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187 Going Home

 The headlights of the procession stretched down the road, transforming it into a river of light. The quiet Christmas night was suddenly bright with life and excitement.

Gu Nianzhi nestled her head on Huo Shaoheng's broad chest. Every shred of loneliness within her had vanished.

She knew where her past, present, and future belonged-by his side, and in his arms.

Gu Nianzhi sobbed quietly. In the silent night, her suppressed sobs were as heartbreaking to hear as the plaintive cries of a new-born kitten.

She did not want to cry openly. Someone might hear her, and laugh at her for acting like a spoiled child at her age.

Besides, she was now aware that her feelings for Huo Shaoheng had changed: they had grown beyond the innocent, guileless trust of a young child towards her caretaker.

Once she was done crying, Gu Nianzhi buried her head in Huo Shaoheng's chest and took a long, deep breath, as though trying to absorb the warmth of his body.

Huo Shaoheng patted her gently on the back. He was soothing her, pacifying her, the way he used to when she was a much younger child.

Gu Nianzhi closed her eyes and finally lifted her head from Huo Shaoheng's chest. She took a step backwards and broke away from his embrace.

She looked around her, and, for the first time, realized that Huo Shaoheng had practically brought an entire procession with him to pick her up.

A long line of military vehicles were parked on the road. The first three vehicles were mine-proof and explosion-proof 4WDs. These off-road vehicles were so sturdy, they would be able to run over a mine field and through a hailstorm of rocket missiles relatively unharmed.

Behind the 4WDs were four identical cars: black, sleek, and bulletproof. They served to confuse the enemy; anyone attempting an attack on the commander would first have to figure out which of the four bulletproof cars he was riding in.

The bulletproof cars were followed by three military pickup trucks, the standard form of military transport inside urban areas. Dozens of fully-armed orderlies rode in the back of each truck.

These were Huo Shaoheng's orderlies, led by Fan Jian, the head orderly. They were under Huo Shaoheng's direct command, and listened only to his orders.

As soon as Huo Shaoheng stepped out of his car, 100 fully-armed soldiers jumped out of the trucks behind him. They took up stations at every entry into the long street, their guns loaded and at the ready.

Several pedestrians and cars tried to turn into the street, but all of them immediately turned around at the fearsome sight of the armed soldiers and made a detour.

Huo Shaoheng and his men had practically taken over the entire street.

Both Yin Shixiong and Zhao Liangze were dressed in their full lieutenant colonel uniforms. They stood together behind Huo Shaoheng as they watched the surroundings attentively for possible threats.

A short distance away, military snipers knelt in position, behind walls and railings. They covered all the blind spots in the vicinity, defending the motorcade against potential enemy snipers.

Huo Shaoheng was the major general and acting commander of the 6th Military Region. It was standard procedure for someone of his rank to move about with a motorcade of this size.

He had rarely done so, however-in the past, he had almost always traveled incognito with minimal guards, all of them disguised in civilian clothing.

So why had he brought this grand procession with him just to pick her up?

Wasn't her identity supposed to be a secret?

When she had moved out of the Special Ops base to go to college, she had used a fake identity. Nobody outside of the military had ever found out that Huo Shaoheng was her guardian; it had been a well-kept secret.

Gu Nianzhi looked at Huo Shaoheng doubtfully. Her evocative, soulful eyes shone like black jade in the night, bright with unspoken fears.

Huo Shaoheng understood the meaning of her look. He looked at the vehicles and men around him, before turning to smile at Gu Nianzhi. "Your relationship with me is no longer a secret."

This meant that Gu Nianzhi no longer had to hide her connection with the military.

Gu Nianzhi's heart leapt. She was overjoyed, but in the next moment, she was suddenly uneasy and doubtful.

A multitude of expressions flashed across her face. Her lips curved downwards-it was impossible to tell what she was thinking.

Gu Nianzhi lowered her head. "Really? But I'm 18 now. I don't need a guardian anymore."

Huo Shaoheng did not argue. He turned to open the car door. "Let's go. I'm here to take you home."

Gu Nianzhi looked up at him, but could not see any flicker of emotion on his stoic face. She turned to look at where she had been sitting.

Her pink suitcase was still there.

Zhao Liangze quickly walked to the suitcase and carried it to her.

"Thank you, Brother Ze." Gu Nianzhi's voice was a tiny, sheepish squeak, almost too small to be heard.

Zhao Liangze smiled at her as he lifted her suitcase into the trunk.

Gu Nianzhi stooped to get into the car. She sat in the last row. Huo Shaoheng followed her, and sat next to her.

It was a big car, a lot more spacious than the average car. The backseat was wide enough for four people, instead of the usual three.

As soon as Huo Shaoheng sat down, however, Gu Nianzhi felt boxed in. She moved awkwardly to the far side of the car, towards the other window.

Huo Shaoheng noticed she was being unnaturally distant and reserved. He glanced at her, but did not say anything. He inclined his chin at Yin Shixiong, who was sitting up front and had turned around to watch Huo Shaoheng for his next instruction.

Yin Shixiong nodded. He turned and rapped his knuckles on Fan Jian's seat. "Go."

Huo Shaoheng's instructions were relayed to his men. The soldiers who had been standing guard immediately returned to their trucks and buckled in.

At the same time, the sniper bringing up the rear issued a command to the other snipers stationed along the route, instructing them to be ready to cover the motorcade.

The order was passed down from sniper to sniper.

Gu Nianzhi sat in the car, sullen and unhappy. She did not know what to say.

She had been dying to see Huo Shaoheng again in the last six months, but before she saw him, she had discovered her secret, unspeakable feelings for him. She had been thrown off-balance by her discovery; she was flustered, and did not know how to act around with him.

The car engine purred to life. The car began to roll forward.

Huo Shaoheng put an elbow against the car window, while his other hand rested on his knee. He looked straight ahead, his lips lightly pressed together. He did not speak.

The car had been sound-proofed. It was extremely quiet inside the car.

The car began to move, but the inside of the car did not heat up: it was only a little warmer than the temperature outside.

Gu Nianzhi had been frozen numb from the outside cold. She thought she would be warm enough once she got in the car, but she was wrong. She wondered if the heater was working: the car was already speeding down a highway, but the inside of the car seemed to be hovering at the same frosty temperature.

She breathed into her hands, trying to warm them.

Huo Shaoheng was facing forwards; he was not looking in Gu Nianzhi's direction, but he had been watching her attentively from the corner of his eyes.

He noticed Gu Nianzhi trying to warm her hands. He lowered his eyes and thought about it. He gave a cough, and said, "Nianzhi, hand me one of the books in the box next to you."

Gu Nianzhi looked down and saw a box next to the door. She opened it, extracted a random book, and handed it to Huo Shaoheng.

They were sitting apart. Huo Shaoheng had not moved to receive the book, and Gu Nianzhi's arms were not long enough to reach him.

Without thinking about it, she scooted over with the book in hand. She sat a little closer to Huo Shaoheng, and tried again to hand the book to him.

Huo Shaoheng finally extended a hand, but he did not take the book. Instead, he grabbed hold of her wrist and, with a small, effortless tug, pulled her over to him.

His other hand reached out, plucked the book from from her hand, and tossed it carelessly on the seat. His hand, big and warm, was now wrapped around Gu Nianzhi's small, delicate hands, warming them.

"You were out in the cold for too long. I can't turn the heater in the car up yet, the sudden warmth will make you sick. We have to take it slow." Huo Shaoheng rubbed her hands as he patiently explained why the car was not as warm as it should be.

His low, sexy voice opened the flood gates inside Gu Nianzhi: a warm current rushed out of her heart and into her limbs.

Gu Nianzhi immediately felt warm all over. She felt like she had just stepped into a hot spring.

She looked up at Huo Shaoheng and whispered, "You knew I'd been sitting outside for hours?"

"Yeah." Huo Shaoheng paused. "I should have sent a car over to you. You wouldn't have had to wait in the open."

So he had known that she had waited at the gate like an idiot for over two hours...

Gu Nianzhi's face reddened in embarrassment. She did not like being teased, however. She huffed angrily: "Well, I don't have ESP-how was I supposed to know that Mei Xiawen would be so petty?" She launched into an account of all that had happened, with special emphasis on what had happened inside Mei Xiawen's apartment. Once she was finished, she whipped her head to the side and stared out the car window in brooding silence.

Huo Shaoheng preferred her childish tantrum over her previous awkward reservations. His impassive face finally broke into a smile as he said sympathetically: "...Well said. Put your foot down and let the whole world know you don't want anything to do with him, ever again. You don't have to suffer in silence."

Zhao Liangze, Yin Shixiong, and Fan Jian had heard the entire conversation from the front row. They could not resist rolling their eyes.

If there was an award for Blind Irrational Helicopter Parent of the Century, Mr. Huo would have won it by now.

When had Nianzhi ever 'suffered in silence'?

She had practically flayed Mei Xiawen and Jiang Hongcha alive!

Then again, in the eyes of someone as irrationally protective of Nianzhi as Mr. Huo, making Nianzhi stand outside a gate for two hours in the freezing cold probably counted as a horrifying act of cruelty, the likes of which the world had never seen. Oh, how his poor baby must have suffered...

Zhao Liangze and Yin Shixiong kept their inner commentary to themselves. They did not have the balls to turn around and say it to Huo Shaoheng's face.

Gu Nianzhi was very happy to hear that. She had turned her head to look out the car window, but the corners of her mouth had quirked into a secret smile. The smile did not last, however-in a minute, the expression on her face had changed to one of bewilderment.

She turned to look into Huo Shaoheng's dark, fathomless eyes. "Huo Shao, where are we going? This isn't the way to the airport."

Didn't Huo Shaoheng say he was going to take her home?

Weren't they going to the airport, to catch a flight to C City?

Huo Shaoheng patted her hand. "I'm going home, and I'm taking you with me."

"Home?" Gu Nianzhi did not understand. "Whose home?"

"My home," replied Huo Shaoheng. He fell silent after that. Up ahead, a heavily-guarded residential area came into view-this was where the big-wigs of the Huaxia Imperial Military lived.

Gu Nianzhi was even more uneasy now.

In the last six years, whenever he was off-duty, Huo Shaoheng had spent every minute of his free time with her. He had never returned to his own home.

She had not known that Huo Shaoheng had had a family home to return to, all these years, and she did not know how to react. She trembled all over.

Huo Shaoheng glanced at her. He said impassively, "My father is the director of the military's Political Department. My grandfather retired a few years ago. There will be a few other relatives, but you don't have to pay any attention to them."

Yin Shixiong turned around just then to add helpfully: "Nianzhi, Mr. Huo hasn't returned to his family home for six years now. Thanks to you, he'll be able to celebrate Christmas with his family this year."

"I don't celebrate Christmas," Huo Shaoheng replied unhurriedly. "I'm going home for the New Year."