Not only was Qiu Yanzhi hugging He Zhou, he buried his head in the man’s chest and nuzzled him.
He Zhou: "!"
He Zhou reached back to turn off the shower before prying Qiu Yanzhi off him and hissing through gritted teeth, “Qiu Yanzhi. What do you think you’re doing?”
Qiu Yanzhi slowly looked up at him with red rimmed eyes brimming with tears. He really couldn’t look more aggrieved. “He Zhou, my house is…”
He Zhou took a deep breath. "...Go outside for now. I'm in the middle of taking a shower."
Only then did Qiu Yanzhi blink dumbly and realize that he was in the bathroom.
And He Zhou was...
Qiu Yanzhi was about to subconsciously look down, but He Zhou reached over at the speed of light and covered his eyes. With his other hand, he took hold of Qiu Yanzhi’s shoulder and turned him around.
He Zhou's ears were burning red and his breathing had picked up. His voice became a little unsteady as he stared at the back of Qiu Yanzhi's head.
"...Qiu Yanzhi, walk straight forward, open the door, and go outside."
With that, Qiu Yanzhi numbly marched forward like a zombie following He Zhou’s commands. He walked forward one step at a time.
Advancing straight ahead, he opened the door and stepped out.
"Close the door." He Zhou said.
Still facing away from the door, Qiu Yanzhi reached back with his left hand for the doorknob. He finally managed to find it and close the door somewhat stiffly after fumbling around for a while.
He Zhou could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
By the time He Zhou changed into his pyjamas and opened the door again, Qiu Yanzhi was still standing outside. It didn’t seem like he had moved a step.
He Zhou opened his mouth. "Qiu Yanzhi, how did you get in?"
He had clearly not heard anything before Qiu Yanzhi suddenly appeared in front of him.
Qiu Yanzhi blinked. "I...I used an Instant Transport Card."
"...Don’t use cards like that again." He Zhou said.
Then he amended his statement after a pause. "At least not while I’m taking a shower.”
He Zhou looked over at Qiu Yanzhi. "What were you just saying? Something about your house? Did something happen?”
Qiu Yanzhi's eyes went wide like his brain had finally caught up. His head snapped to the flower pot on the floor, which he frantically bent down and rummaged through. Then he stood up and patted all over the photo frames hung on the wall. Just as he stood on his tiptoes to touch the wall-mounted lights, his wrist was grabbed by He Zhou.
The man was frowning. "Qiu Yanzhi, what are you doing?"
Qiu Yanzhi turned to look at him, his eyes slightly red again. "I'm looking for hidden cameras..."
He Zhou: "What?"
Qiu Yanzhi sniffed. His voice was hoarse: "...I just found out that there are...hidden cameras everywhere in my flat."
He Zhou was quiet for a moment. Then he reached over and used a slightly cool thumb to very gently brush away Qiu Yanzhi’s tears. He comforted him, "Qiu Yanzhi, there are no hidden cameras in my house. It's safe here. You’re okay now..."
Qiu Yanzhi was only a little scared and teary before, but he could still barely control his emotions. For some reason, He Zhou’s words made his nose sour and the floodgates open. Burning tears fell onto He Zhou's fingertips. He tried to wipe them away again, but Qiu Yanzhi’s tears seemed never ending.
Qiu Yanzhi’s words were choked and somewhat incoherent, “...I...I used a X-Ray Vision Card. I just wanted to see the stars before I went to bed. But...but I saw the surveillance cameras in the lights. Then...then I discovered...my house...was completely covered in cameras. The flowerpots, the air conditioner, the tables...everywhere was bugged. I...I don’t know who put them there or why…”
He Zhou suddenly hugged Qiu Yanzhi.
He pressed Qiu Yanzhi's head to his chest. He could feel fresh tears soaking through the fabric of his pajamas, imparting their brief warmth to his skin and the blood vessels and heart beneath.
He rested his chin gently against Qiu Yanzhi's soft black hair and slightly tightened his hold. Then he gently patted the young man on the back as he murmured softly, “It’s okay, you’re safe now. You’re safe here. Qiu Yanzhi, I promise you I’ll find the one responsible. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Qiu Yanzhi buried his head against He Zhou's chest. After a while, his sobs gradually weakened and began to subside.
He Zhou was holding him so tightly that his body heat was transmitted to Qiu Yanzhi's body through his thin pyjamas. Qiu Yanzhi could even clearly hear the steady heartbeat of the man.
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly felt like he shouldn’t be this close.
His relationship with He Zhou was no longer the same as before.
He shouldn't have run straight to He Zhou's house when things went south.
He shouldn't have appeared in front of He Zhou while he was showering.
He shouldn’t have run up and dove into He Zhou’s arms.
Most of all, he shouldn’t be hiding in He Zhou’s arms and seeking comfort from the man like he’s doing now.
He should let go. He should wipe away his tears and apologize to He Zhou. He should leave and find a hotel or go back to his parents’ house.
...But he didn't want to.
Qiu Yanzhi looked up at He Zhou, his face still stained by tears. His voice was hoarse, “He Zhou, can I...sleep here tonight?"
He Zhou nodded.
...Then can I sleep with you?
Qiu Yanzhi couldn’t voice this request.
Because that would really be asking too much.
Qiu Yanzhi let go of He Zhou and withdrew from his arms with reluctance. "...I...which room should I sleep in...?"
"Your original room still has bedding.” He Zhou replied.
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips. "...G-good night then."
Qiu Yanzhi laid down on the bed and turned off the lights.
He tried to sleep, but that dense sea of hidden cameras reappeared whenever he closed his eyes.
Qiu Yanzhi broke out in a cold sweat. He turned on the lights again and had another look around his room. Only when he failed to find any cameras did he return to bed.
But he still couldn't sleep.
Qiu Yanzhi got out of bed and tiptoed gingerly to He Zhou's room.
The lights were still on. Their yellowish luminance bled through the gaps of the door.
Qiu Yanzhi knocked.
He Zhou: "Come in."
Qiu Yanzhi opened the door and walked in.
He Zhou put down his tablet and looked up. "What's wrong? Are you not used to sleeping in that room?”
Qiu Yanzhi asked in a small voice, “He Zhou, are you sure that there aren’t any cameras hidden in there? I can’t shake off the feeling that...there are.”
He Zhou said, "There are no hidden cameras there. Don't worry. The main gate of this house is under 24-hour surveillance. No one’s getting in to install those things.”
"Okay." Qiu Yanzhi nodded. He raised his head to look at the tablet beside He Zhou’s hand. "Are you still working?"
"No," He Zhou said, "I’m looking into those hidden cameras in your flat."
Qiu Yanzhi opened his mouth. He whispered after a pause, "Thank you."
"No need for thanks."
"...T-then I’ll go back to bed. Good night."
He Zhou explained the situation to his trusted investigation team. Then he contacted the security company contracted here to get a bodyguard assigned to Qiu Yanzhi.
Qiu Yanzhi seemed very uneasy.
Just as He Zhou was focused on comparing the qualifications of several candidates, there was another knock at his door.
Qiu Yanzhi poked his head out and asked, "He Zhou, is there only surveillance at the main gates? What if someone scales the wall and comes in..."
"That’s not possible. In addition to the surveillance at the main gates, all of the streetlights surrounding the house are equipped with 360 degree cameras. No one’s getting in that way either.”
"Then what if--"
"Qiu Yanzhi," He Zhou put down his tablet and looked up at Qiu Yanzhi. "bring the blanket from your room over."
Qiu Yanzhi blinked. "...What."
"You're sleeping with me tonight." He Zhou said.
Qiu Yanzhi's eyes immediately lit up. "I'll be right back."
Just two minutes later, Qiu Yanzhi came in hugging his blanket.
He Zhou folded his own blanket so Qiu Yanzhi could have half the bed.
Qiu Yanzhi spread his blanket out next to He Zhou and then obediently got in bed. He ducked into the covers so that only his beautiful eyes were peeking out.
He blinked and looked at He Zhou. "He Zhou, good..."
"You've already said good night twice today." He Zhou said.
Qiu Yanzhi closed his mouth.
He Zhou put the tablet on the nightstand before turning off the light and laying back in bed.
He turned and met Qiu Yanzhi’s eyes, which were faintly illuminated by moonlight.
He said very softly:
"Qiu Yanzhi, good night."
Qiu Yanzhi closed his eyes and finally fell asleep.
When Qiu Yanzhi woke up the next day, he found that his blanket had fallen to the floor at some point. In addition, he had squirmed his way under He Zhou's blanket during the night and was now firmly holding onto the man’s waist.
Qiu Yanzhi carefully let go of He Zhou and prayed in his heart that He Zhou hadn’t woken up yet.
"You’re awake?" He Zhou's voice came from above his head.
Qiu Yanzhi’s entire body stiffened.
Then he looked up with some embarrassment at He Zhou. “...I’m not easy to sleep with.”
"As I've found out already." He Zhou said.
Qiu Yanzhi awkwardly scratched his nose and sat up in bed.
But as he did, the image of himself hugging He Zhou and getting tears and snot all over his chest yesterday came to mind.
...Wow. Can this be any more humiliating?
"Ahem. I got a little too flustered last night..."
"It's fine. Normal even."
He Zhou's tablet on the nightstand vibrated. He picked it up to have a look.
Qiu Yanzhi: "What is it? Did you get a lead on those hidden cameras?”
He Zhou: "They said the plan is to go to your house now and remove all the cameras. They’ll also have a look around to see if there’s any clues.”
“My condo floor has cameras--”
“Which are all broken. Whoever did this was prepared. Qiu Yanzhi, you moved in last Friday, right?”
Qiu Yanzhi nodded.
He Zhou: "You said there were cameras in your flower pot, but that was in my house before.”
Qiu Yanzhi: "You mean that the cameras were put in after I moved?"
He Zhou nodded. "Yes. Additionally, when you moved over, your original place was basically cleared out. Apart from the flower pot, many other small items were moved to my house. If the hidden cameras were put in before this, it's impossible that no one noticed anything after two moves. Some of them must have shifted or broke if that’s the case.”
Qiu Yanzhi picked up his phone and glanced at the time. "Today's Tuesday, and I moved last Friday…it’s only been five days. So all those cameras were planted sometime from then to now?”
He Zhou took out some pen and paper. "Write down all the times you went out in the past five days. I’ll have them look into those times and see who’s been in and out of your building.”
Qiu Yanzhi thought for a moment before looking down and writing things out.
After Qiu Yanzhi finished, he handed everything back to He Zhou. "He Zhou, who do you think put those cameras there? And why would they want to spy on me?”
He Zhou took a picture of what Qiu Yanzhi had written down and sent it over. “You said yourself that Liu Cheng and I both remember what happened in the last game because we’re bugged NPCs, right?”
Qiu Yanzhi: "Are you saying that the person who planted those cameras is a third bugged NPC?”
He Zhou nodded. “Because of your status in this game, normal NPCs would have no reason to spy on you. Not even your father’s competitors would resort to such a thing. You also mentioned that this was a dating simulator. However, due to the punishment, your main romance storyline with Ye Mingxu was forcefully interrupted.”
Qiu Yanzhi understood He Zhou’s implication.
As a dating simulator, the player would be in a sort of limbo once the main romance storyline was interrupted.
His life should’ve been free from any major twists, conflicts and complications afterwards.
The NPCs in a dating simulator only exist to advance the romance plotline. So when this plotline was interrupted, they no longer needed to do that.
Much less spy on him.
So the people who had installed those hidden cameras all over his house were definitely not normal NPCs. They had to be bugged as well.
He Zhou picked up the pen and turned to a fresh page.
He wrote: ‘Bug #3’.
Then he said, "In your calls to me after you moved, did you mention things regarding the game?”
He Zhou drew a line from ‘Bug #3’. “Then this Bug #3 should’ve known that this world is just a game as well. In other words, he must’ve already known beforhand, otherwise he wouldn’t have planted cameras in your house.”
Qiu Yanzhi felt goosebumps rise all over his body.
He Zhou wrote his and Liu Cheng's name elsewhere. “Liu Cheng and I both experienced highly similar car accidents.”
He continued, "This is no coincidence. After careful consideration, I could only think of two reasons. First, the game is trying to erase bugged entities. Second, someone wants us dead.”
"If the first is the case, then Bug #3 will soon or has already experienced a similar incident.”
“If the second is the case, I suspect that Bug #3 is the culprit behind both.”
He Zhou paused for a moment, "But there’s another problem here. The timing of Liu Cheng's death was far too coincidental."
He died just before he could tell Qiu Yanzhi what he knew.
It was almost like someone killed him to silence him.
He Zhou looked up at Qiu Yanzhi. “You said that Liu Cheng frantically ran away after exposing the fact that he was bugged, right? And he was dead set against telling you anything at first?”
Qiu Yanzhi nodded. "I suspected he knew something important precisely because of how strange he was acting.”
He Zhou: "What if the information he knew had something to do with Bug #3?"
If what Liu Cheng knew was related to Bug #3, then Bug #3 might have made a move to kill him in order to stop him from saying anything.
And the reason why he knew Liu Cheng was going to say something was because he had bugged Qiu Yanzhi’s house.
If that was the case, then all the pieces fell into place.
Qiu Yanzhi felt a chill run through his body. "...Both of these scenarios seem equally terrible."
He Zhou shook his head. "No, it's not that bad."
"If it's the second scenario, Bug #3 definitely has his motives for spying on you. In fact, finding him could be the key to getting you out of the game."
Qiu Yanzhi: "...Then what if it's the first scenario?"
He Zhou smiled.
"In that case, this means the system is mounting a response against bugged entities in the game. Naturally, you would be able to leave once all of the bugs are cleared.”
He Zhou turned to look at Qiu Yanzhi for a moment. "No matter the case, I will see you out."
"I don't want to."
Qiu Yanzhi suddenly said.
He Zhou: "What?"
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips and looked up at He Zhou. "If all the bugs have to be cleared for me to leave, then I’d rather stay.”
Qiu Yanzhi looked at He Zhou and asked.
"He Zhou, I know you don’t like me...you might even hate me, right? Didn't you say that you were going to help me leave so that I could never bother you again? Didn't you say that when I was gone, you would forget about me and find someone else to live with? What’s the matter? Why are you willing to sacrifice yourself all of a sudden so that I can leave?”
He Zhou was silent for a moment. "If the system wants to clean up bugs, there's nothing I can do about it."
Qiu Yanzhi: "Then you should be worrying right now about how to prepare for the system’s next attempt on your life, not telling me that I can leave after all the bugs have been cleared with a smile.”
He Zhou: "We're just exploring ways to get you out right now."
"But the way you're acting...it almost makes me think that you still like me." Qiu Yanzhi said.
The corners of He Zhou’s lips tugged up into a sneer.
"Qiu Yanzhi, how obsessed would I have to be to still like you at this point?"
Qiu Yanzhi stared straight into He Zhou’s eyes. "Then what are you doing right now?"
What are you doing?
What were you doing, holding the fearful me in your arms?
What were you doing, letting the uneasy me sleep beside you?
And what were you doing, disregarding your potentially imminent death to smile at me and say you’ll see me out?
The room immediately quietened.
Things started out as a serious discussion about how to leave.
But somehow tension saturated the atmosphere.
He Zhou was quiet for a long time.
He slowly closed his eyes. His voice became somewhat bitter.
"...Yes, I'm obsessed."
He finally admits it! And Qiu Yanzhi is showing that he cares about He Zhou too...how sweet! \(^ヮ^)/