Translated by Ying from Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Zhou Du stared at Xia Yao for a while, then he took a seat on the sofa in front of him.
Xia Yao placed the documents on the coffee table, but Zhou Du made no move to take them.
At this moment, Zhou Tong knocked crisply on the door before entering, two cups of tea in her hands. Zhou Du’s brows creased together slightly when Zhou Tong bent slightly towards him as she placed the tea down. “You put on perfume?”
Zhou Tong cleared her throat, preparing to explain herself. “Boss, I did, but for today and today only because I have an arranged date tonight.”
Xia Yao’s head suddenly shot up as his gaze locked on the duo in front of him.
Zhou Du nodded his head, saying, “Then I wish you luck. How about this, you can take the day off early today.”
Zhou Tong’s heart almost skipped a beat in happiness, but her face continued to wear its professional work smile as she thanked her superior. As she walked away, her silhouette seemed to overflow with joy.
“That was my secretary,” Zhou Du said suddenly and only then did Xia Yao seem to break out of his trance and nodded silently.
Zhou Du moved his gaze from Xia Yao’s face back to the documents, picking them up and shuffling them slightly. Zhou Du sat with his legs crossed, looking as relaxed as he could be—but his emotions were running amok, and his heart was trembling in fear of the other man leaving.
Xia Yao felt as though he were sitting on a mountain of pins and needles; his feelings were a mess and although his head was lowered and his gaze seemingly fixed on his teacup, in truth, he was trying his best to lock his eyes on Zhou Du with what little leeway his posture allowed.
Zhou Du wasn’t falling behind in their battle of stealing glances either.
The two continued to play the game of ‘I’m really not looking at you’ and kept looking each other up and down for a long while. Only after an appropriate amount of time did Zhou Du place the documents down and with a serious, businesslike tone, he proclaimed, “Yes, it’s good.”
Xia Yao let out a breath and got up in preparation to leave but Zhou Du suddenly shot out a sentence. “For the other day, thank you.”
Xia Yao’s heart skipped a beat in surprise, Zhou Du had mentioned what happened the other day extremely suddenly and without context. Xia Yao was torn over whether he should follow the flow of the conversation and ask how the other’s body was.
“No matter. If there is nothing else, superior Zhou, I will be taking my leave.” Xia Yao stood up, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to ask… He just couldn’t bring himself to forget that Zhou Du had told him never to appear in his sight again.
“Wait a moment,” Zhou Du stood up.
Xia Yao kept his eyes firmly on a corner of the office, determinedly avoiding Zhou Du’s figure.
Perhaps because of the lack of eye contact, Zhou Du felt a wave of irritation hit him and he purposefully took a position which placed him directly in front of Xia Yao, and he said, “Even just for the sake of formalities you could at the very least ask about my health.”
Xia Yao pursed his lips, remaining silent.
Zhou Du’s tone immediately plunged in temperature; gritting his teeth, he commented, “Is this how cold your personality really is?”
Xia Yao turned his head away.
Zhou Du gave a harsh bark of laughter. “It seems that even if I were to contract cancer, you still wouldn’t give me a second glance.”
Upon hearing ‘cancer’, Xia Yao seemed to go into a state of shock and panic. The color of his face fled to who-knows-where, and it was with trembling lips that he replied, “Wh-what did you say?”
Zhou Du hadn’t expected to see such a reaction and prepared himself to explain, but to his surprise, Xia Yao reached out and grabbed his wrist before questioning him, “What sickness do yo-you have?”
Zhou Du could see how much Xia Yao cared as soon as he had uttered those words; his heart softened and instead, he said, “Nothing much, just some minor problems with my liver, probably because I’ve been drinking too much.”
Xia Yao heard that it was something to do with the liver, and his thoughts immediately directed him to liver failure. The hands that were grasping Zhou Du’s arm couldn’t help but squeeze tighter. “It’s fine, it’s going to be fine,” Xia Yao’s voice was borderline nasal and his throat suddenly felt constricted. “Medicine is very advanced these days, it can definitely be fixed, you’ll be fine.”
Xia Yao hadn’t even finished speaking but his eyes were rimmed with a worried red.
Zhou Du noticed that Xia Yao was shaking a leaf in Autumn, so he hurriedly put a comforting hand on Xia Yao’s shoulder. “I’m fine, really. It’s just stomach ulcer, not anything major to worry about.”
But Xia Yao seemed to have been scared out of his wits by Zhou Du’s reassurances and started shaking even more.
“Stomach ulcer?” the man disbelievingly searched for confirmation.
Zhou Du’s eyes were locked on the pair of hands holding his own as he gave a hum of agreement and nodded his head.
“Stomach ulcer,” Xia Yao repeated, seemingly too shocked to say anything else. He was scared to his wits’ end. He had lost his mother in the last life, losing Zhou Du was something that Xia Yao would not be able to bear.
Zhou Du hadn’t thought that Xia Yao would cry; the man had lowered his head and his shoulders were shaking. As Zhou Du watched Xia Yao’s tears splatter against the light-colored floorboards, he felt his heart ache.
“Xia Yao,” Zhou Du frantically pulled on the shoulder he was holding to maneuver Xia Yao to stand directly in front of him. Xia Yao had no idea that his tears began to fall and only thought of how utterly useless he was when he pushed Zhou Du away and rushed out of the office.
Zhou Tong watched as Xia Yao ran past her and hurriedly called “Mr. Xia,” but it was as if Xia Yao had gone deaf, the words merely drifted past him; Xia Yao didn’t even take the lift downstairs but continued his run down the stairs of the building.
It was only after he had sat himself down in a taxi that he lifted a hand to cover his face, hiding his tears with his palm.
In this world, the only things that couldn’t be concealed was love… And a cold. Xia Yao knew that as soon as he had to face Zhou Du, all his years of pretense and fake calmness would crack and crumble.
Zhou Du stood in his office, seemingly deep in thought. Zhou Tong quietly made her way to his office and knocked on the door.
Only then did Zhou Du tilt his head and give her a glance.
“What is it?”
“Actually,” Zhou Tong made sure she treaded carefully with her words. “Mr. Xia’s translation fees have not yet been resolved.”
“Hmm.” Zhou Du walked back to the side of his desk, sat himself down and leaned into the back of his chair, saying to Zhou Du, “Alright then. Give the details of his payment to me; I will tend to this matter.”
“I understand, superior Zhou.” As soon as she had given her reply, she quietly left the office, closing the door behind her.
It seemed that she had guessed correctly, the relationship between her boss and teacher Xia was not a simple one.
Xia Yao’s heart was in turmoil. He didn’t want to return home, so he went back to the school by himself.
The place he was working at was W University—the one he had been accepted into when he was younger. It was the summer holidays right now, so there were almost no people to be seen inside the school. Once Xia Yao made it to the front of the school, he remembered that this was the place that he had broken up with Zhou Du all those years ago.
He gave a shallow, pitiful smile; it was what he had chosen, so what was the point of him regretting the past now? Xia Yao lifted his head, his eyes following the road, looking far and beyond.
When Xia Yao arrived back home, Mother Xia was preparing dinner. As soon as Xia Yao walked through the door, Xia YangYang immediately latched himself onto his leg.
The two year old clung to Xia Yao’s leg like a koala, not stopping his calls of ‘dad, dad, dad’.
Xia Yao lifted the boy up by his armpits and held him in his arms.
When they were eating, mother Xia kept eyeing her son. Xia Yao sighed inwardly. “Mom, if you have anything to say, just say it.”
Mother Xia put her chopsticks and bowl down, phrasing her words carefully. “Yaoyao, do you remember that mom has a friend—Uncle Feng?”
Xia Yao gave a nod. This Uncle Feng that Xia Mother was talking about had only met with Xia Yao twice. From what Xia Yao remembered, he was a retired doctor specializing in Chinese medicine who was now part of his mother’s dancing group.
From what he had heard from his mother, the elderly man also had children who were overseas, and he lived alone, so Mother Xia and he had found a sympathetic soul in each other.
“I’m planning on inviting him over to dinner tonight and have a proper introduction.” Mother Xia hadn’t even finished before her cheeks bloomed with a dark red.
Xia Yao reacted immediately, his eyes crinkling as he smiled at his mother. “Of course. We should prepare for tomorrow then.”
Mother Xia’s eyes were rimmed with red, she looked at her son and spoke as though she had done something wrong, “Mom thought that you would disapprove.”
“Mom,” Xia Yao reached out one hand and grasped his mother’s. “If you can be happy, I will support anything you do unconditionally.”
Xia YangYang heard this and like his father, placed a small hand onto Mother Xia’s other hand and repeated after Xia Yao in his tiny baby voice. “Subbord.”
Mother Xia and Xia Yao both couldn’t help laughing after hearing that.
The next day, the meeting between Uncle Feng and Xia Yao was extremely successful, and Xia YangYang simply couldn’t take his hands off of the toys brought by the older man. Xia Yao had excellent manners but didn’t act too aloft either, they sat down as a family and happily had dinner.
Mother Xia moved to tidy up but Xia Yao pushed her out of the kitchen, saying, “Mom, you go take a walk with Uncle, I’ll figure this stuff out.”
Mother Xia seemed ill-at-ease as she took her apron off. Just before she left, she said to Xia Yao, “That’s right Yaoyao, this weekend, mom might be going with our dance team and join a competition in a neighboring city. I’ll probably be there for the night.”
Xia Yao nodded his head. “Don’t worry, mom, I’ll take good care of YangYang.”
Mother Xia seemed to want to add something or other but Xia Yao pushed her towards the living room and said to Uncle Feng, “Uncle, I’ll have to trouble you to take my mother out for a walk.”
Uncle Feng smiled gently and tilted his head towards Xia Yao’s mother. “Want to take a walk?”
Mother Xia turned shyly to the side, giving an ‘mhm’ of assent.
After Xia Yao finished tidying up, he turned and told Xia YangYang to take a bath, but our dear baby Xia YangYang was hooked on Boonie Bears*; he stared at the television fixedly, not showing any signs of having heard his father.
Xia Yao took a helpless look at his son before walking to his side. He pulled the child onto his lap and ensured he was comfortable before accompanying his son in watching the show.
Once they had watched two episodes, Xia Yao picked up the controller and shut off the TV.
“Alright, that’s all we’ll watch today. How about daddy watching with you tomorrow as well?”
One of Xia YangYang’s greater merits was his understanding and docility, he didn’t get angry at Xia Yao after he had turned the TV off; instead, he wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and obediently nodded his head in compliance.
Once Xia Yao had cleaned his son up, he poured a cup of milk into his bottle, then carried him to bed.
Xia YangYang had his own little room, but Mother Xia spoilt her grandson, so most of the time, she took the boy with her to sleep.
Xia Yao took Xia YangYang to his own room, tucked him in and passed the milk bottle to his tiny arms.
“Daddy,” Xia YangYang gave Xia Yao a gaze with twinkling eyes whilst holding his milk bottle.
Xia Yao knew immediately what he meant by that and gave a smile before taking out his phone and Baidu-ing some sort of bedtime story.
Xia YangYang quickly latched his mouth onto his milk bottle and made himself comfortable as he waited patiently for his father to tell him a story.
Xia Yao opened his browser but found that there was someone trying to add him on WeChat. He opened it and took a look, finding it to be no one he knew. Just in case it was one of his students trying to add him, he agreed.
Once he had consented, he left the app and continued his mission to find a bedtime story to send his son to sleep.
Suddenly a notification went off – his new friend had sent a message to him:
‘Still not asleep?’
Xia Yao frowned slightly, replying:
‘Excuse me, but who are you?’
Zhou Du read Xia Yao’s reply, giving a slight pause before leisurely typing two characters and sending his message:
Xia Yao’s forgot how to breathe as he stared at the name.
“Daddy.” Xia YangYang’s pupils were a sapphire blue, his eyelashes were very long, his face contours were obviously not those of an Asian’s and his skin was as pale as snow. He stretched out a hand and stroked his father’s face.
Xia Yao broke out of his trance as he felt the small hand on his face; he patted Xia YangYang’s soft head and said, “You finish your milk first, then Daddy will read you a story, okay?”
Xia YangYang puffed out his cheeks, Xia Yao bent his head down and gave a gentle kiss to the boy’s forehead. Only then did the boy reluctantly give a nod before laying back down, closing his eyes and continuing to drink his milk.
Xia Yao knew that one of Xia YangYang’s habits was falling asleep when he was just about to finish his milk.
Zhou Du saw that Xia Yao hadn’t replied to him for a while and started to worry. Suddenly, he got an idea, and he sent off another message, ‘I am speaking to you for business.’
Xia Yao had just been staring at his WeChat, dumbstruck, considering his options for replying when Zhou Du sent another message over.
Xia Yao immediately replied after seeing the newest message: ‘Is there something wrong with the documents that I translated?’
Zhou Du replied with no small amount of guilt. ‘Yes, I think there might be some small issue.”
Xia Yao: ‘Could you please send over the section with the mistake in it to me?’
Zhou Du: ‘About that, I don’t think it’s something that can be covered in one or two messages on WeChat, I’d say we should meet face to face.’
Xia Yao went silent once again, he couldn’t figure out what Zhou Du was trying to do.
Zhou Du, noticing that Xia Yao wasn’t speaking again, decided to bite the bullet: ‘My secretary will contact you.’
Xia Yao spent what seemed like half a day staring at that message before reluctantly replying with an ‘Alright.’
Zhou Du read over Xia Yao’s reply before irritably throwing his phone onto his bed.
After that day, Xia Yao waited for Zhou Du’s secretary to contact him but there didn’t seem to be any attempt to get in touch. Later on when he went to find Zhou Tong, the girl told Xia Yao that there was no translation mistake in the documents.
Xia Yao thought that Zhou Du was just purposefully trying to find fault in him so he didn’t continue his questioning.
Saturday morning came and Mother Xia went to meet her dance group left with them by bus to the other city. Xia Yao found himself quite free of duties so he prepared to have a complete cleanup of the house.
While Xia YangYang wasn’t tall, his determination was strong; learning from his father, he was scrubbing the dinner table with vigor.
Zhou Du was racking his brain for excuses that would enable him to see Xia Yao when Wang Hao called him out by a phone call.
By the time Zhou Du arrived at the bar, Wang Hao was already wasted.
Zhou Du took one look at his half-dead friend and raised his eyebrows, asking, “What is it? An argument or a breakup?”
Wang Yao replied with only a glare before downing the contents of his cup in one go.
“Fine, if you don’t want to talk, I won’t force you,” Zhou Du sat down.
Wang Hao gave a sigh as he confessed. “My parents are putting a lot of pressure on me to get married.”
Zhou Du’s brows creased.
“Zhang Yang found out and we argued over it.”
As Zhou Du listened to the other talk, he lifted his own cup and took a mouthful.
Wang Hao seemed to be quite drunk; his tolerance wasn’t that good to begin with. “Zhou Du, just what should I do?”
Zhou Du remained silent.
Wang Hao didn’t seem to have been expecting an answer from Zhou Du, and instead he poured himself another cup of alcohol.
“People can’t stay unmarried all their lives, wouldn’t you say,” Wang Hao murmured to his cup. “It’s not as if I said I was going to get married right away, what right did he have to get so mad?”
Zhou Du turned to observe Wang Hao’s side profile as he asked, “What do you think? Are you going to go back and get married?”
“I… I don’t know,” Wang Hao let out a deep sigh. “I’m the only son in my family, my parents are sure to force me to get married.”
“The you should just end things with Zhang Yang, otherwise you’ll just be stopping him from moving on.”
“No way,” Wang Hao suddenly seemed to become far more passionate. “There’s no way I’m breaking up with him.”
“Then what do you want to? Will you make Zhang Yang your little secret lover and continue seeing each other on the side? Just how naïve are you?”
Wang Hao pinched his lips together and didn’t say anything.
“If you can’t win against your parents, then you should just end it sooner rather than later instead of causing more suffering for the both of you.”
After Zhou Du finished, Wang Hao glared at the man fixedly. “So your breakup with Xia Yao back then was also this clean?”
Zhou Du’s expression immediately seemed to darken. Wang Hao continued. “Thinking of it now, isn’t it strange that I still don’t know the reason for your breakup? Did Xia Yao maybe break up with you thinking that he was just causing suffering for the both of you by dragging out your relationship?”
Zhou Du suddenly snapped at Wang Hao, “Shut up.”
Wang Hao’s mouth lifted at the corners and took another sip of alcohol before continuing. “You couldn’t even deal with it yourself, aren’t you still waiting for Xia Yao to come back for you now?”
Zhou Du clenched his fists tightly, not speaking but gritting his teeth.
“But from what I see, I don’t think Xia Yao likes you at all.”
Zhou Du grabbed Wang Hao’s collar, locking his eyes on the man. If looks could kill, Wang Hao would likely be in microscopic pieces by now.
“Do you want to beat me up? Come on then!”
Instead of hitting him, however, Zhou Du slid Wang Hao’s phone out of his pocket instead. “You just want me to punch you a couple of times so you can feel better about yourself,” he waved the phone in his hand around for a bit before calling through to Zhang Yao.
“What are you doing!” Wang Yao stretched an arm out to take his phone back but was prevented from doing so by the very man in possession of the device.
The phone only rang once before it was picked up by Zhang Yang. Zhou Du held the phone as far away from the other man as possible, so all Wang Hao could do was yell at Zhou Du. “Let go, return my phone!”
The man on the other side of the call listened to Wang Hao’s voice without a sound; Wang Hao suddenly swung an arm and slapped his phone onto the floor, the screen shattering then and there.
Zhou Du bent over and picked the battered phone up, putting it back into Wang Hao’s pocket.
“If you don’t want to break up, you need to tell him, the two of you need to talk things through otherwise the problem will remain unsolved. Even if you waste away drowning your sorrows in some bar, it’s not going to be of help to anyone.”
Wang Hao stared at his cup of alcohol, once again dumbstruck before suddenly asking Zhou Du quietly, “Zhou Du, aren’t you scared?”
“Scared of what?”
“When you were still with Xia Yao all those years ago, I remember you saying: why can’t two men be together. Back then, I thought you were just way too naïve, how could two men possibly be together, it didn’t seem to fit into the world’s algorithm—its norms, it was obviously something to be ashamed of.”
“Ashamed? Norms?” Zhou Du carelessly curved the corners of his mouth. “What has that got to do with me, why do I need to care what others think? Are things which aren’t considered ‘norms’ things that I can’t do? I’ll just keep doing them, so what if they look down on me? If they dare to say it to my face, it’s not like I couldn’t give them a beating”
Zhou Du lowered his head to look at his own fingers, giving a pause before saying, “The night before I started university was the time I came clean to my parents, saying that I liked Xia Yao.”
Wang Hao’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates in disbelief.
“Di-Didn’t your dad beat you up?”
Zhou Du laughed indifferently, “I got hit once but then he was stopped by my mother.” He knocked back a shot before pouring himself another.
“At the time, I only thought that even if I was to be beaten up, I would still remain with Xia Yao. He would never have beaten me to death so as long as I still had life left in me, I would still tell them that the person I like is Xia Yao. I wanted to be together with him for a lifetime.” Zhou Du slowly clenched his fists.
Wang Hao could only continue to stare at him in disbelief without moving a muscle.
“My mother said to me then that who I liked was up to me. Just like my education, as long as I was willing to face the consequences of my actions and decisions, as long as I wouldn’t regret it, then she wouldn’t interfere.”
Wang Hao opened his mouth as though he wanted to say something.
Zhou Du continued, “But what I didn’t expect was that I would break up with Xia Yao.” He laughed bitterly, “I really hated him back then, you know? In the first two years that came afterwards, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought about it each and every day but I just couldn’t seem to understand. Then after that, I found that I missed him to the point of it being painful, so I tried my absolute hardest to earn money. All I wanted was for him to regret his choice when we meet once again… But once we met again, it only took one glance at him before all my hate and regret was all pushed aside. I only wanted one thing—to pull him into my arms.”
Zhou Du continued to down another shot, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed. “I don’t know what feelings lie between you and Zhang Yang, but if you’re like me and you want to be with him for the rest of your life… You need to tell your parents that you will not come to regret it, even if you are beaten to your last breath, the two of you will face these obstacles together. At the very least in this case, Zhang Yang won’t break up with you.”
Wang Hao listened to Zhou Du’s advice silently before reaching to pour himself another, but his wrist was caught by someone.
“You’ve drunk more than enough.” A voice caressed his ears, and the one who said those words leaned his chest onto Wang Hao’s back. Wang Hao didn’t have to turn his head—the man’s familiar scent was enough for Wang Hao to recognize him in an instant.
Zhang Yang removed the cup from Wang Hao’s hand, then gave a nod to Zhou Du before placing an arm around his lover’s waist and helping the man stay steady.
At this point, Wang Hao was already swaying from side to side. Zhou Du said to the two of them, “You take him back. What was he thinking? With a nonexistent tolerance like his, trying to drown his sorrows.”
“You should drink less, too,” Zhang Yang replied to Zhou Du.
“Sure, mom,” Zhou Du said dryly before turning away from the pair and ignoring them.
Zhang Yang half-carried Wang Hao out of the bar.
Zhou Du gave the bartender a wave, asking for another bottle, continuing to drink by himself.
Any bar was lively at night and both good-looking men and women dropped by Zhou Du’s side, hoping to strike up a conversation, but all Zhou Du did was continue to drink by himself, remaining silent throughout.
Once his stomach had started to protest, he stood up, leaning on his chair, but it seemed that he had lost the ability to stand as he fell back into his chair right afterwards.
The bartender was a considerate one and immediately rushed forwards to give the drunken man a hand. “Mister, you should probably call a friend to pick you up.”
“Pick me up?” Zhou Du’s eyes were hooded as he gave the bartender a short laugh. “There’s no one who will pick me up and I live by myself. I’m not like Wang Hao. Without even wanting him to come, Zhang Yang still came running for him. Me, on the other hand… Even if I were to go to his doorstep, he still wouldn’t be willing to look at me.”
Seeing that Zhou Du was starting to speak nonsense, he gave a sigh and said. “How about this, you give me your phone, I call a taxi for you and the taxi takes you home?”
“Phone?” Zhou Du seemed to lapse into consciousness as he felt his pocket and pulled his phone out.
“That’s right, I should give him a call,” he murmured to himself. “I need to tell him that I regret it. That I don’t agree to breaking up,” he kept muttering, his fingers clumsy as he opened his list of contacts.
He stared at the contact ‘Old Pasture’* for a long, long time before his face softened into an affectionate smile, and he called the number.
“I regret it, how about you come to take me back.”
Xia Yao’s knuckles went white as he clenched his phone, his heart contracting in shock.
Zhou Du could only say one sentence, over and over again, into his phone, sounding like a broken record, “I don’t agree to breaking up, I regret it.” The bartender couldn’t bear to watch for long, so he took Zhou Du’s phone from his hands and told Xia Yao the address of the bar, telling him to hurry up and take the man back.
Xia Yao had just sent his son off to dreamland, so he picked up his keys and wallet. He walked into Xia YangYang’s room, giving a soft kiss to the boy’s forehead before quietly shutting the door behind him.
A summer’s night was always far from cool. The scent of exhaust fumes from cars which travelled on melting asphalt roads gave off a fragrance exclusive to summers in a modernized world.
By the time Xia Yao was helping Zhou Du get upstairs, the man was already drunk to the point of being unresponsive.
It was a difficult task to half-carry, half-drag Zhou Du to his room, but Xia Yao managed to do so.
Xia Yao lay Zhou Du down on his own bed, leaving for a towel to mop away the other man’s sweat. However, as soon as he started to turn away from Zhou Du’s side, the man suddenly shot out an arm and pulled Xia Yao into his embrace.
“Don’t go.” His lips slid across Xia Yao’s ear softly, “I’m begging you.” This was the first time Zhou Du had shown any signs of weakness, and his arms encircling Xia Yao tightened.
Xia Yao lifted his head slightly, and their two pairs of eyes met; he braced himself as he reluctantly said, “Didn’t you say that you never wanted to see me again? I…”
Xia Yao couldn’t even finish his sentence as Zhou Du suddenly enveloped the man’s lips with his own, flipping them over so that his body trapped Xia Yao under its weight.
Zhou Du’s breath, mixed with the taste and scent of alcohol, filled Xia Yao’s entire being.
*Boonie Bears – it’s an animated show about two bears trying to stop this guy from cutting down their forest. Super popular and basically played on Chinese kids channels 24/7.
*old pasture – good horses don’t eat from old pastures. Meaning in this case a ‘has-been’ or ‘what once was’.