In T.ATW's rehearsal room, Luo Chenxuan was teaching Shi Xinyan a new song. Fu Zhi was reading the newspaper while holding a thermos of hot water. Chi Yunkai was playing a game, and Gu Wei was scrolling through Weibo.
"Am I imagining things?" Gu Wei asked. "Jiang Enyuan has gotten so much bad press lately. He's almost as controversial as I am now."
"Yeah, he's in pretty bad shape," Shi Xinyan said. "He isn't more popular than you, either. Our little losers club has been doing really well lately."
"He's been under fire for a lot of stuff recently, but I feel like he really went over the top. Even sleeping with fans." Fu Zhi pushed up his gold-rimmed glasses and flipped to a new page in his newspaper. "He probably provoked the wrong person this time."
"He totally deserves it. Where there's smoke, there's fire. He's one hell of a rotten egg," Chi Yunkai said while tapping away at the game on his phone. "At least we can be at peace for a while. Just seeing his name makes me shudder."
Gu Wei, taking a page out of their manager's book, scolded, "Stop talking nonsense, you're better than this. You're all supposed to be idols."
"It seems one of his big name fans announced they were officially dropping him. I've been enjoying this drama for days," Luo Chenxuan said. "Tabloids are really fierce these days."
Gu Wei recited some details from one of the articles on Weibo: "Jiang Enyuan was late to a performance last year, his clothes were all messed up, he was in a bad mood…"
He frowned. "Why does this story sound so familiar to me?" Gu Wei mused. "Wait, I remember. You guys did this, didn't you? That was when you locked him in the bathroom."
"Nonsense." Fu Zhi set down the newspaper. "Were there surveillance cameras? Is there evidence?"
Gu Wei fell silent.
"If he's got the balls, he can make a post saying we did it," Chi Yunkai said, still engrossed in his game. "Isn't he the one avoiding the subject? If he wants to challenge us head-on, we'll take him on."
"Okay, practice, practice. We've got a long way to go," Fu Zhi said as he got to his feet. Facing Gu Wei, he added, "The one who always goes off-key, come practice."
"Hey…" Gu Wei put away his phone. "I haven't gone off-key in ages!"
Fu Zhi glanced over Shi Xinyan, who was subtly snickering. "What are you laughing at? Gu Wei is going to help you stretch later, your dancing is too stiff. Gu Wei, don't hold back. We need some good content for our rehearsal highlights reel."
Shi Xinyan instantly stopped laughing and started melodramatically pretending to bawl.
When their manager came to check on them, all five members of T.ATW were earnestly rehearsing their performance for the New Year's gala on CoconutTV. They all stopped moving and turned to the door when Manager Zhao knocked.
"Gu Wei, come out here for a minute," she said. "Someone is here to see you."
"What's up?" Gu Wei asked. He stepped out of the rehearsal room and saw a familiar figure next to the manager—Chu Yi.
"Before he went into isolation for training, Jiang Xun asked me to check in on you once in a while," Chu Yi explained. "Would you like to have a chat?"
"Okay." Gu Wei nodded.
Manager Zhao let them into the agency's lounge and closed the door on her way out.
"What did Jiang Xun say to you?" Gu Wei asked curiously.
Chu Yi smiled warmly and answered truthfully: "He said he doesn't feel at ease leaving you alone, and he asked me to make sure no one was bullying you. But that sort of thing is best left to that little brother of his. I'm just here to do my job. How have you been feeling lately?"
"Pretty good. These days, when I wake up in the mornings, I don't feel down or sluggish," Gu Wei said, describing his recent condition. "But I still have trouble falling asleep. When Jiang Xun is here… it's a little easier."
"Let's talk about the relationship between you and your family," Chu Yi suggested. "Jiang Xun told me you don't like your father's golden retriever."
"Right." Gu Wei nodded again. "It's not that I'm scared of dogs or that I hate them. I just can't bring myself to like the one my dad keeps. I really don't know why, and I think it's weird too. It never attacked me or anything."
"Then how do you feel about your family members? Whenever I ask about your mother, you lower your head and look at your toes, so let's not talk about her for now. How is your relationship with your father?"
"It's… fine, I guess." They weren't too close, they weren't too distant. There was nothing Gu Wei found particularly dissatisfactory about his father, but nothing he found particularly satisfactory either.
"You dislike him, or you're not satisfied with him in some way," Chu Yi stated with absolute certainty.
Gu Wei didn't understand how he could be so sure. "What makes you say that?"
"Have you heard of psychological defense mechanisms?" Chu Yi asked. "You have a problem with your father, but you've transferred those feelings to the dog he keeps. You're suppressing your emotions, and you have no outlet for those emotions. That's why they keep you up at night, making it difficult for you to fall asleep."
This way of thinking was new and strange to Gu Wei. Instinctively, he wanted to deny it, but there was something deep in his heart that told him Chu Yi was right.
"Dislike, dissatisfaction… these things don't make your relationship meaningless, and there are some things you'll need to learn to say out loud. When you keep all those feelings bottled up, the one who suffers is you," Chu Yi said. "Relationships are a two-way street. They need both parties to contribute. If you feel wronged and don't say anything, the other party won't know how to protect you. And if you feel you like someone, but don't say anything, the other party won't know how you truly feel."
"Then…" Gu Wei hesitated. "What should I do?"
"You can talk about all these suppressed feelings to someone you trust," Chu Yi suggested. "It's okay to talk about the things you don't like. And at the same time, it's also okay to talk about the things you do like."
Over the next few days, In A Small World With You continued to be a hot topic among netizens. And in those next few days, viewers picked up on a few more details that had previously gone unnoticed—
[Did you guys notice the sleeping pills on Gu Wei's nightstand? The camera only panned over it for a second, but if you take a screenshot, you can see the medicine box.]
[Does didi have trouble sleeping?]
[If he has just a bit of trouble sleeping, he could just take melatonin, right? There's no need for sleeping pills, unless he has a lot of trouble sleeping. Wahhhhh, Weiwei! Let Mama give you a hug!]
[Was Gu Wei planning to hide it? It looks that way to me, but before he could get to it, he was pulled back by the people trying to cover something else up for him.]
[When I saw the mandala coloring book the other day, I was already wondering if didi had some mood problems. Could it be depression?]
[Oh, fuck off. Gu Wei has all those scandals on his shoulders, and now you want to try to make us pity him by saying he has depression?]
[You're out of your mind. What kind of celebrity would try to use depression to gain sympathy? Well, maybe there's a certain fame-hogging pig who really would try something like that.]
[Actually, someone mentioned it earlier, that it must be hard for Weiwei to be attacked so often, by so many people. Maybe he couldn't handle it. Netizens are too easily whipped into a mob.]
[Celebrities are so rich. Aren't they supposed to be able to withstand more than us? If he's this weak, why is he in the entertainment industry at all???]
[Previous commenter, what kind of logic is that? You people are the problem. You spend all day fiercely attacking idols online, even though you're just cowards in real life. As soon as they fight back and defend themselves, you cry foul and say they're bullying you or pretending to be depressed or whatever. Do you have any pride at all?]
[Okay, okay, stop fighting. Right now, all I care about is whether or not Weiwei is okay.]
[I'll go ask on Weibo. Back when Weiwei was mobbed by all those antis, I was already super worried.]
When Gu Wei checked Weibo during one of his breaks, he found that his private messages and the comments sections of his recent posts had all been flooded by concerned little hedgehogs.
@Little Hedgehog's Beibei: Weiwei, good luck with everything! We'll always support you!
@T.ATW-LittleHedgehog: Weiwei, is everything okay? We're all really worried about you.
@Little Hedgehog Grow Up Fast: Weiwei, you have to take good care of yourself. You and T.ATW are my reason for working hard every day. We don't need you to be popular, we just need you to stay healthy!
"You can respond," his manager said after getting a sense of what was happening. "I'll keep an eye on the trending topics list. If this trends, we'll have someone take it down right away."
Ever since viewers plucked out these little details from the latest installment of Small World, the conversations about Gu Wei had been growing more and more intense. It really did seem like he was destined to trend again.
Gu Wei faced the mirror and took a picture of himself in their rehearsal room, with the other members of T.ATW in the background. In addition to the picture, he composed a small message for Weibo—
@T.ATW-GuWei: Don't worry, I'm totally okay now. We're rehearsing for our New Year's performance, and we'll be sure to present the best versions of ourselves to everyone. Life may not always be perfect, but I've met him, and them, and all of you who support me. So I'll always keep moving forward with you.
The little hedgehogs were all eagerly awaiting a statement from his agency. As soon as his post went up, it spread like wildfire, racking up thousands of shares and likes and comments in the blink of an eye.
@Vikki: Important! He said he's okay 'now'. That doesn't mean he was okay before. Ah, my heart hurts so much. I'm going to cry. I'm going to die. @XueqingEntertainment, what on earth have you people been doing? You can't even protect your own artists? T.ATW makes a lot of money for you, don't they?
@Sweet Peach Tea: Another important part! Weiwei said 'him' and 'them'. T.ATW must be who he means by 'them', so… who's this 'him'?
@Papayapaya: Did he just take a random photo? Their rehearsal room is really filled with all sorts of secrets! Look, Fu Zhi is in the background reading a newspaper. He's so hot, but he's just sitting around reading a newspaper? That's amazing. As long as Weiwei is fine, we're happy. And getting to peek into their daily lives like this makes everyone feel way better.
@Orange Tangerine: Weiwei, don't worry about anything and just fly towards your future. Your little hedgehogs will always follow you. We'll be looking forward to your New Year's performance! You guys are so popular now, I bet you'll be part of the grand finale.
@Little Hedgehog's Arare: Didi, please take good care of yourself. We don't need anything else. We just need you to stay healthy.
Inevitably, the debate over whether or not Gu Wei suffered from clinical depression heated up even more. The subject inched closer and closer to the trending topics list.
"Get someone to suppress it," Manager Zhao said. "We need to put a stop to this before it stirs up any trouble."
"Mm, it's a bit troublesome," Gu Wei agreed. "I want everyone to know my name because of my work, not because of something like this."
Manager Zhao continued to watch Weibo like a hawk, until suddenly her expression twisted into something bizarre.
Gu Wei made an inquisitive sound.
"Isn't Jiang Xun supposed to be in isolated training?" Manager Zhao asked. For the past half a month, he and his team had been cut off from the world and the internet to focus solely on their training. Manager Zhao had been living an extraordinarily comfortable life during that time. But now, Jiang Xun had popped out of nowhere and reared his head again.
"What happened?" Gu Wei asked. "Jiang Xun's tournament starts tomorrow."
"God Xun changed his avatar," said Luo Chenxuan, from where he was sitting on the floor.
"His avatar?" Gu Wei found Jiang Xun's account on the list of people he followed on Weibo, and saw that Jiang Xun had indeed replaced his avatar. Instead of the pikachu he'd been using previously, his avatar was now a chibified version of himself. Drawn by the same person who had drawn Gu Wei's avatar.
That artist had recently become a 'FoodForXunWei' shipper.
Gu Wei stared.
Manager Zhao pressed a hand to her forehead, distressed. "Can't he just concentrate on his tournament?"
His final tournament was right around the corner, and he was still concerned with giving their shippers something to celebrate. Manager Zhao didn't even have to check the discussions on Weibo to know that this was what everyone would be talking about.
[Ahhhhh, it's real, it's real! We haven't had any new material in over ten days. I thought our ship was heading towards a bad end, but now we suddenly have so much sweetness to enjoy!]
[Do these count as matching couple avatars?]
[@JiangXun, are you going to get married after your tournament?]
"How do you know this isn't just Jiang Xun's way of relaxing a bit before his big tournament?"
The other four guys in T.ATW clearly saw all of Jiang Xun's actions through a filter. In their eyes, Jiang Xun could do no wrong.
Their manager didn't dare speak ill of their esports god in front of them.
"I think you probably don't need to get Gu Wei's tag taken down. People will lose interest and move on soon enough," Fu Zhi said, hugging his thermos in the crook of his arm. "TMW's tournament starts tomorrow, and Jiang Xun changed his avatar. That's all people are going to talk about now. Plus, someone's set Jiang Enyuan on fire again. This time, he's been exposed for dissing another actor in front of his fans at a meet-and-greet. The other actor's fans have already picked up the story. It'll definitely trend."
"I vaguely remember something about that, but didn't that happen a long time ago? Did Jiang Enyuan piss off some sort of drama farmer?" Luo Chenxuan mused to himself as he went to fetch a cup of water.
"Ah," Luo Chenxuan said a moment later. "God Xun posted."
"He isn't satisfied just changing his avatar, he has to flaunt it too?" Manager Zhao complained. She could hardly believe this man. "Gu Wei, why did you post something too?"
@T.ATW-GuWei: @TMW-Xun, good luck at your tournament. Do your best!
The accompanying photo was a shot of Gu Wei holding Jiang Xun's corgi.
@TMW-Xun: @T.ATW-GuWei, let's do our best together.