Translated by zellyfish of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Between the ages of twenty and twenty-eight years old, Zhang Jue had passed by Senna Snow Mountain twice.
The first time he was alone, and the second time while on a trip with Harrison. Both times were in the deepest of winter, and heavy snow had sealed off the mountain, so he had never climbed it.
Back then, Zhang Jue lived in a fuddle, he had a lot of time and freedom. He had plenty of other chances to go, but he couldn’t bring himself to face the memories of his self-indulgent acts while he was on the mountain.
After he got married, Zhang Jue did not stay at home all the time. He had traveled around with Chen Boqiao, and also prepared to welcome the newborn to their family.
At night, Chen Boqiao would walk with Zhang Jue in the estate. He told Zhang Jue about his childhood, and how he’d run down the long corridor with the old butler chasing after him, how his parents stopped speaking to each other, about his life after moving to Europe, how his father would give him short phone calls occasionally, how his mother would float silently around the empty castle in Switzerland deep into the night.
At the end of their walk, Chen Boqiao would always give Zhang Jue a kiss beside the fragrant rose bushes.
He lowered his face with a gentle expression and held eye contact with Zhang Jue. There was spaced-out ground lighting amidst the grass, suffusing the air with warmth.
Some nights, Chen Boqiao’s stepmother would visit Zhang Jue with gifts.
She was a nimble and beautiful woman, with beautiful bright eyes. Once she knew the gender of the baby, she had prepared baby onesies and cute clothing for him. Zhang Jue’s parents also came to stay at their house for a period of time, and surprisingly got along very well with Chen Boqiao.
At age twenty-nine, Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao welcomed their first child into the world.
Perhaps because everything had gone smoothly during the checkups, and it all felt peaceful and calm, both Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao thought it would go smoothly. However, at twelve hours into labor, Zhang Jue was suddenly woken up by sharp pain in his abdomen, and the blood pressure meter clamped on his finger went off.
The very next second, the door flew open. Zhang Jue felt numbing pain, and very soon lost his vision, the brief image of Chen Boqiao and the doctor imprinted in his mind.
He was in a coma for five days and had needed two thousand milliliters of blood transfused. The first person he saw when he woke up was Chen Boqiao.
That afternoon, Zhang Jue felt like his brain was slow, and he tried his best to make out Chen Boqiao’s expression.
Chen Boqiao was still wearing a neat shirt and didn’t look too unkempt. He wasn’t ecstatic either, but when he made eye contact with Zhang Jue, his bloodshot eyes and tightly pursed lips made Zhang Jue’s heart twinge.
“Zhang Jue, you’re awake,” Chen Boqiao said firmly, as if he had always been sure that nothing bad would happen to Zhang Jue and he would wake up in no time.
Zhang Jue wanted to say something or at least nod, but Chen Boqiao held his hand and leaned down to press his lips to his forehead.
Chen Boqiao’s hands and lips were icy cold, and the scent of his pheromones was barely perceptible. He held his kiss for a long while, so long that Zhang Jue’s parents had come in with the nurse but didn’t want to get near them.
Chen Boqiao finally let him go when he heard the baby cry.
The newborn’s voice was thin, and he made some intermittent noises and then went quiet again. Chen Boqiao pressed the remote for Zhang Jue’s bed to incline it and help him sit up slowly. Zhang Jue’s back was against the sheets, and he turned to look at the new life that had stayed in his birth cavity for the past months.
The baby boy was sleeping in a transparent, oval shaped bed that was slightly inclined, being watched over by Zhang Jue’s mother. His tiny hands and feet, hidden in a soft onesie, moved occasionally.
Zhang Jue couldn’t see his face and strained his eyes to try to look. Chen Boqiao moved and pushed the baby cart that was being pushed around by Zhang Jue’s mother to the bedside, and picked up the soft, small baby to place it near Zhang Jue’s arm.
There was still an IV drip on the back of one of Zhang Jue’s hands, and he had no strength in his other hand, so Chen Boqiao gently held Zhang Jue’s wrist and helped Zhang Jue lightly brush a fingertip across the baby’s cheek.
His skin was supple and warm in a fuzzy and soft way, and he opened his eyes for a few seconds, then closed them again
Zhang Jue smiled tiredly, and Chen Boqiao smiled back at him. Zhang Jue thought he had never seen Chen Boqiao smile like that before. He was relaxed and happy, his eyes trained on Zhang Jue, and there was nothing clouding over his mind. It was as if his eyes were saying that he really, really liked Zhang Jue, not any less than Zhang Jue liked him, even though he had never said it before.
As the newborn needed to get bathed, Chen Boqiao pushed the cart out for a while and gave Zhang Jue and his parents some space to speak.
Zhang Jue’s parents looked more unkempt than Chen Boqiao, but didn’t seem tired at all. His mother kissed his cheek, saying, “I think the baby looks like him a bit more.”
His father said, “It’s a newborn, how do you even see anything about resemblance?”
The two bickered quietly amongst themselves until Chen Boqiao wheeled the freshly bathed child back in.
A week after Zhang Jue was discharged from hospital, Chen Boqiao had surgery.
He didn’t discuss it with Zhang Jue, but told him the night after the procedure.
Zhang Jue was sitting beside the cradle reading a book, and Chen Boqiao got the nanny to leave the room for a minute, then told him about the surgery. Zhang Jue was almost sure he was hallucinating.
Even though it was a small outpatient procedure, almost no alpha would do it. There were many methods for contraception now, and the hypodermic implants for omegas were a mature and effective method with a very low rate of failure, so even if Chen Boqiao didn’t want more children, he didn’t have to get a vasectomy.
Not to mention that most alphas could not accept such a procedure psychologically and felt irked by it.
Zhang Jue wanted to tell him there was no need, but he looked at Chen Boqiao and contemplated his words, eventually deciding to be more subtle, “It’d be easier for me to get the hypodermic contraceptive implant.”
The baby was breathing softly and kicked the blanket off in his sleep. Chen Boqiao tucked him in again, then told Zhang Jue, “That’s too much trouble for you.”
Zhang Jue protested, “It’s not that much trouble.”
Chen Boqiao responded by raising his hand to trace along Zhang Jue’s chin, rubbing at it with his thumb, then moving along the neck line to behind Zhang Jue’s ears, next to his gland.
“Haven’t you had your share of surgeries?” Chen Boqiao chuckled. “Like I said, I think the scar is fine.”
Zhang Jue had an appointment to remove the scar next week, and Chen Boqiao felt a little worried, but Zhang Jue was adamant, so Chen Boqiao compromised and supported him.
“I don’t want to keep it.” Zhang Jue’s head was lowered.
He waited for a few seconds, and Chen Boqiao tilted his chin up. He looked at Zhang Jue to make sure, then lowered his face to peck at Zhang Jue’s lips. “Whatever makes you happy…” They kissed for a while, then Chen Boqiao pulled Zhang Jue from the chair and left the room.
The nanny who was stationed at the door of the nursery room went in, and the couple went back into their bedroom.
After the childbirth, they hadn’t had sex for a while, but when they went to sleep, Chen Boqiao always held Zhang Jue tightly to his chest, their fingers intertwined and bodies pressed together, as if he had feared losing him.
Zhang Jue had planned the hiking trip, but did not expect his travel partner at all.
When he got the call from Harrison, he was visiting his parents in the NIR. Harrison said that they hadn’t seen each other in a while, and asked if he was up for another trip to the snow mountain. Since he brought the kid to NIR, Zhang Jue’s parents were wholly distracted, so he was feeling extra in the house anyway, so he discussed it with Chen Boqiao and eventually agreed.
However, when he arrived in the Thai Independent State, Harrison unexpectedly bailed out on him.
He had given a call to Zhang Jue saying he had an emergency to attend to. After he hung up, Chen Boqiao called.
Chen Boqiao said that he had a few days off, so he could accompany him. That afternoon, he arrived.
They drove along the TIS border for three hours, and finally arrived at the foot of Senna Snow Mountain. Their guide was sitting in the front, looking at Chen Boqiao hesitantly.
“Not a lot of people choose to hike here in October.” The guide was a tanned man with freckles on his face. “Mr. Chen, are you sure you want to hike?”
“It just snowed here a few days ago,” the driver also chimed in.
Chen Boqiao was sitting beside Zhang Jue, and since Zhang Jue didn’t say anything, Chen Boqiao remained quiet too.
Their car climbed along the mountain road to the start of the hiking trail, and the two alighted.
Chen Boqiao told the driver to open the trunk of the car and he took the hiking bag and equipment out. There was a thin layer of snow on the grass, and when he looked up, he could see the regal white of Senna Snow Mountain. He secured the goggles on Zhang Jue and helped him buckle his gloves, then the two started walking with their hiking sticks.
Zhang Jue had a passion for hiking, as if only at his most exhausted, when his muscles were active and sore, he felt alive.
He had scaled many mountains before, and Senna was one of the most special. Zhang Jue had made a wish on the snow mountain and offered an oil lantern he never thought he would. Looking back from the end of his twenty-ninth year, he felt that back then he had lived like an ephemeral dragonfly: waking up each day and falling back into slumber, each day melting into the next and he was but a short-lived mirage.
But now, the two of them were hiking in silence, and their companions of the trail had turned from hoards of tourists to a few hikers, then finally just Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao were left, hiking up quickly.
Zhang Jue felt like Chen Boqiao was probably slowing his pace to be considerate to him already, but the difference in their stamina was too great and Zhang Jue found himself struggling to keep up. His breathing was labored and he was breaking a light sweat, his legs numbly following.
Chen Boqiao slowed down again and occasionally helped him along.
Around evening time, they finally saw the light from the temple on the top of Senna Snow Mountain shimmering between the wooden fences and snow.
“You came with Harrison last time?” asked Chen Boqiao, as he stopped and turned to Zhang Jue.
He wasn’t wearing a mask and had black goggles on, and the line on his chin and lips were well defined. His skin was a healthy color and he looked virile.
The cold air seeped in from the mask and into Zhang Jue’s nose, and was warmed again by his lungs when he breathed it in.
Zhang Jue looked at him, paused. “Yes.”
“I’ve never been, can you go with me?” Chen Boqiao asked.
Twenty minutes later, they were on the stone path towards the temple.
Zhang Jue felt that it took less time climbing up with Chen Boqiao than with Harrison. Maybe it was because Chen Boqiao was more reliable to him, and he felt like he could follow him anywhere and not need to think, and they arrived in the blink of an eye.
A monk was sweeping away the snow at the entrance. When he saw Zhang Jue and Chen Boqiao, he nodded and let them in.
After they entered, they sat down on the benches outside the worship hall to rest. Zhang Jue leaned back and didn’t want to move, so Chen Boqiao took his hands and took off his gloves and goggles to put in the bag, and passed him some water.
“I heard there was a ritual oil lantern pool.” Chen Boqiao was looking at the giant statue of the Buddha shining in the hall, and naturally suggested to Zhang Jue, “Let’s go and make some offerings.”
Zhang Jue felt heat rising in his cheeks. He couldn’t recall if Harrison had mentioned anything about the lanterns to Chen Boqiao, so he tried to change the topic. “There’s no need to do that, we can just go see them and pay our respects.”
“Really?” Chen Boqiao dragged his last note and leaned closer to look at Zhang Jue with lidded eyes. He swept strands of Zhang Jue’s hair to the back. “I thought you would buy amulets from the roadside, why not buy the oil lantern here?”
Zhang Jue stared at Chen Boqiao and figured he couldn’t lie convincingly enough to fool him, so he came clean to Chen Boqiao. “I’ve done it already.”
“Bought one for you too.” His voice was soft and embarrassed, which was reasonable. After all, the twenty-year-old Chen Boqiao barely knew him and didn’t need his oil lantern.
“Oh?” Chen Boqiao didn’t look surprised at all. He asked Zhang Jue, “When was that?”
Zhang Jue told him the year, and Chen Boqiao just smiled. It was not a mocking expression: he just looked happy. “You like me that much?” he asked, putting an arm around Zhang Jue’s back, and slotting his fingers with Zhang Jue’s. He pulled him up to go to the oil lantern pool.
The pool was a sea of light, a vast surface of water with lanterns floating over it.
There were a lot more lanterns compared to the last time Zhang Jue was here. They were bumping into each other, and the candles flickered and reflected on the surface of the water. Chen Boqiao and Zhang Jue wrote one for their son, then he asked the monk to help him look for the lantern for himself.
Their lamps were on two far sides of the pool, and it wasn’t obvious that they were offerings from the same person. Chen Boqiao then asked the monk to help put his and Zhang Jue’s lanterns together.
The monk used a long hook to fish out Chen Boqiao’s lantern. His name, as written by Zhang Jue, was sealed in the gilded glass box.
Zhang Jue’s handwriting was a little messy, but each stroke was defined. From the calligraphy, it was clear that the writer had been hesitant, taking his time to finally write the whole name.
“It looks good.” Chen Boqiao glanced at it and joked with Zhang Jue, “Did you practice it a lot?”
Zhang Jue watched the monk place Chen Boqiao’s lantern to where he wanted, “No.”
He had only written it once, but he had traced it on tables and paper with his finger many times before. He never wrote it. Sometimes he would start, but would feel almost too guilty and ashamed to continue.
Chen Boqiao didn’t continue poking fun at him. “I’ve reserved a hut behind the temple. It’s not too far away, but we have to walk a bit more.”
They toured around the temple a bit more, then they made their way to the accommodation Chen Boqiao planned.
Chen Boqiao had actually booked a small hut that was just enough to let hikers stay the night.
The small house was divided into two floors, and there was a total of about fifty square meters of space.The first floor was the entrance and a small living room with a small kitchen counter. Up the narrow staircase, the second floor had a bed and there was a bathroom in the corner.
Beside the stove there were unopened packages of ready-to-eat meals. Zhang Jue hadn’t exercised in a while and was tired, so he went up for a shower first.
When he came back down in his pajamas, Chen Boqiao had heated up the food and placed it on the coffee table. For some reason, Zhang Jue didn’t feel too hungry, so he just snuggled up on the couch and had a few bites of Chen Boqiao’s pasta.
Chen Boqiao saw that he was done eating and turned on the TV to play a nature documentary for him. Zhang Jue watched it for a while and felt his eyelids getting heavy. He fell asleep hugging the pillow.
Zhang Jue had a dream that felt static. Inside the dream, he was a spirit that floated mid-air, and he could hear the distorted and muffled sounds of chanting and bells in the distance. His body was kneeling in front of the lantern pool, making a wish with his head lowered
Amidst the chaotic sounds, Zhang Jue heard himself making the wish, and he knew that he was dreaming about when he was twenty years old.
Chen Boqiao didn’t ask, so he didn’t tell him. The dream was a lot more truthful, though, and helped him recall the wish he had made.
He had wished Chen Boqiao a long and healthy life.
It felt too simple and lacked any romance, but these were things that Zhang Jue had thought he would never be able to have, so he had wished that at least Chen Boqiao could have them.
The dream was interrupted by a light touch.
Zhang Jue stirred and opened his eyes blearily and found Chen Boqiao looking down at him.
“It’s late.” Chen Boqiao’s voice was low. “You’ve slept for three hours.”
Only then did Zhang Jue notice that Chen Boqiao had changed into sleepwear as well, and the documentary had finished playing ages ago: the TV screen had gone dark.
It was cold on the snowy mountain, but perhaps because the hut was small, the heating was more than enough.
Zhang Jue looked at Chen Boqiao’s face that was so close to him now, and for unknown reasons, he felt a little twinge in his heart. He reached out his arms to pull Chen Boqiao down by his neck, but was hesitant to use any strength.
“What’s wrong?” Chen Boqiao smiled at him gently.
Zhang Jue didn’t speak, so Chen Boqiao simply leaned in and kissed him.
When their lips made contact, Zhang Jue could smell Chen Boqiao’s pheromones. It was mixed in with the smell of the shampoo at first, but as they kissed, it became more and more prominent.
Zhang Jue closed his eyes and felt Chen Boqiao kiss the back of his neck, his lips moving down to the scar that now was smooth and barely visible.
Moments later, his incisors brushed against the layer of pale skin on Zhang Jue’s gland, the smell of pine and sea salt mixing with the bitter apricots.
Chen Boqiao’s mark was like a restrained beast.It was a wild forest fire that burned up the disappointment and emptiness Zhang Jue felt from his short dream, the thick smoke rising to cover his eyes and choke him.
Zhang Jue gave himself over completely and regained his oxygen in all the kisses, sex, and love Chen Boqiao gave him.