Upon arriving in Nanjing, their journey finally slowed down completely.
Even with Song Lin's long arms, he couldn't reach all the way to Nanjing.
But with Yue Dingtang here, they had a bit of an advantage as he was somewhat of a local.
They even had time to stroll along the Qinhuai River and try some salted duck, osmanthus sugar lotus root, and crab meat buns.
Their wounds also needed to be tended to.
Since their hasty treatment in the northeast, they had been on the move and didn't have the opportunity to properly check and disinfect their wounds. Yue Dingtang found a familiar Western medical clinic and brought Ling Shu there.
The doctor was idle and bored, but when he saw Yue Dingtang, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, "It's not every day that I have the pleasure of seeing Young Master Yue personally visit my clinic. Are you here for a check-up?"
Yue Dingtang asked, "If I'm not here for a check-up, I can't come to see you?"
The doctor chuckled, "Of course you can. I am flattered by your visit. But back then, you broke my heart and left without a word. Are you here today to make up for your past unfaithfulness?"
At first glance, it seemed that there was a deep connection between the two.
Seeing Ling Shu's amused expression, Yue Dingtang had to explain further, "His surname is Ji, Ji Zhuting, also my schoolmate. Do you remember Liu, the doctor who treated our injuries in the Northeast? He was Liu Zhen's classmate and copycat. Whenever he saw him studying Western medicine, he followed suit. When he saw him studying surgery, he followed suit."
"What do you mean by being a copycat? Just because he studies medicine, does that mean I can't learn it too? Did he invent medicine for the whole world?" Dr. Ji's face showed displeasure, but halfway through his sentence, he suddenly realized something.
"Wait a minute! Is the person with the surname Liu in the northeast?!"
Yue Dingtang replied, "Liu Zhen ran to Nanjing, and you followed him to Nanjing. Who knew he would deceive you with a feint and disappear into thin air? That must have been unpleasant for you."
Dr. Ji asked, "Where in the northeast is he?"
Yue Dingtang evaded the question and said, "Dr. Ji, we're here to check on our wound."
Dr. Ji glared at Yue Dingtang, but he stood his ground.
Dr. Ji was the first to back down.
"Take a look at him first."
Yue Dingtang pushed Ling Shu forward.
"Let him see it first," Dr. Ji said.
"Tsk tsk, this is a gunshot wound. You're lucky there are no bullet fragments left inside. Did Liu Zhen perform the surgery for you?"
"Did you not re-bandage your wound on the way here? It's starting to pus. If you had come a day or two later, it could have been infected with bacteria and you might have needed amputation. Luckily, you ran into me!"
"What's wrong? Look at that, Liu Zhen's technique isn't as good as mine, is it?"
"Where exactly is he in Northeast China? Can you tell me now, or is he still forbidding you to speak?"
Dr. Ji kept talking non-stop.
Finally, Yue Dingtang couldn't take it anymore and said, "He's in Fengtian!"
Dr. Ji was pleased, "If only you had said so earlier, we could have saved time."
Yue Dingtang frowned, "Are you trying to go to Fengtian?"
Dr. Ji sneered, "I have a home and business here. Why would I go to Fengtian? Don't you know what kind of place it is now?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "I see you're itching to go, your words don't match your actions."
Doctor Ji: "Can I ask a few questions about Mr. Liu, who owes me money?"
Yue Dingtang: "Just about the money?"
Doctor Ji fell silent and lowered his head to disinfect and apply medicine to Yue Dingtang's arm.
"You'd better stay here for a few more days and come back every day to change the dressing. Don't run around with your injuries. If one hand is disabled and one leg is disabled, you'll be a perfect match for each other."
Yue Dingtang said, "We've already bought our train tickets and we'll be heading back to Shanghai in a few hours. It's an eight-hour journey, and we'll be home tonight. We can go to hospital clinic to change the dressing tomorrow."
Doctor Ji didn't try to persuade them any further.
"What were you doing in Northeast China? How did you get shot? Did Liu Zhen also get injured?"
Yue Dingtang raised his eyebrows. "Are you asking about us or him?"
Doctor Ji said, "Both."
Yue Dingtang replied, "It's a private matter and not convenient to talk about."
Dr. Ji pursed his lips. "Is Liu Zhen also your personal matter?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "He wasn't injured, I just asked him to help with a surgery. He's doing well in Fengtian, like a fish in water, very content. What else do you want to know?"
After disinfecting and cleaning the wound, Dr. Ji wrapped a few layers of gauze around his arm and tied a knot.
"Just asking a few questions about an old friend," he said.
"Dr. Ji, there's a patient at the door. Can you come out for a moment?" A nurse appeared at the door.
Dr. Ji stood up and clapped his hands, removing his gloves and mask. "You guys rest here for a moment, I'll go see other patients."
Through the door, faint voices could be heard outside.
Ling Shu had not participated in their conversation just now and was already dozing off.
The commotion when Dr. Ji left startled him awake, but he was a bit more alert now.
"Have you picked up your medicine? Let's go then," said Yue Dingtang.
Yue Dingtang glanced at his pocket watch and replied, "We still have some time before the train departs. Let's rest here for a bit."
Ling Shu tilted his head and asked, "I heard your older brother is in Nanjing. Why don't we visit him on the way?"
"He's busy with official duties and probably won't have time to see me," Yue Dingtang shook his head.
He paused for a moment before continuing, "When we went to pay our respects to old master Guan, there was some disagreement within the Yue family. My older brother didn't agree to go, and my second brother had a fight with him over it. That's why I went to offer my condolences privately. If my older brother sees me now, he'll ask about it and I'll have to explain. It's better to avoid the trouble."
Ling Shu sighed, "I used to envy you."
Yue Dingtang looked at him.
Ling Shu said, "Not only do you have Sister Chunxiao, but also two older brothers. When the Ling family fell, my sister sent me abroad. At that time, I was very worried about leaving her alone in the country. If she had brothers, at least she would have someone to rely on."
Yue Dingtang asked, "So does that mean Ling Yao got married after you left home?"
Ling Shu nodded, "I never thought that when I went back home, I would gain a brother-in-law. After I left, my sister applied for a proofreading job at a newspaper. She was the first woman they ever hired, and the editor and his wife thought highly of her intelligence and diligence. They often invited her to their home for meals and even introduced her to her future husband. They got married soon after. I owe her a lot. If I hadn't taken all the money from our home, maybe she wouldn't have had to rush into marriage like that. My sister loves new clothes, but after getting married, she wore the same few dresses over and over again. When I gave her new clothes, she used to complain that it wasn't trendy enough, but now she says I wasted my money."
Yue Dingtang finally understood why Ling Shu was always a little nervous around Ling Yao, and why he rarely talked back when scolded. It turned out that he was expressing his guilt towards his sister in this way.
He had always been like this, appearing very outgoing but actually very thoughtful.
However, this thoughtfulness was never directed towards himself.
"So, now whenever my sister asks something of me, as long as it's not too extreme, I will comply with her."
Yue Dingtang raised an eyebrow. "She asked you to get married, why haven't you obeyed?"
Ling Shu shrugged. "Don't I need to find a suitable candidate? So many people like me, should I marry them all? I don't mind, but have you asked if they mind? Anyway, forget it. Whenever I see my sister and her husband arguing, I just want to disappear. Speaking of which, I heard your older brother married two wives. What do you think about that?"
Yue Dingtang was speechless. "It's not like I'm the one getting married, what can I do?"
Ling Shu said, "Won't your elder sister-in-law and younger sister-in-law argue and compete for favor every day?"
Yue Dingtang replied, "They may secretly compete and be jealous of each other, but they never argue in front of my eldest brother. When my eldest brother wanted to marry his second wife, my elder sister-in-law strongly opposed it. She even moved me and my second brother to persuade my eldest brother, but he didn't live with us and we couldn't interfere with his affairs. My elder sister-in-law couldn't do anything to stop him, so she had to silently accept it."
Ling Shu yawned and asked, "What happened later?"
"Afterwards, they began to compete in secret. Both of them were cunning, and in front of my eldest brother, they tried to outdo each other in being virtuous and gentle, as if they were goddesses descended to earth. But as soon as my brother left, their true colors were revealed, and they would bare their fangs and claws at each other. My sister-in-law had a legitimate status, and my brother never thought of divorcing her, but he favoured his second wife more. The two of them balanced each other out, and my brother pretended to be clueless, enjoying their service like watching a monkey show."
Yue Dingtang didn't hear a response and turned his head to see that the person was dozing off.
He couldn't help but laugh in frustration.
This guy was treating their family's affairs like bedtime stories to listen to?
He had finally found an opportunity to open up and talk about the Yue family's affairs, which outsiders couldn't even hear about, and this person didn't know how to appreciate it?
He poked the person's arm, but there was no response.
Ling Shu leaned back against the chair, deeply asleep.
Yue Dingtang let out a sigh.
"Ling Shu," he said, but those two words were all he could manage. Despite having countless things to say, he couldn't seem to find the right words.
So many words had been said in his memories and in his heart, but it seemed like it didn't matter whether he spoke them or not.
After all, Ling Shu wouldn't know.
What Yue Dingtang really wanted to ask was what Ling Shu had felt when they kissed in the secret passage of Guanyin Temple.
"Ling Shu," he said again.
He wanted to keep Ling Shu's footsteps rooted to the ground, to keep him by his side and prevent him from flying away.
Eight years of regret had eaten away at his heart, and he needed to find a way to make up for it.
But this was Ling Shu, after all.
On the battlefield, Ling Shu was willing to fight with his enemies using his blood and life. He was the kind of person who would rather die than surrender for the sake of his brothers in arms.
Ling Shu used to be content with living a mediocre life, but he risked his life for the sake of his former comrades and to bring back a lost treasure to his people.
Yue Dingtang couldn't bear to restrict Ling Shu with his own ideas, nor did he want to.
The recovered treasure should be held in one's hand and cherished, allowing it to shine brightly and freely.
"Enough about Ling Shu, it's been a long and winding road. Let's move on!"
Dr. Ji suddenly appeared, teasing and cold-hearted.
"I'm going out for a smoke." Yue Dingtang didn't bother with him and left the room.
Dr. Ji stood at the door for a moment.
When Yue Dingtang was far enough away, he suddenly spoke towards the direction of the chair.
"Don't pretend to be asleep," he said.