It was an away game for Team Happy at City B versus Team Heavenly Swords. After a few years, Lou Guanning was still holding strong, finally breaking through at least once, after Ye Xiu’s retirement, into the playoffs. But with the current Team Happy at its peak and the core friends of Team Heavenly Swords beginning to feel their age, it was practically no contest. Team Happy had won easily. Lou Guanning’s smile was no less brilliant, but only a tiny bit strained while shaking the hand of the third captain of Happy, Qiao Yifan.
“You are living up to God Ye’s legacy, but that’s to be expected from one of his great disciples!” Guanning shook Yifan’s hand vigorously.
“Ah, you’re too kind, Senior.” Yifan nervously scratched the back of his head. “You had us on the ropes quite a few times.”
“Perhaps next time you’ll go easy on us!”
“Ah…” Yifan’s eyes darted to the judge just nearby. “Let’s not talk about such things right now. Please allow me to treat you and your team to dinner.”
“No need! No need! I have already made reservations for us and Team Happy!”
Yifan’s smile turned just a fraction strained. “We’d love to accept but-”
An Wenyi elbowed him before smiling at Guanning and pulling Yifan aside. “Relax.”
Wenyi sighed. “You could just invite him you know. Nobody in Happy, doesn’t know.”
Yifan’s face turned red against his will. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Wenyi.”
“So was Mo Fan hallucinating when he saw you wearing that Tiny Herb jacket with Gao Yingjie on the back?”
“Yes! I-It’s my old one! It clearly says Qiao Yifan!”
Wenyi continued to look skeptical. “Well I’m sure we can allow you to duck out of dinner early just to ‘wander’ around City B.”
“It’s personal business!”
“Of course it is. Be sure to tell Captain Gao hello from all of us and that we won’t be going easy on him next week.”
(“I missed you,” Yingjie whispered against the skin of Yifan’s neck as they curled up together on his bed. “At least next week I’ll get to see you again.”
“I missed you too.” Yifan whispered back. “And uh…” Yingjie felt Yifan’s heart rate go up one notch. “The team says hi. And that we aren’t going easy on you next week.”
The redness on Yifan’s face intensified as Yingjie laughed uncontrollably until Liu Xiaobie banged on his adjacent wall.
“ YIFAN, I’M GLAD YOU COULD COME VISIT. BUT YINGJIE, FOR FUCK’S SAKE, WE ALL KNOW YOU’RE FUCKING YIFAN IN THERE. CAN YOU JUST LET THE REST OF US SLEEP? ”)
The following week, Tiny Herb and Happy fought to a draw, 5 to 5. Tiny Herb’s offensive in the individual and group arenas were unavoidable, but Yifan’s guidance in the team competition pulled it back.
Although it was Happy’s home game, Yingjie noticed a particular subset of signs at the stadium. Ones that demanded Yifan get Ye Xiu to return as captain.
“For crying out loud, he’s been retired for good for more than four years,” Liu Xiaobie muttered as Tiny Herb left for the press conference. “Could they give the man a rest?”
“More like give Yifan a chance,” Yingjie grumbled.
“Ohhh… So it’s like that then.”
“More like Captain Yifan has been messaging him about how everyone complains about his mistakes and says God Ye would have never done that,” Liu Fei said as she walked by. Yingjie moved to object, face red, but Liu Fei scoffed. “Next time, don’t leave your phone in the training room while Yifan is texting you.”
“You shouldn’t be looking at your captain’s phone,” Yingjie finally managed to shoot back.
“Of course, Xiao Jie.” Liu Fei pinched Yingjie’s cheek and continued on.
“I’m going to trade you to Team Radiant for a steamed bun!” Liu Fei only waved her hand as she finally walked into the press room.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You can at least get a whole two glutinous rice dumplings with pork for her,” Xiaobie said as he put his arm around Yingjie to drag him forward. “In any case, leave getting the team back to the hotel to me. I think…” Xiaobie nodded his head at the figure waiting in shadow at the end of the hallway. “You’ve got someone waiting on you.” Yingjie smiled and Xiaobie chuckled. “Well, that’s a smile that’s decent enough for reporters to see when asking you about a draw. Come on then.”
(Yingjie tiptoed out of Yifan’s room. Happy had finally upgraded from just a small house to a proper club building, but that didn’t mean other members of Team Happy wouldn’t be wandering around.
“I can’t believe I’m doing a walk of shame,” Yingjie muttered to himself before walking into Mo Fan. “Uh…”
Mo Fan’s face betrayed no emotion, even with a raised eyebrow. He pressed his mug of coffee into Yingjie’s hands before saying, “Breakfast is in ten minutes.”
Yifan found Yingjie standing there, coffee going cold. He looked around before putting an arm around Yingjie’s shoulder, unwilling to let one of the rookies, or Bao Rongxing, give him lip over PDA. “Is that coffee for me?” Yifan swiped the mug and started drinking the lukewarm coffee.
“Mo Fan says breakfast is in ten.”
With the constant cycle of the competition, Happy and Tiny Herb did not have much chance to be in the same city after the two matches in a row. So it was only after the first half of the season had ended and the winter break was over that Yingjie and Yifan found themselves in the same city again.
This time City B was the backdrop to another fierce fight between the two teams. With the home advantage, Tiny Herb won 7 to 3.
Once the formalities were over, Yingjie pulled Yifan away, promising both teams that it was a guild dispute that needed to be discussed. Neither team was fooled and waved off their captains before distracting the paparazzi.
Fortunately Yifan’s hotel room was closer than Tiny Herb’s club. Or rather, Yingjie had been banned from bringing Yifan back to the club.
Yingjie found himself pinned against the door but Yifan didn’t even kiss him. Instead Yifan rested his head in the crook of Yingjie’s neck as he fumbled for his cardkey, busy breathing in Yingjie’s scent.
“I’m trying… Shit, that was my account card.”
Yifan finally realized there was a presence behind him and slowly turned around to find a group of Tiny Herb fans behind him.
“Uhh…” Yifan blinked. “It’s not what it looks like?”
“Unhand God Gao!”
(“Your fans are a nightmare,” Yifan moaned as he fell back against the bedsheets.
“To be fair, what else did you think they were going to think was happening?” Yingjie collapsed next to Yifan and rested his head on Yifan’s shoulder.
“The match literally ended half an hour ago. I’m pretty sure I can let go of a losing score to you within that much time.”
“Well… even if I can’t, you could… uh… kiss it better for me?” Yifan’s face turned bright red.
Yingjie smiled softly. “I could be persuaded…”
Yingjie leaned in but Yifan pushed him back with a finger. “Did you remember to lock the door?”
“Did your bribe of a signature buy their silence?”
Yingjie finally paused. “Maybe we should check Weibo first…”)
The playoffs passed with the usual rumble and fanfare. After a grueling match, Happy pulled through with another championship win against Tiny Herb.
Once both teams emerged from the booths, both captains shook hands first under the watchful eyes of team members and fans alike.
“Congratulations,” Yingjie said. His smile was bright. “Your first championship as captain.”
Yifan could only smile sheepishly. “You worked hard too.”
“Winners deserve a prize, right?” Yingjie leaned closer with a teasing smile.
“We’re on camera,” Yifan mumbled as he looked around them.
“Be just a little selfish this once,” Yingjie whispered against Yifan’s lips. “Just a little shameless.”
At last Yifan smiled just a bit. “Have to compete with Senior Ye somehow.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Their kiss caused the view count to explode and all the flash bulbs in the arena were burned out within the next thirty seconds. Most importantly, both teams shouted their voices hoarse in support.
(“Was that really necessary?” Yifan pulled Yingjie into the car with him as the crowd screamed and swelled behind them. Who would have thought that the fans of Glory had been shipping them for so long?
“Well, at least now we’ve addressed the rumors.”
“If you could only be just a little more discrete-”
“Don’t you dare pin this on me, Yifan. It was your fault for calling me over to City S when you had that game with Samsara!”
“W-What?! No! It’s because you couldn’t help yourself and you stayed with me at Happy all through new years!”
The bickering continued as the driver managed to pass through the crowd, but Yifan and Yingjie’s hands did not part once.)