Actions

Work Header

Getting to know you again, in real life

Chapter Text

Everyone in the gym gasped as Xiao Nai stood up, wiped the sweat off his forehead, and then started walking toward the bleachers. Fans whispered in their seats.

What's he doing?!

Bei Weiwei wondered this too.

Pushing away the panic in her brain, she made herself think like Naihe. She’d logged so many hours gaming by his side. By now she could often guess how he'd react to things. Even in social situations, he made choices like a computer playing chess.

Dashen, I know you.... I know you... What are you doing....?

In a flash, she understood:

You're trying to settle things once and for all...! 

He was about to do something dramatic. Decisive.

A big public gesture.

Something that might result in a lot of photos on the school's forums...

And then what?

And then Weiwei would be catapulted straight into this relationship. No turning back. No one else would approach her. All other men would assume she was taken. Or maybe worse. People might say she was used goods.

Dating Xiao Nai didn't sound like a bad situation at all! Just the thought of seeing him again--it filled her with nervous anticipation. Maybe they’d meet at Mrs. Jiang's for a second meal...

But... by dating someone like Xiao Nai, she was also signing up to be the target of endless school gossip.

Would she miss out on precious studying time whenever some jealous girl "accidentally" spilled a milk tea on her and she had to dash to the library bathroom to wash out the stain?

What if Er Xi and Sisi come to her crying whenever they read something mean about her online? What if it's the day before a big exam, and she's forced to spend an hour reassuring her friends she's OK?

Plus, what if Xiao Nai turned out to be nothing like Naihe? Unlikely.

But what if we part ways, after two months of face-to-face dates?

If so, will our break-up become “Trending Topic Number One” on campus? It'll be MY reputation that gets torn to pieces! Your possessive fans will say you dumped me! And they'll say it's because I have all kinds of flaws!

Xiao Nai's fans were already his inescapable reality. He already had his own defenses in response. Like his cool and distant persona.

But Weiwei still had a choice. She didn't have to deal with the perpetual pack of wolves. Yet.

On the spot, she had made a decision.

Leaning down, she whispered to Er Xi, "I have to go. I realized I forgot to write a three page essay, due tomorrow."

"What!?" Er Xi looked up at her and shook her sleeve. "Just wait and see what's going on! Senior Xiao Nai's walking this way."

"Not worth my scholarship to wait here and find out."

"Weiwei!" Er Xi sighed, "I thought you were my co-fangirl!"

"You'll just have to give me the full postgame report later," Weiwei said. And then, before her roommate could respond, she quickly made her way down to the front row, then scurried out the gym’s far exit.

She ran home to her dorm room, shut the door, and put her hands in her head to think.

 

* * * * * * * *

As Xiao Nai begins moving toward the bleachers, his gaze is fixed on his online wife. She's there. There!  Seated beside her roommates. Her radiant, dark eyes stare back at him. Every other face around her seems like a blur.

Then he pauses. Weiwei is standing up. Is she moving toward him too?

No...

She hurries down to the court and then starts running along the far courtside, only to leave the gym through the exit furthest away from him. Disappointed for a moment, Xiao Nai watches the last bit of her blouse and blue skirt flutter out of the doorway.

What are you doing, Weiwei?

Then he smiles.

She wants to call the shots.

Like in a basketball game, he’s been setting a quick pace. Maybe she’s like an opponent team pushing back, setting her own pace.

His smile grows. Interesting. Furen has a mind of her own in real life, too. As he already pretty much guessed.

Chapter Text

When you can’t win a battle, the next best tactic is to flee, Weiwei told her self. She was still lost in thought when her roommates returned. They burst into the room, glowing like fireflies.

"Weiwei—" Er Xi cried happily, then paused from whatever she was about to say. A skeptical look interrupted her face. "Did you finish that paper?"

“Er, no. How was the game?"

Er Xi squealed. "Weiwei! Shouldn't your question be: What happened when Senior Xiao Nai started walking toward the spectators?"

Without waiting for Weiwei reply, Erxi answered her own question. “He stopped half-way to the bleachers, then turn around and left the auditorium. He didn't come back until the end of the game."

Xiaoling ate some cashews and tilted her head thoughtfully. "He must have been thinking something the rest of us mortals don’t understand," she said. “He looked almost … disappointed. But then he smiled.”

Weiwei: "Hm."

"Well we're going out for dinner to celebrate the Computer Science department's basketball win,” said Er Xi. “But I’m guessing you won't want to join us.”

“I have to tutor tonight,” sighed Weiwei. “More like back-up babysitting. Xiao Yang’s mother told me she has to work late, but she’s not sure how late.”

Er Xi made a face. “So you might commute all the way over there, just to work three minutes and get paid a measly 30 yuan, and then lose it back in bus fare?”

“The woman’s not abusive,” Weiwei replied. “She’s actually quite generous. She promised to pay me for 3 hours tonight, no matter what.”

When they left, Weiwei turned to her laptop. One new message.

From Xiao Nai.

 

Hey. Where did you go?

 

She puffed out her cheeks with alarm.

“Come to think of it,” Weiwei said to herself indignantly, “It was a bit unfair for him to unleash his fan mob into my life. Without my prior approval!”

Plus, she thought further. There was something mysterious. She quite couldn't pin it down. How did he know who she was at the moment they met by the bridge? He had zero doubt. What was going on?

Though the thought of facing him made her heart beat disturbingly faster.

Even kissing him in the future...

Don't think about that now!

She needed answers to some questions first.

She took a sip of orange juice to fortify herself.

I need to be forthright with him.

She wrote:

 

It’s no secret that Luwei Weiwei likes Yixiao Naihe.

But I don't know you yet. How much are you Naihe?
You don't know me yet either. How much do you think I am like Luwei Weiwei?

These are a lot of unknowns. And the price I pay is in schoolwide gossip. I don’t mind all that. But it takes up lots of time. And my roommates worry themselves sick. Is there some way we can just get to know each other. Not in front of the whole school? Not by jumping straight into a relationship?

 

She signed off with a cute emoji and then clicked send.

Your move, Naihe.

 

* * * * * * * *

At his desk, a certain senior reads an incoming message, and a look of distress disturbs an otherwise perfect set of features. After just an afternoon together with his wife, Xiao Nai is more than ready for everyone on campus to see their relationship. They’ve been married for so long anyway.

Earlier that day, they ate their fish soup almost in silence. Xiao Nai couldn't believe his luck at meeting Weiwei. Just across the table there, all afternoon! Her beautiful, shy face.

How quiet and nervous she was... it just made her more striking.

There are many kinds of beauty, but this is beauty that can scramble people's minds until they can no longer tell north from south.

Not to mention their bike ride together! Feeling one hand of hers on his back. Nevermind-- he won’t go down that thought-path now.

The pit of his stomach hurts with the thought that he can’t stake his claim on his wife in front of the whole university right away. So many other boys will continue to ask her out!

Meanwhile, will Bei Weiwei only meet him in secret, off-campus? Like he's someone to be ashamed of?

Will she take him to eat at terrible hole-in-the-wall restaurants far from their dorms only because no other students eat there?

Will they have to pretend to be strangers on campus?

So you won't smile at me when we pass each other in a hallway? ... Or run up next to me in the cafeteria and take my hand without thinking much about it..

Just in the CompSci department alone, he hears all kinds of male students saying to each other that they’re going to ask “the Second-Place Beauty” on this or that date. They joke about it to build up their courage. As if any of them have a shot!

Beside none of them know about her talent or her fierceness. They've got no idea how quickly she can problem solve. They have no idea how loyal she is to friends.

Or how patient she is with kids. Like the pupil she tutors, who she encouraged to play in a quest with Yixiao Naihe.

When they see her, they just see a beautiful face ... and urgh... three ... body measurements that get them all flustered ...

Xiao Nai makes an estimate: for all the boys talking about how they’ll pursue his Weiwei, maybe 10 percent of them will follow through.

10 percent? That's 10 percent too many!

You all have no chance!

Still, it's not a pleasant thought: these male students all throwing themselves at his Weiwei, like a school of fish trying to jump over a high wall.

He turns to his laptop to type a reply.

Chapter Text

Xiao Nai pushes aside these thoughts of other male students (and maybe some female ones) clamoring to ask Weiwei on dates. They’re all just in his mind right now. Unlike Weiwei. A real actual girl sitting in her dorm room just meters away from him.

He smiles.

How did she look, trying to write her message to him!? He can picture her puffing out her cheeks, staring at her laptop. Furrowing her brows. Deleting everything and starting over. In his mind, she has all the same expressions that crossed her face when he sat next to her in his father’s class. My cute, scared, brave rabbit.

The reply he drafts to his furen—it ends up being quite gentle. Then he hits send. Not a moment too soon.

His roommates burst into the room.

“Wahh,” says Yu Banshan. He’s hunched over in front of his laptop, scrolling through rumors. “The message boards say you gave some girl a ride on a bike before the game!”

The three roommates stare at Xiao Nai, who looks back at them with one eyebrow raised.

Now everyone’s crowding around Yu Banshan. “Only blurry photos online! Her face isn’t visible!”

“How is modern camera technology still so bad!?”

“Why’d you have to bike so fast?”

They scroll through the school message board.

Yuyu6688: It was Bei Weiwei the second-place beauty! I saw it. They were standing by the campus convenience store.

ExamAssassin: No, it was number-one belle Meng Yiran on the bike. I’ll bet my life savings on it.

Mist_Before_Rain That’s not even Xiao Nai, you all are idiots.

TypeAB: Anyway it doesn’t mean anything if he gave some girl a bike ride.

BeidaLuckystar: The girl was me, guys! I twisted my ankle and the great Xiao Nai helped me get to class!

(Hao Mei: “Laosan, you’re such a knight!”)

Xiao Nai laughs. You could always count on online disinformation.

Hao Mei grabs the basketball and throws it towards Xiao Nai.

“Wait, Laosan. Was the mystery woman… the woman from your date?”

No denial comes out of Xiao Nai’s mouth. Just the sound of the basketball bouncing to a stop.

The three roommates rush toward him. Who is she? Where is she?

“I told you earlier. She ran,” says Xiao Nai.

“Wah! Xiao Nai. But then where is she now? Did the legendary Laosan get…rejected by a woman!?”

His roommates fall over themselves, pretending to faint.

Xiao Nai smiles to himself. No, just a slightly longer courtship than I expected.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Back in the girl’s dorm, Weiwei looked at her watch. Adjusting her backpack on her shoulders, she locked the door and ran down the hall. She couldn’t be late to tutor Xiao Yang.

She didn’t want to tutor that night. At all. Her head was completely swimming with thoughts of Da Shen. The sight of him playing basketball. Her admiration for him was making her dizzy.

Yixiao Naihe!?

She was so lost in thought that she almost missed her stop on the bus ride to her student’s house. Apologizing to the driver, she exited the bus, and made her way into Xiao Yang’s ritzy gated neighborhood.

All she wanted to do was turn around, catch a bus straight back to campus, track down Xiao Nai, and take back everything she’d said. She wanted to beg him to just take an evening stroll with her across campus quad, holding hands. Let the cameras click. Deep down she longed to jump to a future moment when she and Dashen were together. She already caught her self imagining being by his bedside, putting compresses on his forehead where he’d been hit in the collision.

But no. She had to stick to her decision. Things needed to unfold more slowly and privately. If they were well matched in real life too, she’d end up in a relationship with him, sooner or later. At that point, she felt she could face the wagging tongues.

Why was this whole thing was progressing in such an odd way?

First of all, why did she already have to be in-game wedded to the boy she was now just getting to know? In the game Dreams of Jianghu, they already shared bridal chambers. Nothing explicit. But still! Everyone knows what that means. Now she had to look Senior Xiao Nai in the eyes, and suppress that memory! Arrrrghhh

Secondly, in real life, why did it have to be like dating a C-drama idol?

Did she need to go hire a full-time PR team?

Thirdly, what if something in real life made them incompatible?

For example, she had no special talents. She got pretty good grades, but that was it. Meanwhile, he was a champion at basketball. Swimming. Guzheng. Game design. A coding prodigy. Not to mention he was the number one player on their server.

Would he get bored of her average skills in a week?

If she was just going to get rejected by Xiao Nai down the road, she didn’t want her assassination to happen in a public courtyard, with a crowd liveblogging the whole thing.

Why couldn’t this just begin like a normal relationship? She hoped her message to Xiao Nai conveyed that request.

But wait. Was she being too stubborn? Would Xiao Nai give up on her in disgust?

Would Naihe go look for a new in-game wife?

What an impossible bind!

Chapter Text

With these thoughts brewing in her head, Weiwei rang the doorbell to her pupil’s house. The door opened. Her little student peeked his head out from behind a door. And then another, much taller person stepped forward. Her eyes adjusted from the outdoor sun.

Cao Guang!

Weiwei couldn’t hide her surprise.

Xiaoyang said, "Your friend’s my English tutor now, Weiwei!"

Cao Guang turned toward their mutual charge and said, “Now that your next caregiver is here, I’ll get going.” With a small smile, he waved and left.

After the door shut behind them, Weiwei turned to Xiaoyang. She nearly shouted, “Cao Guang is not my friend, OK? I can’t even say that he has good character."

"But teacher, he really is a great guy!" said Xiao Yang. " My English grades are so good now because of him. And he brings food for mommy and me when she's working late. He makes stew in a pressure cooker in his dorm room, because he knows mommy feels sad when she's late at work and can't cook for me."

Had Weiwei heard right? Cao Guang? The same guy who slandered her?

Xiao Yang returned her stare like a wise old man, equally convinced that his advice was high quality and indignant that it was falling on deaf ears.

"Also, you know what? He likes you!”

Weiwei sighed. Xiao Yang was too young to be matchmaker. "Did this new English tutor of yours ask you to say that?" she frowned.

"No!" Xiao Yang said. "He just told me he did something mean to you before. But he feels really, really, really bad. And he'll always just be your friend from now on."

Weiwei sighed.

She said, "All this doesn’t matter. What’s important is your math homework."

As if on cue, Xiao Yang announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Oh, and that he was thirsty. And a bit hungry too. Maybe just some fruits from the fridge. Oh, did she want to try a bowl of Caoguang’s hotpot?

What a kid! He never failed to find an excuse to procrastinate before lessons.

While Xiao Yang was out of the room, Weiwei checked her messages.

A reply from Xiao Nai.

From Xiao Nai!

Right there, at the dining room table, Weiwei died. Then she resurrected herself with just enough health points to actually read his message, through one open eye.

It read:

"The truth is, we’re a couple. We have always been a couple and meeting in real life doesn’t change that. So you’ll have to deal with the campus reaction sooner or later. We’ll face it together, my dear wife."

My dear wife. Weiwei died once again. She was slain by those two words. No more resurrection potions left.

When little Xiao Yang returned from the bathroom, he found his tutor pursing her lips, looking very perturbed.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As the kid quietly struggled through his math questions, Weiwei thought about her own problems.

It seemed like a certain CEO was determined to have his relationship with Weiwei publicly listed on stock exchanges worldwide. IPO scheduled for this week.

Sigh.

She needed a good counterattack. She wondered if she could borrow some books on Game Theory. But then she felt disheartened. Any good Game Theory book in the library would be a book Dashen had already read.

She only had one idea, and it wasn’t a good idea. In fact, it was a terrible idea. The kind of thing kids in elementary school would do. She could try avoiding Xiao Nai. Just for a day or two. Just until she figured out a better idea. Neither accept nor reject. The third option: deflect.

Chapter Text

On campus the next day, Weiwei begins her “avoid-Xiao-Nai” plan. But he seemed to have the exact opposite plan. He started to turn up everywhere she went.

When she left her Discrete Maths class, there he was down the hallway. His tall and broad-shouldered figure began approaching her. Why did his stride have to be so confident all the time? She quickly turned the other way.

Later when she got in line at the cafeteria, he merged into the same line a bit behind her.

Thank heavens Xiaoling was with her when they left their maths class. And in the cafeteria, all four of her roommates stood next to her in line.

When she glanced behind her, Weiwei locked eyes with him for a second. In a panic, she gave him a sunny and happy smile. Then she looked back to Er Xi and laughed even though Er Xi hadn’t said anything.

“Weiwei, you’ve been acting really weird,” Er Xi said as they sat in the cafeteria together.

“Me!?” said Weiwei with a frozen smile. Then she sighed. She needed to confide in someone. “Er Xi. It has to do with Dreams of Jianghu. It turns out someone I met in the game goes to our school.”

“But who!?” said Er Xi. “Is it—?”

“Someone I need to avoid. Just for now. I’ll tell you who soon.”

Er Xi response was like she was joining a top-secret spy ring. She cluched her hands together, “Oh Weiwei, do you have an in-game enemy who’s threatening to expose who you are in real life? Who is it? Which guild? But how did they possibly find out who you are in real life? You’re obsessed with your privacy in the game.”

Weiwei just shook her head.

Er Xi: “There are such unsavory people out there in the gaming world!” Then she sat up straight. “I support you Weiwei!”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In fact, while jogging earlier that morning, a certain someone who goes by the online handle Yixiao Naihe has been forming a resolution in his mind. Now it’s time for the real blitzkrieg

Also, he tells himself: Weiwei just needs to be pulled into the water with me. Then she’ll see… it’s not so cold where I am.

He closes his eyes and calls up her entire schedule in his memory.

Despite his best attempts, Weiwei stays close to her friends all day. She’s obviously turned them into her security detail. In the cafeteria at lunchtime, he looks at her and keeps his face composed. How easy it would be to shout out her name across the room, just like when they first met in Dreams of Jianghu: “Luwei Weiwei!”

When their gazes connect for a second, she suddenly smiles at him. Actually her smile is so lively that his heart feels moved by an outside breeze. He just wants to reach out and brush back the two locks of her hair falling into her face.

Maybe should he just go and start talking to her? Ask her on a date? With all her friends around.

hmmm…

No!

That’s just making a one-sided spectacle out of himself. Unless she replies with a loud, definite “YES,” it won’t help him. What he needs is to tell the entire university’s student body, This is my in-game wife, my current girlfriend, and my future actual wife.

One thing he’s pretty sure of: Weiwei actually does like him. Should he press that advantage and just walk away? Call her bluff. Maybe she’ll quickly relent and run after him.

Give him any game in the world, and he can play it with inhuman focus and iron will. Ever since childhood, he knows this about himself. He’s a strategist who can move Go pieces around on a board. He can also move people around just like they’re Go pieces.

Only… he doesn’t ever want to do that to this pure, brilliant girl with eyes that refract light.

So now he’s in the archaeology department. Standing in the hallway outside his father’s lecture hall. The class soon ends and students start spilling out of the doorways.

There! Her elegant figure shines in the crowd. Her hair is up in a bun. But… she looks up and seen him. She quickly turns the other way. Disappearing into the mass of students.

Suddenly he remembers something.

This is my first time pursuing a woman. He feels a bit sheepish.

Most boys have some practice, for example, even just giving some girl a few stupid love notes in grade school….

But then he smiles, because of another thought:

Fortunately, I seem to get good at new games quite quickly.

So he sees now that he is back in Newbie Village. But like with any new game, he knows that when he makes mistakes, he can only do his best to figure out how to fix them all. He'll keep figuring out how to be better for Weiwei.

Chapter Text

After that very long day, Weiwei fell asleep and found herself in the middle of a nightmarish dream world. She was running away from Xiao Nai in the computer science department. The building’s maze of hallways morphed into a video game. It was sort of a version of Pacman.

Weiwei and Xiao Nai kept leveling up, back and forth.

First, she outsmarted him by memorizing the fire escape plans to know where all the alternate exits were.

But then he started cutting off her escape paths. He did this by tracking her down in hallways that had no alternate exits.

When she found herself in a dead end and Xiao Nai approaching, she figured out that she could duck into a women’s bathroom and wait him out. If he lingered outside the women’s room for more than 30 seconds, he’d look like some kind of pervert.

But then he figured out his counterattack: He could wait outside and bide his time, and meanwhile look completely un-perverted by agreeing to take selfies with fans who gathered around him.

Waiting out the situation inside the bathroom, Weiwei figured out her response: When Xiao Nai’s fangirls became crowded enough around him, she could use the crowd as a human shield. By doing this, she managed to slip out of the bathroom and squeeze past the periphery of the mob.

As she was running away, she glanced upward at Xiao Nai’s stats and her own. They were both Level 99. She hurried down the hallway and turned a corner…. only to bump into Xiao Nai himself.

He’d managed to jump through walls to reach her?!

He took her face in his hands. In a deadpan voice, he said, “Good game Weiwei.” And then, under the LED lights of the school hallway, he bent down and kissed her. Into her ear, he said, “You played well. You don’t have to worry any more.” And she found herself leaning forward and falling into his arms in relief, and then feeling their bodies pressed hard against each other.

In the darkness, she woke up and sat up, breathing hard. She buried her head in her pillow and died 100 times out of embarrassment.

Tomorrow she would have to go find a brain surgeon who could remove her shameless subconscious.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This very same night, Xiao Nai also finds himself having a dream that wakes him up in the dark. His body is quite involved in this dream.

The contents of his dream: no one will ever find out. He’ll seal it up like a classified state secret….

On the other hand, he reflects: Maybe in the future I’ll tell Weiwei. Some day after we know each other ...very, very, very well.

It might be fun to see the embarrassed look on her face.

Chapter Text

A slight sense of unease is weighing on Xiao Nai. Miss Bei seems very elusive these days.

She hasn’t replied to his message yet. Whenever he approaches in a hallway, she seems to walk the other way. She hasn’t logged on to the game for three days. (His phone is configured to ‘ding’ whenever she signs on.) And she doesn’t have a cellphone!

Now that exams are over, she’s not studying much. All she's done lately? Watch three episodes of a pirated Korean idol drama and also some online shopping.

Otherwise, her computer mostly sits on her desk unused.

He knows this because of the activity-monitoring software his buddies set up on her computer. This was when he was stuck in the hospital hoping to find out if Weiwei was OK, in the days after he vanished before the Couples Battle final.

But now he realizes it’s time to stop watching her. If she's going to be his real girlfriend someday, she needs own private life back. It’s not like she’s spending much time on her computer anyway. So he de-installs the surveillance software.

And then, the feeling of a big, enormous question mark floats into the air.

What are you doing right now, Bei Weiwei?

Maybe he can call her dorm phone. However… if a roommate answers and hears a man’s voice, rumors will overflow. It’s probably the outcome that'll make her the most infuriated.

Finding a way to speak to Weiwei seems harder than making contact with alien life.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Weiwei woke up the next morning thinking about Dreams of Jianghu. Maybe it was because of her video-game dream. She’s been avoiding the real game. She just didn’t know what she would say if she logged in ... and then came face to face with Yixiao Naihe or any of his teammates.

On the other hand, she really missed playing side by side with him. Couldn’t they rewind to two months ago?

Did all things like this eventually have to change?

She looked at her clock. 5:47AM. Her roommates were still in their bunk beds asleep. The curtains in their dorm room were still drawn.

It felt like the campus was deep in collective slumber—especially now that exams were done.

She peeked out of the curtain and saw a few people jogging slowly.

I’ll just log in to Dreams of Jianghu for a few minutes, instead of going running. She told herself she'd just walk around and see old sights, maybe like the in-game bridge where she and Naihe first negotiated their online marriage.

She was safe. No one ever logged into the game this early.

… except this morning… >_<

Yixiao Naihe appeared a moment after she went online.

(Why was he also playing so early? Is this how he became such a good player? Secretly practice alone in the morning, when all other Capital City players are asleep!?)

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] Weiwei

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] Let’s go fight a boss together

Miss Bei felt a small sense of relief curl through her body like a breeze.

Fight a boss… just like the old days….

On the quest map, they found a quest that was a big challenge for most players. But for Naihe and Weiwei, it'd be pretty easy. The boss, a hyena demon, did mostly area-of-effect attacks from afar. Naihe started to say, Weiwei, you go forward. But at the exact moment she rushed ahead. Of course. They were in sync. As usual.

It was good to fight side by side like old times. They barely needed to talk because they could anticipate each others’ moves. She got three hit points away from death, and like clockwork, he healed her. Not for a single moment was she anxious.

After they killed the boss, Naihe let Weiwei pick up the reward.

And then…

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] Weiwei come with me to our overlook?

  >>>> [ Luwei Weiwei: ] mm.

She followed him across the world map to their location. When she arrived, she saw his back. His flowing robes. He was looking out at the vista. The rising sun lent the whole world behind him a dazzling electric glow.

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] Can I ask you a question, furen?

  >>>> [ Luwei Weiwei: ] yes

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] …I don’t understand. So if we pass by each other on campus, you want us just to pretend not to know each other?

Ahh!! Weiwei sighed. Her answer to his question was yes. But she felt embarrassed by this answer.

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] Weiwei I don’t know if I’m any good at the kind of acting you want me to do

It’s true, Dashen was really straightforward! There was almost no social duplicity in his bones. He destroyed his adversaries directly and out in the open.

Actually, Weiwei knew they were well-matched also because of this reason. Neither of them had any patience for social artifice.

(What advice would Er Xi give her? Or Xiaoling or Sisi?)

They were all asleep under the covers in their bunk beds. Er Xi’s pillow was falling off her bed.

Weiwei very quietly went to move the pillow back to the center of her roommate’s bed. Er Xi rolled over and mumbled, lunchtime eh?

After her roommate went back to sleep fully, Weiwei tiptoed back to her laptop and typed a response:

  >>>> [ Luwei Weiwei: ] Dashen, you normally look right through everybody, just like they’re air! Can’t you jut do that with me too?

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] It’s different

  >>>> [ Luwei Weiwei: ] Different?!

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] To me, you’re not everybody

Something stirred in Weiwei’s heart.

Why would we act out the theater of two strangers just starting to get acquainted? Just because of some possible gossip? That’s not at all our style!

No wonder Xiao Nai feels a bit confused, Weiwei thought. From his point of view, we’ve already been a couple for two years.

Dashen, if we go through the motions of two strangers getting to know each other, does it feel unreal to you!?

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

No wonder Weiwei feels a bit hesitant, Xiao Nai thinks. From her point of view, we still need to get to know each other in real life.

Furen, if you start a serious relationship with a male classmate you barely know in person, does it feel unreal to you!?

But… However… Still…

Xiao Nai’s brain begins protesting.

Weiwei, think about couples celebrating their ten-year anniversaries. Do they even know a tiny fraction of what we know about each other?

I can predict your reflexes down to a 1/10th of a second. Don’t you know? I defend you when others bully you with a hurtful video. Don’t you know that if you end up at the bottom of a dark well, I’ll come down from the sky, riding a bird. I'll come to get you. I'll come for you. I will...

Sometimes the superior mind is the one that can keep itself in check. Xiao Nai reminds himself, Dating in real life is a bit like ballroom dancing.

Clearly one must perform whatever social rituals are required by the situation, even when they seem illogical or not very straightforward.

So Xiao Nai types…

  >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] … Weiwei I’ll try to do what you need.

Chapter Text

Almost every other girl on campus seems eager to date Xiao Nai. But it's pretty clear: Weiwei is absolutely nothing like those other girls.

Someone with Weiwei's kind of beauty, and brains, and character...

... is she waiting to meet someone even better after college?

(Is laosan's legendary confidence taking a small temporary hit?)

For example, Xiao Nai's family isn't a well-known or elite business family. What if Weiwei graduates... and then one week later meets the hardworking heir of a multinational corporate family? If so, this man won't believe his luck.

Weiwei's the kind of rare woman who's perfect for this hypothetical man. For his job, his family, his ambitions. He could proudly parade her by his side, during cocktail hour at his company's gala. Her beauty would drive the entire room to distraction. And then once dinner began, maybe he'd pull her seat out and she'd sit down gracefully next to him.

Maybe she'd pour him tea, tending to him all while speaking knowledgeably to their other dinner companions about all kinds of topics, whether computer science or archaeology (just as she spoke so well in the class taught by Xiao Nai's father).

She'd take good care of this nameless man's parents. If she bore this man a child, it would probably be a brilliant, capable heir who could carry on the family business. Maybe a second child would enter the picture. How she'd dote on those kids!

Would she teach them to play Dreams of Jianghu... or a new game...

Is this the life you're waiting for, Weiwei?

Xiao Nai knows he excels at quite a few activities. But suddenly they all seem a bit like ...

.... hmm ...

... activities for young children?

... videogames, swimming, basketball...

Weiwei! I can give you that other life too. Just be with me through the first few years while our company grows bigger and gains a foothold in the wider world.

Xiao Nai realizes that his thoughts are spinning into imagined realms.

He allows his mind to reboot. A state of calm returns.

For now, let's just get back to how comfortable we were around each other in this game.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

... Weiwei I'll try to do what you need, Naihe had typed.

Seated at her laptop, Weiwei saw Naihe's response and felt a floating feeling of hope.

She quickly sent an emoji with bursting heart-eyes back at him. Then immediately she cringed. No!! That was too much.

But Naihe didn't seem to notice.

He had more questions:

   >>>> [ Yixiao Naihe: ] But, off campus: I can be around you?

This time Weiwei remembered to have more restraint. Her response was a simple smiling face.

And then she realized she was holding her breath wondering if there'd be a next question.

When will we meet again? But that next question didn't come.

Was that because she still making this too difficult? Did I not make it clear enough that I actually like him?

Weeks ago, she quit her guild after some other members slandered her. When she told Yixiao Naihe what happened, he changed his avatar name to "Luwei Weiwei's husband." In response, she changed her name to "Yixiao Naihe's wife."

Now she had a thought. She had to tell him something very important.

So she decided to change her name again. If any other players wandered by, and happened to see what she was about to type, they wouldn't even give it a second glance.

Just some silly status downgrade. But it would mean something to Xiao Nai.

She bent forward to type a few words. Then with a click of her mouse, the phrase "Yixiao Naihe's wife" blinked and disappeared above her head. Then a new phrase appeared.

"Yixiao Naihe's real-life fan."

She smiled.

Yixiao Naihe didn't move for a while. His character just stood still, as its white robes flapped in the virtual wind. But then suddenly the text above him changed too.

"Luwei Weiwei's husband" disappeared.

And then eight new words appeared in its place: "Luwei Weiwei's boyfriend."

 

Chapter Text

The next day, Weiwei had almost no time to think about Xiao Nai.

It was a busy day.

That day, a distinguished female alumna, Professor Wang, was scheduled to visit campus. Mrs. Wang had studied in the CompSci department about thirty years ago.

Even right now, the CompSci department still only had a handful of girls.

Imagine…

Back in Mrs. Wang’s day, Mrs. Wang was probably the ONLY girl, studying alongside thirty boys!

Professor Wang truly went on to distinguish herself in the field. She developed a compression algorithm that cut down the time it took to encode texts written in Chinese.

A decade later, this great woman also wrote a famous essay about how the world could achieve great things by developing the hidden talents of women in computer science.

Actually, Weiwei kept a copy of this essay in her desk drawer. When ever her grades began to slip, she read it. Reading the essay was like hearing a great older woman cheering for her from a mountaintop: “Weiwei加油!”

On campus, when news spread that this gray-haired woman was returning, many students shrugged. Professor Wang’s glory days were over. She taught at a small university now, and didn’t really have any recent industry connections.

To many students, this professor was like some kind of an accomplished dinosaur.

But Weiwei had an entirely different view!

A month ago, the school’s department chair, Professor Cao, asked Weiwei: “Will you help facilitate Distinguished Professor Wang’s visit?”

Weiwei was so excited she thought she’d faint. Professor Cao smiled, watching the girl take begin taking detailed notes while Department Chairman Cao described the day’s events.

The schedule that resulted looked something like this:

10AM meet Professor Wang’s taxi at school entrance

10:30 bring Professor Wang to the department for faculty welcome

11AM: new building tour and plaque dedication

1PM: lunch at department common room (bring cooked food?) Order from Mrs. Jiangs

3PM: lecture and Q&A for students

5PM: call taxi for Professor to return to train station

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Mrs. Wang’s afternoon lecture was the opportunity for students to hear her speak, so Weiwei felt especially honored to follow the professor around—the whole day!

Although…. a few star students were also invited to the lunch.

Students who wouldn’t embarrass the school if they opened their mouths.

Xiao Nai was invited.

Of course. He made the department look really good.

But Weiwei didn’t have any time to worry about any of this. She was too busy wondering if Professor Wang had packed the right clothes for the weather that day.

Should Weiwei bring an umbrella for the Professor in case it rained? Did she need to provide tissues? Eyeglass cleaner?

Maybe lend the professor a thin jacket?

Hold on… Weiwei’s jacket was a ridiculous-looking polka-dotted thing for students.

OK, she would quickly go buy a thin neoprene jacket in advance. Pay out of her own pocket… it was ok, she’d just tutor a bit more later to make up the cash.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

At the small department lunch, Xiao Nai finds himself seated across the table from Professor Wang. Weiwei is seated by the professor’s side, helping serve dishes that are too far away, and pouring her tea.

Also, Xiao Nai’s furen is studiously avoiding his gaze. He tries to give her his most winning look, but she glances away, turning pink.

The department chair makes a speech about the greatness of their university’s past and present computer science students.

“Mrs. Wang is the best proof of our caliber,” he says. The gray-haired woman smiles, embarrassed by the exaggeration.

Then everyone begins eating smoked duck and jellyfish.

In between bites, Department Chair Cao asks Xiao Nai to explain ZhiYi Tech’s projects. So, of course, Xiao Nai obliges.

As he talks, Professor Wang nods her head with admiration.

Seeing Professor Wang’s approval of Xiao Nai’s work, Weiwei can’t help herself: she sends an excited grin in his direction.

Outwardly, the senior student continues speaking with barely a pause. But inwardly, the sight of Weiwei's bright smile fills him with delight. The sense of delight is so strong and unexpected that he almost feels like he's hurtling backwards in his chair.

It's lucky I'm sitting down, he thinks.