After they ate, Fu Shizhou collected the trash to take it downstairs. He planned on taking Qiao Luo with him, so that they could have a stroll.
Qiao Luo dawdled in the room, seemingly dead set against stepping outside. Fu Shizhou sighed helplessly and asked, "What is it? You still need to put on makeup like a little girl?"
Unexpectedly, Qiao Luo said, "Y… yeah! I need to change. What if we run into your classmates? I'd be a disgrace if I went out looking so shabby. You go downstairs and wait for me!"
The little brat had learned to care about his appearance?
Fu Shizhou shook his head as he picked up a box of chicken bones that had been cleaned by a certain 'shabby' little brat. "Remember to lock the door."
Qiao Luo was the type who couldn't keep anything bottled up inside, especially when it came to Fu Shizhou. He often spilled all his thoughts and feelings to Fu Shizhou, as though pouring a bucket of peas directly into his brain.
Bottling up the secret of Fu Shizhou's gifts was nearly enough to make Qiao Luo suffocate.
He quickly threw on a new t-shirt, then ran downstairs. From afar, he called out to Fu Shizhou, "Close your eyes! Close your eyes!"
Qiao Luo came barreling down the stairs way too quickly, and Fu Shizhou staunchly refused to close his eyes. If he did, the little brat would dive into his arms and send them both flying.
Instead, Fu Shizhou subconsciously opened his arms.
Qiao Luo had planned on sprinting over, placing the gift in front of Fu Shizhou, and shouting, 'Open your eyes now! SURPRISE!'
But seeing Fu Shizhou's open arms, he instantly forgot all about his plan. He leapt straight into Fu Shizhou's arms instead, presenting the treasure in his hands. "Present, present, I got you a present! Are you surprised? Are you happy?"
Fu Shizhou set him down and accepted the gift, looking it over. "Cufflinks?"
Qiao Luo bobbed his head like a chicken pecking at rice. "Yep, yep! You're graduating soon, and you'll have to wear suits to work. You can wear my cufflinks then."
Fu Shizhou was silent for a moment. "…have you ever seen a programmer wear a suit to work?"
Qiao Luo blinked. "Huh?"
His mood plummeted. He wasn't happy. He really wasn't happy now.
He'd been thrilled to bits all this time. After keeping his presents hidden away for two whole days, he'd finally whipped one out, only to discover he'd made a huge mistake. He wilted right away, mumbling to himself, "O… okay. If you don't like them, forget it. I… I actually…"
Fu Shizhou put the cufflinks back in their box and interrupted, "I don't not like them."
"I actually got…" Qiao Luo stopped and blinked. "Huh?"
Fu Shizhou couldn't be bothered to repeat himself. He grabbed Qiao Luo's hand and started leading him away from the dormitory buildings. "You'll have a coming-of-age ceremony before your college entrance exams. Your school will invite your parents, and I'll probably wear a suit then."
Qiao Luo followed mechanically as Fu Shizhou dragged him along. His brain didn't catch up right away, but when it did, his excitement shot straight up again. "You're coming to my coming-of-age ceremony?!"
Fu Shizhou slapped a hand to Qiao Luo's forehead and kept him at bay, preventing him from flinging himself into Fu Shizhou's arms again. "You spend almost half a year at my house every year. That makes you half ours, doesn't it? Are you saying you wouldn't let my grandpa attend your ceremony?"
Qiao Luo's mood was fluctuating like a roller coaster, sharply spiking up and dipping down. It surely wasn't good for the heart.
He let out a stupid little giggle and emphatically declared, "You promised. No backing out now."
"Have I ever backed out after making you a promise?' Fu Shizhou asked.
Qiao Luo gave it some thought and realized his Zhouzhou-gege really was a man of his word. Happily, he murmured, "I want to come of age real fast."
Fu Shizhou continued, impassively, "That means you aren't allowed to lie to me, and you aren't allowed to date early. If your grades tank because you secretly start dating, I'll have to go back on my word."
Qiao Luo pursed his lips. "As if I would dare lie to you. In my first year of middle school, I only lied because I missed you too much. I thought about seeing you every day, and I dreamt of seeing you every night. That was why I had to pretend to be sick to get you to come back. But then you were so angry that you didn't talk to me for a month. How could I ever lie to you again?"
Since they were already on the subject, Qiao Luo took the opportunity to make one thing crystal clear: "You're never allowed to ignore me for that long again."
Back then, the little brat's lie had thrown Fu Shizhou into such a panic that he'd hurriedly gotten his driver's license and bought a car. In the end, the little criminal mastermind himself had even produced a hideous little dinosaur, which now hung on the rearview mirror of that car.
And the little brat still wanted to act like the wronged party here?
Fu Shizhou gave him a look and said, "Alright, alright. Stop acting like a good boy."
Qiao Luo stood his ground. "I am a good boy! Say it. Promise me."
That attitude of his said he wouldn't hesitate to throw a tantrum right then and there if Fu Shizhou didn't give his word. Fu Shizhou started pulling him along again and finally answered, "I got it. When you look for me, I'll be there. Happy?"
Giving a gift had brought Qiao Luo an unimaginable bounty of joy in return. Fu Shizhou had promised to attend his coming-of-age ceremony, and he'd even promised not to ignore Qiao Luo in the future.
Qiao Luo did the math in his head and decided he'd hit the jackpot.
He still had lots of other presents in his suitcase. Maybe he could ask Fu Shizhou to visit him every weekend?
Just the thought of that made him happy. That night, he didn't cling to Fu Shizhou too aggressively. After gaming for a while, he obediently washed up and went to sleep.
However, his mood had probably gone through too many severe fluctuations that evening. Qiao Luo was the sort who could normally sleep through the night and wake up refreshed the next morning. But that night, he had a nightmare.
Qiao Luo woke with a start in the middle of the night, crying. Before he could even open his mouth to call out, the little lamp on the bookshelf came on. Immediately afterwards, Fu Shizhou appeared at his side, softly asking, "Luoluo? Nightmare?"
This was scarier than any nightmare.
Why was his Zhouzhou-gege suddenly so caring and warm?
Qiao Luo had yet to react to Fu Shizhou's close proximity. Fu Shizhou pressed a hand to Qiao Luo's forehead and soothingly asked, "Were you scared? It's okay, Luoluo. Wake up. Don't be afraid. You don't need to be scared."
Qiao Luo's recent dreams of monsters and darkness were all but completely dispelled by now. He nuzzled his head against the palm of Fu Shizhou's hand. His voice was tender and still a little wet with tears as he said, "I want to sleep with you."
Fu Shizhou tensed.
Qiao Luo had already taken the initiative to squirm into his arms. "I won't kick you. I'll be good."
Fu Shizhou did his best to keep his voice perfectly even: "I'm in the bed right across from you. The beds are too small to share."
Qiao Luo gestured through the air with his hands. "I'm this skinny. I only take up a teeeeeensy, tiny bit of space."
Softly, sweetly, he whined, "Zhouzhou-gege~"
Fu Shizhou sighed. "If I don't let you see how cramped it'll be to squeeze in together, you won't let me go back to sleep, will you?"
Qiao Luo stretched out his arms. His voice was tinged with drowsiness and petulance as he demanded, "Hug."
Fu Shizhou had no choice but to go back to his own bed and grab his covers. He turned to Qiao Luo's bed and lay down right at the edge, doing his best to stick to one side so as not to crowd Qiao Luo.
Gradually, Qiao Luo recovered from the surprise of his suddenly gentle, suddenly sweet Zhouzhou-gege. The horrors of his nightmare drifted back into his mind, and he quickly curled in against Fu Shizhou.
"I'm a little scared."
The two of them hadn't slept in such close quarters in a very long time.
Qiao Luo had already plastered himself against Fu Shizhou, gluing himself to Fu Shizhou's chest like there were no seams between them.
The little brat weighed next to nothing, but he was flexible from many years of dance practice. He was still like a soft little dumpling. His head came to rest at the crook of Fu Shizhou's throat, stirring up a faint itch with the soft strands of his hair.
They'd used the same body wash and shampoo that night. The little brat smelled immensely familiar, all over.
…it was Fu Shizhou's own scent.
Fu Shizhou held him. His arms were a little tense. After a while, he softly called out, "Qiao'er?"
Qiao Luo had already fallen asleep again. He remained firmly lodged in Fu Shizhou's arms, calm and tranquil and totally oblivious to Fu Shizhou's voice.
Fu Shizhou quieted for a while. He waited for Qiao Luo to fall even more soundly asleep. It wasn't until Qiao Luo started snoring softly that Fu Shizhou finally relaxed his own rigid muscles.
He dipped his head ever-so-slightly and pressed a kiss to Qiao Luo's soft and fluffy hair. Almost silently, he whispered: "Sweet dreams."
14: Fu Shizhou, what are you doing? What are you doing while that child is asleep?!
Old Fu: Kissing my wife, getting some practice in advance.
14 refers to the author, whose pen name is November 14th (十一月十四).