Jiang Ying stared.
His brain stopped working for a moment. It needed a reboot. In that moment, he seemed to see a vast, open space ahead of him. He seemed to hear a thunderous boom, after which a big, billowy mushroom cloud ballooned up into the sky.
Fighter3357868 = Apprentice-didi = Qi Zhu?
Qi Zhu was his apprentice-didi?!
The one he'd painstakingly raised up for 123 days was Qi Zhu?!
The one who'd diligently logged into 'Fight!' for 123 days in a row to learn to fight from him was Qi Zhu?!
It wasn't that their attitudes and dispositions were similar. They were the same person all along?!?!?!
Fuck not caring about gains and losses. Fuck not caring about victory or defeat.
Jiang Ying gave it some thought. There was definitely… evidence pointing towards Qi Zhu being his apprentice-didi. Like his apprentice-didi using all of Jiang Ying's reaction memes. Like Qi Zhu suddenly learning how to talk like a troll. And like Li Zhu's battle power potential rising sharply, far exceeding Jiang Ying's expectations.
It was just that Qi Zhu being his apprentice was too bizarre. Jiang Ying hadn't thought much of the possibility, until—
"Little Ying." Qi Zhu pushed open the door to the room. "Do you want to set the thermostat a bit higher?"
Jiang Ying jolted with surprise. "You—freeze."
Qi Zhu blinked.
"Don't move a muscle," Jiang Ying added. "Stay back."
Qi Zhu didn't take another step forward, and he didn't ask any questions. He only swept his gaze over the 'script' in Jiang Ying's hands, then glanced at the screen of the cell phone he'd left on the dresser. It seemed he understood what had happened.
He let out a low, deep laugh.
"You're laughing?" Jiang Ying didn't expect that Qi Zhu wouldn't even try to cover it up. "You—you need to reflect on the gravity of this situation."
"I never lied to you." Qi Zhu turned and locked the bedroom door. "And I never planned on hiding it from you."
Jiang Ying fell silent.
That was true, wasn't it? Every single word this guy said to him in 'Fight!' had been the truth.
"I have a pretty aggressive friend," Qi Zhu continued, moving over to the floor-to-ceiling windows while Jiang Ying was distracted. He drew the curtains shut. "That aggressive friend is my boyfriend now. I didn't say anything untrue, did I?"
Jiang Ying huffed a laugh in anger. "Qi-laoshi… were you very bored, sir? Huh? You had nothing better to do, so you opened up an account on that app and had me teach you how to fight?"
Qi Zhu gave that some serious thought, then explained, "It was mostly to pursue you. To understand your world. Fighting was beside the point."
"You played me like a monkey, and now you're saying it was beside the point."
Jiang Ying's anger meter was full. He wanted to fight. His 'desire to win' meter was also full.
But Qi Zhu really had been pursuing him very earnestly. Jiang Ying's thirst for victory receded just a little. Then it surged right back up.
Jiang Ying was pretty sure he was on the brink of exploding.
"All's well that ends well," Qi Zhu said, returning to the main point. "You're mine."
"What's so 'well' about it?" Jiang Ying leapt off the bed. "Excuse me, sir, but you've known for ages that I'm Boss Crab, haven't you? You already knew, 123 days ago. Were you oh-so-amused while watching me fight with our two fan bases on Weibo? And you were just so entertained when you sought me out as a master too, right? You just knew I would definitely like the sort of apprentice who was cold and disinterested. You have a lot of tricks up your sleeve, don't you, Class Monitor?
"Was it fun, watching me diss myself? That was your favorite part, wasn't it, sir? I even wished you luck in your fight against your 'aggressive friend'. Do you even have a conscience, sir?"
Jiang Ying huffed, then continued, "Your motives were impure, Qi-laoshi. While I, as the number one 'Fight!' master, only ever earnestly tried to teach you to fight."
"So your anger stems from the disrespect to your lessons," Qi Zhu said. "Right?"
"Right," Jiang Ying said.
Wait, no. That didn't actually seem right.
His train of thought had been derailed, but he couldn't figure out where he'd gone off track. They were no longer fighting about the main issue at hand, but how did—where did—
This wouldn't do. He needed a bottle of iced water to wake himself up.
"Okay," Qi Zhu intoned, calmly.
That 'okay' was clearly full of the intent to provoke a fight. A certain someone's fluctuating desire for victory came surging up again, so fierce that it was almost dizzying. Jiang Ying thumped a hand against his own forehead and grabbed Gossip Buddy from the nightstand.
"What's so 'okay' about it? I'm leaving. I'm running away. You've pissed me off to the point of bailing. Do you think I'm completely shameless…"
I'll teach you all the little tricks to fighting.
Today, we'll talk about interrupting.
You need to strike first, talk first. Get into the habit of that, then you'll master the art of interrupting your opponent too.
When you get a chance, find someone and try it out.
Before Jiang Ying could finish his tirade, his eyes flew wide open. Qi Zhu had gotten in his way, blocking his exit. He lowered his head and kissed Jiang Ying on the mouth, avoiding the little cut at the corner of his lips. It was a fierce, aggressive kiss that completely sealed away Jiang Ying's ability to speak.
Jiang Ying panted lightly when they parted. When he opened his eyes, he saw the light of victory in Qi Zhu's eyes.
Jiang Ying pointed at himself. "…alright, so you've gotten addicted to interrupting me, have you? I'm not completely shameless. I have my pride. Don't forget, I told you before, I won't lose to you a second time.
"We're done for today. Seeya~"
Interrupt your opponent, then distract them with some crooked logic. Then, once they're sufficiently confused, throw their own questions back in their face.
Qi Zhu grabbed hold of Jiang Ying and pulled him back in one hard tug. In the blink of an eye, he grew serious, flaunting the complex sort of intensity that could only be performed by a wildly popular actor.
Jiang Ying witnessed the shift that came over Qi Zhu's face—
Qi Zhu furrowed his brow with some measure of hesitation, and some measure of grief. He looked at Jiang Ying, then he looked up at the ceiling for a moment. There was warmth in his eyes, as well as a sense of loss. A fondness, mixed with longing.
Jiang Ying blinked.
What was happening? Where was this going?
If Qi Zhu had something to say, he should just say it.
You'll see a lot of fights like that on Weibo, especially between people who are about equal in skill. Eventually, you'll see a lot of these fights go off topic. That often happens when netizens just get distracted, unintentionally, but some fighters like to stick their noses in and intentionally lead the subject astray.
"Little Ying." Qi Zhu pressed both hands to Jiang Ying's shoulders. His words carried bitterness and hurt, and his yearning gaze drifted all over Jiang Ying's face. His voice even trembled lightly as he asked, "Don't you love me?"
Jiang Ying stared.
Then he stared some more.
What the fuck kind of question was that?! Was that what they were fighting about?!
And Qi Zhu wasn't a famous actor for nothing. His feigned heartbreak was extremely believable.
Fine, so he was an awesome actor. So what?!
Did that mean he could freely bully shitty actors with his awesome acting skills?
Once you've set the flow of the fight, your opponent will either be pissed or stupefied. Either way, they'll be stunned for a moment. You need to take advantage of that opportunity to flip the world upside down on them. That's when you strike. While your opponent is speechless, you keep attacking to keep them that way.
The flow that Qi Zhu had set for this conversation made Jiang Ying feel like he was drifting through space. He didn't understand how the exposure of Qi Zhu's secret identity had turned into a discussion of love.
Jiang Ying had just started to clear his mind, and now his brain had crashed again.
Then, in the next second, Qi Zhu led the topic back towards the main point: "You're a little slow on the uptake when it comes to love. How can you blame that on me?
"You're addicted to fighting. You can't focus on love. I knew you were Boss Crab, but you couldn't tell that I was me. Can you really blame me for that?"
The world had been turned upside down.
"I started pursuing you a long time ago. How about you?" Qi Zhu persisted, continuing his fierce attack. "When I treated you well, you turned everything into a fight. When I asked if you shipped us, you avoided the question."
Finally, the finishing blow—
"Little Ying." Qi Zhu reached out and lifted Jiang Ying's head, forcing their eyes to meet. "You tell me. Who's at fault here?"
Jiang Ying was silent.
He was so fucking pissed.
All of these were his fighting techniques. Qi Zhu had learned them all, and he was using them so well.
What kind of divine enlightenment had Qi Zhu achieved?
It would be best to retreat for now and fight again another day.
Jiang Ying hugged Gossip Buddy tighter and tried to flee.
Qi Zhu remained completely unperturbed. He calmly wrapped an arm around Jiang Ying's waist and hauled him back into the room, tossing him onto the big bed. He bore down on Jiang Ying and played a very recent audio recording on his phone—
"We're all adults here. 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."
Jiang Ying fell silent again.
Qi Zhu was too damn diabolical.
"I didn't mean anything by it," Qi Zhu remarked blandly as he tossed his cell phone aside. "I simply wanted to keep it as a souvenir. I never thought I'd get a chance to use that recording so soon.
"Ogre Jiang, let me ask you one last time." Although Qi Zhu's mouth claimed he wanted to ask a question, his hands didn't stop roaming. "Do you want to win, or do you want to lose?"
A certain ogre had proudly walked the path of victory ever since he was little. Now, he'd finally fallen into a ditch.
He couldn't advance and he couldn't retreat. He had no way of taking back the fierce declarations he'd already made. This was a matter of pride and dignity. He couldn't act like he hadn't spoken such grand and boastful words.
Jiang Ying needed to relieve some stress. He decided to cuss Qi Zhu out first and worry about the rest later.
"Qi Zhu, you fucking…"
Gossip Buddy, still clutched tightly in Jiang Ying's arms, was suddenly activated by a certain keyword. It lit up and brightly declared to the room:
"Qi Zhu? Qi Zhu is just a sexless ice prince!"
Qi Zhu fell silent.
Jiang Ying also froze.
This smart… no, this stupid speaker. What was it butting in for? Now Jiang Ying couldn't say another word.
"Is that what you think of me?" Qi Zhu lowered his head to Jiang Ying's ear. A deep laugh rumbled past his lips. "Okay, no more questions. Why don't you just try me and find out if you're right?"
Five minutes later—
"…tomorrow, I still… have work," Jiang Ying relented. "Be gentle."
"Mm." Qi Zhu nodded thoughtfully, then picked up the question that had gone unanswered earlier. "Don't you love me?"
"I do, I do, I do. Qi-gege knows everything, how could I not love him?" Jiang Ying answered hastily. Afterwards, he was still a little worried, and quickly added, "It was my bad. It was all my bad."
Qi Zhu seemed satisfied. "Mine," he murmured as he flipped Jiang Ying over and slowly bore down on him. "Let's fix that violent temperament of yours."
The morning of the next day, on the set of a certain television program, Qi Jun was trying to get everything in order for the day's work.
"I can't get through to his phone. Is Jiang Ying here yet?" Qi Jun asked one of the crew members. "We start streaming in twenty minutes. Are we all ready?"
"He's… well, he's here," the crew member, a new hire, stammered uneasily. "He just… doesn't really look the same as he did before."
Qi Jun blinked.
"Wait, no. What? What do you mean he doesn't look the same as he did before?"
Backstage, the staff members anxiously ushered Little Qi-zong into the VIP lounge for their honored guests. Qi Zhu was sitting in there, calmly sipping from a cup of tea.
"Cl-cl-cl-class Monitor?!" Qi Jun didn't manage to stop his brisk walk in time. He ran into the coffee table, bumping his leg hard enough to make him hiss through his teeth.
Qi Zhu nodded politely, indicating that he'd heard Qi Jun's trembling greeting.
"Where's my Daddy Jiang?" Qi Jun asked, already feeling a faint sense of foreboding.
"Dead asleep. He told me to come." A certain someone's every word and gesture were filled to the brim with a languid sort of ease and insolence. "I heard he accidentally signed my name on the contract."
Qi Jun was silent.
He needed some sort of fast-acting heart medication.
"Your program is going live in ten minutes, anyway." Qi Zhu set down the teacup in his hands. "I'll step in to save your show. What do you think? Am I good enough?"