At the end of Ming Shu's first year of college, his department—Criminal Investigation—held a special selection exam. The exam tested practical investigation skills, as well as combat skills.
The exam wasn't mandatory; students could participate on a voluntary basis. The top ten students in the selection exam would join elite students from other law enforcement universities for an isolated 45-day training program.
That special training program would take place over the summer. Which meant Ming Shu could kiss his first college summer goodbye if he participated in the exam and managed to squeeze into the top ten.
And when Ming Shu started college, he and all the other first-years had been told that their first summer break in college could very well be the only summer break that wasn't filled up by practice missions.
"What should we do?" Yang Jing was crouching anxiously on the balcony of their dorm room, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. "Lulu, you tell me. What should we do? Should we participate in the selection exam?"
Ming Shu had just returned to the dorms after a delightful weekend. He was getting settled back in with all his stuff, and he'd brought a roasted goose for the other guys at the dorm.
The top student who lived in their building instantly stopped studying and came around to split the goose.
"Of course I'm participating," Ming Shu answered. That was never a question, in his mind. If he didn't at least participate in the exam, what could he possibly hope to achieve? How did an unmotivated thing like Yang Jing even get into their dorm?
Yang Jing huffed, visibly irritated. "But if we get into the top ten, our summer is gone."
Ming Shu was taking a sip from his milk tea. He nearly did a spit take. "What even goes through that head of yours, Jingjing? You haven't gotten anywhere near the top ten yet, and you're already thinking about your lost summer break?"
Yang Jing was the sort of guy who couldn't resist a provocation. He'd been acting like a lazy old hotshot who couldn't be bothered to get invested in the selection exam. Now, he shot to his feet and puffed up his chest. "What's so special about the top ten? Your Jing-ge is throwing his cap in the ring right now! I'll bring back a spot in the top five to honor the ancestors of everyone in our dorm!"
The top student rolled his eyes while chowing down on a piece of goose. "Honor your own ancestors."
Ming Shu's whole dorm signed up for the exam. When the results came out, the only one from their dorm who managed to honor their ancestors with a spot in the top five was Ming Shu. Yang Jing managed to squeeze his way into the special training program with a spot in ninth place.
The top student and one other guy from their dorm ranked somewhere in the twenties. As soon as their finals were over, they packed up and got ready to go home.
Yang Jing stewed in bitterness. "I just knew I shouldn't have signed up for the test."
Ming Shu rolled his eyes. "What are you being so dramatic for?"
"Do you really think we're in the same boat?" Yang Jing demanded. He was proud of his results, but he still felt somewhat melancholy over the fact that he wouldn't be able to go home that summer. "Your home is a few bus stops away. My family's in the north-fucking-west."
"My home…" Ming Shu originally wanted to say his home was also far away. He also had to take a plane or train to get back. But when he thought about it, Xiao Yu'an's place… wasn't that his home?
"Summer break is sixty days, and the training cuts into forty-five of those days," Yang Jing said, bitterly counting out the remainder on his fingers. "If the last fifteen days were all before or all after the training, I could make a trip home. But we have eight days off before, and seven days after!"
Ming Shu couldn't help but laugh as he listened. He patted Yang Jing on the back. "Let's go. Ming-ge will treat you to hotpot. All meat."
Not many people were left in their dorm. Ming Shu was planning to head home that day too. He was feeling extremely charitable and planned on using a big, hearty, meat-centric meal to comfort his roommate.
"No need." Yang Jing shook his head. "Go home, go home. From today on, I'll stay here in this big ol' dorm all by myself!"
Since they'd been roommates for the better part of a year already, Ming Shu still insisted on dragging Yang Jing out to eat. By the time they got back to the dorms so that Ming Shu could pick up his luggage, Xiao Yu'an's car was already parked out in front of the building.
Right away, Yang Jing enthusiastically greeted, "Ge!"
Xiao Yu'an had picked Ming Shu up at his dorm before. Naturally, he'd already met Ming Shu's dormmates. He acknowledged Yang Jing's greeting with a smile and a nod.
Ming Shu acted a certain way in front of his classmates. In front of Xiao Yu'an, he practically became a different person altogether. As soon as he saw Xiao Yu'an, his heart soared. He quickly shooed Yang Jing away, shoved his luggage into the back seat of the car, and climbed into the passenger seat.
After eating hotpot, a smell always lingered on the clothes. Even though the air conditioning in the car was on, Ming Shu still insisted on opening the windows.
Before Xiao Yu'an got them back on the road, Ming Shu scooted over the kissed the crook of Xiao Yu'an's throat. Xiao Yu'an was wearing a dress shirt. Ming Shu's kiss landed halfway on his skin, halfway on the collar of his shirt.
Ming Shu's breath had been cooled by the mint candy he'd picked up at the restaurant. That chilled puff of air lingered on Xiao Yu'an's skin and seeped into the collar of his shirt.
Xiao Yu'an lifted a hand and brushed his fingers over that spot. Ming Shu obediently settled back down in the passenger seat.
"When do you need to get back to school?" Xiao Yu'an asked. He already knew Ming Shu had gotten into the top ten. Back when Xiao Yu'an was in college, there had been selection exams like this as well. But Xiao Yu'an had been chosen for the special, elite course soon after he started college. His training was always the fiercest, the rigorous, and the most grueling; he'd never had to take these exams.
"Only four days." Ming Shu pouted. "Old Zhao wants us to go back early to train us up some more."
Xiao Yu'an smiled. "That's to be expected. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to keep up when you start your special training."
Ming Shu's voice was soft, and a little petulant. "Ge, then you have to go out with me tomorrow. I want to try on new clothes."
Last year, at around this time, Ming Shu had cut ties with the Ming family and dragged his luggage out to the capital to seek 'refuge' with Xiao Yu'an. All he had on him was a card Ming Han had given him, and he wasn't willing to spend the money on that card. In order to earn his tuition and living expenses, Ming Shu had instantly started working two jobs. He thought of nothing except becoming self-sufficient.
But in the end, he didn't become self-sufficient at all.
Xiao Yu'an gave him money. Xiao Yu'an took care of him. He solved the problem of Ming Shu's tuition for him. And in the end, Ming Shu never wound up living a difficult, bitter life. Xiao Yu'an never stopped him from buying the name-brand clothes that he loved either.
At first, Ming Shu had been embarrassed. He'd felt like he couldn't accept everything that Xiao Yu'an was offering. He decided that he had to keep at least one job, and that he couldn't spend Xiao Yu'an's money on new clothes.
But his workload at school wasn't light, and he wanted to catch up to Xiao Yu'an. He couldn't free up the time to work a part-time job.
As time progressed, Ming Shu became bolder. He lived with Xiao Yu'an, he ate Xiao Yu'an's cooking, and he let Xiao Yu'an buy him new clothes.
"I have to meet with my team tomorrow," Xiao Yu'an said. "I'll go out with you the day after."
Ming Shu was elated. "Ge, you're the best."
Since he had to get back to school for a hellish training session in just a few days, Ming Shu spent a whole day sleeping at home. Then he got up at around noon on the second day and dressed himself up all nice, before taking the subway out to meet Xiao Yu'an.
While waiting for Xiao Yu'an, Ming Shu ran into Yi Zhuo again. This familiar face was fiercer than anyone in a fight, but as soon as he came in contact with anything remotely cat-related, he turned into a bit of a simpleton. A year had passed, and astonishingly enough—Yi Zhuo still hadn't realized that Ming Shu was Xiao Yu'an's shorthair cat.
Ming Shu chatted with Yi Zhuo about cats for a while. They were practically talking about completely different things, yet somehow still managed to carry a conversation.
Yi Zhuo said, "Your ge, you know… he just doesn't care enough for cats. You need to love your baobei a little more."
And Ming Shu said, "No, no. It's not like that at all. My ge loves that cat a lot."
Then Yi Zhuo said, "Don't think your shorthair is as cold and aloof as it seems. It loves being pet by his master. If your ge won't give it pets, you have to scratch it some and give it lots of headpats."
And Ming Shu answered, "He pets it, he pets it. The head, the neck—he pets it everywhere."
By the time Xiao Yu'an emerged from the building, Yi Zhuo was getting ready to take off. But first, from the bottom of his heart, he offered a word of praise: "Captain Xiao, I never thought you'd treat a cat so well."
Xiao Yu'an looked over at Ming Shu. Ming Shu quickly looked away, like he didn't know anything at all.
The mall they went to was fully stocked with the latest fashions. Ming Shu loved trying on clothes. He insisted on getting Xiao Yu'an's opinion on everything he tried on. By the time they went home, arms laden with big and small bags, it was dark out.
While Xiao Yu'an took a shower, Ming Shu put away his clothes in the bedroom.
In the past, Ming Shu's clothes had only occupied a small portion of this closet. But he had been gradually encroaching on Xiao Yu'an's territory, and now their clothes were all mixed together.
As Ming Shu organized his new clothes, he squeezed and shoved until he couldn't fit anything else into his side of the closet. He could only resort to putting the rest of his things away in Xiao Yu'an's space.
Before long, he found—of all things—a big bag of condoms.
In that instant, Ming Shu froze. His first instinct was to shove the condoms back into the drawer.
But he soon realized these condoms were the ones he'd brought back from the convenience store a year ago.
Back then, Ming Shu had been riled up by a customer who'd mocked him for not having used condoms before and for trembling while he'd scanned the box. Ming Shu had bought a box of every type of condom at the shop before leaving work that day.
He remembered hiding the condoms in his own drawer of the dresser, and he remembered that he couldn't find them after a while no matter how hard he looked. Xiao Yu'an never mentioned them, so Ming Shu had figured that it was impossible for Xiao Yu'an to have found them and taken them away.
And now, after a year! They suddenly reappeared!
Ming Shu's pulse quickened. He'd been pretty considerate with his use of the closet and dresser space. A year ago, he definitely wouldn't have hidden the condoms in Xiao Yu'an's space. That meant Xiao Yu'an had to have found the condoms and hidden them himself.
Ming Shu scratched a hand through his hair. As much as he thought about it, he just couldn't figure it out. Why would Xiao Yu'an hide his condoms?
What did Xiao Yu'an think and feel when he found the condoms? And what was he thinking when he hid them?
Ming Shu was so worked up that he subconsciously lifted a fist and bit down on the back of his own hand.
The shower in the bathroom was still running. Ming Shu felt his face heat up, just listening to the spray. That customer from a year ago had been grossly out of line to mock Ming Shu for not having used condoms before, but it was true—Ming Shu really hadn't used a condom before.
He still hadn't. Ever.
Even Ming Shu himself thought that was a bit inconceivable.
This ambiguous relationship between him and Xiao Yu'an was, in and of itself, a bit inconceivable.
There had been a shift during their trip home over New Year's. Xiao Lanyue knew about them now, and it seemed Jinlan-jie had figured it out too.
Ming Shu hadn't known how to face them. But Xiao Lanyue never spoke any harsh words to him. He didn't even treat Ming Shu coldly.
They didn't accept it right away, but they seemed to be trying. There wasn't a single person in the Xiao family who blamed Ming Shu. They must have been thinking that Xiao Yu'an was the gege. If something 'wrong' had developed between them, the parents were responsible for taking it up with Xiao Yu'an.
When Xiao Yu'an admitted their relationship to Xiao Lanyue, they hadn't even properly kissed yet. That night, by the riverbank, was the first time Xiao Yu'an kissed him. Xiao Yu'an had pressed a hand to the small of his back, keeping him from falling.
Ming Shu had always considered himself a bright young man. But he'd felt completely dumbstruck in that moment. He'd even forgotten how to breathe.
In the half a year since New Year's, he and Xiao Yu'an still hadn't taken that final step. Xiao Yu'an would kiss him and touch every inch of his skin, but even in their most desperate moments, Xiao Yu'an had only ever once asked him to press his thighs together.
That time, at the peak of their need, Ming Shu had even been left with marks deep enough to break skin.
Ming Shu knew that Xiao Yu'an was still apprehensive. He could stop treating Xiao Yu'an like his gege, but Xiao Yu'an—from beginning to end—still considered Ming Shu his didi.
Xiao Yu'an couldn't cross that final hurdle in his heart.
As soon as the sound of the shower stopped, Ming Shu hurriedly shut the drawer. He grabbed a change of clothes and rushed into the bathroom as soon as Xiao Yu'an emerged, so as not to let Xiao Yu'an see how red his face had become.
After showering, Ming Shu had collected himself. He changed into a new shirt he'd bought that day and returned to the bedroom, where he straddled Xiao Yu'an's waist.
They still didn't go all the way, and Ming Shu was left feeling almost itchy with restlessness. His hands traveled over Xiao Yu'an's torso, mapping the outline of his well-defined abs while asking Xiao Yu'an to kiss him again and again.
Xiao Yu'an cradled the back of Ming Shu's head. In the dark, he indulged Ming Shu, allowing all his little touches.
Besides that final step, Xiao Yu'an didn't actually deny him anything.
But Ming Shu was still greedy for more.
After spending a few relaxing days at home, it was time for Ming Shu to dive back into a rigorous training course.
Outside communication devices were prohibited at the special training camp. Even if the sky were to fall down, they wouldn't be permitted to contact the outside world.
Ming Shu could hardly bring himself to leave. He plastered his face to Xiao Yu'an's back.
Xiao Yu'an eventually had to drop him off at his school again. But there was one thing he didn't tell Ming Shu—
His team was being sent on a high-risk mission. He would be departing right away.
Fortunately, Ming Shu would be in training.
There would be no need to worry.
Ming Shu's nickname at college is Lulu, which was revealed in 'Madness of the Heart'. The origin of his nickname has been revealed there, so I won't include it in the main text here. For anyone who hasn't read 'Madness of the Heart', here's an explanation: Ming Shu had a classmate who didn't enunciate very well, and that classmate misread Shu (恕) as Nu (怒). Since Ming Shu is good-looking, he wound up being called by a prettier nickname—Lulu.
Ming Shu likes shopping for new clothes, and Xiao Yu'an spoils him. In 'Madness of the Heart', Xiao Yu'an bought an apartment in the city where Ming Shu works. He had it renovated to include a walk-in closet, just for Ming Shu's clothes.
In case you reached this point without knowing it, 'Madness of the Heart' is chronologically set later than 'Mint-Stained Shirt' but it was actually written first! 'Mint-Stained Shirt' was published later to expand on the childhoods of the couple in 'Madness'.