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Up till that point, these words almost didn’t have any particular presence in Qi Jing’s life.
He was born to a family with an older sister and a younger brother, so since he was young, no matter if it was something he ate or what he used, it all had to be shared among the three of them. He never enjoyed the preferential treatment of the special, only child.
After he grew up, he chose an occupation that revolved around teamwork, where neither finding news or compiling and editing them was never done alone. The achievements at work were also not supposed to be attributed to one person only, so even when he once got the award for the best news at the end of a year, it was also under the name of a ‘team’.
Even when… he fell in love with that man during college, there was still another someone by that man’s side.
He was already used to being one of many. There has never been someone who clearly thought of him as a “special”, aside from—
Qi Jing’s eyes suddenly became wet.
But he also felt that, for him to shed tears because a phrase this simple in his age would be too useless, so he grit his teeth trying to hold it back. But his fingers still instinctively tapped at the F2 key, turning the mic off for a moment, so as to avoid letting anyone hear him choking with a sob.
“…So sly…” It was said in such a calm and easy tone, yet it still made him find it sly.
It slyly took all of his previous envy towards other people, the anxiousness he felt about himself, as well as the worry about their real relationship attracting other people’s disapproval, and dispelled them all.
“I didn’t even have the chance to ask for it, yet you already gave it to me.” He sniffled slightly, then laughed helplessly, “And how am I supposed to try to properly best you in?”
No wonder that someone had said before that… the producers who already got themselves exclusive rights would take their sweet time with the production, as they didn’t have to worry about other people s.n.a.t.c.hing it away.
“Don’t spoil your boyfriend too much.” Otherwise, what if I lose the drive to progress?
Although he did say so, the voice he said it in was hoa.r.s.e and accompanied by a low chuckle. In the end, he raised his hand and rubbed the corners of eyes with a sleeve, only then pressing the F2 key.
Right now, it was【Don’t ask for my return date】and【Geese Fly North】that figured on the contestant line-up.
With those two lined up side by side, he felt a surge of gratification wash over his heart.
Even though, for the onlookers, it didn’t bring them any sort of gratification, quite the opposite even. This unforeseen discrepancy between the expectation and the truth only let them down, leaving them indifferent—
Audience 1: Eh… Geese Fly North? Geese Fly North… Who is that…?
Audience 2: Eh, is this really Kitty’s Papa actual ID? I, I’ve never heard that at all… _(:з」∠)_
Audience 3: Eh? So he isn’t some great G.o.d’s side account? _(:з」∠)_
Audience 4: …I also haven’t heard it before, I kinda feel disappointed like the folks above… Turns out it’s some ordinary ID I’ve never heard of…
Audience 5: Huh?? Kitty’s Papa isn’t some great G.o.d?? If he is not, then is he really just a n.o.body?? But with his skills, he makes the t.i.tle of ‘great G.o.d’ kinda pale in comparison… _(:з」∠)_
Audience 6: To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed, since I was positive that Kitty’s Papa was some G.o.d’s, or maybe some professional voice actor’s, side account. I’ve been trying so hard for a long time to dig this info up to no avail, but when he in turn made it public himself, it turned out that I’ve never even heard of this ID… Sigh, that’s basically the same as if he didn’t reveal that, and I’m the one being worldly-minded.
In the chat, a whole lot of listeners were asking each other around who ‘Geese Fly North’ was, with no lack of people expressing their disappointment. Perhaps they were too sure that they would see some great G.o.d’s ID before, so when they saw a completely unaccomplished one, even more unfamiliar and low-profile than ‘Don’t ask for my return date’, the previous excitement slowly shrivelled back, as if poured over with icy water.
It could be even said that, after this compet.i.tion, there was more people knowing the fake ID of ‘Kitty の Papa’ than ‘Geese Fly North’.
Qi Jing furrowed a bit, but didn’t say anything.
It was also like that before.
Before, he would also quietly help all those producers in a hurry to find people to fill in under an inconspicuous name, disappearing the moment he was done with his part of work. Because he would basically only accept the most walk-on characters with barely a few lines of dialogue, the ID of ‘Geese Fly North’ often would only appear at the very end of the cast credits and if sometimes someone forgot to add it, no one would even realise that, nor would it change anything.
And just like this, even though he secretly filled in for the great G.o.d for the run-through with him, when the audio drama got published, no one even mentioned this fact, afraid of offending the great G.o.d as well as his fanbase.
And just like this, when he was secretly going through his darkest days, under the name of ‘Geese Fly North’, he looked out for him, cared for him…
——【Doesn’t ‘Geese Fly North’ mean the arrival of spring?】
——【You’re the first person to say that.】
“I like it, this ID.” He spoke suddenly, “Thank you for changing it back.’
Wasn’t him changing it back basically saying, “It’s only you I would accompany under this ID”?
Hearing this, that man seemed slightly dazed, then laughed faintly. “I’m sorry, it’s not really famous.”
“No need to bother with things like this,” He laughed, “You’re yourself, that’s all.”
“Mhm.” That person didn’t say much more. Having been by each other’s sides all that time, it only took slightly touching upon a topic for the other to understand, their hearts no longer a mystery, “Before you, I can go back to being myselfk2014;thank you, Return Date.”
He called him ‘Return Date’ only ever so softly, yet just like this, he opened the floodgate in his voice. All the emotions this gate that had been holding behind it poured out in a great plenty, the warmth and tenderness indescribable.
The listeners got instantly shocked silly. Up till before that moment, most of them were still debating the problem of the ID’s recognisability, but at that point, the audience’s attention already got pulled back to them.
Audience 1: …Eh?
Audience 2: …Eh? I don’t know why, but I feel a need to hold my heart… (Kitty’s Papa’s tone is so… gentle)
Audience 3: …It really is tender. (Especially when he said ‘Return Date’, it hit me right in my heart)
Audience 4: …This, although I know that they’re only friends, but I, can I… can I ship them a bit in silence? (covers face)
Audience 5: QAQ I don’t even care what he’s called or what ID he uses, I just cherish VAs like him so much!! His conversation with Return Date is so moving!! (But speaking of it, are they really just friends??)
Audience 6: QAQ Datey said right, it doesn’t matter if Kitty’s Papa is some famous VA, don’t we all like him because of his person, his acting?? (The person above, why need to only ship them a bit? To be honest I ship them a whole! d.a.m.n! Lot!! With them being old friends, there’s already the emotional foundation, and listening to them talk is even more heartwarming aahhhhh!←I’m so sorry for Datey’s IRL boyfriend)
Probably because Qi Jing had been brought into a mess too many times before, this time a bunch of his fans quickly spoke up to speak on his behalf.
Audience 1: ┭┮﹏┭┮ Ahhh, although I want to ship it… But wouldn’t it bring him problems if we ship him haphazardly like this? After all he had already said it himself, he has a boyfriend IRL.
Audience 2: ┭┮﹏┭┮ That’s right, that’s right! As Don’t ask for my return date’s fan, every time I see antis hating on him for using people or stuff like that when he’s being shipped, it makes me feel so helpless~ (Even though he’s so low-profile himself)
Audience 3: _(:з」∠)_ Saying this, wasn’t that one time when he got most hated on in the forums because of the people shipping him with Bronze Sparrow Terrace at that time? They shipped him so hard at first, now they’re hating him even harder, Lord Bronze Sparrow Terrace’s fans sure are daring both in love and in hate…
Audience 4: _(:з」∠)_ It’s not good if we’ll continue to fantasise like this… Kitty’s Papa will probably find it uncomfortable, right?? (He has a relationship in IRL too)
Audience 5: _(:з」∠)_ Uh, who knows, maybe Kitty’s Papa also knows Return Date-sama’s boyfriend, wouldn’t that be even more awkward…?
Audience 6: _(:з」∠)_ Yup, yup, Datey and Kitty’s Papa, just ignore us! We just happened to ship you guys in a moment of weakness (Cough cough, I also shipped Time Limit and Long Term←looks away in shame) But shipping aside, we don’t intend to confuse your online presence with your IRL and cause you trouble!! We know that you’re only very good friends, so no worries!!
Seeing this, Qi Jing really was at a loss of whether to laugh or cry—sure enough, the tale of “The Boy and The Wolf” really had its roots in reality.
Nevertheless, he didn’t care about whether they were regarded as friends or something else. As long as they could perform together, even if it wasn’t as lovers, and even if it wasn’t as friends, even if it was only as the complete strangers meeting for the first time just as that time they first met—he would let himself be guided by that man’s voice that roused all kinds of emotions within him, attracting him, then let it accompany him in searching for the breakthrough in his own acting.
He smiled peacefully behind the screen for a while, then out of nowhere, he called this man a pet name he never used, yet always looked out for the opportunity to try out, “A-Yan.”
—He would treat that as a small response to the other man’s ‘slyness’. He would be too embarra.s.sed to call him that in his face, so he was only able to do that now.
He didn’t know what the man from the other side was thinking right now, he didn’t say anything for that little bit.
But he didn’t need to worry, it was fine as long as he heard it. Qi Jing bit his lip slightly, trying his best to curb the chuckle in his voice, “I’m ready, and you?”
It took a long while before he heard that man reply in a low voice, “Mhm.”
Qi Jing really wanted to see his expression right now.
He didn’t know what expression the man in question made, but the listener’s expression was incredibly uniform, almost amusingly.
Audience 1: 〒▽〒 …!!!!!! (←Only those exclamation marks can express my feelings now)
Audience 2: 〒▽〒 …I have clearly already made my mind to not indulge in my fantasies anymore, but alas… Are you trying to make me repress them till it causes me internal damage!? (rolling, rolling all over the floor!)
Audience 3: 〒▽〒 Just! What! A! Yan! Is! That! (It hit my heart harder than that “Return Date” just now)
Audience 4: 〒▽〒 Just! What! A! Yan! Is! That! (I have no idea what to say, I can only howl)
Audience 5: 〒▽〒 Just! What! A! Yan! Is! That! (Turns out they don’t only know each other, but their relationship is already this good?)
Audience 6: 〒▽〒 I don’t give a d.a.m.n, 2D is 2D, please give me the permission to ship Returning Geese! Returning Geese gives me that “rainbow comes after storm” feeling!
“Well then, time starts for group No.67—” Yang Chunqu’s rose her voice, its brisk tune finally able to pop out among the heated debate, bringing everyone’s attention back to herself.
But this focus soon shifted away again, as for the following sixty seconds, everyone’s attention was entirely occupied by the lights by【Don’t ask for my return date】and 【Geese Fly North】those two IDs, loath to miss even a single second.
During the time it took for the timer to jump from 0:00 to 0:01, Qi Jing lowered his eyes, shut them. As if shutting off the door to reality.
It was all dark around.
It was all hush around.
The image from the beginning lines he had just skimmed through started to appear in the darkness, the words like so many letterpress types, popping out from the screen, changing into the sounds as they fell before him—sounds from far away to near. He seemed to hear the wind blowing and gra.s.s dancing, and the barely audible rustle of the clothes during movements. But among those indistinct background noises, none caught his ear as quickly as the single sound of smashing, trapping him in that scene.
In this scenery, there were only two sitting people, one radiant moon, one tree shadow alley, one residence room, one lengthy table, one jug of wine, and one pair of cups.
—And one of those cups just got smashed.
—It got smashed because the hand in which he held it shook, releasing its hold on it, hence it fell to the floor and broke. And the reason why his hand shook so was because the man before him caught his wrist in a crazed outburst.
Here, ‘Fang Yisheng’ didn’t have any line of dialogue appearing yet, it was ‘Bai Ke’ who was supposed to take the lead.
Nevertheless, ‘Fang Yisheng’ should be the first to show a reaction. Unlike the already edited audio drama, there were no sound effects at play now, so the main issue at hand was how to let the listeners hear the movement of ‘Bai Ke ruthlessly caught Fang Yisheng’s hand’.
“Ugh—” Thinking this, he felt a chill in his heart and instinctively sucked in a mouthful of breath with a muted groan of pain.
Since it was harm made in a craze, Bai Ke used no small amount of strength and his wrist would probably hurt as if it got broken. Since he had experienced the shock caused by the pain of his bones breaking, he easily got into his mindset at the time, the cry he let out incredibly life-like.
It wasn’t just his hand—the throat that had just felt the burning of the potent wine hurt too, the pain travelling all the way to his stomach like a twisting knife. He couldn’t tell if it was caused by the wine itself, or by the poison inside.
Indeed, the poison in the wine.
Since he had already known about it before drinking, the moment the poison acted up, he didn’t show any sign of surprise, choosing to bear the pain instead. His voice followed his train of thought as after the first grunt of pain, he grit his teeth, not letting the second one out.
At that time, there was a sudden roar in his headphones. “Fang Yisheng—”
Compared to Qi Jing’s indistinct breathing, this roar was plenty powerful, like a bullet shedding its case and hitting his ears. But it wasn’t one shot from a steady hand, more like a stray bullet from the trembling hands—it was obviously powerful and piercing, yet it actually made one hear the weakness in it.
Because the impetus of this voice was too strong, Qi Jing actually shook violently, as if really shot with a bullet, his breathing stopping momentarily.
But the second time that man spoke, his voice sank low, as if he realised that his wavering proved that there was still some part of him that didn’t want to kill the other. This realisation left him alarmed, angry, spiteful, and also slightly hesitant. “…Fang, Yi, Sheng.”
He took a shaky breath, then called him again. “…Fang Yisheng…”
After he called him for the third time, that man started to pant heavily. His voice was still trembling, shaking out m.u.f.fled, broken sobs from between those pants. “Wu—…”
Qi Jing felt something squeeze in his chest, leaving him unable to speak.
If Bai Ke’s first cry was a shot of a bullet, then the second and third one was slowly carving the bullet out of the wound. The former was an attack, but the latter was a torture.
Right at that point, they were supposed to be enemies. But… Listening to it now, he didn’t only hear the spite and hatred. It wasn’t because the person performing with him was his beloved—even with listening to him just as the character, he also heard traces of ‘emotion’ progressing through those three calls.
Audience 1: ┭┮﹏┭┮ …This plot line…
Audience 2: ┭┮﹏┭┮ …They actually chose this plot line ahhhhh!! (Organisers! You really are the masterminds of angst!)
Audience 3: I knew that it was doomed to be angsty when I saw those two characters for the audition… _(:3」∠)_
Audience 4: The moment I saw that Kitty’s Papa is going to play Bai Ke, I knew that he would surely deliver the pain… It’s because he makes it feel like each hateful person has some pitiful side (it’s mainly because of his voice type and acting style both being at play), and then when I later saw that Datey’s gonna be Fang Yisheng, I just… (mainly because that contrast from that fluffy opening bit before is a bit jarring.) _(:3」∠)_
Audience 5: ┭┮﹏┭┮ Just as the one above is saying… when I remember their previously harmoniously blissful (?) times, it makes it hurt even more, ahhhh!!
Audience 6: ┭┮﹏┭┮ What is up with you if you catch their hand after poisoning them?? (If this isn’t the romance route)
The scene chosen for the finals was the scene of “Bai Ke” poisoning “Fang Yisheng”, which was also the scene that symbolised the break of their relationship.
According to the novel description, Bai Ke took a kind of an unusual poison from Yan Buliu’s place and covertly added it to the wine, asking Fang Yisheng out for a small drink just as usual, then proposed a toast to him. He didn’t expect at all that Fang Yisheng would actually raise his cup to empty it in one swig. At that time, he wavered and instinctively caught the other man’s hand, but unfortunately, by the time the cup fell to the floor, half of the wine in it was already gone.
Up to this point, the only words that were officially written out in the lines were “Fang Yisheng”, those two words—but the content that was brought to life by the actual voices was far more than that. An inhale, a gasp, a sob… all of it was a ‘performance’.
Up to this point, only a mere dozen of seconds pa.s.sed, but the performance let the audience hear the span of dozens of minutes, days, even years of the characters growing and changing behind those seconds.
Fang Yisheng had only about two types of people around him in his life.
One type was people like Yan Buliu, who always were on guard, using every advantage they got and getting rid of any obstacle they met, each moment only a spell of inattention away from losing their lives. The other type was like Lu Wei, who respected and honoured him dearly, holding a complete trust towards him, even willing to give his life up for him.
And Bai Ke didn’t belong to any of those types.
Or to be exact, at this point of time, Bai Ke had the characteristics of both of those types. The previous reverence and grat.i.tude, the following hatred and vengefulness, they all blended together, no longer easy to describe. That’s why, among those three times he called Fang Yisheng, there was also a shift from two completely opposite mindsets—from killing intent to worry.
There were also two ways Fang Yisheng treated others and conducted himself in his life.
Towards those like Yan Buliu, he would always be scheming and working his way ahead step by step with a shrewd and enigmatic astuteness. Towards those like Lu Wei, he would instead be honest and calm, acting naturally and never mincing his words, with no deliberation or schemes in his heart.
But his att.i.tude toward Bai Ke didn’t belong to any of those either.
From the very beginning what he said wasn’t entirely true, half a truth mixed with half a lie, so when Bai Ke questioned him heartlessly, he didn’t say a single word, unable to explain his actions clearly. But seeing the other distrust this half truth completely after himself having told him a half lie, it was really… an agony.
An agony so so strong, that when he lowered his eyes and saw the cup of poisoned wine this man was pa.s.sing him, he didn’t refuse. But even at the end, this man still regretted it.
It was even more paining…
He knew that that was this man’s first time actually killing a person.
He knew that despite not being as benevolent and having a quite gloomy and eccentric nature, this man wasn’t evil at heart. With him being forced into a position of killing someone, for Fang Yisheng, rather than his first reaction being to blame Bai Ke, “so you actually became such a person”… It was more likely for him to blame himself, “turns out I was capable of forcing a person to such an end”.
Shen Yan had said before—if it wasn’t for his grandpa, he would perhaps also become a “Bai Ke”.
What kind of a person was Bai Ke?
When still under his master, the novel described this usually meticulous to a fault, strict and unsmiling Bai Ke as the ‘cold-faced gentleman’. In other people’s eyes, he was like a pond of clear water—yet they never realised that under this water, there were layers upon layers of mud that would turn the whole pond turbid upon disturbing.
Despite that, as long as the mud sunk to the bottom, his inner quality was still that of a clear pond.
And exactly because of this contradictory nature, ultimately it wasn’t him, the one who got poisoned, but the poisoner himself who struggled more, was more despaired. Would Fang Yisheng, the one to witness it all from the side, not take any action at all?
—He would not.
At this moment, Qi Jing’s lips moved slightly, as he asked ever so faintly, “Have you ever, killed a man?”
Shen Yan’s breath stopped for a moment.
Qi Jing heard a slow gulp. This person’s throat have moved with much difficulty, only then letting the breath back into his lungs—but this time it was rough and unsteady, the sound of a man refusing to speak with all he’s got, only the raspy nasal breathing making any noise, yet it was even more stifling than if he made no sound whatsoever.
Bai Ke’s ego was beyond large.
So even if it was his first time, he wouldn’t admit it, not wanting to let a single person notice his fear.
Yet Fang Yisheng knew that he was afraid, hence this wasn’t a question, but more of a beginning of his statement. Qi Jing rid his voice of any emotion, mechanically narrating the truth.
“There is a strong malice to your blade, but no stench of blood.” Indeed, so unlike him, who had killed countless many people. “Unlike… me.”
He thought of the blood that soaked his hands and he laughed self-deridingly, his laugh a few parts forlorn as he laughed at the retribution that had finally arrived for him that day.
But this man thought that he was mocking the fact that he hadn’t killed before. His breathing suddenly became more rough, a sharp wheeze cutting his throat time and time again, his voice shaky and out of control, just like his emotions. “You… foresaw that already? You already knew that I was a coward, unable to kill you, unable to deal the final blow, so you didn’t even avoid it, waiting for me to make a fool out of myself, for you to laugh at?”
Here, his voice paused suddenly.
These lines were supposed to create an escalation, not only of the voice getting stronger and higher, but the emotions as well. Any other contestant would choose to continue this rise, elevating the last line to the climax—but Shen Yan chose to cut it here, and as everyone expected him to pull them all to the higher heights, he rapidly plunged down.
The more vicious, the more fierce was the previous part, the more the following reminded a death of a heart—
“Fang Yisheng,” He no longer shouted, no longer yelled, as if returning to that previous pond of clear water, so silently still that there was not a ripple disturbing its surface. But in its essence, it was already just a pool of dead waters, “From the bottom of your heart, you really… look down on me, don’t you?”