“Those who get infected would generally die within 24 hours. Are you sure it wasn’t an overly enthusiastic bite from your bed partner?”
Si Nan sat behind the door, his arms on his knees, and shook his head.
Zhou Rong wanted to say more, but the doctor put down the thermometer. “Your man has a fever, Captain Zhou. 37˚C, it’s a preliminary symptom of an infection. He should be immediately quarantined.”
The faces of the people standing around changed, and the civilians standing nearby quickly retreated. A buzz spread through the crowd.
“He’s been infected…”
“Will he turn into a monster?”
“Quick, let’s go! Stay further away from him!”
A man mustered his courage and said loudly, “Throw him out! We’re all civilians here, what if he starts biting people?!”
The murmurings grew louder, and Yan Hao said furiously, “He’s not infected! If he was, he would have mutated long ago! It’s all zombies out there, where can he go?”
The crowd whispered amongst each other, “Soldiers are really unreasonable…”
Zhou Rong crouched in front of Si Nan. He suddenly reached out, and forcefully pulled his chin up.
The colour of Si Nan’s skin was an icy fairness that was completely different from those of asians. His lips were dry and cracked, he looked slightly weary, and with his slightly lidded eyes, he shared a resemblance to his mother. It contrasted sharply with Zhou Rong’s calloused, capable hand.
Zhou Rong observed him coldly for a moment, and suddenly stood up. “Bring him to the warehouse office, keep him under observation.”
The doctor said disapprovingly, “Captain Zhou…”
Zhou Rong said, “It’s my people, I’ll take the responsibility.”
The warehouse office was a small space partitioned off by plywood. It was around five square metres, and before the virus outbreak, it was used by the person on shift. An old-fashioned spring lock was installed on the thin wooden hollow door, and there was also an iron latch on the other side.
Si Nan’s back was against the wall. He sat in the corner, a hand on his bent knees. A while later, Zhou Rong came through the door, then closed it behind him, keeping out Yan Hao and Chun Cao who were following closely behind him.
Si Nan looked up, and in front of him was a pork floss bun.
“I got it from the storeroom. Eat it.”
Si Nan stared at it motionlessly for a few seconds before turning his head away.
“Why, you’ve just been locked up for half a day only. Going on a hunger strike? You think because you’re good looking you can do anything you want?” Zhou Rong snorted. “Let me tell you, the one thing I don’t know how to do the most is to have compassion for the weaker sex, and I’m best at ruthlessly destroying them. What Omega pheromones, what honeypots, I’ve seen them all during my training. After that, when I was parachuted into the position of the captain, Yan Hao took the lead in refusing to acknowledge my command, and was beaten up by me three times a day… Eat your food obediently, don’t think I won’t dare to force it down your throat.”
Their eyes met for a moment, and Si Nan finally came clean.
“… Food is limited, don’t waste it.”
Zhou Rong made no attempt at hiding his sardonic laughter. He tossed the bun at Si Nan’s chest. “Lady, why are you so sentimental, just like an Omega.”
Si Nan, “…”
Zhou Rong dusted his hands and walked away.
The sky got darker. Soon, the sounds of people walking and distributing food could be heard from outside the door.
Si Nan contemplated it for very long, but still ate the bun in the end. The food soothed his mind, and leaning against the wall, he fell asleep unknowingly. His consciousness drifted between lucidity and muddledness, as though it was travelling through miles of damp, icy winds, gazing at the war-torn grounds beneath him.
He seemed to have returned to a time when he was very young. The heavy gates of the manor slowly opened in front of him, the crystal chandelier glowing brilliantly. The handwoven carpet was thick and elaborate, stretching up the marble spiral stairs. A boy dressed in black formal wear had his arms crossed, standing on the second step from the bottom, leaning against the railing. From his vantage point he looked, measuring him for a moment, and suddenly spoke harshly, “You’re really ugly.”
Feeling his fingernails digging deeply into his palms, he wanted to turn and leave, but he was unable to move a step in this dream.
The boy jumped down the stairs, marching in front of him. He suddenly reached out and grabbed his hair, forcing his head up to face him, “From today onwards, I’m your older brother, get it?”
Si Nan’s chest heaved, feeling a sour stabbing pain in his windpipe. He wanted to raise his fist and throw a punch at that boy, but his dream-self had suddenly became very young, and did not even have the strength to reach his hand out. He could only watch that face that was puffed up with pride, and those cerulean eyes that were full of ridicule.
I want to hit you… He thought.
One day, I will crush you under my feet…
In a twinkling, the scene changed. His memories flew past, only allowing him a cursory glance. The hateful face of that boy gradually became older and tougher, then it turned into a surprised and dumbfounded look, and he promptly fell back as a punch landed on him.
The clamour faded, he grabbed that person’s collar, and saw blood flowing from his nose and his mouth; that pair of cerulean eyes that was always staring at him had turned a stormy dark grey. “… You’ve been wanting to hit me for a very long time, haven’t you? …”
However, he did not reply, and what came instead was a right hook. It was hard and harsh and efficient, and the cracking sound of the nose bridge breaking reverberated from between his fingers. Even after a long, long time, he could still clearly remember that delightful touch.
When the night fell, Si Nan burned, feverish.
Dazed, he felt that his body was very hot, as though he was in a warm yet non-existent sea, floating but unable to reach its bottom. Footsteps came and retreated, arguments and rackets came one after another, and a voice from an unknown person shrieked, “You must send him away, he can mutate anytime!”
“As soldiers, your lives are valuable, while our lives deserve to be risked like this?!”
“What to do, he’s already been infected, we’re all going to die…”
The sounds of scuffles drew closer, and abruptly pulled away, unclear as though he was hearing them underwater. After an unknown period of time, footsteps suddenly stopped beside him, then someone squatted down, and covered him in something thick.
Si Nan struggled uncomfortably, but that person wrapped him up tightly, not even letting go of his neck.
“It’s an ordinary illness, he’s just tired.” That person said, “The physique of a Beta is too weak. If he continues burning like this, I’m afraid he might not survive.”
That person stood up, speaking quietly, “Pass me the car keys, I’m going out for a bit.”
The next time he woke up, Si Nan felt someone shoving something into his mouth. He struggled to open his eyes, but it was pitch black. A few seconds later, he finally managed to see a line of light shining from the door crack.
“Have some water,” Zhou Rong said, gave him a mouthful of water from a military-issued canteen without so much as a “by your leave”.
Si Nan swallowed. An acrid taste was in his mouth, and he realised that the medication that had just been shoved into his mouth had dissolved. “… You…”
… Where did he get the ibuprofen from?
Zhou Rong removed his jacket and tossed it on the floor, sitting down. With no intentions of averting suspicions, he squeezed into the same corner as him, and rebuked him softly, “I say, are you stupid or are you a fool? Only looking for food in that drugstore, didn’t you think of searching for any medication? See, now you have a fever, and I’m the one who has to drive out in the middle of the night, travelling over 20km, nearly turning into a snack for those hundreds of zombies out on the street. If not for the fact that you’re good looking…”
Si Nan gave a few muffled coughs, speaking in a hoarse voice, “No need to thank me for saving you all in the day.”
Zhou Rong immediately shut up.
Si Nan recovered a little of his energy, about to say something mocking. Then he smelled a thick putrid scent of blood from his feet — coming from the jacket Zhou Rong just threw on to the ground.
He touched it with his hand, the material felt sticky and coagulated with a liquid.
In the dark, only deep breaths could be heard, and a moment later, Si Nan said lowly, “… Thank you.”
The scratch of a lighter was heard. Zhou Rong leaned against the wall, lighting a cigarette. Exhaling a stream of relaxed and satisfying smoke, he smiled and asked, “You had a dream just now? I heard you mumbling away, it sounded like you were scolding someone.”
“Missing your family?” Zhou Rong asked indifferently.
Si Nan shook his head.
“What did you use to do? You’re pretty skilled, were you a private bodyguard or police?”
Si Nan shook his head again, not responding.
“Don’t be so nervous, relax a little and let’s have a chat. If you’re not having a fever, and you’re actually infected, you’ll be dead later. I’m the only person here you can entrust your will with.” Zhou Rong nudged at him with his shoulder, and asked slyly, “Are you married? Do you have a partner?”
“That’s good. I don’t have one too. Everyone in the team is a bachelor.”
Si Nan gave him a side-eye, thinking, that’s because you took the lead in being gay.
Zhou Rong did not notice it, sighing deeply with his cigarette. Fascination filled his voice, “The asylum at B Military Command can accommodate tens of thousands of people. It’s self-sufficient with water and electricity, completely separate from the rest of the world. When the virus outbreak is over, the country would definitely arrange for all of you to live in B City, then you’ll meet a blind date, get married, and encouraged to have babies, boosting the population after this disaster…”
“And most of the people rescued by the B Military Command are Omegas. Most of them are in their optimal breeding stage, and are under the protection of the military.” Zhou Rong unconsciously licked his lips and smiled, “Tsk, how capable. Whoever who thought of this policy is pretty smart.”
Si Nan’s voice was a little tense. “Why?”
“Each time a disaster strikes, Alphas form the main component of the rescue team. Whichever big-scale shelter has more Alphas, they would have the ability to fight for more resources, arms and territories — and Alphas would definitely instinctively gather around places with more Omegas. The higher ups can distribute the Omegas like strategic resources, don’t you understand such a simple principle?”
Zhou Rong sucked deeply on his cigarette, and the red cherry between his fingers glowed brightly before abating. Si Nan did not speak, and his waist was suddenly poked, “What are you thinking about, so lost in your thoughts.”
Si Nan asked casually, “Do you also want to go to B Military Command and bring a strategic resource home?”
Who would have guessed that Zhou Rong would give such a strong rejection. “No!”
For a moment, Si Nan thought that he was going to say, “Because I have Yan Hao already”. However, before he could feel touched by this love between these two gay Betas, he heard Zhou Rong say resolutely, “I hate Omegas!”
“…” Si Nan asked, “Why, Rong-ge?”
Zhou Rong shifted his position, staring at Si Nan with his eyes flashing. He said in all earnestness, “Let me give you a life lesson, dear: If you’re looking for a partner in the future, never ever look for an Omega.”
“It’s best to look for a Beta.”
As they looked at each other, the corner of Si Nan’s mouth twitched slightly. “This happens to be my plan.”
Zhou Rong patted his shoulder in approval.
Si Nan asked sincerely, “But… Why?”
He thought Zhou Rong would use Yan Hao as an example of how a gay Beta could achieve sexual satisfaction in life, but Zhou Rong again shattered his romantic notions. Zhou Rong said sternly, “Because, Omegas have problems with their characters.”
In the dark, the two of them exchanged glances. Zhou Rong still had a hand on Si Nan’s shoulder, and their noses were less than ten centimetres apart.
Si Nan finally pressed himself back into the corner of the wall carefully, cautiously yet politely asking, “Rong-ge, were you hurt by love before?”
“Hurt by love” was clearly an original concept to Zhou Rong. He stroked his chin thoughtfully, pondering it for a moment before shaking his head. “To some extent, it can be said that I’ve been deceived once, but also not — it’s actually something that happened many years ago. Have you ever heard of the International Special Forces Jungle Competition?”
Si Nan shook his head.
“I represented the country when I was 18. I was leading the pack, until the event when we were supposed to rescue the hostage, when I met a hostage from Country A who claimed he was ethnically Chinese… a 15 years old Omega child.”