Book 8 Chapter 10: Return

Xiao Xia finally returned two days later, though she first stopped by her rented apartment.

She had been staying at Ruan Zhan’s place previously, but her apartment’s lease was renewed annually so the place was still hers. It had just been uninhabited for a long time, and the room was permeated with the smell of mildew.

After cleaning up a bit, she opened up her windows to air out the place. She decided to live here. There wasn’t much danger at the moment so she shouldn’t keep hanging around Ruan Zhan’s place. Besides, she felt Ah Bai was right. Perhaps she had been too clingy. It was better to give each other some space. Even if she couldn’t get his love, she would be able to see many things more clearly. As the saying goes, a step back reveals boundless possibilities!

She planned on finding a job in the afternoon before buying some daily necessities. Her fridge needed cleaning and her bathroom too. Or perhaps she should get some new clothes to adjust her emotions. Otherwise, she could go dye her hair…

As she pondered on such trifles, she caught sight of herself in the mirror. Her face was panicked and nervous. Only then did she realize her plans were just to delay things, excuses to avoid meeting Ruan Zhan. She was afraid of seeing an uncaring expression on his face, or even a mocking one. She had run off on her own, and then had come running back dejected and depressed!

After hesitating for a long time, she still forced herself to go face him. She just had to look carefree and cool. Some of the married older sisters at the Vast Sky law firm had said that men couldn’t be forced into things. As long as you didn’t pay attention to him, he would pay attention to you.

But could she stop paying attention to him?

Regardless, Xiao Xia still headed to the bar. On the way there, she stopped by a beauty parlor and got a whole body treatment. Then, she got a haircut and a new outfit, wasting away the entire afternoon. Yet come evening when the bar was busiest, she ran out of excuses and walked through the doors of the Nocturnal Revenant. Well, it was more like she was forced through the doors. As she stood outside hesitating and looking around, she had gotten in the way of two young girls who were in pursuit of Liu Tie and Ni Yang. In the end, she was unceremoniously squeezed inside.

Her inadvertent “intrusion”, highlighted by the chattering of those girls, caught everyone’s attention. At that moment, she was a little at a loss despite having seen Bao Da Tong behind the bar instead of Ruan Zhan while she was outside.

She quickly looked around. Ruan Zhan wasn’t there, and neither was Wan Li. Her emotions were complicated. She felt some relief, but also some disappointment.

“Xiao Xia!” Bao Da Tong yelled weirdly in pleasant surprise. His voice was loud enough to make everyone jump. “Why are you back?”

His words were really jarring, as if she shouldn’t have come back!

Bao Da Tong was too excited to walk properly, and vaulted directly over the bar. Xiao Xia glared at him, blustering, “I finished my trip, so can’t I come?” Aren’t you guys already open for business?”

“You can, you can. Welcome to our establishment!” Bao Da Tong seemed extremely happy. “Come, give your senior apprentice brother a hug. Let me see if you’ve lost weight.”

Xiao Xia shoved his arms away, but was also very glad at seeing his excitement upon her return. She was about to speak when she heard a clatter by the staircase. Wan Li’s figure appeared.

“Damn lass, you still know to come back! You went on a trip and didn’t even think to call. Did you bring me back any presents?”

It was still Wan Li who was better with people. He didn’t mention her running away and gave her an easy out. His joy and concern were so genuine that Xiao Xia instantly forgot the reason she had left in anger. She even thought she had truly just gone on a trip.

He was so warm and considerate, such a good man. He always made others feel comfortable. If she fell in love with him, her life would probably be peaceful and happy. He would always cherish her, right? Yet she just insisted on falling in love with that unfathomable, distant Ruan Zhan. Yet she actually didn’t regret any of it. When she thought of him, her heart would tense up!

“There should be some gifts for us, right?” Bao Da Tong heckled. Liu Tie and Ni Yang also came to join the fun. At that moment, the bar seemed to revolve around Xiao Xia.

“You guys didn’t pay for my travel expenses, and I almost had to beg for food. How could I have the money for gifts?” Xiao Xia rolled her eyes at them, thinking that these men really got along well. Yet she still went to the far end of the bar, sneaking a glance at the staircase, searching for the figure she yearned for.

Was he not here? Where had he gone? Or did he not want to see her? The second floor’s soundproofing was really that good. No matter how loudly Bao Da Tong yelled, Ruan Zhan wouldn’t have heard unless he had sensed her return. During that moment of nervousness, she had stopped purposefully blocking off her mind. But why had Wan Li run downstairs in joy while he remained absent? Was it that hard to face her?

Her thoughts were a mess and her emotions uneasy until two long legs appeared on the stairs. Then, a man appeared hesitantly before Xiao Xia.

It was him! The person she loved and hated! He still looked calm and distant, still with that cool and simple outfit and hairstyle. Yet his entire being had become more haggard, a little different from before. At that moment, his hand was gripping the railing so tightly his fingers had turned white. His face was even paler, his eyes which were dark as night glittered, causing everything else in the bar to dim!

She had imagined the scene countless times. She had planned on greeting him coolly, as if nothing had happened. She had planned on maturely and casually resolving the awkwardness, yet when their eyes met, Xiao Xia instinctively wanted to flee, though her feet were rooted in place.

“Xiao Xia, weren’t you going to go upstairs to grab some things? What are you spacing out for?!”

Wan Li was so great! He was so great! He was helping her out once again!

“Oh.” Xiao Xia responded and slowly went up the stairs. Each step took her closer to Ruan Zhan. She felt his breath around her, causing her heart to almost burst from her throat!

She walked past him and continued up the stairs, sensing his somewhat week footsteps behind her. When she got to the room, she suddenly turned around. Despite feeling very timid herself, she looked at him provocatively. She saw his gaze fall upon her. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but didn’t end up saying anything.

“I’m…going to live at home.” After a while, Xiao Xia came up with one line.

“Why?” Ruan Zhan blurted.

“Because…there isn’t much danger at the moment. I can’t just keep loafing around here.”

“I like it when you loaf around.” Ruan Zhan responded without thinking once again, the implied meaning in his words startling even himself.

Xiao Xia lowered her head, hiding the secret delight she felt. It turns out he did have some feelings for her. At least, he viewed her differently compared to everyone else. This meant that if she worked hard, she might very well obtain his heart.

Seeing her lower her head, seeing her delicate nape, Ruan Zhan really wanted to pull her into his arms and never let go. At that moment, he suddenly felt uncertain, and suddenly felt very afraid. He wasn’t sure if it was really her standing before him. He was afraid that if he blinked, she would disappear once again.

He couldn’t help but want to reach out and touch her short hair, touch her cute ear beneath the hair. Yet in the end, he suppressed the urge and lowered his hand.

Was it better to be apart in life, or be parted in death? Which one was better for her? He had long since made his decision. Yet the violent longing in his heart, the ceaseless turmoil, constantly made him doubt his decision. Perhaps that was human nature. No matter how intelligent, calm and rational the person, they were all fools in front of true emotion. Worry, uncertainty over previous choices and indecision over the next steps.

It would be easy for him to not care about it all. However, the Calamity of Threes was like a blade hanging over his neck. How could he relax? Furthermore, for some reason he felt that the more he loved her, the more he wouldn’t be able to overcome the fated tribulation. Would she have to face being parted in death? No! He would rather she resent him, hate him, than have he live a life of sadness.

“I should still probably move back home. I won’t stand on ceremony when the time comes for me to be shameless.” Seeing him remain silent and even take a step back, Xiao Xia hurriedly remedied the situation. She reminded herself he must have his troubles and she shouldn’t rush things, although she really wanted to bare her heart to him.

Ruan Zhan didn’t speak so she could only randomly grab a few things and then walk past him again. Yet he unexpectedly grabbed her wrist. “Where did you go during this period of time?”

“Travelled around randomly.” Xiao Xia put on a casual front. “My itinerary was rather flexible.”

Ruan Zhan glanced at her face and furrowed his brows. “You didn’t encounter anything?”

Xiao Xia hesitated and decided not to tell him about He Fu Gui. Why worry him without any reason? She had already escaped the two yakshas anyway. She would come up with a way to deal with He Fu Gui in the future. It wasn’t for her own sake, but for his wife who had been sold by him. Of course, it would be with legal means.

“I didn’t.”

“The yang flames above your head has a chill aura. You must have encountered something.” He had been too excited when seeing her, and only noticed the abnormality now.

“That…I visited Ah Bai and stayed for a while. If there’s something wrong with my body, it’s probably because I stayed with her for too long. If you think there’s a problem, I’ll have Bao Da Tong do some purification.”

“Was there really nothing?” Ruan Zhan asked again, staring at her.

The yin and yang realms should remain apart. When human and spirit coexist for too long, there would naturally be some issues, even if the spirit meant no harm. Xiao Xia’s explanation made sense, and he had truly not expected her to go find Ah Bai. Yet he felt something wasn’t quite right about it. Why did her yang flames contain some darkness, and some dangerous aura?

He looked at her carefully again, yet his gaze couldn’t help but fall upon her face. She had lost weight during her “travels” and her cute chin had turned pointy. A wave of gentleness welled up in his heart, too thick to dispel. He really wanted time to stop like this, with only the two of them in the world.

“There really wasn’t anything.” Xiao Xia was a little panicked at his gaze. “Then…I’ll be heading out.”

She left hurriedly, but forgot that her wrist was still being held tightly by him. Therefore, she was suddenly jerked back and collided against his chest. Mischief welled up in her and she abruptly rose on her tiptoes and viciously pecked him on the lips, making a loud smacking sound. Then, while Ruan Zhan was frozen in shock, she slipped away and ran down the stairs.

“What sins have you committed, you face is all red.” She was stopped by Wan Li the moment she got downstairs. “Don’t tell me you took advantage of Ah Zhan!”

“None of your business!” Xiao Xia didn’t dare look him in the eye, and was also afraid Ruan Zhan would run down after her. She could only wave at Bao Da Tong to conceal her fluster. She mocked herself for being useless. It was just a kiss, was there a need to be so scared? What an embarrassment to all women! All the women at the bar longed for such an opportunity, but the one who got it acted like a startled thief.

Wan Li and Bao Da Tong refused to let her leave, so she could only recount her travels. Of course, she didn’t mention He Fu Gui’s matter. They talked and laughed until midnight before Wan Li escorted her home. During that time, Ruan Zhan never appeared. It wasn’t clear what he was doing by himself.

“Director Pan wants you to go back.” Wan Li and Xiao Xia walked back slowly in the cool night. “He’s very angry. I think he really views you with importance. You suddenly quitting like that was really somewhat irresponsible.”

“I’m afraid he’s going to beat me up.” Xiao Xia wanted to play dumb. “I thought me leaving would make things easy for him!”

“Did you think leaving would also make things for Ah Zhan? You were wrong. It would only hurt him and make him feel guilty. I’ve always said men and women come from different planets. They have a very hard time understanding each other.” Since it was just the two of them, Wan Li no longer avoided the topic. “I know you hate Ah Zhan for erasing your memories, but he does have some secret difficulties. He wasn’t trying to hurt you.”

“Got it.”

“The fact that you’re back means you’ve thought things through. Promise me you won’t do something like that in the future. Overlooking how anxious Bao Da Tong and I were in trying to find you, Ah Zhan almost threw half his life away. Didn’t you see how haggard he became? He desperately tried reaching out but you actually stubbornly blocked off your mind. That was really a bit excessive.”

“Sorry.” Recalling Ruan Zhan’s condition, Xiao Xia felt a wave of heartache. “I didn’t mean to do it. I was just…”

She suddenly halted her steps as she felt a weird sensation!

Wan Li stumbled due to her sudden stop. He was about to ask what happened when he also sensed something off.

Despite it being the middle of the night, the surroundings were still abnormally quiet. They could hear their own heart beating but not the occasional passing vehicle. What was more distinct was the beating of opera drums in the distant darkness. Then came the incongruous recital.

“Yue Xiao Xia. You’ve offended us. Did you think you could escape?”

“We’re well known for repaying debts with kindness, and grudges with vengeance!”

“You hid well, but we can still find you!”

“Give up your life. Your memorial day will be a year from today.”

“Unfortunately, your soul won’t be left intact either.”

The lines came one after the other, not giving anyone the opportunity to interject. At the same time, two brightly-dressed women with painted faces slowly walked out from the darkness. They walked slowly, yet they instantly appeared in front of Wan Li and Xiao Xia.

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