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down to the minute

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Zhang Xinjie can pinpoint, down to the minute, the exact moment he decides to marry Han Wenqing.

The meeting itself is nothing special, an ordinary prep session for an ordinary match during his debut year. This early in the morning, the training room is comfortably quiet, the rest of the team not yet roused from sleep to descend on them in a fury of loud footsteps and louder voices. Zhang Xinjie likes the quiet, and counts himself lucky to have a captain that feels the same.

He’s reviewing potential tactics for the upcoming game when he asks a simple question that changes everything.

"You've fought Wang Jiexi before, what do you think will trip him up worse, the ensnarement approach or the false flag bait?"

It isn’t the kind of question one would consider romantic but Zhang Xinjie is hardly conventional in his everyday life. At the time, however, he isn’t thinking about romance. He’s thinking he has regrets.

Normally, he avoids this type of question. Phrasing it as a choice is an invitation for trouble, a prelude to wasted time. Most people answer with a simple but infuriating yes, blind to the fact that when choosing between two options, yes is a useless response. Zhang Xinjie is adept at studying people’s habits and reading their intentions from the data, but he can’t read minds. He doesn't want yes, he wants an answer to his question.

Han Wenqing studies the whiteboard, nodding to himself. "The first one. Ensnarement. Tiny Herb is too unpredictable, we can't count on them falling for a false flag."

Zhang Xinjie barely hears him. He's too busy falling in love.

Captain Han gave him an answer. A real answer. An answer that addressed his question. An answer that didn't require Zhang Xinjie to spell out the options yet again and waste precious time.

He’s never doubted his decision to throw in his lot with a team famous for brute force, and it’s satisfying to once again receive confirmation he chose wisely. Tyranny may be an unrelenting, unwavering team, but what most people don't realize is that Zhang Xinjie is too. It's fitting, the avatar he inherited. Immovable Rock. Zhang Xinjie doesn't have the physically imposing stature of Han Wenqing but he knows how to stand his ground and shift the world into his orbit. The media likes to call them unlikely partners but the analysis that led them to that conclusion is flawed.

There's nothing mismatched about them.

Zhang Xinjie’s mind is racing but he merely nods. "I agree."

He must respond too fast, or perhaps not fast enough, because Han Wenqing squints at him, concern etched into the lines around his eyes. “Xinjie? Is something wrong?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” It’s his usual answer, and in this case, it’s true.

The barest hint of a smile curves around Han Wenqing’s lips, but if he’s somehow managed to deduce Zhang Xinjie’s thoughts, or his wedding plans, he doesn’t say. The two of them part ways in silence, Zhang Xinjie to refine their chosen strategy and Han Wenqing to his morning practice. Neither of them goes very far, only to their respective computers in the training room. They work in companionable silence, together but separate.

Inwardly, Zhang Xinjie debates the merits of wearing a white suit versus a black suit to his wedding.