Zhang Qingling, who did not sleep well that night, was gently woken up by her biological alarm1. Then, she took her toothbrush, squeezed a good amount of toothpaste on it, and brushed her teeth. After washing her face with warm water, she ate a hearty breakfast. Going on with her life as usual, what she didn’t expect was that the man, who had come uninvited to her house in the middle of the night and mind you, she still didn’t know his name, had delivered himself to her doorsteps.
“Come back early today. I’ll prepare some delicious food for you tonight,” he said and stood by the door to see her off.
All day long, Zhang Qingling’s head had been a chaotic mess2. Until she came home and saw the house spick and span, and a hot meal on the table. She finally could not stand it so she dumped her bag on the floor and rushed into the kitchen. She pulled the man wearing an apron and stirred the soup: “What do you want to do? Who the hell are you, young man? Don’t you dare scare this aunt, okay?” She was about to have a nervous breakdown!
“The soup is going to be spilled. Be careful of getting scalded by it. I don’t think we have any more ointments for burns at home. Qingling, you over bring the rice first, I’d get the last side dish [green vegetables] ready soon.” The man said with a smile, not at all angry at how violent the female was just now.
Zhang Qingling sat on the chair woodenly with two bowls of rice.
“I am not a human being. I am one of the demons that the beings of your kind mention in the books. My original form is that of a deer.” As if afraid that she would not believe his words, two antlers emerged on the man’s head. It disappeared as quickly as it appeared. The man explained to her while he put a bowl of soup on the side of his right hand for her.
“——” The rice fell on the table from Zhang Qingling’s mouth.
The man took a clean piece of cloth and got up to wipe her face clean before continuing, “I came to repay a debt of gratitude, for the two hundred and tenth time.”
“———” Zhang Qingling’s chopsticks fell off.
The man gave her a new pair of chopsticks. “My name is Lan Xi, Bai Quan, Yue Hua, Shan Se… Xiao Lu [Little deer], Ye Ban—”
“Hold on, how many names do you actually have?” Zhang Qingling couldn’t endure it at last.
“You gave me all those names, are you going to give me another one too this time?”
“Xiao Zei.” This man had suddenly appeared in the middle of the night, scaring her half to death, and now, saying unintelligible things that gave her a headache trying to process the words. Why not just be straightforward and call him Little Thief [Xiao Zei] and be done with it?
“No, this name is the same as the name you gave me in the 97th time.” Oddly enough [despite those odd names the deer demon seemed to have accepted before], this time, he had refuted the name she had given good-naturedly as well as in deadly earnest.
Zhang Qingling: “——”
So what the hell is going on now? A woman as old as her won’t be scared of this little brat.
“You once saved a deer, which was me. So I decided to repay the favor by trying to find you and come to you whenever you turn seventy-seven years old in each of your lifetimes. I will accompany you until you die of old age. After you die, I would use my clan’s treasure to return to the time when you were twenty-seven. And then we would meet again, I would accompany you until you die of old age again. It’s been a cycle, and now it’s the 210th time.”
Her feelings weren’t following the script at all… Zhang Qingling no longer knew what kind of expression she should make. So, this was actually the two hundred and the tenth time that ‘she’ was experiencing the same thing. No matter who listened to this kind of thing, it would be unbelievable and surreal to them. However, from the bottom of her heart, she believed whatever was going on and whatever he said almost instantly.
After a long silence, Zhang Qingling said feebly, “Others repay a one-time kindness only once yet, you repay your favor so many times, is it your hobby to do so?”
“It’s because I’m in love with you, but you don’t have a long life. I am the only one left in my clan, and you are the only one I am willing to accompany for the rest of my life. So I used the clan’s greatest treasure to come back to the present time over and over again to reunite with you.” The man still had a smile on his face. He used his chopstick to put some green vegetables in Zhang Oinling’s bowl.
Zhang Qingling frowned looking at the said old yet young-looking demon3. “According to you, you have been repeatedly going back in time… don’t you ever get tired of it? Seeing the same person over and over again… don’t you get saddened by the death of your loved one? How can you bear the pain of losing your loved one again and again?” Zhang Qingling still couldn’t tell what she was exactly feeling.
“It isn’t. Since the first time I did this, I told you that I would always be with you. This is my forever. I am very happy. As for death… It is because after witnessing your death, I can experience the joy of reunion. After having lost the previous you, I would cherish you and every second of your life even more when we meet again. By the way, this is the four hundredth time you’ve asked me that question,” the man said, leaning forward and reverently kissing Zhang Qingling’s forehead.
“Obviously, it has been past 200 cycles, how is it that I’m asking you this question for the four hundredth time?”
“—well, because, when you become a happy old lady, you would still ask me this question. Well, what name are you going to give me this time, Qingling?”
The man was silent for a moment, and shook his head regretfully: “Although I like this name too, it wouldn’t work because it overlaps with the one you gave me during the 157th time.”
“Need I bring the dictionary to you? Well, you’ve looked at it dozens of times before and said that you won’t ever look at the dictionary next time. Then this time… ah! I remember that you still have the Book of Songs and Song Ci in your library, do you want me to get it for you?”4
“Can’t we just use the same name as before?!” Zhang Qingling was seriously going to kneel down to this guy.
“No, every encounter is a new journey, I have to remember this well.” The good-natured man who had been easy to deal with was very firm this time.
“Okay, okay, then Sprite, Coke, Fanta, you choose one of them.”
“Hehe~ it all coincides with the others.”5
“This one’s okay.”
“——” Hey, hey, how did things turn out like this when she was ready to flip out?! Zhang Qingling, who had just stood up, squatted down again. She took a cup of honey water from the man who had officially changed his name to Bai Nian.
After taking a sip, Zhang Qingling sadly found out that she couldn’t get angry at all.