted, "We don't have elders like you in our home."
Wen Yue's face paled. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to maintain her composure. "I won't educate you on behalf of your parents. I only hope, from now on, you boys won't disturb Ming Shu. He isn't like you."
Those words stoked Xiao Yu'an's anger.
"How isn't he like us?"