The first seasonal celebrity rankings results were out. Gu Wei won a very well-deserved first place.
The very next day, the cosmetics brand that had selected Jiang Enyuan as their spokesperson released an official statement to announce they would be cutting ties with him. The reason they stated was that the image of such a star would negatively affect their brand. At the same time, a TV drama role Jiang Enyuan had been in talks for was given to someone else.
Jiang Enyuan now had no support and no work, and he was condemned by everyone online. And the public didn't ease up on him or take pity on him. They continued to denounce him and his agency.
The big, verified accounts on Weibo began to voice their opinions as well.
[Gu Wei should have gotten popular a long time ago. T.ATW is already a top boy band.]
[Jiang Enyuan owes all of T.ATW an apology. Gu Wei wasn't the only person affected by this.]
[Weren't there rumors that Gu Wei had clinical depression? And some people even made fun of him for that. If I were attacked this fiercely, I would have broken down ages ago.]
[Jiang Enyuan only has a few rabid fans left. He won't be able to come back from this.]
First place in an important popularity contest always came with an increase in resources and work. Fu Zhi and Luo Chenxuan were both insistent on allowing Gu Wei to have his moment in the spotlight. In just a few days, their manager had lined up enough work for Gu Wei to fill up his whole year.
The five members of T.ATW crowded into Zhao Ya's office, watching her make up their schedule for the year.
"You'll be touring in April and May, and you'll have some magazine cover photoshoots after your tour. Then you'll have three product endorsements to shoot. After that, you'll be on set for your movie," Zhao Ya recited, reading through the rough outline of Gu Wei's schedule. "Make sure you finish reading the script before then. This movie is going to air on New Year's Eve."
"I'm really relieved," Fu Zhi said. A dense cloud of steam rose from his mug. "You're about to be as busy as I am."
"There's so much work for this year," Gu Wei murmured, a little dazed. He was somewhat intimidated by his schedule. The agency hadn't taken any new variety shows for him. Everything was a serious drama or movie, and he wouldn't have any time to relax. "Can you give me three days off after our first concert?"
"Three days?" Manager Zhao narrowed her eyes, suddenly suspicious and on guard.
"Give it to him," Fu Zhi said. "It's just three days. The agency won't lose any money."
Luo Chenxuan nodded with a knowing look in his eye. "Give him three days. Even if you don't, Jiang Xun will make it happen."
Manager Zhao said nothing.
The bonds between these bandmates were too strong. She couldn't win against them.
"You plan on going public after the first concert?" she asked. "You've made up your mind?"
"Jiang Xun says it's not exactly going public, it's just… clearing some things up." Gu Wei deleted the items on those three days of his schedule.
"Are you guys sure you can control Jiang Xun's mouth?" Manager Zhao rubbed the spot between her brows, where she felt tension building. "After that Weibo post of his, your shippers went crazy. They've all been calmly focusing on getting your ranking up lately, but now that that's over, they've started shipping again."
It wasn't just the shippers, either. Many others were taking note of the relationship between Jiang Xun and Gu Wei.
[They can't possibly be 'normal friends'. There was nothing normal about their interactions on Weibo.]
[Definitely not normal friends. Everyone on Team TMW is protecting Gu Wei.]
[I guess we have to wait for their official announcement… or we could ask Jiang Ying.]
Gu Wei's agency was still refusing all interview requests. They had no intentions of making a statement on the plagiarism scandal or on the relationship between Gu Wei and Jiang Xun.
Ever since Gu Wei snuck out to meet Jiang Xun and came back with a hickey, Manager Zhao had been vigilantly guarding the door to their rehearsal room while the boys polished up their performance for their concert tour.
So, before the start of their tour, Gu Wei didn't get another chance to sneak out.
Finally, in April, T.ATW's long-awaited national tour began right on schedule. The first performance was due to be in H City, where their agency was located.
Little hedgehogs from all around the country assembled in front of the stadium, excitedly planning their cheers for the concert.
"Senbei, give everyone a set of the new banners and badges," said Arare. She was busy getting everyone organized. Nearly every member of the little hedgehogs' defense squad had gathered at the venue.
"We have two sets left over," the little hedgehog named Senbei said. "Sunny Doll and Edible Crab aren't here?"
Arare checked her phone. "Doll texted me five minutes ago and said they'd be coming together… ah, they're here!"
"Arare!" The girl with the twin buns had dressed up for the concert. She wore red lipstick and a red overcoat, paired with a short dress. That day, she looked exceptionally good.
"And this is…?" One of the little hedgehogs noticed the person next to Sunny Doll. That person was wearing sunglasses and a face mask.
"From the group. The one with a gold mine. The one who just took grad school entrance exams?" Arare guessed with a knowing smirk.
The other hedgehogs all widened their eyes and exclaimed, in unison, "Edible Crab?!"
One of the little hedgehogs soon recognized the person next to Sunny Doll. "Aren't you that… Jiang…"
Arare quickly clapped a hand over that little hedgehog's mouth and stopped her from finishing that educated guess. With her other hand, she gestured for Senbei to give Jiang Xun a set of the banners and badges. "Okay, let's all stay calm. No need to make a big deal out of this. We're all little hedgehogs here."
The defense squad started to file into the stadium. The little hedgehogs near the back began to whisper amongst themselves.
"Is that Jiang Xun? He's so handsome. Why is he so handsome? Are esports players supposed to be that handsome?"
"Ah, ah, ahhhhh… what am I going to do? I'm about to turn into a shipper. I won't be kicked out of the group, will I?"
"Don't worry. I'm about to convert too."
"Jiang Xun really spoils our Weiwei. I can't believe he was Edible Crab all along."
"Okay, as a mom fan, I can rest easy. Weiwei is in good hands."
As the start of the concert drew near, all the lights in the stadium gradually went down. The light-up banners and signs in the audience flickered on one by one, soon creating a sea of lights in the crowd. Yi Qing, with a lollipop in her mouth, took a bunch of selfies and showed them off on Weibo.
Very soon, her post gained a few comments—
[sunny why are you so beautiful today!!!]
[Sunny-meimei has finally started chasing idols on her main.]
[Does Jiang Xun know you're skipping work to go star chasing?]
[Wait, look at the last picture. The person next to her… isn't that Jiang Xun?]
[Just who are they chasing? Even Jiang Xun is there?]
[T.ATW is holding a concert in H City tonight. Are they there to see Gu Wei?]
The scheduled start time of the concert drew nearer and nearer. Gradually, silence descended upon the stadium. Only the glittering support banners glowed in the dark.
Slowly, T.ATW's logo appeared on the big screen above the stage. The crowd began to cheer with fervor.
The concert began with a short video documenting T.ATW's journey from their formation to now. A great deal of never-before-seen footage was included in that clip.
Two and a half years ago, T.ATW was formed. Five inexperienced boys met and embarked on a journey together. The footage showed a clip from their rehearsal room. It was very late at night, and the five boys had been practicing tirelessly all day. Now, they were all sleeping right there on the floorboards.
Two years ago, T.ATW began to gain attention. They attracted their first fans. Fu Zhi and Luo Chenxuan steadily grew more and more popular. But then, just as they were gaining some traction, a piece of dance choreography for their first hit single brought them a world of trouble.
The video showed Gu Wei sitting by his window; often, he would just sit there from morning to night. Chi Yunkai swore up and down all day. Fu Zhi wrote and rewrote a message for Weibo over and over again, and ultimately—at their agency's request—he had to delete anything and everything he wanted to say.
A year after that, T.ATW's popularity was soaring. They were close to becoming known as a top boy band. Fu Zhi and Luo Chenxuan were wildly popular, and Gu Wei had become well-known for the controversy that surrounded him. Shi Xinyan and Chi Yunkai also saw their popularity rising steadily.
But they were often met by unsightly comments.
Those remarks had been turned into bullet comments, which now streamed across the big screen one by one.
[He'll be ruined sooner or later.]
[Gu Wei is shameless. No one in T.ATW has any decency.]
It went on and on. Until finally, one month ago, T.ATW's official Weibo account released the surveillance footage that cleared Gu Wei's name.
"That incident was like a dark cloud," Fu Zhi said in a pre-recorded message that played over the video. "Every time T.ATW or Weiwei accomplished something, someone would always bring that up to tear him down. But we knew. We all knew, we'd done nothing wrong."
"We've suffered, and we've endured. We made it because there were five of us, because we've always been together," Luo Chenxuan said in a warm, pleasant voice. "We fight when we play video games together, and we make trouble for Weiwei when we goof around during dance practice. But our little losers club has always been, and will always be, a group.
"And now, it's time. Now, we know. The storm passes. The clouds part."
Luo Chenxuan's final words were accompanied by a burst of light. Those three words, The Clouds Part, illuminated the sky above the stadium and rained light down on the audience.
At the same time, the lights on the stage burst on and revealed all five members of T.ATW standing on the rising platform. For the first song of the night, Fu Zhi had given the center position to Gu Wei.
The music started. To the sounds of the audience's cheers, Gu Wei raced to the edge of the elevated platform and flipped down onto the center of the stage below.
This was one of T.ATW's hit singles. The one they had never been able to perform in front of a live audience after the plagiarism scandal emerged. Now, T.ATW could finally sing this song and perform this dance.
They didn't need to make a stiff, formal statement in any interview. This concert was their response to all the questions the outside world had for them.
The storm had passed; the clouds were parting. T.ATW would continue to rise.
Everyone in the audience was moved by the video and the song that had been locked away for so long. The whole crowd shouted Gu Wei's name, and several little hedgehogs had started to cry.
Jiang Xun had a box of tissues perched on his knee. Yi Qing was to his left, Arare was on his right. Both girls were bawling their eyes out.
Arare reached over and pulled out a tissue. "This is too heartbreaking," she sobbed. "Our Weiwei has been through so much."
Yi Qing elbowed Jiang Xun before taking a tissue for herself. Sniffling, she demanded, "Start crying, boss. Cry right now or I'll know you're a fake fan."
Jiang Xun's eyes were glued to the stage. He watched Gu Wei dance the same dance he had once performed for Jiang Xun alone. It had to be said that this dance, paired with the music and the special effects spilling across the stage, was truly impactful.
After tonight, even more people would know Gu Wei's name.
"Forget it, I know you're not a fake fan." Yi Qing sniffled again. Her tears had thoroughly smudged her makeup. Between sobs, she added, "My idol chose you, so you can't—you can't bully him."
Jiang Xun knew the person who wanted to cry the most was probably the little kid from his own family.
After the first song ended, the other four members left the stage, leaving Gu Wei alone in the spotlight. The big screen above the stage cut to a camera focused on Gu Wei.
The choreography for this song was incredibly difficult. Jiang Enyuan had cut out the hardest moves when he performed the dance, including the daunting flip at the beginning. But Gu Wei had masterfully performed every move with precision.
Gu Wei, holding the mic, breathed shallowly and flashed a smile for the audience. His eyes glistened with unshed tears.
At that, everyone—not just the little hedgehogs—cheered without restraint.
"Weiwei, we love you!"
"Weiwei, we'll always be here for you!"
"Thank you all for being here for us." Gu Wei didn't bother dwelling on all that he had suffered in the past. He thanked his little hedgehogs earnestly, from the bottom of his heart. "To be honest with you, I really want to cry right now."
Gu Wei shyly quirked the corners of his lips, a little embarrassed.
"But I once promised someone I would only ever cry in front of him," Gu Wei said. "So let me give my smile to all of you. I'll always love dancing, and I'll always work hard to become a better and better Gu Wei.
"Thank you all.
On the big screen, the ring on Gu Wei's finger glinted in the light.
The crowd went wild.