Title: Unshakeable determination
– Present –
At three o’clock in the morning, Jiang Xiaoning parked his car around the corner of the street, walked a few steps and pushed the door into a 24-hour convenience store.
He was going to walk over to the shelves, but the owner standing behind the counter said: “There’s no need to look around, I’m the only one here.”
Jiang Xiaoning casually grabbed a can of coffee and placed it on the counter: “A pack of cigarettes.”
The owner was a thin man; he glanced at Jiang Xiaoning from behind his glasses, and while turning around to get a cigarette from the cabinet behind him, he said: “I called, why didn’t you pick up?”
“Had work to deal with,” Jiang Xiaoning simply said, then took out his phone and turned it on.
The owner threw the pack of cigarettes on the table and started to scan the barcode of the coffee can. He paused when Jiang Xiaoning answered that question like that, then wrinkled his nose and sniffed the air: “That’s a fishy smell, blood?”
“It’s not mine.” Jiang Xiaoning stepped back a little, “How’s the investigation that I entrusted you with going?”
“Sorry, I still haven’t found anything on Yu Xiujun’s whereabouts. These are some information from her relatives and friends. You must have seen them already from when you had taken the job before though you may not have been as meticulous. You can take a look first.” The owner picked up the cigarette case and shook it gently to indicate that there was a flash drive inside before he then placed the cigarette and coffee in the bag, and pushed it over to him, “9.20 RMB.”
Jiang Xiaoning handed over 10 RMB: “I’ll transfer over the money to you later, your account hasn’t changed, right?”
The owner took the money and lowered his head to find the change in the cash register: “It changed, but you don’t have to ask. I want to repay your favor. You think I really want to swindle a few pennies from you, huh?”
He took a few coins from the register and unconsciously played with them in his hands before he spoke with a little hesitation: “There’s something else… although it’s not within the scope of my investigation, I think you need to know it.” He looked up at Jiang Xiaoning, “I took a risky move to follow Xin Muran in order to find a clue to Yu Xiujun.”
Jiang Xiaoning picked up the bag: “Did you get caught?”
“I’m not that useless yet.” The owner sneered, “He hasn’t accepted any jobs in quite some time, right? Well, I caught him sneakily tracking someone. I thought it had something to do with Yu Xiujun, so I kept an eye on him. But when it comes to tracking, he’s more adept than I am. I didn’t dare to follow him for too long. After determining where his target lives, I went over and waited around for any movement.”
“He stayed?” Jiang Xiaoning instinctively felt that something was wrong, and immediately asked.
The owner nodded: “The person lives in a small hotel next to the station. Yesterday afternoon, Xin Muran drove his car over to find him. Do you understand what I mean? He went to see that person as ‘Xin Muran.’ This situation… is really strange. He’s tracking others for his personal affairs this time. If this matter—”
He stopped. Jiang Xiaoning’s expression changed for a moment, his eyes widened just the slightest, and his pupils shrank instantly. The owner used his rich experience in interpreting expressions to read him and noticed his changes that included, vigilance, anger, anxiety, and fear – all were manifestations of someone being attacked or preparing to attack.
Jiang Xiaoning quickly lowered his eyes and asked in a deep voice, “Did you see that person?”
The owner thought for a while and described him objectively: “I checked the hotel registration information. The person’s name is Han Jia, and visually, he’s about 1.77 to 1.79 meters tall. He had on a light blue shirt and blue jeans. Physically, he’s thin and has a straight face, the bridge of his nose is also straight and the line from his cheekbones to his chin seems delicate. He has short hair with bangs, and his eyebrows are dark and sits at an angle. He doesn’t wear glasses, and has double eyelids, and the distance between his eyes is about—”
Jiang Xiaoning wanted to interrupt the owner, who had misunderstood what he meant. What he wanted to ask was not the name and appearance of the target that Xin Muran was tracking, but the details of their meeting. He tried to stop him with a gesture, or say something but although the hunch was there, the impact of hearing Han Jia’s name was just too great. He was unable to move from how suddenly his heartbeat had intensified. He just stood there, exhaled and inhaled deeply, and when the owner finally got to say the distance of the pupils, he interrupted him and asked: “Do you have his address?”
“It’s useless even if you have it, they left there already. Xin Muran arrived at the hotel at 5:10 in the afternoon and stayed in the man’s room for half an hour before the man walked out with him with his luggage.”
Jiang Xiaoning asked in detail: “Where did they go?”
The owner glared at him: “Are you kidding? That’s Xin Muran. I had only followed him for half an hour and was already soaked in cold sweat. Where would I find the guts to follow him still? Besides, I thought you only wanted to investigate Yu Xiujun…”
Jiang Xiaoning nodded, and went quiet for two seconds before he spoke again: “Thanks, please continue to check it out for me.”
The owner patted his chest: “Leave it to me.”
Jiang Xiaoning said his goodbye, walked out of the store and made his way slowly to his car on the corner of the street – it took him several tries before he could eventually open the car door.
He threw the bag in his hand on the passenger seat, slowly got into the car, then picked up his mobile phone and called Xin Muran.
The phone had been turned off.
Jiang Xiaoning dialed Xin Muran’s other number, but that was also turned off.
Due to the particularity of their profession, they seldom turn off their mobile phones. Naturally, Xin Muran was even keener about this sort of thing. Jiang Xiaoning stared at his phone and frowned from an ominous feeling that welled up in his chest. He started the car, and without any hesitation, drove to Han Jia’s old apartment.
With very few vehicles on the streets at night, he reached his destination in just a little over twenty minutes. He got out of the car and looked up – in the wee hours where all the lights from the windows had been switched off, the one he was looking for was undoubtedly still on.
He almost ran up the elevator all the way, practically flying to Han Jia’s door.
As he gasped hastily, he took the key from his pocket to open the door.
The moment he inserted the key into the keyhole, his hand stopped. It had already been two years since he had come here, what if Xin Muran had changed the lock…
Jiang Xiaoning put away the key, turned around, and walked toward the stairwell. He walked down for a while, pushed open the window at the end of the stairs, reached out, and turned over the window frame.
There were many pipes on the outer wall of the apartment building and many more footholds than at the previous buildings he had staked out. Jiang Xiaoning climbed out of the window and leaped on the wall, moving agilely from one foothold to the next as if he was walking on flat ground; very quickly he found the window to Han Jia’s bedroom.
He leaned forward and glanced in. There was a light in the room, but no one was in sight. There was a shirt on the bed that looked like Xin Muran’s. Jiang Xiaoning narrowed his eyes and looked in from another angle and discovered that there was light from under the bathroom door.
The micro-tools came in handy again. After an inaudible metal clash from the other side, Jiang Xiaoning gently opened the window and climbed in.
The sound of running water could still be faintly heard in the bathroom. Jiang Xiaoning frowned slightly and listened for a few seconds, making sure that there was only one person in the bathroom. He thought about it, turned around to close the window, then carefully opened the bedroom door, and went out.
The lights in the hall were off, and the guest room on the opposite side was dark, but the lights in the study room and the living room at the end of the hall was still brightly lit.
Jiang Xiaoning sauntered to the living room.
Nothing had changed. The decoration on the wall, the position of the potted plants, and even the study room door that was destroyed had been replaced with the same one. Obviously, Xin Muran had insisted on keeping everything as it was in the past two years.
The familiar sight slowed Jiang Xiaoning’s steps, and his vision slowly expanded. He had arrived in the living room only to see that it had also remained the same as it was five years ago – time seemed to have frozen in this place.
The sofa was still in the same spot, the fruits on the coffee table had not changed, even the position of the fruits had not changed, the carpet had not changed, the bead curtain connected to the kitchen had not changed, the tablecloth on the dining table had not changed, and even the back view…
Jiang Xiaoning almost felt dizzy. His eyes widened as he stared at the figure with his back facing him. The low voice of the convenience store owner seemed to ring in his ears again at this moment: light blue shirt, blue jeans, thin body… appeared lonely, but strangely reliable…
Jiang Xiaoning felt a rush of heat racing toward his eyes. With the way his heartbeat was so fast and so precise, he began to wonder why the person before him now was not disrupted by his heartbeat.
Jiang Xiaoning took a step forward, this time forgetting to hide the sound of his footsteps. The person with his back to him heard his footsteps, but did not turn his head, and asked with a relaxed tone: “What’s it gonna be, Officer Xin? Do you accept my proposal?”
Jiang Xiaoning’s mind was in a chaotic mess. It was impossible for him to deal with what he had just heard, but as if that seemingly lonesome back attracted his soul, he took another step forward.
His silence surprised the person. He hesitated for a moment and turned his head.
The lighting in the living room was so utterly bright that the person was illuminated, and his every feature seemed more apparent. He’s thin and has a straight face, the bridge of his nose is also straight, and the line from his cheekbones to his chin seems delicate. He has short hair with bangs, and his eyebrows… His complexion was off – it looked like he was tired or was upset about something. When his eyes caught sight of Jiang Xiaoning, he was very perplexed for some time before he stood up slowly. There was a smile on his lips, and his eyes were watery… his expression seemed ambiguous and distant, as if he was looking at the person who he cared about the most. Still, it also seemed like he didn’t care about anything or anyone – there was nothing in his heart.
He walked toward Han Jia. Han Jia was looking at him with an enigmatic smile—seeing such a familiar scene in a familiar place, Jiang Xiaoning felt a sharp pain in his chest. He stopped and stood in the same position as if he had gone insane, feeling for a moment that his life was crammed with illusions.
Those long and five years of agonizing pain were not real, those empty nights and apathetic days were not real, and the events that took place in the far west under the pretext of hatred along with Han Jia’s cold response were also not real. Han Jia had not left, and he hadn’t allowed himself to get caught up in the battles between others, didn’t learn the skills to disguise himself or kill others, didn’t learn to lie to others and even to himself… he was still that 17-year-old boy who was willful, bossy and greedy and had always thought of himself to be incomparably mature. But, in front of his lover, who was helpless and ever tolerant of him, he was naive and cruel, waiting for a moment to feign anger or get a hug from the result of it.
“Han Jia…” Jiang Xiaoning said, even he felt that his voice was hoarse and unpleasant.
Han Jia’s expression did not change as he asked in confusion, “How did you get in?”
Jiang Xiaoning turned a deaf ear and said “Han Jia” again. He wanted to walk over to hug him but stopped again and stared straight at him without blinking. “You’re here to find me, aren’t you?”
Han Jia looked at him as if he wanted to laugh, but the smile then slowly disappeared under his gaze. Jiang Xiaoning felt that that sort of tiredness had willfully reappeared on Han Jia’s face once more.
Jiang Xiaoning wanted to erase his tired expression, and wanted to say that ‘I came in from the window’, ‘I have a question to ask you’, then also ask him why he had come here with Xin Muran, and what Xin Muran said to him, but the twinge in his heart that brought him joy and happiness resurfaced again. He couldn’t control himself, and instead, asked the question he cared about most:
“You came back for me… you came back for me, didn’t you?”
But before Jiang Xiaoning was able to say this sentence, his expression had changed dramatically. He had already seen the bite mark on Han Jia’s ear. It was clearly a new wound, and the clotting blood scab was still so brightly red.
Jiang Xiaoning lowered his head, walked a few steps to Han Jia, and reached out to hold his face. Han Jia moved slightly, as if trying to evade him, but in the end, he stood where he was, and allowed Jiang Xiaoning to touch his ear.
The bite marks stretched along Han Jia’s neckline all the way to his collar. Jiang Xiaoning reached out to lift the collar of his shirt, but Han Jia held his wrist.
Jiang Xiaoning wanted to free himself of his grasp and placed his fingers on his shoulders. Han Jia used some more strength but didn’t speak.
His strength was nothing against the current Jiang Xiaoning, but Jiang Xiaoning still stopped, gritted his teeth, and squeezed some words from between his teeth: “Was it him? You two…”
Han Jia’s reaction was quite strange. He glanced at Jiang Xiaoning, the tiredness in his eyes, becoming even more oppressive. He gave a low sneer and turned his face away.
That expression made Jiang Xiaoning both angry and flustered. He took Han Jia’s hand and walked toward the door and said, “Come with me!”
“Jiang Xiaoning, Xiaoning,” Han Jia was dragged by him as he tried to get out of his hold. His voice was low and riddled with anxiety, “I can’t right now. I still have things to handle, stop acting crazy like this, let go first…”
He struggled. Jiang Xiaoning had to turn around and lowered his head to look at him: “You come back for me, I came to look for you here, the two of us, the two of us…” He could not express his thoughts adequately, and his voice carried a hint of grievance, “Han Jia, what are you insisting on? Let me take you away, I—”
“How unsightly,” a cold tone interrupted his words. Jiang Xiaoning quickly pulled Han Jia behind him and stared at Xin Muran, who had appeared at some point.
He was standing at the door of the living room – apparently, having just come out of the shower – with a bath towel around his waist. Clearly, it was his clothes that were disheveled, but he looked arrogant and disdainful, as if it was Jiang Xiaoning who should be ashamed.
Jiang Xiaoning sneered. He took a step forward, and his foot flew at its target. Xin Muran dodged his kick and struck Jiang Xiaoning in the head. Jiang Xiaoning, unexpectedly, grabbed his wrist and twisted it hard, causing his movement to stagnate. Within just two seconds, Jiang Xiaoning’s other hand had already formed a fist, smashing heavily on the side of Xin Muran’s mouth.
Xin Muran seemed not to have foreseen Jiang Xiaoning to be infuriated to this extent. After being struck, he quickly retreated, trying to avoid any more attacks, mainly because he only had a bath towel on his body. This retreat had put him in a particularly difficult position, and Jiang Xiaoning had already taken advantage of this, single-handedly gripping him by the neck and pressing him on the wall.
“You dare to touch him? You fucking dare to touch him?!” Jiang Xiaoning roared and even his eyes were red as he tightened his grip.
The corners of Xin Muran’s mouth was completely covered with blood, but as he held both of Jiang Xiaoning’s wrists tightly, trying to pull his hands off his neck, he actually started to laugh.
“Who touched who, huh?” He laughed; there was a kind of triumphant emotion wrapped with excitement in his eyes, “Have you clearly asked yet? Who touched who, huh?”
Jiang Xiaoning was riled up by the look in his eyes and pushed his forearm on his chest, intending to forcefully throw Xin Muran to the floor. However, Xin Muran himself possessed some skills, after all, he stopped him. He staggered two steps back and came to a standstill. Then he touched his neck and looked up at Jiang Xiaoning, yet instead was talking to Han Jia.
“Han-laoban, you don’t want to say anything?”
Han Jia kept looking at them in silence, and when he heard Xin Muran’s question, he asked in a deep voice: “I just want to know, do you accept my proposal or not?”
“What proposal? Han Jia, don’t make any deals with him!” Jiang Xiaoning turned to face Han Jia and barked, “This person has always gone back on his words, and he treated you—”
The more he talked, the more anxious and he couldn’t help but take a few steps toward Han Jia, but Han Jia’s gaze never landed on him and instead remained on Xin Muran.
“I don’t accept it.” Xin Muran wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand and smiled. “Han-laoban, you know I can’t accept it, why do you like to make things difficult for me?”
When he asked the latter sentence, his voice was slow and gentle; however, in Jiang Xiaoning’s ears, they were simply words of provocation. He clenched his fist and took a step forward, ready to teach him another lesson.
His shoulders tensed up, Han Jia had held him back.
A rush of anger rose in Jiang Xiaoning’s chest. Just as he was about to shake off Han Jia’s hand, he could sense Han Jia’s hand on his shoulder press down harder. His voice was tense: “Didn’t you want me to go with you?”
Jiang Xiaoning froze for a moment before he suddenly looked back at Han Jia. Han Jia didn’t even glance at him and still maintained a stern look at Xin Muran.
Xin Muran also looked at him and said in a low voice: “Han-laoban, I have often gone back on my words with others, but I have never deceived you. The matter with Yan Ming, Xiao Rong, and Luo Dong, I have kept my promise for all of them. If you can try your best to accept my proposal, the things that I have promised you, I will get them done no matter what.” After taking a look at Jiang Xiaoning, he slowly smiled, “Since you said you don’t have any intention of being with my shidi,1 what’s so bad about agreeing with me?”
Xin Muran had known this shidi for five years and was reasonably familiar with his temper. Those words were the same as if one was lighting a fire, and the word “shidi” was just like the action of pouring a bucket of oil on the fire. Jiang Xiaoning gritted his teeth, clenched his fists, and his shoulder muscles became tense.
Han Jia patted Jiang Xiaoning on the shoulder, and said to Xin Muran, “Since I rejected your proposal, and you rejected my proposal, what else is there to talk about?”
Xin Muran said: “How regretful.”
Han Jia sighed, “Indeed.” He paused, “I didn’t expect you to keep this place for me, but even if I want it, it’s useless. Just do with it as you please. You’re a skilled individual. It shouldn’t be hard for you to sell it if you wanted to.”
Xin Muran’s face was very unsightly.
Jiang Xiaoning didn’t want to stay here for a moment longer, and asked Han Jia in a low voice, “Let’s go?”
Han Jia turned his head to look at him. His gaze only held his – under the light, they were like two vast oceans of water, deep and clear.
His eyes remained on him for some time, revealing the ambiguous and watery look in his eyes once again as he smiled. “Okay.”
Hi there, sorry for the late update; I got caught up with laundry and a bunch of other shenanigans T_T
1 Shidi (师兄弟) – junior