@Sleepwalking Shadow: Shitty tabloid, just you wait. Our gege is on his way to shut you down now.
However, defying all his shadows' expectations, Jiang Ying was exceptionally quiet regarding this matter. He didn't give the tabloid article a spiteful like. He didn't lead the attack against the tabloid account. In fact, he hadn't even logged into Weibo in several days.
That was unusual. So unusual that one had to assume… something was wrong.
The shadows started to feel the slightest bit restless.
[Where's our gege? He hasn't posted in days.]
[Yeah, this is strange. Doesn't Jiang Ying love shutting down rumors like this? This tabloid is such an easy target.]
[Should we ask his brother Jiang Xun?]
[Forget that. I think it's about time we shadows grew up. Other fans all rush in to defend their idol when something happens, but we always come back here and cry for Jiang Ying. And we call ourselves mom fans! Have we earned the right to call ourselves that?]
[You're right. Gege has his own life to worry about. There are some things we can handle on our own.]
After a brief strategy meeting, the shadows charged back out and resumed their fight against Qi Zhu's fans. For the next few days, #QiZhuFans# and #JiangYingFans# trended nonstop.
Of course, the production team of 'An Auspicious Snow' loved to see this sort of drama. It only helped to bring more attention to the show. Everyone could sense that the official announcement of the cast would come very, very soon.
During these few days of chaos, Jiang Ying stayed at home and continued studying the script of 'An Auspicious Snow'. As he read, he felt more and more like netizens hadn't voted for him to play this character just for laughs. Xuan Moling actually held a lot of thoughts and beliefs that Jiang Ying shared.
Jiang Ying wasn't in a good position to go on Weibo these days, but there was a lot he wanted to say. Keeping all those thoughts to himself was stifling, but almost everyone he knew was busy. So he had no choice but to bug Qi Zhu.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: [poke poke]
Qi Zhu answered within seconds.
[Class Monitor]: ?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Lemme ask you a question. Have you known for a long time that we were going to be in a drama together?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: YoMommaSmellsLikeDurian.jpg
[Class Monitor]: Yeah.
[Class Monitor]: The director wanted us to run lines together that day, but you left first.
Jiang Ying stared.
Okay, okay, okay. It was his bad for asking.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Have you read the script?
[Class Monitor]: Reading it now.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: What do you think of Xuan Moling?
[Class Monitor]: Depends on your standpoint.
Jiang Ying had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Can you say that again in a language humans speak?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: LittleDinoRoars.jpg
[Class Monitor]: Speaking as the protagonist Luo Nanke, I would say Xuan Moling is wild and cruel. Speaking as myself, I think Xuan Moling is clever, confident, and free. He lives his life on his own terms.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Oh? Then what you're saying is Luo Nanke doesn't live freely?
[Class Monitor]: Mhm, he isn't happy. He encounters many people in life, but all his old friends have betrayed him. He just doesn't lead a happy life.
At the end of 'An Auspicious Snow', the antagonist suffered a crushing and total defeat. The protagonist, meanwhile, enjoyed a glorious victory and lived happily ever after. And yet Qi Zhu was saying he didn't believe Luo Nanke led a happy life at all. Jiang Ying had to admit that was a fresh and interesting perspective.
[Class Monitor]: If I were Luo Nanke, I wouldn't have allowed Xuan Moling to suffer that fate.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: I appreciate you.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: But only for 1 minute.
Although he didn't want to admit it, Jiang Ying received some inspiration from that conversation with Qi Zhu. He began to review the script again and thought not only of the story from Xuan Moling's perspective, but also of Xuan Moling from the other characters' perspectives. Xuan Moling was, after all, deeply connected to these other characters and the world around them.
Jiang Ying wanted to seize that feeling of enlightenment and really dive back into the script, but Qi Zhu was still poking him on QQ.
[Class Monitor]: [poke poke]
[Big-Clawed Crab]: ?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: What.
[Class Monitor]: Come to dinner.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Who the f wants to eat with you?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: SpitsInEveryDirection.jpg
[Class Monitor]: Wait outside. I'll pick you up in twenty minutes.
[Class Monitor]: The drama's investors and production team are having dinner tonight. Your brother can't go, and he said it's fine if you take his place.
[Class Monitor]: He also said you drive like you're trying to dodge bullets. He's worried. He asked me to grit my teeth and take on the undesirable task of driving you.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: I have my license. I passed the test fair and square. Who are you to look down on me?
[Class Monitor]: You took and failed the exam several times for reasons including but not limited to — backing into someone's garage, driving into a garden while making a turn, and sliding down a slope while trying to park.
[Class Monitor]: Once, you got lost and drove out of the testing zone.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: ??? You know too much.
[Class Monitor]: Yu Yunzhi, the original author of 'An Auspicious Snow', will also be at tonight's dinner. You can talk to him if there are any parts of the story you don't understand. Hurry up and get ready.
Since it was like that, Jiang Ying didn't argue. It wasn't like he would just be having dinner with Qi Zhu, after all. He got dressed and wandered out to the gates of his residential complex. A supercar was already parked outside. It was only when Jiang Ying approached that Qi Zhu took off his sunglasses.
"It's just dinner, and you can't drive a more low-key car?" Jiang Ying asked. He gave Qi Zhu a onceover, taking in his tailored, high fashion outfit. Jiang Ying had just thrown on sneakers and a hoodie before leaving his place; he suddenly felt a bit underdressed.
Although Jiang Ying lived in a luxury complex, where there was no risk of random people sneaking photographs, Qi Zhu's arrival in this fashion and that car had still amassed a little crowd of spectators.
"Let's go, let's go," Jiang Ying urged, grumpily climbing into the car.
The doors of the supercar gradually lowered. They raced off to the dinner meeting, with the ostentatious engine growling the whole way.
Jiang Ying took off his sunglasses after getting into the car. He leaned back and studied Qi Zhu with a somewhat complicated look on his face. This guy wasn't dressed like he was going out to dinner; he was dressed well enough to walk down a red carpet.
"Do you dress up this nice every time you go out? It's dinner, not a beauty pageant," Jiang Ying grumbled. He had to admit that Qi Zhu's popularity didn't come from his acting ability alone; Qi Zhu was also physically very… fortunate.
As always, Qi Zhu seemed unwilling to carry a conversation. For every ten things Jiang Ying said, he would just hum back once or twice and occasionally offer a noncommittal, "Oh."
Jiang Ying felt antsy just looking at this guy. What an attitude. He couldn't help but want to get a rise out of Qi Zhu.
"Did you know?" Jiang Ying thought back to the scads of Qi Zhu photos he had received a few days ago. "Your fangirls aren't into you. They just want your body."
"Mm." Qi Zhu still looked completely and utterly unflustered. He only asked, after a moment, "How did you know?"
"Obviously, I…" Jiang Ying stopped. He had nearly said it was obviously because those fangirls had told him. The words were already at the tip of his tongue before he remembered he absolutely couldn't say that. He clapped a hand over his own mouth and snuck a wary glance at Qi Zhu. "What are you smiling about?"
Qi Zhu stopped smiling.
Inexplicably, Jiang Ying felt a bit miffed. The piano music playing in the car was inordinately elegant, and he would sometimes catch a whiff of Qi Zhu's cologne. The more he looked at Qi Zhu, the more he thought his own outfit was no good.
"Qi-gege," Jiang Ying suddenly said.
"Hm?" Qi Zhu hadn't heard that nickname in quite a long while. He was surprised enough to actually turn and look at Jiang Ying.
He was a year older than Jiang Ying, and Jiang Ying had once been a chubby, clingy little kid who followed him everywhere and called him 'Qi-gege' all day.
But, unfortunately, those good times hadn't lasted long. It was only a few years before Jiang Ying grew from a clingy monster to a fighty one, and Qi Zhu never heard that nickname from Jiang Ying again.
"I'll change the music," Jiang Ying said. "Okay?"
"Of course," Qi Zhu said.
Jiang Ying flashed a victorious grin and switched over to some boppy dance music.
And so, Qi Zhu spent the rest of the drive enduring Jiang Ying's awful, off-key singing.