Translated by zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
During Pei Shu’s mother’s sixty-sixth birthday, she wanted to host a ball in the capital of the League, invite some of old friends who are still alive, and relive the experience of wasting their night away in a luxurious banquet hall once more.
After they settled on the choice of hotel, Pei Shu helped his mother send out the invitations. The recipients included some of her friends and some of his friends. Chen Boqiao was one of them.
After Chen Boqiao’s successful resignation from the military, Pei Shu stayed in the northern side to assist Chen Boqiao with some secret matters. They continued the good relationship of their fathers, both as business partners and as friends.
Ever since the impeachment of the President was finished, the two were able to contact each other more openly, no longer fearing surveillance. Two months prior, Pei Shu had attended the wedding of Chen Boqiao and Zhang Jue.
When Pei Shu received the invitation and realized that the wedding would be held at one of the new seven-star hotels in the southern side of the League, he was not particularly surprised. After all, that hotel was an asset under Zhaohua Energy, and it was spacious and quiet, so it was no wonder that Chen Boqiao picked it.
Pei Shu thought that with Chen Boqiao’s usual disinterest in fanfare, it would be a small reception just for family and friends. However, just a few days later when Pei Shu was having a beer at his local bridge club, he heard from a rich merchant that the hotel had stopped accepting guests.
The merchant was going to bring his wife and child to the south for a holiday and planned to stay at the hotel, but could not get a booking because the hotel had closed to prepare for the wedding in two weeks.
When Pei Shu left the club, he almost wanted to call Chen Boqiao to ask, “Isn’t it a little early to shut it down half a month before the wedding???”
He got into his car and took his phone out to ponder, but ended up not making the call after all.
On the day of the wedding, amidst prodding looks from the crowd and the cameras of invited reporters, Chen Boqiao gave Zhang Jue a luxurious and grand ceremony.
The officials from both countries looked somewhat surprised, as if it was only in this moment that people realized that Chen Boqiao was not only some soldier who was framed into doing time, but also the heir of Zhaohua Energy and the son of tycoon Chen Zhaoyan.
After the ceremony, the reception began. The newlyweds accepted blessings and well wishes from the guests with the band playing music in the background. Zhang Jue wore a well-tailored suit, his hair neatly combed behind his neck. He looked beautiful, albeit a little pale from nervousness.
For some reason, Chen Boqiao looked more serious than usual, but no matter who he was speaking to, he never let go of Zhang Jue’s hand.
Pei Shu was publicly only known as Chen Boqiao’s old schoolmate, so he felt it was unsuitable to be too friendly, in case they still needed to operate clandestinely afterwards. He observed the couple from a short distance away.
He remembered the small and cramped safehouse in the TIS and how Chen Boqiao saw Zhang Jue soaked from the rain and asked his questions with a softer voice than usual.
Pei Shu thought about how the signs were clear as day, but he didn’t believe it: Chen Boqiao could use a million reasons to reject someone’s flowers, but there would only be one reason why he’d accept them.
Suddenly, the phone in Pei Shu’s inner pocket buzzed. When he checked it, it was one of his new flings sending him a gossip news article. The omega’s message read “Breaking news: exclusive insights to the political conspiracy of Chen Boqiao’s wedding tonight.”
The omega then asked what the wedding venue looked like.
At a time like this, Pei Shu really shouldn’t be giving any attention to such news, but curiosity got the better of him.
The writer of the ‘exclusive insight’ had claimed that Chen Boqiao was to inherit his parent’s marital tragedy, and that this political marriage was just for show. They also seemed very sure that soon Chen Boqiao and the son of Minister Zhang would announce their separation.
Pei Shu finished reading it and found it amusing, but did not reply to the omega.
Even if the day when North Mongolia became part of the League, or the day ex-president Zhao somehow was acquitted comes, Chen Boqiao would probably still not ‘separate’ from Zhang Jue. Which is to say, it’s never going to happen.
Before his mother’s birthday, Pei Shu broke up with the omega peacefully. He took a day off to stay at home with his mother and his assistant to discuss the details of the birthday party.
After the details were confirmed, his mother suddenly asked, “Is Boqiao coming?”
Pei Shu shook his head. “I don’t know yet.”
Ex-president Zhao Kun had been impeached, and the Asian League were to reelect in three months’ time. The candidate that Zhaohua Energy was sponsoring had already won the intra party election.
Pei Shu had seen Chen Boqiao’s schedule and knew how busy the man was. Therefore, before Chen Boqiao gave a clear reply, he would never know if he would have time to attend the party.
The day before Pei Shu and his mother set off for the capital, Chen Boqiao gave him a call. He said that he would attend the party and asked Pei Shu if he was serious when his invitation said he could bring a plus one.
“Course,” said Pei Shu, helping his mother up the staircase. “Zhang Jue wants to come?”
Chen Boqiao said that he did, and then explained that he wanted to help Zhang Jue meet more people.
“Hm?” Pei Shu could tell that Chen Boqiao had some other meaning, so he asked tentatively, “He’s bored at home?”
“No, I was worried he’d get tired, so I didn’t leave the house with him a lot before,” Chen Boqiao said plainly, “and some people are getting ideas.”
Chen Boqiao did not say it openly, but Pei Shu remembered an article he saw the other day.
It claimed that Chen Boqiao had been ‘set up’ in North America to mark Zhang Jue, and now he was baby-trapped into marriage.
Most likely because Chen Boqiao had given pressure, the first paper to publicize Zhang Jue’s pregnancy reports apologized for the untrue information the next day, but the apology did nothing in preventing the spread of rumors.
The media would probably never stop judging and doubting Zhang Jue, but Pei Shu still tried to help. “Bring him to the party, no one would dare to stir up trouble on my watch.”
The night before Pei Shu’s mother’s birthday party, Chen Boqiao had planned to stay the night at the office in the west side of the League, but he finished work earlier than expected and his schedule was clear at five.
The secretary reported this to Chen Boqiao, who then decided to return home early.
It was a seven hour trip from the west to their home in the capital. When Chen Boqiao entered the room, the clock had struck twelve, but Zhang Jue was still up.
Zhang Jue wore his usual light coloured silk sleeping robe. He was sitting at the desk flipping through a book with his back to the door of the bedroom. The sound of Chen Boqiao opening the door startled him. He turned back and saw Chen Boqiao. He blinked and glanced at the clock reflexively.
Chen Boqiao closed the door behind him, but did not walk up. He poked fun at Zhang Jue, saying, “I see how it is, someone sleeps so late when I’m not around.”
Zhang Jue pursed his lips into a small smile. He put down his book and walked towards Chen Boqiao.
He walked slowly, but there was still a spring in his step. He did not gain a lot of weight because of the pregnancy, and the loose fitting robe covered his abdomen so the small curve was barely visible. But perhaps due to the hormonal changes, he was finally looking healthier with more color to his skin and lips.
Zhang Jue walked up to Chen Boqiao and opened his arms to circle his waist. He tilted his face up and closed his eyes, and Chen Boqiao kissed him as he wanted.
The scent of almonds was infused into the scent of the body wash he used, and together with his slightly warmer body temperature, it smelled comforting. Zhang Jue’s lips were supple and the tip of his tongue was moist and sweet. The small baby bump was touching Chen Boqiao’s abdomen. He kissed in an innocent way, licking the roof of Chen Boqiao’s mouth, as if he was trying to emphasize that he did not have any other intentions.
A kiss later, Chen Boqiao separated from Zhang Jue and explained, “I finished work early.”
Zhang Jue opened his eyes and looked at Chen Boqiao, then looked away and made a noise. He pressed his cheek to the crook of Chen Boqiao’s neck and let his long lashes brush against Chen Boqiao’s skin, all while peppering Chen Boqiao’s chin with kisses.
Chen Boqiao had tried to recall before and felt that he hadn’t rejected Zhang Jue’s kisses in attempts to tease him that many times, and yet he had to spend a long time assuring Zhang Jue to not unnecessarily hesitate when trying to get a kiss.
“…Missed you.” Zhang Jue was muffled between his kisses and speaking into his skin.
Chen Boqiao stood with his arms around Zhang Jue for a moment and then tightened them, capturing his lips in a kiss.
It was a kiss that soon became something else, with Chen Boqiao picking Zhang Jue up and walking toward the bed.
Zhang Jue’s sleeping robe was never tied properly, so Chen Boqiao didn’t even have to undo it.
Perhaps because he was too thin before, even though Zhang Jue was five months pregnant, his belly was only slightly raised. Beginning from a few centimeters beneath the ribs, there was a small, round curve that was barely as tall as the highest point of his ribcage.
Fortunately, during the checkup last week, the doctor had said that the fetus was developing fine and the birth cavity was doing well, so Zhang Jue had nothing to worry about.
Chen Boqiao lowered his head and scrutinized Zhang Jue’s belly with a lack of expression, which made Zhang Jue feel somewhat self conscious. He tried to pull the robe over himself, but before he could touch the hem of his clothes, his wrist was captured in a warm palm.
Chen Boqiao had a shower to calm himself, and crawled into bed wearing a sleeping robe one size bigger than Zhang Jue’s.
Zhang Jue was on the left side with his eyes closed, but he had left a lamp on for Chen Boqiao. Chen Boqiao switched it off when he got into bed. Zhang Jue waited quietly for Chen Boqiao’s warmth to envelop him from behind.
Chen Boqiao embraced him tightly from behind, his chest pressed against Zhang Jue’s thin back. He kissed the scar as he had many times before, his hand a gentle weight on Zhang Jue’s belly.
“Zhang Jue—” He was right next to Zhang Jue’s ear.
They had slept on the same bed for a few months now, but whenever Zhang Jue heard Chen Boqiao next to him, his heart would still skip a beat. He did not move or speak, instead waiting for Chen Boqiao to say something else, but Chen Boqiao went quiet.
After a while, Chen Boqiao asked, “When can I mark you?”
His voice was rather flat, sounding less emotive than when being interviewed or speaking to subordinates, as if he didn’t bother to hide himself behind a facade of gentle coolness in front of Zhang Jue. He murmured next to Zhang Jue’s ear, and said the least calm things with the calmest voice, “Can’t wait.”
At seven in the evening, Pei Shu’s mother’s guests were arriving in groups.
Chen Boqiao had asked for Pei Shu’s permission, and tipped the press off that he would be attending with his partner. Hence, there was a mob of reporters near the entrance of the hotel, armed with their equipment, trying to get first hand information about him.
When they were almost at the hotel, Chen Boqiao gave Pei Shu a call, and Pei Shu came out with his new fling to bring them in.
As the polished vehicle stopped at the lobby, the bell boy rushed forward to open the door. Chen Boqiao stepped off first.
From a distance, cameras flashed. However, Chen Boqiao ignored them and nodded to Pei Shu, then turned to offer his hand to the person in the car.
A slender, pale hand rested on Chen Boqiao’s palm, and Chen Boqiao closed it.
Zhang Jue was led off the car by Chen Boqiao. He was wearing a black sweater with a high collar, his hair cut shorter than before. There was a small bump on his torso, he looked at Pei Shu and nodded. Pei Shu also tried to show him his best attempt at a friendly smile.
Chen Boqiao wrapped an arm around Zhang Jue’s waist and walked towards Pei Shu.
Pei Shu ushered them to a round table in the ballroom. As he had to speak to all the guests for his mother, he could not stay for long, but he glanced at them occasionally.
An endless stream of people went to greet Chen Boqiao, while Zhang Jue quietly sat at his side. Later, when the band eased into a slow waltz, Chen Boqiao extended a hand to Zhang Jue, who got up with their hands clasped.
The attention of the room was on them, but neither Chen Boqiao nor Zhang Jue cared, and they slowly danced at the edge of the dance floor.
When the song ended, they returned to their seats. Chen Boqiao’s assistant came in to speak to him, and Chen Boqiao leaned towards Zhang Jue, who nodded. Then, Chen Boqiao took his phone from the assistant and walked towards Pei Shu.
“I’m going out to pick up a call,” Chen Boqiao informed Pei Shu. “Look after him for me for a bit.”
Pei Shu’s new boyfriend had their elbows linked and peered at Chen Boqiao curiously. Pei Shu agreed, so Chen Boqiao and his assistant left the ballroom. Just as he was about to bring his new boyfriend over to chat with Zhang Jue, his mother and another lady called them over happily.
He had no choice but to let his new fling watch over from a distance and went to speak to his mother.
The lady was a childhood friend of his mother, and just happened to know an omega who was of the same age and family background as Pei Shu, so his mother had wanted to get Pei Shu to meet them.
Pei Shu felt a migraine coming on just hearing about it, so he quickly changed the topic and found a reason to excuse himself. When he turned his back, he found that neither Zhang Jue nor his new fling could be seen.
Just when he was about to call his plus one on the phone, he saw the omega’s silhouette beside a floor length window that showed the garden outside. He made his way over and tapped on his shoulder. “I told you to keep an eye on him!”
The petite omega looked a little nervous, and explained, “He’s right outside, somebody he was speaking to brought him outside. I didn’t dare to stop them, so I just followed them here.”
Pei Shu frowned and went out the door to see what he was doing.
The heat of the spring-summer air drew over him, mixing in with the scent of leaves and grass. Outside the ballroom, the lighting was not too bright, but enough to illuminate some small statues and trees, as well as point out the way to a cobblestone path lit by street lamps.
He did not see Zhang Jue at first, but as he was about to leave to search for him elsewhere, he heard people speaking.
“I haven’t seen you since graduation,” the person said, “but I did meet Mr. Chen once, when he was sending my brother home.”
Pei Shu took a step forward and saw that on the small viewing platform amidst the lush greens, Zhang Jue was conversing with someone.
From the other man’s profile, he took a few seconds to recall that he was the son of one of his mother’s old friends, as well as a classmate at Roche. A beta, but he had an omega brother who went on a “date” with Chen Boqiao once.
Pei Shu only remembered all this because for a period of time, pictures of Chen Boqiao’s “date” with his brother were all over the news, and even his disinterested mother had asked him a few times if Chen Boqiao was really a couple with the son of her friend.
So it was someone here to show their fangs.
Pei Shu didn’t know how to deal with a situation like this, and he wasn’t sure why Zhang Jue even left with this person to begin with. But just as he was about to step in to resolve the tension and bring Zhang Jue back, he heard Zhang Jue go, “Is that so?” Zhang Jue’s voice was quiet, and he couldn’t make out what he was feeling.
“Yeah, and I also know about you and Ai Jiaxi,” the person told Zhang Jue in a lowered voice.
“Oh?” Zhang Jue was nonchalant.
His tone sounded kind of familiar to Pei Shu. Pei Shu observed the two from a distance, and tried to remember when he had heard Zhang Jue speak like that, when Zhang Jue moved forward slightly and edged towards the person. He was taller than the man, so he spoke downwards with his back to Pei Shu, asked him back in a lukewarm tone, “What about me and Ai Jiaxi exactly?”
Pei Shu suddenly realized that this was how Zhang Jue spoke most of the time back in school. Maybe because now whenever he met Zhang Jue, Chen Boqiao would also be around, he had forgotten what Zhang Jue was like before.
The person sounded a little panicked, laughing quickly and awkwardly. “Don’t play dumb with me.”
“I really have no idea.” Zhang Jue moved closer to him and asked neutrally, “Why don’t you tell me?”
The man staggered back, and Pei Shu hesitated for a moment before finally deciding to speak. “Zhang Jue.”
Zhang Jue straightened his back, but did not turn to look at him. The person looked at Pei Shu, who opted to ignore him in favor of telling Zhang Jue, “I was looking for you.”
The person muttered some explanation about catching up with Zhang Jue to Pei Shu, but seeing that both Zhang Jue and Pei Shu ignored him, he quickly left.
Pei Shu took a few steps toward Zhang Jue, who had his elbows propped up on the marble parapet, watching the scenery.
“You were looking for me?” Zhang Jue did not turn to look at Pei Shu. He just asked flatly, “Is he back?”
Zhang Jue fell silent after that.
Compared to inside the ballroom, the outside felt serene and peaceful. Pei Shu decided to also escape from the inside for a while and chatted casually with Zhang Jue. “You’re so fierce when he’s not around.”
Zhang Jue looked at him, and his lips moved, but he did not speak.
Pei Shu laughed and saw the ashtray built in on the marble pillar, and remembered the image of Zhang Jue looking deflated as he smoked near the swimming pool, and couldn’t help but ask, “You’ve really stopped smoking?”
“Yeah,” Zhang Jue said, “I don’t smoke anymore.”
Pei Shu thought that as someone who could burn through half a packet of cigarettes that quickly, it was impressive that Zhang Jue could stop smoking for love. He mused, “Did you hear, there’s a brand that makes mouth rinse and cologne for smokers? If they use it after they smoke, not even a police dog can tell.”
Zhang Jue pursed his lips and stood up straighter, exasperated, “Don’t do that to me.”
“I wouldn’t dare anyway,” he added.
Pei Shu’s phone vibrated again, and it was Chen Boqiao. When he picked up, Chen Boqiao immediately asked, “Where’s Zhang Jue?”
“He’s taking a breather outside,” Pei Shu informed him while making a motion to invite Zhang Jue back in with him.
After they returned, Pei Shu’s pretty boyfriend scurried over and held his hand with a bright smile. The omega’s palm was soft and supple, his fingertips tickling his palm a little, and Pei Shu felt that it was like top grade silk.
“Did anything happen?” He asked Pei Shu.
In his peripheral vision, Pei Shu could see Chen Boqiao hugging Zhang Jue from behind and whispering in his ear.
Zhang Jue listened to him for a while, then stopped the waiter who was carrying a tray of flowers. He picked a single rose and gave it to Chen Boqiao.
Chen Boqiao gracefully accepted the rose and gave him a kiss in exchange. A short one, but uncaring of everything else in the world.
Inside the glamorous hotel ballroom, the music and dancing was reaching a fever pitch.
Everyone was armored with the latest fashion, the hems of gowns a flurry in the air. Between the clinks of champagne flutes, their eyes were trained on the couple.
Pei Shu could only imagine the new rumors and speculation about Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao after today, but he no longer thought they were a bad match for each other. He felt like it was perhaps time he also found someone to settle down with for good.
So he invited the omega to his first dance of the day. It was a toast to the shallow and frivolous, slipping onto the dance floor like a fish into water, a dance for the tackiest and most vulgar.