The first week of Worlds had been a big disappointment for KG and Tian Tian. And the second week was the complete opposite. Tian Tian had single-handedly carried his team to the knockout stage of the tournament. He’d gotten a 5-man ultimate with Hecarim, and he’d shown to the world just how good of a Riven player he was. His fans had appeared from everywhere, flooding the online landscape with messages about his skills. They told everyone who wanted to listen that KG RoundyRound deserved to be crowned a King, since he was the best Toplaner in the entire world!
Tian Tian was proud of his performance in the second half of the group stage. He only felt more confident when he read the messages on social media. It’d felt like the entire world, every last human being walking this planet, had lifted him up onto their shoulders. Like they were all chanting his name. And most importantly, Lin Feng was at the head of them. Lin Feng was back in his life! And Lin Feng believed in him.
KG made it all the way to the semifinals at Worlds. That was where they ran into SSK. Tian Tian knew this was going to be a far bigger challenge than any of the previous matches. But the fans were chanting his name, and he had Lin Feng by his side again. That sparked confidence. He’d spent an entire week mumbling to himself about how Lin Feng believed in him and how he couldn’t let his fans down. He hyped himself up and really started believing that his team stood a chance against SSK. But nothing could’ve prepared them for that series. SSK was far better than he’d ever imagined. KG got crushed and lost the series 0-3.
No one blamed Tian Tian for the loss against SSK. His fans were still posting on social media, talking about how good his performance at Worlds had been. Even Lin Feng called him multiple times, expressing just how proud he was. But Tian Tian didn’t feel proud. He felt guilty and responsible for the loss. I-if only I was better, like Lin Feng… I-I could’ve carried harder and won! Maybe then I wouldn’t have let them all down…
After returning to China, Tian Tian had barely gotten more than a couple hours of sleep each night. He kept tossing and turning in his bed, thinking back to the semifinals against SSK. Every mistake, no matter how big or small, played on repeat in his mind. After which an alternate scenario popped up. One in which he didn’t make that mistake. One where he ultimately won the series, and where his fans and Lin Feng were proud of him. Truly proud.
And when sleep did get him, it was always the same nightmare. Lin Feng stood in front of him, looking him up and down, and said, “Was that all you have in you? You couldn’t even beat SSK? I’m disappointed in you, Fatty. Maybe I should just leave again, just like last time. You weren’t worthy then either.” Then he’d wake up in a bed wet with sweat and tears, his stomach heaving and bile rushing up his throat. Lin Feng leaving him all those years ago was one of the worst days in his life, something he’d blamed himself for. And now that Lin Feng was back, he was terrified that it’d happen again.
Tian Tian lifted his face off the table at the hotpot restaurant and wiped away the snot and tears from his face. Then he looked up at Lin Feng through water-blurred eyes and sobbed, “L-Lin Feng, so-sor-sorry. I-I—”
Lin Feng knitted his brows and sternly said, “Stop crying.”
Tian Tian’s lips quivered. He covered his face with both his hands and tried to suck the tears back up into the tear glands. I-I’ll try to stop crying. Just don’t leave me again… His elbows fell on the table and he rested his face in his hands, shaking his head. I-I want to stop crying! I’m trying! P-please don’t go!
“Hey, Fatty, look at me,” Lin Feng said. He waited for his friend to look up and then continued, “Don’t apologize. There’s nothing to be sorry about. You didn’t let me or anyone else down. You were fantastic at Worlds.”
Tian Tian felt fresh tears pushing through the old. He rubbed his nose, trying to hide it, and mumbled, “B-but, but I and SSK…”
“You lost to SSK 0-3, right? I know,” Lin Feng cut Tian Tian off. He looked Fatty in the eyes and said slowly, “So what? That was one series, against the best team in the world. You think I could’ve done any better than you?” Lin Feng shook his head. “I couldn’t have. You were really good.”
Tian Tian shook his head, flustered, and argued, “N-no way! If you were playing, you’d have won! B-because you’re the best player in the world! I know you are! You’re better than Rake! Y-you would’ve won. A-and I lost! I let you down. Again!”
“No,” Lin Feng cut in. “You didn’t let me down. Not back then and not now. Rake is better than I am, for now anyway. I’d have lost. But you were there, and you put up a fight. Just for that, I’m proud of you.”
Tian Tian bit on his lips and continued to argue, “B-but didn’t you beat that Fizz earlier? You said he was probably a pro player… L-look what you did to him!”
Lin Feng waved his hand and countered, “I said he might be a pro. We don’t know for sure. Plus, he was being way too aggressive and I was playing on one of my best Champions. It was a combination of different things that got me snowballing so hard.” He took a deep breath and then continued, “And so what if he is a pro? At best, he’s playing for some random LSPL team. The fact that I beat him doesn’t mean anything.”
Tian Tian opened and closed his mouth. H-he’s right. He was the best Midlaner in the world. E-even if he isn’t as good as back then, beating some LSPL Midlaner should be easy for him… B-but he only just came back and is already beating a professional player! He looked away from Lin Feng and said, “B-but… but…”
Lin Feng smiled at his friend and said, “It’s fine. You don’t need to spare my feelings. I know I’m not as good as I was back in Season 1. I’ve got a long way to go.” He clenched his fist and added, “But I’m back. I’m only going to get better. And when we’re ready, we’re going to win Worlds. You and I, together. And I’ll finally beat Rake too!”
Tian Tian looked up at Lin Feng, confused. H-he looks so confident. He sounds so sure of himself… He suddenly felt a jolt of surprise when he met Lin Feng’s fiery gaze. H-he hasn’t given up on me. He’s still here! H-he hasn’t left me again! A smile broke through his face of tears and snot and he nodded. “Yeah! I believe in you! You can beat Rake! You’re going to win Worlds!”
Lin Feng laughed and said, “We, Fatty, we’re going to win Worlds! Anyway, I’m starving! Quick, tell me what you want already! I’ll go and order!”
The waiter brought the hotpot and ingredients over to Lin Feng and Tian Tian’s table, carrying a delicious smell. The two friends grabbed their chopsticks, licking their lips in expectation. Food was good for their nerves. It was the same now as it was back in Season 1, when they’d clean out a whole kitchen the night before a big game. The waiter kept bringing more food, and the two friends wolfed it all down. In half an hour, they ate more than the average customer ate in an entire week.
Tian Tian burped loudly and rubbed his stomach, pushing his seventh empty bowl away. “Whew, I’m stuffed! That was so good!”
Lin Feng also rubbed his stomach in satisfaction, and replied, “Yeah. That’s what I call a feast!”
The two friends grinned and then leaned back, giving the food time to digest in their stomachs. Their eyes started feeling heavy, the early signs of the after dinner dip. They were looking at each other, smiling and letting the food coma take them. Tian Tian closed his eyes and allowed his head to process everything that happened. He’d seen Lin Feng in the flesh for the first time in four years. He’s still the same. I-I’m so happy! Ahhhh! And this food was so good!
“Hey, Fatty…” Lin Feng said, breaking the silence.
Tian Tian snapped out of his daze and looked at Lin Feng. “Hm-huh? What?”
Lin Feng looked up at the ceiling, counting the dirty dots and feeling a knot twisting in his stomach. I’ve been putting this off for too long. I can’t keep walking away from it. They were all my friends. And I walked away from them. They must hate me. But Fatty has been great… He felt his throat sore up and knew that if he postponed this question any longer, he would never ask it.
Tian Tian asked in confusion, “What’s wrong?”
I have to ask it now. Come on, Lin Feng. Put on your big boy pants. You’ve been pushing this off long enough as it is. The knot in his stomach twisted even harder. He felt the urge to puke, but forced it down. He moved his lips around, but kept them firmly pressed together. Then he scratched his forehead, hiding his shame behind his hand, and mumbled, “Tell me about Eleven, Autumn, and Silent. How are they?”
Eleven was the Jungler of Lin Feng’s Season 1 superteam, Autumn was the Support and Silent the ad-carry. But they weren’t just his teammates. Lin Feng loved them like brothers. And he hated himself so incredibly much for walking away from them four years ago. He wanted to punch something, preferably himself, in frustration every time he thought back to those days. He’d abandoned his brothers. And he’d left them without any ability to contact him. I abandoned them. I let them down. He suddenly felt incredibly nervous. What if something is wrong with them? What if… He spread his fingers just enough so he could see Tian Tian through them. I hope they’re doing well. I hope that they can forgive me…
Chu Fang walked through the hallways of the Shanghai Esports Association headquarters to the president’s office. He knocked twice on the door before inviting himself inside. This was the largest office in the building that gave a beautiful look over the center of Shanghai, large windows covering two of the four walls. The president had added a reading corner to one side, with a large bookshelf backed up against the far wall. On the other side stood a single desk. Fang Hao, president of the Shanghai Esports Association, sat behind it, looking through some documents. Chu Fang raised his hand to his mouth and lightly coughed. “Uh, sir? You were looking for me?”
Fang Hao glanced up from his work at Chu Fang. Then he nodded and said, “Ah, you’re here. Take a seat.”
Chu Fang sat down with a straight back in one of the two large chairs across the desk from Fang Hao. Then he waited for his boss to talk.
“The Beijing Esports Association sent an email earlier today. Did you see it?” Fang Hao asked. He searched through a large stack of papers and took one out from the middle of the pile. Glancing over its contents, he continued, “It’s about the Winter Collegiate Cup.”
Chu Fang nodded and replied, “Yes, I’ve read it.”
Fang Hao nodded and said, “Good. We’re in charge of the preliminaries and the Finals. I want you to get in touch with your contacts and start setting everything up. When you have the basic infrastructure in place, report back to me.”
“Understood, sir,” Chu Fang accepted. “I’ll have it ready for you by Thursday at the latest.”Fang Hao nodded in approval and then added, “Oh right, one more thing. The guys in Beijing pushed for a small change. They want to invite the strongest high school teams from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to participate in the Winter Collegiate Cup. Since you organized the Shanghai 16 School Tournament, I think you have a better idea of which players are potential candidates…”