Annina stirred awake to find herself in a room. It was an unfamiliar room and the furniture and fittings looked rather old, in the style of 90’s China. Through the window, she saw a forest and the leaves on the trees had almost all fallen. There were mountaintops in the distance. Everything she saw painted a bleak picture.
Just then, the door to the room opened and Xia Lei walked in.
“Lukas.” Excitement burst in Annina’s heart and she made to get up from the bed but lay down again after moving only a little. Her body was soft and powerless; she was very weak.
Xia Lei walked to her bedside. “Lie down, don’t move. You’ll be fine after resting for two days.”
“What’s wrong with me?” asked Annina uncomprehendingly.
Xia Lei smiled and said, “Remember that cup of water you drank? It had a drug in it that simulates death. It can make your heart stop beating but you can be revived if you’re tended to in time.”
“What about Markus and Ralf?” Annina remembered her vicious countrymen.
“They’ve been detained. The consular staff are negotiating with our side now,” said Xia Lei.
“Will they be sentenced?”
Xia Lei shook his head. “No. They will be released after we give them some trouble. Our goal was to save you, not to frame two German agents.”
“What if they want my corpse?”
Xia Lei grinned. “Then they’ll get ashes. We’ve prepared ashes of a female of a similar age to yours and taken some hair and skin from you and mixed them into the ashes. The ashes will have your DNA in there. There will be flaws, of course, but they cannot do anything if we insist that those are your ashes.”
Annina relaxed only then. She looked quietly at Xia Lei, her eyes alight with laughter.
“We will give you a new identity. You can start your new life here,” said Xia Lei.
“I’d like to work at your company. I’m a machinist too, like you,” said Annina.
“You can’t, not right now. You have to lay low for some time. You understand what I mean? It’s a sensitive time now and if someone sees you working at my company there will be trouble,” said Xia Lei.
“Then what can I do? I don’t want to stay here all the time.”
“This is just temporary. Long Bing will arrange everything after you’ve recovered.”
“Long Bing?” This was Annina’s first time hearing Long Bing’s name.
Xia Lei smiled. “You’ve seen her - Laura”
“Your wife?” blurted Annina, then she remembered and said, “She’s not your wife. You’re not married. That Miss Liang is your real girlfriend, right?”
Xia Lei nodded.
“Do you love her?”
“I do.” Xia Lei felt embarrassed when talking about it. “We…”
Annina cut him off. “Hold me.”
Xia Lei paused. He’d been about to refuse but he could not bear to at the thought that Annina had only ended up in such dire straits because of him. After some hesitation, he reached his hands out to hug her and found that a person sitting by a bed could not hold someone lying on the bed. He shrugged. “I can’t.”
“You can climb on the bed and hold me,” said Annina.
Xia Lei was speechless.
“Just hold me for a bit. I want you to comfort me. There’s no way you’ll be able to cheat on your fiancée with me like this, is there?” said Annina sneakily. One could see that she was in a much better mood already.
Xia Lei smiled wryly and bit the bullet. He climbed onto the bed and lay next to Annina, then stretched out an arm for Annina to use as her pillow. Annina lay quietly in the crook of his arm and they lay together wordlessly.
Xia Lei had thought that it would be very awkward to lie on the same bed as Annina and hold her but it was, strangely, not. He felt rather tranquil instead.
Annina must’ve been too tired; she fell asleep quickly.
Half an hour later, Xia Lei cautiously climbed out of bed and left the room. He looked back at her as he exited. She looked peaceful and had a faint smile on her lips. Who knew what she was dreaming of?
Xia Lei saw Long Bing standing in the yard as soon as he walked out. This place was actually just a small farmhouse and was fairly inconspicuous from all angles.
Long Bing gave Xia Lei and odd look but did not speak.
Xia Lei, on the other hand, interpreted her silence for something else and said awkwardly, “It’s not what you think. She needs comforting most now, and I just…”
Long Bing spoke evenly, “You just accompanied her in bed for a short nap. Relax. I’ll keep your secret. Miss Liang won’t know about this.”
Xia Lei changed the subject. “Who’s going to be taking care of her?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll arrange for someone to take care of her. Don’t worry about her afterwards either. I’ll let her stay in the logistics department of Bureau 101 for a while,” said Long Bing.
“You don’t mean that she’s going to join Bureau 101, is she? She’s just a normal machinist - not suited at all to be an agent,” said Xia Lei in surprise.
“No special agent was born a special agent. Take yourself for example. And, didn’t you also say that she is an excellent mechanic? Able to disassemble and fix Germany’s most advanced Leopard 2. Krupp Mak Maschinenbau is actually a German military company. She must have some valuable information. We’ve taken so much effort and risk to save her so she should give us something, shouldn’t she?” said Long Bing.
Xia Lei smiled wryly. “Okay, arrange whatever you need. Please send me back now. I’m still working on modifying that gun for you.”
Long Bing looked at the dusky sky. “Back to the Liang household or to your home?”
“The company.” Xia Lei rolled his eyes at her. “I’m going to work overtime and modify your gun.”
Long Bing smiled faintly and said nothing. She turned to get the car.
It took over an hour for the car to drive out of the mountain area and into the city, to Thunder Horse Manufacturing. It was the beginning of winter and the days were shorter. The sky was dark when the two of them arrived at the company.
Long Bing looked at the parts which Xia Lei had processed in his workshop and was very satisfied with them. She did not stay long - she looked at the gun, chatted for a bit with Xia Lei and drove off.
Xia Lei was alone in his workshop modifying the gun till about midnight, when he left the workshop. He would be able to give Long Bing a sniper rifle with a far better performance than the AS50 in under three days if he progressed at this rate.
Xia Lei sat in the driver’s seat of the BMW M6 and his first thought was to drive to the Liang household but he changed his mind when he drove to the exit. It wasn’t that he could not drive to the Liang household but it was already the middle of the night and not very convenient. The other reason was that he had been spending too much time with Liang Si-Yao recently. His waist ached often. Men were steel and women furnaces - furnaces melted steel but whoever heard of molten metal melting furnaces?
‘Never mind. I’ll rest for a day and go home to have a good sleep.’ Xia Lei drove towards home. He could guarantee that if he went to the Liang household at this time, Liang Si-Yao would just have to grind against him a little and say a few teasing words for him to cave in and engage in love-activities. She often did that and it was a little too much for him.
Back in his neighbourhood, he parked his car and looked up at Jiang Ri-Yi’s balcony. No lights were on in her home and she did not appear on the balcony.
‘What am I thinking? It’s already the middle of the night. She’d be long asleep.’ Xia Lei looked away and walked towards the stairwell.
Up on the second floor, before he opened his door, the sound of scuffling slippered feet moving about suddenly came from inside his home and there was also light coming from under the door.
Who could be home?
Xia Lei was surprised and was about to use X-ray vision to look inside when the door suddenly opened.
It was Xia Xue.
“Xue, when did you come back? Weren’t you supposed to come back in a few days?” asked Xia Lei in surprise.
Xia Xue yawned and said lazily, “It’s the school holidays already so I came back early. The plane only arrived at the airport at 10pm so I haven’t been home for long. I was going to call you if you still weren’t coming back.”
Xia Lei wrinkled his brows. “You have to give me a call in advance for things like this. I’m worried for you, taking a flight back from Jing-Du yourself.”
Xia Xue laughed. “Brother, I’m an adult now. I know what I’m doing. You’re busy enough on normal days so don’t worry about me. Come in, don’t talk in the doorway - you’ll disturb the neighbours.”
Xia Lei walked through the door and wanted to have some words with her but he swallowed his words before he said them. Xia Xue had passed her teenage rebellious phase but girls her age were rebellious too. She had her own ideas and opinions and would not listen to her brother for everything. She wouldn’t listen even if he nagged, so why say it?
Xia Lei was actually not truly particularly worried about Xia Xue’s safety because Long Bing had said that there were professionals protecting her. The secret protector would definitely be doing his job when Xia Xue came back from school.
“Are you hungry, Brother? I’ll make you some instant noodles,” said Xia Xue.
“No, I ate a takeaway meal at the company.” Xia Lei walked to the balcony. He was curious - was Xia Xue’s secret protector close by? If so, he’d like to see who was guarding Xia Xue.
“Then I’ll make one for myself. I’m starving.” Xia Xue went to the kitchen. It seemed like she had woken up because she was hungry and seen Xia Lei drive home from the kitchen window before she had gone to the door to open it for him.
Xia Lei went to the balcony and scanned all the visible corners.
The neighbourhood seemed normal. There weren’t any people walking about at this hour but there were a few cats chasing each other noisily.
Xia Lei’s gaze went to the area beyond the walls and a woman in a black trench coat entered his field of vision. His left eye twitched and the woman’s blurred face came into focus. He was stunned by who he saw - it was Tang Yu-Yan.
Tang Yu-Yan was looking up at the balcony too and she could probably see Xia Lei since he had the light on behind him. He was fairly obvious standing high up on a balcony. She just couldn’t see his face clearly.
‘How can it be her?’ Xia Lei was astonished. ‘It can’t be, can it?’
Tang Yu-Yan seemed to have discovered that Xia Lei was watching her. She turned and left, but not quickly. Just a woman passing by in the dead of night.Previous Chapter Next Chapter