Jiang Ying kicked off the covers and, in the process, gave Qi Zhu a kick as well. "Screw you."
"If you still won't sleep," Qi Zhu menaced. He sat up and pushed Jiang Ying back down onto the bed. "I'll go find the director, borrow some rope, and tie you to the bed."
"I'll sleep, I'll sleep, I'll sleep!" Jiang Ying was tired anyway. He could calm down for the night. "I'm a deep sleeper. You're not allowed to kick off the covers in the middle of the night, and you're not allowed to steal them from me."
Qi Zhu turned onto his side, facing away from Jiang Ying, as though to indicate he was already sleeping.
Jiang Ying muttered a few more half-unintelligible things under his breath, then finally settled down and fell asleep.
But one of those muttered, sleeptalk-esque phrases reached Qi Zhu's ears:
"I wanna eat sweet persimmons."
It was March. Where could they possibly get persimmons? Jiang Ying's mouth was probably a little bitter from the fever, and he was probably a bit delirious. That was, most likely, why he'd mumbled such a thing.
But then Qi Zhu remembered all that nonsense Jiang Ying had said about persimmons earlier. Qi Zhu's eyes softened at that, filling with a hint of warmth.
Jiang Ying was, as he'd claimed, a deep sleeper. Kicking off the blankets must have been a rare thing for him. He slept through the night without moving a muscle, sticking to that little piece of the bed he'd claimed.
He must have spent too much time with Qi Zhu lately. Even his dreams were of their pasts.
It was a dream of their first year of high school. The classroom was quiet in the afternoons. A soft breeze lifted up a corner of the window curtains, letting in a few rays of sunlight. A sixteen-year-old Jiang Ying sat by the window, bored out of his mind. He idly lifted a hand, as though trying to catch those beams of light.
"My dream," Jiang Ying declared, to the Qi Zhu who sat next to him in that classroom, "is to be an entertainment reporter. That way, I can collect dirt on loads of people."
"Then what's your purpose?" the seventeen-year-old Qi Zhu asked.
Jiang Ying had a very good night's rest, totally undisturbed save for the occasional sensation of someone touching his forehead to check his temperature. When he woke, his fever had broken. He was left with some symptoms of a cold, but he felt reinvigorated.
"I'm alive!" Jiang Ying declared as soon as he opened his eyes.
Qi Zhu, sitting up against the headboard, gave him a cold glance out of the corner of his eye. He looked thoroughly displeased.
"Are there any activities planned for today?" Jiang Ying asked. He'd just woken up, but he was already looking forward to having fun that day.
"What activities?" Jiang Ying asked.
"The village chief wants to build a stage where people can watch you fight."
Jiang Ying fell silent.
"It's such a lovely morning, and this ge is already so ill-tempered," Jiang Ying complained, as though he were the aggrieved party here. He sat up, got comfortable, and turned to give Qi Zhu a onceover. "Why do I feel like you've leveled up again?"
Qi Zhu averted his gaze. "You're mistaken."
"I am not," Jiang Ying insisted. "You had a software upgrade while I was sleeping."
When he received no response, Jiang Ying continued, "Do your fans know you're usually this fierce?"
Still no response.
"Oh, that's right. I forgot. Qi-gege doesn't care about his internet popularity the way we do. He's popular solely for his acting ability."
"I was disoriented from the fever last night," Jiang Ying continued. "Did I do something to offend you? Just look at you. You're radiating resentment."
Now that he felt reenergized, Jiang Ying was keen to pick a fight.
But then someone knocked on their door. Qi Zhu got up and stepped out, calling back to Jiang Ying, "Stay in bed and rest some more. I'll come get you when we're going out."
Old Jiang obediently stayed in bed. He fished out his cell phone, opened Weibo, and—
Ah. He was trending.
Last night, after Jiang Ying fell asleep, Qi Zhu had fulfilled his promise from earlier that day. He'd gotten online and given Jiang Ying a vote in the popularity polls.
The two of them didn't follow each other on Weibo. Qi Zhu suddenly getting online to vote for Jiang Ying naturally became a hot topic overnight.
Jiang Ying was satisfied by the vote. But there had been another part to the promise. Where was the 'super nice' thing about him?
He was way too excited to see what kind of rainbow fart Qi Zhu could blow.
So he navigated over to a certain someone's Weibo page—
Qi Zhu had mentioned him directly, and he'd even included one of Weibo's default smiling emojis.
@QiZhu: @JiangYingKANI You're great. SlightSmile.jpg
[proof of vote]
Jiang Ying stared.
That certainly was Qi Zhu's usual minimalist style. But no matter how Jiang Ying looked at it, this post just didn't look like a 'super nice' compliment. It looked more like a declaration of war.
Netizens were baffled.
The relationship between their two fan bases became a muddled mystery once more.
Qi Zhu's Weibo blog was as minimalist as the man himself. Even when he was sharing official announcements from dramas or movies he worked on, he usually only shared them and added very curt, cursory comments of his own.
His fans rarely saw him post to social media without a good reason, and the content of this post only served to confuse them more.
What was it supposed to mean?
Was Qi Zhu indirectly attacking Jiang Ying, or was he genuinely praising Jiang Ying?
@JiangYingKANI: @QiZhu You're great too.
The fans' bafflement spiked.
Just what kind of mysterious, long-distance exchange was this? All their fans felt a little uneasy, like these two celebrities could start fighting at any second.
"We've been trying to sail a boat of friendship, but that's sunk now, right?" someone asked, trying to analyze those posts. "Their 'friendship' did always feel pretty brittle."
"Not necessarily," someone else retorted. "Someone already said that this could just be how they interact with each other. The boat is still afloat."
Jiang Ying thought to himself that they had a big ship, too. But if he told their fans that, he would probably shock them all to death.
Besides, their big ships came from fighting every day for years and years. There wasn't really anything glamorous about that.
He didn't get a chance to browse Weibo for too long. A new alert from WeChat suddenly popped up on his phone.
[Meow Ye] would like to add you as a friend.
Message: Jiang-ge, it's me.
The avatar was a meowth.
Oh, Miao Ye. The combatant with a score of negative five.
Jiang Ying accepted the request and added Miao Ye to his friends list. He was in an extraordinarily good mood that day, so he even took the initiative and sent Miao Ye a greeting.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Morning.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Have you decided how you'd like to provoke me today?
[Meow Ye]: ……
[Meow Ye]: Jiang-ge, I was wrong.
Jiang Ying was extremely disappointed. He hadn't even gotten started yet, and this guy was already terrified.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Stop that, don't call me ge. I'm younger than you.
[Meow Ye]: We still have two days of recording. Jiang-ge, please forgive me.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Sure, sure.
[Meow Ye]: We'll be working on the same set soon. Let's both work hard.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: 'kaaay.
Jiang Ying's first rule when it came to squeezing persimmons was to not squeeze soft persimmons. If Miao Ye didn't provoke him, Jiang Ying wouldn't bully him. So the two of them proceeded to have quite a nice talk.
[Meow Ye]: Jiang-ge, do you still have a fever?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Nope, all good.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: SpiritedYouthArrivesUninvited.jpg
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Wait, so you all know I'm sick?
[Meow Ye]: Yeah, Qi-laoshi seemed really worried last night. He asked the doctor a ton of questions.
Jiang Ying tried to picture it, but he just couldn't imagine what a 'really worried' Qi Zhu would look like. But he did vaguely remember that Qi Zhu had intermittently checked his temperature throughout the night, while he slept.
[Meow Ye]: Your relationship with Qi-laoshi is really good! I'm afraid to even talk to him. I sent him a friend request from our cast's WeChat group, but he still hasn't responded. I guess I wouldn't say he's haughty, but…
[Big-Clawed Crab]: He just gives you the feeling that he's leagues away from you, like you're wasting his time by talking to him.
[Meow Ye]: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Pretty much.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Spits.jpg
[Big-Clawed Crab]: He's always been like that.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: I'm used to it, and I have thick skin. Plus, I just love wasting his time.
Qi Zhu really was the type of person who didn't like to make small talk with others. He only used WeChat for work, and he only used QQ to foster those big ships with Jiang Ying. Whenever someone else called or texted him, it was always because they had business to discuss. It was never just to chat.
All of his available 'small talk' time was probably dedicated to Jiang Ying.
[Meow Ye]: Terrified.jpg
There was something that was still bothering Jiang Ying. Something he'd been wondering for a long while. Since Miao Ye had delivered himself to Jiang Ying's doorstep, Jiang Ying figured he would just come right out and ask.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: I've been wondering all this time. You're such a coward, and you can't take a diss. Why did you pick a fight with me that time?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Who hired you?
The other party typed for a long, long time. But then Miao Ye stopped typing without sending any response at all. He disappeared.
Until, a moment later, he suddenly changed his WeChat signature—
It's all to make a living.
Jiang Ying frowned.
He knew it.
There had definitely been something behind Miao Ye's bizarre behavior.
After giving it some thought, Jiang Ying astutely pinned the blame on his big brother Jiang Xun. He would have to have a chat with Jiang Xun and make some insinuations. One way or another, he would get to the bottom of what kind of witchery had been used on Miao Ye.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Ge, busy?
[100K Volts]: Time is money.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: The early bird gets the worm.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Time to get up and work?
[100K Volts]: Aren't you supposed to be recording a variety show right now?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: I am.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Hey, so… do you know Miao Ye?
It happened again. The other party typed for a long while, then ultimately disappeared without a trace.
Jiang Ying frowned.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Jiang-ge, you manipulated me?
'Big-Clawed Crab' recalled a message.
Jiang Ying's second rule about squeezing persimmons was to avoid squeezing hard ones, too. After a moment's consideration, he decided he really couldn't beat his brother. It was time to make a strategic retreat.
Suddenly, Jiang Ying found himself missing Qi Zhu. Just a bit. So he switched over to QQ and swiftly found his chat with Qi Zhu, like it was a practiced move that had been deeply ingrained in his muscle memory.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: [poke poke]
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Class Monitor, what are you doing?
[Class Monitor]: ?
[Big-Clawed Crab]: I'm boooooored.
[Class Monitor]: I'm coming back soon. Just stay put, don't move.
[Class Monitor]: LittleDinoSweats.jpg
Jiang Ying stared at that reaction meme. His thumbs froze over his on-screen keyboard for a moment.
Had Qi Zhu… changed?
Had Qi Zhu stolen a bunch of his reaction memes lately?
Jiang Ying really was sleepy, and it was a weekday morning. There weren't many 'Fight!' users currently online, and there were even fewer who could match up to Jiang Ying. He tried to find a suitable opponent for ages, with little success.
He'd been so busy with work lately that he hadn't had much 'Fight!' time. He'd been neglecting his freestyle fights, and he'd been neglecting subject fights as well. All the time he did spend in the app was devoted to his little apprentice.
This apprentice he'd picked up seemed to have no interest in the art of fighting. Jiang Ying had no idea how long it would be before he turned that apprentice into a fearsome fighter who could impress the masses.
Feeling a rare burst of motivation, and with nothing better to do, Jiang Ying decided to review the script for 'An Auspicious Snow' since he had some free time. He spotted Qi Zhu's copy of the script on the nightstand by the bed, so he rolled over, still cocooned in the covers, and grabbed that 'script'.
That was exactly what Qi Zhu happened to see when he opened the door.
"Little! Ogre! Jiang!"
Before he could even flip open the script, Jiang Ying felt Qi Zhu grab hold of his wrist and rip away the booklet.
Jiang Ying blinked.
What kind of script was treasured that dearly? It wasn't like Qi Zhu to be so fussy, and to overreact like that.
"You were just running a fever last night. What do you think you're doing, reading a script now?" Qi Zhu chided. He quickly tossed his script into his suitcase.
"Weirdo," Jiang Ying accused. "Aren't you supposed to praise me for being diligent?"
"Have I ever praised anyone?" Qi Zhu retorted.
Jiang Ying looked away. "Guess not."
Now that he thought about it, he really couldn't remember a time Qi Zhu had praised anyone.
Qi Zhu took everything seriously, whether that was schoolwork or acting. He did his best to do everything well, and he always put so much effort into his work that others tended to stay a respectful distance away from him.
Everyone except a certain imp who wasn't afraid of a challenge.
"Just picked this up from a street stall," Qi Zhu said, tossing a paper bag into Jiang Ying's lap. "Want it?"
"Street stall?" Jiang Ying was confused. The only people nearby were the cast and crew of the variety show. Where would a street stall come from? But Jiang Ying was even more curious to see what Qi Zhu had bought for him. He opened the bag, and found—
"Why did you suddenly think to buy something this sweet?" Jiang Ying asked. He'd completely forgotten about his own mutterings from last night.
Offhandedly, Qi Zhu answered, "To neutralize a certain someone's harsh and unkind temperament."