The van pulled up in front of the main building of the H City television broadcast station. Fans had already gathered in the area, waving various banners in support of their favorite idol. Some signs had chibi versions of the five members on them, some had the T.ATW logo, and some straightforwardly said 'I Love ______' (with the name of the fan's favorite idol filling the blank).
"Weiwei, look over here!" screamed a group of twenty-something-year-old girls, all raising their cell phones while calling out to him.
Gu Wei took off his sunglasses and turned to his fans, flashing them a charming smile. "Everyone, remember to stay safe."
"We will, didi, don't worry!"
Gu Wei's fans politely moved back and cleared a path for the boys to enter the building.
"Gu Wei is so nice and so cute," said a girl wearing denim shorts, holding a concert penlight with Gu Wei's name on it. "How could anyone bash him online?"
"They close their eyes and ignore the facts, I guess," said her friend. "Some people just refuse to acknowledge Gu Wei's popularity."
As soon as he stepped out of the car, Gu Wei was sent off to get his hair and makeup done. He had no time to look at his cell phone at all. At least, that was a sufficient excuse for him to escape from the disaster that awaited him there.
In the makeup chair, Gu Wei gave himself a long, hard look in the mirror and mumbled, "No matter how angry the meme gets, he wouldn't bite anyone, right?"
"Didi," the makeup artist giggled, hearing Gu Wei muttering to himself. "Who wants to bite you?"
Gu Wei shook his head. "Nobody."
"What do you think? Looking good?" The makeup artist patted his shoulder and gestured for him to look at himself in the mirror again.
Gu Wei hummed, feeling a little hesitant as he checked himself out. "The hair color… isn't it a little too light?"
"Not at all! It's the perfect shade of white. You're the only one in your group that can rock this color. Everyone's going to be floored when they see you tonight," the makeup artist reassured, brimming over with confidence.
Gu Wei's gaze traveled away from the mirror and drifted over to the door, where he saw—
Jiang Ying happened to be at the station that night as well. He had already changed into his performance outfit for the night, and he was currently standing in the doorway, staring at Gu Wei's newly dyed hair.
Gu Wei stared back.
He had just spent the afternoon talking shit about Jiang Ying's brother, and now he felt a bit guilty.
At least Jiang Xun wouldn't appear in a place like this. Gu Wei could be relieved about that much.
Due to T.ATW's immense popularity, their performance was scheduled near the climactic end of the program. After the host of the program made some announcements, the stage lights went down, and cheers and screams erupted from the fans in the audience.
When the stage lights flooded back on, five people had appeared on stage. Each wore a black jacket with a different design. The spotlight traveled over the stage, illuminating each one of them in turn.
Each person's banners and penlights lit up in a synchronized fashion in the crowd, sending a wave of color rolling through the audience.
The hottest group had appeared, and instantly a charged energy surged through the crowd.
That night, they were performing a brand new song. The song had been written by Luo Chenxuan, and Gu Wei had been responsible for the dance choreography. The singing and dancing styles were both new and unique for them. As the lights flashed overhead, the members of the group moved and switched positions to the beat of the song.
Suddenly, the rhythm quickened and the dance steps became more complicated. Gu Wei took center stage at just that moment. He threw back the hood of his jacket and stepped into his role as lead dancer. All the cameras zoomed in on him, and under the glowing lights, he flashed the lens a coy smile. Without missing a step in his dance routine, he lifted his hands and formed the shape of a heart for all the fans watching below the stage.
A fan in the front row screeched, "The lead dancer is right in front of me!"
"The little dancer is so alpha!"
"Gu Wei, I love you!"
When Jiang Xun passed a big monitor backstage, he was just in time to see Gu Wei send that heart out to the crowd. Of course, he heard the fans shrieking as well.
In the time since their last encounter, Gu Wei had dyed his hair a powdery white. Jiang Xun had to admit this was a color that wouldn't be flattering on many people, but worked well with Gu Wei's skin tone.
This kid's way of complaining about people was… quite special, but he really was very good-looking.
Plus, he had gotten way better at singing.
"What are you looking at?" Song Jingxi asked. She followed her son's line of sight and instantly recognized the boy on the big monitor. "Have you talked to him yet? It seems this boy's stage persona and real personality are quite different."
Jiang Xun was lost in thought.
"What are you guys doing here?" Jiang Ying asked. He had just come off the stage a few minutes ago, and he hadn't had time to get out of his costume and makeup yet. He was more preoccupied with camping out in front of the monitor and watching his nemsis's performance. "Their group is popular, but if you just look at individual fans, there's no way Gu Wei has more than me."
As Gu Wei's self-proclaimed nemesis, Jiang Ying had a very clear idea about these things.
"Next time, I'll dye my hair too," he said. He lifted his phone and showed off an unphotoshopped picture of Gu Wei that he'd just found. "Our fans will definitely pit us against each other, and I just love feuding with him."
"You're supposed to be an idol," Jiang Xun said with a scornful look. "Why are you so invested in these fandom feuds?"
"Obviously it's research so I can beat that guy every time. Every day Gu Wei doesn't get cancelled is another day I don't feel at peace."
Jiang Ying was the hard-headed type that never changed, always restless and confrontational. Now that he had found a nemesis, he was even more dedicated to their feud than his actual job.
"I have some business with Director Zhang here," Song Jingxi said, finally getting back to Jiang Ying's earlier question. "I wanted to bring your brother along, but he only got here from his club just now. I'm already done chatting with Director Zhang."
"About what?" Jiang Xun asked.
"There's a new show in development," she said. "Your Uncle Zhang is working on a reality show, but he spent almost all his funds on the sets and locations. He managed to hire four celebrity guests, but couldn't afford the fifth. He was hoping you could go fill in.
"It won't take up too much of your time. The first round of shooting will only take around twenty-four hours, and whether or not they film any more will depend on the first episode's popularity."
Jiang Xun laughed. "Alright, sure. Use me as free labor."
In reality, Director Zhang was good friends with his parents. There was no way his program was running out of funding. One of the real reasons he wanted to have Jiang Xun on the show was to make use of the popularity that Jiang Xun had from his recent world championship win. Another reason was probably that the show would involve some gaming elements, and they could use Jiang Xun's expertise.
Professional esports players didn't often participate in reality shows. They seemed like they could stand in the limelight all day, but if they joined in on a reality program and lost a tournament afterwards, their fans would surely complain and blame it all on the program.
Victory and defeat were facts of life in this business, but some fans simply couldn't accept that.
But Jiang Xun came from a unique background, and taking his parents' and Director Zhang's relationship into consideration, he couldn't really refuse such a request.
Plus, he had already seen the list of the other four guests invited to participate in the show.
"Where are you going?" Jiang Ying asked as his brother started to move away.
"You guys go home first," Jiang Xun said, waving them off. "Since I'm already here, I'll go collect a debt from a mouthy little sweetheart."
The music was coming to an end. The stage lights were starting to dim. As the moving platform lowered the performers to an area below the stage, Gu Wei panted lightly, turned off his mic, and swept aside a lock of hair that had been plastered to his forehead by sweat.
It seemed the last performer to go on stage was some legendary actor. Gu Wei followed his bandmates out through a passageway leading away from the stage.
He had forgotten all his worries when he went on stage, but that was only a temporary reprieve. Now, those worries were flooding back into his mind.
He really needed to find an opportunity to apologize to the meme.
He had left the meme hanging all afternoon. That should have been enough time for the meme to calm down, right? His anger should be gone by now.
In the passageway, the door to a dressing room suddenly opened. A hand shot out and yanked Gu Wei inside.
Gu Wei yelped in surprise.
The other four members of T.ATW continued on their merry way, oblivious to the fact that they had just lost their youngest and smallest member.
The meme Gu Wei had just complained about that afternoon now stood right in front of Gu Wei's eyes. In the flesh.
With a resounding clack, the lock on the door was flicked shut.
"My disrespectful little friend," Jiang Xun greeted, his voice a deep rumble. "I've got you now."
Gu Wei froze in alarm.
Karma was here to bite him in the ass.
1. Jiang Xun uses '冤家' here, which literally translates to 'a person who has wronged you'. It has the meaning of your fated enemy or your fated foe, but can also carry the connotation that it's specifically an enemy/foe you love. (In opera, it's used to mean your lover or soulmate.)