Fu Shizhou had experienced the turmoils of life and death. He considered himself a worldly, experienced person who could weather even the fiercest storm. But now, in that moment, he felt like the biggest coward under the sky.
He was scared out of his mind. He felt like a sinner on death row, bound for the hanging post. He felt like he could only struggle to find a means of escaping his cruel fate.
As a result of his inner turmoil, Fu Shizhou swiftly lifted a hand and flicked Qiao Luo on the forehead. Because he was so worked up, he even missed on his first attempt. He tried again and managed to hit Qiao Luo between the brows.
His tone seemed to carry some urgency as he said, "Sleep. You won't be able to get up tomorrow. Again."
He wanted to add, If you can't get up, I won't take you to school.
But after thinking it over, he changed his mind—that kind of threat might be totally ineffective.
Qiao Luo quieted. He was such a skinny little thing, curled up right next to Fu Shizhou.
Fu Shizhou fixed his gaze on the whorls of Qiao Luo's hair and held his breath. He was afraid that the rope of the hanging post would reach his neck any second now, forcing him to face the reality of losing Qiao Luo.
Luckily, Qiao Luo didn't say anything else. He just lay there, frozen, thinking about something or the other.
A while later, Qiao Luo silently scooted a little closer to Fu Shizhou. He was probably afraid of aggravating Fu Shizhou's wounds. His movements were extremely small and careful.
Besides his visible injuries. Fu Shizhou had also been left feeling weary and powerless in the wake of the fight. All his muscles were aching, but he could barely feel them. He shifted onto his side, taking a position that would make it easy for Qiao Luo to snuggle up against him. As soon as Qiao Luo settled in against his chest, Fu Shizhou wrapped him up in an embrace.
Fu Shizhou was pretty sure that he was beyond saving at this point. When Qiao Luo settled in his arms, Fu Shizhou couldn't suppress the delusion—the fantasy—that the person Qiao Luo liked was him.
His embrace remained very restrained this time. It was the sort of embrace that came from two warring impulses—
Rationally, he knew he couldn't get closer. But emotionally, he couldn't bring himself to let go.
Fu Shizhou prayed, Don't let him say anything else. Let me hold him for one more night.
But his prayers must have fallen on deaf ears. Qiao Luo opened his mouth again, and this time his voice was extremely soft and quiet: "Zhouzhou-gege…"
It was like a switch had been flipped in Fu Shizhou. He reacted instantaneously. As soon as Qiao Luo started to speak, Fu Shizhou brought a hand to the back of his head and pressed Qiao Luo's face closer to the crook of his own neck. He hastily interrupted, "Shut up. Hurry and sleep."
He was beyond anxious. Every nerve in his brain was pulled taut. If Qiao Luo said even one more word, those nerves could very well snap. He could lose all his rationality and do whatever he had to in order to keep Qiao Luo at his side.
He was so distracted by his own buzzing nerves that he didn't notice the slightly nasal whine in Qiao Luo's voice.
But after a few seconds, Fu Shizhou felt a sort of wetness hit his neck.
Then, immediately afterwards, Qiao Luo's soft and warm lips moved against Fu Shizhou's throat, trailing up and up. With a slight tip of his head, Qiao Luo's kiss reached Fu Shizhou's chin.
The moment of Fu Shizhou's execution by hanging had arrived. But the hanging post didn't exude a bloody, sinister aura at all. The scene before him filled the air with a sweet, fresh scent. It was like the aroma of roses had suddenly surrounded them, declaring that Fu Shizhou was innocent.
Fu Shizhou felt like he had been resurrected. He took Qiao Luo's shoulders in his hands and nudged him back a little, opening a small distance between them. Just enough to break away from the kiss that was driving him to distraction.
Tears still hung in the corners of Qiao Luo's eyes. He was despairing, but still determined to be honest. He unwaveringly confessed, "I li…"
"Qiao Luo!" Fu Shizhou practically shouted the name. He reached out and covered Qiao Luo's mouth, blocking his half-finished words. Then, without even pausing to breathe, he blurted out, "Luoluo, I'm the one who likes you. Don't say anything. I was the one who liked you first."
Qiao Luo hadn't even managed to react yet. When Fu Shizhou lowered his hand, Qiao Luo still dumbly finished the rest of his own confession: "…like you."
Right away, he was wrapped up in Fu Shizhou's tight embrace once more.
Qiao Luo quietly, docilely allowed himself to be held. He blinked a few times, feeling a bit dim-witted. He very, very slowly digested the confession that Fu Shizhou had uttered, then shifted very, very carefully. He reached up and lightly pushed at Fu Shizhou's shoulders, softly whispering, "You're about to snap me in half…"
It was only then that Fu Shizhou relaxed his grip a little. He softly soothed a hand over Qiao Luo's waist and murmured, "I'm sorry."
Qiao Luo was still a little dazed. He blurted out the first thing that popped into his mind: "But you said you didn't like anyone…"
Fu Shizhou felt like he had suddenly regained something he'd just lost. This time, he admitted the truth right away: "I lied to you."
Qiao Luo, who had been lied to, didn't seem to be angry at all. He simply lay against Fu Shizhou's chest. His voice was soft and sweet, and just the slightest bit whiny, as he asked, "Then the person you like is really me? No, wait. You have to say, 'Fu Shizhou likes Qiao Luo.'"
Fu Shizhou softly rubbed his chin against the top of Qiao Luo's head. He swore, solemnly, "Fu Shizhou loves Qiao Luo. He's loved Qiao Luo for a very, very long time."
Qiao Luo's heart was completely satisfied now. He nuzzled his head against Fu Shizhou's chest and whispered, "Then why didn't you tell me before?"
The Fu Shizhou of 'before' had thought that he was only worrying about Qiao Luo's grades. But now, he could face the truth—he had actually been afraid that Qiao Luo would reject him.
And so, he said, "You're still so young. How was I supposed to tell you that your gege actually had other intentions towards you?"
Qiao Luo self-righteously complained, "Then why did you decide to tell me now? You even stole my chance to confess."
Fu Shizhou breathed a silent laugh. Again, he lied, "Luoluo, have you heard this saying? If the person who falls in love first confesses first, the couple will grow old together. They'll never be apart, for the rest of their lives. I had to confess first."
Qiao Luo understood the sentiment, but he still wouldn't let go of his main grievance: "You liked me first, but you didn't pursue me. I feel like I really missed out."
Fu Shizhou helplessly said, "I originally planned on coming clean to you about my feelings once you were a little older…"
He felt the person in his arms squirm unhappily and poke his shoulder. Fu Shizhou didn't even need to think about it to know that Qiao Luo's little mouth would be wearing a little pout. He didn't even have to look down to know that Qiao Luo would be gazing up at him with a playfully disgruntled look in his eye.
Fu Shizhou quickly changed tactics and asked, "Why don't you reject me and let me pursue you for a while, then? If I pursue you, I'll do it properly. I'll send you gifts for every holiday. I won't be mean when I call to wake you up in the morning. I won't glare at you when you throw the things you don't like to eat into my bowl. When you ask me to carry you, I'll do just that. When you tell me to come visit you on Friday night, I won't wait until Saturday morning to rush back."
It all sounded way too tempting. Qiao Luo's heart yearned for all of that, but then he came to a clear realization and said, "No way. What if you pursue me, get halfway, and decide I'm too much trouble? What if you stop? Then I would miss out on even more."
Then, very cleverly, he added, "Besides, if you're not a little mean to me in the mornings, I might be late to school every day. You've never complained about me throwing the stuff I don't like into your bowl anyway. When I feel unwell, you rush back to see me right away, and you even bring snacks. When I was harassed, you started picking me up from school…"
Qiao Luo counted everything up, then lifted his head to look at Fu Shizhou with a lingering trace of worry in his eyes. "No way," he repeated. "You confessed, I accepted. You can't go back on your word now. If you do, I'll die of loss and grief."
Fu Shizhou was simultaneously charmed and amused. Why didn't he know until now that the little brat was such a master of sweet talk?
"What about the gifts?" Fu Shizhou asked. "You don't want me to send you any gifts?"
Qiao Luo pursed his lips and, with a tone of utter disdain, declared, "You'd better forget about that. I'm afraid you'll send me another college entrance exams study guide."