It was noon when Sun Zheping flew into Qingdao, the day before the game. The sun hung high in the sky, bright and lemon-sharp; and as he glanced through the plane window, on a whim, to catch a glimpse of the waves billowing beyond land, rays of light bounced off the sea and seared his sight. He blinked against the onslaught, then shut his eyes, but the dazzling afterimages blossomed on the backs of his eyelids—like fizzling fireworks, or shooting stars.
Not like my wishes come true, laughed the merry voice in his memory. But fireworks are fun, that’s all.
His old partner dyed his hair a darker red now, which matched Tyranny’s colors better than the brighter shades of their Hundred Blossoms days; yet as their teams shook hands, he smiled his artless smile at Sun Zheping. Same as ever, after years apart.
“What are you laughing at,” said Sun Zheping.
“Hehe,” Zhang Jiale said. “You think the bandages make you cool?”
Sun Zheping met his gaze head-on. “So? Your alt makes you dazzling.” Dazzling Spring—the charmer, the tempter…
“Tch...” A flush crept up along Zhang Jiale’s neck, slow and sweet, as he walked past. “... Well, good luck.”
Bright light burst over Another Summer of Sleep like a riotous jungle, while shadows ghosted round like leaves within a shining maze, so that through his dappled vision he could barely see the form of Dazzling Hundred Blossoms—but no matter; for as changed as they were, Sun Zheping thought, surely he could learn all that was Zhang Jiale anew, and with each sweep of his gaze across the battlefield he slid deeper into the rhythm of this new Hundred Blossoms style: inevitably, inexorably, like a silvered river flowing into the sea… and there, a minnow-quick flash—aha!... found you.
When he pushed open the door to Tyranny’s break room, his entrance was almost a non-occurrence; only Han Wenqing looked up and nodded, before turning his attention elsewhere.
But Zhang Jiale hadn’t seemed to see or hear him; he was ruffling through his bag in the corner, while the jacket tied at his waist rustled with every shuffle of his feet. Sun Zheping walked over to his side, and saw Zhang Jiale turning a water bottle in his hands—over and over, again and again.
He reached out low, and pulled at a loose jacket sleeve. “Hey. Zhang Jiale. Let’s go.”
“You don’t have to pretend, I know you have ears.” You knew when I walked through the door, didn’t you.
“I was thinking about what to eat! It’s not like we can do spicy clams, you threw everything up last time.”
“That was badly prepped. And that was a long time ago.” Before I left. “What’s the point of coming to Qingdao without having seafood?”
“Let’s have mackerel. All right, don’t look at me like that. There’s Glory.” And you.
“Fine, as you wish. And oh wait, Big Sun, I remembered something. Give me your hand.”
Sun Zheping pointedly offered his bare right hand to Zhang Jiale, who snorted. “I didn’t mean the other one anyway.”
Then he smiled, artless still, and shaped it into a loose fist as he raised it to his lips.
And Sun Zheping suddenly shivered; his hand clenched. What raced through his trembling fingers then weren’t the familiar flashes of pain, but threads of heat unspooling from his heart; and yet how could he say—how could he say these distracting thoughts now, after years apart...
But Zhang Jiale didn’t kiss his hand; he simply blew inside. “Since you forgot,” he said.
It was midnight when Sun Zheping went back to his shoreside hotel. Moonlight cast a pale glimmer upon the sea and turned it fragile before his eyes—as if it were a looking-glass lake, silvered by flights of fancies and shot through by wish-granting stars.
But all that was illusion, light and shadow alike. What he knew as truth were these—an unchanged smile and a changed playstyle, talk of past meals and reminders of past habits. “Since you forgot,” Zhang Jiale had said: a familiar act, for an unfamiliar enemy.
Even so, he thought, you remembered for me.