Huo Ren’s spirits immediately lifted.
Getting the candy was secondary; he just wanted to go back and see him soon.
Just hearing the words “young master” made him sleep soundly at night.
In most situations, Huo Ren needed to maintain a composed demeanor. He couldn’t say or do the wrong thing, and he couldn’t have any improper expressions.
He was the North Star of the entire Corona group, serving as the core of the team.
Only when facing Pei Ruye was he like a sheltered child.
— All disguises would be seen through, so it was better to openly show the child within.
Over time, he felt somewhat embarrassed.
He’s mature and calm in front of others, but reveals his vulnerability in front of his teacher. How weak.
He wondered if his teacher would find him annoying.
However, he couldn’t get the orange gummies.
In addition to recording the show with Lu Jie this week, they also had to go to the neighboring city to promote their new album on a variety show, requiring an extra two-day stay.
“Saturday Starlight Show” was an entertainment variety show. The competition wasn’t as intense as “New Star King” or “Musi Strongest Chart.” The focus was more on showcasing the lively and fun side of the artists, playing games, singing, and dancing.
The nanny van typically had four rows. Bo Jue got in first and habitually sat in the last row.
Long Jia immediately squeezed in after him.
“Sit in the front.”
Bo Jue glared at him and shrank into the corner.
Once the van started moving, the teammates in the front started chatting and laughing.
“Little Teacher Bo,” Long Jia leaned on his shoulder, his soft hair brushing against Bo Jue’s ear, “How did I do with my lyrics?”
“Not good,” Bo Xue responded coldly, “It’s too cheesy.”
“Then give them back.”
Long Jia’s eyes sparkled with mischief, and he suddenly gave Bo Jue a peck on the cheek.
“Keep it well. I’ll write more for you in the future.”
Bo Jue’s cheeks turned slightly red, and he turned his head away, pretending not to notice.
Yet, he allowed this brown-haired lion to lean on his shoulder and sleep the entire journey.
By the time they arrived at the TV station, as usual, fans had gathered at both the back and front entrances, waving their posters and passionately supporting.
A large champagne rose wall was lined up, with colorful ribbons and balloons floating around.
“There’s no need to go to such lengths,” Huo Ren signed autographs for them one by one, advising with a face mask on, “Be careful of catching a cold, it’s getting colder again.”
Even though it was the end of March, there was still a lingering chill of spring in the air.
Suddenly, Mei Shengyao spoke up, “Captain, I’m a bit cold.”
Huo Ren paused in his actions, noticing the twinkle in the young one’s eyes.
There’s no need for such antics after completing the task.
Fans beside them tried hard to control their emotions, covering their mouths.
“If you’re cold, go inside,” Huo Ren said, not indulging his playful antics, “It’s warmer there.”
Mei Shengyao stared at him with a teasing smile.
“…Just this once.” Huo Ren took off his scarf, wrapping it around the younger one.
The young man extended his arms to let him wrap the scarf around, taking his arm and walking forward.
“Hurry up, we’re going to be late.”
Fans nearby were almost fainting from excitement.
Yao Yao, you’re just taking advantage of the captain’s good temperament and know he won’t scold you!
There are so many of us here, with our phones and cameras on, and you dare to openly act spoiled!
At the back of the group, Bo Jue looked confused. Only after entering the TV station did he nudge Xie Lianyun.
“What’s going on between them?”
“Teammate bond,” Xie Lianyun replied expressionlessly, “I’ve asked both of them privately, they truly consider it a teammate bond.”
They had been to this show last year. The main segment was playing games and having fun, with a performance of the lead song as a side note.
Every time they were on such shows, Uncle Jiang would watch from an angle off-camera, ensuring Huo Ren would deliberately underperform out of courtesy.
— He had a history of doing so.
When Corona first participated in the fifteen-player All-Star Werewolf game, young Huo Ren, right after his first round of speech, cleanly pointed out all four werewolves and four deities, from micro-expressions to hidden meanings to logical flaws. His five-minute speech was impeccable.
As a result, the planned hour-and-a-half recording was swiftly concluded in just twenty minutes.
The four werewolves, including Long Jia and Xie Lianyun, were left utterly defeated.
What’s the fun in playing this? It’s not fun at all.
At that time, Uncle Jiang, holding the young boy, apologized to the producer and then sent them to participate in the recording of the “Saturday Starlight Show”.
Then came the “Guess My Drawing” segment.
Although Huo Ren had no art foundation and his lines required intermittent tracing and supplementing, when he wasn’t holding back, he performed like a human printer.
The newcomer groups by their side promptly admitted defeat, refusing to compete.
So, watching Corona dominate variety show segments became a regular team-building activity for the “Gem Sisters” fandom.
It was fun to do so, but they also risked offending others.
Uncle Jiang, being the shrewd person he was, knew well that Corona’s rising popularity would attract envy and possible hostilities. He often reminded the team to remain humble and respectful in all circumstances and took no small amount of time lecturing the captain.
Huo Ren felt wronged.
I held back.
I really did.
How much more could I possibly hold back?
“Welcome to ‘Saturday Starlight Show’—!”
The three hosts kicked off the show with joy, and the atmosphere in the studio was relaxed.
After the regular procedures, it was time for the much-anticipated game challenge segment.
“Our first game is — Limbo!”
The game was simple; players had to bend backward and pass under a horizontal bar without touching it or knocking it over. The challenge was really about controlling one’s entire body.
“The height of the bar can only be lowered, so the difficulty will keep increasing,” the host chuckled. “So, red team, blue team, who wants to go first?”
A flurry of thoughts raced through Huo Ren’s mind.
If Xiao Chi took the challenge, he’d 200% max out the difficulty level, gracefully bending backward to pass under the bar and even doing a split on the go.
“Absolutely not,” Huo Ren thought, “Uncle Jiang would definitely glare at me to death.”
Just as Xiao Chi was about to raise his hand, Huo Ren quickly held him back, grabbing Chi Ji’s wrist and turning to Bo Jue. “Jue-ge, why don’t you go?”
Bo Jue’s face read, ‘What did I do wrong for you to treat me like this?’
Chi Ji grumbled silently, allowing Huo Ren to guide him.
“Oh, by the way, Jue has had a stiff neck for the past few days,” Huo Ren said, turning quickly with a desperate look to survive the situation, “How about Yun-ge?”
Xie Lianyun: …?
Thus, the red team faced a crushing defeat.
The blue team, consisting of four newly-debuted young boys, cheered in celebration. “Well done!!”
“A’Feng is the best!”
The hosts and the regular audience members said nothing, just smiling warmly.
After all, it’s just a game. As long as it’s fun, it’s all good.
The second segment was the Sound Localization Challenge.
Contestants had to sit in a suspended, soundproof box and identify the direction of sounds coming from two to four different sources accurately.
Huo Ren felt that it wasn’t just Uncle Jiang putting him on the spot; the show’s producers were doing it too.
Yun-ge and Jue-ge could easily identify the location, duration, and pitch of five sounds, even identifying chord progressions. Everyone else, including himself, had trained for this as well.
“I’ll do it,” he suddenly announced.
The young idols on the opposite side looked a bit nervous.
“Please guide us, senior!”
The show continued, and both of them sat in the glass soundproof boxes, attempting to pinpoint the origin of the sounds.
After observing the scores for a while in the resting area, Bo Jue turned with a frown, “Is Huo Ren trying to control the score?”
Several of the errors he made seemed inexplicable. If they were in the practice room, he’d have surely reprimanded him.
Could it be… intentional?
“Yes,” Xie Lianyun said lazily, “Uncle Jiang is still keeping an eye on him from below.”
“The score is 21 to 18! It’s very close now!” the host shouted. “Let’s congratulate the red team!”
The other five quickly put on their signature smiles, catching their captain as he descended from the air.
Huo Ren glanced at the score and sighed in relief.
Thank goodness, he thought, I can report back now.
The young idols nearby were also smiling and high-fiving their teammates.
“We didn’t lose by much! Keep it up!”
“There’s still a chance!”
After the first half of the recording, Huo Ren went backstage and took a short three-minute break.
Games are so tough, he thought.
Mei Shengyao sat beside him, offering him a water bottle.
“Are you hungry?” Huo Ren asked Yao, “I brought oatmeal cookies.”
“I’m good.” Mei Shengyao replied, reaching out to brush off a speck of dust from Huo Ren’s collar. “You had some dirt on you.”
“I’m so tired,” Huo Ren whispered, “I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
Suddenly, the host, Dudu, rushed over.
“Excuse me,” she quickly removed the earpiece from Huo Ren’s neck, “We had some equipment issues!”
Huo Ren blinked, “Meaning?”
Dudu removed the battery, bowing apologetically, “The wireless control wasn’t working properly. Everything you just said…”
… was broadcasted over the stage’s sound system.
That segment wasn’t captured by the cameras, but the audience heard every word. Within moments, the conversation spread across official forums, social media platforms, and fan communities.
“OMG, do they realize what they just said?”
“MeiHuo is real! Everyone bow down!!”
Fans who were originally protective of their idols, insisting there was no romantic involvement between team members, were now in a state of shock.
The evidence was overwhelming, and many felt like jumping ship to ship the pairing.
The content was so genuine, not shipping them would be inhumane!
Meanwhile, the trending topic shot up, reaching the second spot on the social media platform’s hot search list in no time.
The “HuoYao” pairing swiftly dominated the top spot on the couple rankings, unseating “YunRen” which had been the leader for quite some time.
Various fanfiction sprung up like mushrooms after a rain, exploring every possible universe and storyline.
In one story, the sword demon is seduced by the fiery tail feather of a phoenix, and they share passionate moments in a vast oceanic cosmos.
In another, a downtrodden youth is adopted by a wealthy family and is unsuspectingly devoured by a seemingly innocent younger brother.
And there were even ABO (Alpha, Beta, Omega) universe stories where all six members were perfectly matched. The creativity was endless.
Isn’t a seemingly soft but actually cunning younger brother the ultimate domineering character?!!
And the team leader, who usually plays an alpha role, is depicted as the one who’s dominated and made to cry – isn’t that tantalizing?!
It’s all about romance! It’s about grooming a love story from youth!
Uncle Jiang was trying to wrap his head around it all.
He had been busy scouting venues for a concert recently and hadn’t been online much.
…What did they even say? They just talked about cookies. How does that translate to romance?!
Is it even possible for those two kids to be in love? No way!
As a manager for so long, his primary concerns regarding relationships were if Xie Lianyun was fooling around online or if Long Jia was being pursued by some heiress.
The notion that Huo Ren and Yao Yao were dating was so absurd to him that he wouldn’t believe it even if it trended on hot search.
But somehow, rumors started, and all they needed was some evidence.
Unknown to all, someone had recorded their backstage chatter and discreetly uploaded it with an anonymous account.
: This can’t be a publicity stunt! No TV host would be part of it! The timing of the equipment malfunction is just too suspicious! I want to hear more!!
: I always thought it was a one-sided affection from Yao to Ren, but the recording clearly shows mutual affection! Huo Ren, you’ve hidden it so deep, seemingly refusing but actually indulging him, even being playful backstage. I am dead! I am resurrected! I can love again–
: What was Huo Ren doing last night that he didn’t get enough sleep?!
: OMG, as a pure fan of the duo, I don’t usually ship, but finding out how soft the usually icy-alpha Huo Ren is behind the scenes… that husky voice is just criminal!
Huo Ren buried his face in his hands after checking his phone.
It’s over. His teacher will definitely see the trending topics.
He hadn’t even gotten his candy yet, and now he was too embarrassed to meet him…
“Huo Huo,” Bo Jue sat next to him, cautiously asking, “You and Yao Yao…”
“Our relationship is really… just that of teammates,” Huo Ren took a deep breath, “I talk to all of you like this, don’t I?”
“And if I were in a relationship, how could I possibly hide it from you?” He felt he had given something away and quickly corrected himself, “I mean, I won’t be in a relationship. It’s absolutely impossible.”
Bo Jue lowered his gaze, replying softly, “Brother, I believe you.”
There were still five ordinary participants left to record for “Royal Crown Makeup Room,” but due to personal reasons, they would have to wait at least half a month. This delay conveniently allowed the team to return to the 16th floor and prepare for the next round of concerts.
Huo Ren had gotten used to being playfully paired up with various members, and he always laughed along with staff jokes about it. But today, he felt a bit uneasy inside. He knew that his teacher didn’t have feelings for him in that way, but he was still afraid of misunderstandings.
The six members entered the ‘Beehive’ dance practice room in a single file. At the entrance, a bowl was filled with orange gummy candies.
Guarding the candies, Wei Jie waved them over, “Go ahead and take some. Boss Pei brought these back from Germany. I barely got any for myself.”
“Wow! Boss Pei is so kind~~”
“They must be those fiber gummies, right? You won’t gain weight from them…”
Xie Lianyun sampled a couple, then noticed Huo Ren standing hesitantly at the door.
“Why do you look… a bit upset?” He asked, offering a gummy, “If you don’t come over, Yao Yao and Xiao Chi will finish them.”
“I don’t want any,” Huo Ren replied gloomily.
Weren’t these meant just for me?
You’ve changed, teacher…
Before long, Pei Ruye entered at a leisurely pace, signaling for everyone to find a seat.
“Aren’t we practicing dance?” Chi Ji asked curiously. “There wasn’t even a warm-up today.”
“Not for now,” Pei Ruye replied gently. “I’ve made some modifications to the choreography, and I’ve asked Yao Yao to come up with a new plan.”
Wei Jie stood up and distributed six differently colored folders to them, then continued to review his own consolidated sheet.
The album “Only Remains” portrayed an individual through the group, with innovative lyrics and dance designs.
While “Gemstone Brilliance” and “Absurd Sensation” followed the conventional idol route, their intricate dance routines and formations, despite being visually stunning, still lacked distinctiveness amidst the plethora of similar competitive works.
The original intention for their third album was to rotate the main center role. They wanted to maintain a cohesive group resonance while showcasing the unique charm of each member.
“So, my suggestion is to use customized stages and props to represent each of you.”
The projector displayed conceptual designs crafted by the special effects team.
Among the six members, Long Jia’s concept was the most clearly defined. His song was titled “Prison”, and the props team had decided on creating various types of prisons to dynamically set up the stage. This ranged from mythical cages with blood-colored chains to American-styled solitary confinement settings.
In the choreography, the six of them could each play different roles: the imprisoned, the jailer, the rescuer, and the jailbreak master. By integrating stage movements with lyrics, the performance would be outstanding.
“Long Jia, review the design concepts when you get back and let me know which one you like.”
Bo Jue peeked at the folder containing peculiar cage designs, his cheeks inexplicably reddening a bit.
“But for the others,” Pei Ruye pressed his temple, “there are more options and we need to discuss in detail.”
Dance and music are similar. Creation is one thing, while interpretation is another. Adding special effects and storytelling can drastically change the presentation and results, making the whole process quite artistic.
Mei Shengyao’s work was “Broken Gold”, and Bo Jue only wrote “Deep Sleep”. The company’s design team provided over a dozen alternative designs, each looking very enticing.
Chi Ji carefully reviewed his part, then suddenly unfolded a design for everyone to see.
“Is this… a bathtub?”
Pei Ruye nodded with a smile, “Want to try it?”
SPF had always splurged when it came to production, employing renowned designers for various concepts.
The design that Chi Ji presented was both unique and exquisite. The main visual was of a dark, still pool of water. On its surface floated iridescent glass spheres, refracting and shimmering light. At the center of this lustrous pool was a copper bathtub.
Pei Ruye was familiar with the dance specialties of all the members and always highlighted their strengths in productions.
Bo Jue and Xie Lianyun, being less physically enduring, could utilize their instrumental performances to reduce energy consumption while still shining. Long Jia and Mei Shengyao, with their dynamic control, were suitable for more challenging routines, capturing the audience with their body language.
Xiao Chi’s strength in this area was indeed worth refining. He seemed like an innocent being raised in Eden, utterly shameless and boldly provocative when performing, as if born for the stage.
Wei Jie stood up to fetch a prop, setting up a rectangular cardboard box in front of them.
“Why don’t you try lying inside?”
Chi Zhi quickly curled up inside, his long and slender legs resting on the edges.
“It’s quite suitable for dancing.” Xiao Chi got into character, shifting his posture fluidly, reminiscent of a mermaid.
Although confined in a small space, he seemed even more agile due to the limitations. Kneeling or lying down, his movements were unrestricted, and his legs emanated allure.
Mei Shengyao shifted uncomfortably, turning his head away. He then noticed that both Xie Lianyun and Long Jia also averted their gazes, in a kind of respectful discomfort.
“You guys really need to get over your embarrassment,” Bo Jue teased. “What are you imagining while looking at Xiao Chi?”
“As for your song ‘Flame in Hand’,” Pei Ruye began, squatting next to the bathtub, seemingly conversing with the ‘merman’, “I’ve consulted with a special effects expert. We can use chemicals to create the illusion of flames floating on water. It’s safe.”
“But there are other design options…”
“I like this one!” Chi Zhi gleefully replied, lying next to the bathtub, “Thank you, Boss Pei!”
“Alright,” Wei Jie handed him another stack of prepared folders, “Then you choose a bathtub design.”
Chi Ji stared, “There are so many.”
There were designs of eggshell, hexagonal, copper, platinum…
Xie Lianyun leaned over, “Hey, the bird’s nest design would be perfect for our balcony.”
“Xie Lianyun, are you out of your mind?” Bo Jue nudged him, “Who would want to bathe on the balcony?!”
Meanwhile, Uncle Jiang was in an administrative meeting.
He had just finished essential tasks and was back to review updates.
SPF’s PR department was seemingly deteriorating over the years.
The Corona group, with its vast activities, had a lot on its plate. Yet now, even Qi Lin, the son of CEO Qi, was mired in controversies with endless scandals attached to his name.
Uncle Jiang , being a major shareholder and the general manager of Corona, was deeply concerned.
“What exactly is happening?”
“In the past, when we dealt with such PR crises, it was manageable,” said the head of the PR department, “But now, everyone with a phone can become a troll or a fan, making it hard for us to control the narrative.”
Previously, the gap between celebrities and the public was vast, and leaks were primarily managed through TV journalists and newspapers. Now, with the proliferation of social media, containing negative publicity is almost impossible.
Especially when rival companies had hundreds of marketing accounts across different platforms, shaping the narrative became even more complex.
In today’s digital age, ensuring a unified narrative is nearly impossible. Even powerful figures, like Qi Lin, can’t remove negative posts entirely.
With the internet so vast and multifaceted, attempting to bury a scandal by paying off is like pouring money into a bottomless pit.
Moreover, every now and then, they have to clarify one rumor after another. Today they clear up this one, tomorrow that one. Does the company still have time to do business?
“This won’t do. You can’t placate me with such excuses,” Uncle Jiang breathed deeply, “Redo the emergency event handling plan. If you lack connections or resources, write a proposal, and I’ll approve it. We can’t keep being passive.”
The other PR team members nodded in agreement and left with their files, looking dejected.
He lit a cigarette in the conference room, his eyes filled with seriousness and fatigue.
Times are changing, but they might not necessarily keep up.
Corona was now in the limelight and had to face too many challenges and criticisms.
… He needed to talk to Huo Ren again.
That kid was smarter than anyone. He would surely have a solution.
Huo Ren stayed back after the session.
His folder was empty, containing only the lyrics to two songs.
Previously, while producing the album, he had written two songs, both of which already had their music videos filmed.
One was “Cold Gleam,” and the other was “Clouds by the School Gate.”
Logically, the concert stage design should resemble the music videos, maybe recreate a school backdrop, classrooms, or simulate a gang fight with the dance troupe.
But the folder was empty.
He stood at the door, clutching the bright red folder. The bowl of orange gummies was empty.
Pei Ruye packed up his things and glanced sideways at him, “Not leaving?”
“Teacher,” Huo Ren spoke softly, “You can’t treat me like this.”
The candies were meant for everyone, and the spotlight should be for his brothers.
“You can’t be like this.”
Pei Ruye paused for a moment, then smirked, “You talk as if I’ve done something wrong. What’s not right?”
Huo Ren subconsciously looked at the empty bowl, feeling embarrassed. He lifted the folder and said, “This.”
“Teacher,” he said earnestly, “Where’s my part?”
After thinking for a moment, Pei Ruye approached him.
As Pei Ruye neared, Huo Ren’s heartbeat skipped a beat.
Instinctively, he stepped back, his respect and fantasies intertwining.
“Come with me.”
The man murmured softly and headed out with his keys.
The sixteenth floor was vast.
Besides the gym, the hive dance studio, the conference room, and several smaller dance rooms, there were also bathrooms and storerooms.
Following behind him, Huo Ren felt like a traveler lost in a forest.
Pei Ruye stopped in front of a deep red wooden door and unlocked it with his key.
The room inside was pitch dark, with no light seeping through.
“Dare to enter?” the man looked over at him.
Though initially hesitant, Huo Ren, upon hearing the challenge, straightened his back and walked in confidently.
Pei Ruye couldn’t help but chuckle.
So trusting and innocent, not even afraid of being deceived.
As the lights came on, the interior furnishings became clear.
This room was different from the other dance rooms. Its walls were of a pale tea color, with no windows or chairs.
The only feature was six pear-wood-framed full-length mirrors in the center of the room, like gateways to six different worlds.
“I took the liberty,” Pei Ruye began slowly, “to choose for you.”
Huo Ren’s expression shifted as he approached the mirrors.
The six mirrors formed a circular 360-degree view, reminiscent of blooming petals of quicksilver.
With each step he took, the tall, aloof young man in the mirror mirrored his movements.
“Last year, when I taught you the tie dance in the fitting room, I suddenly had this inspiration.”
“But if I asked you and your teammates to dance like this, it would ruin this beauty.”
Pei Ruye didn’t step into the circle of mirrors but spoke from behind him.
“If you accept, you will be the center of these six mirrors.”
And they would dance outside the mirrors, holding lights in the darkness, illuminating and reflecting you.
Back when Huo Ren was a trainee, he wasn’t accustomed to looking in mirrors.
Media had once commented on his sharp and handsome features, and he agreed.
With clear-cut features and profound eyes, even he would unconsciously avert his gaze when looking at his own reflection.
Now, he stood before six reflections of himself.
Side view, front view, rear view, each was crystal clear and unblemished.
“Teacher,” Huo Ren turned his head to look at him, “What kind of person do you think I am?”
Pei Ruye looked deeply into his eyes and replied after a pause, “Do you need an answer?”
“Yes, I want to hear it.”
Pei Ruye leaned against the wall, silent for a long moment before speaking.
He wouldn’t lie to him, so now it felt as if he was revealing his innermost feelings, slowly recounting the past.
“At first, I thought you were like a rusted longsword that had never been sharpened.”
Life’s adversities had covered and damaged your sharpness.
You needed to be honed, reforged.
“As I got to know you better, I felt you were a student worth cherishing.”
Smart, keen, transparent, and resilient.
Out of admiration for a kindred spirit, he was willing to give and teach everything without reservation.
Pei Ruye looked down with a faint smile, falling into silence once more.
Later, I saw you fall from a platinum nest, wearing a robe and a crown, walking forward against the light amidst thousands.
Behind you was a brilliant sea of gold, beside you was snow filling the sky.
I was captivated, became your follower.
I am your teacher, your confidant, and also a devotee mesmerized by your radiance.
“Later,” he finally spoke, hiding all his true feelings, “I felt you were a dazzling person.”
These six mirrors are meant for you to dance with yourself.
That alone is enough.
Praised by him, Huo Ren felt a rush of admiration and acknowledgment, his eyes lit up with the warmth of a spring thaw.
“Teacher, teach me,” he said softly.
Pei Ruye moved closer, standing with him in front of the central full-length mirror.
He grasped the young man’s wrist, guiding him to touch the mirror.
Cool white fingertips traced along his lips, then meandered downward, reaching across the mirror to touch the Adam’s apple and collarbone.
Huo Ren’s breathing suddenly became unsteady.
The man seemed oblivious, holding his palm and tracing the same person’s reflection in the mirror.
“…Have you heard of Narcissus?”
A handsome young man, infatuated with his own reflection by the lakeside, ultimately met his demise, turning into a cluster of daffodils on the shore.
Huo Ren paused, then suddenly posed an unrelated question.
“Teacher, do you also think I’m very good-looking?”
Pei Ruye continued to gaze at their side-by-side reflections in the mirror, a faint smile playing on his lips.
“More than just good-looking.”