Translated by Zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
At eight A.M., NIR capital time, Ai Jiaxi received a strange phone call.
He was washing his face when the phone he had placed on the side started vibrating. Ai Jiaxi picked it up without even looking at the caller ID.
“Hello, is this Ai Jiaxi?” The person on the other side was a man with a slightly deep voice.
Ai Jiaxi dried his face with a towel. “Yes.” He took a glance at the phone and that he did not know the caller. “And you are?”
“This is Pei Shu, I’m Chen Boqiao’s friend,” the man said. “May I know if Zhang Jue is with you?”
“No.” Ai Jiaxi found it to be a strange question. It was eight A.M., and he and Zhang Jue were not partners now, so why would they be together?
The man named Pei Shu sounded like he wanted to say something, but before he could do that, there was a commotion on the other side of the call even Ai Jiaxi could hear.
“One moment please,” Pei Shu excused himself as Ai Jiaxi listened to the noise from the other side.
Pei Shu handed the phone to someone else. Ai Jiaxi waited a few seconds, and the person said, “Jiaxi, this is Chen Boqiao.”
Ai Jiaxi reflexively straightened up to greet Chen Boqiao. After all, he had just heard his father discuss Chen Boqiao’s case with colleagues just last night.
Now that Chen Boqiao had been acquitted, Zhang Jue must be very happy. Maybe that’ll help him recover faster.
“Is Zhang Jue with you?”Chen Boqiao asked。
Chen Boqiao and Pei Shu had asked the same question, and Ai Jiaxi was confused. Were they not aware of the time difference between the Asian League and the New Independent Republic? Why did they think that he would be with Zhang Jue?
He repeated himself, “He is not,” and emphasised, “it’s only eight A.M. here.”
“Is anything the matter?” Ai Jiaxi asked out of politeness.
Chen Boqiao paused, and said, “Zhang Jue isn’t picking up my calls.”
“……” Ai Jiaxi heard him and thought for a second. “He can’t pick up calls right now.”
Chen Boqiao was silent for a few seconds, then asked, “Because of the surgery?”
“Oh, you know about the surgery?” Ai Jiaxi heard that Chen Boqiao knew about the matter and seemed to be more relaxed, “Then why did you call him? He’s only getting out of the ICU today.”
“When was the surgery?” Chen Boqiao asked.
“It was two days ago,” Ai Jiaxi informed him, sitting down on his bed as he talked into the phone. He was only awake for half an hour yesterday. The doctors said he’s sensitive to the anaesthesia.”
Ai Jiaxi had been worried sick for Zhang Jue these few days and could not concentrate on anything. The hotel reservation they’d made for the birthday party had been cancelled, and he just wanted to rest with Zhang Jue.
“I don’t know where they put his phone, do you need to speak to him?” Ai Jiaxi asked Chen Boqiao. “I’m gonna go to the hospital in a while, so I can pass your message to him.”
Chen Boqiao considered it, then told him, “If he wakes up, please let me know.” He gave Ai Jiaxi a number to contact. “Just a message will be fine.” Ai Jiaxi agreed and hung up the phone.
After breakfast, Ai Jiaxi took a car to the hospital where Zhang Jue had his surgery.
Zhang Jue’s surgery had gone well, but there was a short period of severe pheromone disorder after the removal of the glands, so he needed to stay in the ICU for 48 hours and ensure that all of his health indicators had returned to a normal range before being transferred into a regular room.
Ai Jiaxi arrived at the hospital at nine-thirty A.M., and he walked into the hospital via a pebble stone path with his scarf wrapped around his neck, protecting him from the cold.
On the day of the operation, Ai Jiaxi had accompanied Zhang Jue to the hospital. They had walked on this same path. Zhang Jue’s parents had been in front, while Zhang Jue and Ai Jiaxi walked behind, the atmosphere extremely tense.
No one could say for sure that the surgery would be a complete success, but other than Zhang Jue, none of them would be willing to give up after all that they’ve tried.
Zhang Jue was the most relaxed of the bunch. He patted Ai Jiaxi on the arm and even smiled subtly. Ai Jiaxi could not help but speculate if it was because Zhang Jue felt that he had nothing to lose.
Fortunately, the surgery was a success.
Ai Jiaxi got near the glass door, and it opened automatically. The indoor heating in the hospital dispelled the biting cold that had followed him.
He went to the ICU first, but found that Zhang Jue was no longer there, and he asked a kind-looking nurse who was passing by about it. She brought her to Zhang Jue’s room.
Zhang Jue was sleeping soundly on the bed, his neck encircled in white bandages.
Zhang Jue’s mother was on a chair at the side, her elbows propped up on the bed so she could look at Zhang Jue closely.
“Hi Auntie,” Ai Jiaxi greeted her. She raised her head and stood up quickly, “Ah, Jiaxi, you’re here.”
“Did Jue wake up just now?” Ai Jiaxi moved closer and that Zhang Jue was as pale as a marble statue. Even his lips were pale and his eyelashes trembled as he breathed, as if he was about to disappear into thin air.
“He was awake for twenty minutes this morning,” Zhang Jue’s mother informed him. “He got out of the ICU at six A.M..” She lowered her head and gently touched Zhang Jue’s exposed arm, carefully tucking him in without waking him.
The nurse got another chair for Ai Jiaxi, and the two sat quietly as Zhang Jue slept.
A while later, Zhang Jue’s fingers twitched and he opened his eyes. He blinked his unfocused eyes in confusion a few times and then turned to Ai Jiaxi.
“Hi, Jiaxi.” He pressed a button to adjust the bed so he could sit up a little.
Zhang Jue’s wrist that was exposed under the hospital gown was almost as small as Ai Jiaxi’s, and there was a needle for the intravenous drip underneath some medical tape on it, the skin almost transparent. He looked at Ai Jiaxi quietly.
Ai Jiaxi tried his best to look happier. “Are you feeling better now?” Zhang Jue nodded lightly, so Ai Jiaxi pulled his face into a smile and said, “That’s good, I’m planning to move my birthday celebration to your room here, just the two of us. You don’t have to peel any shrimps for me, but you won’t get so lucky next time~”
Zhang Jue smiled weakly at that.
Ai Jiaxi was going to continue speaking when he saw that the phone was placed on Zhang Jue’s bed side cabinet. “Auntie, you brought his phone?”
Zhang Jue’s mother looked to where he was looking at and said, “I saw that there were dozens of missed calls, but I couldn’t dial back to the number, so I brought it.”
Ai Jiaxi nodded, and remembering Chen Boqiao’s pleas, sent him a message. “He’s awake now, phone by his side.”
Just then, the nurse came to look for Zhang Jue’s mother, saying that the doctor wanted to speak to her, so she stood up and left with the nurse. Not more than two minutes after she left, the phone on Zhang Jue’s bed side cabinet started vibrating.
Zhang Jue had a hard time fully waking up. Every time he moved, all of his muscles felt sore.
The doctor had explained to him before that these were some of the side effects from the pheromone changes, and that after a week or two the feeling will subside by itself, so Zhang Jue was not too worried.
When he heard the vibration, Zhang Jue wanted to reach for it, but Ai Jiaxi was faster. “I’ll help you hold it.” He pressed the pick up button and put the phone next to Zhang Jue’s ear.
Zhang Jue thanked Ai Jiaxi and used his fingers to hold up the back of the phone so it was next to his ear, and told Ai Jiaxi, “I’ll do it, it’s okay.”
After the surgery, Zhang Jue’s brain was sort of sluggish. His heart reflexively started beating faster, then he that it was Chen Boqiao.
In his stupor, he almost dropped the phone. He cleared his slightly scratchy throat and said, “It’s me. I……” Zhang Jue wanted to ask Chen Boqiao a lot of questions, but he could not get them out in order in his befuddled state, so he looked at Ai Jiaxi and asked, “What day is it today?”
Ai Jiaxi told him the date, and it was the court date for Chen Boqiao.
If he could make calls now, it must mean that everything went well. Zhang Jue congratulated him. He didn’t think Chen Boqiao would care about the reason he missed the news, so he did not elaborate and just explained, “I forgot to watch TV.”
“Is that so? Forgot to watch TV.” Chen Boqiao repeated Zhang Jue’s words, and jokingly said, “What terrible memory.”
But there was no smile in Chen Boqiao’s tone, and hearing it made Zhang Jue feel a soft, muted pain in his chest. He could tell that Chen Boqiao was upset, but he didn’t have Chen Boqiao’s number, so even if he had seen the news, he wouldn’t have been able to congratulate him right away.
But Chen Boqiao seemed upset, so Zhang Jue said, “Sorry, I’ve been busy,” he said. “I wasn’t intentionally ignoring it.”
He was going to say that he would watch the TV next time, but it would sound like he wanted Chen Boqiao to get in trouble, so he stopped himself in time.
“Sorry.” Zhang Jue’s brain was not working properly, and he said it again, only realising that he had repeated himself after he said it.
Chen Boqiao was quiet, and after a while, when Zhang Jue’s eyes had trouble focusing again, and he could feel his eyelids being glued shut, he heard Chen Boqiao say, “That’s not what I meant. I’m not blaming you.”
Every time he heard Chen Boqiao’s voice, Zhang Jue could feel himself being re-energised immediately, as if he was using up his energy reserve for tomorrow, his mind was suddenly more clear.
He suddenly remembered the two calls Pei Shu had with him. Pei Shu said that after Chen Boqiao got out of jail, he wouldn’t be able to contact him immediately. Zhang Jue suddenly felt worried, and he changed the topic to ask, “Isn’t it bad for you to be calling me?”
“It’s fine,” Chen Boqiao assured Zhang Jue in his soothing voice. He said, “There’s nothing bad about this, you can just pick up when I call you.”
Zhang Jue agreed, but he thought of how he was sleeping all the time these few days and might miss Chen Boqiao’s calls. He quickly added, “These few days……. I might not be able to pick up in time.”
“It’s okay.” Chen Boqiao added, “I’ll just call you more times.” His voice still sounded nice despite the distortion from the phone speaker, and it made Zhang Jue reluctant to hang up.
However, the energy that he had “borrowed” from tomorrow quickly ran out, and he turned back into the Zhang Jue that had a hard time keeping his eyes open, so he could only focus all of his remaining attention to his hearing, listening to Chen Boqiao’s quiet breathing from the other side of the ocean.
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
Zhang Jue clutched the phone tightly and his consciousness floated away as the seconds ticked by.
Suddenly, he could somewhat make out Chen Boqiao asking him, “Where did you find the τ-differentiation agent you needed?” But by then, Zhang Jue was too sleepy. He could hear Chen Boqiao’s voice, but none of it was being processed in his brain, and he couldn’t answer. His eyes were closed, and he could almost hear Chen Boqiao’s quiet sigh, or perhaps a breath.
Chen Boqiao did not end the call even when Zhang Jue had fallen fast asleep.
Zhang Jue had a dream, and it was something that had actually happened before.
That day when Harrison had seen the name on the fifth oil lamp he’d lit on the snowy mountain, on the way back to their accommodation, the strong wind had swept the snowflakes into the air.
Harrison had said something to him. The first time, Zhang Jue had not made out what he’d said, so Harrison had repeated it louder.
He’d said, “Zhang Jue, I can’t believe you’re so cliché. Chen Boqiao, really?”
Everyone liked, and loved, Chen Boqiao. Harrison had thought that Zhang Jue would be different.
Zhang Jue had not answered, because there had been nothing to say. He hadn’t wanted to be so unoriginal, having these feelings for Chen Boqiao like everyone else. But he had tried everything he could, and he’d never found a way around it.