Fu Shizhou came back.
Zhouzhou-gege was there.
Qiao Luo's fingers were pressed flush against the dry, warm palms of Fu Shizhou's hands. He scooted forward bit by bit until his legs were pressed to Fu Shizhou's knees. Softly, he whispered, "Okay."
He was behaving too sweetly. It only made Fu Shizhou's heart ache more.
Fu Shizhou would have preferred to see the little brat throw a tantrum.
He took the glass from Qiao Luo and set it aside. To Qiao Luo's parents, he said, "Uncle, Auntie, you guys get some rest too. I'll take him upstairs and get him to sleep. Everything will be fine after a good night's rest."
Qiao Luo sweetly added, "Papa, Mama, I'm okay. You don't need to worry about me."
Mama Qiao stroked Qiao Luo's hair soothingly and thanked Fu Shizhou once more for letting them trouble him with this task. Then she went off to find an extra set of covers for Fu Shizhou.
Papa Qiao rinsed out the glass that had been filled with milk, then started helping Qiao Luo tidy up the things from his ruined backpack.
The two of them weren't in high spirits either. Qiao Luo had grown up pampered and spoiled. His parents had never once lifted a finger against him. Even when he was naughty, even when he misbehaved, they only ever scolded him verbally.
And now, their precious son had been bullied. Papa Qiao was a complete gentleman, but even he wanted to find that little bully and beat him to a pulp.
Fu Shizhou patted Qiao Luo's soft and silken hair, then took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "Let's go to your room and get some sleep."
Qiao Luo obediently stood up, but he couldn't steady himself once he rose. He flopped back down onto the couch.
His skinny little legs were still trembling and shivering. When he looked up at Fu Shizhou, his eyes reddened all over again.
He wasn't okay at all. He'd only said that because he was afraid his mom and dad would worry.
Fu Shizhou was exceptionally warm and caring that night. He stooped back down and gently touched Qiao Luo's little face before lightly massaging his legs. "Want gege to carry you?"
Quivering tears pooled in Qiao Luo's eyes. He pursed his lips, not saying anything. But he petulantly lifted his arms to Fu Shizhou.
When Papa Qiao finished washing the glass and turned around, he saw Qiao Luo wrapped around Fu Shizhou like a silkworm. Only Qiao Luo's fuzzy little head was sticking out while Fu Shizhou held him securely in his embrace.
The bad mood that had plagued Papa Qiao all night finally took a turn. He couldn't help but laugh. "Luoluo, get down from there. How old are you? Your gege can't lift you up anymore. Shizhou, you really can't spoil him like this."
Qiao Luo snuggled in against Fu Shizhou's chest. He refused to make a peep. If he spoke, it would be all too obvious that he'd already cried.
Fu Shizhou held him steady and said to Papa Qiao, "It's fine. I can manage."
Qiao Luo had held back his tears in front of his own mom and dad, but with Fu Shizhou holding him like this, those tears sprang out of his eyes now. Drop after drop rolled down his cheeks as they made their way upstairs. Before they even reached his bedroom, his little face was completely tear-stained.
Fu Shizhou set him down on the bed and soothingly stroked his hair. He got up to fetch a wet towel for Qiao Luo, to clean his face. But before he even turned around, his arm was caught in a deathly tight grip.
Qiao Luo sobbed so hard that his small frame jerked and shuddered with it. His big, dewy eyes possessed all the innocence of a newly hatched chick, coming into contact with the world for the very first time. Those eyes were full of need and unease.
Fu Shizhou's temples spasmed. The ache in his heart returned.
He wanted to take Qiao Luo into his arms again, and he wanted to kiss away Qiao Luo's tears. He wanted to turn back time. He wanted to redo everything, and to do better. He wanted to protect Qiao Luo from all harm and malice.
Fu Shizhou was vexed and remorseful. He was furious with himself.
What was he to do now? He'd failed to protect his little tail.
He wasn't calm at all. He'd also been scared half to death.
Fu Shizhou gave up on his plans to fetch a towel from the bathroom. He faced Qiao Luo and bent from the waist to look him in the eye. As he reached out and brushed away Qiao Luo's tears with his thumbs, he murmured, "You little liar. You just said you were okay."
Then, Fu Shizhou lightly tapped the tip of Qiao Luo's nose. "Gege is here. Don't cry, okay?"
Qiao Luo clutched Fu Shizhou's arm and pulled it towards his own chest. Between sobs and hiccuping breaths, he explained, "I didn't want my mom and dad to worry, but I was really scared."
Fu Shizhou hesitated for a moment, but ultimately spread his arms to embrace Qiao Luo again. He picked Qiao Luo up and sat him down across his own legs, completely wrapping him up in a hug. He carded his fingers through Qiao Luo's soft hair, gently massaging his scalp to comfort him.
"What about me? You're not afraid of me worrying about you? Then what if I didn't come? What would you have done?"
Qiao Luo leaned against Fu Shizhou. A sense of safety and security arose from the comfort he found there. He rubbed all his tears off on Fu Shizhou's clothes and finally started to relax. "I was going to secretly tell only my dad, but then you came."
Fu Shizhou kept this soft and delicate person in his arms. He gave up on his attempt to tell Qiao Luo to call him as soon as anything happened in the future. Instead, he gently touched Qiao Luo's leg. "What happened to your legs? Are you hurt?"
He hadn't worried about that right away because he'd known Qiao Luo's parents would have checked for injuries already.
But Qiao Luo really did nod. "I ran too fast. My legs feel all weak now."
He paused for a moment, overcome by a bit of embarrassment. With his face buried against Fu Shizhou's chest, he mumbled, "My… groin hurts a little."
Fu Shizhou jumped, scared half to death all over again. "Where?!"
What the hell! Getting hurt there wasn't something that could wait to be addressed!
Qiao Luo's embarrassment spiked. "No, it's… it's just the juncture of my legs and my hips. I was too embarrassed to tell my mom when I was taking a bath."
A moment of silence passed through the room. Fu Shizhou had locked up, his whole body going tense. He drew a deep, slow breath before he asked, "Then… I'll take a look?"
He was absolutely certain that the little brat's thoughts were going off in any… peculiar direction. He plainly, purely thought of Fu Shizhou as his gege.
"I looked at it myself. It's bruised. Needs some medicine." Qiao Luo inevitably got some bumps and bruises during dance practice, so he had a stock of ointment in his room. He moved his death grip to Fu Shizhou's waist, hugging him close and burrowing in against his chest again. His voice was almost stickily sweet as he continued, "The medicine box is in my closet. Carry me over to look for it, okay? I want you to keep holding me."
Fu Shizhou was Liu Xiahui. He was a man of honor. Patience was a golden virtue, and gold never spoiled…
After laying eyes on the huge swath of bruising on Qiao Luo's upper legs, Fu Shizhou well and truly calmed down.
His expression remained completely even, and he remained completely unflustered as he used a cotton swab to apply the ointment to Qiao Luo's bruise without ever letting his gaze drift to Qiao Luo's pert little butt. Then he cocooned Qiao Luo in the covers and embraced him again, blankets and all.
He slowly let out a long breath.
Some fear still lingered on his mind.
If this injury had been just a little more severe, it would have been a much bigger deal.
Fu Shizhou soothingly patted Qiao Luo's back, again and again, gently comforting him.
It was to comfort the frightened Qiao Luo, and it was also to comfort himself.
Qiao Luo continued to cling to him, insistent on being held. And it wasn't as though Fu Shizhou didn't want to hold that little brat. Even after he was sure Qiao Luo was safe and sound, he stayed well within arm's reach, blanketing Qiao Luo with his protection.
They were each other's sanctuary.
Softly, Fu Shizhou asked, "Do your legs still hurt? Are you still scared? I'll hold you. I'll keep holding you, the whole time. So you just get some sleep, okay?"
Qiao Luo had already stopped crying, but his eyes were still damp and shiny. It made him look so sad and pitiful. His silken hair brushed Fu Shizhou's chin, and his voice was soft and a little nasally as he said, "They said they were going to cripple me. That's what really scared me."
He scooted closer to Fu Shizhou again. "But you said you would pick me up in the future. So I'm not scared anymore."
Fu Shizhou indulged him and pulled him deeper into his embrace, but his voice was grave and solemn as he asked, "Exactly what happened? Thugs who prey on students usually just bully them for their pocket money. They said they would cripple you?
"Did you do something to provoke them?"