The end came as Hong Sheng expected. When he saw the zombies reaching for Lu Hao, Hong Sheng ran forward.
The girls screamed, the zombies advanced, Lu Hao looked grimly at death. The elevator was almost there, and so was Hong Sheng.
The elevator dinged.
Hong Sheng took Lu Hao’s place in front of the zombies, shoving Lu Hao and the girls into the elevator. He smiled at their shocked faces.
The metal doors slid shut just as the claws and mouths of dozens of zombies sunk into Hong Sheng’s skin.
Everything after that had been flashes, brief and vivid pictures of darkness and blood and pain. Hong Sheng as a zombie didn’t have enough of a working brain to hold complex memory, but he remembered the feelings of pain, and fear, and most of all: the hunger.
He had stumbled in the darkness for who knows how long, his desecrated corpse falling apart.
There was one day where the light came back.
Hong Sheng remembered a voice. It came from the warm body standing in front of him, rich and fragrant with blood and living flesh. Hong Sheng was so hungry. He wanted to eat. His rotting eyes rolled in their sockets.
The body in front of him had been making sounds. It had one arm outstretched, cold metal held in its hand. Two trails of water flowed from the body’s eyes when it saw Hong Sheng, and Hong Sheng rattled out a breath. It looked so delicious. It was everything he had ever wanted.
Hong Sheng had stumbled toward the light, and the body’s mouth kept moving, but Hong Sheng couldn’t understand.
Then, there was a loud sound, and the world fell away from Hong Sheng’s feet.
In his last dying moments, Hong Sheng had a moment of clarity. He remembered. The body in front of him was Lu Hao. Lu Hao, whom he’d loved since childhood. Lu Hao, who’d become a hero of the survivors. Lu Hao, who had always been beautiful and popular, who always had a cluster of women and men adoring him, leaving no room for miserable little Hong Sheng.
Hong Sheng had just been Lu Hao’s pitiful childhood friend, but today, in his last moments, he received everything he could ever hope for.
Lu Hao’s tears and Lu Hao’s bullet, Hong Sheng received them both. And now, in exchange, Lu Hao had taken Hong Sheng’s life.
The boy known as Hong Sheng had died twice, and each time he gave his life to Lu Hao.
That was supposed to be the end of his story.
An alarm shrieked by Hong Sheng’s ear. His eyes snapped open and he gasped, hands clutching soft bedding, feet trapped by warm blankets. Sunlight filtered in from the window. Outside, songbirds chirped their morning songs, and car horns blazed.
Hong Sheng sat up slowly. His hands fumbled the alarm clock, having forgotten the shape of it. He turned off the alarm, and when he flipped the clock over to check the date, he inhaled sharply.
It was the 14th of April, 2017. Three months before the start of the apocalypse, and eight years before the time Hong Sheng died.
Hong Sheng fell back onto his bed with a thump, his ears buzzing, unable to understand anything.
Before the apocalypse, Hong Sheng had been living alone in F City. After father remarried there wasn’t enough space in the house for him anymore, and anyhow, it was easier to get to work from his apartment. Hong Sheng was a physical computing consultant. He hadn’t been smart enough to be worth the fees of attending school, so while everyone else continued studying, he went into the basement of an office building to fiddle with machines and software.
After the apocalypse, he had been rescued by the government and shipped off to a safe zone. By chance he had met Lu Hao again.
Lu Hao also lived in F City, but his family owned a villa in the countryside. When the apocalypse hit, Lu Hao had escaped there and established a base. Over time he attracted more and more helpers until finally he had established a stronghold. There were ravagers and bandits of course, but Lu Hao had gained several incredible powers from the apocalypse mutations, so he was able to singlehandedly defend his home for a long time.
Of the people that hadn’t turned into zombies, Hong Sheng was part of the majority that didn’t receive any powers. He was left helpless to the onslaught of monsters, and could only clutch the thighs of others for safety.
Over the years Hong Sheng found that he had a skill for making bombs. He was also decent at sniping from long range, if they could get their hands on any salvaged military rifles. He had been glad to finally be able to contribute, but still, he would never shine like Lu Hao did, and it was impossible for him to stand up against the many talented geniuses Lu Hao had gathered in his home.
Despite Hong Sheng’s uselessness, Lu Hao had generously taken him in. Lu Hao had even remembered him despite having not seen him in years, warmly greeting Hong Sheng with a hug. Hong Sheng had been moved to tears.
For the rest of the time after that, Hong Sheng’s sole wish had been to help Lu Hao in any way he could. He was repaying a debt that spanned since their childhood, when Lu Hao had been Hong Sheng’s only friend, the sole person to protect and care about him for a long time.
Even if Lu Hao had forgotten, Hong Sheng never would.
Even now, with the apocalypse knocking on their door and death waiting at the doorstep.
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.
Relearning how to live with Lu Hao was a strange process. Hong Sheng felt the weight of the apocalypse pressing down on him, and he couldn’t help but feel that he needed to do as much as he could to prepare.
The villa hadn’t been lived in for a while, so the first time they drove back to the city to buy groceries Hong Sheng had worked on autopilot, gathering all sorts of heavy bags of rice, canned foods, and dried goods.
When the cart had been loaded up imperishables, Lu Hao had looked at Hong Sheng with a wry face and asked, “Are you stocking up?”
Hong Sheng froze, several cans still gathered up in his arms. “Um,” he said. “Maybe?” Thinking quickly, he made up the excuse, “Well, the villa is far, you never know if maybe we won’t be able to get to the supermarket before we starve.”
“I’m sure we won’t have to starve,” Lu Hao said kindly. “But you’re right. We should be prepared for any circumstance.” And then Lu Hao started piling some dry goods into the cart with him.
Hong Sheng had also nervously eyed all of the open windows and clear scenery around the villa. Lu Hao had noticed, of course, and asked if Hong Sheng wanted to redecorate.
“It’s… this is your house,” Hong Sheng said helplessly. Even if he wanted to start building the villa’s defenses, he didn’t dare modify the house like he owned it.
“We’re both living here now, so I want you to be comfortable and consider this your own home,” Lu Hao refuted. He took Hong Sheng over to a window and raised a hand to the clear glass. “Tell me, what do you think we should do with this?”
Under Lu Hao’s scrutiny, Hong Sheng finally muttered out that the windows should be covered with sturdy shutters. Lu Hao then dragged Hong Sheng all over the house, asking what needed to be changed – and Hong Sheng ended up spilling all of the memories and suggestions he had, recalling all of the ways the past life’s villa had been modified.
Lu Hao looked intrigued. He probably thought Hong Sheng was crazy with his talk of barricades and limited ingress points and traps. But Lu Hao smiled and said, “Alright, we’ll get this done,” and then over the next few weeks entire truckloads of construction materials arrived, and contractors came to build the new installations.
Though Lu Hao’s family was certainly not lacking in money, Hong Sheng felt ill about making him front all of these costs. With the rest of his savings, Hong Sheng secretly ordered the generators, purifiers, and security technology that would complete the villa’s preparations.
And with that, an entire month before the apocalypse, the villa had become a fortress.
The days passed by quickly. It was the calm before the storm, a taste of paradise before hell. Hong Sheng spent every day with Lu Hao. They ate together, exercised together, watched TV together, read together. Sometimes Lu Hao withdrew to his room to work on something with his laptop, and Hong Sheng took the opportunity to care for the small garden he had started to raise.
“What about school? And your girlfriend?” Hong Sheng asked one time. He was worried that Lu Hao seemed to put his life on pause, almost as if nothing else mattered other than staying here.
Lu Hao just smiled and said those things were already done with.
For some odd reason, Hong Sheng felt that Lu Hao was pampering him. When Hong Sheng had stayed still too long, or stared at something more than usual, Lu Hao always came to hug him and check on him, asking things like, “How are you feeling?” “Is this place okay?” “Do you need anything?”, and if Hong Sheng expressed even the slightest discomfort Lu Hao sprang into action to correct it.
There was one day where Hong Sheng had refused to leave bed. Lu Hao had knocked on the door and quietly entered when he didn’t answer. Seeing Hong Sheng curled up under the blanket, facing away from the door, he slowly sat down on the bed.
“Did you have a nightmare?” he asked quietly.
Hong Sheng didn’t want to speak. He had dreamed of dying, dreamed of being a zombie, dreamed of killing.
He nodded, and said nothing else.
Lu Hao didn’t ask more about the nightmare. He had simply laid down on the bed and held Hong Sheng in his arms until Hong Sheng stopped shaking, hours later.
That was a bad day, but it was better to not have to face it alone.
Today was a leisurely period.
They had finished everything they needed to do today. Hong Sheng’s garden had been tended to, and Lu Hao’s mystery hobbies were done.
Now, Lu Hao lounged on the sofa, reading while basking in the sunlight of one of the open windows. All other windows were dark, covered by the shutters, making the one spot of light brilliant in contrast to the shadows. Lu Hao looked warm and effortlessly beautiful, one arm slung over the back of the sofa, the other holding a book.
Lu Hao tilted his head, noticing Hong Sheng standing at the staircase. He smiled softly and beckoned Hong Sheng closer.
“Come here,” he said.
Hong Sheng padded toward the sofa and sat stiffly at the other end. Lu Hao dropped his arm from the sofa and onto Hong Sheng’s shoulder, effortlessly dragging him closer until they sat side by side, Hong Sheng’s head pillowed on Lu Hao’s chest. Snuggled up like this, the scene was so warm, so comforting. Hong Sheng closed his eyes, savoring the closeness.
Lu Hao had always been free with his affection, so Hong Sheng knew better than to assume this meant anything other than Lu Hao’s friendship. But still, to be this close, sharing breaths and drinking in his warmth, his scent, Hong Sheng felt so happy that he could have been drunk.
With the sun covering his skin like a blanket, Hong Sheng dozed off.
The night the apocalypse came had been quiet.
After all, over here, there was only Hong Sheng and Lu Hao. It was nothing like in his first life where he had been surrounded by people, trapped in the mire of the city, the sound of tearing flesh and screams everywhere.
In the darkness of the night, Hong Sheng sat in his room, staring out at the balcony. A flash of light illuminated the sky; the end of the world had come.
A low snarl sounded. In the room across the hall, Lu Hao was already changing, becoming something more than human.
And Hong Sheng remained the same as always.
He let out a shaky sigh of relief, put the knife back into the drawer, and waited for morning to come.
The survivors started arriving in the days after.
Soldiers, students, families, gang members, people of all kinds came to Lu Hao’s stronghold. The ones who were trustworthy stayed; the ones who were violent were taken care of.
Hong Sheng watched from the back, staring with hollow eyes as more and more faces he recognized arrived. There, that girl with her heart-shaped face and bright eyes, she was the fire-wielder that always called out “Hao Ge!” in a cute voice. And over there, that mature woman in a coat, she was the scientist who was as smart as she was beautiful, and who spent many hours discussing ‘research’ with Lu Hao.
The dancing twins who could heal people’s hearts as well as their injuries arrived, enchanting the entire stronghold. The mischievous beauty who attempted to infiltrate and steal their resources ended up defecting and joining them.
Countless talented and amazing people had come, just as Hong Sheng had always known they would.
And just like before, Hong Sheng had no chance of competing against them.
Hong Sheng watched Lu Hao greeting them, saw the sparkle in his eyes and his smile now directed toward someone else.
Oh well. At least this time, he had memories of those days when Lu Hao had treasured him like no other. Even if those days were over now, even if they would never come again, Hong Sheng could remember them deep in the furthest corners of his heart, where no one could ever touch.
They were throwing a party to celebrate a successful mission. Hong Sheng swirled the soda can in his hands. He didn’t feel like celebrating. It was too much noise, too many people.
He saw a girl stumble, giggling drunkenly into Lu Hao’s shoulder. Lu Hao turned his head and whispered something into her ear, then hoisted her up into his arms and carried her up the steps.
Hong Sheng sipped his soda and wondered if maybe he should try and grab some beer instead.
But he’d never liked feeling drunk. He might as well just go and wallow in bed, pretending that nothing was wrong, that nothing had changed. He was just pathetic enough that it might even work. Hong Sheng stood and quietly slipped away. The door to Lu Hao’s room was shut. He was glad that he couldn’t hear anything coming from there, not yet at least.
Hong Sheng entered his own room and padded toward the bed. He was tired, so tired. He collapsed onto the bed.
And someone was beneath him.
Before Hong Sheng could let out a shriek, an arm wrapped around his waist and the sound of a warm chuckle entered his ears.
“It’s just me,” came Lu Hao’s voice in the darkness. Hong Sheng froze, caught in the half-embrace, then pushed the arm away and scrambled off the bed. Lu Hao made a small noise of discontent, and Hong Sheng flushed.
“Lu Hao, you— why are you in my bed?”
“I put Qiu’er in my room. All the other beds are taken. I thought you wouldn’t if we shared… Hong Sheng?” Lu Hao sounded worried. “If this is too much, it’s fine. I’ll sleep on the floor.” Hong Sheng heard the ripple of bedsheets as Lu Hao sat up.
Hong Sheng didn’t understand what was happening. “Why… why aren’t you staying with Qiu’er?”
Lu Hao paused. “Hong Sheng, she’s drunk. That’s not… and in the first place, I wouldn’t.”
Hong Sheng knew he was overreacting. He drew in a deep breath and counted numbers. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, it’s fine. Let’s just sleep.” He could sleep platonically in the same bed as Lu Hao. That was fine.
“… All right.” Lu Hao laid back down, and Hong Sheng climbed in next to him, perched at the edge of the bed. Lu Hao rolled over automatically and drew Hong Sheng in until their bodies pressed together. Lu Hao nuzzled the back of Hong Sheng’s head, and Hong Sheng shivered.
This was just something that Lu Hao did, Hong Sheng reminded himself. He was this affectionate with everyone. Don’t think so much of yourself.
“Hong Sheng…” Lu Hao whispered, his lips brushing against the shell of Hong Sheng’s ear, his breath coming out in warm puffs. “I was thinking. We’re getting a lot more people now, and rather than building more rooms, we should also think about conserving our current space…”
“Yes, that’s – a good plan,” Hong Sheng agreed, voice strangled.
“That’s right,” Lu Hao said. “So, I figured, rather than taking up two rooms, I thought that maybe the two of us could just share one.”
“What,” Hong Sheng said.
And Hong Sheng saw it. Lu Hao bringing all of his women back, pressing them down on this bed, forcing Hong Sheng to watch, maybe, or to know that in his own room were all these women taking what Hong Sheng could never have—
“Hong Sheng?” Lu Hao gathered him up tightly. “Hong Sheng, why are you crying?”
Hong Sheng squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t want Lu Hao to see, to know how much it hurt. “Please. Don’t be this cruel.” Lu Hao inhaled sharply.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand. Do you…” His grip on Hong Sheng loosened. “Do you not… want us to be together?”
Hong Sheng tried to regain control of his breathing. Smooth, even. Don’t cry. “Of course I want to,” he said, trying to speak calmly. “But I don’t want to see your… relationships.”
Lu Hao’s arms fully disengaged from Hong Sheng.
“My relationships.” Lu Hao’s voice was flat.
Hong Sheng felt a prickling at the back of his neck. Somehow, he sensed a rising dangerous aura.
“Y-Yes,” he pressed on. “Your… we can stay in the same room, but if you… with a woman, then please, do it somewhere else,” he conceded.
“If I what with a woman,” Lu Hao said. He took a deep breath. “Hong Sheng. You can’t be serious.”
“What?” Hong Sheng thought that was a decent proposal. There were so many other places Lu Hao could use. It’s not like it had to be in their shared bedroom.
A hand clasped Hong Sheng’s shoulder and flipped him around. Now, facing Lu Hao, he saw the tense expression on the man’s face. “Hong Sheng,” Lu Hao said lowly. “I’m not in a relationship with any woman. And I won’t be in the future.”
Hong Sheng’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he said.
“Do you want to know why?” Lu Hao continued, his voice deep with simmering anger. “Why I won’t be pursuing any women?”
Hong Sheng nodded slowly, unable to take his gaze away from Lu Hao’s glittering and furious eyes.
Lu Hao leaned forward until all Hong Sheng could see was him. “Because,” he said in a low tone, “I’m in love with you.”
Hong Sheng stared, open-mouthed.
“You didn’t notice at all, did you? Of course not. You’re so smart, but when it comes to emotions you can’t even figure out the smallest things.”
“What—” Hong Sheng looked away. This was — this was too much. This was unbelievable. Lu Hao liked women— there was no way, there was absolutely no way he would love— He turned back with a worried expression. “Are you drunk?”
Lu Hao narrowed his eyes. “Do I have to be drunk to love you?”
Hong Sheng hunched his shoulders. It was the most reasonable explanation.
Lu Hao sighed. His gaze roamed over Hong Sheng, the anger giving way to a sort of sadness. Lu Hao moved to pick up Hong Sheng’s hand, and Hong Sheng let him. Lu Hao held the hand preciously, sweeping a thumb over the pale skin. “Why do you think I can’t love you?”
“I don’t have an ability.”
“No one did until five months ago, and people still fell in love then,” Lu Hao said. “Try again.”
Biting his lip, Hong Sheng said, “I’m… I’m not a woman.”
“That’s not a problem for me,” Lu Hao said in a rough voice that made Hong Sheng shiver.
“Uh—” Hong Sheng quickly thought of something else. “I’m— not beautiful.”
Lu Hao paused.
He raised his eyebrows and swept his gaze up and down Hong Sheng’s body, an appreciative slide that made Hong Sheng want to either cover up or strip.
Hong Sheng swallowed.
He looked down. “I’m. I’m just.”
Hong Sheng didn’t know how to say the words.
‘I’m not worthy of you’— but that wasn’t enough to express everything.
Hong Sheng was very clear about his worth as a human being. It wasn’t enough to make his mother to stay. It wasn’t enough to make his father to keep him. It wasn’t enough to make a normal person love him, so how could it possibly be enough for someone like Lu Hao?
There were all kinds of people around Lu Hao, now. Scientific geniuses, professional fighters, miraculous ability users. Beautiful mature women, cute and blossoming girls. Lu Hao had brought all of these people under his wing, and they had all fallen in love with Lu Hao.
Compared to them, Hong Sheng was just an ant gazing up at a giant, wishing, ‘Look at me, please look at me’.
Hong Sheng knew that he wasn’t as important as everyone else. So when the time came where someone had to be sacrificed, Hong Sheng knew that the obvious answer would be him.
And so, he made the decision himself.
When Hong Sheng sacrificed himself to save the others, that was the only time that Lu Hao had really looked at him.
Hong Sheng had been content with that. Even when he was screaming from the pain and the horror of being eaten alive, he had thought that was the best that could have resulted from his life.
Hong Sheng was nothing more than cannon fodder that no one loved or cared for, and such an end was perfectly fitting for him.
What he hadn’t expected was for Lu Hao to remember him, to come back and search for him.
Even if it was dangerous, Lu Hao had still come back to find Hong Sheng.
Even when Hong Sheng had been turned into a monster, Lu Hao had still cried when Hong Sheng died for the second time.
For that kind of person who was so generous, who could show more compassion than even Hong Sheng’s own family, there wasn’t anything Hong Sheng could do to deserve him.
“Oh,” Lu Hao breathed. He laid down beside Hong Sheng and held him in his arms. “It’s alright. It’s alright. I’m with you. I love you so much.” Lu Hao kissed Hong Sheng’s cheeks, rubbing away the tears that had started falling. “I love you. I won’t leave you.” He kept repeating those words over and over, pressing kisses all over Hong Sheng’s face. Hong Sheng shook and sobbed between his arms helplessly. “I’m so sorry,” Lu Hao said, voice cracking. “It was my fault. I shouldn’t have let you—” and Hong Sheng leaned forward and pressed his lips softly to Lu Hao’s mouth.
“You’ll really stay with me?” he asked.
Lu Hao’s mouth trembled against Hong Sheng’s. “I will,” he said hoarsely. “I promise. This time, I won’t ever let you go.”
He tightened his grip around Hong Sheng like he was desperately holding on, and Hong Sheng raised his arms and held him back.
Hong Sheng turned around, squinting past the sunlight. The convoy had just rolled in, and from the back of the armored jeep a small figure darted out. The young woman happily ran toward Hong Sheng, a bright smile on her face.
“Sheng Ge, I’m back! Did you miss me?” She stopped in front of him, holding her hands behind her back cutely.
“I’m glad you’ve returned safely,” Hong Sheng said.
The corners of his lips were lifted in a small and elegant smile, and the girl blushed prettily at the sight. After a dazed moment, she said, “Sheng Ge, look— I brought back something special for you…” She moved to present the box she held behind her back, but a large hand snatched it from her.
At nearly the same time, a heavy arm possessively draped itself around Hong Sheng’s shoulder.
Lu Hao smiled from where he stood next to Hong Sheng, the package held aloft in his hand. “Hey now, you know the rules. Distribution of loot has to be approved by leadership.” He tilted his head, looking down at the girl. Though his mouth was smiling, his eyes were not.
The girl flushed and frowned. “That’s not fair! You’re just going to give it to him anyway!”
“Yes, but now it’s from me,” Lu Hao said loftily. He opened the box and showed Hong Sheng the egg custard tarts they had traded from the other settlement, and Hong Sheng made a sound of appreciation. While Hong Sheng snacked on the tart, Lu Hao waved the girl away from where she stood enraptured. The girl sniffed at him and stomped off.
Hong Sheng looked up at Lu Hao with an unimpressed expression. “… Do I even want to know what that was about?” he asked.
Lu Hao smiled sunnily at his lover, and leaned down to press a kiss to his head. “I’m so happy that heaven answered my prayers,” he said.
Hong Sheng slanted a glance at Lu Hao out of the corner of his eye.
Lu Hao walked Hong Sheng back to the villa, guiding him with the arm around his shoulders. “You see, I asked them, ‘Please keep Sheng as oblivious to other people as he had been to me’. Clearly it’s been working.” He looked around at the adoring gazes of the surrounding survivors and glared. Most of them were cowed and looked away, but others glared back. Lu Hao narrowed his eyes. He would have to watch out for those.
“I think I should feel offended by that,” Hong Sheng said. He smiled up at Lu Hao. “But I like how you’re a little stupid sometimes, so it’s fine.”
“Sheng!” Lu Hao cried out. Hong Sheng just laughed and kept walking forward.
It had been eight years since the apocalypse had come.
Lu Hao looked at Hong Sheng’s back – Hong Sheng, alive, whole, and happy – and smiled softly.
His hands still remembered another time, another world, where he had lost the person he loved most.
Truly, heaven had answered his prayers.
Lu Hao ran forward, catching up to Hong Sheng as he opened the door to their home. Hong Sheng turned to look at him, and he paused, a trace of worry in his brows.
“Have you been crying?” Hong Sheng asked, raising a hand toward Lu Hao’s face. Lu Hao caught his hand and kissed it.
“No,” he said, eyes shining. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
[Originally published Jan 2, 2018, on NUF]
Thank you for reading.
I’ve been writing a lot of angry chihuahua protagonists lately, so this time I wanted to write someone with a delicate state of mind. Hong Sheng is a super socially awkward person. I’m glad that I got to write him saying a joke at the end.
Lu Hao is meant to redeem harem protagonists in my heart. He turned out to be very caring and devoted after realizing his childhood friend died for him.
For these characters’ names, I browsed the front page of NU and grabbed random names from whichever novels were there. I put only the best efforts forward for my children.
Next time, I’ll hopefully write something in a happier setting.