Li Yundong honestly didn't get it. You save a few lives, and people around you start acting weird. Doctors, firemen, and policemen save thousands of lives every year, yet nobody's treating them like idols. Maybe that's exactly what's wrong with the world these days. People would rather fawn over a pop star with chronic heroin addiction than the real heroes of society.
After their conversation this morning, Li Yundong had brought Su Chan to a cafe to have breakfast, which turned out to be rather pleasant despite how their morning had begun. They shared a few laughs over egg wraps and porridge, then joked around with each other. None of that heaviness from their earlier conversation seemed to have left his room. They finished breakfast in twenty minutes, then left the cafe and made their way towards campus. Despite the horrors he'd witnessed yesterday, Li Yundong was ready to put everything behind him. Good old, boring campus life — that was what he wanted. If nothing else, he deserved a break after yesterday's incident. He wanted everything on campus to go back to normal, like hitting the reset button.
Which, apparently, was too much to ask for.
The moment he and Su Chan passed the campus gates, the chatter surrounding the campus compound diminished like a receding wave. Everyone stopped what they'd been doing just to stare at him. And when he led Su Chan across the compound towards the academic building, doing a shit job of pretending that everything was normal, the crowd parted to two sides to create a path for them. These overzealous folks made him feel like an emperor on the way to his throne rather than a student trying to scramble enough semester credits to not get expelled.
Well, that was earlier. And now, Senior Feng Na was staring at him as though he had just materialized in front of her and then told her that he was from Mars.
So yeah, Li Yundong didn't get it at all. Everyone was acting weird. Then again, he wasn't even sure why he was surprised, what with all the weird shit happening to him these days.
Weird is the new normal.
Maybe he should get that printed on T-shirts and start selling them to pay off his bank debts.
"Hey... Hello? Earth to Feng Na... Earth to Feng Na," Li Yundong said, waving his hand in front of Feng Na's face. When that failed to bring Feng Na out of her daze, Li Yundong looked at Cheng Cheng. "Is she alright? She's a little red in the face."
Cheng Cheng chuckled, then gave Feng Na a hard nudge, which nearly caused Feng Na to fall over Li Yundong's table.
"He's talking to you," Cheng Cheng said, pointing a finger at him.
Only then did Feng Na snap out of it.
"Oh! Uh... h- hi..." Feng Na said.
Li Yundong wanted to laugh at Feng Na's sudden demureness. What happened to that tough-as-nails woman who had contrived an elaborate scheme to smash a pebble on his chest? Where did she go?
"Morning," Li Yundong said. "What brings you two here? Not that I'm not glad to see you, but I thought only second-year students attend this lecture."
Cheng Cheng beamed at him. "Isn't it obvious? We're here to shake hands with the living legend!"
Li Yundong chuckled. "Oh, come on... Not this again..."
Cheng Cheng's grin widened just a tad. "What? You're a living legend now. They even gave you a new nickname. The Hero of Tiannan University. It's all over the forum."
"The forum? I'm surprised they haven't pulled down those posts yet. Wait. I thought they shut down the forum last night?"
Cheng Cheng rolled her eyes. "Right. Like that's enough to stop everyone. People started spamming posts again once the forum was back online."
Li Yundong chuckled and looked at Su Chan. His princess was grinning back at him too. Warmth filled his chest at the look of pride he saw on her face.
"Come on, now, legend! Stop dallying and give your number two fan an autograph," Cheng Cheng said, pushing a pen and a book towards him.
Li Yundong took the book. "Number two fan? Is that a thing now?" He looked towards Feng Na who appeared to be studying his face intently.
"Of course it is," Cheng Cheng said. "I'm the best friend of the number one fan, after all."
Li Yundong flipped open the cover page, then looked at Cheng Cheng with a raised brow. "You want me to sign your Econs textbook?"
Cheng Cheng giggled, then stuck out her tongue sheepishly. "Oops... I don't have anything else with me..."
Li Yundong's brow rose even higher. "Or I could just... I don't know, not sign anything?"
"Nope! That's not an option!"
"Oh, come on. Quit stalling and sign the damn thing already."
Li Yundong chuckled. "Alright, alright, geez..."
Li Yundong took the pen and flipped to the textbook's title page. While putting down his signature, he could feel Feng Na's gaze on him. When he was done, he capped the pen, then placed it on top of the textbook. "Something wrong, Senior Feng Na?" Li Yundong said, handing both items to Cheng Cheng. "You've been staring at me the whole time."
Feng Na took the textbook from Li Yundong's hand before Cheng Cheng could reach it. Cheng Cheng scrambled to grab the pen and managed to prevent it from falling. Li Yundong frowned when he saw Feng Na rolling up the book into a tube. At first, he thought she was going to hit him with the book, but then she shoved one end of the rolled-up book in front of his lips.
"Mr. Li Yundong," Feng Na said. "What was going through your mind when you were trying to save both girls?"
"Umm... That I should... save them?"
Feng Na smacked his arm with the book. Li Yundong burst into laughter.
"Come on, be serious, please," Feng Na said, putting the make-shift microphone in front of his mouth again.
"Alright, fine." Li Yundong cleared his throat and sat up straighter. "At that moment, I was thinking about my beloved country"—Li Yundong placed his palm over his heart—"and the people that I have sworn to protect with utmost valor—"
Cheng Cheng and Su Chan burst into laughter.
Feng Na lowered the book, her eyes fluttering close. "Oh, thank God... You're still the same guy I know."
"Oh, come on," Li Yundong said, placing a hand on his cheek. "Surely, I haven't changed that much."
Hah. If only she knew half of what he did about these changes of his. She’d probably need a medic.
"No. You've changed Li Yundong. Really changed," Feng Na said, leveling him with a serious stare. "And I'm not talking about something like a hairstyle change or anything trivial like that. It's like..." Feng Na gestured at his face. "It's like... you carry yourself differently now."
Li Yundong smiled. "That a good thing?"
Feng Na paused in thought. Sounds of chatter filled in the silence between them as the start of the lecture drew near.
"It depends, I guess," Feng Na said. "Most of your changes are good. But you used to be much more candid."
Li Yundong burst into laughter. "Nah... You're overthinking this. I'm still the same me."
Li Yundong wondered who he was really trying to convince. Feng Na, or himself.
Feng Na and Cheng Cheng didn't leave when the lecture started, much to Li Yundong's surprise. Instead, they both took their seats at Li Yundong's row and got their notepads out.
"You guys don't have classes today?" Li Yundong asked.
"Nope! We're both free today," Cheng Cheng said.
Li Yundong's brows rose to his hairline. "And you both choose to spend your precious free time sitting here, listening to a boring lecture, when you could’ve… I don’t know, gone shopping or something."
He didn't even need his super vision to see the blush rising up to Feng Na's ears.
"Ever heard of refresher courses?" Cheng Cheng said while Feng Na remained strangely quiet.
Seriously, what's up with Feng Na today? Was she scared of him after hearing that he could dodge bullets? Usually, there was this comfortable banter between Feng Na and him, but today, the air between them felt awkward.
He decided to tease her a little. Maybe they would start bantering again after that.
"You know, Feng Na," he said. "The way you interviewed me just now seemed pretty legit. Ever think of going into journalism?"
A grin spread across Feng Na's face. Aha... there we go... The shy look didn't suit Feng Na at all. She looked so much prettier smiling.
"Seriously? You really think so?" Feng Na said. "That thought did cross my mind recently."
Li Yundong studied Feng Na for a moment. "Nah. I'm just kidding. Don't take it to heart," he said with a straight face.
He nearly laughed when Feng Na's jaw drop open.
"Damn you!" Feng Na smacked his arm. "You're messing with me!"
Li Yundong chuckled. "Oh, yeah? So you can dish it out, but you can't take it? This is nothing compared to that rock-smashing thing you..."
The lecture hall fell silent. Li Yundong glanced towards the door and immediately understood why.
To say that Ding Nan knew a thing or two about women's fashion was probably an understatement. The girl was a walking fashion magazine cover. She strode in confidently as though she hadn't fallen off the rooftop of this very building just yesterday. The clicking of her 3-inch stiletto heels accompanied her every step, reminding every guy in the room just how far out of their damn leagues she was. Oh, yeah. Those heels had probably stomped on and broken a lot of guys' hearts. Not because she had rejected those guys, but because she wouldn't so much as look their way. Ding Nan paused at the lectern when her eyes landed on him. She gave him a smile and a brief nod before going on her way.
Li Yundong wasn't surprised at all that Ding Nan didn't arrive to class together with Zhou Qin today. The f*cked up circumstances yesterday must've caused a rift between the two of them. He wasn't even sure if Ding Nan was able to see Zhou Qin as a friend anymore after yesterday.
Speak of the devil...
Zhou Qin walked into the lecture hall with her usual grace.
Li Yundong watched as Zhou Qin moved from the door past the first few rows. At the fourth row, Zhou Qin stopped, then frowned. It made sense; Ding Nan was sitting in the fourth row. Before Li Yundong could think further about it, Zhou Qin was moving past the fourth row. She passed three more rows before she halted again, but this time, she was looking straight at him. Li Yundong gave Zhou Qin a little nod. Much to his surprise, Zhou Qin averted her eyes and kept on walking as though she never saw him. When she turned away just now, she almost looked like she was panicking. Li Yundong followed Zhou Qin's movements until she took her seat. What the heck was that about? Was she frightened of him? Did she have PTSD? Li Yundong meant every word when he told Kris that he didn't want fame or glory. This was one of the reasons why he didn't care much for all that celebrity nonsense — people start acting weird around you, like you're some freak instead of just another human being.
A rapping sound brought his attention to the front of the lecture hall. The professor was already standing at the lectern.
A chorus of half-hearted murmurs followed that greeting.
It was a little creepy to think about the fact that the last professor who uttered that greeting ended up with a bullet between his eyes. Beside him, Feng Na and Cheng Cheng were whispering to each other while Su Chan sat with both arms hugging her knees.
"Well! As you guys know, we only have a few lectures left, which, of course, means that your finals are approaching..."
Groans filled the lecture hall.
"And today, I thought I'd go through some exam tips with you guys!"
A ruckus shook the lecture hall.
"Oh, come on, professor! It's only the beginning of June! That's way too early!"
"Yeah! We've been through hell yesterday! Some of us nearly died! Can't the university cut us some slack?"
"Exactly! We've all been traumatized! Please don't add to our stress!"
"It is precisely because of yesterday's incident that the university decided to set the exams at an earlier date so that we can end the semester earlier. The university needed time and space to deal with this mess after all. The dates of your finals are already set, so there's no use whining and complaining about it. The best thing you can do now is be ready for it. Now, do you want those tips or not?"
There was a chorus of "yes."
"Yeah? I have a better idea. Just give us a copy of the exam paper," muttered the guy sitting in front of Li Yundong.
"Oh, before we start… Li Yundong! Is Li Yundong here?"
The professor's voice caused the lecture hall to grow quiet. Everyone swiveled in their seats to look at him. Gone were the days where he was just a normal university student. Gone.
"I'm here, Professor Ma," Li Yundong said loudly, raising his hand.
More silence ensued.
At the lectern, Professor Ma was peering over the rim of his reading glasses as though he was having a hard time seeing Li Yundong.
Li Yundong fought the urge to give his hand a little wave.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Is this the way you people treat the Hero of Tiannan University, by having him sit all the way at the back of the class? Shouldn't the living legend at least be given a spot in the front row?"
A round of giggles—mostly female—ensued.
"Can you even hear anything at the back? What if someone in the first row needs saving, and you couldn't hear their screams of help?"
More giggles sounded.
Li Yundong thought he could probably fry an egg with his cheeks.
"I can hear you just fine, Professor Ma."
The professor nodded.
"Ah… So you can hear me, then. Good, good. Though I must say it is for your own sake as much as it is for the sake of those who need a dose of your impeccable heroism..."
Li Yundong frowned. The professor's tone sounded a bit strange.
"Pardon me, sir? What might you be referring to?"
Professor Ma looked at him strangely. "Well, you see, if you can't hear the contents of my lecture, then you'll be having several new monikers very soon, I'm afraid..."
"The Hero Who Got Expelled, for instance. Oh, here's another one. The Hero Who Failed to Save His Own University Degree."
The lecture hall erupted in laughter.
"H- huh? I'm gonna get expelled?! But didn't you—" Li Yundong turned towards Feng Na. "I thought you..."
Did Feng Na lie? He thought she'd already convinced Director Qian not to expel him?! Feng Na gave him a shrug which said she didn't know anything about this new development.
"It's because you've skipped over fifty lectures, dumbass," Sun Li said from the first row. "The finals will consist of eight papers, and each paper will contribute to your total semester credits. But unlike all of us who are wise enough not to skip lectures, you can only sit for the finals in one subject. Which, if you haven't figured out already, is the subject taught by Professor Ma."
"What!!!" Li Yundong nearly had an aneurysm right then and there. "Wh- wh- what about th- the other seven!"
More laughter ensued. Great. Just great. To think that he'd just saved all their asses yesterday! Argh! These f*cking ingrates!
"Tsk! Didn't you hear what I said just now?" Sun Li went on. "You're banned from the examinations for the other seven subjects because you've skipped too many lectures!"
Li Yundong slid down on his seat by a couple of inches. Shit... He was screwed. His goose was cooked. Well and truly barbequed.
"Now, now... Do not despair," said Professor Ma. From his tone, it was clear that the professor was enjoying this as much as the other students were. "You just have to pass this paper and you'll be fine."
Pass this paper. Yeah. That was exactly the problem. It was probably easier to dodge a hundred bullets than pass this paper.
Li Yundong raised his head. The guy sitting in front of him was leaning towards his table.
"Don't worry," the guy whispered. "I got your back, boss. I'll pass my answers to you during the finals."
"Whoa! My man!" Li Yundong said, clapping the guy's shoulder. "What's your name?"
The guy's face fell.
"You're shitting me right? I've been your classmate for two years, and you don't even know my name? I think you just broke my heart, boss."
Li Yundong rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Yeah... It's just... well.. I mean... I'm not exactly the most sociable person..."
Then, the guy was grinning again. Thank f*ck.
"Nah, don't worry about it, boss. My name's Zhang Qian. I'll help you in your exams, don't you worry. But..." Zhang Qian shot him a hopeful look. "Do you think you can teach me how to fight?"
Su Chan's warning from earlier this morning came to mind.
"I mean... teach me how to do those badass moves like you did!" Zhang Qian said.
When Li Yundong glanced furtively to the side, he noticed the subtle headshake Su Chan was giving him.
Li Yundong cleared his throat. "Listen, buddy, I'm sorry but I don't think—"
"Boo! You're such a slimeball Zhang Qian," said a girl sitting in the same row as Zhang Qian. "You're just taking advantage of the guy!"
"What! It's a legit deal!" Zhang Qian argued.
"Legit my ass!" the girl bit back. "How do you know you're both gonna be seated together during the exams? You don't even know if your exam halls are going to be in the same building!"
Zhang Qian seemed to be at a loss for words.
Li Yundong just shrugged at him. Sorry pal, no deal.
Then, the girl who had dismissed Zhang Qian earlier suddenly gave Li Yundong a coy look. "Um... Li Yundong..." she cleared her throat. "First of all, I think you're super hot!"
"Um... th- thanks... I- I guess?"
The girl winked at him. Frying eggs with his cheeks, huh? How about melting steel?
"You know... if we end up sitting beside each other during the exams, I'll give you my answers unconditionally."
"Yeah, and probably your lady parts too," the girl beside her muttered.
The girl flushed a deep crimson and unleashed a round of physical abuse onto her companion.
"Hey, hey, hey! You guys at the back! Enough fooling around!" Professor Ma's voice silenced the chatter.
Li Yundong looked towards the lectern and saw Professor Ma staring straight at him. Behind those reading glasses were eyes that held amusement.
"I suggest you don't forget who your real savior is, O Hero of Tiannan University," Professor Ma said, pointing to himself.
Li Yundong sat up straighter. "Yes, sir!"
Professor Ma nodded in satisfaction, then turned away to address the rest of the class.
"Now, class! Tips! Open your textbook to page..."
About five minutes later, Li Yundong felt a nudge on his side.
"Hey... You really skipped that many lectures?" Feng Na whispered.
Li Yundong rolled his eyes. "Tsk. Will you stop rubbing it in? I feel bad enough as I do."
Feng Na giggled. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. Poor Li Yundong... You risk your life to save others, but who's gonna save you..." Then, Feng Na sighed wistfully. "Ah... I guess I won't be seeing you around next semester then... Too bad. I'm gonna miss you though..."
"Shut up," Li Yundong mumbled.
"Ooh, I know. How about we set up a memorial for you," Cheng Cheng piped in.
"Great idea," Feng Na said. "We can put flower garlands everywhere. Ooh. How about we carve out the names of those students you saved."
"We can set up a foundation in your honor. The Li Yundong Foundation. Wow. That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" Cheng Cheng said. "We can even launch a fundraising event. How about this as a slogan. Support our fallen hero, Li Yundong, who ended up on the streets because he got expelled for insufficient semester credits!"
Li Yundong stared at the Feng Na and Cheng Cheng in disbelief. "You girls suck, you know that?"
Feng Na and Cheng Cheng burst into giggles.
Li Yundong shot a helpless look at Su Chan, who smiled back at him. Right. As if Su Chan could appreciate the full significance of him not getting expelled.
"Hey, Li Yundong. Don't worry, okay," Feng Na said. "We did this paper last year. You should consider yourself lucky that the professor is giving you tips. We didn't even have tips last year. Just follow the tips and you'll be fine."
Li Yundong glared at Feng Na. "Finally some words of encouragement," he grumbled. "Couldn't you have begun the conversation with this?"
"... Alright class! That's it for the tips! Good luck with your studying!"
Li Yundong froze and looked towards the lectern. The professor was already stepping away from the lectern and heading towards the door. The rest of the students were packing and ready to leave the lecture hall as well.
"B- but wait!! Th- the tips! I haven't finished..."
Li Yundong glanced back towards Feng Na and Cheng Cheng.
His expression of shock morphed into a glare when he saw both of them laughing their heads off.
"Hey! This is all your fault!" Li Yundong said, jabbing a finger at them.
Li Yundong groaned into his hands, then hung his head dejectedly.
It seemed like he had to kowtow to Sun Li again.