Translated by Zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
At three o’clock in the afternoon, the cruise reached land. Zhang Jue and Cui Chengze were the first people to get off the ship.
Zhang Jue didn’t need Cui Chengze to escort him back to the New Independent Republic
There was a crowd of reporters stationed at the exit, waiting to pounce on the passengers of this particular cruise. Zhang Jue put on a pair of sunglasses and a mask, and he kept his head down while following the other passengers on their way out.
Before he even reached the exit, he could see Ai Jiaxi in his oversized tan trenchcoat, hands in pockets as he waited among the crowd. Ai Jiaxi had changed his hair color since the last time they saw each other, his pale brown bangs rested against his forehead, his eyes opened wide as he poked his head around like a baby penguin.
Although he was trying his best to find Zhang Jue, as usual, he only that Zhang Jue was there when he called his name right in front of him.
The exit was narrow, only allowing two people to pass at the same time. There were still some passengers waiting behind Zhang Jue, so he carried the luggage in one hand and put his other hand around Jiaxi’s shoulder and ushered both of them quickly through the exit.
A few steps away, where they had more space, Jiaxi grabbed Zhang Jue’s hands and stared up at him with teary eyes, “Jue……”
He held onto Zhang Jue tightly, burrowing his head into Zhang Jue’s chest and clutching his waist, and said, “When I saw the news that day, I was so worried! I thought, if anything happened to you, the last words I ever said to you would be asking you to deshell a shrimp for me!”
Zhang Jue could not help but let out a laugh. He patted Jiaxi’s back and comforted him,saying, “Now I’m back. Everything is fine now.” Jiaxi hugged him for a long while before pulling him along to the outside.
The driver was waiting in an area near the arrival hall, and they got into the back seat together. Ai Jiaxi took off his jacket, hugged it to his chest, and told Zhang Jue, “We’re heading to the hotel now, and we’ll go back tomorrow.”
“All right.” Zhang Jue nodded while putting his sunglasses and mask aside.
The back seat of the car was spacious, but Ai Jiaxi insisted on flattening himself against the side of Zhang Jue. He stared at Zhang Jue for a while, then sighed like he was an adult, informing Zhang Jue, “Uncle Zhang called me yesterday and told me to send you back to them immediately and not loiter around. But I think he’s not mad at you any more,” Ai Jiaxi said, patting Zhang Jue’s shoulder. “Well, it’s not like they’re blaming you or anything, they’re just worried about you.”
Zhang Jue made an affirmative noise. “I know,” he said, smoothing Jiaxi’s frizzy hair. “You don’t need to think so much.”
“I don’t, but—” Ai Jiaxi lowered his eyes, and before he could finish his sentence the car had arrived at the hotel.
The page boy opened the car door for them and a gust of cold air blew in. Ai Jiaxi shivered and did not continue his sentence. They got out of the car and quickly made their way into the lobby.
Ai Jiaxi was shorter than Zhang Jue, and he threaded his arm through Zhang Jue’s. He said softly, “Jue…”
Zhang Jue looked at him and asked, “What’s the matter?”
Ai Jiaxi looked hesitant, breaking their eye contact, “Nothing.”
They made their way up to their room hurriedly.
In the few hours that followed, Ai Jiaxi did not mention anything about Chen Boqiao to Zhang Jue. He complained to Zhang Jue that his father had forced him to go on blind dates, and how the New Independent Republic was too small and a few of the well-established date candidates were exes of his friends. He also mentioned that his birthday party was going to be held in a hotel on an island and sternly told Zhang Jue that this year he had to stay until the end of the party and not slip away in the middle.
Ai Jiaxi had a few glasses of water and went on his rant for a while, until he was so tired that he curled up on the sofa and fell asleep.
Zhang Jue sat by him for a while, looking at his sleeping figure, and once Jiaxi was in deep slumber, he picked him up and carried him back to his bed.
At around noon the next day, the two friends boarded a flight to the New Independent Republic and headed to Zhang Jue’s family home right after they touched down.
Zhang Jue’s parents had an estate in the rural areas of the capital of the NIR. Ai Jiaxi sent him to the gate of the manor and said, “My dad told me he needs me for something right now, so I won’t go in now.”
Zhang Jue got out of the car and dragged himself to the door. He did not have his keys so he rang the doorbell instead. The maid opened the door for him.
The familiar scent of fresh flowers and perfume wafted into his nose, and his mother was standing there in a tailored suit, her hair delicately done up and with some light makeup, her hands tightly intertwined with each other as she looked at him.
“You’re back.” She opened her arms to Zhang Jue.
Zhang Jue answered and then stepped closer to lean in for a hug.
His mother always smelled nice. She had passed down a slender figure to Zhang Jue, but not her love of self care. She contemplated him for a minute and jabbed softly, “Your hair is getting too long.”
Zhang Jue smiled, answering her, “I’ll go to the hairdressers tomorrow.”
His mother exasperatedly shook her head and told him, “Your father is waiting for you in the study upstairs. Go say hi.”
Zhang Jue’s father was a diplomat with the New Independent Republic and was always extremely busy, so it was rare that he was home during the day time. Zhang Jue nervously stepped into the study. The last time he had a conversation with his father in the study, he was promising to get Chen Boqiao back with him to open the genetic lock for the prototype capsule.
He opened the door to the study after a few light knocks. His father was reviewing some documents, and did not speak after telling him to come in.
“Dad,” Zhang Jue greeted.
His father raised his eyes to look at him, “Sit down.”
Zhang Jue sat on the chair opposite the desk for a while, then his father put his pen down. He asked Zhang Jue, “You weren’t with Chen Boqiao for the arrest?”
“No.” Zhang Jue looked at his father and said unblinkingly, “We were in two separate rooms.”
His father nodded and did not ask anything else, but told him something else. He had found the τ-differentiation agent from another source not in the prototype capsule. By chance, Zhang Fu met a distributor who had been a medical representative at Zhaohua Medical.
During the recall of the τ-differentiation agent all those years ago, due to logistical errors, the distributors had left out two vials of the medicine from the recall, and it was not discovered until a recent warehouse move.
“The lab just sent over the test report two days ago, and it was still one hundred percent active.” Zhang Fu continued, “If we had known earlier, you wouldn’t need to waste so much time in the Thai Independent State. Once you’re rested enough, we’ll go to the hospital for a checkup and let the medical team do an evaluation on whether or not you can get the surgery done by January.”
Zhang Jue was still trying to react to the news, and could only stare silently.
“By the way,” asked his father, pushing the rim of his metal spectacles up, “you did not displease Chen Boqiao during your time on this trip, right?”
Zhang Jue shook his head in confusion.
“Well, that would be for the best.” Zhang Fu gave him a meaningful look. “The Asian League political scene is about to change.”
Downstairs, Zhang Jue’s mother was arranging some flowers in the dining room. Once she heard his footsteps, she looked back at him.
Zhang Jue walked to her side to lend her a hand.
“Are you tired?” His mother passed a trimmed stem to Zhang Jue, and he threw it into the trash bin. “You can go take a nap if you are,”
She turned to face him, but didn’t comment. She continued trimming the leaves and stems of the flowers, and once she was done with the arrangement she asked Zhang Jue, “How does it look?”
Zhang Jue looked at the flowers in the vase and told her it was beautiful. His mother held his arm and rested her head on his shoulder, quietly humming an old song that she liked.
“We finally found the agent,” She murmured. “Now you can remove the gland.”
After the first time the surgery failed, they did not chat any more, because every time they spoke, the unpleasant topics were unavoidable. He hadn’t seen his mother so relaxed in a long time, and it felt nostalgic to relax with his mother.
For a moment, Zhang Jue wanted to tell her everything, even the things that he had never shared with her.
He wanted to tell her that he had liked someone for many years, since a long time ago, but the vibration of his phone interrupted the silence. It was an anonymous number.
Zhang Jue took a few seconds, then walked to a far corner to pick it up after informing his mother.
“Are you home already?” the other person asked. “This is Pei Shu.”
Pei Shu’s tone was reluctant, but Zhang Jue did not pay him any mind.
“I’ve arrived safely,” Zhang Jue said.
“Okay.” Pei Shu went quiet for a while, then asked, “You’re fine then?”
Zhang Jue had a feeling that even though Pei Shu sounded irritated when asking, he still hoped for nothing bad to happen to Zhang Jue. He thought for a bit, then asked Pei Shu, “Did he get you to ask that?”
“Well obviously?” Pei Shu that his tone was unkind and added, “He got his lawyer to pass the message.”
Zhang Jue was wordless, then hesitantly asked Pei Shu, “Can you help me tell him something?”
“My father came into possession of some of the differentiation agent, and I can get the surgery done very soon, so tell him not to worry about the genetic lock.”