When Qiu Yanzhi woke up, he saw Big Yellow sitting on the windowsill with its back to him, deep in thought about something.
Qiu Yanzhi rubbed his eyes and asked in a daze, "Big Yellow, where did you go last night? Why didn't you come when I called for you?"
Big Yellow turned to look at Qiu Yanzhi. "...I went out to play. Maybe the signal there was bad so I didn’t hear you. Did you need me for something last night?"
Qiu Yanzhi: "Not really."
Big Yellow turned back to stare out the window. “Yanyan, don’t you think this world is truly wonderful?”
Qiu Yanzhi put on his slippers and walked over. Today’s weather was great. The sky was a mesmerizing shade of blue and dotted with a few pure white clouds. Occasionally, a plane would glide by, leaving behind a long white trail across the sky.
Qiu Yanzhi stretched and said, "En, it's very beautiful."
Big Yellow: "Then have you ever thought about...staying here forever?"
Qiu Yanzhi gave him a look before going to wash up in the bathroom. His parting words were very casual.
“No matter how beautiful it is, this is all fake.”
Big Yellow’s head slowly drooped down. Its mouth pursed into a tight line.
Qiu Yanzhi shook his head as he brushed his teeth.
What’s wrong with Big Yellow today? Why did it suddenly become so sentimental?
Suddenly saying things like staying here forever...
Qiu Yanzhi couldn’t even stay if he wanted to, ah. He Zhou was itching to kick him out as soon as possible.
He should quickly leave and let He Zhou get back to his life.
However...that doesn’t mean he couldn’t bug the man a bit more while he was here.
Cough, cough. Not that he was disturbing the man on purpose or anything! They had a legitimate business relationship after all! He was only contacting He Zhou now in an effort to leave as soon as possible.
With that in mind, Qiu Yanzhi called He Zhou. "He Zhou, did you find any new leads?"
He Zhou: "No, we’re having some difficulties locating Liu Cheng. It’s likely that he’s disguised himself. Several targets of interest are being reinvestigated. I’ll let you know if there’s any progress.”
Qiu Yanzhi nodded. "Are you at work right now? Am I disturbing you?"
He Zhou: "No, I have an appointment with someone outside of work now. I'm still waiting for him."
Qiu Yanzhi blinked. "But it's so early in the morning. Who are you waiting for?"
He Zhou: "Meng Qikang."
Qiu Yanzhi was quiet for a moment. “Oh.”
He Zhou: "He's almost here. I'll hang up first."
Qiu Yanzhi: "...Bye."
About a minute later, He Zhou received a text message.
Qiu Yanzhi: "Where are you guys going to eat? Is the food good there? I’m hungry but I'm too lazy to look for a restaurant."
Looking down at his phone, He Zhou smiled before sending a text back.
“We’re meeting at the Same Shelf Teahouse, but there’s nothing good to eat here. You can go to the Bright Moon Restaurant on Lingdong Street. It’s closer to your flat and has things that suit your taste.”
"He Zhou, who are you chatting with? You seem so happy." Meng Qikang pulled out a chair and sat across from him.
He Zhou curbed his smile and placed his phone face down on the table. “A business partner.”
He looked up at Meng Qikang and asked, "Qikang-ge, you asked me to meet today. Is there something going on?"
Meng Qikang smiled gently. "Does there need to be a reason for me to meet with you?”
He Zhou pursed his lips. "That's not what I meant."
"I'm leaving the country." Meng Qikang said, "I might not ever come back this time.”
He Zhou was a little taken aback. "Didn't you just return not long ago?"
Meng Qikang sighed. "My job abroad was a better fit for me in the end. Plus I only came back because...I was feeling nostalgic. But I forgot that time waits for no one. The world I once remembered is already gone.”
Meng Qikang paused before slowly continuing, “He Zhou, I keep thinking about how things used to be. I remember how little you were when we first met…”
In a gentle voice, Meng Qikang reminisced with He Zhou about their past.
He Zhou only listened quietly without saying a word.
He felt like something wasn’t quite right here.
The events Meng Qikang was telling him about seemed familiar but also not. At first, they almost felt like things that happened to a complete stranger. Only after careful reflection could he suddenly recall a similar memory himself.
But his version of events were always shrouded in fog.
Even the one carved deep into his psyche--
That night of pouring rain when the car accident happened.
The driver screamed.
His parents embraced each other and died before his eyes.
The fresh blood gushing from his forehead dripped down onto his eyelashes, dying the whole world a hazy red.
It was Meng Qikang who pulled him out of the car back then.
The other person was still speaking, “Back then, you were already quite tall. I remember how difficult it was to pull you out of the car…”
But a tiny pair of hands suddenly flashed through He Zhou's mind.
They were the hands of a boy.
Ghastly white and emaciated, they somehow still seemed to be brimming with an inexhaustible strength. Those hands grabbed his elbow with everything they had, eventually pulling him out through the car window.
The blood from He Zhou's forehead dripped onto the boy's wrists, only to be quickly washed away by the rain, revealing the greenish-blue veins on the boy's wrists.
He Zhou tried to peer up at the owner of those hands, but his brain was suddenly wracked with pain. The agony was so severe that his ears began to ring. Even if he tightly covered his ears, he could still hear that shrill sound.
Meng Qikang panicked. "He Zhou? He Zhou, what's wrong?!"
He Zhou's arm accidentally bumped into the tea set on the table. The sound of broken porcelain echoed through his ears.
The world finally fell silent.
He Zhou opened his eyes and saw Meng Qikang's worried expression.
After one second, two seconds, then three.
He Zhou finally calmed down.
He waved a waiter over to clean up the fragments on the floor. His voice was calm. “Qikang-ge, how did you get me out back then?”
Meng Qikang froze for a moment. "...The car was on its side and the window was half open, so I put my hand through, opened the door and pulled you out."
He Zhou also remembered Meng Qikang opening the car door and pulling him out.
However, the image that just flashed through his mind clearly showed a young boy pulling him out through the window.
"Maybe that just now was just another small, inconsequential bug." He Zhou thought calmly.
"Are you still seeing a psychiatrist right now?” Meng Qikang asked, frowning.
He Zhou shook his head and looked down to take a sip of his tea. "No, I've recovered already."
--From the moment he found out he was a NPC.
Since the car accident in which he lost his parents and was saved by Meng Qikang was just all just an ill-fitting program that was even bugged, the nightmares it brought him had naturally dissipated like smoke.
"But just now..."
"It’s nothing. Just a sudden headache."
After chatting for a while longer, Meng Qikang asked, "How are you and that male student...that you met in the bar last time doing?"
"We broke up." He Zhou replied.
Meng Qikang was a bit taken aback. "Why? I thought you two were...very much in love."
A smile suddenly appeared on He Zhou’s face. "He didn't love me, he just saw me as a substitute or a..."
He paused for a moment. "Or a NPC in an online game. A NPC whose appearance happened to suit his tastes.”
Meng Qikang felt that there was something strange about He Zhou's analogy.
He looked at He Zhou and carefully tested the waters. "So are you, um, with someone else now?"
He Zhou was quiet for a moment. "I’ve given up on being in a relationship.”
Because this was just a game world, and he was just a NPC.
Everything here was just data.
Even the time he spent ‘infatuated’ with Meng Qikang was just a predetermined program.
It was fine when he was unaware of it, but how could he possibly knowingly love a mass of data?
He would forever know the truth of this world, becoming an outsider that lost the ability to ever love anyone ever again.
It was at that moment.
At a table not far away, the menu that someone had propped up at someone had propped up at some point suddenly fell down, revealing the face of a young man.
A split second later, he frantically righted the menu and covered his face again.
He Zhou suddenly laughed.
He corrected himself.
He lost the ability to love anyone else ever again.
Qiu Yanzhi was certain his cover was perfect.
But someone still came to knock on his table.
Qiu Yanzhi pretended not to hear, but then that person simply took away the menu he was hiding behind. He Zhou looked down at him. “Qiu Yanzhi, I saw you a long time ago.”
Qiu Yanzhi stopped pretending since the jig was up. He sat up properly and peered at the newly vacated table nearby. “Where’s Meng Qikang?”
He Zhou said, "He left."
Qiu Yanzhi lightly coughed a few times before taking the initiative to strike. “He Zhou, I feel like you’ve stopped trying after finding out that you’re a NPC, ah. This can’t go on! What time is it right now? Aren’t you supposed to be at work instead of going out to eat with someone? Don’t think that you’ll stay the president no matter what just because that’s part of your settings as a NPC. If you don’t put in the effort, what are your employees going to think? Even if this is a game, you shouldn’t sabotage yourself like this. You need to constantly strive for improvement! Only then can you--”
"Today’s Saturday." He Zhou said.
Qiu Yanzhi: "......"
He Zhou sat down opposite Qiu Yanzhi. "What are you doing here?"
Qiu Yanzhi grabbed his menu back from He Zhou before pointing at the dishes listed on it. “You tricked me. You said there was nothing good to eat at this teahouse, but they clearly have specialty items.”
Saying that, Qiu Yanzhi called a waiter over. He pointed at the menu. “I want this fragrant tea braised pork--”
The waiter: "Sorry, we only start making our fragrant tea braised pork at noon. In the meantime, why don’t you try our fragrant tea baozi?” (1)
Qiu Yanzhi: "...Okay, fine. One order of fragrant tea baozi and a glass of coke.”
The waiter was apologetic. “We don't have coke here."
"Then a cup of milk tea..." Qiu Yanzhi trailed off at the waiter’s expression. He frowned. "There’s no milk tea either?"
He looked down and flipped through the menu a few times.
Eventually, he reluctantly said, “A cup of pu-erh tea then.” (2)
He Zhou sighed. He took Qiu Yanzhi's menu and handed it to the waiter. "There’s no need to serve the things ordered at this table. Sorry for the inconvenience. Also, could you bring the bill for table number three here?"
After settling the bill, He Zhou dragged Qiu Yanzhi out.
Qiu Yanzhi looked at He Zhou's hand on his wrist, but he didn’t try to pull away. Instead, he looked up at the man and grumbled, "What are you doing, ah? I was already finished ordering.”
He Zhou turned to give him a look. “What did you order that you actually wanted? The baozi or the tea?"
Qiu Yanzhi looked away and quietly muttered, “...Just because they’re not my favourites doesn’t mean I can’t make do.”
As they spoke, the two eventually arrived at another branch of the Bright Moon Restaurant.
He Zhou let go of Qiu Yanzhi's wrist when they stepped inside.
Qiu Yanzhi stared at his wrist for a couple of seconds. Then he shook his arm out to ease the mild discomfort.
He Zhou took a menu and handed it to him. "See if there's anything you want to eat."
Qiu Yanzhi took a seat and flipped through the menu.
He couldn't help but sigh: this was what a real restaurant should be like.
Qiu Yanzhi immediately ordered three or four dishes before he realized something. "He Zhou, you haven't eaten yet, have you?"
He Zhou shook his head. "I only had some tea."
So Qiu Yanzhi looked down again and added a sour before handing the menu to the waiter. He smiled with crinkled eyes. “That should be enough. Oh, and a bottle of coke!”
Qiu Yanzhi contentedly drank his coke with his head down as he waited for the dishes to be served. He only looked up again when half the bottle was gone. “He Zhou, what were you two...talking about just now?”
He Zhou said, "He came to say goodbye to me because he’s leaving the country."
"Leaving the country, huh?"
Qiu Yanzhi's expression immediately overflowed with joy, but then he coughed twice and forced the corners of his mouth down. He tried playing it off by taking a few sips of his coke. “What’s he leaving the country for? Study or work?”
He Zhou: “Emigration I think. He said he might not be coming back."
Cough! Cough! Cough, cough, cough…
Qiu Yanzhi choked on his coke and burst into a coughing fit. It was a long time before he calmed down.
He wiped his mouth with a tissue. Despite clearly being ecstatic, he acted like a complete hypocrite. “Cough, cough… What’s that guy thinking, ah? Who wants to leave our great country and live abroad…”
He Zhou suddenly put down his chopsticks, looked up, and called his name.
Qiu Yanzhi blinked uncertainly at He Zhou. He could feel his heart suddenly start beating faster. "...What's wrong?"
Then, Qiu Yanzhi watched He Zhou suddenly grab his left hand that was holding a tissue, drag it right over to his eyes, and make it unclench.
This fair and slender hand was full of sharp angles. The light blue veins on the wrist were clearly visible.
He Zhou frowned.
"Qiu Yanzhi, has your hand always looked this good?"
Qiu Yanzhi: "......"
Mr. He, has your brain always been this smooth??
(1) 包子 - it's a steamed bun that can have a variety of fillings inside
(2) 普洱茶 - a type of fermented black tea that is a specialty of China's Yunnan province. It's kind of bitter...
Haha the banter between them always gets me ｡ﾟ( ﾟ^∀^ﾟ)ﾟ｡