Qi Zhu stared.
He didn't play games, but he more or less understood this sort of thing. Three question marks meant his power level was unknown. Did Jiang Ying see him as… some sort of final boss?
Qi Zhu thought about their daily QQ conversations that came around like clockwork. Then he thought about the way they gave each other their 'regards' whenever they met up. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that Jiang Ying did see him as some sort of challenge to overcome.
In junior high and the first year of high school, when they were deskmates, Jiang Ying hadn't developed this hobby yet. Back then, that old member of the disciplinary committee would just walk around with his notebook and jot down notes on all the trivial little 'crimes' his peers committed.
It was only after Qi Zhu returned from studying abroad, after he and Jiang Ying hadn't seen each other in a few years, that he discovered Jiang Ying's hobby had evolved—
Now, Jiang Ying didn't just like to fight. He's learned to judge and evaluate others as well.
Jiang Ying wasn't just any ordinary person. He knew who he could provoke and who he couldn't. He also seemed to know who he had to persistently provoke, over and over again.
After his shower, Jiang Ying came back with his hair dripping wet. His skin was still damp all over. When he reentered the room, he found Qi Zhu sitting at the edge of the bed, staring at some random point in midair, seemingly lost in thought.
"It feels kinda hot," Jiang Ying muttered to himself. He hunted around until he found the remote for the air conditioner, lowering the set temperature to sixteen degrees.
Qi Zhu was still contemplating a certain problem. He didn't pay any mind to Jiang Ying.
"What are you thinking about?" Jiang Ying asked. His mouth was bored, and he wanted to start something. "Daydreaming like an eighteen-year-old princess?"
Qi Zhu lifted his head and gave him a cool, inscrutable look. "I'm thinking about you."
"Tsk." Jiang Ying shook his head. "Mean."
"In that regard, I'm no match for you." Qi Zhu didn't turn to face Jiang Ying directly, and his lips only moved slightly as he spoke. "You're harsh and unkind. A cut above me."
"As if, Qi Zhu," Jiang Ying retorted. "If I'm harsh and unkind, then you're the type who hides a dagger behind his smile. We're both controversial celebrities. Do you really think you're any nicer than me?"
"No, sir. But I really can't say I'm on your level." Qi Zhu flashed a smile, but it was sharp and insincere. "There are marked differences between us. Your inability to act, for example."
Jiang Ying fell silent.
He froze in the middle of drying his hair. That had been an assault on one of his sore spots, and this guy had even used a well-timed 'sir' out of the blue. Surely, that had been unintentional, but it still made Jiang Ying choke.
He moved closer and stopped in front of Qi Zhu, then started aggressively shaking his head, like a wet dog. After successfully flecking Qi Zhu with water droplets, he wobbled away, saying, "I feel a bit dizzy…"
Qi Zhu said nothing.
Jiang #2 wandered over to the other side of the bed and picked out a space for himself that wasn't too big or too small. He grabbed his covers and started making himself a little nest.
"Little Ying," Qi Zhu suddenly called out.
"What?" Jiang Ying snapped, clearly still somewhat displeased.
"It's March, and it's the middle of the night." Qi Zhu picked up the remote for the AC and turned it off. "How hot are you, that you need to turn the air conditioning down to sixteen degrees?"
Jiang Ying protested, "But I still feel…"
"By the way," Qi Zhu continued, raising his voice for some indiscernible reason. "Speaking of those battle evaluations of yours."
Jiang Ying blinked.
"Why did you give me three question marks?" Qi Zhu asked.
Jiang Ying, alarmed, raised his voice as well: "Excuse me?! Do you, sir, have any idea how to carry a conversation? What kind of segue is this? I can barely follow you."
As soon as he finished lodging that complaint, he realized something was wrong.
"You snuck a look at my little notebook?" he asked.
"I didn't," Qi Zhu quickly denied. "It just fell open in front of me."
"Oh, sure." Jiang Ying finished spreading out his covers and climbed into bed, leaning back against the headboard. "Qi Zhu, ah… what kind of behavior is this, hm? If you're going to sneak a peek, then you should at least be sneaky about it. But you're asking me about that notebook, to my face? Don't you think that's embarrassing?"
"Are you the type to feel embarrassed?" Qi Zhu retorted.
"…obviously not." Jiang Ying's skin was incredibly thick. He wouldn't get flustered over something like this. "Well, as for why I gave you three question marks…"
Jiang Ying furrowed his brows for a moment, like he needed to really think about his own reasoning. After a while, he turned to Qi Zhu and said, cryptically, "I changed it a bunch of times. Didn't you notice I wrote your score in pencil?"
Qi Zhu had indeed noticed. "So?"
"I just think that you, Qi-gege, sometimes seem like you have the potential to level up," Jiang Ying said. "I like to fight, but I have principles. I never pick on the weak. I won't bully people who score too low, even if they provoke me first. I don't pick fights I can't win, either. I'm not the sort to waste time squeezing hard persimmons. If someone scores over one hundred, I won't provoke them.
"As for you, with your latent ability to level up unexpectedly…" Jiang Ying's eyes flashed. "You're like a sweet persimmon. People like me, with combative spirits, just love challenging people like you."
The sweet persimmon was silent.
"So, do you have someone very impressive coaching you in the art of fighting, or do you have an innate talent?" Jiang Ying asked, scooting closer.
His hair was still wet. When he drew so near, the water dripping from the ends of his hair landed on Qi Zhu's collarbone and slowly trickled down, disappearing under the collar of his shirt.
Jiang Ying was just starting to think this conversation was getting interesting. He wanted to scoot even closer, but a towel was suddenly flung over his head. Qi Zhu grabbed hold of it and roughly scrubbed his hair until it was half dry.
When Qi Zhu finally stripped away the towel, Jiang #2 was left looking like his hair had exploded.
"I'm going to take a shower," Qi Zhu intoned with his usual indifference. He slid off the bed and slipped out of the room swiftly. He closed the door just in time to expertly avoid the pillow that was flung at him.
Jiang Ying huffed and grabbed his cell phone, using the selfie camera as a mirror to check his hair. He meticulously straightened out his mussed up hair, one lock at a time, before grabbing the remote for the AC from Qi Zhu's side of the bed. He turned the AC back on to enjoy his sixteen degree breeze, and he even adjusted the wind direction to blow straight at the door.
"When you come back," he muttered, "I'll freeze you to death."
It was time to mess around on his phone before bed again. Just as Jiang Ying picked up his phone again, he found a string of new messages from Qi Jun.
[Qi Jun]: Jiang #2?
[Qi Jun]: You've been too quiet lately, good sir.
[Qi Jun]: Weirdly enough, I'm not used to it.
[Qi Jun]: Were you banned or muted? Why have you been so nice and quiet?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: "Jiang #2, please scold me again." Is that the kind of service Little Qi-zong is looking for?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: CuriousPeek.jpg
[Qi Jun]: No thanks, no thanks. My psychological resistance is weak. I'm a soft persimmon1. Don't squeeze me.
[Qi Jun]: LittlePandaCries.jpg
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Forget it. I've been shipped off to the middle of nowhere for a variety show. I don't have any snacks, and the internet here isn't very stable.
[Qi Jun]: What variety show? How far out did you have to go?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Some country love thing.
[Qi Jun]: ?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Spits.jpg Basically a rural lifestyle show. I'm a little dizzy, that was a typo. The main thing is country LIFE. It's supposed to be a nice and refreshing show.
[Qi Jun]: Has the director lost his mind? Who chose you for a 'nice and refreshing' program?
[Qi Jun]: I just have one question. Does our Jiang #2 really look like a nice and refreshing young man?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Have you forgotten the persona my agency set up for me?
[Qi Jun]: ? I thought your persona collapsed three years ago? Does this director just never look at trending topics on Weibo?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Oh, right, Qi Zhu is also here.
[Qi Jun]: ……
[Qi Jun]: LittlePandaCries.jpg Based on my traumatic middle school experiences, I have a new question. Is this show even going to pass censorship review?
1. 'Soft persimmon' (软柿子) also means 'pushover' in Chinese.