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87 Dont Hang Up

 When Gu Nianzhi dialed the number, it was already noon.

Huo Shaoheng had just returned to his room from his meeting with the Senate, and was now eating lunch and reading the National Defense bulletin at the same time. He would be meeting with the top brass of the Ministry of Defense in the afternoon, and he was preparing for it.

He heard his phone ring, and saw with a quick glance that it was an incoming call from the internal telephone line installed in Gu Nianzhi's bedroom, over at the Special Operations Forces military base.

Yesterday, Yin Shixiong had told him about Gu Nianzhi's sudden holiday, and how she would be spending a few days at the military base.

This incoming call likely meant that she had already checked in.

No one else would call him on this number.

Huo Shaoheng thought of what had happened at Dufeng Mountain Resort Villa last night. He unlocked the phone with his long, powerful fingers.

Before he could say a single word, Gu Nianzhi's voice sounded over the phone, happy and surprised: "Uncle Huo?!"

"Yeah." Huo Shaoheng lowered the bulletin in his hand. "Nianzhi, you're at the base?"

"Yup, Brother Xiong picked me up last night." Gu Nianzhi's voice was usually bright and playful, but it was now soft and husky because she had just woken up. Listening to her was like having a cat extend a small, fleshy paw and playfully bat at your ears. It was lovely, charming, and utterly intoxicating for the average person.

Huo Shaoheng was unmoved, however. He merely grunted in reply, before saying in a low voice, "Still in bed?"

"Yup. Just woke up." Gu Nianzhi's brain was sluggish; she wasn't completely awake yet. She held onto her phone and blinked as she took in her surroundings: this wasn't her college dorm, or her apartment in Fengya Precinct. It suddenly dawned upon her that she was in her bedroom, inside Huo Shaoheng's military residence, and the realization stunned her.

She had automatically dialed the number, without thinking. Whoops.

Gu Nianzhi inwardly chided herself, but she was reluctant to hang up the phone.

It wasn't every day that Uncle Huo took her call. It would be stupid of her to hang up on him now.

Gu Nianzhi turned over on her bed, a sweet smile on her face. She had both hands cupped around her phone now - she did not want to miss a single syllable from the other end of the line.

Huo Shaoheng heard the husky weariness in her voice; he lifted his wrist to check the time on his watch. "Go back to sleep then. I'm hanging up."

"Hey! Don't hang up!" Gu Nianzhi was frantic. She tossed in her bed in her panic, her fingers clenched tight around her phone, and fell off the narrow bed with a ka-thunk.

Huo Shaoheng: "...Nianzhi?"

"Uncle Huo, I'm fine! I fell off the bed, that's all..." Gu Nianzhi was extremely nervous. "Don't hang up on me!"

Huo Shaoheng was silent for a long moment. When he spoke again, his voice had gotten even deeper. "Okay. Calm down. I'm not hanging up."

Gu Nianzhi breathed out a long sigh of relief. She held onto the phone as she made herself comfortable on the small sheepskin rug in front of her bed. She leaned against her bed and sat with her long legs stretched out.

Huo Shaoheng's words were still echoing in her ears. They had been just a few simple words, but she found herself deeply affected by them.

Gu Nianzhi clung to the phone; her brain was fuzzy and the inside of her nose stung. She wanted to cry, wanted to act like a spoiled child - but Huo Shaoheng was not the kind of man to be persuaded by a few coy words...

Gu Nianzhi knew this very well. She had been by his side for the last six years, after all.

She rubbed her nose gently.

Huo Shaoheng waited for a long time, but did not hear her say anything. He began to wonder if she had fallen asleep. He called softly, "...Nianzhi?"

"Yes, sir!" Gu Nianzhi reflexively shouted in reply, as though she were one of Huo Shaoheng's soldiers.

The corners of Huo Shaoheng's mouth briefly curved upwards at this, but his voice was still low and indifferent when he said, "Still half-asleep? Go back to bed if you're sleepy."

"Nope! Not sleepy!" Gu Nianzhi was quick to deny it, but her mind was groggy, and seemed to have been filled with a thick sludge. She had thought of many things to say to Huo Shaoheng, but now she found herself unable to recall a single word of it.

She pinched herself on the thigh, hard. The sudden sting cleared her head.

Gu Nianzhi calmed her breathing. She twisted the long telephone cord around her fingers as she said, "Uncle Huo, I saw you at Dufeng Mountain Resort Villa yesterday."

Huo Shaoheng did not reply.

Gu Nianzhi waited for a moment, then decided to take his silence as an admission from Huo Shaoheng. She plucked up her courage and continued: "Did you see me yesterday? Why didn't you stop the car?"

"...Is there anything else? If there's nothing else I'm going to hang up now." It was apparent that Huo Shaoheng had no intention of giving her a straight answer. His voice had grown even more dispassionate.

Gu Nianzhi's heart gave a lurch at this. She was forced to change the subject: "Wait, there's something else. Uncle Huo, I wanted to tell you, Brother Li got injured, and all because he was protecting me. I want to visit him."

"Okay. I'll get Chen Lie to arrange it for you." Huo Shaoheng did not object.

Gu Nianzhi was encouraged by Huo Shaoheng's easy-going reply. She immediately followed this up with: "Oh, and Uncle Huo, that apartment in Fengya Precinct - I'd like to give it back to you."

This was the first time Gu Nianzhi had been able to speak to Huo Shaoheng over the phone, since the day he removed all his belongings from the Fengya Precinct apartment.

She had been waiting for the chance to tell him this.

Huo Shaoheng: "...Is the apartment too small for you? Okay. I'll get you a bigger one."

"No no no! No! There's nothing wrong with the size of the apartment!" Gu Nianzhi could feel three thick lines hanging from her forehead, manga-style. She was going to flip out any moment now.

"If you're happy with the size of the apartment, then what's the problem?" Huo Shaoheng felt the urge to smoke again. He reached for the cigarette pack on the table with one hand, tapped out a cigarette, and put it in his mouth. He lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply.

"...Because this is your house, Uncle Huo, not mine. I can't just take it." Gu Nianzhi said with complete seriousness.

Huo Shaoheng was only her guardian because the military had appointed him to the role. Gu Nianzhi was well aware of this. She did not want to leech on him when he had no actual obligations towards her.

"You have a point. You'll be 18 in October, and you won't be needing a guardian anymore." Huo Shaoheng narrowed his eyes as he flicked the ash off his cigarette. "Seems like you can't wait to cut off all ties with me. Okay then. Have it your way."


Gu Nianzhi almost had a heart attack right then and there. This wasn't what she had in mind!

The list of reasons she had come up with promptly sprouted wings and flew right out of her brain.

Gu Nianzhi began to cry. She couldn't help it. "No... That's not... Uncle Huo, I'm not trying to cut off all ties with you... No, I'm really not..."

Huo Shaoheng heard Gu Nianzhi sobbing over the phone. He did not speak.

He waited for her to finish crying before stubbing his cigarette out on the ashtray and asking, dispassionately, "So do you still want the apartment?"

"Yes! Yes! I want it!" Gu Nianzhi frantically nodded, her voice breaking as she choked back her tears.

"Good girl." Huo Shaoheng picked up the National Defense bulletin. "Now go wash your face. Wipe your tears."

Gu Nianzhi shook her head. "No, I'm not hanging up." She carelessly rubbed her face with the back of her hand.

Huo Shaoheng: "..."

"Go wash up. I'll wait." Huo Shaoheng turned on the hands-free mode on his phone. He opened the National Defense bulletin, leaned back on the sofa, and began reading from the first page.