Qiao Luo must have felt that this question wasn't as warm and gentle as the ones that had come before it. He instantly jerked his head up and looked at Fu Shizhou. After lying in Fu Shizhou's embrace for a while, he had just started to regain some color in his cheeks, which had previously been washed a ghastly white by fear.
His voice was weak, exhausted in the wake of the tension that had rippled through him, and he could only softly murmur, "I didn't provoke them."
Fu Shizhou patted Qiao Luo's little head. He couldn't help but suspect that the little brat was malnourished. Qiao Luo was already seventeen years old. How could he still be the size of a pea? So much shorter, and so much slimmer, than Fu Shizhou.
He cared so deeply for Qiao Luo that the shield he'd forged for himself became like a sieve. All his love and affection seeped through, rendering him incapable of saying anything fierce to Qiao Luo. He could only continue to comfort him, softly coaxing, "Tell gege what happened, okay?"
Qiao Luo planted his head in Fu Shizhou's embrace again. His breath spilled hotly over Fu Shizhou's chest as he started to explain, "A girl in my dance class gave me a love letter. I refused it and rejected her, but they still felt like I was in the wrong. They said I stole their big bro's girlfriend."
There was no telling whether or not that girl had ever flirted with the 'big bro' of those hoodlums. It could very well have been the case that those thugs never matured past the juvenile idea that setting your sights on a girl meant that girl belonged to you.
Regardless, due to the entanglement of those feelings, those bullies had hurt the innocent just because a girl showed some interest in Qiao Luo.
At first, Qiao Luo had also thought those thugs were approaching him to hassle him for his pocket money. He looked like an easy target, after all, and he had been alone.
So he'd thought back to those internet articles he'd read, ones with titles like—
Ladies, When You Encounter Danger, Do This! You Could Save Your Life!
And he'd done exactly what those articles advised. He'd thrown his wallet in the other direction before running, but those thugs weren't interested in getting rich at all. All they wanted was to beat him up to vent their anger. They wanted to cripple him, disfigure him.
Never in his whole life had Qiao Luo ever been in a fight. When he thought back, he would remember that Fu Shizhou had always stayed at his side and protected him. But this time, Fu Shizhou wasn't there. Qiao Luo had been in such a panic that he didn't even know how to start fighting back. He was very nearly kicked in the vitals.
But, no matter what, he was a seventeen-year-old boy. He had the strength that he was supposed to have. Once he came to his senses, he grabbed his backpack and swung it around like a morning star. He spun rapidly, not dizzying even after half a dozen turns. He didn't manage to hit anyone in the end, but he created an opening for himself to escape. As soon as he was able to slip away, he sprinted down the street at full speed and didn't stop until he collapsed in front of his house.
Papa Qiao had had to carry him inside.
As he recounted those events, Qiao Luo grew a little fearful again. He snuggled even deeper into Fu Shizhou's arms.
And hearing all this was like torture to Fu Shizhou. Sitting there, only able to listen, was a crueler punishment than one inflicted by the most diabolical torture chair imaginable.
Fu Shizhou was so enraged that his chest throbbed with pain.
He should have been there to personally teach those assholes how to be proper human beings.
His little brat could sing and dance. His little brat was so cute and so handsome. Qiao Luo didn't have a single flaw on him. Wasn't it normal for girls to like him?
Fu Shizhou was so pissed that his attention drifted. In his mind's eye, he thoroughly rearranged those hoodlums' faces and guts.
After finishing his story, Qiao Luo didn't receive an answer right away. He'd already settled from his panicked state into a state of comfort that came only from being wrapped up in Zhouzhou-gege's arms. But his brain, which had stopped whirring so hard, suddenly leapt again with a new wave of alarm.
He was a little frantic, all of a sudden. He seemed to realize, in hindsight, that there was something alarming about his story. He tugged on Fu Shizhou's arms and shifted anxiously in Fu Shizhou's embrace as he quickly reassured, "I'm not dating or anything. She insisted on giving me that note. I couldn't do anything about that… really."
Fu Shizhou himself hadn't given that detail much thought yet. Qiao Luo's reminder was like a bottle of vinegar that came raining down on the raging fires of fury in Fu Shizhou's heart. The combination emanated an extremely bizarre smell—as bizarre as the complicated expression on Fu Shizhou's face.
It was true. Being liked by a girl was extremely normal for Qiao Luo. The little tail didn't belong to Fu Shizhou.
The warning Gramps had issued over the phone earlier that night echoed in Fu Shizhou's ears:
You're going to lose your sweetheart!
You're going to lose your sweetheart!
Fu Shizhou anxiously pulled Qiao Luo closer again. His tone was a little unnatural and on edge as he asked, "You rejected her?"
Qiao Luo had already forgotten all about his lingering fear. He hurriedly answered, "Of course I rejected her. Why are you acting like those thugs? You're doubting me…"
Fu Shizhou's expression became even more complex and bizarre.
What kind of comparison was the little brat drawing? How could he be anything like those bastards?
But the little brat had just been grievously wronged, and Fu Shizhou didn't have the heart to berate him. He could only give Qiao Luo a feather-light smack over the back of the head. "I'm not doubting you."
Qiao Luo gazed up at Fu Shizhou with obvious uncertainty in his eyes. Those dewy eyes were still red from the tears he'd recently shed. He blinked and blinked again, hesitantly asking, in that sweet and nasally voice of his, "Really? You aren't angry?"
…Fu Shizhou really wasn't angry, but he did feel a little… a little… well, jealous.
As soon as that thought emerged in his mind, Fu Shizhou felt even more awkward. He coughed once and mumbled, "What's there to be angry about? You just received a love letter is all… it's not a big deal. I've gotten them before too."
Qiao Luo didn't sense anything unnatural about Fu Shizhou's voice or expression at all. He was already preoccupied with another matter entirely. "Oh… then will you still hold me tonight?"
There was nothing else Fu Shizhou could say.
The little brat was so pure and naive. He couldn't tell that there was anything up with Fu Shizhou.
The little idiot just continued, meekly, "You'll hold me, right? I'll have nightmares if you don't."
Fu Shizhou shifted in order to let Qiao Luo get a little more comfortable in his embrace. "I'll hold you. Even if you have a nightmare and kick me, I won't let go. Feel better now?"
He pressed Qiao Luo's face to the crook of his own neck, then laced his fingers together behind Qiao Luo's excessively thin waist. He started to soothe the little kid to sleep by patting his back reassuringly, carrying out his duty as a wholly devoted gege.
Qiao Luo obediently closed his eyes. He shifted a bit more, like a little kitten making itself at home in its den.
However, Fu Shizhou couldn't fall asleep.
Qiao Luo was exceptionally well-behaved when he slept. He lay against Fu Shizhou's chest, breathing softly. His silken hair brushed Fu Shizhou's chin. His long lashes curled lightly, casting a faint shadow over his cheekbones. Color had returned to his cheeks, tinting them with a rosy glow.
Fu Shizhou gazed down at the whorls of Qiao Luo's hair. The kid was almost unbearably cute.
Gramps's words began to twist his mind again—
So you're just going to wait for him?
Those words carried a deeper, unspoken meaning—
Are you sure you can afford to wait?
Fu Shizhou, who'd always thought he could lay everything out in the open once Qiao Luo grew up, suddenly felt panic wash over him.
Where did his self-confidence come from? What made him think that little tail belonged to him?
He didn't dare let Qiao Luo contemplate the matter of his feelings just yet. Was that, at least in part, because he wanted to selfishly use his status as Qiao Luo's gege to dominate his time for at least a few more years?
Fu Shizhou quietly hugged Qiao Luo a little tighter. He clung to the perfect sensation of cradling that soft and delicate person in his arms while a suffocating thought surfaced in his heart:
What would I do… if you don't like me back?