Editor(s): grape seed
It was 10:30 at night. The car was parked in the underground parking lot of Yu Jianqiang’s company building.
“We haven’t been trapped in the same day, have we?”
Zhou Luoyang thought back to the time loop movies he’d seen before and was suddenly struck with fear.
By now, Du Jing hadn’t slept for nearly forty-eight hours, but nonetheless, he was very alert. “The day hasn’t ended yet.”
Zhou Luoyang asked, “Why is it only happening to you and me?”
Even now, Zhou Luoyang was full of shock and uncertainty, and he felt like he was dreaming.
“No idea,” Du Jing responded bluntly.
Suddenly, Zhou Luoyang grabbed Du Jing’s hand and looked at him suspiciously. As he looked into his eyes, Du Jing could tell what he wanted to say: Are you real?
The rapport between them was simply too strong; even though they’d been separated for many years, that kind of rapport wasn’t weakened by time at all.
“Yes,” Du Jing said lowly, “I think this is all real. At least right now, you and I really exist.”
“But why…” There were too many unresolved uncertainties occupying Zhou Luoyang's mind.
Du Jing led him into the elevator. He eyed the camera on the ceiling. “Some supernatural power? Is it that important? Can we look into it after we get back?”
Zhou Luoyang wasn’t sure whether he should be laughing or crying. “Now what? What are you going to do?”
The floor number displayed on the elevator changed rapidly.
“I'm going to go back to the company to pick something up," Du Jing replied.
“If you’re sure Yu Jianqiang is going to kill himself, shouldn’t you be with your boss right now, trying to talk him out of it…?”
“As soon as I left the warehouse, I became a suspect. They suspect that I pushed him off the roof.”
Zhou Luoyang: "......"
He was beginning to grasp the gravity of the situation. What kind of profession had Du Jing taken up, exactly? They hadn’t seen each other for three years, and from the moment he reappeared, he’d carried this perpetual air of mystery and never explained himself.
Du Jing took out his company card, swiped them into the executive management floor, and walked straight into the building in a practiced, familiar way.
“I don’t have an alibi,” Du Jing said. “I wanted to buy you lunch, but right when I went outside, I got taken into a police car. When I got out of the car, time suddenly turned back twenty-four hours. I don’t know why.”
“What were you doing when he killed himself?”
Du Jing didn’t answer as he led Zhou Luoyang past several cubicles. “Walk here. It’s the camera’s blind spot.”
Zhou Luoyang finally couldn’t take it anymore and demanded, “What’s your job, exactly?! There’s no way you’re Yu Jianqiang’s assistant!”
Du Jing still didn’t answer. He had Zhou Luoyang sit on a chair as he pulled out a file from a cabinet and said, “This is my desk. Wait here. I’m going to open the door to his office. Don’t wander around.”
“Answer my question first, or else I’m leaving right now. Leyao’s still waiting for me to go home and help him shower.”
Du Jing had barely taken a few steps when Zhou Luoyang stood up. “You don’t believe me?”
Du Jing came to a stop but didn’t turn around. He was silent for three seconds, then replied, “Since nine, I sat on a chair outside your building—I sat there all night, until the sun came up.”
Zhou Luoyang fell silent. Du Jing put on a pair of gloves and tapped the keypad on Yu Jianqiang’s office door; the numbers lit up in succession.
Du Jing flipped open the file and inspected the photographs in it, picking out the fingerprint markings from the photos.
Zhou Luoyang furrowed his brows and gazed at Du Jing’s tall, upright figure from behind. A few beeps, and the lit-up numbers on the electric keypad began to dim—he failed to open the door.
Zhou Luoyang shifted his attention to Du Jing’s desk. The top of the desk was very tidy, and it only had a laptop, which was plugged in and charging, and a pull-tab can, which was filled with a little bit of soil, out of which grew a tiny green seedling. A thoughtful design had been scratched onto the can with a key: “DZ.” The angles of the “Z” overlapped onto the letter “D.”
“This kind of electronic lock usually only lets you get it wrong three times,” Zhou Luoyang reminded after hearing it beep in failure a second time. “Then you’ll have to go into your boss’s office to steal stuff some other day.”
Du Jing hesitated for a moment, his brows knitted. He’d figured out the numbers that made up the six-digit password via the fingerprints, but it was difficult to figure out the order they went in. But after two entire months of observation, he had no choice but to take this risk today out of desperation.
Because Yu Jianqiang would soon kill himself. And after that, his office would be sealed off with police tape, and he would never be able to get inside again.
“No need to do it on a different day. What if September seventh repeats itself again?” Du Jing said easily.
“Don’t say that!” Goosebumps suddenly erupted all over Zhou Luoyang's skin.
The lock chimed melodically—it was open. Du Jing felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Next, he would face the second ordeal.
“Come on,” Du Jing said. “It’s up to you now.”
Du Jing turned on the desk lamp in the office and closed the door behind him. He pointed at a safe under the bookshelf. “Help me open it.”
Zhou Luoyang: “…………………………”
They stared at each other for a long moment. Zhou Luoyang finally understood why Du Jing had randomly asked about a safe yesterday afternoon.
“I’ll need to go back and grab the manual,” Zhou Luoyang said.
“You can do it,” Du Jing encouraged him. “You don’t need the manual.”
Zhou Luoyang: “……”
“You always remember the things I ask you to pay attention to.”
Finally, Zhou Luoyang instructed, “Get me a glass cup.”
Du Jing found a glass cup on the table and gave it to him, then took off his gloves and tossed those over as well.
Zhou Luoyang could only kneel in front of the bookshelf and put on the gloves. The gloves were very thin and still warm from Du Jing’s body heat. They even kind of smelled like him.
“Did you switch careers to being a thief?” Zhou Luoyang pressed the glass against the safe, listening to the noises from inside.
Zhou Luoyang down on one knee, and he had to tilt sideways in order to make out the mechanical clicking from inside the safe. Du Jing walked over and sat on a chair in front of him, crossing his legs.
Du Jing faced Zhou Luoyang. He leaned forward a little bit and gazed into his eyes.
“I’ve thought about being a thief,” Du Jing said, “but unfortunately, there are many things in this world that you can’t steal, even if you had magical powers.”
“You’ve managed to steal an entire twenty-four hours of time.”
Zhou Luoyang turned the dial while looking up at Du Jing. The light of the table lamp was neither bright nor dim. As it shone on the side of Du Jing’s face, his abstruse eyes and the scar that ran across the bridge of his nose looked particularly handsome. He was more mature now than he was three years ago, and more reserved.
“To me, time isn’t the most important thing,” Du Jing said offhandedly.
“Then what do you want to steal?” Zhou Luoyang had a feeling that whatever was inside the safe must be very, very important, otherwise Du Jing wouldn’t take such a risk and choose to break into Yu Jianqiang’s office at the very last minute.
Du Jing’s lips parted ever so slightly. “Your heart,” he replied.
Zhou Luoyang didn’t respond, too lazy to bother. He just concentrated on listening to the sounds of the safe.
After a long period of silence, Zhou Luoyang couldn’t resist piping up again. “Say something? I’m so tired I’m about to fall asleep.”
“I was worried I’d distract you.”
“What do you take me for? Are you looking down on me?”
Du Jing asked seriously, “What do you want to talk about?”
In the late night, with the lighting of the table lamp, there was an unusual sort of romantic atmosphere inside the room.
“Kneeling in your direction makes me very unhappy.” Zhou Luoyang strained to listen for the right sound from the safe.
Du Jing got down and knelt in front of Zhou Luoyang. Zhou Luoyang was on one knee; Du Jing was on two. In that fashion, the two of them knelt facing each other, looking into each other’s eyes, motionless.
“How about this?” Du Jing studied Zhou Luoyang’s expression.
“Still too tall,” Zhou Luoyang said, scrunching up his brows.
Even kneeling, Du Jing was still a little taller than Zhou Luoyang. At his words, he bowed down a little bit, and their faces drew a little bit closer together.
Zhou Luoyang gazed at him unwaveringly. "Have the past few years treated you okay?"
"They've been awful," Du Jing answered. "Awful like you couldn't imagine."
"Ever thought about killing yourself?"
"No, I promised you that if I'm leaving, I'd conscientiously and courteously say goodbye, so I have to follow through."
"So you're back now to say goodbye?"
"The time hasn't come yet."
"That's good then." Zhou Luoyang was satisfied with his response.
"You just want me to live so I can suffer."
"Yep," Zhou Luoyang agreed, "I get really happy when I see you suffering."
"You mean imagine me suffering," Du Jing corrected.
“Same thing,” Zhou Luoyang countered.
“Tired? Want to change your position?”
Du Jing stopped talking again for a while. Zhou Luoyang remarked, “Your faith in me is slowly waning as the minutes go by.”
“It’s okay, we still have plenty of time. I’m willing to kneel until morning. This thing has a code, so of course it’ll require patience. I didn’t have very high hopes to begin with anyway.”
“As long as there’s a locking mechanism, there’ll have to be mechanisms in place in case the key is forgotten. Most safes can be reset; it’s just that many people don’t know it.”
He could tell that he almost had it. And then he heard a very quiet click from inside the safe.
He set down the glass, and Du Jing immediately shined his phone’s flashlight onto the dial. Zhou Luoyang found the tiny corresponding notch and began to reset it. The safe opened.
Du Jing reached forward, pulling a thick file envelope from the safe.
“What’s this?” Zhou Luoyang asked.
Du Jing replied, “Account books and the company’s financial details.”
Then he grabbed Zhou Luoyang’s hand and felt around inside the safe; it was empty, so he closed it.
There was a distant beep.
Zhou Luoyang turned, looking all over in search of the source of the noise. Du Jing, however, recognized it as the sound of the ID reader.
In a split second, he came to a decision. He pulled Zhou Luoyang up and shoved the file envelope into his arms. At the same time, he rolled the glass cup under the bookshelf. As he rose, he sprang toward the doorknob, twisted it, and exited the office. As he did so, he grabbed Zhou Luoyang, placing a hand over his mouth to prevent him from making any noise.
Zhou Luoyang stumbled, his feet numb from kneeling so long. Du Jing immediately noticed and picked him up, darting across the carpet outside the office. He stuffed Zhou Luoyang under his desk, then leaned over the desk.
A second after he sat down, all the lights on the executive management floor lit up.
Yu Jianqiang came inside carrying a duffel bag. Immediately he saw Du Jing and received a fright—he hadn’t expected that someone would still be in the office at nearly midnight.
“What are you doing here?”
Du Jing looked up blankly and stood, but Yu Jianqiang motioned at him to sit back down.
“I came back to think about something,” Du Jing said, “and fell asleep while doing it.”
Yu Jianqiang nodded and didn’t probe. He turned around, swiped his card, and walked into his office as if there was something weighing heavily on his mind.
Zhou Luoyang was huddled under the desk. Sandwiched between Du Jing’s legs, he couldn’t really move around, nor could he poke his head out to see what was going on, so he began to undo the tie on the file envelope, making quiet rustling noises.
Immediately, Du Jing kicked his shoe off his foot and gently nudged Zhou Luoyang’s chest with his foot, hinting at him to not open up the file envelope on his own. Zhou Luoyang grabbed hold of Du Jing’s ankle, wanting to tickle him, but Du Jing withdrew his foot and reached a hand under the table, handing him a wireless earphone.
That wasn't what Zhou Luoyang had expected.
Zhou Luoyang stopped messing with him and put in the wireless earphone. Du Jing put in the other one. From the earphones, which were connected to a bug planted inside the office, they could hear the sound of Yu Jianqiang on the phone.
“How much do you want?” Yu Jianqiang was saying, holding in his anger. “Again and again and again. There’s a limit to my patience!”
Zhou Luoyang wondered, Is he being extorted?
Yu Jianqiang said, “This is the last time. Make sure to bring your stuff.”
Zhou Luoyang listened to Yu Jianqiang’s phone call as he put Du Jing’s shoe back on his foot. Then he placed his right hand, with the thin leather glove still on it, on Du Jing’s thigh, giving him a gentle pat.
Du Jing placed a hand on top of Zhou Luoyang’s, curling his fingers under the edge of the glove. Gently, he removed it and placed it in the pocket of his suit.
Yu Jianqiang came back out, carrying his bag. Du Jing asked, “Should I send you home?”
“No need,” Yu Jianqiang said. “Go home and get some rest soon.”
Du Jing didn’t say anything else. Yu Jianqiang’s expression was very unnatural as he left the office. After a long while, Zhou Luoyang crawled out from under the desk and met Du Jing’s eyes.
“What if he said yes? Were you going to just let me walk home?” Zhou Luoyang sighed.
Du Jing propped his foot on the desk and tied the laces of his leather shoes. He still had that cold, expressionless look on his face. “He wouldn’t have. The bag’s full of cash—five, six hundred thousand.”
“Oh?” Zhou Luoyang set the file envelope on the desk, and Du Jing re-fastened the string. Rising to his feet, he said, “I’ll send you home first.”
Zhou Luoyang asked, “And sit in my neighborhood all night again?”
Du Jing didn’t utter a word and headed to the security office to delete the elevator surveillance footage. After they got in the car, Zhou Luoyang said, “Suddenly I changed my mind.”
“You haven’t slept in so long. Aren’t you tired at all?” Du Jing asked.
Zhou Luoyang shot back, “You haven’t slept for many days straight, and you’re not tired either.”
“I’m ill, you’re not,” Du Jing said simply.
“You want to send me home, then follow Yu Jianqiang.”
Du Jing turned the steering wheel, steering the car around a corner, and didn’t say anything.
“How about I go with you? I’ll sleep in the car for now. Wake me up when we get there.”
Du Jing still didn’t speak.
Finally, Zhou Luoyang said, “The suit fits pretty well.”
“It’s company-issued. Shirt, shoes, and socks, too.” Du Jing could tell what Zhou Luoyang was trying to imply. “I'm still single. Haven’t gone and ruined anyone else's life.”
“Alright.” Zhou Luoyang closed his eyes and leaned against the car window.
This chapter is migrated and/or formatted by our fellow chicken enthusiast(s), Cat.