Edited by Isalee
Seeing how the eastern sky was lightening, most of the recruits slowly ran back to the sports ground. Chen Jing looked at his watch and said, “Fengcheng, you guys should leave first. Let’s not end up with the entire squad having to re-run the route.”
Yu Fengcheng nodded. With a complicated look in his eyes, he glanced at Bai Xinyu. Then, with some of the fitter recruits, he started speeding up and ran off.
By the time Chen Jing and Bai Xinyu returned to the sports ground, it was clear that thirty minutes had long since passed. From Squad Three, they were the only two people late.
Swaying, Bai Xinyu stood there. There was a tingling in his nose, and he really wanted to cry. His legs felt as though they were about to break from running, and yet he was still unable to return by the stated time. In the entire camp, he was the only one who did not make it in time—he was the only one. In this one month, while every other soldier was working hard to get used to the physical training, slowly improving their stamina, he was the only slacker drifting along leisurely, toeing the line of just passing. In the end, with just one simple “test” from Xu Chuang, the results were obvious.
With his hands crossed behind his back, Xu Chuang walked over, his eyes falling onto Chen Jing. “What happened to you?”
“Sir, I’m his squad leader.”
“No kidding, you think I don’t know you’re his squad leader?”
“Sir, I promised him that if he tried his best and finished running the route, I’d run the extra five kilometres on his behalf even if he’s late.”
Xu Chuang narrowed his eyes. “Did I agree to that?”
Lowering his head, Chen Jing said softly, “Commander, please allow it on my behalf. If he runs another five kilometres, it’s very likely that he’ll hurt himself.”
Xu Chuang glared at him, giving him a wave of his hand. “Go, run!”
“Yes!” Chen Jing saluted and started running along the track around the sports ground.
“Squad Leader…” Bai Xinyu chased after him, but only after a couple of steps, he felt his legs turning into jelly. He wanted to speak out, feeling that it was necessary to do so, but he really was unable to let the words, “I’ll run it myself,” come out from his mouth. He swayed even while standing still. Looking at Chen Jing’s back, guilt and shame filled his heart. The entire squad was looking at him, and those critical gazes were so piercing that his face burned, and he did not even dare lift his head.
Xu Chuang called for the recruits to disperse. There would be no morning run before breakfast, and everyone could go back and rest. However, not a single one of the people from Squad Three left. They all ran after Chen Jing, persuading him, “Squad Leader, the commander’s left already. Let’s just do a show of it, and go back to rest.”
Chen Jing glared at the one who suggested that. Panting, he said, “You can deceive the commander, but can you deceive yourself? For a trivial five kilometres, you’ll leave an indelible mark on yourself. If you think back about this in the future, won’t you feel awful?” Chen Jing had already removed his glasses, tucking them neatly into his pocket. He instantly looked a few years younger, and covered in a thin sheen of sweat, his tightly pursed lines made him look extremely stubborn.
Bai Xinyu was too tired to keep up with Chen Jing’s pace, and he could only walk along the inner track. Seeing how Chen Jing was drenched in sweat, the discomfort in his heart grew.
“Hey, you guys should stop talking to Squad Leader, he’s already panting heavily.”
Chen Jing said, “It’s fine, ten klicks is nothing.”
Xiaomao said coolly, “Only one person failed out of the entire camp, and he’s even in our squad. How difficult is it to run five kilometres, really? If he normally worked harder…”
“Xiaomao.” Xu Zhaoping nudged at him, giving him a look. “Forget about it.”
Xiaomao deliberately raised his voice. “What’s wrong with me talking about it? I heard that in the artillery battery, Squad Leader was the top soldier there. He’s just been promoted to sergeant, and the results of the soldiers he leads is so very important.”
Chen Jing’s voice darkened. “Xiaomao, go back and rest.”
After giving Bai Xinyu a scornful look, Xiaomao turned and left.
Bai Xinyu lowered his head, not saying a word.
Feng Dongyuan nudged at him secretly. “Don’t take it to heart. It’s only been a month of training, you’ll be able to catch up.”
Yu Fengcheng said coldly, “With his attitude, even if you give him a year, he still won’t pass. Today, the squad leader is running on your behalf. Who are you going to look for tomorrow to help you pass your assessment? Bai Xinyu, you should just join the cookhouse.”
By this time, Chen Jing was far ahead of them, and he did not hear what was said. But the other recruits around them had heard him. Everyone remained quiet, but they all felt as though their anger had been vented. Yu Fengcheng was not wrong to say what he said. Not only was Bai Xinyu dragging the results of their squad down, he was also dragging down Chen Jing’s results, affecting Chen Jing’s promotion. Although Chen Jing was reserved and taciturn, he was capable, and he was just. Among the squad, he held high prestige. Previously, when Bai Xinyu was slacking off and wriggling out of training, they would at most look down on him internally, and they wouldn’t say anything out loud. However, today, he had incited the rage of the group. Now, all arrows were pointed at him.
The jeers left Bai Xinyu feeling terrible, and the intense shame lingered within him.
Other than panting a little more heavily than usual, running ten kilometres was still a manageable task for Chen Jing since he had been a soldier for two years. The people of Squad Three returned to the dorm with Chen Jing, and Bai Jinyi was all the way at the back. The feeling of not fitting in again welled up inside him, and again the thought of pleading with his cousin to let him go home appeared again. However, he knew that that was impossible.
Back in the dorm, Bai Xinyu slowly made his way over to Chen Jing’s bed. Softly, he said, “Squad Leader, thank you.” If Chen Jing had not helped him run that five kilometres, he would have definitely died running on the track.
Chen Jing took off his sweat-drenched shirt, wiping his sinewy body with a towel. “There’s no need to thank me for that. Your performance today was a little better than what I had expected.”
“Really. You at least wanted to make the time. Of course, this comparison is only against the you of yesterday. Compared to the entire squad, no, the entire battalion, you’re lacking in more than a little bit. In the past, when you slacked off, I turned a blind eye to it. Do you know why?”
Bai Xinyu lowered his head, not saying a word.
“It’s not because you just barely passed, and that’s why I didn’t say anything to you, but because I was waiting for a day like today.” Chen Jing jabbed at his shoulder. “Waiting for the day that you yourself will discover the consequences of you slacking off. If this was a period of war, if you caught a bullet on the battlefield, all your regrets about not having trained properly can only be shared with the Grim Reaper.”
Bai Xinyu said in a low voice, “I won’t slack off anymore.”
“Looking at your performance, I also won’t tolerate you slacking off anymore. The training and missions will only become even tougher. Everyone will see your entire performance over these three months, and everyone will remember it. I know you’re unwilling to become a soldier, but as a person, as a man, you have to be responsible for every step you take. Even if one’s walking through a pile of faeces, they will still walk with pride. For one to come here to be a soldier, a good soldier is a soldier, and so is a bad one. If you think that doing so is treating yourself fairly, then you can continue being a bad soldier.” Chen Jing pulled on his shirt, giving him a sidelong glance. “However, if you feel that even you can’t bear to look at yourself, then find something inside you and work hard now. It’s not too late.”
Bai Xinyu clenched his fists. His gaze was slightly lost, and in his mind was chaos.
Chen Jing waved him off, “Go and rest.”
On the chair, Bai Xinyu sat there for a moment before abruptly standing up and heading out of the door. Feng Dongyuan and Qian Liang had been watching him the entire time, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to endure such a blow. Seeing him walking over, they asked in unison, “Where are you going?”
Bai Xinyu said, “I’m making a call home.” He’d been here over a month already, and he had not called home even once. Other than not calling out of spite and feeling a little aggrieved at his parents, he was also afraid that he would not be able to control himself after hearing his mother’s voice. However, now, he felt that he would probably not cry anymore. Although he never thought about being a good soldier, he also did not want to be a bad soldier and embarrass himself. He wanted to work hard and become an acceptable soldier.
The moment Bai Xinyu stepped out of the dorm, Yu Fengcheng put down the book in his hand and followed him.