Fu Shizhou's muddled thoughts roiled through his mind for a long, long time. He didn't fall asleep until late. The next day, he was startled awake by a sharp cry of alarm from Qiao Luo.
Qiao Luo was flailing like a carp trying to wriggle itself out from Fu Shizhou's embrace. He thrashed wildly, kicking Fu Shizhou in the leg, as he panickedly exclaimed, "Oh no, oh no! I'm late!"
Fu Shizhou was still bleary from sleep. He wasn't able to react right away. Subconsciously, he reached out and pulled Qiao Luo back into his arms. It was only after wrapping his arms around Qiao Luo's slender waist that he realized his actions weren't entirely appropriate at that precise moment in time.
He swiftly sat up instead.
"You're not late," he said. "We got you excused from school for a day. You can rest some more."
He conspicuously tried to distract Qiao Luo by picking up the medicinal ointment they'd used last night. The container was still sitting on the nightstand. He offered it to Qiao Luo and said, "Put on some more medicine by yourself. I'm going to go wash up."
After being comforted and pampered by his Zhouzhou-gege for a whole night, Qiao Luo had slept soundly. He woke up feeling thoroughly reinvigorated. When Fu Shizhou climbed out of bed, Qiao Luo nimbly shot up and leapt onto Fu Shizhou's back.
Last night, he'd been scared stupid. But he'd since come back to his senses, and he was out of his mind with glee. "Yesterday, did you promise to pick me up from school from now on?!"
It seemed the little brat was really okay now.
Fu Shizhou closed his eyes for a moment, then reached back to pat Qiao Luo on the back. "Get down."
Qiao Luo staunchly refused to do any such thing. He rubbed his forehead against Fu Shizhou's back and declared, "No! You were so willing to hold me yesterday. Why won't you do it today?!"
Fu Shizhou's head was already starting to ache. Was holding someone really comparable to carrying someone on his back? He could handle a princess carry, but giving Qiao Luo a piggyback ride meant he would have to support Qiao Luo by the butt! He'd hazily had some sort of dream involving Qiao Luo, and now it was bright and early in the morning… how could he possibly touch Qiao Luo now?!
As patiently as possible, he said, "Your legs don't hurt anymore? You're jumping and climbing all over the place. You can either go wash up with me, or you can lie back down."
Qiao Luo released his grip on Fu Shizhou and knelt back down on the bed. He wasn't wearing any socks, and the heels of his bare feet hit the backs of his thighs. He pouted and said, "Being bullied isn't such a bad thing. At least it makes you care about me."
What kind of crooked logic was that? Fu Shizhou had been scared half to death last night. When was this little brat going to let him have a moment of peace?!
Fu Shizhou shot him a glare. "Shut up, you. When do I ever not care about you?"
Silently, he huffily added in his mind:
I've practically carved out my heart and handed it to you!
Qiao Luo obviously wasn't even going to think about shutting up. He flipped over and sprawled out in bed again, petulantly complaining, "Well, I'm hungry."
Fu Shizhou was silent for a beat. "…wait here."
Neither of Qiao Luo's parents had gotten much sleep last night. They'd crept over to Qiao Luo's door a few times, just to listen in and make sure the boys were sleeping soundly. Sometimes they felt they were troubling Fu Shizhou far too much. Other times they felt immensely grateful for the reliable, neighboring gege who was around Qiao Luo's age.
The next morning, they'd climbed out of bed before the clock even struck five. They were horribly torn between wanting to check on Qiao Luo and wanting to let him sleep for a while longer.
Doting parents really didn't have it easy.
Even half an hour after he woke, their beloved son didn't spare a single thought for them.
Last night, Qiao Luo had clung to Fu Shizhou, refusing to let Fu Shizhou go for even a second. As a result, Fu Shizhou hadn't been able to take a shower. He could only wait until morning to clean himself up.
Fu Shizhou took ten minutes in the shower. Then, remembering that Qiao Luo was hungry, he went downstairs without even drying his hair. He found Qiao Luo's parents already sitting down there, staring expectantly at him.
A strange, fleeting feeling passed through Fu Shizhou's mind. He'd showered bright and early in the morning while Qiao Luo was still sprawled out in bed. Downstairs, a pair of expectant parents were waiting.
Why did it feel so much like he was coming downstairs on the morning after his wedding night? These parents looked way too much like they were waiting for the news that their bloodline would continue.
Those thoughts crashed through him like a tsunami. He was so distracted that he nearly missed a step and tumbled down the stairs. He steadied himself as best as he could and made his way down the rest of the steps, awkwardly not looking directly at Qiao Luo's parents.
He put on the most natural voice he could manage as he greeted, "Uncle, Auntie, Luoluo is fine now. He's lazing around in bed. I'll take breakfast up to him."
Fuck! Now he sounded even more like a son-in-law doting on his spoiled little wife!
Fu Shizhou had been afflicted by too many wayward thoughts and dreams last night, and his thoughts hadn't returned to the straight and narrow even in the morning. His only choice was to stop talking altogether and head into the kitchen to rustle up some breakfast.
Papa Qiao and Mama Qiao had no idea that Fu Shizhou was currently suffering from such a heavy, guilty conscience. They hastily urged, "Just eat, go ahead and eat. We'll get him to come downstairs."
Fu Shizhou was just about to say that wasn't necessary when Qiao Luo came downstairs in his little slippers, noisily slapping the soles against each step. He greeted his parents first, sweetly offering a reassurance: "Dad, Mom, I'm fine now."
Mama Qiao hurried over to him and gave her son a thorough once-over, from head to toe. Once she confirmed that he did seem to be in perfect health and high spirits, she relaxed and herded him into the kitchen. He was a full head taller than her, but she managed to push him along as she said, "Hurry up and eat. You're already a seventeen-year-old young man, and you still act so spoiled every time you see your gege. How can you make someone serve you breakfast in bed at your age?"
After breakfast, Qiao Luo volunteered to do the dishes. He whispered to Fu Shizhou, who stood next to him to help, "I'm such a good boy, right? I always do the dishes."
Fu Shizhou's mind was wandering again. He couldn't help but feel like this scene that was unfolding was basically him carrying out his filial duties out of respect for his mother-in-law and father-in-law—ah, he was really hopeless.
Qiao Luo pressed a wet hand to Fu Shizhou's neck. "Why are you ignoring me!"
Fu Shizhou came back to his senses and awkwardly retorted, "You need my help just to do the dishes. How good could you possibly be?"
Qiao Luo wanted to counter that, but Fu Shizhou's phone started to ring in the pocket of his hands.
Fu Shizhou took a look at the screen and dried his hands to answer. "Shi'jie?"
It was the jiejie from his research group, calling to ask why he'd yet to turn up at their research office.
Fu Shizhou spoke to the other party in an extremely warm and gentlemanly tone, one which even carried the lilt of a smile. "I won't be able to make it today. Something came up at home, I'll have to take a day off."
His shi'jie concernedly asked, "Do you need any help?"
Fu Shizhou answered, "No, it isn't a big deal. The little kid back home is feeling unwell, that's all."
"Your didi? Or your meimei?"
During his undergraduate studies, Fu Shizhou had still considered Qiao Luo his didi. His roommate had even slapped the label of 'brocon' on him. But now, Fu Shizhou wasn't willing to accept that label.
He gave a vague answer instead: "The neighbor's kid—I can do some work from my computer at home. Shi'jie, I'll just have to trouble you to help me set up a long-distance connection."
"That'll really be way too troublesome," his shi'jie joked. "You'll have to treat me to dinner when you get back."
Fu Shizhou instantly promised, "No problem. Shi'jie, I'll treat you to a feast!"
After hanging up, he turned and found Qiao Luo holding a plate and staring at him. Qiao Luo's jaw was slightly slack, his lips parting subconsciously to reveal a sliver of his white teeth. Water was still gushing out of the faucet, spilling over the plate and splattering droplets all over Qiao Luo's front.
Fu Shizhou turned off the faucet and asked, "What are you spacing out for?"
Qiao Luo felt miserable. Fu Shizhou always took such a serious and solemn tone with him, like now, but he spoke so warmly to his classmates, like his shi'jie.
He'd even invited that other person out to eat.
And they did stuff together.
They saw each other every day.
Qiao Luo withered. He didn't know why. It was like a virus had snuck into his mind, disrupting his mood and mental state. It was like dark, billowing thunderclouds had rolled across a clear sky.
He suddenly realized that, ever since they were little, Fu Shizhou had always had plenty of other friends. There were the ones Qiao Luo knew, like Zhaozi-ge and Chubby-ge. And there were the ones Qiao Luo didn't know, like Fu Shizhou's shi'jie.
But Qiao Luo only had Zhouzhou-gege. He'd always chased after him, skipping along in his wake.
He gazed up at Fu Shizhou with droplets of water from the sink still clinging to his cheeks. Miserably, he mumbled, "I think I'm a pretty good boy."
Fu Shizhou was equipped with a 'Qiao Luo Mood Detection System'. He could tell in 0.1 seconds that Qiao Luo's mood had changed, but he didn't know why. Just a moment ago, the little brat had been jubilant enough to bounce off the walls and ceiling. Why had his mood suddenly plummeted?
Fu Shizhou could only help him wash up the last two milk glasses before pinching his little cheeks.
"That's right, you're the best boy—now go do your homework."