"Hey, where are we going anyway?" Jiang Ying asked. They'd been on the road for a long while before he realized they weren't taking the usual way home. "We're not going home?"
"We are," Qi Zhu said. "Home to the place where I used to live. My parents and sister are back in the country. I'm taking you to see them."
"Oh…" Jiang Ying fished a bag of soft-shelled walnuts out of his stash of snacks, shelling them more or less just for fun. "They got back yesterday?"
"Today. They just got home."
"Then why are we in such a rush?" Jiang Ying continued to squeeze and shell the walnuts. "If they just got back, they haven't had a chance to rest yet. We basically grew up together, so I've seen them loads of times since I was little. It doesn't matter if we don't see them today."
"This time is different," Qi Zhu said.
"How is it different?" Jiang Ying didn't understand. He passed Qi Zhu a few pre-shelled walnuts. "We're all familiar with each other. It's not like it'll be our first meeting."
"I'll be telling them that I pursued you, and caught you. I'll be telling them that you like me too.
"I'll be telling them that I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
Jiang Ying still didn't fully understand, but he at least vaguely got that this was the necessary process of 'meeting the parents'. If Qi Zhu cared about this sort of thing, then Jiang Ying would care as well.
It was just that their two families were way too familiar with each other. So this 'meeting the parents' thing didn't make Jiang Ying feel the slightest bit nervous.
Qi Zhu's parents were the same as always. One of them insisted on giving Jiang Ying some pocket money in a red envelope, and one of them insisted on giving him lots of snacks. Whenever Jiang Ying had run out of pocket money or snacks when he was little, he would come straight over to Qi Zhu's place to mooch.
"No, no, this really isn't necessary. Uncle, I can't accept this," Jiang Ying said, while simultaneously accepting the red envelope that Qi Zhu's dad persistently stuffed into his hands.
While unzipping his backpack to fill it with snacks, he added, "Auntie, how old am I already? I stopped eating snacks a long time ago."
Qi Zhu watched on in silence.
"I feel more at ease just seeing how well you two get along," Qi Zhu's mom said. "I regret it, you know. When Qi Zhu was little, we were so busy. We didn't have time to manage our household. Our two kids practically raised themselves. It's a good thing Qi Zhu grew up with Little Ying at his side."
"Oh, that takes me back!" Jiang Ying slapped the table, suddenly recalling something about the past. "He used to be so cold and aloof when he was little. He looked at everyone like they were beneath him, so when I was still an elementary school brat, I would drag him over to the neighboring class every day to fight with people."
Qi Zhu remained silent.
He helplessly dragged Jiang Ying over to his side and covered his mouth, physically stopping him from saying anything else.
Jiang Ying blinked a few times. A faint, indistinct wave of agitation drifted through his eyes, and he stuck out his tongue to give Qi Zhu's palm a little lick.
Qi Zhu tensed and dropped his hand.
"Auntie, look. I'm not fierce at all. He's the one who bullies me," the troll continued, blathering away as soon as he won his freedom. "Let's keep reminiscing. Remember the time when…"
"I also remembered something," Qi Zhu's older sister, Qi Yueyue, chimed in. "My little brother used to make you do your homework, right? He would just glare at you while you worked, while holding a big stick. I just happened to see it once."
"Right, right, right," Jiang Ying said.
With the whole family gathered together, it was only natural that they would reminisce on the past. Time flew by as they chatted, and 10:00 PM arrived in the blink of an eye.
"Ah, that's enough," Jiang Ying said, remembering that Qi Zhu's parents had just gotten back from abroad. "Let's all wash up and go to bed."
"Oh, just look at us, we've been so thoughtless! We got so caught up in chatting that we completely forgot. Little Ying, should we prepare a room for you?" Qi Zhu's mom asked.
"No need." Jiang Ying shook his head. He jogged a few steps to catch up to Qi Zhu and hopped up with a light jump. Qi Zhu seemed to have sensed exactly what Jiang Ying was planning; he instinctively reached out to catch Jiang Ying, carrying him down the hall on his back.
Jiang Ying wrapped his arms around Qi Zhu's neck, like he'd done it a thousand times before. "I always squeezed in with Qi Zhu before, anyway. It's no problem."
The bed in Qi Zhu's room wasn't large. It was only a single. Before, whenever Jiang Ying visited, he would normally sleep on the bed while Qi Zhu slept on the floor. But usually, when Jiang Ying woke, he would find himself on the floor too.
As soon as they stepped into that room, time seemed to rewind. Flashes of the past filled up that space—
A pair of school-age kids ran in, wearing their uniforms. Study materials and notes were scattered all across the floorboards. Practice tests with red checks and crosses littered the whole room. Little bubbles rose and burst in two glasses of orange soda.
All these little details came together, piecing together a moment from the past.
Qi Zhu's room, in the present, was neat and tidy. Most of the furnishings were the same as before, but a small wind chime had appeared by the window. As a summer breeze passed through that window, the chimes swayed and sang a twinkling tune.
"You made it yourself?" Jiang Ying asked. When he moved closer, he found that a few little crystal crabs were dangling from the wind chime.
"Made it myself."
"I like it." Jiang Ying ran his fingers over the wind chime a few times, creating a crisp, pleasant sound.
"If you like it, you can take it with you," Qi Zhu said, gesturing at the chime. "It's all yours."
"No, that's okay." Jiang Ying shook his head.
It would be best to let it stay right there, in that room, with all the memories of their bygone school days.
But Jiang Ying really did like those little strings of crabs. He took out his cell phone and snapped a picture, capturing the wind chime and the night sky outside.
@JiangYingKANI: [photo] I like it.
Comment 1: Wow, so cute!
Comment 2: Did you take our Qi Zhu as an apprentice? Has he learned a lot? Have you evaluated his progress? EvilSmile.jpg
Comment 3: Gege, I'm sorry, I've become a shipper. You guys are really good together. Qi Zhu didn't want anyone to think he was your anti-fan. That's why he exposed himself, right? Gege, don't be mad at him.
Comment 4: Crab-ge, where have you gone now? It's so late, and you're still awake? Doge.jpg
Ever since Jiang Ying's secret identity was exposed, a horde of Anxious Crab's diehard fans would swarm into the comments section every time he made a post. No matter what he posted, these fans would say, 'Crab-ge is awesome.'
"Sleepy." Jiang Ying had read too many scripts during the day. "Eyes hurt."
"Then get some sleep," Qi Zhu suggested. "Don't fight tonight."
Jiang Ying had just opened the 'Fight!' app. His hand froze for a second, like he'd been caught in the act of doing something wrong. He had no choice but to give up on his nightly ritual for now.
The bed was still as small as before, but this time neither of them wanted to sleep on the floor. Jiang Ying found a stupid-looking penguin plushie on the bed. It was identical to one that Qi Zhu had given him earlier.
"So it was a pair, huh?" Jiang Ying mused. It would be a tight squeeze on the bed with just him and Qi Zhu. He held the penguin and hesitated, wondering if he should chuck it overboard.
"It was a pair," Qi Zhu confirmed. He took the penguin and pressed it more firmly against Jiang Ying's chest. "Hold onto this. Otherwise, later, you'll bite me again."
Jiang Ying blinked.
Then he blinked again.
So something was going to happen in that cramped little bed? Jiang Ying wondered if it was too late to offer to sleep on the floor.
"You…" Jiang Ying bit down on the little penguin plush's foot. The rims of his eyes were already starting to turn red. "This was all premeditated, wasn't it, Qi-gege? You planned this all out."
"No." Qi Zhu pulled Jiang Ying closer even while denying everything. "I didn't need to plan anything."
"All the tools of your crime are sitting right here, and you're telling me you didn't plan anything?" The little troll was working himself into a huff. He wouldn't take this lying down. He curled up at the foot of the bed, hugging the plump penguin plush, and started to put up a fight. "You're pissing me off."
Qi Zhu watched him for a moment.
He reached out with one hand to take Jiang Ying's wrist, pressing it to the side of the pillow. The penguin plush rolled out of Jiang Ying's arms and tumbled over onto the floor.
"Okay," Qi Zhu said. "I confess. It was premeditated."
"And when did you start to plan your crime, hm?" The plushie was gone. A certain someone started to bite. "Talk, talk, talk. If you don't tell me, I'm running away. You're hurting me a bit…"
"It was when you showed off in front of the mirror.
"It was when you called me 'Qi-gege' in the elevator.
"It was just now, when you grinned like an idiot at the wind chime."
Because Qi Zhu liked him, each and every one of his moves was unknowingly, unintentionally seductive.
Because Qi Zhu liked him, each and every one of his moves was like an invitation.
No one slept on the floor that night, and Jiang Ying slept very well. He didn't roll off the bed in the middle of the night.
When sunlight started to seep in through a crack in the blinds the next morning, Qi Zhu carefully slipped out of bed and properly tucked Jiang Ying in again. A certain someone was sleeping very deeply, comfortably wrapped up in his dreams. His long lashes brushed his cheeks, hiding a world of stars in his eyes.
The wind chimes by the window caught the first rays of daylight. The little claws of the crystal crabs lit up like rainbows. As though not to wake those who were still dreaming, the morning winds stayed away, not rustling the chimes.
Qi Zhu turned off the shutter of the camera on his phone and took a picture of the wind chime and the rising sun.
@QiZhu: [photo] I like it.