“Let me remind you,” started Adrian, unmoved, “For more than a dozen times during school, when you were so sick you couldn’t go to class, you still told me you were ‘fine’. Just half a month ago you had a fever that went up to 39 degrees, but do you remember what you told me?”
Zhong Yan was rarely fierce with his words, but unfortunately, the waves fell after the initial outbreak. He wiped the tears off his own face and said in a quiet voice, “You know I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about lying with malicious intent. I know there are many things, and many of my own ideas that I never told you, but I never wanted to use you…it’s not like what you’re making it out to be, I wasn’t misleading you, nor was I trying to pretend.”
Saying that, he averted his gaze downwards, and let out a bitter laugh. “I didn’t want to explain it, and I thought you would not believe me if I did…I’ve never had friends, you’re the first peer I had who allowed me to call out your name. Then, when our campuses were separated in our second year, all the students from the military school had left, but you said you weren’t going anywhere, that you’d rather spend an extra hour on the road. Since then, I’ve been careful every day of my life. I had to think about whether I would make you upset before I said every word, but at the same time, I was so afraid. I was afraid one day you’d find a better friend, or maybe I’d make you unhappy somehow, and you’d leave. So, I did laundry, I cooked, I did everything to please you so you wouldn’t leave. I didn’t know what else to do, I…I didn’t realize…I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”
Adrian loosened his restraint on Zhong Yan and looked at him with a complicated expression for a moment. For the first time, that tit-for-tat fury was gone. “You didn’t feel a single thing at all? I’m not a good-tempered person, but in those three years, I’ve never once shown my anger to you.”
“I thought you had a very good temper, and I thought you were the same with your friends too.” But now he knew that it was his privilege. This wasn’t funny to Zhong Yan at all, it just made him want to cry. “I didn’t dare to think about it at all. I was happy as long as you would always be my friend, and never get sick of me, but if I knew…if I knew earlier…”
“If you knew, would you have rejected me?”
Zhong Yan denied it. “How could I reject you?”
Adrian questioned him, “Then would you have refused ‘Butterfly’ in the end?”
Zhong Yan raised his eyes to confront Adrian’s gaze. You could say that he may have been weak in the past, but now, on this planet without artificial intelligence, they were in a place without outsiders. It was a private residence with only the two of them. After seven years, this was the first time they had frankly confronted each other with their own wounds; even a warrior with a firm heart like Adrian could not help but ask such a question.
There was an obvious look of expectation in his eyes; right now, all he had to tell him was…Yes.
Yes, if I had one more chance, it would have been a perfect ending; just like that, he could push the responsibility on all the misunderstandings, and on fate itself. Those times had passed anyway. Nobody could change what has happened in the past; with one easy reply, he could heal the hate and disappointment; then maybe…maybe if he was lucky enough, he could even revive that thread of fate.
So why not?
You only needed to nod.
For a long time, Zhong Yan was silent. But in the end, he said, “Those are two different things.”
Just like in their third year, he could have told Adrian that for the sake of saving the country in this roundabout way, he was going to devote himself to politics. He could hardly count how many times he had told such a lie growing up. It was effective. It was perfect; but he wanted to keep Adrian, so he did not say those words to him.
Right now, he was not willing to go against his own heart to verify his assumptions. He did not want to lie to him.
“If I realized it early enough, I would’ve replanned my future for you. But if I had only known in the last few months…” Zhong Yan shut his eyes. “If I only found out at the end, I would at least have told you in advance that I’ve already made my plans. I won’t sacrifice myself with you to the human renaissance movement. But If I would have known, I definitely would not let you…”
He could not go on. In the past years, he had always resented how Adrian had never given him any chance of reconciliation after the incident, nor could he understand why Adrian had so much hate and anger towards him.
But now, he knew.
Whenever he recalled how, in that year, Adrian had watched him as he went up that stage with such joy in his eyes; then, with those feelings, he left the hall and returned to the dormitory where they had lived for three years. Zhong Yan could feel nothing but pain, to the point where he was suffocating; countless needles were pricking his heart, and each of those needles shared the same name of regret.
Regretful at knowing that he had reached the ocean, but had not realized it. Just for the sake of retaining that small pool of water in his hands, he had instead hurt the person he cherished the most in such a cruel way.
Adrian took a step back. He regretted it the instant those words came out of his mouth, but when Zhong Yan told him he would not reject him, a fantasy sprung up in his heart. He wondered if there never had been such a huge gap between them, that it was all just a mistake.
But Zhong Yan told him with his own mouth, his dreams were just mere dreams.
He did not continue his anger and spoke only in coldness. “As expected of you. I was just overthinking things, I really thought you liked me too.”
“I didn’t not like you! How could I not like you?” said Zhong Yan, anxious. “I’ve always been…”
“Don’t, stop right there.” Adrian raised a hand to stop him. “I don’t want to know your thoughts right now at all. Do you think that after going through all of that, that I would still continue liking you like a fool?”
“I…I didn’t know back then, I’m sorry. I’ll learn, I will, can we…”
He was both anxious and felt lowly, to the point where he did not have the courage to speak his request. He whispered his pleading in an incoherent mutter, expecting a miracle to happen, and give him a chance to make up for what he had lost.
But Adrian firmly refused him. “No. Zhong Yan, I’m no longer—For a long time, I have not wanted to be married to you.”
Zhong Yan looked at him, stunned.
“Enough, let’s end this here.” Adrian evaded Zhong Yan’s eyes. That broken-hearted gaze made him feel very uncomfortable, even the pleasure of revenge was gone. “I’m no longer in any position to be thinking about romance either. Have you sent your report to the council?”
Zhong Yan shut his eyes and took a deep breath. After a few seconds, when he opened his eyes once more, its clarity returned, leaving behind only the tear stains on his face.
“I did. We encountered some space pirates outside of Navi System, and we entered into physical combat after the space pirates entered our ship. The injuries Bayer received were too grave, so he fell unconscious. My injuries were lighter, but I still needed some time to recuperate. As for the regional assessment, it can only be postponed.”
Adrian nodded. “Understood. Send me a copy of the report, I will tell the rest to match the information.”
“The bedrooms upstairs are empty, pick one to stay in. I will lock the main door, and there is an alarm in the outer circle of the yard. Right now, just stay inside your room until our marriage contract is dissolved. I will arrange for you to leave Navi after that.”
“I really don’t have the money.” Zhong Yan dropped his head. “I can’t shell out three hundred and sixty thousand in one go, but is it alright if I start to save up now, and pay you in installments? Just hold on for a while, I’ll pay you back the money…”
His tone did not sound fake, but Adrian was full of doubts. In his opinion, four hundred thousand was worth practically nothing. From the very beginning, it was purely because he could not swallow down his anger that he wanted to make Zhong Yan pay up just to disgust him. How could he really be unable to pay?
Indeed, if you asked a normal young person in his twenties to pull out four hundred thousand in one breath, it would be a hard one to force on them. But for someone with a position as high as Adrian, this amount was just a slight change in the numbers of his bank account. He always thought that Zhong Yan would be much wealthier than he was.
“Where’s your money?” Adrian asked. “Everyone says you’re unscrupulous, but that’s not true as well, or is it?”
“Taking this path just makes it easier for others to avert their gaze, it’s false.” Zhong Yan continued on with unease, “But if there’s income…there would naturally be expenditures.”
He did not seem as if he was going to elaborate, but Adrian did not have any interest in listening on either. “Well, alright. Anyway, you sort it out yourself before the month ends. I still have work at headquarters, so I’ll be going. I’ve ordered dinner, your food will be sent to the receiving platform at the window by drone.”
“Are you not coming back to eat?” Zhong Yan followed behind him.
“Then, will you be coming back to sleep tonight?”
“This is my house.” Adrian put on the military coat Zhong Yan had taken off at the door. “It’s none of your business whether I come back or not, you’re overstepping it. Don’t follow me, you do not have access to enter the main door. Do you feel like staying out in the yard the whole night?”
Zhong Yan stopped awkwardly by the door. “That’s not it, I was just asking. Wa…Wait!”
Adrian looked impatient to his endless barrage of questions. Zhong Yan quickly spoke up. “One last thing—That ring…What happened to it?”
“I threw it.”
Zhong Yan quickly asked, “Where did you throw it?”
“And why are you asking me that for?” Adrian said, “Forget it, I’d rather chuck it than let you have it.”
“Where did you throw it?” Zhong Yan was persistent.
“In the pond in the backyard.” Adrian was at his limits. “Can I go now, oh great Councilor?”
At this time, he would not have known the consequences of his casual words; but if he knew, he would never have said such a thing.
A few hours later, deep into the night, Adrian returned to his private home.
Too many things happened today. It was actually quite rare for him to be this busy. But after thinking about it, and after pacing around his own bedroom at headquarters, he still decided to drive home at night.
In the early morning, at the beginnings of sunrise, the multi-story building was quiet. All of the furniture was in its own place, with no private possessions in sight, revealing the icy atmosphere of abandonment. But right now, someone was clearly staying inside. Adrian frowned at the seats at the dining table; they did not look to have been moved at all. Where did Zhong Yan eat?
He turned subconsciously to the platform near the window—The meal he ordered was placed neatly there, even the packaging was not removed.
Adrian knocked on all the few doors of the second floor and was ready to give the other man a talking to about the severe impact of wasting food, but nobody answered.
Was he asleep? Zhong Yan had always been a light sleeper, it was impossible for him not to have heard the knock on the door. On the way, Adrian had opened all the doors—The were all empty.
Was he not in the rooms? He did not receive any alarm notifications, so he could not have left the yard; but he did not see anyone when he came in from the front yard…
Adrian rushed downstairs. The door to the backyard was locked, but the window next to it was open. He remembered very clearly that those double-windows were closed in the beginning.
It was so early in the morning, what was Zhong Yan doing in the backyard?
Adrian recalled the sentence he had left him with before leaving home, and his face suddenly changed. He opened the door and rushed out.
The backyard of his villa was very large, and after passing through the thicket that was grown as shade from the sunlight, there was an open grassland with a small artificial pond on one side.
From far away, Adrian could see a man by the pond.
Zhong Yan was sitting there, his body wet and shoes by the shore. The cold winter winds were blowing softly by, and the light sports jacket was stuck to his body. He could not control the trembling of his body, but he still insisted on going into the water. He did not know how many times he had gone down there, but this time, he heard a thundering noise not far behind him. “Zhong Yan! No!”
Why did Adrian come back? Zhong Yan was surprised. He turned around in a hurry but did not expect to take a wrong step, and without being able to steady himself, he fell into the water. The icy cold water of the pond seeped into his nose cavity, and painfully he swallowed several mouthfuls of water. Gradually, his languish body was sinking.
His consciousness was fading far away. All he could hear was the sound of the water splashing. Following that, a pair of warm and powerful arms circled around him in the water, and with him in hand, they returned to the mortal realm.