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the way you got me

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This was where the rumors began.

“I think they’re dating.”

Yu Wenzhou squinted at his screen in confusion, then squinted at Huang Shaotian. “Who?”

“Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing,” Huang Shaotian said with surprising shortness. He was also looking at his screen, though not with much intent. He was obviously distracted.

Distracted by thoughts of…Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing dating? Those two? Really? “Surely not.”

Huang Shaotian finally turned to meet his gaze, eyebrows wiggling in a suggestive manner. “Well, it makes sense! Whenever I see them talk in the group chat—which isn’t even that often—they’re usually talking to each other. It’s like as soon as one of them comes alive, the other does, too! Do you really think that’s a coincidence? Huh? Huh?”

Yu Wenzhou stared. “How do you go from exchanging some words in a group chat to dating? Shaotian, you’re reaching.”

“I am not! I’m sure they’re dating. I can sense the flirtatiousness beneath every barb.”

“Because so much can be discerned from characters on a screen.”

“Absolutely! You should know, I’m a master of trash talk, and you don’t get as good as I do without knowing a thing or two about tone.”

This was nonsense. Yu Wenzhou was not going to believe it. “Well, when you have more solid evidence, bring it to me and maybe I’ll entertain the possibility. Now, let’s figure out the summer training schedule—we can’t slack off just because we won the championship this time.”

“Pfft.” Huang Shaotian pouted at him. “Don’t think you can distract me with work. You’ll see, you’ll all see.”

Of course, if Yu Wenzhou had known he wasn’t the only person Huang Shaotian had shared this crack theory with, he wouldn’t have shrugged it off so casually. As it was, Yu Wenzhou remained blissfully unaware for many months yet.

 

* * *

 

Han Wenqing, like many other pro players who’d come to see the end of a long season, showed up at Tiny Herb’s private afterparty. It was fortunate that the deciding match had been held in their home city, or else it would have been hard to find an appropriate venue. As it was, the club had just repurposed the better part of a floor, using a conference room near the computer lab to set up food and drinks.

Anyway, Han Wenqing’s presence wasn’t much of a surprise. About half of Tyranny had accompanied him, which also wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was that Ye Qiu was…there. Next to Han Wenqing. Just. Standing.

Wang Jiexi’s eyes darted between the two of them: one serious and unsmiling and the other grinning like a fox. “How unexpected. Thank you for coming.”

“Thanks for the invite,” Ye Qiu returned, holding out his hand. Wang Jiexi shook it automatically. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to one of these things.”

Wang Jiexi nodded his understanding. Get-togethers like this weren’t common among the Alliance teams anymore, and private celebrations were normally reserved for team members and their close friends and family. But a lot of pros had traveled to Beijing this time, so…management had gone the extra mile.

He was unaware that they had invited Ye Qiu, though. How had they even gotten a hold of him?

His gaze paused on Han Wenqing, who was looking elsewhere at that moment. Perhaps…it had something to do with him?

No way. That’d be ridiculous. Right?

A well-placed elbow pulled Han Wenqing’s attention back to the conversation at hand. He glared at Ye Qiu, then faced Wang Jiexi.

“Congratulations. Two championships are quite the accomplishment.”

“Thank you,” Wang Jiexi answered.

“Don’t think you’ll catch up to Excellent Era, though,” Ye Qiu added.

Wang Jiexi just blinked at him. If Blue Rain hadn’t pulled off what they did last season, Tiny Herb would have already caught up to Excellent Era.

“Ignore him,” said Han Wenqing stonily. “He’s always like this.”

“I’m not offended,” Wang Jiexi said, hoping this wasn’t going to turn into an issue. He was used to some light-hearted jabs from the more outgoing professionals. Besides, Ye Qiu was significantly less annoying than Huang Shaotian.

Speaking of Huang Shaotian… “Did you come here together?”

Ye Qiu tilted his head. “I hitched a ride with Old Han, yeah. Why?”

“Nothing much. I just didn’t think you guys were that close.”

“Well, don’t read too much into it,” Ye Qiu said with a surprisingly sincere smile. “This one is still my most hated adversary.”

And Ye Qiu proceeded to pat his most hated adversary on the arm. Said hated adversary allowed it, and did not even activate his famed Intimidation skill.

Their exchange came to an end soon after that, and Wang Jiexi found himself next to Fang Shiqian, a little dazed and a lot befuddled.

“What’s with you?” Fang Shiqian scowled at him. “If someone did something dumb, I don’t want to know about it.”

“No, it’s just… Have you ever heard Huang Shaotian talking about Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing?”

“That punk talks so much shit, I listen to less than half of what comes out of his mouth. Why, what did he say about them?”

“That he thinks they’re dating,” Wang Jiexi said in a low voice.

Fang Shiqian’s eyebrows twitched like he was trying to figure out what expression to wear, then his gaze darted around for a moment, eventually stopping on—

“Nah. They’re just standing around doing nothing. Not even talking. Definitely no dating energy there.”

Taken off-guard by Fang Shiqian’s decisive judgment, Wang Jiexi could only follow his gaze. He was right about the standing around: neither Han Wenqing nor Ye Qiu were making much of an effort to socialize, instead sipping at cups someone had undoubtedly procured for them. The other members of Tyranny were nowhere to be seen, and if anyone from Excellent Era had come with Ye Qiu, Wang Jiexi had yet to hear about it.

“Maybe you’re right,” Wang Jiexi conceded. He didn’t exactly know much about dating himself, but Fang Shiqian had some experience with it.

“Of course I am,” Fang Shiqian said with unwavering confidence. “You better not be buying into any of Huang Shaotian’s bullshit, or I swear…”

Wang Jiexi shook his head. His fleeting thought that maybe Huang Shaotian was on to something had been just that—fleeting. Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing were just keeping each other company. Anyone who knew either of them vaguely well would know they didn’t really hate each other.

But…it was a little strange…for them to just be hanging out like that, right?

Before he could ponder the strangeness further, however, Fang Shiqian had pulled him over to greet one of Tiny Herb’s biggest sponsors while muttering under his breath about how he wouldn’t be around to hold Wang Jiexi’s hand anymore, and the topic of unlikely couples fled Wang Jiexi’s mind.

 

* * *

 

“Can you believe that guy?” Zhao Yang said when he bumped into Tian Sen backstage. “I never gave much credit to the rumors, but…”

“You mean Han Wenqing?” Tian Sen asked.

“Who else?”

Tian Sen rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “To me, it looked like he was just putting an upstart rookie in his place.” It wasn’t strange that Han Wenqing, a senior in the pro scene, would have been annoyed at Sun Xiang trying to pick up where Tang Hao had left off. In his position, Tian Sen wasn’t sure he would have reacted any differently.

“But that comment about Ye Qiu—doesn’t it make you wonder?”

“Well…”

“I don’t know, I just think Han Wenqing was more pissed off at Sun Xiang trying to butt into his and Ye Qiu’s rivalry thing than him trying to prove he’s better and fresher than Han Wenqing.”

“He is fresher,” Tian Sen pointed out, amused. “Also, ‘rivalry thing’?”

“We all know it’s not that serious of a rivalry.”

“I think they take it fairly seriously. Not nearly as seriously as the fans do, of course, but…”

Zhao Yang shook his head. “It all just seemed really odd. First time I’ve wondered if maybe the rumors are right.”

Tian Sen knew which rumors Zhao Yang was referring to, of course; who didn’t? That Han Wenqing and Ye Qiu were secretly in a romantic relationship was a pet theory often discussed behind closed doors (and exclusive group chats), but there wasn’t much in the way of evidence. Just a lot of speculation and conjecture.

Every team had a talented gossip or two, so Tian Sen was aware that nobody had been able to prove anything yet. Approaching either Han Wenqing or Ye Qiu about it was unthinkable. And as other people’s relationships were none of his business, he refused to engage in such speculation.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Tian Sen told Zhao Yang. “The simpler, more obvious explanation is usually the correct one.”

“…Yeah, you’re probably right.” Zhao Yang sighed. “But wouldn’t it be something?”

It would be something, all right, but Tian Sen wasn’t sure he wanted to know what that “something” would entail. Utter chaos, most likely.

“Oh, what if we asked Su Mucheng?”

Tian Sen rolled his eyes and went to find his team, ignoring Zhao Yang’s protests. Frankly, the guy could do what he wanted. Tian Sen wasn’t pulling this tiger’s tail.

 

* * *

 

After settling into Excellent Era, Xiao Shiqin had a pretty good idea of the team’s dynamics. Two things in particular were very clear to him.

First, everyone relied a little too much on Sun Xiang, including Sun Xiang himself, who had somehow failed to internalize the importance of teamwork even after two years in the Alliance.

Second, Su Mucheng had no intention of sticking with Excellent Era and both their teammates and their managers seemed okay with that.

It was with a heavy heart that Xiao Shiqin mentally revised all his many plans. He had come to Excellent Era with dozens of them, and now more than half were inviable. But although he was upset, Xiao Shiqin soon realized there was an upside to Su Mucheng’s invisibility: he did not have to be concerned with staying on her good side.

Later, this would be the excuse he’d offer whenever somebody asked him how he could be so bold.

“Say…do you know anything about Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing?”

 Su Mucheng popped a sunflower seed in her mouth, eyes fixed on her phone. “Hmm?”

“Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing,” Xiao Shiqin repeated, trying to stay calm.

Finally, the question seemed to register in Su Mucheng’s mind. She looked up at him with a perplexed expression. “What about them?”

There was no way to put this delicately. “Are they dating?”

Su Mucheng stared at him for a solid seven seconds. Then she blinked and said, “Could be. Don’t know.”

“What?” Xiao Shiqin demanded, but she was already looking at her phone again. “Hey, how can you not know?”

Su Mucheng huffed at him. “Can’t you see I’m trying to watch something here?”

“You barely work with us… You have more time to spare than I do,” Xiao Shiqin said, aghast.

“I don’t know anything about anything. All of you need to stop bothering me with this.”

“…Wait, does that mean people have asked you about them before?”

“Oh. You’re not in the girls-only group chat, so you wouldn’t know, but it comes up often.”

 “And you really don’t know anything?” Weren’t she and Ye Qiu very close?

Su Mucheng shook her head, innocent as a newborn.

Xiao Shiqin didn’t trust her further than he could throw her, but he didn’t think asking more questions would get him anywhere. She seemed determined to leave him and the rest of the pros interested in this…issue…in the dark.

Not that Xiao Shiqin was super interested or anything—he barely qualified as a gossip. There were pros out there who put him to shame, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Given his good reputation, he had believed that Su Mucheng would be willing to drop a hint or two if he broached the subject, but her adamant denial was proof enough that getting confirmation (and closure) on the matter of Ye Qiu and Han Wenqing would be…difficult.

It had always been difficult, of course. But Su Mucheng being uncooperative only made it worse.

Well, there was nothing to be done about it. Xiao Shiqin sighed, bid Su Mucheng farewell (she barely noticed him leaving), and pulled out his phone to update the relevant parties. Sharing is caring and all that.

 

* * *

 

“Ye Xiu, there are people looking for you!”

Chen Guo let Tyranny’s Four Heavenly Kings into the practice room with a lot more confidence than she felt. The thought of Ye Xiu’s shock was enough to keep her strong, however.

“Who?”

“Me,” Han Wenqing said, and his voice instantly grabbed everyone’s attention. Chen Guo kept her gaze on Ye Xiu.

To Chen Guo’s disappointment, Ye Xiu only narrowed his eyes at the new arrivals. “Oh, you came over.”

“You said we could,” Han Wenqing replied. He regarded the room with stony eyes. “So, this is the place.”

Chen Guo glanced at Happy’s members. Nobody seemed especially perturbed, so she told the other three from Tyranny to take a seat.

“I didn’t think you were all that serious. What do you think of our training room?” Ye Xiu asked absently, still focused on training.

“I think it’s cozy,” Zhang Jiale, who had sat down with Zhang Xinjie on the couch, said. “Simple yet functional.”

“How sweet,” Su Mucheng drawled.

Lin Jingyan moved to stand behind Fang Rui, but his gaze flicked up now and then to his captain—and to Ye Xiu. Neither of whom were all that far apart, come to think of it. Was Han Wenqing…going to Ye Xiu?

“Don’t let him sneak a peek at our practice, Old Fang,” Ye Xiu said, like he had eyes in the back of his head.

“How does this count as sneaking?” Lin Jingyan returned. Moments later, Fang Rui cursed under his breath, prompting a chuckle from his former teammate. Fang Rui spun in his chair, brow furrowed, but rather than retaliate, he forced Lin Jingyan to lean down and whispered something in his ear. When the two of them straightened, they very pointedly did not glance at Ye Xiu or Han Wenqing.

Han Wenqing, who was hovering next to Ye Xiu. Ye Xiu, who was allowing it.

Chen Guo had the sudden feeling that she was missing something. Judging by the silence from Happy’s members, they were of the same mind.

“How does your opinion count for anything?” Ye Xiu said finally. He let out a sigh and said, “Everyone, let’s pause for now. We should greet our guests properly.”

“Hi,” said Tang Rou.

Qiao Yifan smiled shyly. “Hello.”

Wei Chen grunted. Su Mucheng, Luo Ji, and An Wenyi all waved, whereas Mo Fan did not even raise his head.

“Welcome, welcome,” Steamed Bun said, and Chen Guo had to resist the urge to snap at him that he was not a TV-show host.

She despaired for them, she really did.

“Are they really guests? Did you seriously invite them?” Fang Rui asked, giving Han Wenqing a dubious look.

“Informally, but yeah. My bad.” Ye Xiu raised his eyebrows at Han Wenqing as well. “Shouldn’t you be busy?”

“With what?”

Ye Xiu huffed and said nothing more. Zhang Xinjie, however, spoke up. “Our schedule is clear for the day.”

“How wonderful for you,” Fang Rui said.

“Yeah, do you want congratulations?” Wei Chen asked.

“I see you still have a long way to go,” was Zhang Xinjie’s very neutral response.

Ye Xiu rolled his eyes, but then he got up and properly greeted Han Wenqing. “Anyway, what’s up? Did you want something?”

“I was going to ask if you had any free time, but I see you don’t.”

“Funny. Did you think I was joking when I said I had stuff to do today?”

“You could have said it was training.”

“I did say that.”

Han Wenqing shrugged. “You didn’t say it was team training.”

Ye Xiu leaned around him to look at Zhang Xinjie. “Is this guy for real? You definitely guessed my team’s situation, right?”

“He still wanted to come,” Zhang Xinjie replied. “And you did say we could. I checked.”

“Wow. Okay, well, how about we step outside for a bit, then? The rest of you…do whatever.” And with that, Ye Xiu nudged Han Wenqing’s shoulder and headed out with his hands in his pockets. Han Wenqing followed him readily.

Chen Guo watched them go with wide eyes. The others were also staring at the door the notorious rivals had left through. Together. To…do what? What could they even do in an Internet café?

“…Where are they even going?” Lin Jingyan asked into the confused silence, unknowingly echoing Chen Guo’s thoughts.

“Number-one Brawler Lin Jingyan!” Steamed Bun suddenly cried, jumping to his feet. “Want to fight?”

Lin Jingyan blinked. Wei Chen snorted and said, “Yeah, how about we just have a free-for-all here and now?”

“Really?” Tang Rou asked, perking up.

“No, thanks,” Zhang Xinjie promptly said. “We’ll face each other soon enough.”

Fang Rui grinned. “What, you came all the way here just to refuse our hospitality?”

Zhang Jiale scoffed at him. “You call this hospitality?”

Qiao Yifan hesitantly raised his hand. “Would the seniors like some water…?”

Chen Guo groaned and wondered if Ye Xiu and Han Wenqing had the right of it. If she were any less responsible, she would ditch this lot, too.

 

* * *

 

Broadly speaking, Zhang Xinjie was not one to give credence to rumors. He was a practical person who sought to keep his focus firmly centered on reality. Matters of speculation were only interesting so far as they were provable.

Han Wenqing and Ye Xiu dating… Well, some would argue that was provable, but romance and love were highly subjective. What looked like romantic and loving behavior to some could be interpreted entirely differently from another perspective.

Still. Zhang Xinjie could understand why the rumors existed.

“How nice of you to speak up for me,” Ye Xiu said when he sauntered up to Han Wenqing.

Han Wenqing merely stared at him. “I didn’t.”

“You totally agreed with me in front of the reporter.”

“That’s not speaking up for you, that’s just admitting you make sense.”

Zhang Xinjie, who was standing almost right next to Han Wenqing, wondered what his captain wanted to accomplish with this. Ye Xiu enjoyed riling him up, that was for sure, but why did it seem that, more and more often, Han Wenqing was going along with it?

It was one thing to do this kind of stuff outside of the public eye, but they were at All-Stars right now. The place was crawling with reporters and other curious bystanders. Zhang Xinjie expected a little better.

Judging by the contemplative gazes the other members of Tyranny were casting at the famed rivals, however, he was the only one.

“Isn’t admitting I make sense the same as agreeing with me?”

“No.”

“How?”

“It just isn’t.”

Ye Xiu laughed. “What a compelling argument. You know your scary face doesn’t work on me, right?”

Han Wenqing almost immediately dialed back on the impassiveness. Zhang Xinjie fought the urge to stare. Was his captain feeling self-conscious?

No…that couldn’t be it. Han Wenqing, self-conscious? Not in a million years.

As if to encourage him, though, Ye Xiu made an approving noise. “See, this is how I know you do that at least partially on purpose.”

“Do what?”

“The mob boss thing.”

Han Wenqing pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s not a mob boss thing. I can’t help it if people annoy me.”

“You’re right, you’re right. The annoying people are the ones at fault.” And then Ye Xiu reached out and patted Han Wenqing’s arm.

This was not the first, second, or even the third time Zhang Xinjie witnessed a casual touch between the two of them, so the patting itself was not a shock. What was a shock was the way Ye Xiu’s hand lingered. And how Han Wenqing stepped closer.

Did they have to stand in each other’s personal space like that? Zhang Xinjie looked around furtively.

“It’s hopeless,” Lin Jingyan said to him in a low voice. “They had eyes on them almost as soon as they started talking.”

“And cameras,” Zhang Jiale added, optimistic as usual.

Zhang Xinjie closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to worry about this. What Han Wenqing did with his public image was his business. If he wanted to flirt with Ye Xiu where everyone could see, Zhang Xinjie could hardly stop him.

Yes, he understood the rumors. He understood them very well. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that Han Wenqing and Ye Xiu weren’t in a relationship, but even he couldn’t help but question reality when he saw them act like this.

“But at All-Stars?” Zhang Xinjie muttered, almost plaintive. “Must they?”

Lin Jingyan patted his shoulder.

 

* * *

 

Han Wenqing deftly pulled the captain of the Season 10 championship team into a dark corridor and told him, “I think we’re dating.”

“Are we?” Ye Xiu asked, apparently unbothered by the current situation. As he had spent most of his career sneaking through stadiums, he found this rather mundane. (He was also too tired to muster up a reaction, but he’d never admit it.)

In answer, Han Wenqing leaned forward and kissed Ye Xiu right on the mouth.

When he pulled away, Ye Xiu was staring at him, looking both perplexed and delighted. “…Okay, maybe we are.”

Han Wenqing nodded. Ye Xiu nodded back. “Congratulations, by the way,” Han Wenqing said.

“Thanks,” Ye Xiu replied. “Who else came to watch my Team Happy make history?”

“Nobody who can’t wait.”

“Good.” Then he grabbed Han Wenqing’s hand and tugged him deeper into the shadows, well away from prying eyes and flapping mouths.