Wen was just about to return to his room when Astra called out to him, “Wen, can you pass me my towel?”
Astra slowly slipped out of the rest of his soiled clothes as he spoke, his pants dropping to the ground as they slid down his long legs. He stepped out of his pants and bent down to hook a finger into a belt loop and tossed the pants into the washing machine.
Astra’s side profile was exposed to Wen, so that all of his sculpted muscles were visible from where Wen stood.
If there was a gay person in the room, they would know that Astra was trying to flirt.
A strange emotion welled up from Wen’s heart. He picked up the towel and passed it to Astra very slowly. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Astra grabbed it with one hand. “I wonder what the code says.”
“Linus will solve it eventually.” Wen paused and moved his gaze away from Astra’s hand. “I’ll go in first.” He didn’t wait for Astra’s reply before he turned and left.
Astra watched the door to the shower stall close before going to his own cubicle. He turned on the water, and then suddenly smiled like the cat that got the cream.
After the two of them came out from their shower, they found Jiyu and Simon seated on the sofa, waiting for them with matching expressions of seriousness.
“What happened exactly?”
“Didn’t you guys say that you were going to the auction for fun? Why did you come back covered in blood?” Simon was worried and angry. “Did someone try to bully you guys?”
Astra looked at Wen. He wasn’t sure if Wen wanted their teammates to know about NK-03.
Wen, “Something unexpected came up, but it had nothing to do with us.” He continued to explain, “The auction was chaotic, so someone tried to steal one of the items when no one was looking. The auction owner caught the thief and made a spectacle out of him. The two of us were just standing a little too close when that happened.”
Jiyu wrinkled his brows. “Take us with you next time.”
Wen’s gaze became more sincere. “Alright.”
Simon walked over to Astra and fidgeted nervously, before he spoke up and asked, “Then did you guys see that kind of thing at the auction?”
Confusion was clearly written across Astra’s face. “What?”
“You know, that.” Simon’s face flushed like a tomato, but he mustered up his courage and asked, “We heard that the auction has a lot of beautiful ladies, that they’ll smile at the guests and take advantage of the handsome guys. They’ll… They’ll even touch your hand if they’re interested. Did you see them?”
Astra stroked his chin as he answered thoughtfully, “Yeah, there were a lot of beautiful ladies.”
Simon’s eyes lit up in excitement. “Then how were they like? Are they prettier than Naia?”
“How can you compare looks to a beauty known for her temperament, like Naia?” Astra raised his brow. “And why are you bringing her up anyways?”
“Well, she’s the only girl I know here at the Academy, isn’t she?” Simon complained. “Oh, right. Before you guys came back, she brought over some local cooking ingredients. The ingredients are still fresh, and apparently they’re all regional specialties. Naia’s really considerate.”
They chatted for a while before they were interrupted by Linus, who poked his head out of his room. His face was expressionless as ever, but his eyes were shining like a kid on New Year’s Eve. “I can solve it.”
Linus continued, “But it’ll take me two days.”
Wen turned to meet Astra’s eyes before replying to Linus’s declaration, “That’s fine, no pressure, Linus. You’re awesome.” Wen sounded really happy.
Linus relaxed a little upon hearing Wen tell him to take his time. He walked out of his room and flopped down on the sofa. “Yep, I’m pretty awesome.”
There was no arrogance behind those words, Linus spoke them as a matter of fact.
Even though no one knew whether the code really contained information on NK-03, the Medicine Man had still tried to hide this code inside his own body, so it must be something extremely important nonetheless.
Wen’s happy mood continued. He stood up and looked at Simon. “Naia brought cooking ingredients?”
“Yeah, they’re in the fridge.” Simon watched as Wen walked to the fridge and blinked in confusion, as if he couldn’t understand what he was seeing. “You’re going to cook?”
Wen rolled up his sleeves gracefully. “I’ll give you a guys a lesson on why cooking is called an art form.”
“I’ll help.” Astra was quick to stand up. “What do you want to make?”
The strange feeling from his bathroom encounter with Astra was back. Wen suppressed this puzzling sensation and passed some of the ingredients to Astra for washing.
Even though the world described in the book was technologically advanced, a lot of the basic life skills were still the same as the modern world back home. The only difference was that a lot of the utilities and cookware were more efficient than what Astra was used to in his home world. Astra set the items aside as he prepared to wash them. Water splashed onto the edges of his sleeves.
Astra sighed helplessly. “Wen.”
Wen put down the knife. “What?”
“Help me roll up my sleeves.” Astra smiled despite his annoyance. “They got wet.”
The suppressed feeling returned. Wen struggled to not let anything show on his face as he came closer and helped Astra with his sleeves. He started from Astra’s left sleeve and moved on to the right when he was done with the first one. Each sleeve was neatly rolled right up to Astra’s elbow, there was no chance of them slipping down now. “Is this okay?”
“Of course.” Astra grinned. “Thanks, Wen.”
Wen returned to his own station, picked up the knife, and cut the ingredients in front of him into thin, even slices. After a moment had passed, Wen couldn’t help but turn and look back at Astra.
Astra was washing the vegetables earnestly. The round, red fruit in his hands was washed several times over, until not a single speck of dirt remained.
He’s pretty good at acting as a sous-chef, Wen thought.
An hour later, the smell of hot food spread from the kitchen into the living room. Simon squatted next to the kitchen doorway and peered around the doorframe with puppy eyes. Astra wasn’t too busy at the moment, so he fed Simon a piece of meat. “How’s the taste?”
Simon puffed as he chewed the hot food and gulped it down. His head bobbed up and down. “It’s delicious, really delicious! Gimme another piece!”
“Food’s not done yet.” Astra flicked Simon on the forehead and picked up a piece of meat from the bowl, holding it up for Wen. “Here, try your own taste.”
“You’re saying it in a really weird way.” Wen chuckled and glanced at Astra out of the corner of his eye. But he still opened his mouth and ate the juicy piece of meat. “What do you mean, ‘try my own taste’?”
Astra laughed. “I’m so hungry that I can’t think straight.”
Wen laughed outright. He can’t think straight? This boy is so adorable.
Astra went to feed Jiyu and Linus. After Jiyu ate, he gave a serious, five hundred word commentary, and then squatted by the door with Simon to wait for more food. The male lead’s cooking skills were no joke.
As Astra would put it, if Wen’s attractiveness was an 8 before, then with his cooking skill he was a perfect 10 out of 10.
Linus was more blunt than Jiyu. “Really? Just one piece?”
Astra teased Linus for being so serious, “We’re poor. There’s only five pieces of meat. Just look at it, look how fair and convenient it is that everyone gets one piece.”
Linus’s eyes betrayed his dissatisfaction. “I don’t know what gave you the impression that I’m an idiot that would believe everything you say.”
Linus stopped investigating the code. He walked past the two people squatting by the door, and as there was no room for him to wait there, he walked into the kitchen. “How long until it’s done?” He asked Wen, trying very hard to look and sound nicer and less blunt than his usual self.
Everyone’s response was very satisfying to the conjurer of this beautiful meal. “Almost, just ten more minutes.”
Simon cheered, and rushed to take out some drinks from the fridge. Jiyu and Linus set up the table so they wouldn’t have to waste time getting it ready once the food was done.
“What do you guys want to drink?” Simon squinted at the fridge. “Alcohol, juice, or water?”
Wen wanted to drink alcohol, but he changed his mind just as he was about to speak. Instead, he found himself saying, “Juice.”
He remembered the strict requirements that the Academy enforced on its students. They weren’t allowed to drink alcoholic beverages too often.
Nevertheless, Simon laughed evilly and brought out three bottles of strong liquor. “It’s in the fridge, so that means we can drink it. Why d’you want to drink juice, Wen? Real men drink alcohol in bowls, not cups!”
“Fine,” Wen replied. “A real man lives up to his words. Let’s drink, Simon!”
When Simon finished speaking, Jiyu silently switched out the cups he set out for large white bowls.
Anyone with a brain could tell that this was a trap set by the school. It was highly likely that the school would receive news about them breaking the rules before they could even finish all the alcohol. But no one mentioned the rules during this happy occasion.
They had just returned from their two battles on Vagor, and had been unbelievably busy throughout their journey from their home planet to the Academy. Wen and Astra even had an extra little adventure at the auction. In short, this dinner was a rare opportunity to relax. After all, they didn’t get to celebrate their admission to the Empire’s best military academy yet.
Ten minutes later, Wen clinked the silverware against a bowl to get everyone’s attention. A crisp sound rang out and echoed in the apartment. “It’s done.”
The youths shouted in excitement as they brought the food from the kitchen into the dining room. Their stomachs were growling from hunger, so they were all in a hurry to fill up their plates with food.
“Here, master chef, sit here.” Astra pulled out the chair beside him, acting very much like a refined gentleman. “You’ve worked hard.”
The food not only looked great, but also smelled divine. The book mentioned that the male lead didn’t cook often, but everyone who tried his cooking was always mesmerised by the unforgettable taste. In fact, the male lead’s cooking skill was one of the reasons why the original Astra was so loyal to him.
The pieces of meat that Astra fed them before were delicious, and had roused their appetites. While Wen was cooking, the hungry gluttons had been horsing around and bouncing off the walls, but now that they were seated at the dining table, each and every one of them were adamant on following proper dining etiquette. They didn’t dive in to the food immediately. Instead, they had to pour out the liquor first and toast to the special occasion.
The bowls were filled halfway with liquor. The five of them raised their hands and stood up altogether.
“Cough“ Once everyone around the table looked at Astra expectantly, he became a bit embarrassed. “I’m glad to have met you guys.”
“That’s too formal.”
“Yeah, too perfunctory, can’t you add some emotion into it?”
Astra’s mouth twitched, and a wide grin slowly stretched over his face. He thought about it for a second and asked, “Are there a lot of famous students and teams here at Solaris?”
“Of course! Half of the officers in the military come from Solaris. And the school’s graduates make up four out of the top ten teams in the Empire.”
They met each other’s eyes, their gazes burning with determination and excitement, as if their very souls were ablaze behind their pupils.
“In that case,” Wen raised his bowl, “to Reverie. One day, our names will appear among those other ones as the brightest of them all.”
His tone was confident, as if it was only a matter of time before Reverie became known throughout the galaxies. The young men at the table were all moved by his words. All of a sudden, they felt the world brighten as the future opened up in front of their eyes; a golden path of opportunity stretching endlessly onwards. The sensation was akin to flying. They felt invincible and eager, they couldn’t wait to step onto that path and run towards the fantastic lives that awaited them.
They tipped their bowls back and drank.
Simon muttered, “If that Masked Pirate guy didn’t die, all we have to do to achieve our goals is to catch him.”
A smile hung on the corners of Wen’s lips. “You want to meet him?”
“Actually, I want to meet him too.” Astra put his bowl down. “Just think, he can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other pirate groups when he’s all by himself. I want to see for myself exactly how strong this guy is.”
“Really?” Wen mulled over Astra’s words, before he joked, “Who’s to say that this person isn’t still alive? Maybe you’ll get lucky one day, and your wish will come true. Maybe there’s still a chance for you to see this person, sooner or later.”
Astra thought it was highly unlikely. How could someone who wasn’t even mentioned in the plotline just suddenly appear in front of the male lead? But Astra still went along with Wen’s little joke. “I hope so.”
Astra didn’t have the same ability to jinx as Jiyu, so it should be okay for him to say something like that.
The author has something to say: Hehehe Astra, you’re cute, you’re naive, everything you say is right.