He Zhou was still hooked up to an IV when the phone in his pocket rang.
It was Qin He's secretary.
Because they were in a single person hospital room, He Zhou immediately turned on speakerphone so Qiu Yanzhi could listen in.
"President He, everyone in the technical team has signed a non-disclosure agreement, but now they’re saying they want to meet this NPC you're talking about."
Meet the NPC?
...What was that supposed to mean?
Qiu Yanzhi froze.
He Zhou was also a bit caught off guard. This didn’t exactly line up with what Qiu Yanzhi just told him about Qin He looking for someone to destroy the game’s data. He thought for a moment before asking in his deep voice, “Are they truly at the forefront of their field on an international level?”
"Of course." The secretary replied, "When I first heard that you were going to hire them to destroy a game's data, I thought it was overkill. but it turns out that you’re just using that as an excuse to let them do other things. Meticulous as always, sir.”
The secretary lowered his voice and whispered, "However, they don't seem to believe what you instructed me to say. That’s why they want to see the NPC for themselves to verify.”
He Zhou continued to try and get more information out of the secretary. “What did you say to make them so suspicious?”
The secretary: "I just repeated what you said to me, sir. That a virtual reality game you originally invested in has a problem, that one of the NPCs there escaped to our world. Their task is to get the NPC back into the game without destroying the game’s data and prevent anyone from going in or getting out of the game ever again. However, those programmers all felt like this matter was too ludicrous…”
After a pause, He Zhou asked, "Do you also find it ludicrous?"
The secretary’s frantic reply lacked certainty. “N-no! You aren’t the type to lie to others!”
He Zhou prodded the secretary a while longer before stating that he would drop by personally to discuss this matter with the team tomorrow and hanging up.
"Something's not right." Qiu Yanzhi said.
He Zhou: "What's not right?"
Qiu Yanzhi frowned. "Qin He originally told me that he was going to completely destroy the game’s data because it was better safe than sorry. After he came to the apartment, I had to...to beg him before he reluctantly agreed to send you back into the game instead of destroying everything.”
He Zhou: "But according to his secretary, he never intended to destroy the game’s data. In fact, he’s been stressing the importance of preserving the integrity of the game while sending me back from the beginning.”
Qiu Yanzhi was puzzled. “Then why did he lie to me? Why’s he so reluctant to destroy the game’s data?”
He Zhou thought things over for a moment. "Then I'll go to the company tomorrow and see if I can find anything."
Qiu Yanzhi nodded. "Then I'll go with you as your translator. Everyone on that team is German, after all.”
Just then, there was a knock on the door. The little nurse came over with a cart and removed He Zhou’s IV. She stated that he was recovering well enough to go home to recuperate if he wanted.
"Let’s go home." Qiu Yanzhi said.
It was almost 11:00 pm when they got home.
Qiu Yanzhi was exhausted.
But when he looked down, he saw that his shirt was still stained with red wine and blood.
So he gathered his pajamas and took a shower.
After taking a shower, he burrowed underneath the covers and waited for He Zhou to finish up as well.
He waited so long that he was about to fall asleep, but no one came.
Qiu Yanzhi lifted the blanket and walked out of the bedroom. He discovered that the bathroom had long since been vacated.
However, light could be seen coming through the edges of the study’s door.
Qiu Yanzhi opened it and went in. He found He Zhou sitting in his pajamas at the desk. The man had connected Qin He's phone to the computer to check the files inside.
"Not coming to bed?" Qiu Yanzhi asked.
He Zhou: "I'm checking to see if there are any files about the game Devour Dream in here."
Qiu Yanzhi yawned. "Why not look tomorrow? It’s already so late now.”
He Zhou hesitated for a moment before admitting, "I don't know if Qin He will come back if I fall asleep."
Qiu Yanzhi froze. "So you're not going to sleep at all tonight?"
He Zhou: "Staying up one night is nothing. I’ll spend the time preparing to try and make sure we settle everything tomorrow.”
Qiu Yanzhi pursed his lips and pulled up a chair across from He Zhou. “Then I’ll keep you company.”
He Zhou smiled and ruffled his hair. “You should go to bed after the day you’ve had.”
Qiu Yanzhi shook his head. "I'm still in my prime. I can afford to stay up one night.”
He Zhou couldn't outargue him so he sighed and continued to browse through the files on Qin He's phone.
But there wasn’t anything of note.
The phone was empty, almost too empty.
He Zhou also tried logging in to the email and various social media apps on the phone.
Everything was overly clean, like this phone was brand new.
After He Zhou inquired, he found that this phone number was indeed applied for only two months ago.
Just a few days after he and Qiu Yanzhi left the game.
Not being able to find out any other useful information, He Zhou had to give up.
When He Zhou looked up again, he discovered that Qiu Yanzhi was half-asleep and nodding off. His head drooped down more and more on a course of imminent impact with the desk. Luckily, He Zhou quickly reached out and caught Qiu Yanzhi’s forehead.
He couldn’t help but chuckle before gently picking up Qiu Yanzhi and going to place him on the bed in the bedroom.
But Qiu Yanzhi startled awake as soon as He Zhou let go of him. He grabbed onto He Zhou’s hand with an expression of fear. "He Zhou, He Zhou are you still there?!"
"I'm still here." He Zhou softly reassured him.
Only then did Qiu Yanzhi finally breathe a sigh of relief. He took out his phone for a look. It was already well after 3:00 am.
Qiu Yanzhi stubbornly muttered, "I wasn't actually asleep just now, I was just spacing out."
The corners of He Zhou’s lips curled up as he covered Qiu Yanzhi with the blanket. “En. You can sleep now.”
Qiu Yanzhi sat up from the bed. "Like I said, I'm not sleeping. He Zhou, how’s checking those files going?”
"I've finished checking everything I can."
"Then let's watch a movie. We’ll go to the company as soon as the sun comes up.” Qiu Yanzhi proposed.
He Zhou nodded. “Alright."
Qiu Yanzhi jumped out of bed and set up the projector. He laid back down with He Zhou to watch the movie.
They were watching a science fiction film set in the future where the male lead died for the female lead. At the end, the female lead closed her eyes and kissed the final virtual hologram left of the male lead.
Then the hologram of the male lead gradually faded away.
Still, the female lead stood in place, still leaning in for a kiss, her eyes still closed. Tears slowly streaming down her cheek.
Qiu Yanzhi was a bit affected by the ending. He quietly interlocked he and He Zhou’s index fingers and looked up at the man. "He Zhou, I won't let you disappear."
He Zhou wiped the tears from the corner of Qiu Yanzhi’s eyes and said, "Alright."
A love song accompanied the rolling of the credits.
Qiu Yanzhi's clear, dark eyes stared into He Zhou without blinking. He repeated doggedly, "You will never disappear."
He Zhou replied softly, "En. I will never disappear."
Qiu Yanzhi’s eyelashes fluttered. He closed his eyes to kiss He Zhou.
And then: ...En? What’s this?
Confused, Qiu Yanzhi opened his eyes.
Only to find He Zhou’s hand tightly clasped over his lips.
"These are Qin He's lips."
He Zhou said calmly, his tone somewhat admonishing.
Qiu Yanzhi: "......"