These weren’t just regular buttons.


Author: Wu Zhe, Translated by Ami <3

          “Oh yessss! Thank you, thank you.”

          “The contestant Jiang Cheng decided to once again raise the stakes! He decided once again to raise the stakes! Wowww——”

          “Instructor X, do you think that was a lapse in judgement or were his techniques not quite there?”

          “I think he still has room to improve…”

          ……

          It remained quiet in the room, but at this moment in Gu Fei’s head, all he could hear was Jiang Cheng’s voice, all sorts of dual roleplaying, a variety of mannerisms, the routine he threw his whole self into.

          As proficient as Gu Fei was in dealing with awkward scenarios, he felt that this was the ultimate dead end for him. He could sense a near-fatal beating in his not so distant future.

          Nobody knew that Jiang Cheng had a slingshot. The only time he showed off his slingshot must have been by the lakeshore the other day. The. Empty. Lakeshore.

          He couldn’t even make up an excuse to deny it.

.

          Jiang Cheng still hadn’t said anything, he just stood there and watched him with a blank face. His face had remained expressionless since after the initial moment of shock wore off.

          Gu Fei couldn’t even figure out Jiang Cheng’s exact mood at that moment.

          “Um…” He had to say something. “The other day I…”

          Jiang Cheng remained still, as if waiting for Gu Fei to continue.

          “I was just passing by.” Gu Fei said.

          “There isn’t a way through.” Jiang Cheng said. “I walked around the whole thing.”

          “Ok, I was there for a reason,” Gu Fei finally found the words to go about it. “But then I saw you there playing with your slingshot. We weren’t very close at the time, so I left without telling you.”

          Jiang Cheng glanced at him and tossed the slingshot up and down in his hand. When it dropped back into his left hand after a couple of twirls in the air, Gu Fei saw his right hand reach out to grab something from the nearby table. 

          Crap!

          Gu Fei knew there were lots of accessories for the outfits on that table, along with some… buttons.

          Jiang Cheng had just grabbed a handful of buttons.

          Gu Fei turned to run toward the back of the set.

          These weren’t just regular buttons. Ding Zhuxin liked to use all sorts of authentic materials in her designs. These buttons were made of round wooden beads, making them absolutely perfect companions for slingshots.

.

          “This is what you meant by ‘watching from the sidelines’?” Jiang Cheng said.

          Gu Fei heard a ‘whoosh’ followed by a surge of pain on his thigh. He had been hit by a wooden bead.

          He turned his head and saw that Jiang Cheng was still in the same spot, with the slingshot pulled back a second time, aimed right at him.

          “You…” He didn’t get a chance to finish, Jiang Cheng let go of the band. He yelped out loud. “Ahh!”

          This time the button got him in the abdomen.

          Though to be fair, Jiang Cheng was holding back. If he had used the same power as when he shot holes in the ice the other day, there would be no sound coming from Gu Fei anymore.

          “Didn’t you say this slingshot is a dupe and isn’t accurate?!” Gu Fei leapt over the armchair and used the back to block his lower body.

          “That depends on who’s using it.” Jiang Cheng aimed another button at him. “I can aim true with just two fingers and an elastic.”

          “Don’t…” Gu Fei didn’t get to finish his sentence. Jiang Cheng released the sling again and the button hit Gu Fei on his arm. This one was especially painful, he rubbed at his arm hard. “Shit!”

          “When you said ‘watch from the sidelines’,” Jiang Cheng once more pulled back the band and looked at him between the bifurcation of the branches. “Is this what you mean?”

          “It’s just a figure of speech,” Gu Fei had been hit three times in a row and finally couldn’t take anymore. He raised his voice. “Will you listen to reason!”

          “What reason?” Jiang Cheng shouted, his hands were shaking visibly. “What possible reason?! It’s easy for you to ‘wander lonely as a cloud’ and simply watch from the sidelines, so what need do YOU have for reason?! There IS no reason to speak of in this world! Was there reason to me getting adopted? Was there reason to speak of when I got sent to this godforsaken place right after being told I wasn’t their real son? What possible fucking reason is there?”

          “Cheng-ge,” Gu Fei climbed back out from behind the armchair. “I really didn’t mean to……”

          Before he was able to finish, Jiang Cheng’s fourth shot landed square on his chest.

          “AGH!” Gu Fei sprung up in the air, and as he scrambled back fell directly into the armchair behind him, then gave up on trying to get up altogether.

          He yelled back at Jiang Cheng, “Come come come come come now, contestant Jiang Cheng, the genius marksman! Come on! Don’t stop until you’re satisfied! If these aren’t enough there are more buttons outside! Not just wooden beads, there are ones made of fucking stone, and iron and copper, how about you skip straight to the iron ones?!”

.

          “You saw the whole thing,” Jiang Cheng glared at him for a while longer, then let his hands drop and tossed the slingshot and buttons to the ground. “Right? You saw everything.”

          “I saw everything.” Gu Fei answered.

          “From beginning to end?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “From you shooting holes in the ice, to instructor X, to the crying,” Gu Fei said. “I finished watching the whole thing, then left when you started to cry.”

          “Oh.” Jiang Cheng replied, then leaned back against the wall.

          Saw the whole thing: an entertaining dual role performance with a bonus reel of a dude curled up in a ball bawling his eyes out. 

          Jiang Cheng wasn’t sure how exactly he felt at the moment.

          From shock to awkwardness, then feeling embarrassed that he made a fool of himself, and the humiliation at having his secrets seen, then arriving finally at anger. 

          Now all those feelings had disappeared, and the only thing left was hurt.

          With his back against the wall, he slowly sank down to a crouch and wrapped his arms around his head.

          It was this same position.

          Not just when crying, ever since he was little, he always got into this position whenever he was hurt, depressed, or plain unhappy. It was a position that allowed him to curl himself up into a ball and take up as little space as possible, to avoid being seen by anyone else.

          It made him feel safe.

          The logic was the same as an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. He didn’t really think this would hide him from others’ view, he just no longer wished to see anything or anyone else.

          See no evil, hear no evil. That was enough.

.

          “Cheng-ge.” Gu Fei had walked to his side at some point and called out to him.

          “Cheng-your-great-uncle,” Jiang Cheng buried himself in his knees and elbows and said in a muffled voice. “Are you fucking younger than me?”

          “By one month.” Gu Fei said.

          “You fucker.” Jiang Cheng was so stunned by this reveal he even pulled his head out. “You know my birthday?”

          “That time you passed out from a fever, I checked your ID.” Gu Fei said. “It makes sense to at least see who the person is before bringing him into my place.”

          “Next time don’t bother.” Jiang Cheng buried his head into his knees again.

          “Want one?” Gu Fei said.

          Jiang Cheng looked out from the gaps between his arms, Gu Fei was holding a pack of cigarettes. He shut his eyes and opened them again, then a few seconds later reached out a hand to take a cigarette from the pack.

          “You gotta keep the smoking a secret.” Gu Fei also lit up a cigarette and handed him the lighter. “This studio forbids smoking, it’s all flammable material in here.”

          Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, just lit the cigarette then turned to peer at the security camera in the corner.

          “It’s fine, she doesn’t usually check the footage.” Gu Fei said.

.

          “Did you laugh?” Jiang Cheng asked, his voice was hoarse, as if he had been a victim of some major wrongdoing. He cleared his throat irritably. “When you were spying on me.”

          “In my head I did.” Gu Fei said. “It was funny. Would you believe me if I said no?”

          “Mm,” Jiang Cheng sighed softly. “I fool around like this on my own all the time. It’s the same thing when I used to play the tin flute: Next up please welcome the performance of the esteemed tin flute player Jiang Cheng.”

          Gu Fei started laughing. He laughed so hard that he scattered ash everywhere, so he reached back to grab an empty container and tapped the cigarette against it.

          “Haven’t you ever played around like that?” Jiang Cheng asked.

          “Nope,” Gu Fei shook his head. “But I bet a lot of people share the same hobby. There was a post in the Fourth High forum once, where the OP said that unless they make up and star in a full-length feature film in their head every night before bed, they wouldn’t be able to sleep. And under it were a bunch of replies from people saying they have the same compulsion.”

          “Huh…” Jiang Cheng chuckled.

          “But in a way it’s a good thing, now that you know I saw you.” Gu Fei gave him a thumbs up. “I finally have a chance to tell you, contestant Jiang Cheng, you are the most impressive slingshotter I’ve ever seen.”

          “… Thanks,” Jiang Cheng picked up the slingshot he tossed to the side earlier.  “Though this is probably just a prop that wasn’t meant to be used.”

          “Wasn’t it pretty spot-on when you were shooting me?” Gu Fei said.

          “It wasn’t spot-on, just able to hit.” Jiang Cheng said. “When it hit you in the thigh I was actually aiming for your ass.”

          “Oh,” Gu Fei turned to look at him. “Why?”

          “There’s more cushioning,” Jiang Cheng said. “Less chance of injury.”

          “I find that you’re actually… pretty self-aware. You don’t bottle up your anger, but won’t go overboard either.” Gu Fei said as he tapped the cigarette against the container.

          “Us overachievers tend to be conscientious in all matters,” Jiang Cheng said. “For example, we would never fling anyone against a tree.”

          “Shit.” Gu Fei started laughing again.

.

          Jiang Cheng stared for a while at the cigarette in his hand, “What were you doing out there that day? It was cold as fuck, and there wasn’t a way through.”

          “That day was…” Gu Fei stopped, then continued after a long pause. “It was the anniversary of my father’s death, I had to go burn some money.” [1]

          “Ah.” Jiang Cheng was shook.

          “That was where he drowned.” Gu Fei tapped his finger rhythmically against the empty container.

          “Ah,” Jiang Cheng’s brain was still out of service, but he finally managed to get out. “I thought the lake wasn’t that deep.”

          “It’s not, he had been drinking that day. If he hadn’t,” Gu Fei’s finger paused against the container. “It probably would’ve been me who drowned.”

          Jiang Cheng raised his head and stared at Gu Fei in shock.

.

         He hadn’t believed it when Li Baoguo said that Gu Fei murdered his father. When Gu Fei said his dad drowned, Jiang Cheng’s only reaction was one of “ah so it was an accident”. But hearing these words come out of Gu Fei’s mouth, he was so stunned that he almost couldn’t trust his own ears.

          “My dad was kind of an asshole,” Gu Fei said in a calm voice. “I’ve always wished he would just die and get it over with. I wouldn’t have that thought even if my dad was Li Baoguo.”

          Jiang Cheng stayed silent, his head was a scrambled mess.

          “Though he’s not as much of a gambler as Li Baoguo, he’s much better when it comes to using his fists.” Gu Fei laughed quietly to himself. “My mom was fooled by his handsome face at first, that’s why she married him. Then came the beatings. He would beat us when he was drunk, and when he wasn’t drunk. I’ve always thought his only way of expressing himself was through his fists.”

          “I heard Li Baoguo say…” Jiang Cheng remembered Li Baoguo’s words. “He beat Gu Miao too.”

          “Mm.” Gu Fei bit his lips. He had been fairly calm up until then, but only when Gu Miao was brought up did his expression change. “Gu Miao had always been a little different than the other kids, ever since she was born. Maybe it’s because of his drinking, who knows. Of course he would never think that. He just thought of her as a giant nuisance, a kid who couldn’t speak fluently, and had trouble learning things.”

          “So he beat her?” As he listened Jiang Cheng felt his temper rise up again.

          “Yeah,” Gu Fei turned his face away. “He flung her against a wall. Gu Miao pretty much stopped talking after that.”

          “Fucking hell!” Jiang Cheng blurted out. At that moment, he had the sudden urge to dig up Gu Fei’s dad’s grave and whip his corpse.

          Gu Fei had finished his story. They sat and stared at the makeshift ashtray together in silence.

.

          After a long while, Gu Fei said quietly, “The way I fling people against trees, I probably got it from him…”

          “Nonsense.” Jiang Cheng cut him off immediately.

          “That tone,” Gu Fei started laughing. “You sound just like Lao-Xu.”

          “Who should I sound like then, Lao-Lu? I don’t have the strength to yell anymore.” Jiang Cheng leaned back against the wall and sighed. “This is a fucked up place.”

          “Your adopted parents sheltered you pretty well, actually.” Gu Fei said. “Even though you’re like one of those bang snaps [2], but still you’re really… clean.”

          “I guess.” Jiang Cheng said quietly. He thought for a bit, then asked tentatively. “Why did Li Baoguo say that you… never mind.”

          “That I killed my dad?” Gu Fei said.

          “Uh,” Jiang Cheng suddenly felt it was an inappropriate question to ask at this moment. “Don’t worry about it, I didn’t believe him, I’m just… never mind, pretend I didn’t say anything. Don’t mind me.”

          “Not forthright at all.” Gu Fei wagged a finger at him. “It’s nothing really, just rumours, there’s all kinds. We have lots of those around here, I’ll tell you the stories one day.”

          “Mm.” Jiang Cheng nodded.

.

          “Somebody saw us when my dad dragged me to the lake,” Gu Fei said. “When they got there my dad was in the lake, not moving, and I was standing on the shore. It must’ve looked just like a murder crime scene. The perpetrator was obviously ruthless, he didn’t even cry.”

          “That’s… you were probably in shock.” Jiang Cheng frowned. He was a little afraid to imagine the scene at the time, how old had Gu Fei been?

          “I don’t know, maybe.” Gu Fei lit another cigarette. “It might scare you if I told you.”

          “Then scare me.” Jiang Cheng said.

          “I couldn’t save him. I didn’t know how to swim and I was freezing.” Gu Fei’s voice got lower. “But I wanted him to die too. I stood there and watched as he stopped moving little by little, I watched as he sank down, just… watched.”

          Jiang Cheng suddenly found it difficult to breathe. He tried twice to draw in a deep breath but failed, as if something had wrapped itself around his lungs. 

          “It’s horrific isn’t it.” Gu Fei’s voice was very low with the faintest tremor. “I was terrified. I save him, and he might still want to kill me, I’m scared that he’ll kill Er-Miao, or my mom… I don’t save him, then I just stand there and watch him die, little by little… Every year on the anniversary of his death I feel like I shed a layer of myself, like I’m never going to get past this…” 

          Gu Fei was still holding the cigarette in his hand but it was shaking so hard even the smoke rising from the ember tip looked as if it was struggling.

.

          “Gu Fei,” Jiang Cheng never thought Gu Fei would have a backstory like this, and was already at a complete loss for words, but seeing Gu Fei in such a state that was totally unlike his usual cool and unflappable self, he felt his hands also start to shake. He didn’t know what to do. “Gu Fei…”

          Gu Fei turned to face him.

          He wasn’t crying.

          Thank goodness. Jiang Cheng let out a breath of relief. Even though he figured Gu Fei wasn’t like him, getting a twinge or tickle in his nose out of nowhere like a delicate lady, he was still a little worried.

          Now with Gu Fei’s eyes on him, he was even more at a loss. Jiang Cheng raised his hand up in the air and hesitated for the longest time, then finally put his arm around Gu Fei, and rested his hand on the other shoulder, “Cheng-ge hug.”

          Gu Fei didn’t struggle, only lowered his head and braced his forehead on his knees. Clearly most people weren’t like himself, reacting to a simple touch from others as if he’d been stabbed.

          “To be honest… Never mind, I don’t even know what I’m saying.” Jiang Cheng had never comforted anyone before. On one hand if someone wasn’t very close to him, he wouldn’t think to comfort them. Meanwhile his best friend Pan Zhi never really needed much in the way of comforting, his heart was so big he could eat shit and just sleep it off. All he could do was lightly pat Gu Fei’s back over and over, and then give it a few rubs for good measure. “It’s alright, it all passed… It’s normal for you to feel scared, but this is all past now.”

          Gu Fei kept his head down without moving.

          “I mean,” Jiang Cheng gathered Gu Fei toward himself and gave his arm a good rubbing too. “Now you’re someone who’s weathered some big shit, right? My mom used to… my adopted mom, she always said that in your life, any experience you have is valuable, no matter good or bad…”

          Gu Fei’s head was still down.

          Jiang Cheng was racking his brain trying to think of the appropriate thing to say, all the while stressing over the mismatch between his overachiever status and his utter lack of knowledge in the ways of comforting people.

          He had run out of words to say and could only continue to smooth the nonexistent ruffled feathers all over Gu Fei’s back and arm. Just as Jiang Cheng was about to resort to making up something ridiculous like “rub-a-dub-dub no fear little cub” in order to comfort him, Gu Fei finally moved his head and turned his face away.

.

          “You…” Jiang Cheng hurried to look at his face, but was stunned after a single glance, the corners of Gu Fei’s mouth was turned up in laughter. He jerked his arm back in one swift motion and yelled out. “You’re laughing?? Where’s your fucking humanity?!”

          “Uh huh,” Gu Fei laughed even harder. “This is my first time on the receiving end of such an amateur consolation effort, I couldn’t help it. See, I was pretty upset but…”

          “Fuck off!” Jiang Cheng roared and sprang up from the ground. “How much do you wanna bet I can beat you until you’re upset again?”

          “Nonono don’t…” Gu Fei stood up as well and quickly kicked the slingshot to one side. 

          “Hold on, I was really worried about you, do you realize I was so stressed I was ready to smooth out your feathers!” Jiang Cheng had no words for how he felt. “Meanwhile you’re perfectly happy to play me for a fool, should I give you a round of applause…”

          “Thank you.” Gu Fei said.

          “You’re welcome,” Jiang Cheng replied automatically, and when he came around to it was too tired to bother. “… your great uncle.”

          “I’m serious.” Gu Fei raised a hand and poked Jiang Cheng’s shoulder gently with a finger.

          Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything, just glanced at his own shoulder with a strange look in his eyes.

          “Thank you,” Gu Fei walked over and gave him a hug. “Really.”

.

          This was different from the celebratory hug on the court the other day. This time Gu Fei wrapped his arms tightly around him, and Jiang Cheng’s muscle reflex was so late that it might as well not bother at all.

          “Also,” Gu Fei said gently while holding him. “When I say ‘watch from the sidelines’, please try to comprehend it with your genius overachiever mind, and not misinterpret it in bad faith.”

          “I’m absolutely not misinterpreting it in bad faith.” Jiang Cheng said. He could smell the faint scent of tobacco on Gu Fei, and had the sudden thought that this kind of hug was strangely enjoyable. He couldn’t tell if it was the shameless kind of enjoyable, the wholesome kind, or some other variety. In short, he didn’t have the urge to push Gu Fei away. “When you saw me by the lake, you were thinking of yourself as a bystander, watching from the sidelines as someone else cried, laughed, and split himself into eight pieces.”

          Gu Fei began to laugh again, “Alright fine, I ‘bystood’ for a bit. But I didn’t think anything of it, and I wasn’t making fun of you either.”

          “There we go,” Jiang Cheng said. “A little more honesty, and the whole world is brighter.” 

          Gu Fei patted him on the back and let go, “I honestly thought I would die by your hands today.”

          “Not likely.” Jiang Cheng sighed. “Although now I’m a little worried, seems like I might know too much…”

          “Don’t worry about it.” Gu Fei held up his camera. “I have photos of you in underwear.”

          “What?!” Jiang Cheng glared at him.

          “I have. Photos. Of you in underwear.” Gu Fei waved his camera. “Face included, high res, no pixelation.”

          “You shameless little shit,” Jiang Cheng pointed at him. “I should never have tried to comfort you. Do your classmates know of your perverted tendencies?”

          “My deskmate does.” Gu Fei scoffed.

          Jiang Cheng tried to keep a straight face, but gave in to the giggles a second later.

          He didn’t much care whether Gu Fei really had photos of him in underwear. At the end of the day it was just underwear, at least it wasn’t photos of him without underwear. In comparison, what he was actually worried about… 

          “And your chicken run photos.” Gu Fei said.

          “Delete it!” Jiang Cheng yelled.

          Yes, compared to the underwear photos, he was way more concerned with the photo of him running like a chicken. Now that, would be seriously embarrassing if seen by anyone else.

          “Sure,” Gu Fei answered briskly. “If you write the Monday morning self-admonition for me.”

          .

          Jiang Cheng glared at him for a few seconds, then said at last, “You can’t even write a self-admonition? Someone like you, you must’ve written quite a few of these growing up.”

          “I really can’t, I used to ask Li Yan to write them for me, and Zhou Jing [3], pretty much everyone I can think of.” Gu Fei said.

          “Ayyy…” Jiang Cheng poured himself a glass of water and took a sip. “I’m honestly quite impressed. Just getting by like you do, even when it comes to self-admonitions. What are you gonna do about the university entrance exams?”

          “You’re thinking too far ahead, that’s more than a year away.” Gu Fei said. “I haven’t thought about the university entrance exams, I just want to get my high school diploma.”

          “Why didn’t you go to a technical college or something for secondary school,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him. “Then at least you could have a skilled trade under your belt.”

          “I already do,” Gu Fei waved his camera again, and smiled after some thought. “When I was in middle school, I actually thought about applying to university one day. But then I figured there was no point.”

          Jiang Cheng didn’t reply. He knew that Gu Fei didn’t actually think that it was pointless. Considering his home life, it was probably impossible for him to leave for school, and there didn’t seem to be any respectable schools in the area worth applying to… 

          “You’ll probably get into some impressive university.” Gu Fei said. “Will the two years you spend here at a garbage school like Fourth High negatively affect you?”

          “Nope.” Jiang Cheng chugged the whole glass of water. “It’s all in the textbooks, doesn’t matter who teaches it.”

          Gu Fei gave him a thumbs up.

          “Maybe it’s out of spite… but I want to prove it to my… my adopted mother,” Jiang Cheng frowned, it wasn’t like she would ever know. “That I’m not someone who would rot in place wherever I’m put down, I will go far away from here.”

          “Yeah,” Gu Fei stretched. “This shitty place, no one wants to stay here.”


Footnotes:

[1] Burning fake paper money is a tradition for the living to send currency to the dead so they may live comfortably in the afterlife.

[2] Bang snaps = a small novelty firework

[3] Zhou Jing: the guy who sits in front of them in class, in case y’all forgot (:3」∠)_

Some Stats

* Raw character count: 6166

* TL word count: 4229

* TL time: 10:05:17

* Edit: 1:20:43

* Curse words: 9x fucks, 2x ass, 6x shits

TL’s Notes

I loved doing this chapter, and I’m still learning all the time. I look back at translations I did a few chapters ago and I cringe at the wording ( ̄  ̄|| ). The author also leaves really cute author’s notes all the time, I would do them as well if only I could figure out what she’s talking about half the time.

Cheng-ge’s outburst was one of my favourite scenes while reading the novel, I felt for him so much and hope I got the emotions across properly.

Anyways, hope you enjoy (・∀・)