His apprentice and his boyfriend were, on some levels, quite similar. That made Jiang Ying feel rather positively about his apprentice, and it encouraged him to teach his apprentice basically everything he could, without any reservations.
"Student Ogre Jiang, what's on your mind?" Qi Zhu reached out and lightly pushed Jiang Ying's cheek, making him straighten up as he chided, "You get distracted in class, you get distracted on set. You can even get distracted while being kissed?"
"I wasn't distracted."
Jiang Ying perfectly embodied two sayings—
Dead pigs aren't afraid of boiling water.
Thoroughly boiled ducks have the hardest beaks.
Jiang Ying really had been distracted. His mind had drifted off to thoughts of this apprentice who he'd yet to meet and the big events coming up in his apprentice's life. As a 'Fight!' master, it wasn't enough for him to be happy and lucky in love.
He had to make sure his apprentice was happy too.
But an ogre with a hardened beak definitely wouldn't admit to getting distracted while kissing.
"On the matter of liking you, I'm devoted with single-minded focus." He lifted a finger to the sky and began to employ his tactic of blurring the central point, diverting attention to a tangent. "If you test me on it, I promise I'll come in at the top of any class in the subject of liking you."
"Who were you thinking about just now?" Qi Zhu let go of him, unswayed by Jiang Ying's attempt at changing the subject. "You may not know it, but I'm very familiar with the way your gaze wanders when you're distracted."
Jiang Ying fell silent.
Oh, that was true. He used to space out in front of Qi Zhu, in class, every other day.
Jiang Ying looked left and right, then came up with another wicked idea. The instant Qi Zhu released him, he grabbed hold of Qi Zhu's collar and pulled him down a little. "Let me ask this gege… who are you jealous of?"
"I don't need to be jealous," Qi Zhu stated plainly. "On the matter of liking you, I'm completely confident in my superiority."
"You're copying the way I talk again. We're really two peas in a pod." Jiang Ying laughed. "Qi-gege, although you don't talk a lot, you talk like a troll when you do speak up. Has anyone ever told you that?"
It had to be said that two people with such similar traits did, inevitably, attract.
"Is that so?" Qi Zhu dipped his head and glanced at Jiang Ying's hands. This self-proclaimed troll, who claimed to have grabbed a keyboard at his zhuazhou ceremony, did indeed have pale, slender fingers.
"Just consider me… someone who loves you with all your flaws," he said.
"Why are you such a smooth talker today?" Jiang Ying teased. "You're talking like a civilized person."
"Would you prefer it if I were less civilized?" Qi Zhu retorted.
It was obvious that they both understood the implication in those words. When their gazes met in midair, they shared a silent, mutual understanding of the 'adult' nature of those words.
"I thought you'd gone to a cram school for fighting or something," Jiang Ying said. He'd absently tugged Qi Zhu's collar open, and when he looked down, he couldn't stop his eyes from traveling lower… and lower… and lower…
Qi Zhu glanced at him. "You want to see, huh?"
"I'm not bothered. Really." The ogre hesitantly let go. He seemed a little reluctant, and a little envious.
Popular stars really were in another league. Their bodies were amazing, and their faces were pretty nice too.
"I could have those abs too," a certain controversial idol muttered.
"Mm," a certain actor agreed. "They're all yours."
"Ai, it's too hot out here." Jiang Ying sighed. Because it was hot on that island, they couldn't wear much. They couldn't even do a little something and hide it. His boyfriend was right in front of him, but he could only look. He couldn't bite.
That left him feeling quite uncomfortable.
Really, really uncomfortable.
"My mistake," Qi Zhu sympathized, feeling the exact same way.
During his trip to Jiang Ying's bedroom, Qi Zhu didn't get to look at any recipes. He saw a stash of all his own scandals instead. The two of them 'conversed' until nearly ten that night, at which point Qi Zhu got up and started to head back to his own room next door.
"Let me straighten out your collar for you." Jiang Ying clumsily smoothed out the creases he'd left in the collar of Qi Zhu's shirt. "There are cameras in the hallway. Gege's body should be reserved for just me."
Qi Zhu swept his gaze over him. Without saying anything further, he turned and headed for the door.
"Gege, you're really okay with leaving?" Jiang Ying flopped back onto the big bed and cast a glance at the door, deliberately teasing, "You don't wanna stay?"
The troll was immensely confident in his own attractiveness. He knew when he tilted his head like that and looked out through half-lidded eyes, the person who liked him wouldn't be able to resist.
"Not okay," Qi Zhu confirmed. He stopped by the door and turned around. "But if I don't leave, you won't be able to film the show tomorrow."
"Oh? You're that powerful?" A certain someone's eyes grew hazy. There was no telling what he was thinking about now.
"Little Ying." Qi Zhu sighed. "If you keep talking, I won't be able to think about work anymore."
The #1 workaholic in the entertainment industry could be driven, by Jiang Ying, to a point of forgetting about work. Jiang Ying's desire for victory was more than sated. He waved a hand and shooed Qi Zhu out, generously urging, "Go, go. See you tomorrow."
Qi Zhu rested his hand on the doorknob and took a few deep breaths to push down the physical needs of his body that had gone unsatisfied. The desire that had surged into his eyes gradually diminished.
He'd liked Jiang Ying for many years already. The past and the future of his affections were laid out in front of him. There was no way he wouldn't long to take that next step.
But when Qi Zhu liked someone, he did so with care. He wanted to treasure and cherish the one he liked, so that next step—
It definitely wouldn't be taken here or now.
"By the way," Qi Zhu added. When he turned back around, the fleeting wave of desire was already gone from his eyes. "Although there aren't any cameras in our bedrooms, your camera crew might come in to wake you up in the morning."
"Hm?" Jiang Ying hummed. "Sure, let 'em come in."
"Hide your little crabs," Qi Zhu said, before turning to the door again.
Jiang Ying blinked.
Oh, his underwear. His crab-print underwear set. He had seven pairs, one for every day of the week, and each pattern was fiercer than the last.
The question was… how did his boyfriend know about them?
Jiang Ying thought back for a while and realized something must have happened during their last variety show. But nothing disastrous had been exposed after that show aired, so…
Jiang Ying chalked it up to his boyfriend's magic powers. Qi Zhu must have taken care of it.
After Qi Zhu left, the room instantly felt a little too empty. While the two of them talked, Jiang Ying hadn't felt like the room was too quiet or too big. But now that Qi Zhu was gone, Jiang Ying started feeling a bit…
The room was just too big. And without his phone, the space felt even emptier. When he looked out the window and saw the little stars twinkling in the sky, that sensation of vastness only intensified.
For the first time in his life, Jiang Ying felt—just for an instant—that the desire to win might not be the most important thing in life. The desire to have someone, to possess them, was what truly mattered.
He sat down at the table in his room and found the postcard that Qi Zhu had left behind. It was one of the souvenirs from the shop, which the owner had given Qi Zhu.
On the back of the postcard, there was a painting of the starry night sky. Underneath that sky was the island's beach, where a little crab bathed in starlight brandished its claws at the sprawling sea.
The name and address of the intended recipient had already been filled out by Qi Zhu. Without having to go through the post system, the postcard had already reached the person it was meant for.
There were so many postcards in the shop. And Qi Zhu had picked the one that Jiang Ying liked the most.
Jiang Ying couldn't help but think that Class Monitor was pretty much perfect. Jiang Ying could like him as his true self. He didn't have to sand down his rough edges, he didn't have to go out of his way to pander to Qi Zhu's likes and dislikes. They'd grown up with each other, witnessing each other's most awkward years.
In the months and years to come, there would be no need for them to hide anything from each other. There would be no need for them to be suspicious, no need for them to be overly cautious or overly courteous. They could just spend time together, as their true selves.
Even now, past ten at night, some netizens were still hanging out in the livestream room. So there were people to witness Qi Zhu emerging from Jiang Ying's room and making his way back to his own.
[Camping out in the stream was the right choice. I can't believe someone's still visiting their neighbor at this time of night.]
[Can we call them neighbors? Just neighbors? They're friends with a mutual follow on Weibo, you know.]
[He was in there for more than three hours. What were they talking about? I really want to know, wahhhhhh.]
[Your shippers have a question! You just gave each other a mutual (official) follow (announcement) today… were you two really talking about recipes tonight?]
[@QiZhu Do you think you're in the clear just because you're wandering back to your room now? Do you think we won't be suspicious?]
The island villa was massive. Jiang Ying's room and Qi Zhu's room were both at the end of the hall, and each had a balcony that opened up to the sea.
After Qi Zhu got back into his room, he showered and got ready for bed. But then he heard something scratching at his window.
Qi Zhu turned.
Sure enough, his neighbor was still restless.
Jiang Ying had found a fishing pole inside his room. He was using it to reach across the balcony and tap on Qi Zhu's window.
Qi Zhu opened his balcony door and stepped out. "It's half past eleven. You haven't slept yet?"
"Ai, I couldn't really fall asleep." Jiang Ying stood on his own balcony, still holding the fishing pole. "I'm not used to not having my cell phone. I had to 'poke poke' my boyfriend's window and see if I could get a goodnight message."
Fang Yi, who'd gone out for a nighttime jog, had her own camera crew following her. After taking a lap around the beach, she returned just in time for the cameras behind her to catch sight of a fishing pole sticking out from one of the balconies of the villa.
Fang Yi stared.
"Is there something up there?" a member of her camera crew asked.
"It's nothing. My eyes just suddenly got a little blurry," Fang Yi said. "…it looks like someone is fishing."
And judging by the position of that pole, it was coming from Jiang Ying's balcony.
Was he fishing, out of his window, in the middle of the night?
Fang Yi decided to act like she hadn't seen anything.
Thanks to Qi Zhu's warning, Jiang Ying was sleeping in a perfectly decent and presentable posture when the camera crew came in to wake him on the second day. He rose right away, ready to start the day's stream.
Since they'd worked so hard on the day of their arrival, the guests were all able to take it easier on the second day. Jiang Ying continued to single-handedly count (waste) money (time) at the counter, and the shop saw even better sales than it had the day before.
"Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah! You're that… that…" A young woman who'd just entered the shop pointed at Jiang Ying, so excited that she couldn't even speak.
"It's me," Jiang Ying confirmed. "Last name Jiang, first name Ying. Hobby: standing here and looking pretty."
Fang Yi, passing by, was silent.
Qi Zhu, from not far away, gave him a round of applause. "Full marks for self-awareness."
"You're not fierce at all! Why does everyone say you're super aggressive?" the young woman asked after getting his autograph. She was thrilled beyond belief, and she wound up buying a ton of things, increasing the shop's revenue for the day even more.
"Are you going to become my fan?" Jiang Ying asked. "If you are, I'll ask Qi-laoshi to give you an autograph too."
"I am, I am, I am! I'm definitely a fan now." The young woman was even more elated now, happily receiving two autographs before her departure.
"As my new fan, be sure to charge into battle with me in the future," Jiang Ying called out. After taking care of their latest patron's payment, he sprawled over the front counter again and occasionally snuck a glance at Qi Zhu.
During the shop's business hours that day, the livestream screen was full of bullet comments from enthusiastic netizens—
[Little Ying, what are you looking at? Where are you looking? Your gaze is practically glued to our gege.]
[Ah, ah, ahhhhh! Mu Quanming, look at me!]
[Fang Yi-jiejie is so impressive! Full marks to her on foreign languages!]
[I also feel like Jiang Ying isn't all that aggressive. I'm a fan now.]
[He's so hot. If he talks like a civilized person, he has the ability to get way more fans. It's too bad he's a troll, through and through.]
[I'm so jealous of that girl who got to talk to him, wahhhhhh!]
[I'm Little Qi-zong, Papa Jiang Look At Me: I got your package. It's pretty plain. Just a plastic bag, transparent. And the bag had a hole in it. The delivery guy had me open it up for you. What the hell is this ugly thing? Do you need it urgently? If you do, I'll send someone to bring it to you.]