Old Yuan noticed that Yue Dingtang was lost in thought.
After he finished speaking, the latter was staring at the fire, lost in his own world.
He didn't know what he was thinking until he saw the cigarette in Yue Dingtang's hand almost burning his fingers.
Old Yuan couldn't help but push his arm, and only then did he snap out of it, shaking off the ash and taking a deep drag.
"I remember he used to be in great shape. He always placed in the top three in long-distance races, and he was the one who scored the most goals when we played ball together in school. A group of female students would even take a detour after class just to pass by the playground and watch him play."
The smoke drifted into the fire, sparking memories of the past.
"Do you know how much he loves to show off? While everyone else takes off their clothes when playing basketball to cool down, he insists on wearing a full set of Zhongshan suit, running around the court with a dignified manner just to hear those female students complimenting his style." Yue Dingtang finished speaking and couldn't help but laugh.
"His current condition is mostly due to the injuries he sustained on the battlefield, either from shrapnel or bullets. You must have noticed the problem with his right hand, which was stabbed by an enemy bayonet during close combat in the snow. He used to be a sharpshooter in our battalion, famous both inside and outside, but after that injury, he could no longer hold a gun."
To be honest, Old Yuan always felt that Yue Dingtang was unpredictable.
Even though the three of them were sitting here, having survived a life-and-death situation together, Old Yuan still couldn't fully trust Yue Dingtang.
Perhaps it was because he needed to hide his identity and lurk by the old master's side, so he had developed a habit of always observing others with a suspicious eye.
But it didn't matter if he didn't believe in Yue Dingtang.
What was important was that Old Yuan felt it necessary for Yue Dingtang to believe in Ling Shu.
He didn't want any misunderstandings in the future that would lead to Yue Dingtang putting Ling Shu in danger.
"We all thought his hand would be useless, but after he was discharged from the hospital, he started practicing with his left hand. From holding chopsticks to writing, and eventually even picking up green beans one by one with chopsticks. I thought that was impressive enough, but one day he told me he could shoot a gun with his left hand. I thought to myself, what's the big deal? Anyone with a functioning index finger can pull a trigger."
Yue Dingtang's eyes sparkled with amusement. "He may seem carefree, but he's actually very competitive. He's been like this since he was young. Before every exam, he would say he didn't study much, but in reality, he would read books every day until he fell asleep. I bet he's already trained his left hand to shoot a gun pretty well by now."
Old Yuan shook his head and laughed, "Blame my naivety at the time, I didn't believe in superstitions and insisted on betting with him. We went to the shooting range with our funs and started shooting targets. Can you guess what happened? I actually lost! This guy had secretly practiced left-handed shooting for two months and narrowly beat me, someone who had been using my right hand for years!"
This was exactly the kind of thing Ling Shu would do.
Yue Dingtang smiled silently, feeling a subtle emotion that he couldn't quite explain.
It was as if he was immersed in it and proud of it.
But this feeling was fleeting, as Yue Dingtang looked at Ling Shu's right hand.
The latter was sound asleep, lying on his side facing them, his right hand hanging limply with some dried bloodstains on his sleeve.
However, his fingers were long and fair, and his nails were neatly trimmed.
There was no indication that this hand was partially disabled.
Yue Dingtang still remembered the first time he saw Ling Shu after a long separation.
It was in prison, and he noticed Ling Shu writing with his left hand.
At the time, he had some doubts, but he never imagined that behind those doubts lay a tumultuous past.
The boy who once had to wrap his fingers in a handkerchief after being pricked by a flower had transformed into a man with a will as strong as steel, hidden from his sight.
Old Yuan sighed, "But no matter how precise he is, his left hand is still his left hand. It can't compare to his original right hand. His marksmanship back then was truly remarkable, it's a pity!"
Yue Dingtang asked, "How did he get so many injuries? Didn't the Northeast Army quickly retreat without fighting back?"
Old Yuan spoke calmly, "Although it was said that way, some of us still resisted. I remember that year when we were stationed in Changchun. The Japanese army came from Beidaying, clearly intending to annex the three northeastern provinces. Some even held the delusion that if they gave the Japanese some benefits, they would stop. Others hoped that the Russians would help, but in the end, Fengtian, Siping, and Yingkou all fell. When they came to our side in Changchun, we refused to surrender and defended the city all night."
Old Yuan's tone was flat.
To him and Ling Shu, this was all in the past. The fact that they could sit here safely was already a great blessing.
Yue Dingtang was silent for a moment before saying, "I was abroad at the time and read relevant reports. They all said that the northeast did not resist, so the entire line collapsed quickly, but they did not mention Changchun."
Old Yuan let out a bitter laugh, "We only held on for one night. It's not something to be proud of, so I won't mention it. We don't want to embarrass ourselves. But that night, we really risked our lives. The enemy's firepower was too strong, and we had no reinforcements. Many of our men lost their will to fight. When we heard that nearby cities were retreating without resistance, we knew we couldn't hold on any longer. One by one, our brothers fell. If it weren't for Ling Shu pushing me away, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you right now."
Yue Dingtang asked, "What happened afterwards?"
Old Yuan began, "Afterwards, the group of us who survived were all badly injured and unable to return to the battlefield. But we refused to accept the label of cowardly losers and decided to split up and fight guerrilla-style in the wilderness, engaging with the enemy. From September to December, a full three months, we braved rain and snow, hunted for food, and struggled to survive. Originally, there were over thirty of us, but in the end, only seven of us remained, including myself and Ling Shu."
Yue Dingtang replied, "That sounds incredibly brutal."
Old Yuan said, "The strategy of exchanging lives can only be used by ordinary men. Seeing the northeast fall, the main forces retreating to the interior, and our injuries causing pain even in the rain and wind, with a piece of shrapnel still lodged in Ling Shu's shoulder, even if we return to the battlefield, we will only be a burden to our brothers. After a few calculations, we decided to retire completely and have not contacted Ling Shu since."
Yue Dingtang wanted to say something, but felt that no matter what he said, it would be unnecessary criticism for Old Yuan and his comrades.
"Do you regret it?" he asked Old Yuan, but also through him, asking Ling Shu.
Old Yuan wiped his face, laughed twice, and all his despondency disappeared. "What do I have to regret? Regret killing the enemy, or regret resisting? I only regret not having more hands at the time, not killing more. A man born in this world, if he cannot live a heroic life, what is the difference between his life and that of a dog or a cat?"
Yue Dingtang pondered for a moment and said, "If I had known earlier..."
If he had known earlier, he would not have let Ling Shu follow him to the northeast, to relive the iron and blood of the past.
But if he had not taken this trip, how would he have known all of this?
He now only regrets his long-standing behavior of testing others.
Those tests inevitably hurt the other person's heart.
Especially the moment when he pointed the gun at the other person.
Yue Dingtang did not know what Ling Shu was feeling at the time, and even he himself was confused and unable to express his emotions.
But now, looking back, all he feels is regret.
Like a wound soaking in salt water, his heart ached and throbbed, unable to retreat.
"After we met, we didn't have time to catch up. Did he go back to Shanghai? Is he really your subordinate?" Old Yuan asked.
Yue Dingtang heard Old Yuan's question.
"I am a part-time consultant at the City Bureau, and he is my assistant secretary. He sits in the office every day, without going on field missions or facing gunfire. It's very safe," Yue Dingtang replied.
Old Yuan widened his eyes. "But he still got seriously injured this time!"
Yue Dingtang remembered the previous times Ling Shu was injured, which seemed to have happened while they were investigating cases together.
"He's not the lazy type. Even if you tell him to rest, he won't be able to sit still," Yue Dingtang said with a smile.
Old Yuan thought about it and felt helpless: "It's my fault. I shouldn't have dragged him into this, but I need a helper and there's no one else I can rely on."
"I'll do my best to keep him from getting hurt again."
When Yue Dingtang said this, his voice was so low that only he could hear it.
Meanwhile, Ling Shu, who was deep in a peaceful dream, was completely unaware of what was happening outside.