[Ah? This is Jiang Ying? Let me take a look.]
[Holy shit, I almost didn't recognize him. His period costume is seriously stunning. How is he so cute when he's playing some pretty little idiot? Some people are just born winners. His face is so nice. Just looking at him makes me feel like this show is good.]
[Xuan Moling isn't a pretty little idiot, keep watching. He seems innocent and naive, but he's actually a very complex character. Very thought-provoking. I feel like Jiang Ying's really captured the essence of him. It's all in his eyes.]
[This is 'shitty' acting? Crab-ge is too amazing. Crab-ge is the best.]
[I haven't finished watching yet, so I won't give a review for now, but he absolutely is a match for Qi-laoshi in terms of acting ability. I think he's doing a great job already.]
"Not bad," Qi Zhu said.
"Hm?" Jiang Ying was surprised. "You're praising me?"
As far as he could remember, he could count on one hand the number of times Qi Zhu had praised him.
"It's really good," Qi Zhu said, pausing the drama. "I like it."
There it was again, those words. But Jiang Ying liked it too.
A week after the drama started to air, it was already starting to show signs of becoming hugely successful. It was highly rated on several popular streaming platforms, and it trended practically every other day. Viewers had already gotten used to seeing it all over social media. Many fans had made video edits with clips from the show, and many more were recommending it to their friends.
[It's super good! I've already forgotten that I started watching this show just for my idol. I get sucked into the plot every episode. I want to see the next part soon!]
[Savor these sweet and tranquil episodes. The ones coming up later are going to make you cry. Just watch the behind-the-scenes highlights, you'll see.]
[Ah, ah, ahhhhh, when I voted for Jiang Ying to play the villain, I just wanted to see that troll get bullied on screen. But now I don't feel that way anymore. When I think about what's going to happen later in the book, my heart hurts!]
[I almost wanted to slap the past me who voted for him, but now I can't imagine anyone except Little Ying playing this character.]
[I'm crying. Anyone who wants to continue enjoying these sweet and happy moments, I recommend you stop watching here.]
[I came to watch for Qi-laoshi, but in the end I wound up loving the antagonist…]
[The little jiejie are great actors too! No one on this show is slacking off.]
The show's popularity climbed higher and higher as more and more people talked about it. Eventually, even the original author spoke up—
@YuYunzhi: Thank you, everyone, for bringing the characters in my heart to life.
While the drama aired, the viewers all earnestly discussed the plot and the characters' motivations. They keenly debated each character's internal thoughts and feelings, and the drama wound up coming in first on several popularity polls that season. Everyone's hard work paid off.
@A Lemon Tree Growing Deep In A Great Mountain: CryingIntoHands.jpg I want to scold my idol again. This is what he calls bad acting skills? The part where they split up… I almost cried myself to death. I don't need to flatter him. The work will speak for itself.
Before long, someone clipped the interview where Jiang Ying had dissed his own acting skills. The video was shared over ten thousand times.
That day, on Weibo's trending topics list—
@QiZhu: #TheMostSelfAwareActor# SlightSmile.jpg
The explosive popularity of 'An Auspicious Snow' hauled its entire cast into the spotlight with it. Every time a new episode aired, the actors became the center of attention online. Even the supporting actor Miao Ye got plenty of new fans.
[Thank you, Jiang Ying's character, for showing me that the world isn't black and white. The show is almost over, and I'm sad to see it go. I can't even express how I feel right now.]
[It's hard to say who's right and who's wrong. We can only say that they each made their own choices. There's no definitive 'good guy' or 'bad guy' here.]
[This is going to be the top drama of the year, and it's the best drama I've seen in at least three years. Thank you to the four main actors and everyone involved in the making of this show.]
[Arghhhhhhhhhh, I'm so frustrated, I have to rewatch everything from the beginning to see how these two bastards got to this point. They're really pissing me off!]
[Ah, ahhh, ahhhhhhhh, Luo Nanke and Xuan Moling… got a bad end.]
[Jiang Ying: I'm becoming an actor. I'll take my time. Don't rush me. If you rush me, I'll quit.]
[Who was it that said he was 'enlightened'? Pfft, as if. And he's out there scolding tabloids for dissing him? He's baselessly dissing himself more fiercely than anyone.]
The night the grand finale aired, a great many people burst into tears over the drama. As for the two people who'd acted out the final scenes of the story, they'd walked out of those roles a long time ago. They sat around a table at home, enjoying a little hotpot by themselves.
"Listen up. Let me tell you something, and don't you argue with me." Jiang Ying had his gaze fixed on a big crab in the pot. He poked and prodded at it with his chopsticks. "Pretty soon, you're going to turn red."
Qi Zhu didn't interject. He sat off to the side and watched Jiang Ying play (and fight) with his food.
"Before you turn red, let's take a photo together." Jiang Ying lifted the big crab. "Little Lemon has been howling for new content for days. We'll consider it a gift to everyone, to celebrate the end of the show."
Jiang Ying flinched. "Ow. It pinched me."
He glared at the crab. "You wanna go? You really wanna fight me?"
Qi Zhu watched on in silence.
The sound of a camera's shutter rang out through the room. In the photo, Jiang Ying was frantically fighting with a giant crab.
@QiZhu: [photo] Dinner. Cuteness.jpg
All the netizens who'd just been bawling their eyes out over the drama suddenly went wild—
[Qi-laoshi, be honest with us. Which one of them is your dinner? Doge.jpg]
[Our big bro is such a good guy.]
[This is nice. They got a bad end in the drama, but a happy ending in real life. I'm good. I'm good now.]
[This is making me want to laugh while I cry. ZhuiFengZhuYing is the best!]
[I've dried my tears. Congratulations, you two. I hope Little Ying will quickly acknowledge his own acting skills.]
[Congratulations and best wishes, you two! Qi-laoshi, go eat your dinner.]
"Time passes pretty quickly."
Outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, leaves had started to fall in Qi Zhu's little courtyard. The difference in temperatures inside and outside had left a faint layer of condensation on the glass.
Jiang Ying stood by the windows and doodled all sorts of mysterious characters and symbols in the fog. He drew some big flames, he drew a crab, and he drew a big ship. He drew big, billowy clouds that looked like cotton candy. By the time he finished filling up the window, night had fallen.
"It's autumn," Jiang Ying said. At the center of all his aimless doodles, he used his fingertip to write the familiar characters of Qi Zhu's name.
"It was also autumn when I met you. The whole city was blanketed with sycamore leaves back then, too." Qi Zhu approached and took Jiang Ying's hand. He copied Jiang Ying and wrote Jiang Ying's name on the glass.
One day, many years ago, the little Qi Zhu had discovered a chubby little friend in his own family's courtyard. The adults had told them that the two of them would be studying together in the future, and that they should get along well.
The two little kids were similarly proud and arrogant. They stared at each other in the courtyard for a long, long time. Gazes clashing, neither willing to look away. It was as though they were saying—
If you look down on me, I'll look down on you.
Neither of them could get used to the sight of the other. Neither of them would admit defeat.
In the end, Qi Zhu was the one to sigh first. He poked his new friend's chubby little cheek and said, "Quit staring with your eyes so big. Call me Qi-gege, and I'll give you some cotton candy."
"Qi-gege, what kind of little genius were you? You thought you could buy me off with a bag of cotton bandy," Jiang Ying accused. He'd laughed himself breathless after reminiscing on that memory. "You should have given me at least two bags. Why was I so easily deceived?
"Mm." Qi Zhu didn't deny any of it. "But it was worth your while."
The two of them fought from elementary school to middle school. Then they fought from middle school to the day they both entered the entertainment industry. The way Jiang Ying addressed him never changed—
And in the future, they still wouldn't change. They would always remain the same.
Sycamore leaves covered the courtyard. The windows began to fog up again, obscuring the scattered doodles on the glass. It was as though these moments, forged through their tumultuous childhoods and schoolyard days, slowly seeped into their memories. Each and every one of them turned into a lasting photograph, saved in the albums of their hearts where they would be hidden away and treasured.
All that remained on the glass were those two names, as clear and distinct as ever.
The years were long.
Win or lose, it was all worthwhile.
— End of Main Story —