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"I gotcha… got you an arraigned… arranged a marriage fer'ya!"
The drunkard on the phone slurred and stuttered over his words.
"Arranged a what?" Gu Wei rubbed his eyes, trying to shake off the shroud of sleepiness cloaking his mind. According to his brightly lit cell phone screen, it was only half past four in the morning.
The caller on the other end of the line chuckled. He was obviously blitzed as he continued, still slurring, "M'shun… my son! I just arranged a marriage for you! With the perfect partner. You're sho… so blessed. You've used up eight lifetimes of luck just now."
Gu Wei pulled open the curtains and squinted out into the pitch black night. Based on what he was hearing, he suspected he must have accumulated tons of bad karma in those eight lifetimes.
Maybe he had been a thief and an adulterer in one of those past lives. Maybe even a murderer.
Nothing good was ever arranged at this ghastly time of night.
"Dad… tell me the truth. How much have you had to drink?"
At half past four, when not even the birds were awake, Gu Wei seriously wasn't in the mood to talk to his ridiculously drunk father about some arranged marriage that seemed to have been conjured out of thin air.
Gu Wei's father, Gu Cai, was a screenwriter. Whenever he worked on a screenplay, he fell so crazily deep into his work that it was like the outside world didn't exist to him. He must have finished his latest project and suddenly remembered he had a son.
"Not much, not much," Gu Cai babbled. "Just two bottles of the good stuff and a bit of beer. Shun—son! Your papa is so happy to finally find someone to take care of you. My colleague, see, she's got a son who's just like you. Her boy doesn't like girls either."
"Dad, sober up a bit." Gu Wei plucked at the flowers in a vase on his nightstand. "Your son is a celebrity. An internet phenomenon. An influencer. Do you know what that means? If I get into a relationship, my career is over."
He was the lead dancer in the wildly popular boy band T.ATW, a minor celebrity in his own right with a decent amount of fans—though plenty of those were anti-fans.
His whole career circled around his fans. To disappoint them by dating around, that was as bad as…
Killing his career. Killing his parents.
He told his dad, if he had to get married, it would be the same as killing himself.
"All your fans are anti-fans," his dad countered dismissively. "Your career is already over."
"Anti-fans are still fans! It's not my fault I'm not likeable." Gu Wei had a very clear image of himself, and he knew exactly where he stood in the public's eyes. "Anyway, what rando did you get me engaged to?"
Gu Wei had a pretty strong suspicion that this supposed fiancé of his didn't actually exist.
"I think it was… something-Xun." Gu Cai was obviously too drunk to remember the details. "Sounds like he doesn't really have a proper job. His mom says he just plays video games all day, but she swears he's a good person."
Gu Wei rolled his eyes. His dad may as well have said, He drinks and smokes and perms his hair, but he's not a bad person.
The logic of a drunkard was truly astounding.
"Dad, seriously. Call it off now," Gu Wei demanded. "Stars like me can't get married. It's so not part of my image."
"Just add him on WeChat and talk to him! A beautiful romance is coming your way!"
The signal was starting to go bad and staticky, and Gu Wei didn't catch the last part of his father's nonsense. He hung up the phone and saw that it was now forty minutes past four. The talk of some sort of miracle romance that was supposedly going to fall into his lap made it impossible for him to get back to sleep.
When it was close to five in the morning, Gu Wei opened WeChat and posted a few good morning messages in his band's group chat.
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: Good morning, good morning!
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: I'm full of energy today, too!
Of course, since it wasn't even five yet, no one in the group was online to answer.
Gu Wei got up and grabbed himself a glass of water, figuring he shouldn't waste away the morning after waking up so early. He posted a good morning message to his Moments as well, adding a cheers.jpg image from his most frequently used stickers and reaction images collection.
The other guys in his band all followed some professional esports team and practically worshipped some supposed gaming god named Jiang Xun. They sometimes even organized group trips to watch tournaments that Jiang Xun competed in. Some of them spammed Jiang Xun reaction memes all day, and Gu Wei had saved quite a few of them to use himself.
He had probably been single for too long. Even just looking at these reaction memes featuring Jiang Xun's face, he had to admit Jiang Xun was pretty good-looking.
Gu Wei didn't really follow esports, but he'd gone to watch a few tournaments with his groupmates. He'd never had much to say with regards to Jiang Xun, so he could only say he knew of Jiang Xun. But Gu Wei actually liked all these Jiang Xun reaction images quite a lot, and he used them pretty often when texting his friends.
The early worm has been eaten by the bird, he wrote.
Along with that message, he attached the AggroJiangXun.jpg sticker he had saved at some point.
Shortly after that, he received a direct message:
Hey, didi. You're up early.
The message came from Chi Yunkai, a friend from his band.
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: My dad is trying to get me hitched. I can't go back to sleep.
[Yunkai Sees Mooncakes]: Then don't sleep. Lemme show you something exciting.
[If You Love Me Please Send Me Money]: What do you mean by exciting?
Chi Yunkai sent over a screenshot of the currently trending topics on Weibo. Gu Wei closed out of WeChat, opened Weibo, and saw that it was true: He and Chi Yunkai were both trending.
Gu Wei rolled his eyes. What was so exciting about that? It just meant their reputations were both spiraling down the drain again.
Since Gu Wei was no stranger to being called a spotlight thief or attention whore, he wasn't curious about Chi Yunkai's tag. He tapped on his own trending tag instead, and the first thing he saw was a video clip taken from the latest episode of Wandering With You.
Wandering With You was a travel show that Gu Wei had been featured in for a while now. In the episode that the clip had been taken from, he and six other guests visited an old town in Jiangnan. The show's gimmick was that the tourists arrived 'penniless' and had to complete designated tasks to work for their room and board.
The task Gu Wei had been assigned was to learn embroidery from one of the old ladies in town. In the clip that was now trending, Gu Wei had been caught on camera slamming an embroidery hoop onto a table and storming out of the room while the old lady watched in astonishment.
At the end of the clip, someone had added a caption and image:
It's too hard! sobsob.jpg
As soon as that episode aired, Gu Wei's anti-fans had latched onto that clip and spread it around online, using it as evidence of his poor character and bad attitude and his lack of respect for his elders or whatever. His antis trash-talked him like it was their job, and they seemed totally willing to work overtime to make sure their scathing remarks about his bad behavior were seen and heard.
Netizen 1: Just look at him. He's obviously never done any real work in his life, never experienced any hardship. Is embroidery really that hard? He didn't even try to act like he liked it.
Netizen 2: Ugh, he just got popular by chance. Sooner or later, he's going to crash and burn.
Netizen 3: When T.ATW disbands, I think Leader Fu Zhi-gege should go solo. I don't want to see a disappointment like Gu Wei burdening our beloved Fu Zhi-gege anymore.
Amidst the storm of criticisms, there were a few real fans of Gu Wei speaking out in his defense.
Netizen 4: There might have been some special circumstances at the time of the recording. He's usually a very polite person. Taken out of context, this kind of clip can easily be misunderstood. Little Gu Wei is very kind, please try not to misunderstand him.
Netizen 5: This precious bean only just turned 18, there's a lot he still doesn't understand. Let us apologize for him, and please try to be more forgiving.
But those few people who dared to defend him were instantly drowned out by louder insults from the enraged antis.
Netizen 6: I'm not invested in this, but Gu Wei seems really unlikable. And his fans are here taking a beating for defending him…
Netizen 7: This is what I've been saying! I have no idea why 'Wandering' cast a guy like Gu Wei. Did they just want his popularity? He doesn't have a good personality at all.
The clip had been shared by a popular, verified blogger. It was inevitable that Gu Wei and his lack of charm and charisma became hot, trending topics.
Gu Wei closed Weibo again. He was well and truly awake now, so he got out of bed and went to wash his face and brush his teeth. When he looked at himself in the mirror, he saw that his eyes were red. It was obvious he hadn't gotten enough sleep.
He had just finished up in the bathroom and gotten dressed when he returned to his phone to answer a call from Zhao-jie, his manager.
"You're up?" Zhao-jie asked curtly. "You saw the trending tags?"
"I'm up. Good morning, Zhao-jie," Gu Wei said. His voice sounded just a bit nasally. "I'm sorry."
He sounded like such a sweet kid, without any fight in his tone, that Zhao Ya had to swallow her irritation and keep it bottled up inside.
"A car's waiting for you downstairs," she said, skipping the lecture. "Hurry up and get ready. Your magazine cover photoshoot was moved up by an hour. Mu Yue is waiting for you in the car."
"Got it. Thank you, Zhao-jie!"
Gu Wei checked himself in the mirror and carded his fingers through his hair a few times before throwing on a jacket and hurrying downstairs.
The studio where Gu Wei was scheduled to have his photoshoot was situated by a river. A van stopped beside the building and two people wearing sunglasses stepped out, followed closely by a bodyguard.
"Ge, you don't need to practice today?" Jiang Ying asked as he took off his shades.
Jiang Xun shook his head. "Not today. We just finished a tournament last week, and tomorrow the team is going to Europe on vacation. I have an interview around here today."
Captain of Team TMW in the pro league of FPS game Shou Ze, Jiang Xun had led his team to numerous victories. He was known for his crafty, tactical playstyle and his leadership skills, and he had become widely known as God Xun in the esports community.
Jiang Xun's interview was taking place near the photography studio. A photoshoot was already underway; Jiang Xun had planned to ignore it and head straight to his interview. But he stopped when he heard his brother Jiang Ying making a disgusted tsk sound.
"Hm?" Jiang Xun hummed, glancing over.
"Three o'clock," Jiang Ying said, nodding in the direction of whatever he had reacted to. "See that guy? That's my nemesis. He has even more anti-fans than me."
Jiang Xun had known that Jiang Ying had a 'nemesis', but he didn't know the details. Leading Team TMW took up all of Jiang Xun's free time, so he didn't usually concern himself with any news about the entertainment industry.
But since he happened to be there, he looked in the direction Jiang Ying pointed.
As soon as his gaze found its mark, he stopped in his tracks.
This nemesis his brother spoke of was in the middle of a photoshoot for the cover of a gaming magazine. The kid was wearing camouflage fatigues, and he had two streaks of oil painted across his cheeks like war paint. He was leaning back against an armored car and holding a sniper rifle. All the cameras surrounding him flashed incessantly, taking picture after picture after picture.
Jiang Xun's first thought when he laid eyes upon the model was that the boy had inordinately long eyelashes that added a sort of sultry charm to his pretty, peach blossom petal-shaped eyes. He had delicate lips which were curved ever-so-slightly at the corners, giving him a downright adorable look.
He was undeniably good-looking, but not obnoxiously so.
The model looked directly into one of the cameras. He hoisted the heavy-looking prop gun and seemed to do his best to put on a fierce, intimidating expression, as requested by the director.
In Jiang Xun's opinion, the kid was the farthest thing from intimidating. He was just plain cute.
"You've expanded your demographic," Jiang Xun joked with a smile. "You're calling a minor your nemesis now?"
"He's eighteen years and a month old, alright?" Jiang Ying snapped, unamused. "He just looks baby-faced and cute and well-behaved. But he's got an even worse reputation than I do."
Jiang Xun made a noncommittal sound, not agreeing or disagreeing.
"What's his name?" he asked, casually.
"Gu Wei," Jiang Ying said. "I'm going to my photoshoot. I can't believe they scheduled me after him."
Gu Wei's eyes were so familiar that Jiang Xun's mind drifted through his memories, eventually landing on a tournament from not so long ago.
At that time, he had just led his team to their seventh straight victory. One of his teammates had pointed out a person in the audience to him and said, "That kid has come to our past few games, and he's always staring at you. Think he's your fan?"
The kid in the audience had always worn a hat and face mask, completely covering up his face except for his eyes. Those eyes really were just too beautiful to ignore. Jiang Xun had found himself constantly searching for them in the crowd.
There was no way he would ever forget those eyes.
Jiang Ying had started heading off, but when he saw that his brother was still standing in place without moving, he came back to check on him. He gestured to Gu Wei again and said, "Ge, don't forget that face. That's your little brother's sworn nemesis. You know what that means? It means if I don't snuff out his career, I'm the one who's going to perish."
Jiang Xun nodded thoughtfully. "Then perish."
"You'd let me die?!" Jiang Ying pointed at himself with a stunned, horrified look.
It felt like Jiang Xun was forgetting who his precious little brother was.
"Sorry, it's just bad luck for you." Jiang Xun nodded in Gu Wei's direction. "That kid seems to be my fan. I always protect my fans."