Chapter 22 – Pillar of Nature (2)
First Published on Wattpad, Reposted on Ainushi
Perhaps this winter in Dragon City is especially cold; the leaves have all fallen before turning yellow. Zhao is idling, and seems to be rather uninterested in doing anything whatsoever. There isn’t much work, apart from a few work gatherings, and occasionally harassing the Professor, so he spends most of his time slacking at home.
Zhao left his parents when he was very young, and bought an apartment in the city centre. For a very long time he lived like most single men: sloppily and irresponsibly; messier than a pig.
Da Qing always thinks that this generation’s Guardian really is one of the most difficult to deal with, he even changed the Guardian Order into a governmental department, and gave it the name “Special Investigations Unit”. He is capable, and well-connected, sure; you could say that he is observant, intelligent and decisive, but Da Qing feels a little insecure.
The black cat is worried that one day Zhao will just quit his job and work full- time as a frivolous playboy.
But although Da Qing is over a thousand years old, it’s still just a cat; Zhao’s life outside of work is actually not as exciting as the cat imagines.
Zhao is probably a classic case of “off-work silence”, a common symptom among busy city-dwellers. He has stayed single for most of his life; partly because of his unusual job, and partly because of himself: he seems garrulous and confident on the outside, but his true self is detached and unsociable; if you don’t talk to him he can stay silent for an entire night, without any expression on his face.
The handful of lovers he has had dumped him because of the same reasons: “lack of communication”, “lack of excitement”, “no common interests”. There is even this one girl who very furiously said, “you never loved me, I’ve never had a place in your heart!”
Certainly, Zhao is handsome, rich and young; but there are quite a few guys like that in this big city. He does have a lot of money, but he spends it almost as fast as he earns it, and he still doesn’t have a proper place to live in. His apartment looks like a shabby hotel room; and his entire person oozes unreliability.
The date with Shen is on Sunday night, so he has no plans for Saturday. The hungover Zhao wakes up at noon, and barely survives on some leftover bread. He does some research on the Four Mystical Artifacts, and plays video games til the evening.
Finally, as the night falls, his stomach reminds him that he has yet to have dinner, and pulls his attention away from the game.
Zhao doesn’t want to move, and tries to fill up his stomach with a glass of warm water. Forty minutes later, his stomach’s protest grows stronger and stronger and he starts sweating. So he has no choice but to go out for food.
It’s winter, but the lazy Zhao only puts on a cloak on top of his pajamas, and doesn’t even wear socks.
Zhao goes to a small restaurant he is familiar with, and orders a fried rice and a congee.
The food will not cook itself instantly, and Zhao starts realising that he really should’ve worn more. He decides to head to a nearby convenient store for some cigarettes.
Zhao passes by a dimly lit trail, and hears someone’s voice.
A man violently demands, “give me your money, quickly!”
Another voice says, “don’t blame us, we don’t want to do this either, we’re just trying to make a living; you’re dressed so well, you must be rich, just do as we say and nobody has to get hurt, got it?”
Zhao slowly dawdles forward, and takes a closer look: a handful of gangsters gang up on a man, who looks rather familiar.
Why is he here?
Shen isn’t only gentle and polite towards his students, Zhao soon realises, he is like that towards everyone. Even when threatened by a group of gangsters, Shen doesn’t resist howsoever, and obediently takes out his wallet!
The gangsters see that he is so soft, and asks for more, “your watch too! Must be a luxury brand, take it off!”
Shen is silent and calm, and takes his watch off.
“Bookworms are good for nothing.” Zhao thinks, and sighs. He can’t bear to see this, and walks forward.
The gangsters snatch his watch, and pushes him on to the wall. A red line appears on his neck.
“Hey, he’s wearing something round his neck, might be a jade,” one of them says.
Another one rapidly tears open Shen’s shirt, and a small pendant is hanging between his collar bones: it’s the size of a nail, but it sparkles under the dim street lights like a star.
“This… this isn’t diamond, is it?” One of the gangsters reaches forward and grabs the pendant.
Shen finally frowns, and holds the pendant in his hand, “I’ve given you enough already, don’t go too far.”
His face turns dark, and his eyes glare coldly at the gangster. A surge of terror overwhelms him, and the thug lets go and stumbles backwards.
But the gangsters soon realise, they shouldn’t be afraid of this man; there is only one of him, but there are a bunch of them. Besides, if he is not soft why would he give them money so willingly?
One of the hoodlums raises his hand and goes straight for Shen’s face: from his experience, when dealing with someone with glasses, the most efficient way is to knock the glasses off so that they can’t see, and kick them down.
But he only just raised his hand, and a powerful kick smashes on to his back; he almost spurts out blood, and stumbles forward. Shen dodges, and the thug crashes right into the wall.
Shen looks up in shock, and sees Zhao, who rubs his hands, and says in a vulgar tone much like a gangster, “it’s fucking cold, who wants some warming up?”
The thugs are startled by the sheer force of his kick, and one of them asks only after a while, “who… who are you? Mind your own business.”
Zhao tilts his head, and kicks on the ground a few times as if cold; he says with a cold smile, “you’d better not know, otherwise you might pee your pants.”
Five minutes later, Zhao calls the police. He hangs up, and gives the gangsters rolling on the floor another kick, “you were still drinking milk out of your mom when I first came out here. Next time, better check whose territory it is before you do anything, understand?”
The thug screams in pain, and says, “big… big brother, we… we… AH!!!”
“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Who’s your fucking brother?” Zhao adds another kick, “you think flattery will save your ass? I’m a cop, not your brother, is your brain an onion? Take off your belts, quick!”
Shen watches him tying up all the gangsters skillfully, and heartlessly smiles.
Until now, Zhao finally realises that he just acted out a classic scene of a knight in shining armour swooping in to save a damsel in distress. This coincidence is too beautiful, so beautiful that he begins to think he might have orchestrated it.
Zhao is immediately pumped, feeling like the world seems prettier and the air seems fresher; his stomachache seems to wear away.
He hands Shen the wallet and watch, “never thought I’d see you here; are you alright?”
Shen wipes off some dust on himself, and takes his belongings, “thanks.”
Zhao inadvertently stares at the pendant; on a closer look, it’s a small transparent sphere, and some substance inside is emanating a dazzling gleam. It’s probably some type of fluorescent material.
But he has never seen fluorescent light of this kind before; Zhao has the illusion that the sphere contains a burning flame… it’s almost as if it’s alive.
When he sees the spark of blaze, an inexplicable sense of familiarity and intimacy surges up.
But Zhao soon realises that it’s impolite to stare, so he looks away and says, “aren’t you afraid of radiation? It’s so bright, it might be harmful to your body.”
Shen hides the pendant under his clothes, smiles, and says nothing.
Zhao isn’t the curious type, he sees that Shen would rather not talk about it, so he stops asking. Zhao buttons up his cloak to hide his pajamas underneath, and says, “these thugs look strong on the outside, but they’re actually very cowardly, why are you afraid of them? Have you eaten? Come, I’ll treat you to supper, it will calm you down.”
Shen smiles, “you’re too generous, I should be treating you.”
He hesitates, and says while looking behind at the tied-up gangsters, “actually, they’re quite poor…”
Zhao faces the other way and rolls his eyes. He ignores him, and asks, “oh right, does Professor Shen live nearby? I’ve never seen you around here before?”
Shen’s eyes sadden, “it’s a big city after all, two people may never meet one another even if they live close by; but some day, perhaps they will start seeing each other all the time. I guess that is fate.”
Zhao laughs… being an introvert who stays at home all day, he doesn’t even know his neighbours; this really has nothing to do with fate.
Shen doesn’t say anything, he follows behind Zhao. Zhao doesn’t see it, but his eyes glare from behind, obscured by the glasses; his gaze is complex and difficult to understand, filled with greed and desire, but marked with self- restraint.