Hong Sheng had some small savings from his time at work. He submitted his resignation that afternoon. It had taken him a long time to get accustomed to the busy city again. He was too used to the deathly quiet, the shuffle and moan of zombies, the need to hide in corners and search for dangers. Crowds made his chest tighten until he couldn’t breathe, and he’d spent the better part of an hour curled up in an alley, hiding and trying not to make noise while he hyperventilated.
It was unbelievable how many people were still alive, now. They were so… innocent. Chatting and laughing and fighting over inconsequential things, unknowing of the danger looming just before them.
In just three months, 80% of these people will all die.
The thought rang behind Hong Sheng’s eyes, and he found that he couldn’t bear to look at anyone’s face.
After quitting work he had retreated to his apartment, locking the door and rolling himself into a ball under the blankets of his bed. He didn’t leave for the rest of the day.
But he couldn’t just hide forever.
Hong Sheng had a second chance. He thought it over, and could only think of one thing do with it.
He wanted to see Lu Hao.
He told himself that he would help Lu Hao with his future knowledge, but no one knew better than Hong Sheng that his actions would have no impact on the flow of things. One little Hong Sheng was not enough to change anything for anyone; Lu Hao had established the base and become a hero long before Hong Sheng had even entered the picture. Hong Sheng was sure that after his death, Lu Hao’s life would have continued the same as it always had. Maybe Lu Hao would be a little sad to have seen his old friend die without being able to save him. In the elevator, surely those two beauties were comforting him while the zombies tore Hong Sheng apart. And when Lu Hao returned to the stronghold, there were the other dozens of beautiful people waiting for him as well… there probably wasn’t a thought left for Hong Sheng after that.
Still, Lu Hao was an honorable person, and a good friend. After all, he’d come back to the tunnels to end Hong Sheng and free his soul. Lu Hao had even cried for his death. (Hong Sheng had thought that no one, not even his father, would have cried for him).
Hong Sheng was well-aware that in the grand scheme of things, he was nothing more than cannon fodder. He was just one of the many who admired Lu Hao, who would give their lives for him. He wasn’t significant in any way.
But even so—
In his heart, he still kept the humble wish of wanting to stay by Lu Hao’s side.
There was a phone that Hong Sheng had gotten for work. He had never called anyone else with it, but today, he held the phone up to his ear and waited for it to connect.
Ring, ring, the phone trilled. Then, a click.
A warm and deep voice. Hong Sheng’s eyes fluttered shut.
“Hello, Lu Hao. It’s… it’s Hong Sheng. I have something I want to say to you. Can we meet?”
“So,” Lu Hao said. He sat at the other side of the table, a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. The afternoon light bathed his features warmly, making him look even more beautiful and elegant. Lu Hao’s deep eyes regarded Hong Sheng with a focus that made him squirm. A smile lit up Lu Hao’s face, and he continued, “Hong Sheng, I didn’t expect you to contact me. I had been looking for you.”
Hong Sheng ducked his head. “I’m sorry. It was my mistake.”
“You should have told me, you know. If I knew your father kicked you out, I would have made you stay at my place. You didn’t have to go through that alone.”
“I- I know. But I got a job, and I was able to live well for a while, so…”
“So you thought you didn’t need me anymore?” Lu Hao tapped a finger on the table. The smile on his face was sharp. Somehow even at eighteen Lu Hao still had the same pressure as when he was twenty-six and the leader of the SG.
“That’s not it,” Hong Sheng said. “I just… I was afraid of dragging you down.” Hong Sheng clutched his tea closer, his shoulders rising defensively.
“I was scared,” he admitted quietly, “and ashamed. I didn’t think I could face you.”
The two of them went silent. Lu Hao looked at Hong Sheng like he was trying to understand. The waitress came and left a plate of snacks on the table. Lu Hao thanked her and pushed the plate over to Hong Sheng.
“You should eat,” he said gently.
The plate was full of egg custard tarts, osmanthus jellies, sesame balls, and all the other sweets Hong Sheng had loved to eat on those days when Lu Hao dragged him out for lunch. For Hong Sheng, it had been over ten years since he had tasted any of these.
Hong Sheng found his eyes watering up, and he lowered his head to hide from Lu Hao’s gaze. “Thank you,” he said, and pulled a few snacks to eat.
Lu Hao watched him, not eating any himself, only sipping leisurely from his coffee. He had never been one for sweets in the first place. Hong Sheng knew that he actually had a bit of an old man’s taste, preferring things like dried squid and salted anchovies. In the apocalypse, when they’d raided stores and warehouses, Lu Hao was always happiest to crunch on the dried seafood snacks on the way back.
“What do you do for work?” Lu Hao asked.
Hong Sheng paused in nibbling the jelly. “Physical computing consulting at Y company.”
“Do you have to work tomorrow?”
Setting down the jelly, Hong Sheng found himself growing nervous. “Not tomorrow,” he said.
“The day after?”
“A week after that?”
Hong Sheng pursed his lips and looked away. “Never,” he finally admitted. “I resigned from my job.”
He waited for Lu Hao to ask questions about why, and what he was going to do from now on, and how was he going to support himself. Hong Sheng didn’t know how he would answer. It’s not as if he could say ‘Work doesn’t matter anymore since the apocalypse is coming in three months’.
Unexpectedly, Lu Hao just sipped from his coffee. When he set down the cup, he said, “Come stay with me, Hong Sheng.”
Hong Sheng blinked. He thought he misheard.
“You’re not working anymore, so there’s no reason to stay at your apartment,” Lu Hao reasoned. “It’s better to stay at my place. We can go to the villa - you won’t ever see your father from there, not like if we stayed at my house. And it’s a better location, anyway.” He paused. “You remember the villa, right?”
Hong Sheng nodded his head, not trusting his voice. Head spinning, he eventually asked, “What about your parents?”
Lu Hao smiled, his dark eyes twinkling in the sunlight. “They’re on a vacation trip to Iceland for several months. You don’t have to worry about them.”
With the matter decided, Lu Hao stood and patted Hong Sheng on the shoulder.
“We’ll hire movers to bring your things,” he said.
And without even letting Hong Sheng refuse, he walked out.
Hong Sheng didn’t have much, so he desperately called Lu Hao to refuse the movers. “That’s fine. Just bring yourself then,” Lu Hao had said, leaving Hong Sheng feeling dizzy.
Hong Sheng stepped into the villa, the future base of operations, much earlier than he had expected. He thought that in the three months before the apocalypse he would be rebuilding Lu Hao’s trust and paving the way toward being invited to escape the city with him. He hadn’t thought that coming to the villa would be as simple as this.
The villa was large and open. The windows streamed in heavy sunlight, and trees swayed in the wind outside. It was beautiful, but also defenseless. In the past life, it had already been converted to a fortress by the time Hong Sheng had arrived. The windows had been welded shut with metal, and barricades impeded anything from approaching too quickly.
But for now it was a home, bright and airy.
“Hong Sheng, your room will be on the third floor,” Lu Hao said. Hong Sheng followed him up the steps, and gaped in surprise when Lu Hao pushed open the door to the balcony room.
In the past life, Lu Hao had used this room as the core of the stronghold. It was far away from all entryways, making it the easiest place to defend from invaders. It also had a small balcony from which one could climb onto the roof. Hong Sheng had used this position to snipe at faraway zombies before.
It was a stroke of luck to be offered this place. In fact, it felt almost too good for him. But Lu Hao had already prepared a bed and furniture for him, and he had even smiled and said, “My room is right across the hall from yours,” so Hong Sheng lost all will to refuse.
“Thank you,” he said instead, face turned to the floor.
“Hong Sheng.” A large hand grasped his chin, tilting Hong Sheng’s face up. Lu Hao looked at him warmly. “If you’re going to thank me, look at me when you do.”
Hong Sheng’s face flushed and he sputtered, jerking away from the sudden intimacy. Lu Hao laughed and released him.
“You never change,” he said. His voice was unmistakably happy.