As She Finished Speaking, It Was Like She Handed Over Her Own Life, Nervously Waiting For Zhao Yunlan’s Reply.
As Zhu Hong and Lin Jing needed to plan their trip, they made a deal and took advantage of the sun not yet rising to return to No. 4 Bright Avenue to find Wang Zheng.
Yet as they entered, they saw their leader, who hadn’t been replying to texts all day, curled up on the couch with his pajamas on, covered by a thick wooly sweater that was obviously not his type of clothes.
Da Qing was crouched in front of the couch, the plate before him had only a messy pile of dried fish. He was licking his paws, a satisfied gleam in his eyes.
Zhu Hong made care to soften the sounds of her feet hitting the ground, asking Da Qing in a low whisper, “Why is he asleep here? Isn’t he scared of catching a cold?”
As Zhu Hong finished her sentence, she raised the temperature on the remote and took off her jacket, placing it gently on Zhao Yunlan.
Lin Jing looked down at Zhao Yunlan, an air of fake melancholy, touching his own lower jaw. He said, “Not returning home on New Year’s… he is hiding something. The way I see it, he is not forced to marry, but forced to separate!”
At this moment, Zhao Yunlan raised his head. His hair was an unruly pile of straw on his head, the dark bags under his eyes heavy. He glared at Lin Jing, an aura of ‘I’m pissed off you woke me’ emanating off of him. “Shut up, fuck off!”
Lin Jing was cheap, and he was quiet for two seconds before giving in to the urge of being a busybody. “No, no. Look at him, who can bear it–if your wife came early in the morning with a meal painstakingly cooked, and told you to wake up, would you say the same words you did just now?”
Zhao Yunlan could not bear it any longer. Raising a hand, he grabbed a small bonsai plant, and hurled it Lin Jing’s way.
Zhu Hong and Da QIng watched silently. Lin Jing hesitated after seeing Zhao Yunlan truly mad, and the cheap mouth could only sheepishly find a broom and clean up the glass pieces on the ground, muttering, “Amitahbha, may I be safe.”
Da Qing leaped onto the couch, shaking Zhao Yunlan’s shoulder with his paws. “Hey, are you alright?”
Zhao Yunlan sighed and lay back down, burying half his face into the sweater. The sweater was Shen Wei’s; he had only realised it when he walked out the door because he noticed the fragrant smell on the sweater.
After a while, Zhao Yunlan said, “I’m fine. Lin Jing, leave that there, I’ll clean it up later. I didn’t mean to direct my anger at you. I’m feeling awful right now, so can you guys leave me to lie here for a while? Do what you need to do.”
Da Qing pawed at Zhao Yunlan’s beard. In response, Zhao Yunlan ruffled his fur with his hand, before landing a slap to the cat’s ass. “If you have time, go and do some research for me on where the hell the ‘Book of Ancient Secrets’ came from.”
Da Qing huffed. “Commanding your old ancestor cat? Where’s my red packet? Where’s my New Year’s money?”
Zhao Yunlan closed his eyes and felt around Shen Wei’s sweater. Eventually, he found some spare change and pulled on Da Qing’s collar, shoving it into his nametag. “You have some guts to ask, huh? The damned money printer can’t even compare to your age. Now scram!”
Da Qing wanted to knead the sweater and trim his claws, but Zhao Yunlan moved quickly, putting his arm in front of the shirt. Even though Da Qing retracted his claws, he still left a snowy-white mark on Zhao Yunlan’s arm.
With his rights of even just trimming his claws taken away, Da Qing paused, before jumping off with an irked expression. Zhao Yunlan, this bastard, took this old, powerful cat for a donation box!
Due to the many rules of the New Year and springtime, and the fact that most of the people who worked at the SID were not human, they normally only returned to work on the fifteenth.
author’s note: cny has 15 days, normally.
The situation with Shen Wei made Zhao Yunlan feel both uneasy and a heartache. The glorious No. 4 Bright Avenue in the morning was just an empty yard. Zhao Yunlan was thus determined dream about his whole life so far, and to sleep fifteen days off.
When he awoke once more, even the cat was gone. He picked up the fallen jacket from the floor, dusting it off. He paused. Hurriedly, he shoved his feet into a random pair of shoes and ran out. It was only when outside did he realise it were a pair of leather shoes, and that it was a bit chilly.
When he looked down, he saw that the shoes he normally wore were neatly arranged, and even had pairs of thick socks tucked in them. On the sofa’s arm were his clothes, ironed smooth. His underwear tucked right in the middle, out of sight, and on his clothes were his phone, wallet and keys. Only his jacket was missing, and Zhao Yunlan realised that was probably why he had Shen Wei’s one.
Out of nowhere, a voice said, “Professor Shen came by. I was going to wake you up, but he didn’t let me.”
Zhao Yunlan pinched his nose and turned around to see Zhu Hong surfing the web to kill time.
“Where is Shen Wei?”
“He left.” Zhu Hong’s gaze shifted down from the monitor.
With a hoarse voice, Zhao Yunlan asked, “Where did he go? What else did he say?”
“Oh, he said it was cold outside, if you’re done with your work you return home, and to not worry about not seeing him because he went back to his place,” Zhu Hong parroted Shen Wei, before continuing. “After that, he probably went home. Speaking of which, what did you guys choose the New Year to fight?”
Zhao Yunlan didn’t reply. He knew where “his place” referred to–it definitely wasn’t what Zhu Hong thought was Shen Wei’s condominium apartment. His heart felt like it had been pierced with a dozen knives, yet in front of others, he only had a frozen expression.
After sitting for a while, Zhao Yunlan pulled on his socks and walked toward the bathroom to change out of his pajamas. His hands gripped the sink tightly, watching the pristine, clear water in it. He buried his face under the icy water.
He didn’t want to miss Shen Wei. He didn’t dare. For the first time in his life, he knew what it felt like to yearn for someone so much, it felt like a hole had been carved in his heart.
He was in the bathroom for an abnormally long time, and Zhu Hong got worried, walking over to knock on the door. “Chief Zhao, are you alright?”
Zhao Yunlan gave a noncommittal grunt, wiping the beads of water on his face. Finding the shaving kit in the bathroom, placed there for night work convenience, he faced the mirror and shaved his face. Carefully putting himself together once more, he straightened his back and walked out.
Zhu Hong had been waiting at the door. At the sight of him, she opened her mouth, but Zhao Yunlan beat her to it. “Is there anything to eat? I’m starving.”
“… There’s probably something in the canteen. Do you want to go and see?”
Zhao Yunlan nodded, turning and heading up the stairs to the second level. Zhu Hong was even more startled–Zhao Yunlan had never in his whole career got his own food. He would sit as his table, legs propped up, and yell at the closest person to “bring this powerful man some food.” It was only a few times a year the man would pick himself up to head to the canteen himself.
Zhao Yunlan asked for a simple set of breakfast as he reached the canteen. He sat down without a word and began eating. He seemed to give off a melancholic, resigned vibe. Zhu Hong quietly followed behind him. It felt as if even if the sky came crashing down, Zhao Yunlan would give it a single glance before continuing his breakfast without a single expression. This was even more disconcerting.
When he finished eating, it felt like his stiff limbs finally had some sort of energy. Zhao Yunlan then gave Zhu Hong an odd look. “Why are you here today?”
Zhu Hong didn’t speak for a while. “I was supposed to go with Lin Jing to see the black dog and corpse today via train.”
“Ah? Then why didn’t you?”
“I was worried for you, so I let him go alone.”
Zhao Yunlan wiped his own mouth and stood up, returning his own tray. He carelessly said, “There’s nothing to worry about. If there’s nothing you have to do, you can return home.”
Zhu Hong didn’t reply, only following after him.
Zhao Yunlan returned to his office and opened his laptop as usual. He gave Zhu Hong a sideways glance. “Why are you still following me?”
“What’s up with you?”
Zhao Yunlan opened his drawer for a cigarette, lighting it before saying lightly, “Nothing.”
Zhu Hong refused to let it slide. “If nothing’s wrong, why didn’t you return home to sleep, and instead came to the office?”
“Oh.” Zhao Yunlan took a drag out of his cigarette. “I just bantered with him.”
“Bullshit,” Zhu Hong spat. Her eyebrows twitched. “You think everyone’s blind? You treat the surnamed Shen as your darling, your heart. If it were really a little bantering, you would have gone back sooner then when the sun came up, writing a long sappy letter of regret. You wouldn’t be here, talking to me.”
Zhao Yunlan pressed his lips into a thin line.
“Did he do anything to let you down?” A dangerous gleam entered Zhu Hong’s eyes, like if Zhao Yunlan gave the order, she would eat Shen Wei whole.
“Stop with your bullshit.” Zhao Yunlan flicked off the ashes on his clothes. “You know gossipy women can’t get married easily?”
Zhu Hong scoffed angrily. “The person I like doesn’t like me back anyways, so what’s the point? I can’t even get married.”
Zhao Yunlan understood what she was saying, but acted oblivious, thus leaving himself speechless. He decided to escape, grabbing his briefcase and shoving his phone, wallet, and the like inside. He didn’t bother to close his laptop before turning and heading in the direction of the exit.
Zhu Hong didn’t let him go, and chased after him. “Where are you going?”
“I have a meeting with a department chief. Why the hell are you still following me?” He glared at her from within the car.
Before Zhao Yunlan could lock the door, Zhu Hong slid in and buckled the seatbelt unceremoniously. “I’m coming with you.”
Zhao Yunlan let out a heavy sigh. “Grandma, could you give me some space?”
Zhu Hong turned away from him.
Zhao Yunlan suppressed his frustration and turned on the ignition. Damned Zhu Hong.
He didn’t speak for a long while. Zhu Hong snuck a few glances at him, but all she saw was a cold and expressionless face. She was at her wit’s end, and finally attempted small talk. “Who’s the chief of the department?”
“Little Guo’s second uncle. Speaking of which, there’s no use in bringing you along anyways, so help me look into just who’s the one that meddled around and brought Little Guo into the SID.”
“Meddling? With Little Guo? What can he do? Why?”
Zhao Yunlan didn’t reply.
His suspicion narrowed itself onto the bowl in his father, who had likely borrowed his father’s body to mess around, but why? Why Guo Changcheng? Other than a heaping amount of virtue, what good was the kid? In the whole of SID, Little Guo was the most human, so where did he come from?
If he could, he wanted Kunlun’s memories and powers back. If not, he wanted to know, at the bare minimum, in these murky waters, what were the truth and what were lies. He couldn’t act rashly.
Shen Wei… these two words seemed to revolve around Zhao Yunlan’s mind, making him dizzy, like a ball of flames were burning his energy. He was enduring it, but to what extent? He had to seem like he was normal, calm, and sane in his own seat. Sometimes Zhao Yunlan would realise that when no one had been beside him for three or less minutes, a furrow would develop between his brows.
Sometimes, a scene would appear in his mind. There was no light, only the neverending bleak gray. A place with no life. Shen Wei’s body were half in the oblivion, yet he only lifted his head to look at the rich blue skies. His gaze could not penetrate the unending dullness. He dropped his head in disappointment, and finally allowed the darkness to grab at him and swallow him whole.
Someone shoved Zhao Yunlan. He startled awake, cold sweat beading on his forehead. It was Zhu Hong. She said, “We’re here.”
Zhao Yunlan blinked. It was a nightmare. He had exchanged a few cups of tea with Little Guo’s uncle, before leaving. Zhu Hong had took over the wheel, and somehow he had fallen asleep.
Zhu Hong asked, “What did you dream of? You called ‘Shen Wei’ so heartachingly.”
Zhao Yunlan felt sulkish, so he pretended he didn’t hear the question.
“Yunlan.” Zhu Hong called out.
He stopped in his fidgeting.
She fished out a small box, and took out a pearl that was hung on a red string. “My fourth uncle wanted me to give this to you. It’s to thank you for the many years of looking after one from the snake tribe. I…I’ll be leaving with him in a while.”
“Leaving? Where?” His brows furrowed slightly.
“I don’t know, maybe back to the tribe.” A bitter smile floated on Zhu Hong’s lips. She saw that he didn’t take the necklace, so she reached over and put it on for him. “This is our tribe’s spiritual device. It can protect you. If you… if you have anything for me to do, now’s the time to say it. I can’t do much else for you.”
Zhao Yunlan said after a while of silence, “Dragon City isn’t suited for cultivation. You should return to your tribe, learn more from your fourth uncle. You might have a future, and who knows? The tribe might be yours to lead.”
He spoke as if he were talking to a colleague, making her heart twist in agony. Zhu Hong blurted, “Chief Zhao. If you give me one sentence–just one, I’ll break off all ties with my tribe. I’ll be there with you no matter what.”
In the end, Zhao Yunlan only avoided her gaze, laughing at himself. “We have no feuds between us. Why should I bring you down with me? If you’re safe in the future, I’ll be happy.”
The light in Zhu Hong’s eyes flickered and dimmed in the span of a second.
Zhao Yunlan had already exited from his side of the car.