WITHDRAWAL

Chapter 18

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For the next week, that girl who liked Qiao Luo would occasionally appear with Qiao Luo in front of Fu Shizhou. But besides that, everything was pretty good.

However, on Friday night, Fu Shizhou was left waiting at the door for ten minutes longer than usual. Just as he scrunched up his eyebrows, wondering if Qiao Luo had gotten himself stuck to that girl again, he received a call from Qiao Luo.

Qiao Luo, on the other end of the line, was quivering like a newly hatched chick facing down a wolf. He stammered, "Zhouzhou-gege, they're… they're blocking me."

Those words were nearly nonsensical, but Fu Shizhou instantly knew what had happened. A cold snap passed through his chest, and he did his best to keep his voice calm as he asked, "Where are you?"

"Bathroom," Qiao Luo said. "I hid in the bathroom."

Fu Shizhou turned and rushed up the stairs, towards the dance rehearsal rooms. "Which floor?"

He didn't get an answer. He only heard the BANG of a door being kicked open, and the CLATTER of a cell phone falling to the ground. Then—a busy signal.

Fu Shizhou took the stairs practically three steps at a time, like he was flying. He barreled past two people on his way, just about knocking them off their feet.

Qiao Luo's classroom was on the fourth floor. That meant he was most likely hiding in the bathrooms on the fourth floor.

However, Qiao Luo was on the third floor.

 

Qiao Luo didn't like having that girl stick to him all the time, and he was afraid Fu Shizhou would get mad. So he'd slipped away by himself after class. But as soon as he got down to the third floor, he spotted one of the guys who'd attacked him last time.

And that guy also spotted him.

Qiao Luo wanted to run downstairs, because Fu Shizhou was right outside. But, unluckily, the guy's friends were right downstairs on the second floor. If Qiao Luo tried to run down, they would surely block his way.

A lot of people milled through the halls. It should have been impossible for those guys to lift a hand against him there. But Qiao Luo was still scared. He instinctively ran into the enclosed space of the bathroom.

An enclosed space. Walls all around him. Qiao Luo felt like he could be safe there.

However, when his assailants kicked open the door to the bathroom stall—

Qiao Luo's sense of security was shattered, and his only escape route was blocked off.

Qiao Luo had made a huge mistake. There were no surveillance cameras in the bathroom, and these boys were morally bankrupt monsters.

The first thing they did was knock Qiao Luo's cell phone out of his hands. Then they ripped his backpack away from him and grinned maniacally as they trapped him in the small stall.

Qiao Luo instantly shrieked—which was another huge mistake. He was alone, and he didn't have the physical strength to match his opponents. Drawing their ire was the last thing he should have done.

They grabbed the practice clothes Qiao Luo had changed out of and gagged his mouth.

Qiao Luo stared up at them, wide-eyed. His terror turned into shock as he saw, with his very own eyes, a trash can flying towards them out of seemingly nowhere. The guy who'd gagged him was nailed in the head.

These public trash cans, made out of a stiff plastic, couldn't really do any serious damage. But being hit by one would still hurt like hell.

To put it figuratively, when Fu Shizhou charged in with sweat staining his brow, he looked like an enraged beast who was ready to kill. He looked like a divine warrior, descending from heaven—

At least, that was what Qiao Luo thought.

Fu Shizhou had gotten the jump on Qiao Luo's assailants. In just a few hits, he knocked them back and instantly pulled Qiao Luo, who'd been scared stupid, into his arms.

"You okay?"

He didn't have time to ask much else. He stuffed his own cell phone into Qiao Luo's hands and shielded him as he retreated from the bathroom stall to the door. "Go downstairs and find the security guards. I've already called the police. Just wait for me in the security room. Be good."

He pushed Qiao Luo out of the bathroom, then turned and locked the door.

The walls that had trapped Qiao Luo now trapped the bastards who'd attacked him.

Fu Shizhou spat. The fierce, fearsome look in his eyes made him look like a leopard gazing upon a fattened lamb after being starved for seven or eight days.

He had been choking back his rage for a long time already. The wounds on Qiao Luo's legs had yet to fully heal. When he danced, he was still in pain. He complained to Fu Shizhou every time they got home, and every one of Qiao Luo's complaints was like a blade cutting through Fu Shizhou's heart. He felt so bad for Qiao Luo that he could have died.

The bullies had been riled up by the flying trash can and Fu Shizhou's first few kicks and blows. Their already low IQ instantly hit zero. They didn't seem to notice that Fu Shizhou had locked the door. The lot of them charged forward without hesitation, shouting and cussing as they started to fight back.

There were five or six of them, all hotheaded teenagers. If they really got into an all-out brawl, Fu Shizhou would have been no match for them. So Fu Shizhou focused solely on the one who'd grabbed Qiao Luo earlier. He brought his fists down again and again, beating the living daylights out of that thug and not caring one bit about the blows that landed on his own body.

He was dead set on trouncing the enemy, without sparing a single thought for what sacrifices he would have to make in order to hurt them. As a result, by the time Qiao Luo stumbled back upstairs with a security guard, Fu Shizhou had already been decorated with battle wounds.

The police arrived twenty minutes later.

 

Qiao Luo had already filed a police report after the first attack. The case wasn't complicated at all, but Qiao Luo and Fu Shizhou still had to go down to the police station to give their statements.

Fu Shizhou, wounded in combat, held an ice pack to his face while he called Papa Qiao to explain what had happened.

When Qiao Luo's parents got to the station, Qiao Luo was slumped in the seat next to Fu Shizhou. His eyes were red, but it wasn't because he was scared. Not this time. This time, it was because his heart ached in sympathy.

Qiao Luo was perfectly unharmed. His clothes had gotten a little dirty, and his cell phone had been smashed against the floor. That was all.

But Fu Shizhou was a miserable sight. His face was already starting to swell, and he bore even more injuries on his shoulders and back, ones that couldn't be seen.

Papa Qiao blamed himself: "How could it really come to this? A fight? If I'd known, I should have been the one to pick Luoluo up."

Fu Shizhou lightly touched his own nose. After personally beating those bastards to a pulp, he was in an extraordinarily good mood. "If we didn't have it out, they would've just run off. Luoluo would have always been in danger. It's better this way. They just found out that the ringleader of these thugs has other charges against him. It'll be enough to put him away for a few years."

By the time everything was taken care of, it was already well past midnight.

Fu Shizhou's wounds were all superficial; they only looked alarming. Papa Qiao wanted to send Fu Shizhou to the hospital to have his wounds treated, but Fu Shizhou only cast a glance up at the sky and declined.

"It's gotten late," he said. "If we make a fuss now, Grandpa will find out. He'll worry about me again. It's not that serious, anyway. I'll buy some ointment and put it on myself."

Qiao Luo's parents were consumed by guilt and gratitude. This was someone who'd gotten hurt while protecting their son.

Papa Qiao insisted, "Then at least come back to our place to take care of your injuries. You won't be able to treat our own back."

Fu Shizhou's wounds really weren't that bad. He wasn't as brainless as those thugs. While fighting, he'd only left his sturdy back and shoulders exposed. He'd dodged any blow that could have really done some damage, except for the hit that had split his lip—that had come from the bastard he was wailing on. The guy, in his panic, had surged up and headbutted Fu Shizhou.

But when Fu Shizhou looked over at Qiao Luo, who was looking back at him so pitifully, he agreed, "Sure. Thank you, Uncle. I'll be troubling you."

Although he'd been hurt, he wasn't hurt so bad that he couldn't drive. He would be able to get his own car back to the Qiao family's house.

Qiao Luo blindly followed the others. When his dad called him over, he refused to sit in his own family's car. He determinedly climbed back into Fu Shizhou's passenger seat and buckled his seatbelt. With his heart still aching, he watched Fu Shizhou for a while, then reached out to touch Fu Shizhou's face. Then, afraid of hurting him, he dropped his hand and didn't dare reach out again.

He looked as though he thought Fu Shizhou were a delicate vase that could shatter with a single touch.

Qiao Luo was consumed by remorse. "Why didn't you run away with me?"

Fu Shizhou reached out and patted Qiao Luo on the head. He wanted to smile, but smiling aggravated the wound on his lip again, causing him to hiss. He did his best to comfort Qiao Luo: "Were you scared? Do you want gege to hold you again?"

Qiao Luo really, really wanted to be held. But he was afraid that Fu Shizhou had other injuries on his legs, so he only took the hand that was petting his hair and carefully blew on the wounds decorating Fu Shizhou's fingers.

"You got there before I had a chance to be scared." Qiao Luo looked up, his eyes filled with sorrow and a few measures of adoration. "You came to save me so fast."

Fu Shizhou didn't want Qiao Luo, who'd already been traumatized once, to feel any fear this time. He deliberately teased him, "Of course I was fast. I sprinted up to the fourth floor to find you. Then I jumped straight down to the third floor. I was in such a rush that I didn't even see where I was going. I ran into the girls' bathroom first. Tsk, that's going to be a stain on my life."

It worked. Qiao Luo had to laugh. He carefully continued to blow at the wounds on Fu Shizhou's hand before he asked, "Does it hurt?"

Fu Shizhou calmly took back his own hand. The little brat was looking at him like he was something to be worshipped, holding his not-so-attractive hand with something like reverence—Fu Shizhou was afraid his heart wouldn't be able to handle it.

He gave a cursory answer and changed the subject: "Doesn't hurt. Be good now and settle down. It's already late. We need to get home."

Qiao Luo settled in the passenger seat without complaint. He behaved exceptionally well, sitting with the good posture of an elementary school student in class—hips squared, back straight, both hands resting on his knees. He only turned his head to look at Fu Shizhou.

It took around twenty minutes to get from the police station to the Qiao family's house. For twenty whole minutes, Qiao Luo didn't take his eyes off Fu Shizhou.

Under Qiao Luo's gaze, Fu Shizhou could practically feel his blood pressure rising. His palms, wrapped around the steering wheel, were starting to sweat. His heart was racing—he really was being driven to the point of distraction, to the point of not being able to concentrate on driving.

When they got home, Fu Shizhou couldn't resist reaching out and cupping Qiao Luo's face. He stroked a hand over Qiao Luo's cheek, then pulled him into an embrace.

"Is my face hideously disfigured now?" he asked. "You stared at me all the way home."

Qiao Luo lay across Fu Shizhou's chest and shook his head. He softly answered, "Not at all. Zhouzhou-gege, you're so handsome…"

He looked up at Fu Shizhou's split lip, and at the way Fu Shizhou's brows were slightly curved with a smile. He thought back and remembered the sense of relief and safety he'd felt when Fu Shizhou appeared before him.

The thump, thump, thump of Qiao Luo's heart suddenly turned into a rapid thumpthumpthump.

He realized, in a panicked daze, that he really, really wanted to press his own lips to the corner of Fu Shizhou's mouth.

He wanted to kiss Fu Shizhou.

Qiao Luo froze. He didn't know how such an 'abominable' thought could occur to him.

He didn't dare lie in Fu Shizhou's arms any longer. He hastily jolted back and said, "I'm a little sleepy. You hurry up and get my dad to help you treat your wounds!"

Then he opened the passenger-side door and leapt out in a panic.

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