On the personal activity feed of the 'Fight!' app—
[Anxious Crab]: @Fighter3357868 This is the day my apprentice graduates in glory. Everyone, give him a round of applause.
[Little Lemon]: Clap clap, congrats. Even Coward Crab can produce an apprentice?
[sunny]: Clap clap, congrats. Here's to your everlasting master-apprentice bond.
Countless Passersby: Clap clap, congrats. Here's to your everlasting master-apprentice bond.
Their master-apprentice bond would definitely last, even after graduation. Jiang Ying was sure they would one day find a chance to meet in person. After all, they'd fostered their master-apprentice relationship for so long already. They'd forged a genuine bond. It would be too much of a shame if they didn't meet up offline.
[Anxious Crab]: It's getting late. I'm going to sleep. In the future, when I get a chance, I'll teach you some more of the finer details of fighting. I won't abandon you just because you've graduated.
[Anxious Crab]: Remember to practice what you've learned.
[Fighter3357868]: I will. Go to sleep.
Ever since he slipped Qi Zhu that little paper note, Jiang Ying had been living in utter bliss. His drama had wrapped, his apprentice-didi had graduated, and tomorrow he would step into Qi Zhu's home and allow nature to take its course.
Good fortune had rained down from above. It was knocking down his door. He was overjoyed. He couldn't stop smiling.
Jiang Ying woke several times during the night, grinning like a loon each and every time. He wound up sleeping straight through to the afternoon of the next day.
"Good morning, Huihui-jie," Jiang Ying greeted when he arrived at his agency's office. He immediately ran into Xuan Huitong, with whom he'd just finished filming on the set of 'An Auspicious Snow'.
"It isn't morning anymore, it's afternoon," Xuan Huitong corrected mercilessly.
"Ai, it's fine." Jiang Ying flopped down on the nearest couch. "I'm just here to talk to my manager about my recent 'exposure'. I'm leaving as soon as I make my report."
He'd shed his crab shell, that was all. It wasn't a big problem. His skin was thick enough to weather this storm. He would stick to his guns. No one was going to take this hobby from him.
"This is old news already, from days and days ago. No one's paying attention to me anymore." Jiang Ying spent most of the afternoon brainwashing his manager. "The tea has been spilled. It's gone cold, and I've wandered out of the spotlight. No one's thinking about me these days."
And that was that. The matter could be considered resolved. Jiang Ying was accustomed to doing his own thing and marching to the beat of his own drum. He wouldn't trouble their PR department over something like this.
"You have a call." Jiang Ying's manager was starting to feel a major headache coming on after listening to so much of Jiang Ying's bullshit. This conversation couldn't end soon enough.
The manager was nodding towards the cell phone that Jiang Ying had left on the coffee table.
Jiang Ying fished it up and grabbed a tangerine from the coffee table too, peeling it as he took the call. "Hello, sir. So you've finally decided to reach out to me, Little Qi-zong."
"Stop right there," Little Qi-zong commanded fiercely. "We're even. What happened before… we don't need to bring up any of it."
"We're barely even," Jiang Ying grumbled.
"We're filming the last installment of my program tomorrow. Since you're not busy, don't forget to drop by," Qi Jun said, earnestly getting down to business. "All of the contestants appearing on tomorrow's episode are staying, so just flatter them with some rainbow farts. If you really can't manage that, just sit there and look pretty without opening your mouth. Got it?"
"Got it, got it." Jiang Ying was already getting tired of listening to Qi Jun blather so much. "Since we're old classmates, I won't make trouble for you. Relax."
After a few days of turbulence, the two old classmates buried the hatchet and made up. They even started reminiscing on the past again.
"Little Ying, someone's looking for you?" An assistant knocked on the door, gesturing out into the hall with a pointed look.
"Okay, enough talk. I'm going home." Jiang Ying got ready to hang up. "Bye-bye. See you tomorrow."
"Alright, alright." Qi Jun happily bade him farewell and ended the call.
During their school days, Jiang Ying had often gone over to Qi Zhu's house to play. Qi Zhu's parents were both very busy, so the big house often felt too quiet and too empty. But the two kids could start bickering with each other even while doing homework, so the house would always liven up with them inside.
Qi Zhu had gotten his own place after returning from abroad. Jiang Ying had yet to visit him there.
While scrolling through Weibo in the car, Jiang Ying suddenly remembered something and asked, "Did my assistant really send all my stuff to your place?"
"Really," Qi Zhu confirmed. "I've put everything away for you already."
"I couldn't even find my keys when I went home last night. It was a good thing my assistant had a spare on him. But he took the spare with him when he left today." Jiang Ying sighed, as though helpless. "Is this gege willing to shelter his little friend who has no place to call home?"
"We're home," Qi Zhu stated simply. He gestured for Jiang Ying to get out of the car so that he could park.
"I like the style of your place. Being famous really comes with its perks." Jiang Ying lingered in the little garden in front of Qi Zhu's house. He stooped down and reached out, as though he wanted to pet the bonsai trees. "Every inch of land costs a fortune around here, and yet you've bought yourself such a big place."
"That's enough." Qi Zhu returned after parking the car. He reached out and tugged Jiang Ying back up. "A controversial idol who trends every other day isn't qualified to make any implications about my extravagance."
It was approaching the middle of the summer. The adorable flowers in the garden were blooming, lightly scenting the air with a fresh, floral fragrance. Jiang Ying didn't know anything about flowers. He couldn't name any of the ones in Qi Zhu's garden. But the sight of them in full bloom gave him the sensation of having exactly what he wanted—
The perfect time, and the perfect place.
The setting sun cast a warm glow over the house. Jiang Ying rose a little too quickly. He stumbled over his own feet. Qi Zhu caught him, and Jiang Ying tumbled straight into Qi Zhu's chest.
The sun sank lower and lower, dipping towards the horizon. Jiang Ying lifted his head and found his own reflection in Qi Zhu's eyes. In that moment, he felt as though he were one of the flowers around them, blossoming in Qi Zhu's world.
Standing in the warmth of the sunset, Jiang Ying closed his eyes and lifted himself up on his tiptoes. He wrapped his arms around Qi Zhu's neck, and when Qi Zhu kissed him, he slowly parted his lips with a giddy smile.
"Stupid." The sun had fully set by now. Qi Zhu gently pushed back a certain someone who had been forgetting to breathe. "You bit yourself, didn't you?"
Jiang Ying was silent.
The crab in his heart clicked its claws. His desire to win had resurfaced and reignited his will to fight.
Jiang Ying invited himself into Qi Zhu's bathroom and borrowed his shower. He threw on a set of Qi Zhu's pajamas without even bothering to dry off. Water droplets still clung to his own body when he emerged. Qi Zhu picked up a cotton swab and gently dabbed at the dew around the cut on Jiang Ying's lip.
"My bad." The troll was feeling a little dejected. His technique obviously hadn't been up to par, and his pride had been wounded. He subconsciously pouted, and his gaze occasionally flickered to the floor.
The sight of him was almost unnaturally beautiful, especially compared to the ostentatious look he normally wore.
"Little Ying." Qi Zhu gently pressed the cotton swab in his hand to Jiang Ying's lip. "You have to know that when it comes to liking a person, there's no winning or losing."
"Really?" Jiang Ying pursed his lips. He seemed almost like he didn't understand, but also a bit like he did. "Then…?"
"Don't concern yourself with gains and losses, don't concern yourself with victory and defeat. Just allow yourself to feel," Qi Zhu coaxed as he put away the medicine box.
It made sense. Jiang Ying was starting to think Qi Zhu really understood a lot.
"Okay," Jiang Ying agreed.
He wouldn't think only of gains and losses, of victory and defeat.
From that day on, he would learn to just… feel. From the bottom of his heart.
"Little Ying. I'm asking you, seriously. Have you made up your mind?" Qi Zhu turned back to look at him. His gaze and his whole expression were perfectly serious, almost solemn, as though the answer to his question would change his life. "You know what I'm talking about."
"We're all adults here," Jiang Ying said. He took out a little square box from his pocket and slapped it down on the table in the room. "I said I'm yours. That means I'm yours. I won't take it back. I've already delivered myself to your front door. How could I run now? Don't worry. If I back out, we'll call it my defeat."
Qi Zhu was silent.
He didn't say a word before taking a towel and heading into the bathroom to shower.
It seemed Jiang Ying would be in for a bit of a wait. In order to make himself appear less nervous, he decided to entertain himself for a while. He could read a little, or mess around his phone. Any distraction would do.
Gossip Buddy had been packed up by Jiang Ying's assistant and sent over with the rest of his things. It was sitting on Qi Zhu's nightstand now. Two copies of the script for 'An Auspicious Snow' also sat on the nightstand. Jiang Ying had seen them a while back, while filming that variety show with Qi Zhu.
Jiang Ying decided to flip through one of the scripts. He reached out, then suddenly remembered something—
He'd yet to get a final score for his apprentice-didi's graduation.
The master-apprentice system in the 'Fight!' app automatically calculated a score for every master-apprentice relationship. The points earned after an apprentice's graduation could be exchanged for prizes from the merch shop. After receiving their final score and rewards, Jiang Ying and his apprentice-didi would probably both have enough in-game currency to get a little souvenir.
[Anxious Crab]: Apprentice-didi, good evening~
[Anxious Crab]: I almost forgot. I'll have the system calculate our official score now.
[Anxious Crab]: You can use the points you get to trade for rewards. Check out the shop when you get a chance.
User [Anxious Crab] has chosen to initiate the final calculations for your master-apprentice score. After the final calculations are complete, your score will be converted to in-game currency and your master-apprentice value will be set to zero. Are you sure you would like to proceed?
Yes | No
What need was there to hesitate? Jiang Ying tapped the screen and chose, Yes.
Their score was successfully finalized and converted into shop points. The system automatically played an audio notification—
"You have successfully concluded your master-apprentice relationship. Thank you for accompanying your apprentice for 123 days and nights. We wish you an everlasting master-apprentice bond."
At nearly the exact same time, from another corner of the room, an identical voice rang out—
"Your master has successfully concluded your master-apprentice relationship. Thank you for accompanying your master for 123 days and nights. We wish you an everlasting master-apprentice bond."
Jiang Ying blinked.
Then he blinked again.
What the hell was this?! Why did settling their score just once… produce two voice recordings? And why did the other one… not come from Anxious Crab's phone?!
This other voice… the source of that sound… Qi Zhu's cell phone?!
Qi Zhu's cell phone screen had lit up. The screen showed the word 'Fight!' in a flamboyantly elegant script. Clearly, he'd just received a new alert.
Jiang Little Ying's head filled up with question marks.
The two scripts on the nightstand suddenly became much, much more conspicuous to his eye.
Jiang Ying rushed to grab a copy. He flipped it open—
No problems there. It was the script of 'An Auspicious Snow'. The pages contained plenty of Qi Zhu's notes and remarks. Black text, white paper. Seriously, no problems at all.
Jiang Ying grabbed the other copy of the script. It looked identical, until he flipped it open and—
Jiang Ying stared.
Qi Zhu had printed out every single line of their chat logs from the past few months. In red pen, he'd circled each and every use of 'sir' and other passive-aggressive remarks and reaction memes.
What was Qi Zhu doing?
"No, it… can't… be. Right?" Jiang Ying's smile was frozen on his face. He couldn't even make himself laugh. "This… would be… way too many points of psychological damage?"
Jiang Ying's cell phone suddenly vibrated. He'd received a new private message—
[Zhuoyue's Chinese Is Awesome]: It's you! Sir! Friend! SlightSmile.jpg
[Zhuoyue's Chinese Is Awesome]: Qi's little boyfriend! So you have an account here too!
[Anxious Crab]: ……
Thump. Thump. Thumpthumpthump.
Jiang Ying's heart was racing.
[Zhuoyue's Chinese Is Awesome]: Fuck, I haven't been online in a few days, I just saw your message. I'm the worst.
[Zhuoyue's Chinese Is Awesome]: Here it is. A fucking screenshot for you.
[Zhuoyue's Chinese Is Awesome]: [photo]
Jiang Ying lifted his trembling right hand and opened the image attachment Zhuoyue had sent over. The familiar sight of a user profile showed up, bearing a name Jiang Ying could never forget—