"Ge, your hearing is so good," Gu Wei enthused, doing his very best to praise and placate Jiang Xun.
"You flatter me," Jiang Xun said. "It's not that my hearing is good. It's just that my little Weiwei's voice is so nice. In the future, you should scream for me more often."
Gu Wei was starting to squirm from all the touching, but he didn't know where the cameras were or whether or not the mics were picking up their voices. He didn't dare make any sudden movements or raise his voice. He could only whisper, quietly pleading for mercy.
"I… was wrong," Gu Wei said, trying to redeem himself. "I shouldn't have lost my inhibitions and shouted into the night, and I shouldn't have brought personal matters into this variety show."
"Think about these words," Jiang Xun prompted, unmoved by Gu Wei's admission of guilt. "'I was wrong.' How many times have I heard these words from you? Too many times, don't you think? In the future, you can apologize all you want, but I'll still make you pay."
It really seemed, no matter how much time they spent together, Gu Wei simply couldn't learn his lesson.
Gu Wei couldn't even argue.
It had been a while since he last caused trouble. He was a little taken off-guard by this new hole he'd dug for himself.
"Don't move around so much," Jiang Xun warned. "It's not like you don't know what I'm attracted to."
Gu Wei stopped squirming, but he was a little flustered and… bothered. After all, he and Jiang Xun were both attracted to men.
If Jiang Xun had a reaction to Gu Wei squirming around, how could Gu Wei be immune to what Jiang Xun was doing? Whether it was Jiang Xun's actions or Jiang Xun's words, it all had a pronounced effect on Gu Wei. He had very little resistance to any of it.
But Gu Wei knew he really had been in the wrong, so he had no choice but to endure a certain someone's relentless teasing.
Inside the surveillance room, Director Zhang pored over the live feeds from all over the set.
"Where are Gu Wei and Jiang Xun?" he asked. "How could we lose the guests while filming a variety show?"
"Reporting in!" Crew Member 1 announced. "Director, we lost them, but their camera crews and drones are in pursuit."
"Reporting in!" Crew Member 2 echoed. "Jiang Xun seems to have turned off his mic, and Gu Wei's replacement mic hasn't been turned on yet."
Director Zhang silently mulled over the facts.
Something was going on. Something was definitely going on with those two. If something wasn't going on with those two, Director Zhang would do a handstand and sing a song.
He was going to go down in history as the first variety show director who lost two guests.
"Make the drones go faster," he ordered. "Where the hell did those two run off to?"
"We'll catch up soon. We sent their cameramen a car," a crew member said. "Oh, by the way, Shi Xinyan is still stuck on the roof. He can't get down. We might need to send someone to help him."
"Hurry up with that. Isn't Bei Ke nearby? Send him a task to go fetch Shi Xinyan."
Director Zhang sighed. He had meticulously crafted a perfect plan for his show, and now he felt like he was running a daycare center for a bunch of demonic preschoolers.
Even the best laid plans of mice and men…
He couldn't have anticipated a few of his guests would scuttle up to the rooftops, and he couldn't have imagined Jiang Xun would abduct Gu Wei in the middle of the show.
"When this segment airs, we're not cutting out a single second," Director Zhang fumed. "Let's see how Jiang Xun justifies his actions then."
Elsewhere, after Jiang Xun finished 'living up to his name', he reluctantly let go of Gu Wei and helped him straighten out the collar of his robes, which had gotten a bit mussed up.
"Director Zhang has a good eye for these things," Jiang Xun mused. "Your costume looks great on you."
"The drones are here," Gu Wei whispered.
"Then let's continue recording." Jiang Xun reached out and turned both their mics back on.
Gu Wei blinked. "You…"
No wonder Jiang Xun had been so bold. There had been no cameras on them, and their mics had been off. Besides the two of them, no one knew what had happened between them just now.
"Director!" the crew called out from inside the surveillance room. "Jiang Xun and Gu Wei turned their mics back on."
Director Zhang perked up with surprise. "Alright, let me have a listen."
Through his headset, Jiang Xun and Gu Wei began to speak.
"You already heard about my mission?" Jiang Xun was asking.
"I heard," Gu Wei answered. "You're supposed to get rid of that royal consort."
"Then, what's your mission?" Jiang Xun asked.
The director was baffled.
Those two were actually seriously discussing their tasks.
Impossible. Jiang Xun abducted Gu Wei just to talk about their tasks?
Director Zhang didn't even have to think about it to know something was wrong.
Gu Wei had been thoroughly flustered by Jiang Xun's advances, but he did at least remember his role and his mission. "I have the same task as you."
"Really?" Jiang Xun asked.
Gu Wei nodded.
Their camera crews had finally caught up, and the recording was officially back on. Jiang Xun didn't poke any holes in Gu Wei's claims and simply said, "Alright, then. Since we have the same task, I'm heading to the main hall now. Weiwei, come with me."
Gu Wei thought silently for a moment.
He couldn't reveal the truth about his own mission. He had to play along with Jiang Xun for now.
The two of them finally put their earpieces back in, and Director Zhang took that opportunity to announce their new tasks—
"Each guest has a token which represents their role in this game. Find your enemies' tokens and throw them into the pool inside the main hall. If your token is stolen and thrown in, that's a defeat for you. Whether your mission is to save the consort or eliminate her, your task is to hand her your token.
"Furthermore, one contestant has taken on the role of a 'sweeper' whose job is to eliminate everyone else. If your token falls into the sweeper's hands, it will also be considered a defeat for you."
Director Zhang's words made Gu Wei think of the string of bells he carried and the sachet Shi Xinyan had found. Jiang Xun must have been carrying something similar as well. Gu Wei was pretty sure that Jiang Xun was playing the part of the antagonist, their enemy, and not the part of the 'sweeper'. That meant all he needed to do was take Jiang Xun's token and throw it into the pool at the main hall, and the game would be half-won.
Jiang Xun's token… what could it be?
With their camera crews following close behind, Jiang Xun took the reins of the horse again, with Gu Wei perched in front of him in the circle of his arms, and started to move towards the main hall.
Everything returned to normal and finally started going to plan.
Riding a horse was a fresh and strange sensation for Gu Wei, but his mind was fully focused on his mission, and he grew increasingly distracted and absent-minded as they rode.
"What are you touching?" Jiang Xun asked, his voice suddenly drifting over from behind Gu Wei. "Gu Wei, why are you feeling around my pants?"
Gu Wei said nothing.
Obviously, he was looking for Jiang Xun's token!
"My hand slipped," Gu Wei said, keeping a perfectly blank expression on his face.
Jiang Xun let out a laugh, but didn't question him or pursue the matter further.
The main hall of the palace appeared in front of them. Jiang Xun dismounted and reached up to help Gu Wei down as well. Gu Wei grabbed hold of his hands and leapt off the saddle. They were both dressed in ancient robes, surrounded by buildings made in an ancient style. One of them played the part of an innocent young master who knew little about the ways of the world, and one of them played the part of a high and mighty prince.
It really did feel like they had been transported back in time.
Even the cameramen were wowed by such a dazzling scene.
Inside the surveillance room, Director Zhang let out another of his deeply moved sighs. "Gif this part, we'll use it when we send out the trailer. Just their faces, in this setting, will get us trending. Trouncing 'Wandering With You' in the rankings is going to be a piece of cake. Let's work hard, everyone! We're taking this show to the top."
The guests were hot and interesting; Director Zhang was once again starting to think all the money he'd spent on them hadn't been a waste. Plus, Jiang Xun was here as a favor to him. He didn't even have to pay that one.
Though, now that Director Zhang thought about it, he remembered Jiang Xun had turned down numerous offers to be in variety shows in the past. Song Jingxi had told Director Zhang that Jiang Xun didn't have half an iota of interest in the entertainment industry. There must have been some special reason Jiang Xun had agreed to participate in this show—
Director Zhang suddenly thought of Gu Wei.
And suddenly he understood.
Gu Wei spotted Shi Xinyan and Bei Ke from a great distance away. Bei Ke was dressed as an army general, and he looked extremely brave and dignified.
"Gu Wei!" Shi Xinyan called out from the entrance to the main hall. "Come here!"
Naturally, Gu Wei got ready to sprint over and reunite with his partner right away, but Jiang Xun reached out and stopped him short.
"What are you going over there for?" Jiang Xun asked. "Don't you and I have the same mission?"
Shi Xinyan winced.
Yikes. His partner belonged to the dark side now.
Gu Wei had no choice but to follow behind Jiang Xun as the four of them made their way into the main hall. The hall was lit by lanterns, and the grand throne that stood at the far end of the hall was vacant. As soon as the four guests stepped inside, the lights flared brighter, illuminating a pool in the middle of the room.
Shi Xinyan sighed. "Director Zhang really didn't skimp on the budget."
"I have a question," Gu Wei said. "Where's Qian Yining?"
Bei Ke shook his head. "I didn't run into anyone this whole time. Except for Shi Xinyan, on the roof."
"Let's see what the director has planned for us first," Jiang Xun said. He glanced towards the pool at the center of the room.
"Please be seated."
A group of background actors dressed as maids and eunuchs approached the guests, inviting them to be seated on either side of a table in the room.
"Is there food?" Shi Xinyan asked, perking up. "Nice one, Director Zhang! I've been starving all night."
Gu Wei sat down cross-legged besides Jiang Xun and watched as the maids bustled about, bringing various dishes over to the table. The lights in the hall flickered suddenly, going out for a split second before coming back on. When they returned, the previously vacant throne had been occupied.
The actor playing the part of the emperor spoke: "Honored guests, I invite you all to feast with me today. Bear witness to the resurrection of the emperor's treasured consort."
The group of outlandishly dressed actors from earlier rushed in and began to sing again, apparently for the sake of summoning the consort's soul or some such. Their voices washed over the seated guests.
"What are they singing about?" Gu Wei asked Jiang Xun.
"I think I get the general gist of it," Jiang Xun started to explain. "The royal consort died of illness, and the emperor abandoned all his political duties to find a way to resurrect her. He issued a decree within the palace to bind her soul to this place."
Gu Wei was beginning to understand. That was why those people outside the palace walls had given him the task of bringing the royal consort home. The meaning of bringing her 'home' was to free her from this palace. His mission was the same as Shi Xinyan's. They needed to free this consort.
Jiang Xun's role was that of a prince. His mission was to stop the resurrection and send the consort's soul off to the next world.
In that case, between Bei Ke and Qian Yining, one of them must have been the 'sweeper' whose goal was to eliminate everyone else.
While Gu Wei was lost in thought, the palace maids had filled their table with an assortment of fine delicacies. In addition to the food that had been placed in front of them, Jiang Xun and Gu Wei saw their goblets filled with wine as well.
"Can we eat…" Gu Wei didn't get a chance to finish his question. Right in front of his eyes, one of the maids took out a silver needle, preparing to dip it in the wine to test for poison. It was all very realistic.
Gu Wei froze.
It seemed he could never escape what he feared most.
It was all over. He was going to be called all sorts of names again. People would accuse him of being rude, impolite—
His head started to spin. Just as he was about to scramble away, Jiang Xun stopped him and covered his eyes with one hand.
"Don't be afraid. It's okay," Jiang Xun murmured, his voice flowing directly into Gu Wei's ear. "No one is going to hurt you. They've already taken it away."
The girl playing the part of the maid looked startled. Jiang Xun nodded towards her and gestured for her to get rid of the needle.
"What happened to Gu Wei?" Director Zhang asked with genuine concern. "Is he feeling unwell? Can he continue the recording?"
"I'm okay," Gu Wei insisted, shaking his head. The dizziness had already passed. It had been replaced by a sense of security and comfort that he hadn't felt in a long time. That feeling had been missing from his life until Jiang Xun's warm voice washed over him.
"Ah, the needle," Shi Xinyan blurted out, finally remembering something that had happened in their shared dormitory before. "That's right, director. Our Weiwei gets a little dizzy when he looks at sharp objects!"
"You… how did you know about that?" Gu Wei asked, tipping his head back towards Jiang Xun. He couldn't have anticipated what Jiang Xun had done for him a moment ago.
He had only told Jiang Xun about his mild depression. He hadn't gotten a chance to tell Jiang Xun about his phobia of sharp objects yet, but Jiang Xun had known he would be afraid and he'd blocked Gu Wei's line of sight in time.
Jiang Xun pulled Gu Wei closer, almost as though moving without realizing it, before he turned off his mic and dropped his hand from Gu Wei's eyes. "Weiwei, I know a lot about you."
"Then I need to catch up to you. I have to work harder." Gu Wei turned off his mic, too. He leaned even closer to Jiang Xun and whispered in his ear, "Jiang Xun, I want to know a lot more about you."
He still wasn't brave enough. He still needed to work harder to earn his place at Jiang Xun's side.
"Of course," Jiang Xun agreed readily. "Once we finish recording, we can have a deep conversation and thoroughly understand each other."
Jiang Xun's cameramen were dumbstruck.
As were Gu Wei's.
Jiang Xun moved too fast. None of them could keep up.
Gu Wei had been rendered speechless as well.
His head was no longer dizzy, but his heart was racing now. He felt a bit like he wanted to find a crack in the ground and hide inside.
Bei Ke and Shi Xinyan, on the other side of the table, hadn't heard their exchange and could only watch on in abject confusion.
What just happened? Why had everyone on the other side of the table gone so silent and still?
"I promise," Jiang Xun added, still holding Gu Wei close. "As long as you want it to continue, our story will never end."
Then he looked up, finally, and turned to the cameras. "Director, cut out these last few lines for me. Thanks."