Due to a nostalgic polaroid, Jiang Ying didn't sleep well all night. He drifted, half-asleep and half-awake, with Qi Jun's intoxicated words echoing in his ears.
"My old man Qi-zong has said it before," Qi Jun had rambled drunkenly over the phone. "Class Monitor is a very driven person. He sets a goal and goes after it. In our generation, he's the one with the most potential. Just look at his first job after returning to the country and entering the entertainment industry. It was a big movie for the silver screen. His performance was phenomenal, and the jobs naturally just kept coming in for him after that.
"He waited until he was sure he could give you a promising future before he made his intentions towards you clear. And before that, he kept in touch with you the whole time.
"And you—you're the same. Since a long time ago, you've considered him a permanent part of your life."
When Gossip Buddy woke him from his dreams with a resounding rendition of 'Qinghai-Tibet Plateau', it was already the next morning.
Jiang Ying woke with the vague feeling that he'd dreamt of the past, and of his past self. His school uniform had been rumpled, because no kid wanted to wear their uniform properly. The scent of ink rose from the worksheets on his desk. Math class was so long it felt eternal. Class Monitor, sitting at the same desk, kept rushing him to finish the homework he'd left incomplete over the weekend.
Jiang Ying refused to sink into the past. He had to keep his eyes on the future.
Why had he ruled out dating someone from the entertainment industry? Were people from the industry so bad? They would speak the same language and have plenty to talk about. Wasn't that a good thing?
Was Qi Zhu such a bad choice? Qi Zhu could stand his ground against him. Wasn't that a good thing too?
"You didn't sleep well?" Qi Zhu asked. He'd brought his own suitcase when he came over to knock on Jiang Ying's door. He could tell that Jiang Ying's eyes were heavy with sleep.
"There was a little incubus in my dreams," Jiang Ying huffed. He turned to finish packing his own suitcase. "A little incubus—last name Qi, first name Zhu—who disturbs people in their dreams."
"You disturb people in their dreams too." Qi Zhu stepped in to help him finish packing. When he glanced into the room, he noticed Gossip Buddy on the nightstand. Along with the photo from Gossip Buddy's base compartment, propped up against the speaker.
The corners of Qi Zhu's lips curved into a smile. "You're pretty smart."
"Oh, sure. You just gloat," Jiang Ying grumbled as he continued rummaging through his own things. He found his battle evaluation notebook tucked under his pillow. He grabbed the little book and chucked it straight into his suitcase, but due to a miscalculation in the trajectory, he nearly missed.
Just before the book fell to the ground, Qi Zhu reached out and deftly caught it in one hand.
"We're going to film a show, not to fight," Qi Zhu said. He stuffed the notebook into one compartment of Jiang Ying's suitcase. "Do you have to bring this?"
"Of course I do. It's a part of my life," Jiang Ying said. After thinking for a moment, he added, "Although I don't want to admit it, so are you."
He turned and jerked his chin at the old photo by the smart speaker. "Weren't you worried I wouldn't ever find it? Where'd you learn these little tricks to make young men happy, anyway?"
"I didn't need to learn them anywhere," Qi Zhu corrected. "They only work on you."
Then, he continued, "I knew you would find it. Isn't Gossip Buddy… pretty cute?"
Jiang Ying was silent.
"Alright, that's enough." Jiang Ying batted the subject aside. He started stuffing snacks into his suitcase. This time, the reality show would allow guests to bring food. "Dare I ask this self-aggrandizing maestro if there's anything he does need to learn?"
"There is," Qi Zhu said. "I'm learning."
"Wow, who gets the honor of teaching you?" Jiang Ying snarked. As he spoke, he finished packing his suitcase. "Alright, let's go."
Miao Ye and Xuan Huitong, who were on their way to the set to start their morning scenes, ran into Jiang Ying and Qi Zhu just as the latter pair set out.
"Good morning," Xuan Huitong said.
"Hi, hi, hi," Jiang Ying answered.
"Huihui-jie, am I not working hard enough? Am I not passionate enough about my work?" Miao Ye asked as he watched Jiang Ying and Qi Zhu depart. "They're off to film a variety show so early in the morning, yet they're so energetic."
"It's more like they're off to their honeymoon, isn't it?"
After exchanging those few words with the jiejie from Jiang Ying's agency, Miao Ye was left standing in the hall, pondering his own career and existence.
But Miao Ye didn't get to dwell on the matter for long. Very soon, he received some news from his own manager—someone was attacking him online.
It wasn't that big of a deal. Anyone trying to stir up a scandal around him now was obviously just trying to leech some attention from the drama, which was nearing completion.
Miao Ye wasn't that popular, and his role in the drama wasn't very large or too small. The attacker must have considered him the perfect target. Under Miao Ye's Weibo with three million followers, angry netizens swarmed the comments in no time at all.
In the car to the airport, Jiang Ying leaned against Qi Zhu's shoulder and started to doze off.
"Although you've obviously done a lot to prepare for this…" Jiang Ying's voice was extraordinarily lethargic. Since he knew Qi Zhu couldn't do much to react or retaliate, he let his hands roam freely as he rested his eyes. He was going to well and truly explore the matter of desiring his boyfriend's body. "Tell me, Esteemed Class Monitor, when did you start liking this ogre?"
Qi Zhu freed one of his own hands and grabbed Jiang Ying's wrists, stopping his wandering hands. "The second day after I went abroad."
"Perfect," Jiang Ying said. "I was a little faster than you. For me, it was the day you left. My diary proves it."
After saying that, and before Qi Zhu opened his mouth again, Jiang Ying quickly added, "Don't try to tell me you didn't sneak a peek at my logs of my adolescent heartbreak. I won't believe you. You think I don't know you? You even used to peek at my essays. You're super unethical.
"My ge said I fell in love early, and lost my love early. My studies suffered severely. I was the only one who didn't realize it."
Jiang Ying sighed, then continued, "Don't you feel like you lost out?"
Qi Jun had been right about one thing. Qi Zhu was the type that wouldn't act until he'd accounted for every little detail and prepared for every possible outcome.
Jiang Ying couldn't help but grin a little slyly. He worked one hand free and slung an arm around Qi Zhu's shoulders.
"What did you spend so long preparing for? You could've told me sooner, as soon as you got back in the country. I can be aggressive and I can be sweet. Waiting this long was a pity for you."
Qi Zhu shook his head. "It wasn't a pity. In psychology, there's a concept called delayed gratification. The longer you wait and the more you prepare, the more rewarding and satisfying it'll feel when you achieve your long-term goals.
"Right now, I'm very happy. I didn't mind waiting. You're my long-term goal. I was happy to spend all those years making a plan to treat you right."
Class Monitor was so nice. Jiang Ying was moved.
"Besides," Qi Zhu continued. His tone shifted, and he glanced over at Jiang Ying. "If I told you any sooner, would you have gotten it? Your mind was full of nonsense about competing against your boyfriend in some 'beauty pageant'."
Jiang Ying fell silent.
Fuck, he was never going to live that down.
He launched an attack against Qi Zhu that did absolutely no physical damage.
"Forget it, I won't squabble over this with you," Jiang Ying said generously. "We'll consider it your win. But…"
Jiang Ying was prepared to issue a formal declaration of war.
"I won't lose to you again."
"Oh," Qi Zhu answered mildly, without any fluctuations in his tone. "We'll see."
"How much longer until we get to the airport?" Jiang Ying asked. "I didn't sleep well last night. I'm tired."
"Half an hour," Qi Zhu said, after checking the time.
"Gonna sleep," Jiang Ying announced. He leaned against Qi Zhu's shoulder again. "Wake me when we get there."
However, due to a little incident on the set of 'An Auspicious Snow', Jiang Ying wasn't able to sleep in the end. The crew had asked his assistant to give him a call.
Hu Zehan, the actor who'd failed to land the role of Zhao Yue, had started some shit on Weibo. He insisted that the role was originally supposed to go to him, and that Miao Ye had stolen it from him without even properly auditioning. He claimed something shady was going on behind the scenes of that drama, and his fans quickly turned into a mob.
The crew had indeed contacted Hu Zehan at some point, but after he auditioned, they unanimously agreed that he wasn't right for the role. They hadn't continued their talks with him about playing that character.
Miao Ye, who'd eventually gotten the role of Zhao Yue, suddenly found himself under attack from an army of fans all morning, despite not even being all that popular himself. He was a little stunned.
"Who even is this guy?" Jiang Ying asked when his assistant gave him the news. "I don't know him, but I know Meow Meow auditioned. He was at the same audition as me."
"This Hu Zehan is just trying to mooch some popularity from the show," Jiang Ying's assistant explained. "The official marketing team has just released a little clip, so he's trying to ride that wave of attention. The crew is asking you to say a little something on Weibo. Just something nice about Miao Ye to bring down the heat on him. Anything is fine."
"Got it, got it." Jiang Ying was instantly feeling more awake and alert. "You tell them to relax. There's nothing to worry about. I guarantee this PR nightmare will be resolved in less than half an hour."
His assistant froze.
"Eh? Wait. No, come back. What are you planning?"
"No. No, no. Just give Miao Ye a like, and…"
"Feud?" Qi Zhu asked, opening his eyes.
"Mhm!" Jiang Ying happily opened Weibo.
"Have fun." Qi Zhu closed his eyes again.
A few days ago, Jiang Ying had changed his Weibo avatar to something cute and pink.
@JiangYingKANI is online.
@JiangYingKANI: @HuZehan Good morning, sir. Whomst the hell are you?
@JiangYingKANI: @HuZehan Do you really feel no shame over your obvious attempts to leech attention from this show? Your agency couldn't get you this role, so you're playing the victim? It's fine to want to be popular. Everyone wants to be popular. But don't send your internet mob after innocent people, 'kay?
Miao Ye quickly sent over a message on WeChat.
[Meow Ye]: Wonderful.jpg
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: That'll shut him up.
[Meow Ye]: I can't thank you enough, but you… you remember you're supposed to be an idol, right?
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: It's fine, I'm thick-skinned. If they want to fire back at me, they're free to do so.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: It doesn't matter if you don't have much fame or a background in this industry. From now on, I—Jiang Fierce—will be your backup.
[Enlightened Big-Clawed Crab]: Maybe I grew up too sheltered and well-protected by the people around me, but I have a pure and naive way of looking at some things. I know exactly what goes on in this industry, but sometimes I don't feel like digging too deep, and sometimes it's hard to tell who's right and who's wrong. But something like this, hurting others to boost your own fame, is unacceptable. This guy is just asking to be canceled.
Originally, Hu Zehan and his team had planned on spinning a pitiful story that would trend. Passersby wouldn't know the difference between truth and fiction, and playing the victim always netted stars some new fans. But no one, in a million years, could have expected a certain controversial celebrity, who had been quiet for nearly three months, to suddenly reemerge from the calm sea and drag all the controversy to himself.
"Stay calm," Hu Zehan's team frantically urged, trying to console their celebrity. "We've heard that Jiang Ying is going to be getting to the airport in less than half an hour. Just weather this first wave of his attack, and we'll be in the clear."
The crew of 'An Auspicious Snow' were close to losing their minds. Their PR department hadn't even moved yet, and yet the actor behind their main antagonist had rushed into the fray, boldly and tactlessly saying all the things that were too shameful for anyone else to say.
Jiang Ying's fans were elated—
[Wow, gege is finally back at it. Has he been too busy with his drama lately?]
[Hasn't gege been in a pretty good mood these days? His avatar has even turned pink.]
[HeartShape.jpg Gege, don't pay attention to this sort of person. His team keeps buying tabloid headlines to push other people down while promoting him. Everyone knows what he's like.]
[Little Ying and Qi Zhu, have fun at the island. Don't tire yourself out with a feud now. PoursTea.jpg]
"Is anyone with him?" a crew member asked, calling Jiang Ying's assistant in a panic. "Have someone convince him to stand down."
"I think Qi-laoshi is there. I'm in the car behind them," Assistant Chen said. He'd suffered through too many of Jiang Ying's antics by now, and he was taking all this in stride. "I'll contact Qi-laoshi's assistant."
Next to Jiang Ying, Qi Zhu received a call from his own assistant—
"Mm," Qi Zhu said.
"Mm," he echoed.
"Okay," he finally agreed.
Qi Zhu logged into Weibo, looked up Jiang Ying's account, and gave Jiang Ying's latest post a like. They often visited each other's Weibo accounts and left question marks in the comments of each other's posts, but they weren't following each other yet. Netizens often called their relationship an utterly baffling friendship.
"Excuse me, Qi-laoshi, who never interferes or takes a stance in industry matters," Jiang Ying called out. "What are you doing? Humoring your boyfriend?"
"Pampering my boyfriend. Is that okay?" Qi Zhu passed his own cell phone over to Jiang Ying. He was logged in to his own Weibo account, and the screen still showed Jiang Ying's account.
"Pampering me for what?" Jiang Ying looked up. "Be good and tell me honestly. Besides my body, what do you want?"
"An official announcement," Qi Zhu answered. "But, boyfriend, I'll just ask for a mutual follow for now."