Death Progress Bar - Chapter 120
When they got in the car, Li Jiuzheng said something that made Shi Jin get a feeling of déjà vu: “This is my second senior apprentice brother’s car. He let me borrow it.”
Shi Jin: “…I see.” Does your second senior apprentice brother know he has so many cars?
They didn’t speak more. Except for the murmur of the engine, the whole drive was spent in silence.
Fifteen minutes later, the car stopped at the residential building complex affiliated with the medical university, south of the university town. “Aren’t you taking me out for a meal?” Shi Jin asked, confused.
“Mhm, we’ll eat at my place. I’m going to make longevity noodles for you,” Li Jiuzheng said, getting out. He went around the car and, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, took out two shopping bags full of food ingredients from the trunk.
Shi Jin, who also got out of the car and followed him, choked for a moment. “You know how to cook?” he asked, keeping his voice neutral.
“A little,” Li Jiuzheng replied earnestly, his voice a bit stiff.
Shi Jin was silent, pretending not to know that according to the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ memories, Li Jiuzheng was a cooking idiot. He stepped forward and took one shopping bag from his brother’s hand.
“I can…” Li Jiuzheng reached out to take it back.
Shi Jin took a step, avoiding him. “How will you open the door holding bags in both hands? Come on, we’d better hustle. My lunch break is long, but if you planned a home-cooked meal, we might be a little tight on time.”
Li Jiuzheng retracted his hand, taking in Shi Jin’s mellow, unaffected behavior and speech. Suddenly, he beamed a smile and moved so they stood close, side by side.
Shi Jin felt goosebumps rising on his skin. Barely suppressing the urge to back away, he asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Xiao Jin, you are so considerate,” Li Jiuzheng praised, bumping their shoulders together. Not giving Shi Jin an opportunity to push him away, he immediately started to walk towards the apartment building in front of them, saying, “Let’s go, our place is on the top floor. It has a very nice view.”
How and when did it become “our place”?
Shi Jin couldn’t keep up with Li Jiuzheng’s thoughts and mood changes. He moved his bumped shoulder, then followed his brother.
The hospital-affiliated residential building complex was small, consisting of only two buildings. It looked a little deserted as most of the residents were likely off at work. Li Jiuzheng led Shi Jin into the elevator in one of the buildings. He pressed the button for the top floor, then stared at Shi Jin fixedly.
He wasn’t hiding it at all, so Shi Jin would have to be blind not to notice. “Is something the matter?” he asked.
smiled and replied, “No, I just think that Xiao Jin is very good-looking,” Li Jiuzheng replied, smiling.
Inwardly, Shi Jin admitted defeat. “I think your looks are better than mine, Fifth Brother,” he politely returned the compliment.
“Really?” Li Jiuzheng touched his face. He said seriously, “But I don’t like my appearance very much.”
Shi Jin recalled what Li Jiuzheng told him in front of his mother’s grave. Seeing that the expression in his brother’s eyes grew visibly depressed, he frowned slightly and lightly knocked on Li Jiuzheng’s head. “You not liking it is your business, me liking it is mine. People will like what they will—it’s not like you can control the others’ personal preferences.”
Li Jiuzheng, who’d never had somebody knock on his head like this, froze in shock for a few seconds. He raised a hand and touched the place that was hit, staring at Shi Jin foolishly.
“Fifth Brother, we’re here,” Shi Jin said, pointing towards the elevator door that slowly started to open.
Li Jiuzheng came back to his senses and clumsily stepped out of the elevator. Making an invitation gesture, he said dazedly, “Pl-please, after you. Our apartment number is 3602, don’t remember it wrong…”
Shi Jin walked out of the elevator, found the door with the number 3602, stopped in front of it, and looked back at Li Jiuzheng.
Li Jiuzheng, who didn’t move from where he stood next to the elevator, watched him as if he couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing, his expression still dazed. A moment later, the elevator door closed with a soft sound, startling him back to reality. A flicker of life again appearing in his empty eyes, he smiled wordlessly and quickly walked over to Shi Jin. He took out the key, saying, “Xiao, Xiao Jin, we’re home. I’ll make longevity noodles right away.”
Shi Jin looked at his trembling hands and slightly red ears, and sighed inwardly. Reaching out, he took the key that Li Jiuzheng couldn’t fit in the keyhole, and helped him unlock the door.
Warm air poured out along the widening crack as the door opened, revealing the warmly and comfortably decorated entrance and living room.
Death Progress Bar is translated by Betwixted Translations. Read on the original translator’s site to get the fastest updates!
It was Shi Jin’s turn to be stunned. In the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ memory, Li Jiuzheng was a person who was indifferent to his living environment. He could live pretty much anywhere, his only preference being inclined towards a cool color scheme and instinctively rejecting warm and cozy decor. His clinic in Rongcheng, decorated in depression-inducing gray, black, and white, and feeling as cold as a coffin, was the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ last and most frightening nightmare.
This apartment, however, was warm and welcoming. From the pigeon gray, low pile carpeting to the wooden furniture and wide, comfy-looking fabric sofa, from the cartoon doormat to the abstract sunflower painting hanging on the wall and cream-colored curtains, there was barely any speck of cool color. The whole apartment was a definition of coziness; even the furniture edges were rounded.
It definitely didn’t look like a place Li Jiuzheng would live in. No one in the Shi family would decorate their home in this style.
Shi Jin didn’t hate it, though. To be precise, he was instantly fond of the sofa since it looked as if it was really comfortable to lounge on.
While Shi Jin was watching the apartment, Li Jiuzheng was watching him.
Shi Jin’s face was easy to read, his surprise and a bit of fondness in his eyes noticeable at a glance. Li Jiuzheng followed the teenager’s gaze to his brand new sofa, and his tense nerves slowly relaxed. Smiling, he stepped past Shi Jin and walked inside, then took out a pair of plush slippers from the shoe cabinet and put them in front of him. “It’s cold outside, come in,” he said.
This woke Shi Jin up, and he gave an embarrassed cough, finding that the way he’d been staring at the sofa was a little too obvious. He stepped through the door, closing it behind him, and handed Li Jiuzheng the key.
“It’s for you.” Li Jiuzheng reached out, but instead of taking the key, he took the shopping bag Shi Jin was carrying. “Sit down in the living room, I’ll get you something to drink,” he said with a smile, replacing his shoes with another pair of plush slippers like the one he gave Shi Jin, and headed to the kitchen with the bags.
Shi Jin watched him leave, then looked at the key in his hand. He frowned, hesitating, but finally put the key in his pocket.
He couldn’t help but feel that if he refused to take it, he would hear the sound of something glass-like shattering…
He changed into slippers and stepped into the living room. He looked around it with curiosity, then apprehensively sat on the edge of the sofa. Satisfied to find it properly soft and yielding, he took off the scarf and jacket and sat down again. There was a magazine lying on the coffee table as if someone left it there intending to finish reading it later. Shi Jin picked it up and flipped through it casually.
A dense text in a foreign language, interspersed with medical illustrations, appeared in front of his eyes. Shi Jin turned the pages with a stiff hand and, with the sense of awe of a poor student that accidentally stumbled into studying tyrants’ world, quietly put the magazine back.
Let’s pass time by playing phone games, shall we?
He reached for the phone in his pocket.
“What do you want to drink, Xiao Jin? Juice or milk?” Li Jiuzheng called, leaning out of the kitchen. He was holding an apron, apparently about to put it on.
Li Jiuzheng, apron… The image of Li Jiuzheng in a doctor’s coat and holding a scalpel standing quietly in the darkness flashed through Shi Jin’s mind, forcing him to suppress a shudder. Resignedly leaving the phone in his pocket, he stood up and replied, “Juice will be great. Don’t bother yourself though, I’ll get it.” So I won’t have to worry about the juice possibly being drugged… He knew he was being paranoid but he couldn’t help it—what happened in the previous life left too much trauma in the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ heart, making him subconsciously afraid of his fifth brother.
Li Jiuzheng seemed to immediately realize the meaning behind Shi Jin’s words, and the smile on his face dimmed. “Come on, then. The juice is in the fridge,” he said in a subdued voice.
Shi Jin: “……” It shattered, it shattered, it definitely shattered again.
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The two brothers stood side by side in the kitchen. One was holding a cup and pouring himself juice, the other wrestling with a piece of dough on the counter.
Out of the corner of his eye, Shi Jin saw Li Jiuzheng’s methodical motion of kneading dough, and his jaw almost dropped in shock. “You actually really can cook?”
Li Jiuzheng glanced sideways at him, his lips tightened, and he continued kneading.
“Are you angry?” Shi Jin asked.
“No, I won’t get angry with you,” Li Jiuzheng replied.
Liar, you’re obviously angry.
This Li Jiuzheng was not quite the same as Li Jiuzheng in the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ memory. His character wasn’t cold and withdrawn, nor did he only like books and hate people, refusing to let anyone approach him, not to mention he certainly didn’t appear to be crazy, full of pain, and murderous. The current he was proactive, knew how to smile, sensitive, and easy to understand—completely like an ordinary person. And facing such a Li Jiuzheng, Shi Jin inexplicably treated him in a way that was almost cold, even saying some hurtful things.
Since Li Jiuzheng was cooking in order to make a meal for him, Shi Jin didn’t press further and changed the subject: “This dough was made in advance, right? Did you get up very early to prepare the dinner?”
Li Jiuzheng’s kneading movements became stiff. Abruptly, he turned to the side, busying himself with putting the small pot standing on the counter on the stove to heat up. “It wasn’t that early.”
It seems he got up very early.
“What’s in this pot?” Shi Jin continued to ask, ignoring his discomfiture.
Li Jiuzheng’s hand on the pot handle tightened. “Chicken broth, for cooking the noodles… I made it myself, it’s not store-bought.”
So he knows how to cook noodles in chicken broth. Shi Jin praised sincerely, “You’re really amazing.” Li Jiuzheng making chicken broth by himself really was an impressive achievement. The cooking idiot in the original ‘Shi Jin’s’ memory couldn’t even cook instant noodles.
Li Jiuzheng didn’t answer, but Shi Jin noticed that his back straightened slightly. The praise seemed to make him very happy.
Is this person really the head of a hospital, a child prodigy turned outstanding doctor? He feels more like a young, immature student than I.
Shi Jin had a slight feeling of dissociation. The scary, ice-cold brother in his memory and the clumsy, easy-to-see-through brother in front of him seemed to be two different people. It was unbelievable. Could a person really change so much?
“We’re having hot pot,” Li Jiuzheng said suddenly while kneading dough. In a smaller voice, he continued, “There was too little time and I only learned how to make longevity noodles, so the dinner is a hot pot… Next time, next time I’ll really cook a big meal for you.”
Startled, Shi Jin turned to take a closer look at the shopping bags placed on the table. Seeing that they were filled with common hot pot ingredients, the sense of dissociation in his mind faded—it seemed Li Jiuzheng was still the same Li Jiuzheng for whom cooking was a predicament.
Yet, this cooking idiot had actually learned how to make chicken soup and knead the dough. What was important about the longevity noodles was the symbolic meaning—it would be enough just to cook them in hot water, there was no need to go this far. And what did he mean by “There was too little time”? Had Li Jiuzheng started learning how to make longevity noodles not too long ago?
Reason told Shi Jin that he shouldn’t feel soft-hearted towards Li Jiuzheng, the attempted murderer, but… He glanced at Li Jiuzheng in an apron, bathed in the warm glow of kitchen lights, and stifled a sigh.
Rather than the tired, cold, crazy, miserable Li Jiuzheng of the past, he much more preferred this clumsy guy who was timidly reaching out, trying to touch the warmth.
He downed the rest of his juice. “Which cupboard are the plates in?” he asked, rolling up his sleeves.
Taken aback, Li Jiuzheng pointed to the cupboard above his head. “In this one. What do you need plates for, Xiao Jin?”
“For the hot pot ingredients, of course. It would take a long time for you to finish preparing them by yourself, my lunch break is not that long,” Shi Jin replied. He took the plates from the cupboard, walked to the table, and began unpacking the shopping bags.
Li Jiuzheng turned to stare at him, stunned, then reached out to stop him. “No, you don’t have to. It’s your birthday, the only thing you’re responsible for today is eating.”
Shi Jin blocked his hand and motioned to the dough. “Fifth Brother, I’m hungry. At most half an hour later, I want to see your noodles coming out of the pot.”
Li Jiuzheng looked at him, his face slowly falling. His lips tightened; suddenly, he reached out and grabbed Shi Jin’s wrist, saying, “Xiao Jin, I’m sorry. I’ll take you out to eat. Let’s eat in a restaurant.”
“Don’t be silly.” Shi Jin pushed him away and continued preparing the ingredients. “These will go to waste if we don’t eat them. Start cooking the noodles you pulled. In the meantime, you can pull more and put them in the hot pot later.”
Li Jiuzheng looked down at his hand that had been pushed away. He raised it to touch Shi Jin again, hesitated, and let it fall back, whispering, “Okay.”
Death Progress Bar is translated by Betwixted Translations. Read on the original translator’s site to get the fastest updates!
After being busy for more than half an hour, the two finally put the meal on the table. The hot pot soup base was not homemade—Li Jiuzheng had bought it in a well-known hot pot chain restaurant. There were three flavors; seeing that Li Jiuzheng had enough pots, Shi Jin simply boiled them all.
The sight of a table full of plates with ingredients was oddly satisfying.
“You can start eating first, I’ll bring the noodles.” Li Jiuzheng took off his apron, motioning for Shi Jin to sit down.
Shi Jin hummed in affirmation and pulled out a chair at random. While waiting, he picked up some raw ingredients and started putting them in the pot with a boiling soup base.
Click. Suddenly, there was a sound of a camera shutter. Shi Jin paused and looked up towards the kitchen door. Li Jiuzheng, caught in the act, hurriedly stuffed his phone back into his pocket and walked into the kitchen as if nothing had happened.
Speechless, Shi Jin turned his attention back to the hot pot. What the heck? Did all of his brothers like taking sneak photos?
Soon, the longevity noodles were served.
In front of Shi Jin, there was a large soup bowl with a long, chopstick-thick noodle. It was not pulled very skillfully, and the thickness was not even. Shi Jin glanced at Li Jiuzheng and picked up the chopsticks. Under his brother’s nervous gaze, he lowered them into the bowl, found the beginning of the strand in the tangle, and caught it.
“Be careful! Don’t break it, it’s unauspicious,” Li Jiuzheng couldn’t help but urge. He leaned forward, looking as if he wanted to help Shi Jin hold the noodle.
Shi Jin wanted to laugh, but he found he couldn’t.
This was clearly a warm, happy moment, so why did he feel a little like crying?
This is definitely the emotion of the original ‘Shi Jin.’ With his other hand, he pinched himself hard under the table, using the pain to clear his mind. Bowing his head, he put the noodle into his mouth, exaggeratedly slurping the actually not-very-long noodle up.
He looked up and faced Li Jiuzheng’s mobile phone camera. Playing along, he rolled his eyes with mock disgust. “This much noodles is too little, I’m not full at all.”
Li Jiuzheng looked from the phone screen to him, and a brilliant smile lit up his face. “It didn’t break, Xiao Jin will live to a hundred years old! There are more noodles, wait a moment,” he said, getting up.
A bowl of noodles generously topped with eggs, shredded meat, and pickles was brought out of the kitchen.
“Here,” Li Jiuzheng said, putting it down in front of Shi Jin in place of the longevity noodles’ bowl. “Don’t eat too much, though, there’s still hot pot.”
Not standing on ceremony, Shi Jin raised his chopsticks and began to scarf down the noodles, not forgetting to scoop up the cooked ingredients from the hot pot every now and then.
Li Jiuzheng watched him eat with a happy expression on his face.
What an easy-to-understand person, Shi Jin thought. He swallowed a mouthful of noodles and rubbed his nose.
No, he’s actually not easy to understand at all.
This person has so many faces. Which of them is the real one?
After dinner, Li Jiuzheng took Shi Jin back to school. When the car stopped at the school gate, Shi Jin thanked him for the meal and opened the door to get off. Before he could, Li Jiuzheng suddenly spoke.
Shi Jin paused and looked back at him.
“And happy birthday.” Li Jiuzheng didn’t avoid his gaze. After a momentary blankness, the gentle and warm smile he often showed today once more appeared on his face. “Xiao Jin, I was very happy today. Thank you for having a meal with me.”
The current Li Jiuzheng smiled a lot in front of Shi Jin. His smile was warm, harmless, gentle, and happy, but every time Shi Jin saw it, it didn’t feel real to him.
He wondered again, which Li Jiuzheng was the real one? The young prodigy, the outstanding doctor, the scalpel-wielding murderer, the clumsy big brother making noodles… Which one is the real you?
“I still remember the way you were dressed when we met again last year. You wore a long, black, button-up coat, a suit with a dress shirt, and didn’t have a scarf. You looked mature and cold. I also remember your appearance in a white coat—handsome, and a little scary,” Shi Jin said, his gaze resting at the coffee-colored coat his brother was wearing now. He fell silent for a moment, then continued, “After my term-end exams, come over for a reunion dinner. I’ll let the others know too.”
Li Jiuzheng’s fingers trembled. He stretched his hand and grabbed Shi Jin’s wrist as if to stop him from leaving.
“Remember to come early. We’re going to cook by ourselves, like ordinary families do.” Shi Jin broke away from his grip, again thanked him for a meal with a smile, and got out of the car. He walked towards the school door without looking back. Some repressed emotions swirled in his heart, making him walk faster and faster.
Wrong, wrong, what clumsy and kind big brother, what warm, sensitive person, this was a murderer, a devil who stood over your hospital bed every night waiting to take your life. Go back, blame him, hurt him, return to him the pain you suffered thousand times over, and drag him down to hell with you—
Suddenly, a familiar-sounding car horn honked not far away. Shi Jin stopped in his tracks and glanced towards where it came from. To his surprise, he really saw the black car he knew well parked on the side of the street. He stared at it blankly for a few seconds, then changed direction towards it, breaking into a run. The moment he got close, he pulled open the rear door and threw himself at the person sitting inside.
Lian Jun opened his arms and hugged him. He reached out to pull the car door closed, then gently stroked Shi Jin’s hair. “You smell like hot pot,” he said. “It even got in your hair.”
Surrounded by the familiar presence, the churning sea of emotions in Shi Jin’s chest immediately calmed down. He tightened his embrace and took a deep breath. His tense nerves relaxing as Lian Jun’s familiar scent filled his nose, he asked, “Why are you here?”
“I was going to take you out for dinner. Didn’t you say you wanted to eat bacon bamboo rice? Just yesterday, I booked a room in a very good private restaurant,” Lian Jun replied, pinching his cheek. “Unexpectedly, it turned out you already had an appointment.”
Shi Jin paused, surprised, then his expression fell. “Why didn’t you tell me when I called you before?” he asked, brows drawing together in a frown. Rather than hot pot, he obviously would’ve preferred to eat bamboo rice with Lian Jun.
“I thought you’d want this chance to talk with your fifth brother, but as soon as I saw you coming out of his car, I knew I had made a wrong decision,” Lian Jun explained, giving him a soothing kiss on the forehead. “I’m sorry, I won’t make another mistake like this. Did he bully you?”
“No.” Done “recharging,” Shi Jin sat up straight and gave his beloved a contented kiss. “Let’s go eat that bacon bamboo rice next time… No, never mind, let’s cook it ourselves in the club. The weather forecast says another cold wave is coming and it may snow, so you shouldn’t go out.”
“It definitely wouldn’t be as authentic as the one made by a professional chef, though.” Lian Jun tidied up Shi Jin’s clothes, then reached to the side and picked up a takeout box. “Which is why I asked them to pack it so I could bring it back for you.”
The takeaway box is about the size of two normal boxed lunches. It was made of paper, with a cute cartoon rice ball pattern and the name of the shop printed on it. The moment he saw it, Shi Jin’s eyes lit up. He took the box and opened it, revealing several bamboo tubes tightly tied with string. A savory aroma of rice and bacon wafted out, making him salivate.
“It already got cool. Remember to heat it up before eating,” Lian Jun warned. He took out a not very big, narrow black box and handed it to Shi Jin. “Here, a birthday gift. Happy birthday, may you always be healthy and happy, and may all your wishes come true.”
“A birthday gift?” Shi Jin accepted the box, surprised but very happy. “I thought your birthday presents for me were the CQC game and birthday party last weekend.”
Lian Jun leaned forward and hugged him again, without speaking.
Shi Jin stopped unwrapping the gift and tilted his head to give him a confused glance.
“Be good, don’t think about it anymore. I’m here,” Lian Jun murmured, gently running his hand along Shi Jin’s back.
Shi Jin glanced at Li Jiuzheng’s car in the distance, which still hadn’t left. “Mhm,” he whispered, raising his hands and hugging his lover back.
The brothers’ chat group:
After a long time of no activity.
Li Jiuzheng [suddenly appearing]: Xiao Jin said he would have a reunion dinner with us after his term-end exams.
The other brothers: !!!
Li Jiuzheng [adding the caveat]: But he said we have to do it the way ordinary families do and cook by ourselves. Can you cook?
Fei Yujing: …Cough.
Shi Weichong [frowning]: I can only do the most simple dishes.
Rong Zhouzhong plays dead.
Xiang Aoting [hesitantly]: I can cook a little, but taste aside, what I make doesn’t usually look very good.
Li Jiuzheng: I can only make noodles.
Shi Weichong: Let’s learn. We can’t let Shi Jin be disappointed.
Everyone [silently agreeing]: Mhm.
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