Hanging above the sparse city lights, the sunset spreads across the horizon like the first pigment to seep across a watercolor painting, dying the sky a warm shade of orange.
A mellow night breeze brushes against the cheek of the subject of the photoshoot. His silky-smooth hair dances in the wind. A lean silhouette is formed against the light. His features are obscured by the dimness — a hint of temptation escapes his parted lips and misty eyes.
Snap. Snap. The shutter of the camera works ceaselessly. The photographer gives him an OK sign. “That’s a wrap!”
The last day of advertisement photography is finally over. Li Luo pulls the black coat Deng Liang gives him over the shirt of red satin he’s wearing and walks down the stairs. The empty sleeves and thick hem sway as he walks. His long, thin eyes are red and fierce looking in the cold.
Luxury and danger interweave. It’s as if he’s a vampire haunting the twilight in search of prey.
As the photographer sees this, he can’t help but take a few more shots. These can be used in “behind the scene” bonuses later.
After working for so many days, Li Luo is completely exhausted. He doesn’t want to stay at the shoot location for another second more. Bowing to each of the staff and repeating “thank you for your work,” he then gets into the van along with his entourage.
Before the engine can start, a manager of the brand’s side of things hurries over. “Mr. Li, I suddenly remember that you said you wanted to meet with our boss last time. He just so happens to be coming to England tomorrow. I can arrange a meeting for you if you’d like it.”
Deng Liang recalls that Li Luo did mention wanting to meet with the boss of the brand. Without thinking, he replies. “That’s great. Luo-ge, let’s—”
“No, thank you.” Li Luo politely turns down the offer. “It’s nothing urgent. I wouldn’t want to take up Mr. Zark’s precious time. I’m heading home tonight, anyways, and I have other things going on tomorrow, so I can’t free up any time, either. If we have the opportunity to meet again, please do introduce us to each other.”
The manager: “Yes, of course. Then please rest soon, Mr. Li. You’ve really outdone yourself over the past few days.”
“As I should. Work, right? Thank you for your hard work as well.”
The door closes. The van drives forth along the wide, even path. The heating inside the vehicle is set quite high. Li Luo takes off his coat and uses it as a blanket, resting with his eyes shut. His breaths are even; he seems to have fallen asleep.
Deng Liang sneaks a few looks at him. In the end, he still doesn’t ask Li Luo why he does not want to meet with the boss anymore. It’s not the first time Li Luo changed his mind at the last second, anyways. Being so dense, Deng Liang cannot understand all those tangled thoughts of Li Luo’s.
“Zhao Shanshan said the Chinese publicity ambassador is Yang Jing?”
The sudden question scares Deng Liang. When Deng Liang realises that it came from Li Luo, who still had his eyes shut, he hurries to reply, “Yeah, that’s right.”
“Why would they choose her?”
“I’m not too sure… ‘Publicity ambassador’ is only a title. She was chosen by the Chinese branch of the brand, while you were directly chosen by the headquarters. It’s not the same position.”
“Do you think she’s a good choice?”
Deng Liang finds the question difficult to answer.
Yang Jing is no more than an ordinary actress. She looks good, but there’s nothing unique about her. Among the countless beautiful women in the show-biz, she’s just above average in terms of her figure. Less than a handful of her shows are well-known. She’s mediocre both in terms of name and popularity. Her style is just somewhat similar to that of the G brand’s, but there are many female celebrities, ranking higher than her, who are even more suitable. One would naturally wonder why the brand chose her.
Deng Liang doesn’t know what Li Luo means by this. He doesn’t know if Li Luo and Yang Jing know each other privately either. He can only express his views politely. “I think there’s nothing wrong with Miss Yang being chosen as the publicity ambassador. I just… feel that there might be more suitable options.”
Li Luo snorts. “In my opinion, she doesn’t deserve it.”
Deng Liang: “?” He’s being so curt and straightforward?
Sitting on the single seat by the side, Jin Ren pushes up his glasses. He shuts his laptop and tilts his head slightly, asking, “Luo-ge, are you trying to imply something?”
Deng Liang: “Huh? Is there?”
Li Luo parts his eyes half-open lazily. “Mr. Duan’s subordinate sure is clever, huh?”
“Naturally. Let me know if you need me for anything, Luo-ge. I’m working for you now. It’s all up to you.”
“Very well. I’ll go ahead, then. Investigate the person who is supporting her.”
Confused, Deng Liang tosses questions to both parties. “Luo-ge, why do you want to investigate this? Jin-ge, you’re able to investigate something like this?”
Yet, the two maintain their silence as though it’s planned. One shuts his eyes and goes back to resting, while the other opens his laptop and goes back to typing.
Assistant Deng — helpless, pitiful, and weak — looks left and right. He has no idea why he’s being excluded from the conversation, but he doesn’t dare disturb the two from resting or working. Frustrated, he logs into his account and complains by posting on Weibo.
‘I feel extra QAQ’
His Weibo only has a few dozen fans, all friends and family. His account hasn’t been dug out by Li Luo’s fans yet, which means that he can say whatever he wants. Those he follows are also mostly artistes of his company. As he refreshes the page, he sees Lin Cheng’s new Weibo update, posted a few hours ago.
‘I’m really honored to attend this program!’
Deng Liang looks at the original post. It’s a variety show for singers that has really made a name for itself. The last season’s view count exploded, and a second season was quickly confirmed. The other guests the program invited are all well-known celebrities. Lin Cheng is the youngest among them and also has the fewest fans. Even his flyer is farthest from the center, and he almost seems like background scenery.
As expected, in the comments are many skeptics.
‘Who’s this Lin Cheng? Why haven’t I ever heard of him?’
‘He’s a little too far behind the others, isn’t he? Every single one of the other guests have more than ten times the number of fans he has.”
‘Maybe he’s a dark horse? A surprise competitor?’
‘He’s attended talent shows before. He seemed alright back then. I don’t know if he has improved, but he still can’t compare to these seniors.’
‘I heard they originally wanted to invite Xia Xi’ai, but something happened, so the program could only choose a last-minute substitute.’
‘Oh well. If Xia Xi’ai were here, the program would go viral for sure. With such a third-rate artiste, the view count would probably be a huge chunk lower.’
Deng Liang scrolls through the comments. Almost none of the comments that mention Lin Cheng, apart from those of his fans, are positive. It looks quite pitiful.
He’s been in this industry for a few years now, and he has more or less understood the survival rules of this show business. For example, it’s a good thing to have resources, but it also depends on whether or not the artiste deserves them. For example, like the G brand endorsement. If Lin Cheng really took over, not only would Li Luo’s fans have ripped him apart, even the public would’ve mocked him and speculated maliciously as well.
Those who wish to wear the crown must bear its weight. Lin Cheng is only a pawn who has yet to even step onto the stairs leading to the heights, and the company is already forcing the heavy crown onto his head. Are they trying to crush him?
It’s still uncertain whether or not someone as naive as Lin Cheng, who has just stepped into showbiz and hasn’t experienced many obstacles, would be able to withstand the pressure of gossip.
At night, on the flight back to China, Deng Liang casually mentions this to Li Luo. Deng Liang never expected that when they get off the plane the next day, the first thing Li Luo does after connecting online is to repost Lin Cheng’s Weibo, throwing his support behind Lin Cheng.
With the repost, the subject immediately starts trending.
Li Luo rarely interacts with other celebrities online. He doesn’t even advertise his own shows often. This is the second time he’s posting on Weibo for the sake of supporting Lin Cheng. All of the fans have realized that this junior holds a special place in Li Luo’s heart. They joke:
‘Wow, Luo-ge spoils Lin-shidi* so much! Even Jiang Liushen doesn’t get this kind of treatment!’
*The words shixiong and shidi are most often seen in wuxia/xianxia settings, but even to this day, they are still used to refer to those who aren’t brothers by blood but rather by mentor. Lin Cheng is a shidi to Li Luo (and vice versa) because they train in the same company
‘So the childhood friend is destined for defeat again? Ughhh! Then starting today, I’m gonna ship the shixiong-shidi pairing too!’
‘Was it because Shen-ge found a new lover, so Luo-ge got jealous and found himself a new lover as well?’
‘The shidi is cute for sure, but he doesn’t look all that smart. But I’ll still support him for the sake of Luo-ge!’
‘I can’t ship them so easily — I’ll view them as a friendship for now. Or else, with how quickly our Luo-ge changes his targets, this ship would probably be dead in two weeks.’
‘What’s so special about this Lin Cheng? He got Luo-ge to think of him so highly — can he teach me his ways? I’m really perplexed.’
Deng Ling is perplexed too. On top of the Weibo repost, Li Luo even goes out of his way to visit the company, saying he wants to have a chat with Lin Cheng to relieve some of his stress.
Behind Li Luo, Deng Liang asks, “Luo-ge, you really care about Lin Cheng, don’t you? There are so many other artistes at our company, but he’s the only one you care so much about.”
Walking ahead, Li Luo seems as if he’s going to the dance room. Lazily, he replies, “Because he’s the nicest and most dedicated. Who doesn’t like a kid like that? I really wanted such a younger brother when I was young. It’s quite a shame.”
“What’s quite a shame? Your mom didn’t want another child?”
“I don’t know if she wanted one or not, but in the end, I never ended up getting a younger brother.”
Not only did he not get a younger brother, even his mom left him. His dad was busy with work as well, and he didn’t really talk to his dad then anyways. As a result, during the years of his adolescence when he needed companionship the most, there was no one who could listen to him at home.
Back then, Li Luo really longed for an obedient younger brother who could play games with him and do homework with him. Then, at night, they could chat about anything in the world.
Lin Cheng was probably his ideal for a younger brother. But right now, he prefers to be an older brother who takes care of this pure and innocent younger brother.
Li Luo stops in front of the dance room, looking through the dark, clear glass of the door. Three or four trainees are dancing inside, their ages no more than eighteen. They release a sense of youthfulness as they spin and leap, their hair dampened by sweat and flitting in the air. Their T-shirts are stained with darkened patches of sweat.
Lin Cheng is at a position closer to the front, diligently learning the moves from the teacher. Even as sweat stings his eyes, he doesn’t have the spare time to wipe it away. A little clumsily, he tries his best to clear his eyes by blinking.
He doesn’t have a background in dance, and only started learning later. Among the others, he’s neither the best nor the most talented, but he sure works the hardest.
Li Luo can still remember how thin and small Lin Cheng looked when he first came to the company, almost a little malnourished. When the teacher helped him stretch, his tragic wail could be heard throughout the entire building.
When Li Luo heard it, he was on another floor. He even mocked unsympathetically, “Is the new trainee doing alright? He’s howling so much — I bet he wouldn’t hold out for long.”
Yet, with unmatchable hard work, Lin Cheng managed to hold out until now. After the year-or-so of training, his dancing looks much better.
When the dance ends, the trainees are given some time to rest. Just as Deng Liang is about to knock on the door, he hears two voices from the corner of the hallway:
“… What’s he still training for? He’s got so many good resources. It’s great to have a very strong support, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, he almost took Luo-ge’s endorsement. Damn. Even at Luo-ge’s level—”
Two trainees who have gone to get water turn around and into the hallway, running into the two people standing before the dance room’s door. With a glare from those cold eyes, they can’t help but swallow everything they’re about to say, standing there frozen.
“Luo-ge… Y-You’re back…”
“For now, I’ll pretend like I didn’t hear what you just said.” Li Luo’s voice was cold too. “But if I hear you two gossip behind other people’s backs again… You should know that Mr. Luo still listens to what I say.”
“We won’t do it again!” Trembling, the two trainees shake their heads, looking like rattle-drums.
Li Luo gives them another vicious look. The two young trainees are scared speechless, their lips tight as though sewn together.
“That’s more like it.”
For the time being, Li Luo lets them go. He then pushes open the dance room’s door and enters, calling out to the trainees resting at the side, “Great work, everyone.”
Lin Cheng’s eyes light up the moment he catches sight of him. He doesn’t even wipe his sweat as he dashes over. “Luo-ge! You’re back!”
Li Luo grins. “Done training?”
“Yeah! But I want to practice some more. It’s not like I have anything to do afterwards, anyways.”
“You do. I’m treating you to some good food. Wanna come?”
Lin Cheng is a little surprised, but he immediately beams. “Of course, of course!”
“I’ll be taking Lin Cheng with me, alright?” Li Luo tells the dance teacher before he leaves the dance room with Lin Cheng.
Deng Liang has only walked a few steps behind them when he sees his boss turn around and say, “Xiao-Dengzi, go see if Lao-Luo needs me for anything. Report to me tomorrow. I’ll take Lin Cheng to dinner first.”
What he means is: don’t follow us; come back tomorrow.
Gazing at the two leaving figures, Assistant Deng stays where he’s standing, alone.
If one day people started shipping Li Luo and him, considering how much contempt his Luo-ge has for him, it’d probably be an extremely unpopular ship with no fan content.