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Falling Into Marriage

Chapter Text

Bai Yu crawled up from the floor onto the couch, feeling as though all the bones in his body were falling apart. His head felt as though it had been repeatedly punched by eighty different people for the whole night, his temples were throbbing, and his veins seemed on the verge of bursting open.

Not far away, Zhu Yilong slept with only half his body on the bed, his posture unseemly. Of course, that was still better than falling off the couch to sleep on the floor like Bai Yu.

“How come Long-ge[1] didn’t wake me up so I could move to the bed to sleep? Talk about wasting the money spent on the hotel room!” he wanted to grumble. Before he had time to voice his complaint however, his phone vibrated loudly on the floor. Massaging his temples, Bai Yu knelt down only to be greeted by a whole screen full of notifications and missed calls. The latest notification was a WeChat message from his manager, its tone downright hysterical.

“Bai Yu!!!! If you still won’t pick up your phone, then just wait for your death!!!!!”

Bai Yu’s rapport with others had always been pretty good, whether it came to interpersonal relationships or his dedicated attitude towards work. He could be considered fairly popular within his company[2], and he rarely made his manager angry. Now, looking at the over fifty missed calls and the more than a hundred WeChat notifications, he broke out into a cold sweat. His instincts told him that a major disaster had occurred.

He knew he hadn’t done anything improper lately, and he wasn’t someone who had harmful hobbies. This trip with Zhu Yilong shouldn’t be the issue either, since he had given his company a heads up about it early on.

It had been two years now since Guardian finished airing. In that time, although he and Zhu Yilong didn’t work together again, they privately maintained their friendship. They had never deliberately sold their bromance to promote the show in the first place, it had always been something genuine. So even though they didn’t openly associate with each other, privately they always did as they pleased. If Bai Yu was free, he’d invite Zhu Yilong to play video games. If they happened to be in the same place, they’d meet up for dinner to chat and ramble in high spirits.

The only thing they hadn’t managed was fulfilling their Happy Camp promise to “escape the noise and go on vacation together.” It wasn’t that Bai Yu never brought it up to Zhu Yilong, but their schedules had always been too full, shooting one project after another, until almost two years had passed before they finally had a free month. The risk-taking spirit of two Aries reached unanimous heights, deciding to take a road trip to the United States West Coast.

They set off from San Francisco, driving along the coastline, finally arriving at the famous casino town of Las Vegas last night. Not only were they in the renowned entertainment capital, but Bai Yu was also someone who knew how to have fun, not to mention this was a rare opportunity for them both to let loose. Grabbing Zhu Yilong, Bai Yu made sure they visited every landmark they should, not missing any of the important experiences. Finally, the two people whose drinking capacity weren’t all that great ended up in their current hungover state.

Don’t tell him that after he got drunk, he streaked in the streets and ended up in the news? Bai Yu thought things over a hundred times, but remained perplexed.

Sighing, Bai Yu resigned himself to his fate and opened WeChat. Amidst a sea of news, he quickly found the relevant keyword - marriage.

Marriage… marriage???

Bai Yu sprung up from the couch, scattered memories that had been buried by his hangover swiftly coming back to him.

He remembered holding the whiskey bottle as he leaned against Zhu Yilong.

“Gege[3], does Las Vegas have any specialty products, things like souvenirs? Unrelated to gambling.”

“I’m not sure, let me check.” Zhu Yilong glanced at him, his speech slow. He was clearly not all there anymore, needing several tries before successfully taking out his phone. Then he sloppily typed in the words, taking quite awhile to obtain the answer. “Marriage.”

“Long-ge, what did you say?”

“Marriage. Las Vegas is the marriage capital,” repeated Zhu Yilong.

Bai Yu stared at him, laughing foolishly. After a long time, he slapped the desk, draining the remaining whiskey. “Marriage! Good! It wasn’t easy getting here, we need to make sure we leave with a proper souvenir. Let’s get married!”

Zhu Yilong seemed as though he wasn’t sure how to react, staring blankly at Bai Yu.

Bai Yu threw his arm around Zhu Yilong’s shoulders. “Long-ge, let’s get married.”

Looking at that inconspicuous English certificate sitting amidst the mess on table, Bai Yu almost wished he could throttle himself. That saying about drinking having a tendency to botch things up was right. He had always kept himself in check, whether it was for his own health or something else, he never drank too much. He never thought that the first time he drank until he blacked out, he’d make such a huge mistake.

The large letters spelling out “Marriage” on the certificate seemed like a dagger aimed at his heart. Staring at the ceiling and sighing, Bai Yu lamented that this world didn’t have any time machines. Even if he couldn’t go back and smash up all the alcohol he drank, he’d like to hold down that hand of his that sent out the Weibo post.

Getting married wasn’t scary. Accidentally marrying your good friend[4] after getting drunk wasn’t scary either. What was scary was marrying your good friend, then sending a Weibo post announcing your marriage. Bai Yu wished he could give himself eighty slaps to the face.

At that time, they had just muddled through the wedding ceremony at the chapel. Zhu Yilong hadn’t even made it out of the chapel before he staggered onto the white chair.

Next to him, Bai Yu was barely holding himself together, laughing himself breathless. Grabbing their marriage certificate, he stuffed it in Zhu Yilong’s hands.

With his cheeks hot from drinking and his large eyes hazy, Zhu Yilong then rested his hands on the back of his chair, letting the marriage certificate cover half of his face.

“Such an important moment, let me take a picture to mark the occasion…” Bai Yu murmured as he took out his phone and found a good angle. “Long-ge is indeed handsome.”

Looking exhausted, Zhu Yilong closed his eyes. It wasn’t clear whether he caught what was said. Bai Yu looked over the picture, becoming more and more pleased. Adding a few filters to it in the app, it looked even more like a work of art.

“Long-ge and I, good friends for life…” Bai Yu attached the picture, then slowly typed in the caption letter by letter. Finally, his hand slipped, and for better or worse, the post was sent out.

He sat there in a daze for awhile, feeling as though something wasn’t quite right. He pushed the already-sleeping Zhu Yilong’s shoulders.

“Long-ge, Long-ge.”

“What are you doing?” asked Zhu Yilong without opening his eyes.

“Are you a good friend or not? Quick, reblog my Weibo post!”

Zhu Yilong looked completely disconnected, blinking those large innocent eyes of his for a long time before asking, “Where’s my phone?”

Bai Yu immediately burst out laughing. “Long-ge, it looks like you’re pretty drunk, you can’t even remember where you put your phone!”

Zhu Yilong looked him and started laughing as well. He only laughed, though, and didn’t talk.

Leaning over, Bai Yu randomly groped Zhu Yilong all over in search of his phone. After having his hand slapped away several times, he finally pulled the phone out of Zhu Yilong’s pockets.

“Quick, say ‘for life’ with me.”

“What ‘for life’?” Zhu Yilong had no idea what he was talking about.

Bai Yu made a disapproving sound. Rubbing his eyes, he helped find the Weibo icon, and jabbed open the app. The post he had just sent was currently the #1 trending post on the home page.

“This one! It’s this post!” Bai Yu shouted excitedly. “Reblog it.”

“What are you talking about?” Zhu Yilong took his phone, and poked around several times before finding the correct button.

“You want to spend your life with me.”

Zhu Yilong obediently typed in the words. “You want to spend your life with me."

Coming back from those fuzzy, disconnected memories, Bai Yu raised his head to the ceiling and let out a long wail. With trembling hands, he opened his Weibo.

No matter how hard he prayed for all this to be a dream, he still saw that top trending post on his home page.

Not only was this not a dream, it was worse than what he remembered. Let’s not mention how he never finished typing the words he meant to write. He had no idea if it was his hand slipping, or if it was his muddled brain responsible, but that Weibo post also added location information, which just happened to be that famous little white wedding chapel. Looking at that picture of Zhu Yilong holding that wedding certificate with his gaze lowered and his face red, then seeing the dreamy filter he added, and finally reading the words “My Long-ge, for life”[5] - Bai Yu wanted to die on the spot.

Zhu Yilong’s trending post somehow had no mistakes in it. Very clearly and unequivocally, it had the words “You want to spend your life with me.” Not even the subjects were switched.

Bai Yu buried his head in his hands, calming himself for a long while before finally accepting his fate. Standing up, he walked towards Zhu Yilong, who was almost falling off the bed.

“Long-ge, Long-ge, gege.”

Bai Yu called out several times before Zhu Yilong finally opened a pair of hazy eyes. “I have a splitting headache” was written all over his face.

Bai Yu knelt in front of him with a grave expression. “Long-ge, you’re not going to believe this, but you’re a family man now.”

“What?” Zhu Yilong’s eyes widened, obviously not sure where Bai Yu was going with this.

“And that family is me.”

“Did you drink yourself stupid?”

“No.” Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong’s shoulders to console him. “We got married.”

Bai Yu and Zhu Yilong sat side-by-side on the couch, looking at the videos on the iPad in front of them. The situation on the other side of the video was pure chaos. It took a long time for things to calm down. Finally, Bai Yu’s manager sat down rigidly in front of them. On another screen was Zhu Yilong’s manager Li Chan, whose complexion was pale. For a moment, no one spoke, the atmosphere filled with unrivaled awkwardness.

“You two have caused a huge disaster.” This opening statement was blunt, but for the two people obediently sitting like little kids who knew they were in trouble, there was nothing they could say to refute it.

Not only was this a huge disaster, it was even more of a calamity than Sun Wukong wreaking havoc in the Heavens. They were both actors whose careers were on the rise. They were both straight. They hadn’t even touched the matter of marriage before, yet now they’ve somehow become each other’s husbands. Just hearing about this was absurd. Even though support for gay marriage was higher than it had been before, there are still plenty of critics. Even forgetting the opinion of outsiders, how were they going to explain this to their family and friends?

“The minute you went public, Weibo pretty much exploded. I think you can guess what happened. Plenty of people are insulting you, but you also have a lot of people supporting and congratulating you. What do you two plan to do?”

Bai Yu lowered his head, twisting his hands before finally answering. “Then… Then I’ll go… divorce Long-ge right now?”

No matter how he said it, the word “divorce” was so awkward he almost tied his tongue in knots. He glanced at Zhu Yilong, whose face twitched at the mention of divorce, before returning to his normal, even-tempered expression.

“You can’t divorce! Last night you said you wanted to spend the rest of your life with him, and today you want to divorce? Do you plan to quit acting? Would you like the scumbag playboy reputation to stay with you?”

“So what you’re saying is…” Bai Yu’s heart pounded at this assessment of his situation. “I should tell the truth?”

“Do you think anyone would believe you?” asked his manager. “Even if they did, do you want to throw away your image? Breaking the bank gambling in Las Vegas, getting drunk, and then casually getting married?”

“I didn’t gamble with any large stakes.” Bai Yu rubbed his forehead. “And… and Long-ge can’t count as casual! But if we can’t treat this as real or fake, then what should we do?”

Zhu Yilong, who had been sitting silently, suddenly spoke. “Come out of the closet.”

The two managers sighed in relief. “It’s still Teacher Zhu who is astute. You two will come out of the closet, move in with each other, and spend your days properly together.”

Hearing the words “coming out of the closet” and “moving in,” was like getting hit with a hammer, making them see stars. It took them a long time to continue.

“Come out of the closet? Long-ge and I are both straight!”

“I know.” His manager answered coldly. “Our companies have discussed this, and it’s the best damage control plan we have. Guardian has finished airing for a long time now, neither of you have collaborated on anything together, so the likelihood of being accused of using this as a publicity stunt is low. Right now, acceptance for gay marriage is relatively high, so public opinion should be easy to control.”

“But it’s not possible for Long-ge and I to be married.”

“You can pretend this is another project, and that you’re acting. Would that work?”

Bai Yu wanted to say something more, but ultimately decided to keep quiet. It wasn’t that it couldn’t work. But there was no one he felt more at ease with than Long-ge, nor had he felt such a genuine connection with anyone else. All their interactions were so natural and comfortable. Now that they suddenly had to act out the role of lovers, no matter how he thought about it, there was no way around the awkwardness.

Zhu Yilong didn’t speak either. When Bai Yu let out a sigh and leaned back on the couch, he patted Bai Yu on the arm comfortingly. “What are the specifics?”

“There’s no need to be nervous.” His manager’s expression eased somewhat. “You don’t have to make any public displays of affection. As much as possible, try to keep your interactions natural. No one will pry into your private lives, and if there are, the company will take care of it. All you two need to do is spend some more time interacting with each other, and live together when you’re off work. Otherwise, you don’t need to do anything too different from what you’re doing now.”

“And there’s another thing that you have to remember. You can’t be seen behaving intimately with any woman. Or man, for that matter. If someone takes a picture of either of you cheating, then you’re finished.”

“…” Bai Yu’s lips quirked. “Why does this sentence sound so weird?”

“After two years, when all this has blown over, you two can get an amicable divorce, leaving without any hard feelings.”

“No. This sentence sounds even weirder.” It was summer, yet Bai Yu felt goosebumps on his skin.

“Of course, if you don’t want to divorce, that’s fine too.”

“Divorce, divorce, divorce! How can I interfere with Long-ge finding a partner?” Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong’s shoulders. “We definitely need to divorce.”

Maybe because it was the first time anyone spoke of divorce with such righteousness, but Zhu Yilong laughed out loud.

“Long-ge.” Bai Yu turned to look at him. “We’ll still be good friends after divorcing, won’t we?”

Zhu Yilong paused for a second, before giving a helpless laugh. “Who asks questions like this?”

“Then let me change the question. Will we still be good friends after getting married?”

“…” Zhu Yilong’s face was full of exasperation. “We will. We already got married.”

Bai Yu finally relaxed, his whole body sagging down onto the couch. Letting out a long sigh, his eyes curved as he finally laughed. “Indeed, Long-ge is right. We’re already married, may as well make the best of it. We can always divorce later.”

Chapter Text

Bai Yu held the iPad with the draft of questions & answers, the text densely packed together. His mind was buzzing, his manager’s thousands of instructions and countless entreaties echoing in his brain like a playground’s missing person announcement. For example, he had to buy the other person jewelry in his own style. When they were both attending an event together, they had to be more intimate. Also, unless there were special circumstances, they had to wear their wedding rings. And so on and so forth.

“Long-ge, tell me, why aren’t our wedding rings good enough? I think they reflect the area’s distinguishing features pretty well.” Bai Yu held his hand out, looking over the ring. On his middle finger, he wore a golden, dice-styled ring. Although it glittered in the light, a single touch gave away the fact that it was plastic. He couldn’t remember too clearly, but he probably bought it off a vending machine or from a roadside stall.

When Bai Yu took Zhu Yilong’s hand and showed off these distinctive rings to their managers, they practically wanted to reach through the screen to throttle him.

“You two dated for three years before getting married after many careful considerations. Don’t think you can get away with using a trinket from a roadside stall!”

Hearing that they had dated for three years, Bai Yu furrowed his brows, though he quickly resumed his irreverent attitude.

“Don’t you think this is funny?” Bai Yu held up his own ring next to the one on Zhu Yilong’s hand. “So distinctive! So awesome! Is there any celebrity whose wedding ring is more awesome than this?”

“Xiao Bai[1]…” Zhu Yilong laughed helplessly.

“If you two really like it, you can take some pictures. But your official wedding rings definitely can’t be this one! Whether it’s Cartier, Tiffany, or another brand, buy a proper pair to wear before coming home!”

In reality, there wasn’t anything to like or dislike. They were just drunk and messing around. But as though he genuinely liked it, Bai Yu actually pulled out his phone and click-click-click took several pictures.

“Okay, Long-ge, let’s coordinate our testimonies.” Bai Yu put away his phone and gestured at the long draft of questions and answers.

“Can you not phrase it like we’re accomplices?”

“Aren’t we, though?” laughed Bai Yu. “Long-ge, we’re currently two grasshoppers on the same rope, two people buried in love’s tomb together![2]

“… Can you pick some nicer words to use?”

“The good thing is: Luckily, we aren’t in love, so stepping into the tomb won’t affect us! Isn’t that right, Long-ge?”

Zhu Yilong looked at him askance. “If you say so.”

In that “testimony” were many of the questions the media were likely to ask about their relationship, along with sample answers, the specifics of which they could decide on with their own publicity team.

The questions were extremely detailed, from dating to marriage, it was like a family member grilling a prospective suitor. When it came to the first few questions, there weren’t many objections. For example, they got together when they were filming Guardian and dated in secret for three years. There wasn’t any special turning point, they very naturally walked onto the same path together.

Although the two of them didn’t have any objections, Bai Yu couldn’t help but find it strange. He and Zhu Yilong actually were very close during the filming of Guardian, but they were only good friends! Turning that into a romantic relationship made even their daily breakfasts at the noodle shop seem like a clandestine affair.

What kind of situation was this?!

“Next question: Who confessed his feelings first, and what did he say?” Bai Yu clicked his tongue. “What kind of ‘Truth or Dare’ style question is this?”

“Who confessed first?” Zhu Yilong gave him a questioning look.

“Probably me. You’re so shy and easily embarrassed, I’m definitely the one who said something first.” Bai Yu scratched his head. “As for what I said… That really is tough. I’ve never confessed to a man before.”

Seeing Bai Yu watch him attentively, Zhu Yilong furrowed his brows. “What are you looking at me for? I’ve never done it either.”

“Ai, Long-ge, you’re the target of my confession. I’m just trying to find inspiration!” Bai Yu rubbed his chin, thinking hard. After a while, he slapped his thigh, then stuttered out a heavily accented sentence. “How did you light my heart on fire?”

Zhu Yilong never thought Bai Yu would still remember something from so long ago. Outsiders’ Wuhan accents are too off-base, so it took him awhile to react. He shoved Bai Yu, exasperated. “Go away!”

Bai Yu was already doubled over laughing. “I was joking! I was just joking!”

Once he started laughing, he couldn’t stop. It was only when his manager, who had been stuck listening to all this over the phone, roared at him that he finally stopped. Bai Yu cleared his throat, pulled a few ugly expressions to relax his sore facial muscles. Switching to a more solemn expression, he turned to look into Zhu Yilong’s eyes.

For a moment, Zhu Yilong had no idea what to say. Bai Yu’s eyes held countless emotions, all of it aimed straight at his heart, taking his breath away.

Looking into his eyes with a gentle smile, Bai Yu spoke not too quickly nor too slowly. “Long-ge. I like you. Can we be together? I really like you.”

The words were simple, without any embellishment, but the emotions in Bai Yu’s eyes were so vivid they could have single-handedly pushed Zhu Yilong into an abyss.

“All right.” Zhu Yilong’s answer came so smoothly even he could barely believe it.

“Right, that’s exactly how it happened!” Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong’s shoulder, grinning like a boy who just got a perfect score on an exam.

A little taken aback, Zhu Yilong stared blankly before reacting, hastily moving onto the next question. “Why date for so long before going public?”

“Going public? Would anyone believe it?”

“Bai Yu, take this more seriously!” His manager’s voice sounded from his phone.

“We just wanted to give everyone a bit of a surprise! That feeling of ‘Wow’!” When Bai Yu read those lines, he added an exaggerated emphasis to the last word.

In a split second, Zhu Yilong suddenly returned to that scene years ago when he laughed so hard his mask almost fell off. Unable to hold back, he burst out laughing.

Bai Yu laughed too, looking at Zhu Yilong with a pleased expression, his legs bouncing.

The two of them were like sketch comedy partners. Every question needed a repeated back-and-forth between them, each complementing the other’s answers. Bai Yu’s answer wasn’t serious enough, so Zhu Yilong earnestly answered for him.

“Because Xiao Bai and I are very sincere about our feelings. We wanted to properly let them develop little by little, and to steadily stay at each other’s side. So we didn’t want to allow the outside world to interfere, and we didn’t want our fans to be affected either. Besides, we’re both actors who only want to focus on our work. This is our private life, and we want to keep it low-key.”

“Then why did you choose to publicly announce your wedding?” Bai Yu picked up the next question.

“We weren’t prepared before, but we are prepared now.”

“What are you prepared for?”

“To spend the rest of our lives together.”

“Indeed.” Bai Yu nodded. “Long-ge is still the one who has a way with words. Besides, when it comes to marriage, it’s a joy that’s best shared with others.”

“Next question: As two male actors who came out of the closet and got married, are you under much pressure?”

“The pressure is insane!” exclaimed Bai Yu, exaggerating his reaction before toning things down. “Of course there’s pressure, but with Long-ge here, I’m not afraid.”

Who knew if he was truly unafraid or only pretending? Zhu Yilong looked at the light in Bai Yu’s eyes, and for a moment, he unexpectedly found himself unable to tell truth from fiction. He lowered his head and thoughtfully answered. “Fortunately, we’re both actors, and are happy as long as our work is successful. Being together with Xiao Bai, pressure becomes motivation.”

“Ai! Long-ge is too awesome!” Bai Yu applauded from the sidelines. “Even I was touched by that answer.”

The next question was about the proposal. When Bai Yu saw the sample answer suggest that this road-trip was carefully planned by Zhu Yilong for his proposal, Bai Yu broke out into a fit of laughter loud enough to shatter the heavens and the earth.

“Ahahahahahaha! How is this possible? Long-ge doesn’t even use travel guides, and you want him to carefully plan something?” Bai Yu threw his arm over Zhu Yilong’s shoulders, swaying them back and forth. “Besides, Long-ge is so shy, isn’t that right?”

Zhu Yilong shook off Bai Yu’s arm. “Then how would you answer?”

“It’s impossible for you to propose. I’ll propose.”

“Try to recall the original scene,” his manager reminded them.

“Ah? The proposal scene? I got down on one knee, and then I said: ‘Long-ge…’”

“No good! This is too conventional and too straight[3]!” his manager interrupted sternly.

“Please! I am a straight guy, okay?”

“You’re not right now!”

Bai Yu stuck out his tongue. “Then what should I say?”

“Did you find a place with good scenery during your trip?”

“Highway No. 1. California Highway No. 1.” Bai Yu seemed to have thought of something. He turned to look at Zhu Yilong, who nodded back at him. “Long-ge was driving at the time. It was almost sunset, golden light shone on the mountainside, and the ocean was bright blue. And I thought to myself: This is wonderful. I want to spend the rest of my life with him.”

Time returned to that day in an instant. They drove alone on that long road that stretched along the coastline. Twilight’s glow spilled over the mountain rocks, reflecting on the gleaming waves of the clear blue ocean. Bai Yu sat in the passenger seat, humming the theme song to his new show. At that time, he did have a thought. If this road never ended, that would be wonderful.

Once the two of them finished coordinating their “testimonies,” they were parched and exhausted. They were already hungover, added to that how long they spent on the road the day before, they were ready to faint on the spot.

But having caused such a big disaster, it was no longer possible to spend this trip being as carefree and uninhibited as they wished. Their fans on Weibo would be handled by their professional studios, and their companies would also issue a joint statement to the press. Anything else would wait until they were back in China. But other than their fans, the most difficult people to deal with would be their friends and family.

Just as Zhu Yilong was about to fall asleep, Bai Yu’s phone vibrated frantically against the glass, the strident sound almost causing them to roll onto the floor. Bai Yu apologized profusely while picking up the phone. Then he stood up and walked into the adjacent room.

The call was from Bai Yu’s mother. His voice soft, the thirty-year-old Bai Yu’s tone sounded more like an over-sized spoiled child as he apologized to his mother. After much coaxing, the topic turned to Zhu Yilong, and Bai Yu’s smile immediately turned fawning.

“Really, mom. I’m not joking.”

“We even got our marriage certificates. How can this be fake?”

“I’m sorry I was so impulsive. But I really do like Long-ge.”

“Of course I’ll bring him home, don’t worry. How can I not bring him home to meet you?”

“I could never bear to do that! You can stop worrying.”

Bai Yu didn’t plan to tell his mother the truth. His family circumstances were pretty good, and he was the youngest child. While he wasn’t pampered and spoiled since childhood, he was frequently doted on. His parents and two older sisters constantly worried about him. This time, he did something so out-of-line, he saw no reason to let them join him in protecting his secret, adding to their worries. Moreover, the fewer people who knew the truth, the better.

Fortunately, his family had known Zhu Yilong since Guardian. Although they hadn’t met, Bai Yu often brought him up in conversations, and they had many interactions on Weibo. Therefore, they knew that Zhu Yilong was a good-looking and gentle youth. Even though his transformation from their son’s good friend to their son-in-law was a little shocking, it wasn’t something they couldn’t accept.

Putting on his best spoiled and cutesy act, Bai Yu finally managed to coax his mother into going to sleep. Once done, he discovered that Zhu Yilong had moved to lean against the French windows.

With his head lowered, Zhu Yilong spoke into the phone. Sunlight shone through the French windows onto his hair, covering his entire body in a golden glow. The sight was enough to warm the heart and delight the eye. Even from a straight man’s perspective, Bai Yu had to admit, his Long-ge is indeed handsome.

But when this great beauty opened his mouth, out came his Wuhan dialect. “Mom, I’m sorry. He proposed to me. And I like him too much.”

“Pffft hahahahahaha.” Hearing these words in that accent and seeing Zhu Yilong’s earnest expression, the contrast was too much. He couldn’t keep a straight face, laughing so hard his chest hurt.

Zhu Yilong was so startled his whole body shook. He turned to look at Bai Yu.

Sitting on the floor, Bai Yu waved at Zhu Yilong, barely managing to speak. “Keep going, keep going.”

Zhu Yilong turned back, repeating “Yes, yes, I promise” for a long time. Suddenly, he laughed out loud, before grumbling. “No wonder you always say I only have ordinary good looks. It turns out that in your heart, the extremely good-looking people look like Bai Yu.”

Hearing this, Bai Yu immediately scooted forward. He cupped his face with his hands and smiled a smile that was sweeter than honey. “Auntie — Oh no, it should be mom now — mom is so kind to me, but I still think Long-ge is the best-looking.”

“You…” Zhu Yilong choked back the rest of his sentence, his ears turning red. Lifting his leg, he lightly kicked at Bai Yu, who was still on the floor next to him.

This light kick barely touched him, yet Bai Yu fully displayed his acting skills, falling backwards and crying out in pain non-stop.

Zhu Yilong smiled at the sight, only answering after a while: “Mom, I haven’t bullied him. I’ll hang up now, once I’m back in China, I’ll bring him to Wuhan. We can talk then. All right. Good night.”

Hanging up, Zhu Yilong turned to Bai Yu, who now sat cross-legged on the floor beaming at him. Helplessly, he smiled again.

“You got into character pretty quickly.”

“It’s something I have to do! Once we arrive at the airport in China, there’ll be a large number of reporters and fans. I have to protect Long-ge.”

Protecting Long-ge was something Bai Yu had said countless times before. Sometimes Zhu Yilong really wanted to ask him what kind of protecting he was doing by sending him monkey memes every day. But hearing this again, he still couldn’t help but feel as though his heart was melting into something sweet.

Looking out the window at the sky, Bai Yu stretched and yawned, revealing his slender waist. He looked like a lazy, lovable cat.

“Thinking about it, I actually think marrying Long-ge is pretty great. Not only do we know each other inside out, we can even play video games together. How beautiful!”

Zhu Yilong shot him a look, “Nonsense” all but written on his face.

“Long-ge, you’re looking at me like that again!” Bai Yu stood up at once. “Can you stop being so aloof towards me? We’re a married couple after all.”

“Does your conscience not hurt?”

“No.” Bai Yu answered just as quickly as he did in the past. Then he moved in front of Zhu Yilong. “Come here, Long-ge. Use Weiwei’s[4] expression to look at me.”

“What are you doing?”

“Rehearsing! You’re always looking at me with disdain, what if they see through us? What if they say we have an unhappy marriage? Wouldn’t we have failed at the very last step? Long-ge, you can’t be like this! We’re married! We have to be loving and affectionate. A couple in love, the boat’s rope swaying back and forth~[5].”

He was always throwing out preposterous logic, and now he even started singing. Zhu Yilong had no idea how to handle him, and could only pat his arm. “Can you calm down a little?”

“Heipao-gege[6] —Oh, I mean. Long-gege, you’re no fun!”

“Give me my blade, and I’ll cut you down today!”

“That’s no good, Long-ge! It will damage your image!” Bai Yu hid behind the couch, his hands clutching its back, revealing only his eyes. It almost looked like he was actually scared Zhu Yilong might do something.

After while, he poked his head out, then draped his entire body over the back of the couch. Tilting his head, he smiled at Zhu Yilong. “All right, Long-ge. I only want to let you relax a little. Life has to go on, Long-ge. Don’t let a little… er… a little setback make you forget the meaning of travel! Also, marrying me isn’t all that bad, is it? It’s not like I’ll mistreat you! And once we move in together, talking to each other directly without using in-game chat will be much easier! Think of the bright side.”

“I know.” Zhu Yilong walked over and sat down, ruffling Bai Yu’s hair.

“So you don’t have to look so serious.” Like he did many years ago, Bai Yu reached out and nudged up the corners of Zhu Yilong’s mouth, lightly singing. “Can you smile at me as a response?”

Zhu Yilong turned his head, gently gazing at Bai Yu. His lips turned up into a smile that was like scattered rays of sunlight on ice.

Bai Yu stood dazed in place. In an instant, he was transported back to the set of Guardian, the “Shen Wei” in front of him giving him a smile that spanned ten thousand years.

“Long-ge, you… this… it’s too sudden! Give me some time to get in the right state of mind.”

Bai Yu distinctly heard himself swallow hard.

Fuck. This world wasn’t straight[7].

Chapter Text

"Didn't you get into character pretty fast yourself?" Zhu Yilong's words were like a dagger to Bai Yu's heart. Bai Yu wanted to cling to Zhu Yilong's thighs and cry out, "Life is already so difficult. There's no need to shine a light on certain things[1]."

But what kind of person was Bai Yu? Even though there was a magnitude 8 earthquake in his heart, he remained unruffled, his face full of smiles. "Your eyes are too expressive![2]"

Placing a special emphasis on the word "eye," Bai Yu batted his own eyelids. "What is it that the fans love to say? A critical hit! Right, a critical hit!"

"You know quite a lot."

"Of course!" Bai Yu proudly patted his chest. "I'm part of the 90s generation."

At the sight of Bai Yu's scruffy beard, Zhu Yilong couldn't resist reaching out to touch it, turning to laugh at the same time. From where Bai Yu was standing, he clearly saw the sunlight hit Zhu Yilong's profile at just the right angle to highlight his long eyelashes.

"Indeed!" Bai Yu suddenly exclaimed.

"What?" Zhu Yilong tilted his head to look at Bai Yu.

"My childhood friend was telling me, you marrying into my family[3] must have broken so many young girls' hearts. I'm so lucky to have married such a great beauty."

Zhu Yilong almost choked at that. Bai Yu's attitude sure adjusted itself quickly enough, talking big once again. Without a single trace of politeness, Zhu Yilong lightly kicked Bai Yu again. "We're both men, there's no such thing."

"Who says there isn't?" Bai Yu's smile held a hint of mischief. "That questionnaire we had was so detailed, how come it didn't ask who tops?"

"Proper interviews won't ask questions about something that private. If it's too obscene, it can't be broadcast either."

"Indeed. Either way, the shippers are very fierce. I'm sure they've already settled the issue." Bai Yu leaned back, putting his feet on the table, a lazy expression on his face.

The two of them had some understanding of fannish culture. Although they were both straight, what actor these days hadn't been shipped with a same-sex co-star? Not to mention, Guardian was an adaptation of a danmei[4] novel, so it wasn't as though they hadn't peeked at the fanfics and fanart created by the Guardian fans. In addition, to do homework for their roles, they both re-read the original Guardian novel several times.

Bai Yu seemed pretty enthusiastic about this topic, bouncing his leg up and down while he stared at the ceiling. "I'd guess they definitely have me as the top. After all, Long-ge is so shy and looks so pure."

Zhu Yilong, who had just been called "pure" for the first time in his life, once again lost control of the expression on his face. "… You can't win against me in arm-wrestling."

"Long-ge, why did you suddenly bring this up?" Bai Yu immediately turned around. "And what do you mean I can't win against you? If you don't believe it, we can watch Happy Camp again."

"You were the one who said that I threw the game on purpose." Zhu Yilong wore a guileless expression. "You also can't lift as much as I can."

"No, you…" Bai Yu looked left and right at his and Zhu Yilong's arms. "This isn't fighting! That's not how you decide things. Fine fine fine, I can't lift as much as you, so what if you're good at lifting weights? If you're really capable, you'd lift me!"

Seeing Zhu Yilong actually roll up his sleeves to lift him, Bai Yu immediately scrambled to the side, leaping thirty feet[5] in one go. He lifted his hands up in surrender. "Look at you, Long-ge! How can you attack me without a word? Am I still your little Lanlan or not?"

"You're not."

Bai Yu didn't think Zhu Yilong would sever all ties so firmly and decisively. Momentarily taken back, it took several beats before he recovered. With deliberate exaggeration, he sat down heavily on the couch. "Forget it! Let's get divorced!"

Laughing, Zhu Yilong reached out to give him a shove. "Enough. I'll let you send me thirty monkey memes, all right?"

"At least three hundred!"

"Go away! How can there be that many?"

Bai Yu waggled his eyebrows. "Send out a Weibo post, and you'll have them!"

"Let's show some mercy to the poor Weibo employees."

Actually, Zhu Yilong wasn't wrong. It wasn't just the Weibo employees, but the staff members working for the media all wanted to curse them. A perfectly good weekend was thrown into chaos just like that. Yesterday's Weibo post barely had time to calm down before the joint statement from their two companies pushed them all over the precipice again.

Of course, the two people responsible for the disaster didn't have it easy either. Once the statement was released, their phones exploded; family, friends, co-stars, even former classmates they hadn't spoken to for over eight hundred years - all of them practically wanted to drag these two out of their Las Vegas hotel room back to China for questioning.

Leaning against the couch, Zhu Yilong scrolled through his WeChat. He could put off others for now, but he couldn't ignore his close friends. He was in a group chat with Peng Guangyin and Zhai Tianlin, which was currently buzzing with new messages.

Pretty Peng: ???? Zhu Yilong??? You actually deliberately didn't bring me on this trip, didn't you?? I can't believe you even made an insincere show of asking me if I were free!!! Way to go. I don't see you for awhile, and you've become a wife???

Good-Looking Zhai: Awesome

Beautiful Zhu: … Husband

Pretty Peng: Is this the most important point??? How long have you two been dating???? How come I never knew anything about it???

Beautiful Zhu: Not too long

Good-Looking Zhai: We don't see you for awhile and you learned about flash weddings?

Pretty Peng: You don't feel like you're being a bit of a traitor?

Beautiful Zhu: … Talk properly, don't send voice messages.

Good-Looking Zhai: I should have known something was up back during Guardian. I've never seen you this energetic promoting other shows. I was too naive! I let my studies veil my eyes to the truth.

Pretty Peng:

Meme of Zhu Yilong holding a phone

[ Meme Caption: Tell Bai Yu to come out and receive a beating ]

Beautiful Zhu: Stop messing around. Bai Yu's busy right now.

Pretty Peng: What's he busy with? Isn't he honeymooning with you?

Good-Looking Zhai: A married Zhu Yilong is like a bucket of spilled water, he can't turn back. He's already defending his husband.

Pretty Peng: Valuing sex over friendship

Beautiful Zhu:

Meme of Zhu Yilong as the Monkey Man yelling

[ Meme Caption: Shut up! ]

As Zhu Yilong looked over the word "husband" on his screen, his cheeks flushed bright red, and he snuck a peek at Bai Yu.

Sensing Zhu Yilong's gaze, Bai Yu put his phone down. "What is it, gege?"

He looked very sweet, with an even sweeter smile. He was clearly a 30-year-old man with a scruffy beard, yet he was like a spoonful of honey.

"Nothing," answered Zhu Yilong. "I just feel like… marriage is more inconvenient than I thought it'd be."

"Indeed, Long-ge! My hands are sore from answering so many WeChat messages." Bai Yu exaggeratedly shook out the soreness in his hands. "Everyone's coming to rubberneck and congratulate me, some of them I've never even met before."

"If you haven't met them, then don't bother answering."

"You have a point. Has Rong-mei[6] sent you anything? Let me see what she wrote you!" Bai Yu squeezed closer to Zhu Yilong.

Zhu Yilong picked up his phone, and before he even had time to swipe away from his chat screen, Bai Yu's sharp eyes spotted the "Tell Bai Yu to come out and receive a beating" meme and burst out laughing.

"My God! Long-ge, I only married you, how come there are people ganging up to beat me?" Bai Yu's tone was exaggerated. "Life is so hard, really."

"They won't beat you up." Zhu Yilong smiled helplessly, lowering his head to look for Yang Rong's message.

"That's right. My Long-ge knows Muay Thai."

"Not as good as your Mantis Boxing."

"You're always saying you're not as good, but you never fight me. How many years have you been saying this? I'm already prepared." Bai Yu held up his clenched fists.

Seeing this, Zhu Yilong only wanted to laugh. How could this be called Mantis Boxing? It was more like Kitten Boxing. Zhu Yilong reached over to pat Bai Yu's fists, then showed Bai Yu his phone's screen.

Yang Rong's messages weren't long. The first one said, "Am I really under the car right now?"[7] The next message followed: "I wish Teacher Zhu a happy marriage. You and Bai-Shu[8] must not give up!"

Bai Yu rested his chin on Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "Really, why is Rong-mei so gentle when she talks to you? When she talks to me, she's all 'How did you manage to capture Teacher Zhu?' Tell me, how am I supposed to answer that? Teacher Zhu, tell me, how did I manage to capture you?"

It was clear that no one had been captured. More accurately, it wasn't even a matter of capturing anyone, but neither of them brought any of that up. Zhu Yilong lowered his head as though deep in thought, not making a single sound for a very long time.

"Long-ge, look at you, you're giving me a heavy blow! Is it really so difficult to come up with a reason? Can't you just say that I'm handsome?"

"But I'm not a shallow person."

"Then it has to be because my gaming skills are amazing."

"With you being so despicable?" Zhu Yilong showed a disdainful expression.

Bai Yu shook his head, not in the least concerned. "That's not being despicable, it's called battle strategy!"

"Running over your teammate counts as battle strategy now?"

"Damn! Long-ge, you really hold a grudge!"

Zhu Yilong bumped Bai Yu's shoulders. "Don't forget the car you promised me."

"Buy buy buy!" Bai Yu put his arms around Zhu Yilong's neck. "Whatever you want, I'll buy."

From waking up in the morning, to their emergency video conference, to coordinating their testimonies, time flew by in a flash. Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu were both a bit sleepy, as they chatted and answered messages. The headache from their hangover still hadn't faded, and they struggled to keep their eyes open.

Bai Yu nudged Zhu Yilong with his elbow. "Long-ge, you should go to sleep."

"Mm, then you should sleep too. Let's not go out today." It wasn't until Zhu Yilong stood up that they realized this room only had one bed.

This room was actually very spacious, with all the facilities, including an enormous bathtub in the bathroom. The bed was pretty large too, and it even had a rolled up canopy. The whole room's decor had a vaguely romantic feel to it.

Zhu Yilong frowned for a long time before conjuring up a hazy memory from his mind. Bai Yu was pulling his drunken self along, one hand holding a whiskey bottle, the other hand slamming down their wedding certificate. With barely coherent English, Bai Yu had said something about "honeymoon."

Then they checked into this expensive honeymoon suite, not hesitating in the least to pay for it. In fact, when they got their room cards, Bai Yu was so incredibly excited he gave Zhu Yilong a bear hug, and loudly yelled, "We got married!!!"

Remembering this, Zhu Yilong wished he could immediately lose those memories. If only he hadn't acted like a remote-controlled figurine when drunk, doing whatever Bai Yu suggested without even the slightest attempt at saving the situation. In the end, he could only comfort himself with one thought. In this movie's melodramatic plotline, the only fortunate thing was that the two of them preserved at least the last shreds of their integrity, and didn't completely lose all control.

Bai Yu must have been extremely tired. Sprawled out on the bed without a care for his image, he stretched lazily. Seeing Zhu Yilong still standing there staring, Bai Yu patted the place next to him. "Long-ge, come over and sleep."

Usually, it wouldn't have mattered. There weren't that many inhibitions between two straight men. It wasn't like they had never run into a situation where they shared a bed when all the other hotel rooms were booked. But once he thought about the fact that they were married, Zhu Yilong felt discomfort spread through his entire body. Even the calm, open expression on Bai Yu's face transformed into the prelude to a pornographic scene.

Bai Yu turned over and yawned. "Long-ge, what are you doing?"

Zhu Yilong shook his head and let out a long sigh. He walked to the bed, and after steeling his resolve, he stiffly lay down.

Bai Yu looked at Zhu Yilong, who was curled up into a ball in front of him, posture rigid. For a man who was 180-cm tall to take up only so little space, it looked a little pitiful.

"Long-ge, Long-ge." Bai Yu turned on his side and called out.

Zhu Yilong answered, "What is it?"

"Don't sleep so far from me!" said Bai Yu. "Aren't you afraid you'll fall off? There's so much empty space in the middle."

"I… My sleeping habits aren't good. I don't want to roll over onto you later."

"It's fine!" Bai Yu moved in a bit more and poked Zhu Yilong's back, causing him to shiver and turn around with a glare.

Bai Yu ignored the daggers shooting out of Zhu Yilong's eyes, and continued. "Anyway, my sleeping habits aren't great either. I might end up kicking you. If I really kick you, then don't bother to be polite, wake me up! Although it's possible you can't wake me up, so you'll have to use a special technique."

"What special technique?"

"The gentle method is the prince's kiss for a sleeping beauty. The cruel method is to use your fists on my chest."

Zhu Yilong laughed. Turning over, he gestured with his fists. "You're sure I can use my fists?"

"Long-ge won't consider the first method?"



"Your rose thorns[9] are too prickly."

The two of them simultaneously thought of the same meme, and started laughing together.

"Feeling more relaxed, Long-ge? There's no need to be nervous, nothing has changed. We need to get some rest early so we can go out and have fun tomorrow." Bai Yu rested his head on the soft pillows, blinking at Zhu Yilong. "We're flying to Los Angeles tomorrow?"

Zhu Yilong made a noise of agreement. "And we also need to buy our wedding rings, so remember to check the shopping malls over there."

Bai Yu grinned. "Getting married in Las Vegas, buying our wedding rings in Los Angeles. Casino Town, Hollywood, La La Land… My whole life I've never thought about this kind of thing. Life really has endless happy surprises, doesn't it, Long-ge?"

"Aren't you most surprised that the person you married is me?" asked Zhu Yilong. "Maybe the word 'happy' needs to be left out."

"Happy, how can I not be happy?" Bai Yu flipped over on his bed, letting out a deep breath. "My Long-ge is so handsome. Ah right, did you know that I have a song?"

Bai Yu suddenly turned towards Zhu Yilong, rested his chin on his hands, looking into Zhu Yilong's eyes.

"What song?"

"It's called '10:30 in Los Angeles.'[10] Fitting, isn't it?" Bai Yu smugly raised an eyebrow. "I can sing it for you."

"All right."

Bai Yu cleared his throat and began to sing, his voice soft in the quiet hotel room. His gaze never once left those eyes of Zhu Yilong's that were like a clear autumn lake.

"You smiled and said that your wish is too great.
I said we will definitely make it come true.
My dearest beloved, don't be afraid."

Chapter Text

Once they arrived in Los Angeles, the first thing they did was go shopping for wedding rings. They picked up their rental car and set off, with Bai Yu driving and Zhu Yilong giving out directions to the different shops on their list.

Neither of them had any specific ideas about the design of their wedding rings. One reason was that the marriage was too unexpected and too rushed. The other reason was that the two of them had never given any thought what kind of rings suited them in a wedding.

Bai Yu paused his humming, glanced at Zhu Yilong, and asked, "Long-ge, what kind of rings do you like?"

"I'm not sure either." Zhu Yilong kept his eyes on the road.

"Do you want a pigeon egg[1]?"

Zhu Yilong almost sprayed water all over the car windshield. Turning his head, he saw Bai Yu bouncing his leg with a self-satisfied look, even waggling his eyebrows.

"Something more modest would be better."

"Yeah, I think so too." Bai Yu stared out at the road. "Although wouldn't custom-made rings be classier?"

"We don't have enough time."

"We should at least get them engraved!" Bai Yu nodded his head as he spoke. "What do you think we should engrave?"

Hearing Bai Yu actually earnestly discuss the matter with him, Zhu Yilong was at a loss. With a hint of suspicion, he posed a question. "Isn't it just… B and Z? Or Y and L?"

"That's too simple! Too commonplace!"

"Then what do you want to engrave?"

Bai Yu pursed his lips, thinking a bit. Suddenly he licked his lips and grinned. "Hey, Long-ge, I've got a good one! Mango and Monkey. What do you think?"

Fortunately, Zhu Yilong hadn't been drinking anything when Bai Yu revealed the shocking answer. Fixing Bai Yu with a "What's wrong with you?" look, it was a long while before he responded. "I won't argue with you. Either way, I always let you win in the end."

"You don't think it's cute?" Bai Yu blinked innocently. "It brings back so many memories for me."

It had been a crazy summer, where they experienced one of the brightest and most joyful celebrations of their professional careers. In all their memories, it had been a time of unparalleled enthusiasm and brilliance.

Zhu Yilong patted Bai Yu's shoulders. "We must be the first couple to put memes on our wedding rings."

"Indeed." Bai Yu laughed. "Otherwise, wouldn't we be letting down the chat messages we've exchanged?"

Although they hadn't prepared beforehand, when they went about choosing their wedding rings, everything unexpectedly went without a hitch. With very few disagreements, they both settled on a simple, classic ring that was both elegant and high-quality. Trying the rings out, Bai Yu put his hand next to Zhu Yilong's and stared for a good while before smiling. "This pair?"

Zhu Yilong nodded, smiled, and lowered his head to fetch his wallet. Before he could take his credit card out, Bai Yu held down his hand.

"Hey hey hey, Long-ge, what are you doing?"

"Paying?" Zhu Yilong waved his card in front of Bai Yu.

"No need, no need. I was the one who proposed, so I should be the one who buys the rings, right?"

"This isn't like inviting me over dinner." Zhu Yilong gave Bai Yu a helpless look. Sometimes, Bai Yu got especially stubborn about certain things, having an unusual sense of ceremony and imaginative thinking. Zhu Yilong always felt that although Bai Yu looked carefree on the surface, his inner thoughts were far more extensive and meticulous than the average person. It had been Zhu Yilong's good fortune to be able to indulge and share in Bai Yu's hidden heart.

Bai Yu smiled at him. "Just pretend it's me inviting you to dinner. We're married anyway, there will be plenty of chances for you in the future."

When it came to engraving their rings, Bai Yu took the lead. When the designers heard the two words Bai Yu announced, baffled expressions appeared on their faces. Zhu Yilong could see Bai Yu suppressing his laughter, deliberately appearing serious and earnest while discussing the design, though he couldn't quite stop the corners of his mouth curving up.

The ring they chose was plain, its band small and exquisite, making it difficult to engrave the full words onto it. They eventually settled on engraving only "M&M." The engraving would take a full day, so they agreed to come back the next day for their rings. With the sales assistant's congratulations, they left the store side-by-side.

After they left the store, Bai Yu was still holding his phone looking at the pictures he took when they were trying on their rings. In the picture, their fingers rested lightly on top of one another. Maybe it was the lighting, but the two rings seemed to give off glints of unmatched radiance.

"Do you think that chocolate company will sue us for copyright infringement?" asked Bai Yu pensively.

"So you finally thought of this." Zhu Yilong looked at him.

"Long-ge!" Bai Yu nudged Zhu Yilong's shoulder. "Don't always look at me like that. Aren't M&Ms cute? I wish they could magically appear in my bowl right now!"

Once Bai Yu finished speaking, he even made a pose using an expression from a commercial that was who-knows-how-old, making Zhu Yilong laugh despite himself.

"It really is pretty cute."

Hearing this, Bai Yu acted like an arrogant fox sticking its tail up in the air, beaming with pride. He swiped through his pictures again, before sighing and saying in a spoiled tone, "We just passed an important marriage milestone. Should we send out a Weibo? Gege, every time, it's been me taking the initiative. I can get tired too!"

The hint behind those words was too obvious. Zhu Yilong knew immediately what he meant. "Then let me make the post."

Bai Yu gave him an obvious look of surprise, before grabbing his arm. "Do you need me to send you my pictures?"

Zhu Yilong shook his head. "I have my own."

Bai Yu didn't know when Zhu Yilong took his own pictures. He only remembered being in high spirits while Zhu Yilong smiled next to him like he had so many times before over the years - gentle, affectionate and comfortable.

As Zhu Yilong put down his phone and started the car, Bai Yu swiped his own phone's screen, staring at the spinning progress circle. "Gege, what did you send?"

"Look for yourself."

"So mysterious? You didn't post any of my dark history[2], did you?"

Just as he said that, Weibo's new posts finally loaded, with Zhu Yilong's post trending at #1 on the homepage. The post only had two pictures: the first was a picture of Bai Yu's profile as he discussed something with the designer, his brows furrowed; the second was a picture of the computer monitor. The monitor's screen was divided into two sections, the left containing a rendering of "Mango&Monkey" on the ring while the right contained a rendering of "M&M" instead.

Zhu Yilong's accompanying caption wasn't long, yet it almost caused Bai Yu to fall over. The Zhu Yilong who normally only made earnest posts of his endorsements actually wrote the words "I suspect my husband is mentally unbalanced. What should I do? Not urgent. I'm waiting online.[3]"

Seeing the words "my husband" sent a shiver down Bai Yu's back, while the words following it made it so Bai Yu didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

With the normally serious Teacher Zhu suddenly became playful, the comment section was already overflowing with a large number of fans. Bai Yu excitedly looked over the comments, unsurprised to find memes flying everywhere. Some of the comments cried out "Bai Yu gege's legs are so long, he's so handsome, aaaaaah, serious men are the most handsome!" Others exclaimed "Our two geges engraved monkey and mango, that basically means they're inviting the Guardian fans to their wedding!" There were also those asking "Will the two of you be called M&M chocolate husbands?" Of course, the most numerous were the earth-shattering amounts of cracky memes.

Bai Yu swiped through the comments, and was hit by a massive storm of various words of congratulations accompanying all sorts of pictures flying at him.

With the tap of his finger, Bai Yu sent out his reply. "What do you do? Spoil him, of course!"

For a moment, Bai Yu actually felt a little choked up. It was as though he was watching a joyous celebration, where only the people involved knew it was nothing more than an illusion, bound to disappear one day. In truth, there was nothing to be sentimental about. It was just like filming the last scene of a show or movie. He and Zhu Yilong had acted for so many years, and had played so many roles. They couldn't possibly be more used to this.

The only difference was, this time the role he played was himself.

"Long-ge, what do you think we should do with these rings after we divorce?" Bai Yu's question was a little sudden.

Zhu Yilong shot him a brief glance. "Put them away?"

"I think they look pretty nice."

"Then we'll keep them." Zhu Yilong answered smoothly and naturally.

"How can that be done? We're already divorced. The media would talk endlessly about how we can't move on from each other." Bai Yu wrinkled his nose.

"Haven't you always said you don't care what they say?"

Bai Yu lowered his voice, mumbling. "I care when it comes to Long-ge."

Zhu Yilong didn't respond, a frown appearing on his face. The atmosphere inside the car suddenly frosted over.

After awhile, Bai Yu finally let out a short laugh. "I was just randomly venting my feelings. Long-ge, don't take it to heart. When you marry in the future, the ring you buy your wife will be much more beautiful, and custom-made. A large pigeon's egg!"

"You're really passionate about the size of the diamond." Zhu Yilong raised an eyebrow.

"A diamond is forever!"

Zhu Yilong turned and smiled at Bai Yu. "Then I'll buy you one?"

"Hey!" Bai Yu slapped his thigh. "I can't blindly accept that. Long-ge, don't indiscriminately give gifts like that!"

"Who's giving gifts indiscriminately? Aren't you my legally wedded husband?"

"That's technically true…"

It was technically true, but wasn't this all a lie?

Bai Yu didn't know why, but having spoken half of the sentence, he was hit with a sudden attack of conscience. He could only change his mind, awkwardly continuing. "Gege, you…! I don't need something like that. Don't try to coax me like you're coaxing a young girl."

"I only saw that you kept bringing it up."

"For your wife!"

Zhu Yilong turned the steering wheel, slowing down as they passed a band performing in the streets.

"Isn't that you right now?"

Bai Yu's eyes widened, several responses stuck in his throat, unable to speak. Zhu Yilong was focused on the road, where the traffic conditions weren't too smooth, yet a hint of a smile could still be seen on his face.

"Gege, can you stop always verbally taking advantage of me?" Bai Yu indignantly knocked the steering wheel.

This time, they didn't dare let go and get drunk again, returning early to their hotel rooms to rest. The next day, they visited all the important landmarks in Los Angeles, which took up almost all their time. In the afternoon, they picked up their wedding rings, obediently putting them on like their managers told them. Bai Yu held his hand out in front of himself, quite pleased with this new piece of jewelry.

Once they left the shop, they rushed towards Staples Center without stopping. The basketball game here was what interested them the most this time. Their tickets had long since been bought, which was the only part of their trip planning that Zhu Yilong had participated in.

When they arrived, the game hadn't started yet, but there were already many people assembled outside. This was already a tourist spot, and on top of that, there was an important match tonight.

Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu wandered around, taking a bunch of straight guy selfies[4], all of which Bai Yu gave point by point commentaries on.

When "Teacher Zhu" was yelled out in somewhat shoddy Chinese, Zhu Yilong had no reactions at all. It was actually Bai Yu who pulled at his elbow to direct his attention to the two beautiful foreign women who approached them. After a halting conversation in English, accompanied by wild gestures, they finally understood. These two were actually foreign fans of Guardian.

Encountering foreign fans overseas was quite a novel experience. With a smile on his face, Zhu Yilong took pictures with them and gave them autographs. But right before they left, one of them suddenly kissed him on his cheek, gave him a few smiling words of encouragement, before running away.

It left Zhu Yilong standing in place, dazed. Similarly shocked was Bai Yu, who felt an unexpected sour feeling arise in his heart.

"Long-ge really is handsome! Everywhere he goes, he encounters romance."

Zhu Yilong looked up at him, frowning. In a soft voice, he said: "I haven't."

Bai Yu heard the peculiarity in Zhu Yilong's tone at once, causing his heart to thump loudly in his chest. He didn't know where that strange sour feeling came from, but he had to admit it was indeed excessive. Hurriedly rushing over, he knocked shoulders with Zhu Yilong, and spoke with a mix of apology and guilt. "Long-ge, it's nothing, it's nothing! It looks like she didn't manage to kiss you anyway, there's no lipstick on your cheek at all. Let's focus on the positives. Your popularity is now International! Maybe next year, I can see your name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!"

Hearing such grandiose, audacious words gave Zhu Yilong a bit of a shock. Grumbling, he said: "Only you can be daring enough to say this."

"Indeed, because I'm a legitimate Xiao Long Bao[5]. Every day, I brag about you. Today, you're just as beautiful as you always are."

Zhu Yilong barely held himself back from laughing, managing at the last minute to keep a straight face. "Look, you've never checked in on my tag, and you've never done any dabang either[6]… Right? You've never done any of that."

"Then I'll do it right now." Bai Yu took out his phone. "Should I post something to your tag? Does your tag use the same format as mine? What do you think of an exclusive picture? Here, Long-ge, look at the camera!"

Zhu Yilong pushed down Bai Yu's hand at once. "Stop messing around, there's no need to post anything."

Bai Yu tightly gripped Zhu Yilong's hand, grinning like his evil scheme had succeeded. "You said it yourself. Don't blame me in the future!"

The basketball game was extremely exciting, there were few people who wouldn't love to be there watching. For Zhu Yilong, who once dreamed of being a professional basketball player, he was naturally even more passionate, his whole attention focused on the game.

In the blink of an eye, it was already intermission. Bai Yu and Zhu Yilong were still in high spirits after the excitement of the game. Even the normally quiet Zhu Yilong had become noisy.

Suddenly, the music changed, and the people around them all looked up at the jumbotron in the center. Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong's shoulder, indicating that they should look up at the screen, which was framed by exaggerated hearts on the outside, while the screen itself showed the camera panning around the stadium.

This was the Kiss Cam, a popular game where the two people caught by the camera were expected to kiss. This often resulted in many unexpected reactions and amusing spectacles, since the two people captured weren't always sweethearts.

"Long-ge, do you think they'll aim the camera at us?" Bai Yu licked his lips and shook his head. "No, how could there be such a coincidence? How many times would either of us even attend a live NBA game?"

Bai Yu grinned at Zhu Yilong, then turned to take out the food he just bought, accidentally knocking down the phone of the woman sitting next to him. Bai Yu bent down to retrieve it, all while saying "sorry" in quick succession.

Then, he suddenly heard the people around him cry out in surprise and all turn to look at him. Bai Yu's mind hadn't yet adjusted when the woman next to him looked up at the jumbotron screen. Feeling as though his entire body was frozen, he raised his head and stared blankly upward.

In the middle of the screen, he saw his own face with an expression full of shock and confusion, looking extremely funny. The woman next to him who had also been caught by the camera spread out her hands and smiled at him. "So…?"

Bai Yu felt as though he had just used up all his luck for games on this instant. Otherwise, how could he have been chosen among so many other people? The woman sitting beside him looked very sweet and lovely, but kissing a stranger like this was still beyond what Bai Yu's usual boundaries.

Just as he was considering what to do, someone tapped his shoulder. Bai Yu turned and saw Zhu Yilong's face.

"Were you born in the year of the crow[7]?" asked Zhu Yilong quietly.

But Bai Yu didn't have the chance to retaliate. Cupping his face, Zhu Yilong firmly pressed a kiss against his mouth. Then, when Bai Yu's lips parted in surprise, Zhu Yilong's tongue slipped inside, exploring.

Bai Yu's mind went completely blank, though his hand couldn't help reaching out to stroke Zhu Yilong's face.

One passionate kiss, amidst the countless eyes of the crowd.

Chapter Text

Bai Yu's heart was beating too quickly, each beat thumping so fast and hard he could barely breathe. Overflowing emotions filled his chest, ready to explode.

Zhu Yilong's lips were soft, their movements gentle. Even as he deepened the kiss, he was neither aggressive nor forceful, as though he held untold tenderness within. His eyes were half-closed, long eye lashes fluttering against his cheeks. Then, he slowly opened a pair of eyes that glittered like a sea of stars.

The hand cradling Bai Yu's head relaxed, and Zhu Yilong pulled back, blinking. With a smile, he moved back into his own seat.

The Kiss Cam panned away from them as the crowd cheered and applauded, but all the clamor sounded like it came from behind a thick wall of glass to Bai Yu. He could only hear the roaring noise in his head, and the pounding of his heart.

Zhu Yilong obediently sat in his seat, looking up, then back down at the court, unconsciously licking his lips.

Bai Yu guiltily averted his gaze. Then he took a deep breath, and turned back. "Long-ge… that… thank you."

"I thought you would blame me for taking away your opportunity to kiss a beautiful woman." Zhu Yilong ducked his head and smiled lightly, a hint of teasing in his voice.

"How could I? The whole world would have seen me cheat!" said Bai Yu in an exaggerated tone. "How many days have we been married? I couldn't do that."

"Pfft." Zhu Yilong laughed out loud. "That is pretty provocative."

"Being provocative is one thing. My manager would fly to America and kill me!" Bai Yu made a cutting gesture across his throat. "Really, Long-ge! If you were on the Kiss Cam with a girl, I would pull you to me too. It's absolutely true! But getting back to the main topic, you… what you did was pretty provocative too."

Zhu Yilong startled for a bit. With an innocent blink, he turned his head away, as though hiding from something. His expression stayed the same, but a faint flush of red crept up on his neck and face. "This is a live broadcast… Someone will definitely upload this to Weibo. We just got married, if our kiss wasn't enthusiastic enough… I don't think we could have fooled people."

"Indeed. It's still Long-ge who's thoughtful."

The whistle at center court blew, and the crowd quieted down. A new quarter was about to begin. Originally, Bai Yu was full of passion for the game, but now he had no way of focusing on it. He could only peek at Zhu Yilong from time to time.

Zhu Yilong's gaze was fixed on the basketball court, his expression one of single-minded concentration. As the score changed, he would go from excitement to agitation to disappointment. It seemed as though the kiss had no effect on him at all.

When they entered the stadium, they had bought a lot of food. Bai Yu's mouth felt parched, but even a whole can of coke did not slake his thirst.

Zhu Yilong bit down on his cupcake, and turned to Bai Yu. "Lao Bai[1], why aren't you eating anything?"

At this instant, Bai Yu's mind was in complete disarray. He had used all his strength to direct his attention to the game, but it had all proved futile, only making him more distracted. Turning to see Zhu Yilong holding a cupcake, he didn't bother to check whether it had been bitten already. He reached over, saying "Yes, yes, I'll eat" while stuffing it into his mouth.

It was only after Bai Yu ate the whole thing in a few large bites that he noticed something wasn't quite right. He was dumbstruck, as though he had been hit by a hammer. He looked back, and sure enough, Zhu Yilong had a faint smile on his face.

"You shouldn't need to steal my food, should you?"

Just then, Bai Yu had eaten too fast, and was still swallowing down his food. Holding up the box of cupcakes in front of Zhu Yilong, he mumbled. "I… I didn't do it on purpose. Long-ge, no need to be polite, there's plenty left. My God, I'm about to choke to death."

Bai Yu's can of coke had long since been empty. Like a panicked little mouse, he scurried around everywhere.

Zhu Yilong passed his coke to Bai Yu. "No need to be polite, I have plenty left too."

They stayed in Los Angeles for several days, hitting up all the tourist hot spots. And on their last day, they spent all day in Disneyland, enjoying all the classic activities. Holding a pile of souvenirs, Bai Yu casually put some Iron Man gloves on Zhu Yilong.

"Do you remember when you said Iron Man was a bulkier version of me?"

"Yes." Zhu Yilong looked at the Mickey Mouse hat on Bai Yu's head. "You're too thin."

"Is that the important part? The important part is that you're a fake fan!"

"I saw someone who was cute and had a beard, so I thought of you."

"Is the cuteness the important part, or is it the beard?"

Zhu Yilong really wanted to laugh. He flicked the mouse ears with glowing lights that Bai Yu wore on his head. "Look at how tall you are, and answer the question yourself."

"So just because I'm tall, I can't be cute? Indeed, Long-ge. You are indeed terrible at flirting."

Zhu Yilong smiled helplessly. "I think I'm okay at it?"

"But either way, Long-ge is so handsome. All you have to do is stand over there and wait for someone to flirt with you." Bai Yu turned his head, his back lit by the dazzling lights of the Disneyland castle and the fireworks in the sky. "Like me. Making you laugh makes me very happy. It's like I'm some hedonistic emperor who favors pleasures over duties…"

"Xiao Bai."


The resplendent sky reflected in Zhu Yilong's eyes. "As long as you're by my side, then I'm very happy."

The next day, they didn't wake up until noon. They rushed to check out of the hotel, return their rental car, and arrive at the airport in time, doing everything at once. What followed was a 13-hour international flight. Once they returned to China, that was when the hardest battles would be fought.

Their seats were next to each other, and Bai Yu moved the armrest down. Once dinner was finished, the flight attendant tidied up their tables, and Zhu Yilong took out some papers and a script.

This was a new role that was going to start filming soon, although the first period of filming was still going to be in Beijing.

Bai Yu's time off was a little longer than Zhu Yilong's, so once he was back, he would also be staying in Beijing for a time.

Zhu Yilong put earbuds on, and handed the other one to Bai Yu. "Do you need one?"

"Thank you, Long-ge!" Grinning, Bai Yu took it and inserted it into his ear.

It was quiet in the cabin, where there weren't many people. Zhu Yilong turned on the small overhead light, and earnestly read his script. Every now and then, he would jot down some notes in the margins. Bai Yu sat in his own seat playing games, occasionally turning to watch Zhu Yilong, who was engrossed in his work.

This particular game was especially challenging. He played until his hands were going to break, but still couldn't carry his teammates to victory. In the end, they suffered a last-minute defeat. Letting out an overwrought sigh, he let his body flop back. But his movements were too large, and he accidentally knocked into Zhu Yilong's elbow.

Black ink streaked down the length of the paper. Bai Yu stuck out his tongue and hastily apologized. "Sorry, sorry, Long-ge. I was playing games and not paying attention."

"It's fine." Zhu Yilong raised his head and smiled. In order not to disturb the other passengers, his voice was extremely low. Afraid that Bai Yu wouldn't be able to hear him, he moved closer.

"Long-ge, what role is this? You're reading the script even on a plane. Do you really need to work so hard?"

"It's the role I told you about last time."

Bai Yu remembered now that Zhu Yilong mentioned this role before. It was for a villain, who was evil through and through. He remembered thinking it was pretty interesting, even researching what it was about. The character was indeed not only intriguing but also charming, a type of villainous role that Zhu Yilong hadn't played before.

"Oh." Bai Yu smiled and nodded. "I haven't seen Long-ge play this type of villain before."

"What about Ye Zun?"

"Ye Zun is Chūnibyō[2]." Bai Yu thought back to Zhu Yilong switching between multiple personalities on set and wanted to laugh. "He's just a little devil who thought he'd been abandoned as a child. This role of yours is much more cold-hearted and cruel."

"Yes, I also really wanted to try something like this."

"I wish I knew what gege looks like playing this role. I'm really looking forward to it!"

Bai Yu placed his chin in his hands and watched as Zhu Yilong leaned back and closed his eyes. After a while, Zhu Yilong's eyes gradually opened, so unhurried it seemed to take forever. Bai Yu stared at those feather-like eyelashes slowly fluttering, and felt as though time itself stopped.

Once Zhu Yilong's eyes were completely open, he wore an expression Bai Yu had never seen before. An ice-cold gaze, unfeeling yet carrying an undercurrent of blood-thirsty madness. He simply stared at Bai Yu, not moving an inch, not saying a word. And just like this, Bai Yu felt like he was shackled in place, his heart filled with both a sense of dread as well as something else unusual.

Then Zhu Yilong bit his lower lip, and very gradually relaxed, turning away.

"Well? Do you think that was okay? Any issues?" Zhu Yilong finished drinking all the juice in his cup.

"No issues at all!" Bai Yu wished he could applaud. "Indeed, Long-ge, you… To be honest, this kind of villain you play can very easily induce Stockholm Syndrome in people."

"What's Stockholm Syndrome?"

"It's something like the victim falling in love with the culprit. I don't understand it too well either." Bai Yu gestured a bit. "In short, Long-ge is really too handsome."

"You're very handsome too. Didn't you say during your livestream that your attractiveness is at its apex at all times?"

"Ai…" Bai Yu facepalmed. "You're being insincere[3] again. I was speaking truthfully. When compared to Long-ge, it does indeed seem like Long-ge is more handsome."

"I think you're quite handsome. My mom says so too."

"Look at you, even bringing your mom into this!" Bai Yu grinned. "I won't fight you anymore. I'm too glad right now that I never played your enemy. With a villain like you, how am I supposed to live?"

Technically, in Guardian, they did play half enemies at least. But that wasn't what he meant. Zhu Yilong smiled at him, and was just about to speak when a familiar prelude played in their earbuds.

Both of them were taken aback. This song accompanied them for an entire summer. They sang it with each other, and once sang it together with all their adorable fans, not quite able to prevent a few drops of tears falling. This one song held too many memories. It belonged to Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan, and it also belonged to the two of them.

Their eyes met for a long time, both of them losing their sense of reality. The music slowly played in their earbuds, two familiar voices alternately singing each line. Just like in the song, they traveled through time, returning once again to where they started.

Bai Yu still remembered the last scene they filmed together, with Shen Wei smiling through tears promising they'd meet again. When the director had yelled "Cut!" he hadn't been able to fully break character. Yet he had still acted as he always did, reaching out to tease Zhu Yilong. This time, Zhu Yilong hadn't fought back like he usually would, lowering his head to accept the tissues handed to him, wiping away his tears.

Bai Yu was unable to express his frame of mind at that time. There were too many soft, indescribable feelings that could all be summed up as going too deep into character and empathizing too much. They were looking into each other's eyes again, but now the excuses were harder to find.

"That… Long-ge, are you cold? Let me call someone to bring you a blanket." Bai Yu awkwardly broke the silence.

Zhu Yilong smiled at him. "All right."

Bai Yu got a blanket and a coke for Zhu Yilong, who thanked him and went back to studying his script. Bai Yu then started another game.

By the time he finished the game and let out a heavy sigh of relief, he looked over and saw that Zhu Yilong had already fallen asleep with his script still in his hand and his head lowered.

Zhu Yilong's posture was awkward, constantly sliding down in his seat. Every time the plane jolted, his head would bounce back up.

Seeing this, Bai Yu was reminded of the scene they had together in the car. He sighed and moved closer, adjusting Zhu Yilong's posture, letting Zhu Yilong rest his head on his shoulders.

Zhu Yilong's hair brushed against his neck, somewhat ticklish, as though it brushed against his heart.

Thirteen hours was a long time, but unexpectedly, Bai Yu didn't feel it was too miserable. When the announcements came on that they were about to land, he actually failed to react.

Zhu Yilong sat upright in his seat and handed Bai Yu a mirror. "There's going to be a lot of people once we disembark. Do you want to spruce yourself up a bit?"

"I'm a rough man from the Northwest, what's there for me to spruce up?" Even though Bai Yu said this, he still looked into the mirror and smoothed out his hair.

After waking up, there was an unruly strand of hair poking up on Bai Yu's head. Zhu Yilong reached over to flatten it down, but it remained stubbornly upright, causing him to sigh. "You'd better wear a hat."

"My hat is in my luggage!" Bai Yu smacked his head. "This brain of mine…"

"You can wear mine." Zhu Yilong handed his cap over.

"What about you, Long-ge? Do you want to re-do your hair?"

Zhu Yilong had cut his hair after his previous role, but recently it had grown out again, once more having the small ponytail that his fans most loved to see. He nodded, loosening his hair before tying it back up in a ponytail. Ultimately, he wasn't too familiar with this, and his skill couldn't be considered good. After he finished, he showed his back to Bai Yu. "Is this okay?"

"Long-ge, you…" Seeing his messy ponytail made Bai Yu want to laugh. "Why don't I help you? Even though I'm clumsy too."

Zhu Yilong nodded cleverly. "You can't be worse than me."

Bai Yu took off the elastic band, fixed the messy hair, and earnestly re-did the ponytail.

"Wait for me to take a picture. Here, take a look, Long-ge. Is that okay?"

"Yes, like this is fine. Thank you."

"Why are you being so polite with me?" Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "Long-ge is indeed handsome."

"Stop it with the compliments." Zhu Yilong smiled, lowering his head to take out a mask to hand to Bai Yu. "You've got your ring on?"

"I don't even dare take it off!" Bai Yu grinned. "Don't be afraid, Long-ge. I'll protect you."

The airport was so crowded not even a drop of water could trickle through the masses. Bai Yu had been prepared for a lot of people, but the current situation still gave him a shock. His company had long since arranged for a staff member to help them, yet the scene in front of them was still incredibly difficult to control.

Bai Yu tightly held Zhu Yilong's hand, almost like he was afraid to lose Zhu Yilong in the crowd. His palms were sweaty, and his ring rubbed against his finger until it hurt.

The two of them were making their first appearance since announcing their wedding, so there were countless people hoping to get first-hand material. They didn't know if it was the media or others, but cameras were practically shoved in their faces.

Bai Yu put an arm around Zhu Yilong's shoulder, pulling Zhu Yilong closer into his embrace while his other hand pushed away a few of the camera lenses that almost hit their faces.

"Thank you everyone for your enthusiasm. However, please pay attention to safety." Bai Yu's expression wasn't too friendly.

Security once again dispersed some of the crowd. Bai Yu leaned in close against Zhu Yilong's ear. "Long-ge, did any of the cameras knock into you back there?"

Zhu Yilong's head was lowered. "I'm fine."

Bai Yu smiled at him. Even though half his face was covered by a mask, his eyes were curved joyfully. "Only a few more hundred meters, we're almost there."

The van at the entrance was like their savior. Bai Yu helped Zhu Yilong up first before climbing into the van after him. He waved at the people outside, then took off his mask and let out a deep breath of relief.

"I knew there were going to be lots of fans and reporters, but I didn't think there would be this many." Bai Yu rubbed his face. "Are you okay, Long-ge?"

"I'm fine. What about you? I thought I saw someone scratch your arm?"

Bai Yu hadn't been paying attention at that time, but holding out his arm, he noticed a large patch of reddened skin. He wasn't sure where he got hurt, but his arm was starting to swell.

"Does it hurt?" Zhu Yilong frowned and pulled Bai Yu's hand over.

"It doesn't hurt! I've had worse during filming. This is nothing." Bai Yu smiled. "I'm a feral man[4] from the Northwest after all."

"There's no such thing as a feral man as thin as you." Zhu Yilong glanced at the assistant sitting in the back, who immediately dug through the bags to hand over an ointment.

With his head lowered, Zhu Yilong slowly smeared ointment onto Bai Yu's arm, rubbing it little by little. The pressure on Bai Yu's arm was a little painful, causing him to furrow his brows and let out a hiss.

"Aren't you supposed to be an adult?" Zhu Yilong felt he held a bit of blame himself, so he didn't continue. Bai Yu only got hurt to protect him.

"Gege, you stole my line." Bai Yu laughed.

It took Zhu Yilong a while to realize Bai Yu was talking about Guardian.

"Don't you think this is déjà vu?" Bai Yu leaned forward, putting on Zhao Yunlan's mischievous smile. "Teacher Zhu's is pretty good with his hands. For an ordinary actor, you know quite a lot."

"Can we stop talking?" Zhu Yilong kept his head down, ignoring Bai Yu.

"But you didn't say we couldn't sing?" Bai Yu licked his lips and blinked. "That Eason Chan song, how does it go again? Who cares if he has a headache or not[5]—"

"Pfft." Zhu Yilong burst out laughing, giving him a glare. "You're hopping shows."

"I'm an actor. I should be able to freely switch scenes like this."

"You don't feel like you're being a bit of a traitor?"

Saying this line, Zhu Yilong's whole appearance changed into something completely different from his usual gentle demeanor, giving off a wicked air.

Bai Yu laughed so hard he almost fell off the car seats. "Long-ge is indeed amazing. So many years and your charm is unchanged."

Zhu Yilong ducked his head down and smiled until his eyes curved, his eyelashes trembling slightly. "I can't compare to Bai Yu gege."

Chapter Text

The van took them directly to Zhu Yilong's Beijing residence. Although Bai Yu also had a place in Beijing, his parents lived there as well, which made things less convenient. The two of them talked it over, and since they had to live together, they decided they may as well have Bai Yu move in with Zhu Yilong.

On the ride there, Bai Yu gave his parents and two sisters the news along with his new address. Then he promised that everything was fine, finally bringing out "Long-ge will take care of me" to appease their worries.

Zhu Yilong's apartment was in an area with excellent security measures. It wasn't luxurious, but it wasn't cheap either. Living alone, he deliberately didn't buy too large of an apartment. He had one master bedroom, one guest room, and another room that doubled as a study and gaming center. None of the decorations were extravagant, but they made the place feel cozy and neat.

After the assistant left, Zhu Yilong helped move Bai Yu's luggage into the guest bedroom. Because he was almost always on the road for his roles, he spent very little time in this apartment, only sleeping a few nights in his own bedroom. Unless his parents or Peng Guangyin's crowd came to visit, his guest room didn't see any use either. So when they came inside, they saw that the bed in the guest room was completely bare with nothing on it.

"Wait a few minutes, I'll help you make the bed." Zhu Yilong dug out some bedsheets from a cabinet, and moved to cover the mattress.

"Hey, Long-ge, Long-ge. I'll do it myself. Let me do it myself!" Bai Yu scurried around Zhu Yilong, but failed to find an opportunity to help.

Zhu Yilong smiled at him. "You're my guest, and you don't know the place well either."

"Long-ge, you're treating me so courteously, I almost thought I was living in a hotel!" Bai Yu stuck out his tongue. "This tenant here is going to live here for two years, you know."

"Who knows how many months you'll actually spend here in these two years?"

Bai Yu paused when he heard this. "Indeed!"

This two-year limit sounded long, yet they had no idea how often they'd be together during this time. Both their careers were on the rise, and they both knew that the other person wasn't without ambition. Traveling everywhere for endorsements and roles, they didn't know how many times they'd actually live in this place, nor did they know how many times they'd run into each other.

"Just a temporary place to rest your feet. No need to be too considerate." Zhu Yilong carried the bed covers and pillows overs, motioning for Bai Yu to help out. "My son might be a bit loud when he comes home later. I hope you won't mind."

Bai Yu's hand froze in place. A sudden numbness seized his heart. He stared dumbly at Zhu Yilong for a long time, unable to wrap his mind around the words. "Long-ge, what did you just say? You… you have a son?"

"Yes." Zhu Yilong didn't look out, focused on shaking the bed covers to flatten them out.

"I… Our wedding was a shotgun wedding[1]?" Bai Yu widened his eyes, his whole body paralyzed. Even his usually quick tongue no longer felt nimble. "No, that's not right. You have sons… Then don't I have a sister-in-law? My God, Long-ge, it's over, it's over, it's over! I ruined your life. I'll explain everything to my sister-in-law later!"

Zhu Yilong looked at Bai Yu's bewildered appearance, and ducked his head to hide his smile. "Don't think nonsense. There is no sister-in-law."

"There isn't?" Bai Yu tilted his head in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"I mean exactly what I said."

Bai Yu's mind had been in a state of disarray ever since the words "son" came out of Zhu Yilong's mouth, his thoughts no longer touching anything resembling logic. In the years he'd known Zhu Yilong, he considered them to be close friends. Yet Zhu Yilong having possibly had a wife as well as a son were things he knew nothing about. Even worse, in his complete ignorance of the facts, he unexpectedly married Zhu Yilong.

"You… have you gotten divorced before or…?" Bai Yu blinked. "Or did you get a surrogate? Long-ge, are you one of those people who aren't interested in marriage but want children?"

Zhu Yilong almost burst out laughing. He bit his lip to hold back. "Can your imagination run wilder?"

"What imagination? I was being serious. You're so young, Long-ge, but you already gave up on marriage?"

Working in the entertainment industry, due to career considerations and work logistics, a large number of actors tended to marry late. Although both he and Zhu Yilong were over thirty, theirs was considered an early marriage.

Zhu Yilong walked over and patted Bai Yu's shoulder. "Don't over-think things. Whether or not I wanted to get married, aren't I married to you already?"

"Indeed… but we can't say it like that." Bai Yu frowned, his hands fidgeting with his clothes. "Long-ge, aren't you… What if your son won't acknowledge me?"

"You're worried about this?"

"How could I not worry!" Bai Yu scratched his head with jittery hands. "No, that's not right. Long-ge… do you hope that he'll acknowledge me? With children involved, divorce will be harder to handle… What am I considered? A stepfather? That's going to be difficult…"

Bai Yu's eyes were fixed on the floor lamp in the corner of the room, his mind already millions of miles away spinning in circles. He furrowed his brows, impatiently biting down on his lips.

"Then you can only treat them well, so they will accept you." Zhu Yilong gave him a small smile.

Bai Yu's sharp mind immediately caught onto something out of the ordinary in Zhu Yilong's words. He suddenly looked up, staring at Zhu Yilong's face. "Long-ge, my God, them??? My God, there's more than one? Long-ge, how many sons do you have[2]?"

"Only two, don't be nervous."

"Two isn't all that bad…" Hearing the lowest number, Bai Yu let out a breath of relief. Then he suddenly backed up. "I have to butter up two of them at the same time? I can't believe you didn't give me any warnings…"

Zhu Yilong widened his eyes and blinked, appearing especially innocent. Looking into Zhu Yilong's eyes like this, more than half of his restless gloominess and inner suffering mysteriously evaporated. He had always trusted Zhu Yilong the most. Since Zhu Yilong didn't reveal this secret to him, then he believed there must have been an embarrassing or difficult reason it had to be kept from him. This time, getting married was a big mistake caused by him. He could hardly put the responsibility on Zhu Yilong's head.

Except, he only just turned thirty, and never thought about settling down to have a family. He hadn't even found the woman of his heart when he suddenly gained both husband and sons. It was too overwhelming! Bai Yu did like children. He came from a large family, and at Chinese New Year's or other festivities, he often loved to tease his friends' kids. But this was his first time greeting a child using a father's identity. He felt like he wasn't prepared, as evidenced by him being at a complete loss for what to do.

Compared to Bai Yu fretting all over the place, Zhu Yilong was extremely calm. Seeing Bai Yu's frantic appearance, he actually covered his mouth to hide his laughter.

"Long-ge, how can you laugh? Ah, what should I do? Do you think two red packets[3] are too crass?"

"Indeed." Zhu Yilong raised his head, imitating Bai Yu's manner of speaking.

"You're not lying to me, are you?"

"No, I wouldn't lie to you."

Bai Yu sighed, thinking he was just like Zhao Yunlan meeting Shen Wei. He didn't have even the slightest bad temper, all of it disappearing in Zhu Yilong's gaze.

He couldn't make too awful of a first impression. But what did little boys like? Bai Yu didn't have time to go out and buy anything. He could only sit in place and worry. After a while, he suddenly slapped his thigh. "How could I have forgotten Disney? Take a look at all the things we brought back and tell me if your sons would like any of them? Ai, gege, why didn't you say anything back then? I would have bought proper gifts…"

Bai Yu stood up and dusted off his hands, preparing to search through the souvenirs in his luggage. At that, Zhu Yilong who had been sitting next to him, finally burst out laughing. Half-draped over the couch's armrest, his whole body shook with laughter.

"Am I really that funny?"

Zhu Yilong was about to answer when the doorbell rang.

Bai Yu tensed.

Standing up, Zhu Yilong patted his shoulder. "Let's go welcome my sons."

Bai Yu ducked out of the way of Zhu Yilong's arms, frowning. "Long-ge, wait! My appearance! It's too messy, my son won't like me! Should I shave my beard? Your face is so clean, but I… They won't be scared of me, will they?"

"They won't, and there's no time." Zhu Yilong used a bit of force to push Bai Yu forward.

As they got nearer to the entrance, Bai Yu vaguely heard the sounds of two dogs barking. He suddenly saw the light, and turned to Zhu Yilong.

"My God! Long-ge, you played me!" Bai Yu stared in shock at Zhu Yilong's grinning face, and felt the answer was obvious.

When Zhu Yilong opened the door, two poodles immediately leapt inside. Their enthusiasm was so strong even the assistant holding their leashes was dragged forward one step. Zhu Yilong knelt down, holding one poodle in each arm. "Did you miss your dad?"

Bai Yu knew Zhu Yilong had dogs. They had been mentioned on-set and in interviews. But Bai Yu had never visited Zhu Yilong's home, nor had he seen Zhu Yilong's pets. Not having a strong impression of them, he simply forgot about their existence. Likely seeing that he hadn't realized the truth, Zhu Yilong had then deliberately spoken in vague, unclear terms. And the end result was Bai Yu completely embarrassing himself.

Unaware of Bai Yu's thoughts, that evil culprit gave his thanks and a reminder to stay safe the assistant.

"Thank you!" said the assistant. "Then I'll leave first. Teacher Zhu and Teacher Bai, get some rest early."

Bai Yu had never been able to stay angry at Zhu Yilong. Seeing this sight in front of him, his heart softened, leaving only the tiniest resentment behind. He really did get played by Zhu Yilong just like this.

"Are these your precious sons?" Bai Yu smiled helplessly.

Zhu Yilong blinked at him. "You're the child's father too, help me pick one up."

Bai Yu reached out and took the poodle that was held in Zhu Yilong's left hand. The small poodle's was pretty intelligent, and against expectations, didn't struggle much. He only barked a few times, before settling in to frolic in Bai Yu's arms. The furry poodle rubbed against him, immediately licking and drooling all over Bai Yu's face.

"Hey!" Bai Yu moved back to dodge the poodle while grumbling. "Long-ge, you almost scared me to death just then. How can you enjoy such evil things?"

Zhu Yilong didn't refute the criticism. Holding a cuddly, obedient dog in his arms, he put on a cutesy act.

Bai Yu petted the poodle in his arms, sighing. "Long-ge, seeing me panic must have been pretty funny?"

Zhu Yilong smiled and nodded.

"My God, my Long-ge!" Bai Yu choked back his outrage. Part of him wanted to teach this childish, 32-year-old married actor a lesson. Another part of him saw the way Zhu Yilong was smiling, and was unable to say a single word. He even felt a little happy. Bai Yu gave a sorrowful sigh in his heart. To make Zhu Yilong happy, he really was willing to throw away everything.

"Come here, say hello to your new dad." Zhu Yilong held out a paw of the poodle in his arms, waving at Bai Yu. "This is Cola. Hiii~!"

"What about the one in my arms?"


"Pretty trendy. Long-ge is ambitious." Bai Yu grinned, looking down at the poodle. "Oscar, come here, call me dad."

It was as though the poodle understood. He immediately let out two excited barks, causing Bai Yu to grin even wider.

"Long-ge, look at this. You're the dad, and I'm the dad. Should we draw a distinction somehow?"

"I'm the biological dad, you're the step-dad."

"Pfft." Bai Yu doubled over laughing. "I have no idea what you're saying. You make it sound like we're love rivals."

"Then what do you suggest they call you? Mom?"

Bai Yu shrugged, scratching Oscar's head. "Forget it, it's not like we can understand dog speech. Who knows, maybe they're insulting me and calling me an old bastard. Am I right, Oscar?"

The small poodle only continued to paw at him with enthusiasm, all the licking leaving a large wet spot on his collar.

Zhu Yilong lifted Oscar away with some exasperation. "He likes you a lot!"

"That's right. Who doesn't like me?" Bai Yu waggled his eyebrows smugly.

Zhu Yilong then put Cola into Bai Yu's arms. "Host Bai[4] is correct."

Bai Yu went through that hectic mass of picture-seeking fans in the airport in the morning, and in the evening, he went through another rowdy affair. Having not done any publicity in the past few days, Bai Yu sent out a new Weibo post.

Two pictures: One was a selfie, featuring Bai Yu with his phone in one hand, while the other held a lively poodle licking his face. Behind him sat Zhu Yilong, who had turned sideways and lowered his head to stare at the obedient little poodle in his embrace. The second picture was a back view of Zhu Yilong, with one poodle looking out over his shoulder while the second poodle was biting at his pant legs. Bai Yu captioned his post "Happily Gained Sons x 2."

Not long after, Zhu Yilong responded. "Teacher Bai, the responsibility of taking care of our sons is now yours."

Bai Yu replied. "The children's father! Is what you said even human? How can you discard us orphans and widows like this?"

Zhu Yilong responded with exceptional speed. "Because I have to earn money and support you all."

Chapter Text

The vibration of Bai Yu's phone woke him up. His mind in a daze, he tried to figure out what was happening and why he decided to set an alarm. It was only when his phone chimed and vibrated a second time that Bai Yu finally realized it wasn't an alarm, but a WeChat notification.

He had set most people on 'Do Not Disturb' a long time ago, so at this point, only his family and Zhu Yilong could reach him. And Zhu Yilong was asleep next door, clearly not needing to use his phone for contact. Reaching under his pillow, Bai Yu took out his phone, and looked at the message on-screen.

"Son, we're already on our way to bring your things to you."

With a jolt, Bai Yu sat up in bed, a rush of dizziness sweeping over him. When he sent a message yesterday about his arrival and new address, he had only meant to reassure his parents. But who knew they would move so decisively, leaving him no room to argue?

His attempts to tell them not to go through all this trouble were greeted with extensive justifications.

"What if you run into paparazzi or cars trying to follow you?"

"You two just came back from abroad and haven't yet recovered from jet lag. There's no need to work so hard."

"Even if I don't worry about you, I still need to worry about Xiao Zhu."

The words came one after another, leaving Bai Yu with nothing to say in response. Checking the time, he saw that if he didn't get up now, it would be too late.

Bai Yu had no idea he had it in him to sweep a place so squeaky clean. He crawled out of bed, got dressed, straightened his covers, and then moving back and forth, he patted his bedsheets until not even a single wrinkle was left before finally stopping. If his mother found out that he was sleeping in a separate bedroom from his husband so soon after their wedding, he'd never hear the end of it.

After that much activity, all his sleepiness he had evaporated. Seeing that it wasn't early morning anymore, he walked up to the closed door of the master bedroom, and lightly knocked.

No one answered.

"Long-ge, Long-ge." Bai Yu called out. He increased his volume. "Are you awake? Long-ge, my parents are coming. Long-ge, Long-ge, wake up! Long-ge!"

Bai Yu somewhat impatiently placed his hand on the doorknob, gently pulling on it. With a slight creaking sound, the door opened. He had originally wanted to drag Zhu Yilong out of bed, but the moment his eyes fell on Zhu Yilong, he suddenly had trouble breathing. Quietly, he crept to the side of the bed, gazing upon Zhu Yilong's serene expression as his head rested on the soft pillows.

With his lips slightly parted, his long eyelashes resting on his cheeks, and his hair mussed up, Zhu Yilong who was fast asleep looked even more innocent than usual. Then, as though sensing some movement in the outside world, he furrowed his brows and pursed his lips, his tongue flickering out to lick a quick circle around his lips.

"Long-ge." Bai Yu who had been very casual just moments ago, now lowered his voice until it was barely a whisper, as though afraid of waking Zhu Yilong up.

There was no response.

Bai Yu sighed. All this trouble started with him dragging Zhu Yilong underwater, forcing the other man to play-act this marriage. Right now, they were both utterly exhausted from the long flight and the jet lag, not having had more than a day to recover. How could he have the heart to wake Zhu Yilong from his dreams to deal with Bai Yu's parents?

Sunlight had already spilled over half of Zhu Yilong's body. Bai Yu walked over and shut the curtains tighter before tip-toeing back out, closing the door behind him.

Bai Yu really didn't know where his parents picked up this trick of acting first and asking permission later, but they had already been well on their way by the time their message reached him. He barely finished washing up before they called again. A hasty greeting and another round of reassurances, and he was at the elevator waiting for them to come up.


Bai Yu was still leaning against the wall playing with his phone when his mother rushed over and gave him a hug. Although he had seen her before leaving for America, he had been in a hurry and only stayed for two days. Now over half a month had passed. Bai Yu immediately returned her embrace, patting her back.

"Mom," he called out in a childish voice.

"How old are you again?" His two sisters laughed. "Come here and take your suitcase."

With a grin, Bai Yu nodded and took the large suitcase from his sister's hands, only to turn around and see his father arrive with an even larger suitcase. Even as he greeted his father, he expressed his exasperation in a playful way. He hardly needed that many things! And he could easily have sorted it out himself.

"You're married now! Of course we have to bring all of your things to you." His mother took his hand. "Where's Xiao Zhu?"

"Oh! Long-ge is still asleep. He's pretty tired." Bai Yu scratched his head, helping Zhu Yilong explain.

"How did he get that way?"

"Jiejie[1]!" Bai Yu exclaimed with a laugh.

"Mom, does it look like little brother is embarrassed?"

His mother's face was full of smiles. "He's a newlywed, it's only natural."

Bai Yu licked his lips awkwardly, stuck in a place where both refuting and not refuting were equally bad ideas. He could only change the subject.

"What did you put in this suitcase? It's so heavy!" Zhu Yilong's apartment entrance had a small doorstep, so Bai Yu had to drag the suitcase backwards over the bump, causing a considerable ruckus.

"Xiao Bai, what's going on?" A voice sounded from behind him.

Bai Yu immediately straightened up and turned around to see Zhu Yilong standing stock-still in his pajamas. His hair was a mess, and his eyes were half-closed. On his pale skin were several obvious red marks, whether from scratching himself or from something else.

Bai Yu's family hesitated at the entrance.

"Long-ge, you're awake? I was going to tell you to get some more sleep!" Bai Yu smiled at him. "Let me introduce you! This is my mom, my dad, and my sisters."

Zhu Yilong swallowed, clearly not recovered from the shock yet. He put on an uneasy smile. "Ah… Mom, dad, jiejie. Good morning."

Hearing this, Bai Yu's family warmly returned the greetings. Zhu Yilong still looked like a student who'd just been caught talking in class, however. So with a grin, Bai Yu threw an arm over Zhu Yilong's shoulder, and turned to his family. "You guys can settle in for now. I'm going to have a chat with Long-ge."

Zhu Yilong let Bai Yu pull himself into the bedroom, then to the bathroom, still looking like he hadn't woken up. It wasn't until he looked into the mirror that he suddenly revealed a horrified expression, grabbing at Bai Yu's arm. "Why are your parents here? I… I just met them like this? This first impression is too awful."

"That's enough, Long-ge. Don't overthink it! What first impression? They've long since seen you on TV millions of times! Please try to be at least a little bit conscious of your own popularity as an actor."

"But I slept in so late, would your parents think I'm someone who only knows how to eat and doesn't know how to work[2]? Not to mention how sloppy I looked…" Zhu Yilong furrowed his brows while squeezing out his toothpaste.

"Long-ge!" Bai Yu almost doubled over laughing. "Where did these old-fashioned ideas come from? My parents aren't those kinds of people. They're more worried about me bullying you, always wanting me to pamper[2] you every day. Don't mention sleeping in, even if you wanted to continue sleeping now, that would be fine! Marrying into my family means you'll live a very comfortable life. Really."

Those words caused the tip of Zhu Yilong's ears to blush bright red. With his mouth full of toothpaste, he couldn't make a clear retort either.

Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "I'll go keep my family company while you wash up. No need to worry!"

As a new tenant, Bai Yu really wasn't too familiar with Zhu Yilong's apartment. He got his family to sit down on the couch, and was just preparing to pour some drinks when he realized he had no idea where the kettle or cups were. Zhu Yilong spent too much time away acting, and recently even went on a trip to America, so his refrigerator was completely empty and cleaner than any other place in the apartment.

"Let me handle this, Xiao Bai. You can catch up with your family."

Bai Yu was searching up and down through all the cabinets in the kitchen when someone grabbed his hand.

Zhu Yilong was pretty quick. After he changed his clothes, and smoothed out his unruly hair, he appeared much more lively, gaining a gentle and friendly demeanor.

Bai Yu always felt that Zhu Yilong was attractive, very conventionally beautiful and handsome. Looking at him now, it was clear that there wasn't a single angle where he didn't look good.

"Long-ge, are you okay doing all this on your own?"

Zhu Yilong smiled. "It's just making drinks. You'll only add to the trouble if you stay. Does your dad drink tea?"

Bai Yu nodded and pointed to a specific brand in the cupboard that Zhu Yilong opened. He watched Zhu Yilong take out the electric kettle and plug it in, and then retrieve a set of cups from another cupboard.

"Long-ge is pretty proficient at housework! A married man is just awesome like that."

"If you can't help, then get out of the way." Zhu Yilong lightly shoved him.

Bai Yu beamed, and did not continue running his mouth. Turning around, he walked out of the kitchen. "Then I'll be leaving! If you need anything, just shout for me."

When Bai Yu came out, his mother promptly approached him from where she was studying the decorations with the rest of the family. "You're not helping Xiao Zhu?"

"Long-ge's sick of me," said Bai Yu with some exaggeration. "He doesn't want me to get in his way!"

His mother suddenly lowered her voice. "You weren't too hard on him last night, were you?"

What these words meant, Bai Yu could figure out the moment he heard them. His heart cried out for the injustice he just suffered. How could he dare to do that to his Long-ge? What if the Zhu Yilong who could effortlessly lift weights in a suit directly punched him? He'd likely end up in a hospital! Besides, his relationship with Zhu Yilong was one of pure brotherhood, where did these unspeakable ideas come from?

Of course, he couldn't say any of this out loud. But this hesitation only served to give his family a different impression.

Bai Yu's mother patted his hand with some reproach. "He's so busy filming, and he's so thin. And I heard his waist is injured as well. Don't be too insistent, and follow his wishes."

These words left Bai Yu without any ability to fight back. He could only frantically nod his head like a chicken pecking at rice and answer "right right right" in response.

When Zhu Yilong walked in with a tray of tea, this was the scene he saw.

"Xiao Zhu, no need to keep busy, sit down." Bai Yu's father smiled as he accepted the tea.

"Please be careful, it's hot." Zhu Yilong sat down next to Bai Yu with a smile. "And it's no trouble. It's all of you who went through the trouble of coming here to bring Bai Yu's belongings over. My apologies, we just came back from America, and haven't prepared any gifts. Really sorry."

"It's nothing, it's nothing." Bai Yu's mother immediately responded. "Bai Yu is our son, bringing something over him is nothing out of the ordinary. Gifts aren't important. Our Bai Yu has been immature since he was young. Now that you're married to him, you'll have to be the more responsible one in the future."

Bai Yu grabbed Zhu Yilong's hand and fell against his shoulder, pouting. "Mom, how can you talk about me like that in front of Long-ge? How can you say these things about your precious son?"

"Xiao Bai has an excellent disposition, he takes good care of me." Zhu Yilong squeezed Bai Yu's hand in return.

Bai Yu's sister leaned back on the other couch and laughed. "It looks to me like Teacher Zhu's temper is too good, indulging you like this."

"I'm really not." Zhu Yilong smiled at Bai Yu.

"Did you hear that? Did you hear that?" Bai Yu grinned smugly. "Mom, dad, you guys can stop worrying."

Bai Yu's mother took a sip of her water. "It's not that I'm worried, you're already thirty years old after all."

"Exactly!" Still grinning, Bai Yu's restless hands played with Zhu Yilong's hands. Zhu Yilong continued to lean against him, allowing Bai Yu to pinch his fingertips or intertwine their fingers together.

"Xiao Zhu really is a good kid." Bai Yu's mother beamed at her son-in-law, whose eyes were lowered and whose skin was slightly flushed. "A good temperament and excellent looks. If he could give birth to a child, they would have unsurpassed beauty."

At these words, Bai Yu's father almost spit out his tea. Bai Yu patted his father on the back with one hand while complaining. "Mom, what are you saying? Long-ge, Long-ge, don't mind her."

Zhu Yilong had already gone red from the tips of his ears to his neck, his lashes fluttering as he looked down, as though trying to find a crack in the ground so he could tunnel under. Bai Yu immediately patted his hand to comfort him.

"Mom!" Bai Yu pouted. "You're telling me not to bully Long-ge while you're stirring things up yourself!"

Zhu Yilong pinched Bai Yu and raised his head. "Mom, it's nothing. Don't listen to Bai Yu, I don't think you're causing trouble."

Having his hand held down, Bai Yu could only watch as his mother smiled at those words that dripped honey.

"Seems like he really is very over-protective of you." Bai Yu's sister was grinning so hard her eyes crinkled. "Mom, dad, are you less worried now? Maybe we should stop disturbing these two?"

"You're not disturbing us." Zhu Yilong stood up along with them. "Mom, dad, jiejie, why don't you all stay for lunch?"

"Long-ge, you're inviting people to stay when you don't even know how to cook!" Bai Yu blinked. "Don't look at me, I can't cook either."

Zhu Yilong glared at Bai Yu before turning back and smiling. "We can go together to a restaurant? What would you like to eat? I can reserve us seats."

Meanwhile, Bai Yu stood behind Zhu Yilong, making frantic gestures at his sister while she stuck her tongue out at him. She then put her arm around her mother. "It looks like they're pretty tired, let's not make them go out. It's convenient enough for us to meet some other time. Today we just came to bring some things over, we still have errands at home!"

"Xiao Zhu, don't work too hard, let Bai Yu take care of you. We'll be going home."

"I'm not tired. If you all have errands to run, I won't keep you. Next time I'll properly host you all." Zhu Yilong smiled briefly.

Bai Yu slung an arm over Zhu Yilong's neck. "Long-ge, why are you being so polite? We're all one family now, gathering together should be an easy thing. Mom, dad, this is his first time getting married and he's nervous. You should give him some praise!"

"You only know how to talk nonsense," said Bai Yu's mother before turning to Zhu Yilong. "You're a good kid. I hope you and Bai Yu can happily live out the rest of your lives."

Zhu Yilong nodded repeatedly as they walked Bai Yu's family to the door. He wanted to keep going downstairs, but was stopped by everyone.

"I don't want to be photographed or followed." Bai Yu's sister joked.

"Indeed, indeed." Bai Yu laughed until he almost lost form, draping himself all over Zhu Yilong's body.

Bai Yu's mother gave him an exasperated look, then took out a red packet to hand to Zhu Yilong, who immediately tried to return it to her.

"Mom, I can't take this."

"If you don't take this, then you're refusing to recognize me as your mother. It's just a small token, there's nothing to it."

Little by little, Zhu Yilong's resistance was worn down.

Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "A mom's gift to her son, go ahead and accept it."

Seeing that Zhu Yilong had obediently taken the red packet into his hands, Bai Yu's mother nodded in satisfaction. She then gave Bai Yu a meaningful look. "Son, let your Long-ge rest well."

Bai Yu's ears reddened and he stuck his tongue out. He escorted her out. "Definitely, definitely."

Once they were on the elevator, the two of them returned home. Zhu Yilong put the red packet in Bai Yu's hands. "Returning this to you."

"My God, Long-ge! Are you taking me for an outsider?" Bai Yu's face was full of disbelief.

"This gift is meant for your mother's … daughter-in-law." Zhu Yilong seemed to struggle finding the appropriate words. "It's not real between us, so I can't accept it."

Bai Yu's eyebrows twitched. The words "not real" were like a needle piercing through his heart. He waved the red packet away, giving it back. "Just pretend this is part of your new car fund. Didn't I promise to buy you one?"

Zhu Yilong looked at him and didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Putting on a serious act, he opened the red packet to see what was inside. The money inside was actually quite a lot, but it couldn't possibly be enough to buy a real car.

"What kind of car can I buy with this?" Zhu Yilong tilted his head, looking like a an adorable over-sized puppy.

Bai Yu almost felt his heart stop. "Long-ge, you…! Your standards are pretty high! Couldn't this… couldn't this buy a buddy's Lamborghini?"

Zhu Yilong burst out laughing. He put his hand in front of his chest and gave a charming bow. "Thanks buddy for the Lamborghini[3]."

Chapter Text

Zhu Yilong's apartment had a medium-sized walk-in closet. He actually wasn't too fond of buying clothes, but in his profession, he collected a large variety of outfits from his shows and sponsors, which he all stuffed into this closet.

Bai Yu was staying over long-term, so he obviously had to clear out half of his living space for him. Zhu Yilong tugged Bai Yu's suitcase over to the walk-in closet, the two of them coughing at the dust as they opened the door.

"I'll bring a rag over to wipe the dust off. You can stay here and unpack. My outfits are pretty loosely spread out, you can shift them over to make space for yourself." Zhu Yilong pointed at the clothes racks behind him.

"There's no need, Long-ge. I don't have that many outfits." As he said this, Bai Yu opened his suitcase, and like a volcanic eruption, all of his clothes burst out of it.

"Ah, fuck!" Bai Yu jumped back like a startled fox. "How… how did they fit all this in…"

"Looks like you have a lot of stuff."

"My mom… really… Is this necessary?" Bai Yu scratched his head in embarrassment. "I don't even know what they packed."

Bai Yu crouched down while Zhu Yilong wiped clean the dust that had built up everywhere. Pulling out a t-shirt, Bai Yu handed it to Zhu Yilong as he passed by.

"All the colors of the rainbow?" Zhu Yilong looked it over. "This is a vibrant shirt, Teacher Bai."

"Long-ge, can you have a little more brotherly compassion? I refrained from commenting on your seven-colored down coat!" Bai Yu continued to sift through the disorganized mess he made in his suitcase. "It's because of my youthful looks that I can wear these bright colors."

Zhu Yilong struck a thoughtful pose. "Hmm. Not bad, you don't look a day over 40."

"Long-ge, how can you be so cruel to me? Indeed, indeed, you've wounded my heart. Ai, it hurts, it hurts so much." Overcome by a fit of dramatics, Bai Yu clutched his chest, his face full of agony, as though he'd just been stabbed.

Zhu Yilong couldn't resist crouching down and stroking Bai Yu's chin, like he was teasing a kitten. "All right, all right, Bai Yu gege is the most youthful, okay?"

At this, Bai Yu's face split into a wide, happy smile. Seeing his expression, Zhu Yilong imagined that if Bai Yu had a tail, it would be wagging furiously right now.

"With Long-ge's words, I can feel reassured."

Zhu Yilong had no way what Bai Yu was feeling reassured about, so he smiled and bent down to help unpack the clothes in the suitcase. Bai Yu's mother really did stuff everything into this thing. Just the shirts alone were too many to count.

The two of them were truly too uncivilized. It felt like the more they tried to sort things out, the more everything fell into disarray. Zhu Yilong was rifling blindly through the suitcase when he suddenly stumbled onto a pair of pink underwear. Unable to hold it in, he clutched his stomach and started laughing his head off.

Bai Yu was originally expending a great deal of energy and effort folding up his clothes from the messy pile. Then he heard Zhu Yilong's laughter and saw what he was holding.

"Fuck!" Bai Yu rushed over and snatched the underwear away. Seeing the picture of Spongebob on it, he wanted to cry but the tears wouldn't come.

"You have excellent taste." Zhu Yilong was laughing so hard he couldn't get back up.

Half-laughing, half-indignant, Bai Yu crumpled the underwear up into a ball and threw it into the waste basket.

"Why did you throw it out?"

"How could my mom just pack any random thing she finds in there…"

"It's pretty cute."

"My God, Long-ge, I had no idea you had a special liking for this kind of stuff? Do you want me to give it to you?"

Zhu Yilong immediately gave him a look of disdain, waving his suggestion off before diving back in to hunt for treasures in the suitcase.

Although the two of them weren't too adept at household chores, they had a level of tacit understanding while working together that eventually allowed them to progress. But there were simply far too many things in the suitcase, and they had to completely re-organize Zhu Yilong's clothes as well.

With swift movements, Bai Yu moved one piece after another, until a white top gave him pause. It was a pure white top made of extremely thin material that was almost transparent. Its V-shaped collar dipped so low that Bai Yu couldn't help gesturing and making a "Wow!" sound.

Looking up from the pair of socks he'd just grabbed, Zhu Yilong saw the top in Bai Yu's hands and was taken aback.

A devious smile appeared on Bai Yu's face as he deliberately moved the top back and forth in front of Zhu Yilong. "Long-ge, I never could have guessed how unexpected your private life is!"

"A sponsor gifted that." Zhu Yilong furrowed his brows. "Look, the label is still on it!"

Bai Yu glanced at it - this top really hadn't been worn before! - and was hit with an unexpected pang of disappointment.

"Do you like it?" Zhu Yilong looked at him. "If you do, I'll give it to you."

"No no no," Bai Yu hurriedly folded the top into a dresser drawer. "You can see that I'm all bones. It doesn't suit me at all."

Before he could react, Zhu Yilong stood up and reached out to touch Bai Yu's waist, making him shiver and jump back.

"Yep, pretty skinny. You really need to eat more!"

"I eat a lot!"

It wasn't like Zhu Yilong didn't know about Bai Yu's stomach problems. When they filmed Guardian, he bought Bai Yu breakfast every day for that reason. With the lack of opportunities to meet over the past two years, Zhu Yilong watched as Bai Yu lost more and more weight, all while wondering how his health was holding up.

"In the future, I'll make sure you're well-fed," said Zhu Yilong.

Bai Yu blinked, unconsciously touching his wedding ring. Thoughts of the next two years of marriage surged through his mind, leaving him breathless. But he immediately smiled, reaching back to knock on the closet door.

"Gege, you're a doctor? Then I'll give you a try for two years?"

By the time they finished cleaning all the bits and pieces up, it was long past lunchtime. It wasn't convenient for them to go out, and there wasn't anything in the apartment, so Bai Yu ordered take-out. Having missed the peak period, their food was delivered very quickly. It was only when he picked up the take-out that he realized something was wrong.

Zhu Yilong took one look at the box of noodles that had long since congealed into one hard lump and burst out into helpless laughter.

Stubbornly, Bai Yu jabbed his chopsticks at the lump until a piece of it broke off, which he then stuffed into his mouth. Immediately, his expression turned ugly at the saltiness, looking like he was going to choke to death.

"Xiao Bai." Zhu Yilong hastily took out the sour prune drink, all while silently mocking Bai Yu's talent for pairing food and drink together. "Who orders hot and dry noodles[1] for take-out?"

"We just returned from America, so I was afraid you missed your hometown's food. Who knew it tasted so awful?"

"You ordered it yourself, you know. And now you're saying it's awful?"

"How should I know it's so dry?" Bai Yu gestured, emphasizing the word "dry."

"Didn't its name make that pretty obvious?"

Bai Yu almost choked on his sour prune drink. "Are all the noodles in Wuhan so bluntly honest?"

Zhu Yilong patted Bai Yu's back, grinning as he handed over a napkin. "Why? Are the noodles in Shanxi very tactful?"

"Gege, how am I supposed to counter that?" Bai Yu continued to poke at his noodles, trying to untangle it.

With chin in hand, Zhu Yilong sat at the table and watched, until his phone started vibrating. Seeing that the call was from his mother, he unthinkingly answered it.

"Quick, let me see my son-in-law!" His mother only spoke a single sentence, and Zhu Yilong almost threw his chopsticks out.

"Mom, knock it off." Zhu Yilong's voice was soft as he pursed his lips. "Haven't you seen him on TV already?"

"How can that be the same? I don't want to see you. Hurry, hand the phone over to our Xiao Bai."

Zhu Yilong bit back a smile. Although he softly grumbled a little about who the real son was, he still turned his phone towards Bai Yu, who had only just haphazardly wiped his mouth clean.

"Auntie, oh no, mom." Bai Yu blurted things out too quickly, realizing too late that he'd misspoken, so he had to correct himself.

Zhu Yilong's mother was beaming. "Xiao Bai, don't be nervous. You just got married, so if you're not used to it, that's only normal. As long as you make a habit from now on! Oh, are you eating? What are you having?"

Bai Yu immediately showed off the contents of the take-out box to her like he was a cooking livestreamer. Then he hesitated a bit before saying in a Wuhan accent, "Hot and dry noodles."

For a moment, no one spoke. Then, from both the phone and across the table, two almost identical peals of laughter sounded. Zhu Yilong was laughing so hard he was shaking.

"Long-ge, Long-ge, let me take the phone. Your shaking will make mom dizzy!" Bai Yu extended his hand with a grin, but had to pull back when Zhu Yilong refused. He pouted. "Is it really that funny? Is my accent that bad?"

"It's okay," evaluated Zhu Yilong.

"If your accent is bad, it's not your fault. It's Long Long's fault."

"There's nothing wrong with my Wuhan accent!" Zhu Yilong expressed his dissatisfaction with this assessment.

"Then there's something wrong with your teaching," retorted his mother.

Zhu Yilong propped his chin in his hands, glancing from his mother's face on the screen to Bai Yu. "It's because he doesn't have the talent for it."

"Teacher Zhu!" Bai Yu blinked his eyes pitifully. "I think my accent is pretty good."

"Right, right, right. I think Bai Yu speaks pretty well. You shouldn't bully him."

"How can I bully him?" Zhu Yilong said softly, lowering his head. "I don't even dare make a sound."

Zhu Yilong's voice was soft, his words blending together in an unclear jumble. Bai Yu always had trouble understanding the Wuhan accent, now he was even more lost on what Zhu Yilong was saying. He shot Zhu Yilong a perplexed look. "What does that mean, Long-ge? What does that mean?"

"Xiao Bai, you can ignore him." Zhu Yilong's mother interrupted. "When will you two come back to Wuhan?"

"Long-ge is about to start filming, right?" Bai Yu waited for Zhu Yilong to nod his agreement before continuing. "It might be a while before we can go back. Sorry, mom."

"Zhu Yilong." Zhu Yilong's mother raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong with you? Skipping a honeymoon with Xiao Bai, and now you're not even bothering to spend more time with him. All you know is filming and acting."

"Mom, it's fine! I love watching Long-ge act. Besides, he's still in Beijing, I can see him anytime."

"Xiao Bai should start filming soon as well. We'll try our best to find time to come back to Wuhan." Zhu Yilong picked up where Bai Yu left off.

"It doesn't matter if you can't find the time to come back. You two should worry about your health first. Look at Xiao Bai, he's too thin. Long Long, you have to take good care of him."

"I know, mom." Zhu Yilong smiled lightly. "You don't need to worry. We're both in our thirties."

"So you know you're thirty, too? What were you doing this morning, not eating lunch until now?" Zhu Yilong's mother sounded reproachful and worried. "And you ordered take-out, how unhealthy."

"Xiao Bai's mom and dad came over, so we spent a lot of time unpacking."

"What's this about Xiao Bai's mom and dad? They're your mom and dad too."

Bai Yu hid his smile at those words while Zhu Yilong tilted his head before nodding. "Right, right, right. My mom and dad. That's right."

"Xiao Bai is so tired, and you made him help you unpack. You have no idea how to spoil someone."

Zhu Yilong didn't have a chance to respond before Bai Yu collapsed on the table, crying out. "You're right! I'm so tired. My waist hurts!"

Zhu Yilong's mother paused, staring for a long time before speaking. "Long Long, you can't do that to him anymore!"

With these words said, Bai Yu almost fell off laughing, unable to catch his breath. Zhu Yilong's ears reddened as he glared at Bai Yu. He guessed that Bai Yu must have been thinking of something inappropriate.

However, Bai Yu wasn't the least bit intimidated as he returned Zhu Yilong's glare with a wink.

"Mom… I didn't do anything to him…" said Zhu Yilong helplessly.

Zhu Yilong's mother gave him a knowing look. "Fine, fine, fine. We won't talk about your personal matters. The two of you shouldn't always eat take-out. If you don't want to cook for yourselves, you can hire a chef. You should fatten Xiao Bai up a bit. The sooner you're done being busy, the sooner you can come back to Wuhan. I'll let Xiao Bai have a taste of proper hot and dry noodles."

Bai Yu grinned hard. "Definitely, mom! Once Long-ge passes this busy period, I'll nag and bother him until he takes me home to meet you!"

"He's flying so far, but you'll only give him hot and dry noodles?"

"You've even learned to talk back to me? Don't worry, I won't mistreat your Xiao Bai."

Even after Zhu Yilong hung up, Bai Yu still had a self-satisfied look on his face as he bounced his leg up and down. Zhu Yilong shook his head, smiling. "You're pretty relaxed."

"Our mom is so good-natured, how could I not be relaxed? Besides, I'm handsome."

"Can you be a little more shameless?"

Bai Yu put on an innocent expression. "Wasn't it our mom who said I was the most handsome? Long-ge, do you disagree?"

"Yes, yes, yes, you're the most handsome." After Zhu Yilong cleaned up the empty take-out boxes, he sank into the couch next to Bai Yu and stretched.

Bai Yu was curled up on one side of the couch like a lazy cat. Zhu Yilong reached out and swatted at him. "When you said your waist hurt just then, was that real?"

While it didn't hurt, it was a little uncomfortable. They just returned from a long trip to an unfamiliar place where Bai Yu had trouble falling asleep. Then in the morning, he had to greet his parents and unpack his belongings. So he truly was exhausted.

"Indeed, Long-ge. I've spent all my time today on chores."

Zhu Yilong shifted over and patted the pillow next to him. "Lie down, I'll help you massage your waist."

"Such excellent treatment?" Bai Yu blinked, feeling eager.

"Didn't you say I was a doctor?" Seeing that Bai Yu was in position, Zhu Yilong warmed up his hands and placed them on the side of Bai Yu's waist.

"Lighter, a little lighter." Bai Yu's eyes fluttered closed. "An ordinary actor…"

Zhu Yilong immediately interrupted him before he could finish the rest of the line. "Lie down and stay quiet."

Before Bai Yu could respond, the phone rang again. Zhu Yilong activated the speaker phone, then continued the massage. Bai Yu started shouting immediately, leaving no time for the caller to speak.

"Long-ge, Long-ge, it hurts, it hurts! Lighter, lighter! Ahhh!"

"Didn't I tell you to not to do that to him anymore?" Zhu Yilong's mother roared.

"I didn't, mom." The tips of Zhu Yilong's ears were so red they could have dripped blood.

"Okay. There was something I forgot to say just now." Zhu Yilong's mother sighed and changed the subject. "Didn't you want to eat crayfish last time? I'll cook some for you and have them deliver it to you via cold chain logistics. Sound good?"

"Good, good, good!" said Bai Yu excitedly. "Thank you, mom!"

Zhu Yilong couldn't help laughing. "How are you more gluttonous than I am?"

"It's our mom's own handiwork after all."

Bai Yu continued to flatter and cajole until Zhu Yilong's mother could barely stop laughing. Only then did she hang up, leaving them with a final warning. "Go easy on our Xiao Bai!"

Once the call ended, Bai Yu was sprawled down on the couch, laughing so hard his legs kicked wildly in the air. Zhu Yilong firmly pressed down on his lower back, causing him to cry out. "Mom said you can't do this to me anymore!!!"

Zhu Yilong was half-indignant, half-amused, thinking of how fast Bai Yu changed his tune. With a hint of menace in his voice, he spoke. "Keep shouting, and see what I do to you."

"Heipao-gege! Long-gege! You're so terrifying!"

Zhu Yilong pretended to hold up his fists.

In the end, when faced with the threat of Zhu Yilong's Muay Thai, Bai Yu didn't dare to be too rash. Still grinning, he turned over and clasped his hands to make a begging gesture. "It really hurts. Long-ge, spare my life!"

Seeing Bai Yu like this, Zhu Yilong immediately gave up on his threatening gesture. Gently, he continued to knead the side of Bai Yu's waist. "Sorry, did I really hurt you? I was wrong to do that."

"Hey, hey, hey. Long-ge, don't be so serious all of a sudden!" Bai Yu grabbed Zhu Yilong's arm and pulled him closer. With a smile on his face, he gazed into Zhu Yilong's eyes.

"Long-ge, how are you so adorable?"

Chapter Text

Zhu Yilong blinked, a trace of alarm on his face. They were too close, even their breaths were mingling together.

"What are you doing?" demanded Zhu Yilong, his voice soft, his tone carrying not even a hint of menace.

They stared at each other for quite a while, before Zhu Yilong finally lowered his gaze, his eyelashes trembling slightly as they fanned against his cheek. Bai Yu gently cupped Zhu Yilong's face, his palm feeling a bit heated.

As they moved closer and closer, Zhu Yilong stayed rooted in place in a stupor. A pair of large eyes appeared to be fixated on Bai Yu, yet at the same time seemed to be looking out blankly, as though having completely lost control of the current situation.

Bai Yu's gaze strayed from Zhu Yilong's eyes to his lips. Zhu Yilong wasn't wearing make-up, but his lips were still tinged with a faint pinkness. At that moment, his tongue just happened to dart out to swiftly lick his lips, moistening them. Then, he swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing rapidly.

As though he received an electric shock, Bai Yu suddenly let go, sighing deeply. "Long-ge… Why didn't you push me away?"

Zhu Yilong looked down and pursed his lips. "It seemed like you were having a lot of fun playing around."

"Long-ge…" Seeing Zhu Yilong's lovable appearance, Bai Yu was tempted to pinch his cheeks. "If you keep this up, what if someone takes advantage of you?"

"Aren't you always saying that you'll protect me?"

"Of course! Naturally I'll protect anyone who's mine, don't you think?" Bai Yu patted his chest before suddenly remembering something. In an instant, he got up from the couch, leaning towards Zhu Yilong with a serious expression on his face. "Wait a minute. Long-ge, what did you mean just then? If you already knew I was playing around, why did you pretend to be caught off-guard? Am I playing around with you or are you playing around with me?"

Zhu Yilong actually didn't deny it, only ducking his head and smiling.

Bai Yu hated seeing that "I wouldn't harm a fly" look on Zhu Yilong the most. If Zhu Yilong mocked or insulted him, he would be able to fight back. But in the face of this expression, he was helpless. He could only indignantly reach out and tickle Zhu Yilong's waist. "Long-ge, don't think that I'll let you go just because you smiled at me!"

His hands roamed all over Zhu Yilong's body, but Zhu Yilong only sat there and looked at him with a smile on his face, like nothing was happening.

"Long-ge, what's wrong with you? You're not even the slightest bit ticklish?"

Zhu Yilong swatted away Bai Yu's still-wandering paws. "In university, Peng Guangyin and the rest of them got me used to it. Seems I'm not afraid of any tickling now."

"This is actually a skill that can be trained?" Bai Yu barely finished speaking before Zhu Yilong reached out for the ticklish spot on his waist.

Bai Yu immediately scrambled backwards like a startled cat, but Zhu Yilong was merciless, only increasing the ferocity of his attack. Laughing while attempting to smack those hands away, Bai Yu's entire body ended up curled up into a ball. Gasping, he cried out. "Long-ge, if I smile at you, will you let me go?"

Having won a reprieve with much difficulty, Bai Yu rolled down the side of the couch. His clothes were in disarray, his shirt riding up to reveal his midriff.

"I lost, I lost! I lost this round's PK[1], all right? Why don't you ask Teacher Peng to help me practice my resistance?"

"No need to bother him. I'll help you."

"No no no! This will end up injuring me." Bai Yu held a couch pillow in front of his chest. "I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt. Give me a chance to catch my breath."

Zhu Yilong's hand hovered in the air, then diverted to ruffle Bai Yu's messy hair. "Xiao Bai, if you're tired, why don't you get some more sleep? I'll go feed Oscar and Cola."

Turning around, Bai Yu draped himself over the back of the couch and massaged his own cheeks, staring at Zhu Yilong's departing figure. "Gege, gege."

"Yes?" Seeing Bai Yu peeking out with his face half-hidden, Zhu Yilong flashed a toothy grin, his eyes curving into crescents.

"Why am I having so much fun?"

Zhu Yilong disentangled the two wrestling dogs and picked one of them up. Comparing them with Bai Yu, he felt as though Bai Yu was acting just like an oversized puppy. "Aren't you being childish?"

The next few days passed in leisure for them both. Every day they woke up naturally, then spent the rest of the day comfortably hanging around the apartment. Other than walking the dogs, they didn't take even half a step outside. Without too many obligations, each day passed in a blur of eating, sleeping, walking their dogs, and gaming.

As actors, their lives had always been hectic. Working non-stop was the norm, even more intolerable was the exhaustion from flying all over the place. Zhu Yilong only had a few time during the year when he was at home and could see his friends and family, and it was the same with Bai Yu. Over these past two years, this was actually the most time they had spent together.

After countless matches playing side-by-side[2], Bai Yu suddenly exclaimed. "If I had known getting married had this benefit, I would have married Long-ge a long time ago!"

Zhu Yilong almost spit out the water he was drinking. "You might as well retire from this celebrity life and become a pro-gamer, why don't you?"

"I'm too old, Long-ge! My God, I'm already thirty!" said Bai Yu with horror. Then he looked guilty. "Sorry, Long-ge. I forgot you were a few years older than me."

"You mango."

Bai Yu laughed until he shook. This was a direct head-shot!

"You reap what you sow."

"Indeed, indeed. How despicable of me to make you wait for so long!" Bai Yu rolled his chair next to Zhu Yilong.

Zhu Yilong's complexion suddenly changed color. He glared at Bai Yu before looking helpless. "Lao Bai, can you talk a little less?"

"How can I do that? I'm doing this to set the atmosphere. I'm very tired, gege![3]"

"We don't have to set this atmosphere."

"Gege, we'll be saying goodbye tomorrow. Can't you treat me a little more nicely?"

"Tomorrow I only have to go and do costume tests and take pictures. We haven't formally started filming yet." Zhu Yilong recalled the schedule his assistant gave him. "I'll be back tomorrow night to spend time with you."

The words "I'm old enough not to need you to go out of your way to accompany me" were stuck in his throat. He couldn't say them out loud no matter how hard he tried. Finally, he scratched his head, and jokingly said, "Then I'll make sure I'm presentable and wait for you!"

"Go away." Zhu Yilong smilingly pushed Bai Yu's forehead away.

The next day, Zhu Yilong woke up earlier than usual. But when he walked into the living room, he saw Bai Yu, who had already finished washing up.

"You're up so early?" asked Zhu Yilong.

"I already took our sons out for a walk." Bai Yu pointed at the breakfast on the table. "Long-ge, hurry and eat breakfast. Then I'll drive you to the filming set."

"I can just call my assistant for that. You should go back to sleep."

"It's nothing, it's nothing. I don't need that much sleep!" Bai Yu put a straw in the soy milk and handed it over. "There'll be tons of people taking pictures of you arriving on set, so I should be on my best behavior."

This was the first time one of them had to go to work since the news of their wedding had spread, so Bai Yu's logic was reasonable. Although it wasn't real between the two of them, they still had to act as though it were. They were two newlywed lovers, it was only natural that they were clingy. Moreover, the crew of this production were all decent people, so bringing Bai Yu over shouldn't cause any trouble.

The traffic in the capital truly was always aggravating, but both Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu were in good moods today. Bai Yu sat in the driver's seat with his sunglasses on, while Zhu Yilong sat in the passenger seat playing with his phone. They chatted idly with each other to pass the time.

Not having left early, they didn't arrive on set early, but fortunately, they weren't late either. Zhu Yilong's manager and assistant both arrived earlier, and they guided Bai Yu into the parking lot. Once Bai Yu got out of the car, he circled around to the passenger side, opened the door, and helped Zhu Yilong disembark.

The production crew didn't consider Bai Yu's presence unexpected. And Bai Yu, who had always been good at mingling, went around greeting everyone and asking them to "take care of my family's Long-ge." Before long, the atmosphere on set became lively. Zhu Yilong stood on Bai Yu's side, occasionally giving a polite answer, each finishing the other's words, their tacit understanding perfect.

Zhu Yilong's hand was tightly gripped in Bai Yu's hand, making his palm feel hot. With each new person congratulating them on their wedding, Zhu Yilong felt a little panicked. But when he turned to watch Bai Yu, he saw Bai Yu grinning as usual, and joking around every now and then, just like it was all real.

Once all introductions were made and all gifts given, Bai Yu bade everyone farewell, and returned to the parking lot with Zhu Yilong.

"Pay attention to safety when you drive. Do you want me to call my assistant to drive you home?" asked Zhu Yilong as he stood next to the driver's side window.

"No need, no need. You should hurry back, or Chan-jie [4] will be worried."

"If anything comes up, give me a call."

"What could possibly happen to me? I'm familiar enough with Beijing!" Bai Yu grinned, his eyes crinkling. "Hurry and go to work. I'm looking forward to Long-ge's new pictures! Don't forget to send them to me. I'm sure you'll look incredibly handsome."

Zhu Yilong shook his head and smiled, reaching out to stroke Bai Yu's chin. "I'm not sure they'll give me the pictures, but if they do, I'll send them to you. I'll see you tonight!"

"All right, see you tonight!" Bai Yu put on arm on the windowsill, and waggled his eyebrows. "Take care Long-gege~! I'm waiting for you~![5]"

Hearing those coy words, Zhu Yilong didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "Can you be a little less mischievous?"

"But gege, don't you like it when I'm mischievous?" Bai Yu's reply was full of confidence.

Although they hadn't formally started filming, doing costume tests and taking pictures wasn't a simple process either. Zhu Yilong had many scenes in this drama, and even more costumes. Although he didn't need to be photographed in each outfit, his workload was still heavy. Even with the indoor air conditioning, there were still the bright lights giving off heat, not to mention all the crew members and make-up artists moving back and forth bringing costume changes, coordinating with the photographers to shoot pictures. It was pretty strenuous work.

By the time he finished, the sun had already set. After thanking the director and other crew members, he sat down to allow the make-up artist help him remove the layer of products on his face and his hair.

Tilting his head back with some weariness, he handed his phone to his assistant and closed his eyes.

It was at precisely this time that the WeChat notification sound went off on his phone.

"Who is it?" Zhu Yilong naturally asked.

This was one of his trusted assistants who had worked with him for several years, one of the few people who knew the truth behind his marriage with Bai Yu. Zhu Yilong knew that this assistant could be trusted to behave with propriety, and he didn't think that the contents of his WeChat were too questionable. On the other hand, he worried that something had happened with his family or maybe Bai Yu had an emergency, so he asked this question.

"It's from Teacher Bai," answered the assistant courteously.

If it was from Bai Yu, then Zhu Yilong felt even more reassured. For one, none of his chats with Bai Yu had any inappropriate content. For another, he trusted Bai Yu wholeheartedly.

Although Bai Yu looked like someone who was carefree and casual, his silly outward appearance hid a refined inner self. He was someone who knew how to handle things in the most appropriate manner. Besides, sending a WeChat message now, other than some memes or small household matters, it shouldn't have any big secrets.

Zhu Yilong's guess wasn't wrong, but his assistant stared hesitantly at the lock screen when asked "What did he say?"

"What is it?" Zhu Yilong still kept his eyes closed.

"Teacher Bai says…" The assistant cleared his throat. "Hubby (Lǎo Gōng), are you coming back to eat dinner tonight?"

Silence fell. Even though the assistant did his best to use the most neutral, mechanical voice to say this sentence, it still wasn't enough to eliminate the shock of the words themselves. Zhu Yilong gave a sudden start and opened his eyes, almost falling off his chair.

"Teacher Zhu, don't move!" said his make-up artist, a little flustered.

"Sorry! Let me answer this message?" Zhu Yilong obediently sat back down, and nodded for the make-up artist's approval. Then, he awkwardly took the phone from his assistant, unable to help furrowing his brows at the contents of that message.

It wasn't currently convenient for him to type, and he couldn't waste too much time, so he forced himself to stay calm and enter a reply.

"Xiao Bai, once I'm done removing my make-up, I'll head back. If you're hungry, you should eat first."

Back at home, Bai Yu was sitting on the couch playing games on his phone when he heard the notification and glanced up at the message. Then he suddenly let out a "Fuck!"

"Long-ge, I wanted to say Long-ge! Did you know that these two words have the same initials…?[6]" Bai Yu typed up a row of words with despair in his heart, before erasing them one by one. He wished he could suddenly learn a peerless martial arts technique so he could hit himself hard enough to lose his memories.

Chapter Text

Bai Yu felt that there was no one else in the world as despondent as he was. He typed, deleted, and changed what he wrote over and over before finally deciding to pretend nothing had happened. Focusing his attention back on the screen, he tried to play games again, but after repeated losses, he could only scratch his head in frustration.

When Zhu Yilong's call came in, he almost fell off the couch. But he still managed to answer.

"Xiao Bai?"

"Hey! Long-ge!"

"I'm in the car on my way back, but it might still take a while," said Zhu Yilong. "We've run out of food at home, haven't we? Tell me what you want to eat, and I'll bring it back with me."

Bai Yu adjusted his position on the couch, very satisfied with Zhu Yilong's discretion in not mentioning the "hubby" incident.

"Long-ge, I bet you didn't expect it, but I made you crayfish!"


"All right, actually, your mom made them," admitted Bai Yu with a grin. "They arrived this afternoon, and are in the fridge right now."

"Just two days ago, it was all 'our mom' this and 'our mom' that."

Bai Yu was a little embarrassed, but he couldn't help laughing. "Our mom! I misspoke. It was my fault."

"Crayfish shouldn't be eaten directly after a cold chain delivery. Wait for me to heat it up when I'm back. Is there anything else you want?"

"Anything else?" Bai Yu bounced his leg up and down, looking pensive. "I'm not picky, really. But crayfish would go well with beer, wouldn't it? Never mind, never mind, neither of us can drink, let's get some iced Coke."

"All right," agreed Zhu Yilong lightly. "Wait for me at home."

This word "home" pierced right through Bai Yu's heart, making his heart feel warm, and making his insides feel like jelly. He had never thought about this kind of life before, the thought of taking care of household affairs and daily necessities for a family seeming far off in the distance. Yet this kind of life held such authenticity and charm. Like the warm sunshine and the gentle winds, it made one wish it would never end.

Zhu Yilong came home earlier than expected. He wore a beautiful suit, while the two large bags in his hands created an odd contrast to the image.

Bai Yu had just opened the door when Zhu Yilong handed him one of the bags. "Your Coke, take it."

"My God! Long-ge, you don't have to be so extravagant!" Bai Yu accepted the bag with a giant grin, like an excited kid who had just received some candy.

Zhu Yilong changed his shoes and stepped inside, prepared to put the other bag on the table before discovering that someone had already arranged all the dishes, chopsticks, and glasses on it. There was even a fruit plate with all the fruits arranged neatly on top.

"Gege, look! I already washed and prepared all the pans, plates and utensils. Just waiting on you to come back and heat up the crayfish!" Bai Yu placed all the cans of Coke on the table, while waggling his eyebrows at Zhu Yilong. "Being so virtuous almost killed me!"

Zhu Yilong glanced at the kitchen, and found that Bai Yu really had prepared everything. The washed pan was waiting on the stove, the necessary cooking implements were ready to use, all that was missing was the crayfish.

Except Bai Yu looked too funny fishing for compliments for his hard work, so Zhu Yilong couldn't help but laugh out loud. "Is that what that word you sent this afternoon was about? You were securing your position?"

Bai Yu's expression suddenly changed. Then he licked his lips and decided to play dumb, acting as though everything was business as usual. "What? Which word? What are you talking about? I didn't, I'm not…! It's gege who's the most virtuous!"

As Bai Yu pushed him into the kitchen, Zhu Yilong helplessly shook his head. "Xiao Bai, I can walk on my own."

"I'm just too impatient! Although speaking of… Long-ge, you even know how to cook? That's too awesome!"

"I don't really know how to cook, at most I can make instant noodles or stir-fried rice. But heating up food is something I can do." Zhu Yilong took out the crayfish from the fridge. His mother must have been afraid he didn't have enough to eat, because she sent quite a large amount of it to him. He took out half of it, and turned around to see Bai Yu glancing all around the kitchen.

"Comrade Lao Bai, what are you looking for?"

"Don't you have an apron or something?" Bai Yu looked back. "If that white shirt of yours got dirty, it wouldn't look good anymore."

"I think I do have one…" Zhu Yilong furrowed his brows. He didn't cook often, and wasn't likely to buy an apron just to make instant noodles. The last time he remembered seeing an apron, it was when his mother visited him over half a year ago. It seemed he had thrown it out for being too dirty or too old though. He couldn't remember too clearly himself. "Let me look for one."

Zhu Yilong made a thorough search, turning over the entire kitchen. Unexpectedly, he actually found one, and it was brand new, still wrapped in plastic. When he took it out of its plastic wrappings, he finally remembered where it came from. This light-blue apron with a cartoon depiction of himself had been a gift from a fan. Short and round, his cartoon self had horns and a tail and stared out with large, watery eyes.

"Wow!" Bai Yu looked at the apron that Zhu Yilong just shook out. "Awesome! It's really cute!"

"It is pretty cute." He looked down at the name under his tiny dragon self. "But I'm not sure it looks like me."

"It does! Look at these eyes, they're identical to yours!" Bai Yu gestured at it. "Was this a gift from a fan?"

"Yes. I completely forgot, and never used it."

"Long-ge, in order not to break your fan's heart, you'd better wear it to cook!" Bai Yu took the apron, and had Zhu Yilong turn his back to him. "I'll help you put it on. Look how considerate I am!"

Zhu Yilong didn't object, obediently raising his arms in coordination. "Maybe they're not even a fan of mine anymore. And even if I wear it, it's not like they can see it."

"Don't be pessimistic, Long-ge. You're such a good person, any fan will be a fan of yours for life."

Bai Yu was standing close, his breath hot on the nape of Zhu Yilong's neck. After a while, he backed away and dusted off his hands, looking like an artist who just completed the masterpiece of a lifetime. "Long-ge, I'm a fan of yours too. In order not to break my heart, would you keep wearing the apron?"

Under Bai Yu's watchful gaze, Zhu Yilong turned around. His figure was tall and slim, his waist slender. Even though he wore an apron that clashed with his style, he was still well worth a second look. With an exasperated expression directed Bai Yu's grinning face, Zhu Yilong spoke. "Lao Bai, why is it that you can take such an ordinary matter and turn it into something strange?"

"My God, Long-ge! Don't frame me! What did I say? I didn't say anything!" Bai Yu spread out his hands, an extremely innocent look on his face.

"I can't out-talk you." Zhu Yilong smiled helplessly. "Wait by the side, this shouldn't take long."

In Bai Yu's opinion, whether Zhu Yilong's cooking tasted good was a separate topic. All he knew was that his Long-ge looked incredibly good while cooking. Standing by the kitchen's entrance, he had a side and back view of Zhu Yilong. Since Shen Wei, Bai Yu felt that Zhu Yilong in formal wear was truly handsome. Zhu Yilong's appearance was exquisite and alluring, and his temperament gentle. Formal wear not only highlighted his slim figure, it also exemplified his character. From this angle, Zhu Yilong's white shirt was tucked into his well-tailored suit and his sleeves were rolled up, revealing pale and beautiful arms while the light-blue apron accentuated his waistline.

The aroma of crayfish permeated the kitchen the second they were dropped into the pan. Zhu Yilong pushed his bangs out of the way, then began to stir the crayfish. His movements sometimes stretched his back muscles, making him look even more attractive.

Bai Yu sighed with feeling as he watched. Unable to resist, he pulled his phone and called out, "Long-ge, Long-ge!"

A few minutes after, a Bai Yu who had been absent from Weibo for the past few days sent out a new Weibo post.

The video started with a familiar voice calling "Long-ge." The man being filmed wore an ordinary white t-shirt with a black suit with a light-blue apron. He turned around with a confused expression. "What is it?"

Maybe it was because he spotted the lens aimed at him, Zhu Yilong smiled helplessly in its direction. After a while, he reluctantly used the free hand that wasn't holding the spatula to make a peace sign. "Are you done?"

"Pffft, hahahahahaha." In the background, Bai Yu's breathless laughter sounded, and the camera shook so hard that Zhu Yilong's baffled expression almost blurred. "Long-ge, actually I'm filming a video."

Zhu Yilong was surprised at first. Then he mustered up all his strength and glared at Bai Yu. In the end, using a sweet and boyish tone of voice that couldn't scare anyone, he threatened, "Come over here, I'll stir-fry you too."

The video stopped at that point. Other than "hahahahahaha," Bai Yu didn't say anything else. Only moments after the video was sent, there were already tens of thousands of comments.

"Aaaaaaaah Long-ge is so handsome!!! How can there be someone who looks so handsome even wearing an apron?"

"Cooking in a suit!!! Cooking in a suit!!! I'm crying!!!"

"I've gone crazy, I've burst into tears, this is the apron I gave to gege! He really wore it, my whole life is worth it!!!!!!"

"Teacher Zhu holding up the peace sign is too cute hahahahaha! Teacher Bai should be a little less mischievous!"

"So is tonight's dinner fried mango? doge emoji"

"Have Teacher Bai and Teacher Zhu shown public displays of affection today? They have."

"Cola and Oscar: We grew up being fed dog food.[1]"

"Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo I'm really too envious of Teacher Bai!!!! Teacher Zhu earns money, supports his family, and cooks as well! Bai Yu-gege only has to look pretty as a flower hahahahaha."


Full of giddiness, Bai Yu swiped through the comments, stopping to reply to the comment that said he was as pretty as a flower. "Being as pretty as a flower is also my Long-ge's responsibility. My only responsibility is eating."

"Lao Bai, come over and help out?" Zhu Yilong looked helplessly at the smile blossoming on Bai Yu's face. "Carry this over there. Be careful, it's hot."

Fresh out of the pan, the crayfish's aroma was heady, and the oil on its shell still bubbling. They could almost taste spiciness without even needing to eat one. Placing the large plate of crayfish in the center of the table, Bai Yu opened cans of Coke for Zhu Yilong and himself, before looking at the contents of the other bag.

Zhu Yilong had already taken off the apron, retrieving some disposable gloves. "I bought some barbecue. It's summer, after all."

"Indeed." Bai Yu took the gloves that Zhu Yilong handed him. "This reminds me of my university days. Back then during the summer, we especially loved to eat midnight snacks. We often went to a street-side barbecue vendor and ate until midnight, happy as a clam."

"Too bad it's too difficult to fulfill this wish now."

"I'm plenty happy to be eating with Long-ge, not to mention this is our mom's home-cooked food. Isn't that right?" Bai Yu peeled at the crayfish shell with a grimace. His movements weren't as fast as Zhu Yilong's, nor were they as familiar. He could only lament in his heart that Long-ge truly was a child who grew up on the shores of the Yangtze River.

Zhu Yilong glanced at him and spoke with some exasperation. "Do you remember eating spicy crayfish in Changsha? How come you haven't improved at all?"

"You're making things difficult for me, Long-ge!" Bai Yu grinned. "How can I compete with you?"

"Don't you still want to PK with me?"

"Who wants to PK at eating crayfish? You can peel it without even using your hands. A special talent, a special talent![2]"

Zhu Yilong sighed, like Bai Yu's lack of skill at eating crayfish was a personal affront to him. With one crayfish still in his mouth, he grabbed another off the plate.

Bai Yu watched Zhu Yilong's teeth and his nimble tongue move together, temporarily rooted in place. Not long after, Zhu Yilong placed the peeled crayfish in his hand in Bai Yu's bowl, while the one his mouth had also been peeled.

"Aiyo, Long-ge." Bai Yu looked at the crayfish in his bowl, then looked back at Zhu Yilong's mouth only to see that Zhu Yilong had already started eating. "It turns out your talent can be used like this?"


"Two at a time! So awesome! You are indeed awesome," exclaimed Bai Yu as he ate the crayfish Zhu Yilong peeled for him. The spicy flavor made him inhale sharply. "This trick of yours is pretty suitable for taking care of your girlfriends."

"You don't think it's a little crude?" Zhu Yilong took a sip of Coke before continuing his crayfish peeling project. "Just then I thought it was a little savage. I don't think girls would like that."

"It's not bad, not bad at all." Bai Yu grabbed a lamb kebab. "Now that you mention it, eating crayfish on a date with a girl and getting oil all over yourselves is indeed not good. Then, gege's talent can only be used on me."

"Can't you practice this yourself?"

"Look at how many requirements you have!" Bai Yu blinked, pretending to be scared. "Or is this the Zhu family's requirements for peeling crayfish? My God, I don't dare return to Wuhan with you now!"

"No." Zhu Yilong handed another peeled crayfish to Bai Yu. "I'm afraid that if I eat too fast, then there won't be any left for you."

Bai Yu almost choked on his laughter, only managing to wash down his food with a drink of Coke. "Then you can eat more slowly! Don't I always wait for you when we play games? Can't you bring out your n00b[1] side for this?"

"I'm not a n00b." Zhu Yilong glared at him. "Your playstyle is too despicable. I'm pretty good at playing games."

They pointlessly chatted on all kinds of topics while eating crayfish, their pace eventually increasing. It wasn't long before Bai Yu felt as though his lips and tongue felt numb from the spiciness, even hurting a little. No matter how much Coke he drank, it had no effect. Zhu Yilong, on the other hand, had no reaction at all. However, his lips were reddened by the chili oil, looking like he had put on a brand-name lip gloss.

"Damn, Long-ge, your crayfish is way too spicy." Bai Yu used his hand to fan himself, hoping that the breeze could take away the heat. "And I thought the ones I ate in Changsha were spicy."

"The ones in Wuhan aren't actually that spicy. But I like it this way, so my mom made it spicier," explained Zhu Yilong. "If you can't handle it, I'll tell my mom not to make it spicier next time."

"No need, no need, no need. It would be too embarrassing to specially change things for me. It tastes pretty good."

"You have stomach problems, don't eat any more." Zhu Yilong took off his gloves, and brought out a small box for Bai Yu. "Eat some congee. Don't wait until you get a stomachache at night."

"Long-ge, you… you're suddenly health-conscious!"

"I just don't want to hear you crying later when your stomach hurts." Zhu Yilong handed him a spoon. "You're already thirty years old. You're not allowed to over-eat."

"Okay, okay, okay." Bai Yu stuck out his tongue, still a little unwilling. The contrast when the painful spiciness on his lips met the warmth of the congee only served to emphasize the heat. "Long-ge, tell me, do my lips look like I've put on lipstick?"

Zhu Yilong glanced up briefly before ducking his head with a smile. "It even looks like you had lip implants."

"You know quite a lot! It sounds a little scary."

"It's like those pictures on-line, where people pout like they want to be kissed." As Zhu Yilong spoke, he also pouted slightly, as though he was afraid Bai Yu wouldn't understand.

Bai Yu immediately imitated him, except his imitation was much more exaggerated. Seeing that the chili oil on Bai Yu's lips was about to drip down his chin, Zhu Yilong hurriedly took out a napkin to wipe his mouth. "Quick, wipe off the oil. You don't want your clothes anymore?"

"You're no fun at all," Bai Yu jokingly grumbled as he wiped his mouth.

Zhu Yilong almost choked at his words. He blinked. "Don't tell me you want me to kiss you?"

Without waiting for Bai Yu to reply, he continued to talk out loud. "There's even more chili oil on my lips than yours. You wouldn't be able to endure it."

Bai Yu bit down on his lips to hold back his laughter, feeling that Zhu Yilong's careful attentiveness of this question made him simply the most adorable person in the world.

"Long-ge, then if you really kissed me, should I say…" Bai Yu leaned in closer and lowered his voice. "Babe, you're too hot."

Chapter Text

Hearing Bai Yu's provocative words, Zhu Yilong almost knocked over his entire cup of Coke. The giant gulp he'd just taken went down far too fast, made worse by the chili oil of the crayfish. He couldn't help coughing and choking as though his entire world was shaking. In an instant, both his face and the rims of his eyes were red as tears spilled out.

"Hey, hey, Long-ge, Long-ge, I was joking!" Bai Yu hurriedly moved over and patted Zhu Yilong's back to help him regain his breath.

Maybe it was because they heard the commotion Zhu Yilong made, but the two poodles who had been playing with each other suddenly rushed over as though they had been summoned. Oscar started barking furiously at Bai Yu, while Cola directly bit down on Bai Yu's pant legs and forcefully tried to pull him away. Receiving these attacks out of nowhere left Bai Yu bewildered. Although the poodles were tiny, their energy wasn't lacking. Bai Yu could only sigh helplessly.

"Long-ge, look! Look at the three of you, ganging up on me. I haven't bullied your father!"

Having finally caught his breath, Zhu Yilong took a sip of the water Bai Yu handed him and licked his lips. Watching the two small poodles battle so fiercely made him want to laugh. "Who told you not to find some better lines to use?"

"I just had a sudden inspiration, a sudden thought!" Bai Yu turned around, a wronged expression on his face. "Our sons still love you more. It's difficult being a stepfather."

"Cola, Oscar." Zhu Yilong peeked out from behind Bai Yu and called out to them softly. Immediately, the two poodles stopped their attacks and quieted down. The two of them gazed innocently at Zhu Yilong, looking like they understood what was being said.

"My God, you have them trained well, Long-ge." Bai Yu looked at his drool-covered pant legs where Cola had bit them. "Cola, you really have no conscience! I was the one who fed you today."

Zhu Yilong took off his other glove, bent down and picked up Cola. Then he lightly spanked the little guy's behind. "You're not allowed to bite your dad's pant legs."

"Long-ge! If he wants to bite, then let him bite! Don't hit our son!" When Cola let out two mournful wails, Bai Yu couldn't help feeling a wave pity. He immediately grabbed the small dog and held him close in an embrace. This little guy who looked so ferocious just moments ago was once again burrowing into Bai Yu's arms, happily licking his face. Seeing this, Oscar unexpectedly became restless as well, licking and rubbing against Bai Yu's leg, competing for his favor.

Bai Yu bent down to pick up Oscar too, his face full of fatherly love. With one dog in each hand, he then had to dodge their pincer attacks as their wriggling around tickled him mercilessly.

Watching this scene, Zhu Yilong couldn't help laughing. "You say it's difficult being a stepfather, but you should have seen how they treated me when I first got them."

"That means I'm more charming!" Bai Yu grinned smugly, raising an eyebrow at Zhu Yilong. "Long-ge, don't be jealous. I still love you the most."

"You'd better put our sons down. You won't be able to wear these clothes tomorrow."

Accepting Zhu Yilong's advice, Bai Yu put the two poodles down in the living room and rubbed their furry heads. "Play by yourselves, don't interrupt your father's dinner."

Zhu Yilong continued to watch as Bai Yu jogged back to his side. His eyes were still slightly red while tears remained on his cheeks. Although it was nothing more than a physical reaction, it was still an appealing sight.

Bai Yu cleared his throat and helped wipe off the tears on Zhu Yilong's face. "Long-ge, if you let paparazzi photograph you like this, they'll think I hurt you! Ai, when a beauty weeps, no one can resist falling in love."

His tone was a bit exaggerated, deliberately placing an emphasis on the final syllables.

Zhu Yilong resisted the urge to laugh, and gave him an exasperated glare. "Do you ever have anything serious to say?"

"I'm being very serious! Why do you think I'm not being serious?" Wearing an innocent expression, Bai Yu spread his hands. "Long-ge is indeed handsome."

"You keep saying the same words every time, 'Long-ge is indeed handsome.' You've become a broken record[1]."

"My God, my God! Then what do you want me to say?" Bai Yu looked shocked, as though he didn't expect that reaction from Zhu Yilong at all. "Long-ge is a beauty for the ages! Is that the saying? Your fans also say that you're an immortal descended from the Ninth Heaven, right? Even your wrinkles aren't wrinkles, but the ripples of Lake Baikal."

Zhu Yilong's face flushed at this chain of attacks. It wasn't that he hadn't seen these types of fan sentiments before, whether they were used to describe Bai Yu or to describe himself. He even thought these girls were pretty interesting. Who knew where they came up with these comparisons? But when Bai Yu said the same words, the feeling was completely different. Although it was said with a joking tone, it was enough to make the tips of his ears redden.

"Stop talking."

"Is Long-ge satisfied? If you like it, I can say it every day. I'll study well, and make sure I have a different compliment for you every day. How about it?"

"Don't. I don't like it."

"Long-ge, don't be so aloof. Aren't you usually happy when your fans compliment you like this?"

Zhu Yilong glanced up at him, not knowing where he got those lines from. "It's not like you're one of my fans."

"Gege! I'm wounded! How come you acknowledge Teacher Peng as the head of your fanclub, but you won't acknowledge me? I'm working very hard too!"

"He isn't like you, sending me monkeys every day." Zhu Yilong didn't think Bai Yu would even pay attention to something that happened so long ago with Peng Guanying[2], let alone bring it up.

"But the monkey is capable of feelings and love too!" protested Bai Yu. "You don't see me scorning Guang Guang[3]."

"Actually, I don't dislike the monkey either," said Zhu Yilong firmly. "I just dislike the monkey memes you send!"

Zhu Yilong's tone was too serious. Bai Yu was actually taken aback, before he replied in a spoiled manner. "You're being too much, Long-ge! You're too much. How can you have such double standards! Aren't I the one you love and cherish the most? Why won't you speak?[4]"

"You're not." Zhu Yilong's reply was extremely fast.

These two words held the weight of a thousand stones, almost making Bai Yu feel as though his heart had stopped. He wasn't sure what this feeling meant, only that there was a strange numbness that crept up from his fingertips.

He immediately cracked a smile and patted Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "Long-ge, you're being too cold! Can't you give me some face[5]?"

Zhu Yilong ducked his head and smiled, patting the hand that rested on his shoulders. "I was just joking."

"Actually, Long-ge, you shouldn't laugh. This is something that's of paramount importance to our marriage," continued Bai Yu. "The media and the fans have very sharp eyes. You have to be ready to answer this question quickly. Let's practice a little! Come here, Long-ge, look at me."

Zhu Yilong obediently looked up, and a pair of large eyes fixed upon Bai Yu, holding hints of deep emotions.

Bai Yu swallowed, his expression a bit frazzled. "Am I the one you love the most?"

Zhu Yilong's eyes were as clear as a lake whose waves rippled under the breeze. His gaze was fixed and steady, carrying his gentle intent into Bai Yu's eyes.

"Yes," he answered softly. "You are the one I love the most."

Bai Yu never knew that such straightforward endearments could still have such devastating power. He felt as though all the blood in his body froze for three seconds, before suddenly surging forth again in a deafening rush.

Seeing his abnormal complexion, Zhu Yilong frowned and began to stand up. "Xiao Bai, what's wrong?"

Having just recovered his wits, Bai Yu realized that he had been lost in his own thoughts. He wasn't sure how to describe what he was feeling. He only felt awkward and embarrassed. In that instant, his self-defense instincts kicked in, and heedless of the path he took, he plunged forward with an explanation that he would soon regret. "It's nothing, it's nothing. I suddenly had a bit of a stomachache."

Zhu Yilong's expression changed at once. Standing up, he looked over Bai Yu's face with concern. "Sorry. I shouldn't have let you eat those crayfish."

"Long-ge, I… Everything's fine. It's only a little bit, a little bit." Bai Yu pantomimed the tiny quantity of pain he felt. "It's not your fault. I was the one who wanted to eat them."

"We don't have medicine at home, did you bring any?" Zhu Yilong ignored his comments, his brows still furrowed. "Why don't you get some rest, and I'll go out to buy some medicine for you."

Bai Yu immediately waved off that suggestion. "You really don't have to. It's not serious, I'll be better very soon! Just a nap will be enough!"

Maybe it was psychosomatic, or maybe he really shouldn't have eaten so much spicy food, but in this moment, Bai Yu truly felt a slight jolt of pain in his stomach. It wasn't serious, though; he only had to endure for a while before it passed.

"I'll prop you up so you can go lie down." Zhu Yilong sighed, took his Bai Yu's arm, and together they headed back to the guest room.

After Bai Yu obediently let himself be tucked in under the covers, he couldn't help feeling like he was Zhao Yunlan being taken home by Shen Wei. Zhu Yilong went out and returned with a cup of warm water, wearing a jacket and a black face mask. One look and Bai Yu knew that Zhu Yilong planned to go out, so he immediately reached out and grabbed Zhu Yilong's clothes.

"Xiao Bai." Zhu Yilong looked at him helplessly. "I just asked your assistant what kind of medicine you usually take. I'll help you buy them."

"You really don't have to. You're better off chatting with me as a distraction."

"Why do you keep being so difficult? If you're sick, you should take medicine."

Bai Yu hid half his face under the covers and knitted his brows together, creating an utterly miserable appearance. "There's only the two of us home. If you go out and I die of pain, what would you do? I cry out to the heavens, but the heavens won't answer[6]."

Zhu Yilong looked at him, then finally took off his jacket and threw his face mask onto the couch in the room. Sitting on the side of the bed, he fished out his cell phone from his pockets.

Seeing Zhu Yilong's fingers flying over the screen, Bai Yu could take a good guess at what was going on. He sat up and jokingly asked, "Gege, who are you messaging right in front of me?"

Zhu Yilong helplessly showed Bai Yu his screen. "I can't go myself, so I asked my assistant to deliver the medicine."

"He just got off work tonight, and you're ordering him around again!" Although Bai Yu was pushed back down onto the bed, his mouth still didn't stop. "There's no need to trouble him."

"Lie down." Zhu Yilong's tone brooked no arguments.

"My stomach doesn't hurt anymore! Really! I can go lift some weights right now." Ignoring his own discomfort, Bai Yu wanted to get back up because he felt bad for Zhu Yilong's assistant. But the moment he moved, he was pushed back down by Zhu Yilong again.

"What kind of weights can you lift in this state?" Zhu Yilong looked as though he wanted to laugh at all the antics, before sighing. "I said I wanted to take care of you, but it's only been a few days, and… This is my fault."

"Gege, your shoulders aren't wider than mine. How come you're shouldering all the blame yourself?" Bai Yu blinked earnestly. He had an idea of how much Zhu Yilong was currently blaming himself. His gege was so good to him, was in fact too good to him, far more than was reasonable.

In the end, it was better to clear out the obstacles than to let things stay blocked. Bai Yu knew that saying anything more was useless, so he simply grinned and gave a solution. "I really don't blame you. How about you give me a massage and we'll consider all amends paid?"

There wasn't much logic in those words, but Zhu Yilong's reaction was swift. Taking off his shoes, lifting the covers, and getting on the bed, his movements were as smooth as the moving clouds and flowing waters. Bai Yu had no time at all for regrets.

Lying down behind Bai Yu, Zhu Yilong rubbed his hands to warm them before reaching under Bai Yu's t-shirt and gently massaging circles on Bai Yu's stomach.

At first, these actions seemed overly intimate. But after thinking about it some more, there wasn't anything inappropriate about it since this was the most convenient position to massage his stomach. Zhu Yilong's hands were warm, and when pressed against cool skin, it felt quite good. The stomachache Bai Yu had gradually lessened under those tender and regular ministrations.

But being too relaxed wasn't a good state to be in either. Zhu Yilong was far too close, his breath hot on the nape of Bai Yu's neck. Their bodies were almost pressed together, and that wasn't mentioning the arms that were wrapped around his waist or the hands that were still caressing his skin.

Bai Yu closed his eyes like a particularly comfortable cat, almost letting a groan escape. It wasn't until he cleared his head that he realized a shocking fact — he was hard.

In an instant, his entire body stiffened. He was thirty years old, not some inexperienced teenager who couldn't stand even the slightest bit of teasing. Besides, Zhu Yilong was a good friend of his. For three years, they had shared their meals, and shared their rooms. It shouldn't have escalated to this extent!

Zhu Yilong seemed to sense something was amiss as well. Leaning close to Bai Yu's ears, he asked softly, "What's wrong? Do you still feel unwell?"

"Gege, I… It doesn't hurt anymore! No need to continue!" Bai Yu barely suppressed a shiver, all of his blood rushing south.

Zhu Yilong had no intentions of pulling back, instead patting him lightly. "I'll wait for you to go to sleep first."

"I'm asleep now!"

"You're talking in your sleep?" Zhu Yilong retorted.

"Okay, okay." Bai Yu tried his best to relax. He knew that Zhu Yilong wouldn't make any unnecessary movements, but he still felt tense enough to break out in a cold sweat. Afraid to move even an inch, he squeezed his eyes shut, wishing he could pass out on the spot.

He wasn't sure how much time had passed when he heard Zhu Yilong's breathing become slower, rougher and more steady. Through their clothes, he could even feel the rise and fall of Zhu Yilong's chest. The strength of Zhu Yilong's massage lessened, until his hands gradually slowed to a stop, resting on top of Bai Yu's hips.

Zhu Yilong unexpectedly fell asleep.

Bai Yu lightly called out, "Long-ge." But there was no response. After the heavy work on-set during the day, and then everything that happened at home, Zhu Yilong must have been exhausted. It had been too quiet just then, and the bed was soft and comfortable. The tidal wave of sleep naturally overcame him.

Bai Yu didn't have the heart to wake him, but he also wanted to use this opportunity to "take care" of his problem. He shifted cautiously, wanting to lift up Zhu Yilong's arm to escape. However, he didn't expect that the moment he moved, Zhu Yilong tightened his grip. Not only did he fail to escape, he also lost what tiny distance remained between the two of them.

Bai Yu wanted to cry, but no tears would come out. He could only stare at the ceiling, and berate himself for being too much of a novice. Why did he get hard in a situation like this? At the same time, he tried to distract himself, so his arousal would quickly subside. But his mind was full of mush, only conjuring up images of Zhu Yilong's face. Bai Yu closed his eyes in despair, racking his brains for some lines he could rehearse. Nothing came to mind, however, except a single sentence:

"I have many other things, but you probably wouldn't like them. There's only my heart… If you won't take it, then never mind.[7]"

This didn't even count as a line, but the mention of his heart hit him hard, making his head hurt. The warmth of Zhu Yilong's breath brushed over his skin, raising his awareness of their proximity. Bai Yu could almost swear he could feel the faint trembling of Zhu Yilong's lashes. All of this together only increased his excitement.

Bai Yu cursed himself a thousand times for being a pervert. The pressure he felt down below increased, causing him to feel a faint ache; he worried that he might explode if he didn't do anything about it.

In any case, Long-ge was sleeping so soundly, he probably shouldn't wake up…

Once this thought floated through his mind, Bai Yu felt himself go pleasantly weak. Unable to control himself, he started to move his hands between his legs. This was truly an endless torment. He didn't dare move too much, yet he desperately needed the release. No matter what he did, he couldn't hit the right spot. Instead, he only became more frantic. He was terrified of Zhu Yilong waking up, terrified of any movement he might make. At the same time, he also felt ashamed of doing this in front of a good friend. It made his whole body want to tremble.

Fortunately, Zhu Yilong was a peaceful sleeper. He didn't move at all, and his breathing was even and steady. He had no idea what Bai Yu was currently doing.

But Bai Yu had no way of controlling his breathing anymore, which became more labored and irregular. Even his body started trembling. Bai Yu felt tears welling up in his eyes. He even started praying to the king of the koi[8] for Zhu Yilong not to wake up, having completely fallen to a laughable state of being.

Unfortunately, things never turned out the way one hopes. The moment Bai Yu heard Zhu Yilong's muffled groan, he knew the situation was not good. Just as Zhu Yilong's hand moved, and a soft "Xiao Bai" was heard, Bai Yu finally collapsed with a shudder and long exhale, having found his release.

With his eyes glazed, and his forehead full of sweat, he curled into a ball. In his mind, there was only one sentiment:

Fuck. A beauty can really ruin a person.

Chapter Text

"Xiao Bai? Xiao Bai? Xiao Bai, what's wrong?" Zhu Yilong quietly called out at first, but when he saw Bai Yu's abnormal state, he sat up, his tone turning more urgent.

Bai Yu was curled up on himself, a sheen of sweat coating his forehead, his cheeks flushed red, his breath unsteady. In order to hide the evidence of his crime, he clutched the covers in front of his body like his life depended on it.

"Does it hurt again? Did it get worse?" Zhu Yilong got up quickly and touched his hand to Bai Yu's forehead. Seeing his fingers come away covered with sweat, he clicked his tongue. "Sorry, Xiao Bai… I shouldn't have fallen asleep just then."

"No, it doesn't hurt, Long-ge." Bai Yu almost passed out from embarrassment, burying his face in the pillows. In despair, he could only use these ineffective words to explain.

"You're already like this and you still want to lie to me." Zhu Yilong took out his phone. "My assistant isn't here yet, I'll go out to buy your medicine… No, I'll drive you to the hospital."

Zhu Yilong reached out to help him up, but Bai Yu withdrew and nimbly ducked out of the way. Even as inner alarm bells rang in his head, he couldn't help thinking that it was a little hilarious that he could possibly be the first guy ever to be sent to the hospital for an involuntary physical reaction.

"Long-ge, it really doesn't hurt! Really!" Bai Yu smiled at Zhu Yilong and wiped the sweat off his forehead. "Hey, did all this sweat worry you? If it weren't for you holding me so tight, would this have happened to me?"

His voice carried a thread of teasing, his tone effortless. It was actually Zhu Yilong who was taken aback once he heard this, a blush creeping up his face.

"Sorry, I didn't do it on purpose." Zhu Yilong lowered his head. "It really doesn't hurt anymore?"

Bai Yu propped his head on his hands and grinned at Zhu Yilong. "It really doesn't hurt. Have you ever seen someone in pain who can be as energetic as me?"

These words weren't wrong. Although Bai Yu's forehead was covered in sweat, that wasn't the case for anywhere else. His speech patterns and his expressions remained the same, not even Zhu Yilong, who had first noticed something wrong, could pick out anything peculiar about his behavior. It was only his posture that made people think something might be amiss.

"If you're too warm, then don't keep yourself under covers so thick." Zhu Yilong reached out to pull the covers off.

Unexpectedly, Bai Yu, who had just started to relax, suddenly used all his strength to hold onto the covers. Adopting a protective posture, he desperately wrapped himself in the covers. Zhu Yilong's expression turned uneasy.

"Don't touch!" Bai Yu blurted out.

Zhu Yilong's hand froze in place.

For a moment, the atmosphere turned awkward with no one saying a word. Bai Yu turned his head away, unable to meet Zhu Yilong's eyes.

"Xiao Bai," started Zhu Yilong. "The fault was mine today. If you dislike close physical contact, you can say so directly."

"Uh…" Bai Yu blinked, not quite understanding Zhu Yilong's meaning. After a long pause, he suddenly reacted. "Long-ge, what are you saying! I don't, I don't."

"I only wanted to help you ease your pain earlier, so I didn't think about whether you would accept… this kind of thing from a man." Zhu Yilong bit his lips. "If I did anything that crossed the line after I fell asleep, you can tell me too. I apologize."

Zhu Yilong's voice was gentle as he lowered his head, his hand unconsciously rubbing the fabric of his pants. He looked like a child who made a mistake and was awaiting his teacher's punishment.

"I… I only thought it was too warm."

"No, I…" Bai Yu was temporarily at a loss for words. He couldn't figure out where everything had gone wrong in this misunderstanding. For now, he could only continue to hide under the covers, protecting the evidence of his guilt, terrified that Zhu Yilong would take even a single step forward.

Zhu Yilong smiled at him. "You really don't feel any discomfort?"

"No, no, really, no!" Bai Yu furiously shook his head. "Gege, you definitely can't overthink it. I… I want to go to sleep, Long-ge."

"Okay, if you feel unwell, then call for me." Zhu Yilong smiled at him again, took two steps towards the door, before turning back to pick up his jacket and face mask.

It was only after the door lightly closed behind Zhu Yilong that Bai Yu finally relaxed. His hands that had clutched the covers too tight were beginning to feel sore, and his temples throbbed. His mind was still a mess; at the time, he didn't think of anything beyond hiding the embarrassing truth from Zhu Yilong.

He had absolutely no problems with any physical contact between himself and Zhu Yilong, whether it was a hug, the pat of a shoulder, or throwing an arm around each other. Their interactions had always been so natural, all their touches instinctive. Bai Yu had never thought any of it was improper. Although they had never held each other in bed like this before, with Zhu Yilong's hands reaching inside his shirt and massaging his stomach. It was a little strange when described like this, but at its core, there wasn't anything fishy about it.

Though Bai Yu was a naturally affectionate person, he still had a sense of personal space. It was only when it came to Long-ge that it all disappeared. He enjoyed getting close to Zhu Yilong. In fact, he may enjoy it a little too much.

He sighed and quickly cleaned up the evidence with some tissues, then he changed into a new pair of pants.

Right at that time, the doorbell rang. Even after three rings, no one answered the door. Bai Yu put on some slippers and headed out, passing by the master bedroom where he heard the indistinct sound of water running. Seeing the familiar sight of Zhu Yilong's assistant through the peephole, he opened the door.

The assistant stared. "Teacher Bai, why is it you? Teacher Zhu said your stomachache was very severe. Are you feeling better now?"

"Much better, much better!" Bai Yu moved aside to let the assistant in, but was waved off and had the bag of medicine stuffed in his hands instead.

"Where's Teacher Zhu? He was the one who asked me to bring the medicine."

Bai Yu nodded and smiled. "Long-ge is in the shower, but I can take the medicine. Sorry for inconveniencing you. It's so late, but we still troubled you to make the trip."

"It's no problem, all this is within the job description." The assistant shook his head. "Both of you pay attention to your health."

"How can this be in your job description! I'm going to tell Long-ge to pay you overtime."

"Teacher Bai is too polite! If there's nothing else, then I'll be off?"

"You've worked hard, you should go home early to rest." Bai Yu wanted to follow the assistant off downstairs too, but he was stopped with the explanation "Teacher Zhu would fire me if I let you do that."

When Zhu Yilong came out of the shower, he walked in on Bai Yu hovering by the door, calling out "Take care!"

"Who was it?" asked Zhu Yilong.

Bai Yu turned around and dangled the bag in his hands. "Your assistant, traveling a thousand miles here. It really wasn't easy on him."

"Come back inside." Zhu Yilong beckoned at him. "Your stomach really doesn't hurt anymore? Don't stand at the door and catch a cold[1]."

What chill was there to catch? Bai Yu stuck his tongue out and closed the door, then headed back with a spring in his step.

Zhu Yilong only wore a white tank top and shorts, and his hair was dripping wet. Bai Yu's gaze swept from his collarbones to the pale and smooth expanse of his skin.

Suddenly, Bai Yu's mind was in complete disarray again, almost ready to crash.

Unfortunately, Zhu Yilong didn't have much self-awareness. He took the bag of medicine from Bai Yu's hands, dug around inside, and pulled out a small case of pills that he handed to Bai Yu. "I asked around. This should be the medicine you usually take. Don't forget to follow the schedule."

Zhu Yilong was standing too close. With his head lowered, the flutter of his eyelashes seemed to dance directly on Bai Yu's heart. Bai Yu subconsciously drew back his hand.

Zhu Yilong froze, then smiled awkwardly. "I forgot. I'll pay attention."

Bai Yu didn't have time to react or understand what there was to pay attention to, before Zhu Yilong turned around to pour him a glass of hot water. He mixed in some cool water, and when the temperature felt right, he placed the glass on the table in front of Bai Yu.

"Eat your medicine." Zhu Yilong moved a little further from him, choosing a distance that was not too intimate but not too impersonal either.

A loud roar sounded in Bai Yu's head as he finally realized where Zhu Yilong had misunderstood him. "Long-ge, I didn't mean anything by it. Really, there was nothing just then! How we should be in the future is how we are now."

Zhu Yilong smiled and nodded. "I know."

"I'll drive you to work again tomorrow."

"There's no need. You need to get some rest."

"How could I do that? I have to prove my worth, don't you think?"

"We can talk tomorrow." Zhu Yilong hesitated. "Good night."

Bai Yu lay on the bed, thinking he was unlikely to get any peace and quiet tonight. Countless matters spun in his mind, all of them involving Zhu Yilong in some way. They actually haven't spent too much time together, yet they were as close as friends who have known each other for decades or more. Thinking back to when they first met on set, there really may have been a feeling that they were already old friends.

It wasn't that he wasn't aware of all the posts shipping them together. Frankly, muddling along in the entertainment circles for so many years, there wasn't anyone who hadn't been shipped with their co-stars. It was a normal thing. He always felt that he and Long-ge were completely open and aboveboard, without the slightest chance of those bewitching thoughts entering his heart.

But he had to admit, he truly felt there was something amiss. Not to mention, he had committed a crime in broad daylight while in Zhu Yilong's arms, all while thinking of his Long-ge. His scalp tingled pleasantly.

"Don't tell me I'm actually gay?" straight man Bai Yu mumbled. Then an impossibility popped up in his mind. "Fuck! No, no, definitely not. I'd never consider someone like Lao Zhang…"

His former co-star had no idea he was being used as a comparison in Bai Yu's mind. Next, even more people were dragged down along with him.

Bai Yu closed his eyes and thought over all of his friends and co-stars. Even ignoring the men, he never had particularly strong feelings for the women either. He had done many kissing scenes, and he'd done a sex scene or two as well. He had kissed Yang Rong over eighty times without ever having any indecent thoughts. Instead, he remembered disliking her lipstick. His scene in The Fraud Love Group[2] was quite risqué, but other than feeling a bit shy, there was nothing else.

Bai Yu couldn't help imagining Zhu Yilong in that same scene, being pushed down on the narrow couch while Bai Yu's hands stroked the skin from Zhu Yilong's knees to his ankles. Zhu Yilong was so thin, he could probably hold his ankle with just one hand.

"Fuck." Bai Yu didn't dare to continue that train of thought. He pulled at his hair with all his strength, then patted his somewhat heated cheeks.

Thinking about Zhu Yilong's appearance, Bai Yu lamented that beauty could overthrow an entire country. But honestly speaking, he had been in the entertainment circles for so long, and he had seen his share of beauties. Yet in his eyes, none of them could compare to his Long-ge. And to him, Zhu Yilong wasn't just a pretty face. He had always said that Long-ge was a good person and a talented actor, and he meant it. They had many things in common, they never ran out of things to talk about, and they even shared the same attitude and passion for their lives and their work.

Pondering all this, Bai Yu suddenly felt as though he and Long-ge were a match made in heaven.

At the same time, he also felt a burst of distress. He knew that Long-ge was good and loyal to him. Even when he caused a huge disaster for them both, Zhu Yilong was willing to take on the consequences together. Back then, he solemnly vowed to enter into this contract marriage[3], how could he renege on his word now? Besides, he was vaguely aware of Zhu Yilong's dating history. Since Zhu Yilong had never expressed interest in men, did he think he had the ability to turn Zhu Yilong gay?

Bai Yu, ah, Bai Yu, he lamented as he slapped his thigh. Why had he set a flag for himself back then and offer to block the door for the bride's family[4] at Zhu Yilong's wedding? Now when he thought about blocking the door for someone else, he wanted to die. But either way, this wouldn't be possible now. As an ex-husband, how could he appear at Zhu Yilong's real wedding?

A wave of bitterness washed over him. At worst, other people could at least take the place of the best man and watch his beloved walk towards happiness. But he didn't even have that right. How unexpectedly ridiculous.

Bai Yu smacked his head a few times, trying to dispel his current mood, but nothing worked. He tossed and turned in bed, before finally unlocking his phone and opening WeChat. He found the group chat he had with his childhood friends and sent a single, soul-searching question — "To love someone, but be unable to obtain their love. What should I do?"

It was already late, so Bai Yu didn't expect someone to reply so quickly.

"You just fucking got married and you want to cheat already????"

"???? Let's break off our friendship."

"What's this bullshit about unrequited love? How can you still have time to play on your phone? Shouldn't you be sharing marital bliss with your Long-ge?"

Bai Yu stared at the screen, crying tears in his heart. He couldn't directly answer any of these questions, he could only stubbornly reply: "What if we already finished."

Finishing on his own still counted as finishing, thought Bai Yu guiltily.

Once those words were sent, even more people popped up in chat.

"Your days are passing pretty comfortably!"

"Lao Bai, are you the top or the bottom?"

"How come the first thing out of your mouth is something so vulgar?" criticized Bai Yu.

"Whelp, you're definitely the bottom."


"Why are you chatting with us after? Shouldn't you be cuddling with your Long-ge?"

"Who knew we held such an important place in your heart?"

"Hey, about that unrequited love you were talking about earlier. Aren't you still on your honeymoon?"

Out of nowhere, someone sent a meme expressing sudden enlightenment. "I know! You're not the one having an affair, your Long-ge is the one cheating on you!"

"Green Yu[5]!"

"Love is but a flash of light."

"I didn't expect him to have such large eyes and thick eyebrows."

"Stop stop stop!!! Stop your overactive imaginations!" Bai Yu sent out a meme expressing anger.

"Then what are you making a fuss for?"

"Don't say public displays of affection."

"I'm busy feeding my son right now. Stop blabbering and get to the point."

Bai Yu couldn't clearly describe his feelings in this moment, he could only speak vaguely. "I think he doesn't like me enough. Just missing a little, do you get it?"


"I'm straight. I can't understand gay relationships."

Bai Yu almost replied that he was straight too, but before sending the message, he remembered that he couldn't be considered straight anymore. What the hell was this anyway. He had been straight for thirty years, but one look from his Long-ge, and he bent like a spring. He was too helpless in the face of beauty.

"He doesn't like me that way. He likes me like a brother," clarified Bai Yu.

"What the hell is wrong with you???"

"I've considered you a good brother for so many years, but I've never wanted to marry you!!!"

"Lao Bai, if there's something wrong with your head, you should see a doctor. If Long-ge saw what you were saying, he'd die of anger."

"Damn! Your romance is almost being shown on CCTV, on BBC, on CNN. Now you suddenly say it's brotherhood??? Do you think you're still filming Guardian?"

"You two have already kissed and done it. Can I ask, who here in this room would be willing to do any of that with Bai Yu?"

A string of identical "Not Willing" appeared in the chat. Bai Yu couldn't help but laugh.

"What if he's pretending?" asked Bai Yu. His marriage with Zhu Yilong was a contract marriage. Wasn't that just pretending? It wasn't just Zhu Yilong either. He himself had to pretend the hardest. He had to act as though he had no feelings for Zhu Yilong at all, but is only pretending to be a loving partner. This logic was so convoluted even he was momentarily confused.

"Pretending? Yeah, right!"

"I'll give you a hundred million if you pretend to let me fuck you."

"?? Where did you get a hundred million?"


"Lao Bai, good job."

They continued to cause a ruckus in the chat, when suddenly a long reply was sent.

"Lao Bai, I don't know why you have these doubts, and I don't understand what the entertainment circle is like. I only think Long-ge isn't that kind of person. He's more mature than you are. Since you two are married, why don't you two talk it out directly? I'm not sure what happened between you two, and I understand if you don't want to tell us the specifics. But on the matter of unrequited love, no matter what, you should at least strive for it. Then even if you don't succeed, at least you won't have regrets. Isn't that something you said before?"

For a moment, no one said anything else. Bai Yu held his phone and repeatedly typed and deleted his reply. There was too much he couldn't reveal, but what his friend said was correct. If he didn't even try, what kind of hero was he?

"Thanks, brother." This was the reply Bai Yu finally sent.

There was an almost instantaneous response. "Lao Bai, I was speaking genuinely from the heart. If you tell me your unrequited love is for a limited edition game, I'm going to beat you to death."

Bai Yu immediately sent an emoji with an evil grin. "A game is exactly what I was talking about."

Extra: Weibo Trending Topics

Translation notes in brackets.

#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Wedding
#Guardian Brothers Wedding
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Las Vegas Wedding
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Go Public
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Really Got Married?
#Are American Wedding Certificates Valid in China?
#Las Vegas Wedding Guide

#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Wedding Ring
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong M&Ms
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Expensive Wedding Rings
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Mango Monkey
#Can You Engrave Memes on Wedding Rings?
#M&M Husbands

#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Passionate Kiss
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong NBA
#Seeking Traumatized Foreign Sister
#NBA Kiss Cam
#Zhu Yilong Possessiveness
#Zhu A Long Passionately Kisses Bai Yu [ A = Alpha ]
#Bai Yu Kneels on Keyboard [ Kneels on Washboard as punishment / in the doghouse ]

#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Airport
#Bai Yu Protects Zhu Yilong
#Bai Yu's Alpha Instincts Burst Out
#Bai Yu Berates Stalkers
#I Want To Protect Long-ge
#Bai Yu Angered On Behalf Of Male Beauty
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Who Is More Alpha

#Bai Yu Sons
#Bai Yu Cola Oscar
#Bai Yu Happily Posts Beloved Sons
#Bai Yu Brings Back Two Babies in Three Days
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Have Sons Already
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Second Pregnancy
#Zhu Yilong Earning Money to Support Family
#Bai Yu Beautiful As A Flower [ a.k.a. BY sits around looking pretty while ZYL does the work]

#Zhu Yilong Cooking In A Suit
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Public Display of Affection
#Zhu Yilong Has It Tough
#Zhu Yilong Modern Male Role Model
#Zhu Yilong Earns Money To Support Family And Does Chores Too
#Truly Envy Bai Yu
#Zhu Yilong Apron
#Bubble Dragon Apron
#Bai Yu Zhu Yilong Cooking Video
#10k Petition Written in Blood for Zhu Yilong's Cooking Livestream
#Bai Yu-gege Eat More
#Cola Oscar Dog Food [ Dog Food also = PDA ]

Chapter Text

Once the decision was made, everything became clear. Ever since Bai Yu became an actor, he'd spent more time apart from these childhood friends of his than together. So when the chat suddenly became lively, they kept talking until the early hours of the morning. At that point, Bai Yu was forced to put down his phone after being bombarded with memes and rebukes that told him to "Fuck off to your Long-ge's arms and go to sleep!"

But how could he fall asleep? He felt as though he'd never experienced so many tumultuous emotions in his life before. It wasn't that he didn't have any experience with love, but he was already thirty years old, so he was no longer as impetuous and out-of-control as he was in his youth. The last time he felt like this, he had still been in university.

Losing sleep to the excitement of a fantasy was truly embarrassing. Even more embarrassing was sleeping through the alarm he set and not waking up until it was afternoon.

Staying up late wasn't a comfortable experience. A little dazed, it took Bai Yu awhile before realizing what time it was. He sat on the bed and shook his groggy head, wishing he could hit his earlier self awake who had slept like a dead pig.

Zhu Yilong had already left for work, so Bai Yu was the only one in the apartment. He had earnestly promised to drive Zhu Yilong to work, yet he ended up not even noticing Zhu Yilong getting up and leaving.

He got out of bed, washed up in the bathroom, and headed to the kitchen, where he discovered a cup of soy milk and an unopened food container on the dinner table. There was a note stuck under the cup with densely packed writing on it.

The soy milk had long since gone cold, so Bai Yu moved it aside and picked up the note, carefully reading it. Like an overly diligent mother, Zhu Yilong crammed the note full of words, listing the locations of every medicine, food, household appliance and more. He even remembered to write down "Don't forget to take your medicine."

Once Bai Yu saw the last sentence - "When you wake up, give me a call. Don't let me worry." - he couldn't help grinning like an idiot as he clutched the note in his hands.

Was it possible Long-ge liked him at least a little bit? As soon as the thought flashed through his mind, he swiftly shook his head. Zhu Yilong had a gentle disposition, and would treat anyone with kindness and courtesy, let alone a good friend. Bai Yu absolutely couldn't take underestimate this enemy.

Not realizing he had mentally started preparing for a war, Bai Yu took out his phone, and obediently following Zhu Yilong's instructions, dialed his number.

The phone rang for a long time before Zhu Yilong picked up, his voice familiar and gentle. "Hey, Xiao Bai. Sorry, I was just filming a scene."

"No worries, no worries! You're filming, I understand."

Zhu Yilong laughed softly. "Why did you wake up so late? Is your stomach feeling better? Does it still hurt?"

"I was already better last night!" answered Bai Yu. "Long-ge, you're working so hard on filming, there's no need to worry about such a small problem. Oh, and also, last night, there wasn't anything meaningful to what I had said. Long-ge, you definitely can't over-think it!"

"I'm not over-thinking," replied Zhu Yilong at lightning speed before sighing. "Stomach issues require care and maintenance, it's not a small problem. From now on, you're not allowed to wake up so late, you need to eat breakfast. I'm on set and can't be at home, so you have to have self-discipline."

Bai Yu listened and nodded his head like a bobble-head doll. Quite some time passed before he remembered he was on the phone and quickly switched to repeating "Uh-huh" instead. "Gege really is more conscientious than my doctor."

"Didn't I say I'd take care of you?"

"I know!" Bai Yu grinned. "Long-ge, are you busy on set? Do you have to stay there? When are you coming home?"

"I don't know either." Zhu Yilong paused. "I have a lot of scenes and my schedule is pretty tight. I think it will be tough to find time to come home."

"Then I might not see you before I start filming?"

"When I have a break, I'll go visit you," answered Zhu Yilong.

"I'm going to be really really far away." Bai Yu dragged out his words. "I'm going to Yunnan."

The two of them being separated across the country truly was inconvenient, especially since Bai Yu's filming location didn't have any direct flights to it. One or two days wasn't going to be enough.

"Hmm…" Zhu Yilong seemed to think of something. "Then I'll take a few days off before you leave, so I can send you off?"

"Forget it, forget it! Why don't I visit you on set instead? To the public, I'm your husband. Everything is proper and out in the open, so I don't have to worry about being photographed, right?"

Bai Yu heard a burst of laughter through the phone, followed by Zhu Yilong imitating him and saying "Indeed." Bai Yu didn't know why, but he started laughing non-stop as well.

"Xiao Bai, it's my scene next," said Zhu Yilong. "If you want to visit the set, you can get in touch with my assistant, and he'll help you arrange everything. I'll be going first."

The conversation hadn't lasted more than few minutes. Although Bai Yu was reluctant to end it, he still had to obediently hang up so he didn't interfere with Zhu Yilong's work.

"Gege, bye bye!"

Zhu Yilong didn't see that Bai Yu's smile fell for just an instant.

Then Bai Yu exhaled, raised his head and grinned again. "Let's do this!"

"Pfft." Zhu Yilong laughed again. "All right. Let's do this!"

Once Zhu Yilong officially started filming, he was so busy his feet barely touched the ground, leaving an extremely bored Bai Yu at home to live the life of a lonely spouse[1]. Bai Yu had always been a creative person who could make the most mundane days interesting. In the past, he had looked forward to long breaks, but during these two weeks, he found even the video games he played to be dull and insipid.

Even though Long-ge was a n00b, but he was adorable! Bai Yu stared at the computer screen and sighed. Closing out of the game, he went to feed the two restless poodles.

Zhu Yilong's filming schedule seemed particularly busy this time. There were times when they barely had time to exchange a few WeChat messages over the course of several days. Frequently, Bai Yu would send a message in the morning only to receive a short reply much later at night. But Zhu Yilong's assistant turned out to be more meticulous than anyone else. He closely kept track of whether Bai Yu ate his three meals a day on time, being more fussy than an old maidservant.

Of course, this was Zhu Yilong showing concern and care for him. But not being able to see, touch, or hear Zhu Yilong was too miserable an existence. Every day, he ate on a fixed schedule, played video games, watched TV, read the script to prepare for his role, and walked the dogs in the morning and in the evening. At most, he might go back to his parents' place and chat with them. His life felt more monotonous than that of an old retiree.

Yesterday, his manager sent him a news article, whose headline stated "Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu's marriage in trouble? Bai Yu walking the dogs alone, looking thin and pallid." The accompanying pictures were so blurry he could barely make out his own face. He wasn't sure where these pictures were taken, but his facial features could barely be recognized. How did they come up with "thin and pallid"? At most, he was a little sloppy when he got dressed. Did they expect him to deck himself out like he was going to an awards show just to walk the dogs?

Bai Yu lay back on the couch, not paying attention to the random idol drama playing on the television. He reached out and took Cola who followed him to the couch into his arms, and asked the tiny dog a question. "Cola, what does your dad usually do at home? Has your dad ever told you if he liked me?"

The little guy had no reaction, wagging his tail and dripping saliva on Bai Yu's clothes. Bai Yu held Cola's paws and moved them up and down. "Forget it, you little heartless thing. Hey, tell me, does your dad have someone he likes? A woman? A man is okay too."

Coincidentally, the small dog seemed to suddenly understand him, letting out a loud and decisive bark.

Bai Yu almost suffered a spiritual shock. "My God! Really? Tell me, is it a man or a woman? Bark once for a man, bark twice for a woman."

"Woof, woof, woof!"

Bai Yu laughed so hard he almost rolled off the couch. "What does three barks mean? Neither man nor woman? Or both? Ah, I get it. He has a man and a woman. Long-ge has two lovers at the same time!"

With Cola continuing to snuggle against his neck, triggering his ticklishness, Bai Yu couldn't help being amused by both his current predicament and his imagination. In that instant, he was laughing so hard his face felt sore.

"Forget it, forget it. Why am I asking you?" Bai Yu turned away to look at Oscar, who was playing with a bone-shaped chew-toy. "Come here, Oscar. Come talk to your papa."

Oscar continued to gnaw on his chew-toy like Bai Yu didn't exist.

"Did you inherit this from your father? You're just as aloof as Long-ge. Can't you learn from me instead and be more cheerful?" Bai Yu reached out to ruffle the round ball of fur. "All my efforts were wasted on you two! You don't care at all about your fathers' love. What kind of person does Long-ge actually like? Cutesy? Sexy? Gentle?"

Bai Yu mumbled to himself, answering his own questions. "It seems I'm not gentle and I can't be considered sexy either. To call a man cutesy is also a little weird. It feels like I don't have that many strong points… But the most important point is that Long-ge has never liked a man before. Doesn't everyone say it's impossible to turn a straight man gay? No, that's not right. Didn't I used to be straight? I was."

With a sigh, Bai Yu held Cola against his chest and rubbed his cheeks against the soft fur. He murmured with an extremely low and quiet voice, "I like your dad so much…"

The phone call came at just the right time. Seeing the caller ID display his manager's name, Bai Yu put the poodle down and took the call.

"Bai-shu, what are you doing?" The voice on the other end of the phone was light and brisk, as though in a very good mood.

Of course, Bai Yu would not admit that he was hugging his son while being melancholy over the changing of the seasons. He gave a short laugh. "Studying."

"Pfft." The other person burst out laughing. "Enough! Are you sick of staying home and playing nursemaid for the children yet? We just got a huge case!"

"Has there been a serial killer in the Western city suburbs?"

"Wake up, God Han! Wake up, Detective Luo[2]!"

Bai Yu wedged his phone between his shoulders and neck, and took out some fruits from the fridge. "What kind of case is there then?"

"A new endorsement! Are you surprised? Is this unexpected?"

"Wow!" Bai Yu matched his manager's tone. Then he looked at the fruits in his hand and sighed. "I'm not in the mood to eat. My stomach hurts."

"If your stomach hurts, then properly take your medicine," replied his manager with some exasperation. "And what are you talking about, eating? This is for make-up! Make-up!"

Bai Yu blinked, a little confused. Although he was an actor and often wore make-up, he himself understood nothing about it. He was a truly an uncultured man.

"My God! Even though I've done make-up removal on livestream, but I'm not a real make-up streamer," said Bai Yu. "Do they want me to endorse make-up remover?"

"Who said you were endorsing make-up remover? Can you really call what you did make-up removal?"

"It couldn't be eyeshadow, could it?" Bai Yu remembered the filters his fans liked to put on him during his livestreams, then thought about his appearance that was enough to terrify a ghost[3]. He couldn't help shuddering. "I refuse. There must be some problem with this brand!"

"It's lipstick, you can stop guessing. It's a first-rate international brand, how can it have problems?"

"My dumb straight self can't even tell the lipstick colors apart, are you kidding?"

"No one asked you to tell them apart. You just have to fool the women into buying them."

Bai Yu heard this and grinned. "Brutally honest, I'm impressed. No, wait. I'm such a coarse, old man with a stubbly beard. I wouldn't look good in lipstick! How do I fool them? Should we look for Long-ge? With those rosy lips and pretty white teeth, he's very suitable for it."

Zhu Yilong's face immediately came to mind again. His skin was pale, and without make-up, his lips held a faint tinge of pink. His eyes were bright and his smile was dazzling, painting an especially moving picture.

Bai Yu didn't even finish imagining the full appearance of the man he'd been thinking about day and night. The next words out of his manager's mouth left him thunderstruck.

"You actually guessed right!"

"Wait… Are you saying that Long-ge also took this endorsement?"

"There's no 'also' about it. This brand invited you both. Together." His manager emphasized the last word.

This brand was a famous, first-rate international brand. Whether it was by reputation or quality, they were at the top of the industry. They had very few brand ambassadors and endorsements in China, so this was a hard to come by opportunity. According to his manager, this brand placed a strong importance on the concept of "Equal Love," and had made many contributions to LGBT rights. They had always wanted to find celebrities in China who were LGBT for endorsements, but didn't succeed until now.

The theme for their latest season was "A Passionate Kiss from the Heart," emphasizing that "Love Should Be Free." Their endorsement was for the lipstick line, which would naturally have related ads and commercials.

Bai Yu felt dizzy listening to all this, and grasped at a critical keyword. "Does 'A Passionate Kiss from the Heart' mean what I think it means?"

"What else could it mean?"

"Um… So you're saying… that Long-ge and I… should follow our hearts… uh…" Bai Yu's heart leapt to his throat. Although he didn't mind, and was even a little excited about it, he had no idea what Zhu Yilong would think. Long-ge, after all, was completely straight. Would he oppose this type of risqué commercial? He had never liked filming kissing scenes. If Bai Yu abused official work for his private interests, that would be too dishonest of him.

"Bai-shu, I know it's a little risqué for you," said his manager. "But this brand is incredibly prestigious. And it would help your image. To be honest, if it were just you alone, you wouldn't be chosen."

"What about Long-ge? What did he say?"

"I spoke with Chan-jie, and she also thinks you two should accept the endorsement. But Teacher Zhu is filming right now, so we won't know his answer until later. Why don't you send him a message? Honestly, this opportunity is pretty good. Isn't it just acting? The two of you are professionals! So what if you're straight? It's not like they're asking for anything real."

Bai Yu wanted to cry but the tears would come. Long-ge didn't want this to be real, but he really really did. He was a little excited, but unexpectedly, he was more nervous. He was afraid that Zhu Yilong would agree, but he was also afraid that Zhu Yilong would turn it down. He truly was trapped without room to advance or retreat.

"I'll send you the rough script for the commercials. If you two confirm that you'll be accepting it, then we can set up another meeting to discuss the specifics."

There wasn't much to the commercial's script, which was very simple. Bai Yu gave it a quick glance, then read over it more carefully. It sent his mind into chaos. The script could be summarized like this — He would push Zhu Yilong against the wall, and they would share a dizzying kiss in the darkness. Even ignoring directions like discarding his suit jacket, unbuttoning a shirt, pulling off a tie… just the words "traces of lipstick stained the corner of his mouth and his eyelids" were enough to make Bai Yu shiver.

Bai Yu took a deep breath and opened his chat with Zhu Yilong, sending a meme that said "How provocative!" Then, he asked, "Long-ge, Long-ge, what do you think of this lipstick endorsement?"

He originally thought he'd have to wait until midnight before he received a reply again. But this time, he immediately saw the message "Zhu Yilong is typing…"

After a bit, a new message jumped up at him. "Xiao Bai, what do you think?"

Bai Yu stuck out his tongue. Just like old times, the question was thrown back at him. In an authoritative manner, he pulled together the arguments from his manager about the prestige of the brand and improving their image, and sent it all through the chat.

Zhu Yilong replied after a bit. "Chan-jie said all this to me too. It is pretty good. But a kissing scene is a bit intense…"

"Indeed. This opportunity is indeed very good." Bai Yu put up a final fight to convince him.

"It's only a commercial, the benefits shouldn't be too much, actually."

"Long-ge, don't think this way! I heard this line-up hasn't had any endorsements from within China yet! My manager had to exhaust all methods of persuasion."

"I'm not very good at kissing scenes."

"I'm an expert!" With this, Bai Yu realized he was being too obvious, and quickly walked the words back. "I think it's just acting, there's not much to it."

"If you don't mind, then I have no problems either."

Bai Yu stared at this last line, wondering if his eyesight had gone bad. He hadn't originally planned to pressure Zhu Yilong too much. For one, he was afraid he'd cross a line. For another, he didn't want to take advantage of his Long-ge using a commercial. He even prepared to give up quickly if he couldn't convince Zhu Yilong, but he didn't expect it to be this easy. Zhu Yilong really trusted him too much. Just a few words here and there, and he was persuaded.

In this instant, he felt a little smugness, but even more, he felt an almost fatal level of tenderness and warmth. In those two years after Guardian, their paths almost never crossed. Yet two years later, they still wholeheartedly trusted each other.

He grabbed Cola and Oscar, one in each arm, and rolled around with them. It took him a long time to calm down. Clearing his throat, he dialed his manager's number.

"It's settled." Bai Yu feigned seriousness.

"Teacher Zhu agreed?"

"Yep. His side should be replying soon."

"Bai-shu, bravo!!!!" His manager suddenly raised his voice, startling Bai Yu.

"My God, should you be getting this excited? Just this is enough for a 'bravo'?"

"Chan-jie told me before that Long-ge seemed to be hesitant and quite unwilling. I didn't think your words could be so effective!"

"Or it could be that he suddenly came around to the idea, and decided to commit to his art," said Bai Yu a little unhappily.

Hesitant. Unwilling. These two words were like like ice water being poured over him. Maybe Zhu Yilong really had been in a dilemma. Or maybe Zhu Yilong just didn't want to pass up on this opportunity.

He doesn't like you that much.

Chapter Text

It took some time to work out the logistics, but roughly one week later, they met to finalize the contract. Bai Yu had looked forward to seeing Zhu Yilong, only to be met with Li Chan instead. The brand's representatives had no objections to this. After all, Zhu Yilong was busy filming, so it was normal to send his manager in his place. Moreover, Bai Yu, his lawful husband, was also there. Zhu Yilong had a good reputation, so there were no concerns about him going back on his word.

Contract discussions ended up going very smoothly. The only snag came when the photographer expressed his hope that Bai Yu would shave his beard for the second set of pictures. This counted as a decision worth talking over. The photographer felt that the new look would better suit the scene and convey the sense of change that the brand wanted. He only worried that Bai Yu may have doubts about losing his beard.

It was true that Bai Yu was protective of the rose thorns on his chin, but they were hardly untouchable. Thinking about how his next role also required him to shave his beard, he readily agreed.

From signing the contract to filming, there were another few days' delay. As each day passed, Bai Yu only felt more and more testy. He wasn't satisfied at all with exchanging a few short messages with Zhu Yilong every day. If he didn't see his Long-ge in person soon, he felt he might die of touch deprivation.

When the day of the filming arrived, Bai Yu got there first. Not only was the set location was closer to their apartment, Zhu Yilong also had to rush over from the suburbs.

By the time Zhu Yilong reached the location, Bai Yu was almost done his make-up, with the stylist putting the finishing touches on his hair. In the mirror, he saw Zhu Yilong enter the room, greet everyone, and then apologize for being late.

"Long-ge, Long-ge!" Bai Yu waved as he called out.

"Xiao Bai." Zhu Yilong turned his head, and gave him an extremely gentle smile. His eyes curved into crescents, softly illuminating the heavens and the earth, casting a halo around him.

"I missed you to death!" said Bai Yu with extreme exaggeration. "I counted and we haven't seen each other for almost a month. It's too cruel!"

"That's right." Zhu Yilong walked over and reached out to touch Bai Yu's chin. "Is your heart breaking? This will be gone soon."

After saying this, Zhu Yilong's expression changed like he'd just thought of something, and he withdrew his hand, an apology hovering on his lips.

Bai Yu's reaction was quick. With a face full of anguish, he spoke in a small voice. "I'm heart-broken, Long-ge! I'm heart-broken!"

Everyone in the make-up room burst out laughing. Zhu Yilong bit his lip to hold back the laughter, taking several moments before he recovered his breath and sat down. His hair was a bit long, so the make-up artist used a comb to gather it all up and tie it behind his head. The rest of his stray hairs were pinned by clips, leaving the sight of a clean and delicate face in the mirror.

From Bai Yu's angle, he only needed to glance over a little to see Zhu Yilong in the mirror, who still looked as handsome as ever. The only differences now were the dark circles under his eyes, and the slight gauntness to his cheeks that wasn't there before.

"Long-ge is indeed handsome." Bai Yu sighed. "Even more handsome.[1]."

Zhu Yilong glanced over at him, exasperated. He seemed dissatisfied with the same old tune that Bai Yu sang every time they saw each other, and directly changed the subject. "Have you gotten any stomachaches recently? Are you doing okay?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine." Bai Yu grinned. "With Long-ge's constant concerns about me eating my three meals, I feel like I have an iron stomach now. The invincible type."

"If it doesn't hurt anymore, then that's good." Zhu Yilong smiled at Bai Yu's descriptions. "But don't get too cocky. You still have to keep maintaining your health."

"I obey your orders!" Bai Yu quickly agreed. "Long-ge, you look like you lost a lot of weight. You need to eat properly too! Don't spend all your time looking after me."

"I did eat properly," Zhu Yilong defended himself.

Then the make-up artist asked Zhu Yilong to close his eyes, and he obediently complied. Under the lights, his eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks, casting long shadows.

Bai Yu was unable to take his eyes off Zhu Yilong. Taking advantage of the beauty's eyes being closed, he looked his fill while continuing to chatter on as usual about household affairs.

"Two days ago, my mom insisted on buying us an earthenware pot. Isn't this a waste? We're not home more than a few times during the year."

"Earthenware pots are good for making soup or stew," replied Zhu Yilong. "Those are good for the stomach."

"Look at you, Long-ge. You… How do you bring every topic back to my stomach?"

Zhu Yilong didn't refute it. His eyes still closed, he smiled slightly. "You really can learn how to simmer some soup."

"My God, Long-ge. Why aren't you the one learning it?"

"Even Teacher Zhu and Teacher Bai will chat about these kinds of subjects?" The stylist couldn't help chiming in.

"We're both people who need to eat, after all." Bai Yu's eyes crinkled with joy. "Although Long-ge is a celestial, high above us mortals."

Zhu Yilong sighed heavily as he heard Bai Yu rambling again. Without even looking, he could guess at the smug expression on Bai Yu's face. "Go away."

"It doesn't look like you ate much this month at all."

"I did eat," replied Zhu Yilong earnestly. "Besides, I'm supposed to be a bit thinner for this role anyway."

"Thinner? Gege, look at your ankles, there's nothing left but bones!" Bai Yu once again had a thought that he could easily hold that ankle in one hand, and flushed lightly.

Zhu Yilong didn't let himself be outdone, immediately shooting back. "You're one to talk!"

This childish banter led to another round of laughter. The stylist finished up with Bai Yu's bangs, which left his forehead bare, with only a few loose strands of hair by his temple. It looked casual, but actually took considerable effort and time to arrange.

"Both of you are too thin," said the stylist, smiling. "Take care of your health."

Bai Yu promptly thanked the stylist, though his eyes remained glued firmly to the mirror on Zhu Yilong's person. It felt like a kind of caress in its own way, which filled the hollowness in his heart.

When Zhu Yilong opened his eyes, he immediately noticed Bai Yu's appearance. He lightly called out. "Xiao Bai."

But Bai Yu was still lost in his thoughts. It was only when the stylist patted his shoulder that he abruptly did a double-take. Caught in the act, Bai Yu felt his ears redden with the heat of embarrassment. He immediately scuttled away and stammered, "I'm going to change. Long-ge, do you want some water? I'll get some for you later."

Though he asked a question, he didn't wait for Zhu Yilong's response before fleeing the room. By the time he finished changing, calmed himself down, and grabbed two bottles of water, Zhu Yilong was already in the changing room.

The set of their first photoshoot was a living room decorated with an old-fashioned, traditional style. The leather couch was framed by exquisite woodwork, the carpet was beautiful and refined, and inside a golden birdcage was a dark green bonsai.

Wearing a suit, Bai Yu sat outside the set and listened to the director speak. In their scene together, he and Zhu Yilong were both dressed as classic gentlemen, and they needed to portray restraint being broken by desire.

When Zhu Yilong joined them, Bai Yu couldn't help exclaiming, "Wow!" He thought he heard several female crew members inhale sharply as well.

Actually, this outfit held familiar and novel elements for Bai Yu. Zhu Yilong wore a formal shirt, vest, and tailored slacks. His tie was neat and tidy around his neck, and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses rested on his face, its long golden chain almost falling to his shoulders. This ensemble was too form-fitting, especially his vest, which cinched around his waist, accentuating the contours of his body in just the right way.

Bai Yu swallowed hard, then jokingly patted Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "Ah, it's Professor Shen! These fit you well, Long-ge. Awesome, awesome."

"You think so? I feel they're a little tight." Zhu Yilong smiled and ducked his head. His thick eyelashes almost seemed long enough to brush against his lenses.

"It's not tight, it's not tight, it's perfect!" Once the words were out of his mouth, Bai Yu felt a bit embarrassed. It was a little too blatant, making it look as though he harbored evil intentions. He did actually harbor evil intentions, but there was no way he'd let Zhu Yilong know that. Clearing his throat, he put on an earnest expression. "Long-ge, you can do it! Don't be nervous."

Zhu Yilong unconsciously licked his lips. In a soft voice, he said, "I'm glad the person kissing me is you."

One sentence, and Bai Yu almost fell to the ground. When the director called for them to start the shoot, Zhu Yilong was already in position, yet Bai Yu was rooted in place, unable to move an inch. Zhu Yilong's voice had been quiet, but Bai Yu felt like his eardrums might shatter.

He didn't have a part in the first scene, so he watched as Zhu Yilong did a test run with the director, hitting his marks before formally beginning to film.

This was a simple scene where Zhu Yilong walked into the shot towards the back of that beautiful couch. His steps were languid, holding a hint of exhaustion. His jacket was draped over his arms, making him look like an elite businessman who just left a wine reception. He just happened to be facing away from Bai Yu, his figure backlit. As a result, the shape of his body was even more distinct, like an intricate painting.

Bai Yu watched the movement of Zhu Yilong's hands. Even though Zhu Yilong wasn't facing him, he could still imagine what the scene looked like.

Zhu Yilong casually threw his jacket onto the couch, and tilted his head back, pulling loose the neatly fastened tie. Slowly, he unbuttoned the top-most button of his shirt. His movements were neither hurried nor too slow, his rhythm relaxed and perfectly paced. He didn't exaggerate, and in his gracefulness revealed a languid and hard-to-describe aura.

Then, he seemed to have heard something. With his hand still on his tie, he turned around, his gaze finding Bai Yu in a split-second. This gaze was difficult to interpret. It was at once perplexed and innocent, as though there was no deeper thought behind it. Yet it also seemed to hold a million emotions, restrained and dangerous.

Zhu Yilong lifted his chin, and as though he'd just found something amusing, he cracked a slight smile.

Once "cut!" was yelled, Zhu Yilong unwound immediately, supporting himself with one hand on the couch while the other hand adjusted his glasses out of habit. The illusory oppressive aura that had just been there disappeared without a trace. He loosened his limbs, then walked to the monitor to join the director in watching the scene he'd just filmed.

Zhu Yilong was clearly moving about normally, but for some reason, Bai Yu thought there was something different this time. Somehow, every part of Zhu Yilong's body could set a person's pulse racing — the bangs that hung over his forehead, the faintly fluttering eyelashes, the bridge of his nose that held those gold-rimmed glasses, the movement of his Adam's apple when he swallowed, and the slender wrists that peeked out from the sleeves of his shirt.

"Teacher Bai, what do you think?"

The director's sudden question startled Bai Yu, who let out an unwitting "Huh?" in response. Seeing that everyone's eyes were on him, he cleared his throat. "I think… I think it's pretty good. Indeed. Indeed, Long-ge is dependable."

A small voice from an unknown corner of the room spoke. "Looks like Teacher Bai was hypnotized too. This was very successful."

Amidst the crowd's laughter, Zhu Yilong ducked his head and shyly laughed with them. He clenched his fists, then started rubbing the fabric of his pants.

Meanwhile, Bai Yu, who was in the middle of the crowd, silently gulped.

The second scene was far more provocative than the first. Just thinking about it made Bai Yu feel as though he were looking into the face of death.

Following the director's instructions, they took their positions. Bai Yu wrapped his arms around Zhu Yilong from behind, pressing him against the back of the couch. Lowering his head, he pressed his cheek against Zhu Yilong's hair.

This posture was awkward and a bit embarrassing. Bai Yu felt like his entire body was rigid, and no matter how he positioned himself, he couldn't get it right. Zhu Yilong's back was to him, so he couldn't see the other man's expression. And no matter how hard he tried, no sound would come out of his mouth. But considering their current situation, he couldn't help feeling that anything he said would be the wrong thing anyway.

Long-ge is straight, don't make waves. Long-ge is straight, don't make waves. Bai Yu repeated this several times in his heart, only to hear the director shout at him.

"Teacher Bai, can you get closer?"

There was barely any distance left between them, how could he get closer? Bai Yu was momentarily confused.

"Teacher Bai can place a leg between Teacher Zhu's legs."

"Oh…" Bai Yu couldn't help the awkward sound that escaped him.

Leaning on his hands on the back of the couch, Zhu Yilong spread his legs slightly, making room for Bai Yu.

"Sorry, Long-ge," said Bai Yu softly, so that only they could hear.

"It's fine, we're acting." Zhu Yilong's reply was brief.

Bai Yu tested moving his right leg in until the two of them were practically stuck together. "Like this? Or like this?"

Bai Yu continuously adjusted his position based on the director's guidance, moving around, in and out, until Zhu Yilong lost his balance and fell forward. Bai Yu grabbed his waist and pulled him back.

"Sorry, sorry!" Bai Yu apologized at once. He only seemed to notice now how awkward his movements had been. For a moment, he could only let out a foolish-sounding laugh.

"Just like this, yes! Teacher Bai, just like this!" yelled the director from behind the cameras. "The two of you can try this out for a bit, and we can test out the poses for the special article at the same time."

Bai Yu's heart was beating so fast he was afraid he might faint on the spot. He had no idea how he could pull this off - to hold Zhu Yilong's waist with one hand, while the other hand grabbed Zhu Yilong's chin, tilting his face so Bai Yu could gaze into those beautiful and passionate eyes.

This was a wondrous feeling. They were pressed tight against each other, their lips only centimeters apart. Through the lenses of Zhu Yilong's glasses, Bai Yu suddenly saw a sea of stars and universes. Zhu Yilong's breath was hot against his cheek, and he couldn't move, actually was unable to move. Every blink of the eye felt like a brush against his very soul.

"Teacher Bai lean your head to the side a little so you're not blocking Teacher Zhu."

"Oh, oh, okay." Bai Yu dutifully moved his head, his beard rubbing against Zhu Yilong's jaw in the process.

"Pfft." Zhu Yilong finally couldn't hold back anymore, and burst out laughing.

Everyone was taken aback. Bai Yu blinked his eyes in astonishment. "My God, Long-ge, what are you doing?"

"Sorry, sorry." Zhu Yilong seemed to have thought of something funny, and couldn't stop laughing. After a while, he finally continued. "Your beard is too ticklish."

"My God! That's why you broke character! I'm wounded, I'm really wounded." Bai Yu unconsciously started laughing along. "You're putting me in a tough spot like this."

"I was wrong. Let's try again. I definitely won't laugh."

"Really, Long-ge. I always thought you were a performance artist. I respected you deeply, really. Even as a monkey, your imitation was perfect. But you break character when you do a kissing scene with me? That's really too much."

"Go away. Can you stop bringing up the monkey?"

"No." Bai Yu beat his fists against Zhu Yilong's shoulders, and spoke using a cutely threatening tone. "If you laugh again, I'm going to use my rose thorns to jab you to death."

Chapter Text

Although it was true that this posture was a little awkward, it ultimately wasn't a big deal. Bai Yu originally considered himself a worldly actor, with his experience filming over eighty on-screen kisses. But he was still thrown off by the series of poses requested, grumbling in his heart: Were they kissing or dancing? Did it need that many changing poses?

At the moment, he was holding his position and hugging Zhu Yilong from behind. However, after they shared their first kiss, he needed to take Zhu Yilong's tie in his hand and move back, turning Zhu Yilong around to face him. Finally, he would lead Zhu Yilong by the tie to the wall nearby, before turning again and pushing him against the wall.

They rehearsed this quite a few times, with every attempt prematurely ended by Bai Yu's anguished cries when Zhu Yilong stepped on his foot.

"Long-ge, aren't you a little too uncoordinated?" Bai Yu took several steps back, hopping exaggeratedly on a single foot.

Actually, Zhu Yilong knew that he hadn't stepped too hard on Bai Yu's feet, but he could only spread his hands helplessly. "Would famed dancer Bai Yu like to demonstrate instead?"

"Fine, I'll do it!" Bai Yu's face was full of valiant heroism. "Give me your tie!"

Even though Bai Yu was also wearing a suit, his style was much more casual, and he hadn't bothered to put on a tie. On the other hand, Zhu Yilong wore a tie, which had been loosened from the first scene. Even so, this look was deliberately styled, and it would be a hassle to take it off and put it back on.

"The stylist spent so much effort putting this on. You can act without the tie."

Bai Yu's face was full of question marks. "I think you just want to make things difficult for this little Lan child[1]."

"In my eyes, Teacher Bai is a dancing and acting double threat. He definitely won't have any problems."

"Hey… Long-ge, you're acting pretty honorable for a person copying the answers off someone else!" Bai Yu shook his head helplessly, then beckoned Zhu Yilong over with his finger. "All right, Teacher Bai will let you experience genuine strength today. I hope Teacher Zhu will cooperate."

Bai Yu turned his back, and Zhu Yilong pressed against him, though he kept more of a distance between them than Bai Yu did. Reaching over with one hand, he seemed to take something imaginary into his hand. But Bai Yu reacted as though he really felt a pull, slowly raising his chin, following Zhu Yilong's hands and turning around.

His movements were extremely slow, and he never once stopped speaking. "Look at my dance steps, Teacher Zhu. One-two-three-four, two-two-three-four, see, wasn't that easy?"

Going back to counting the steps, he leaned against the wall, then blinked innocently at Zhu Yilong. "Did you learn it? Pretty easy, right?"

Zhu Yilong sighed in exasperation. "That's because you didn't have anyone actually pulling you. Or kissing you."

"Then kiss me." Bai Yu tilted his head and grinned.

Zhu Yilong's face immediately flushed red. Turning to Bai Yu, he quietly said the words "stop it."

The crew members around them couldn't stop laughing. Eventually, someone spoke up. "The two of you are so nervous, it's like you're kissing for the first time."

Those words were spoken in jest, but while the speaker said it carelessly, the ones listening couldn't help but take it to heart. Standing next to each other, Bai Yu felt Zhu Yilong's entire body become rigid.

With a sigh, Bai Yu directly wrapped his hands around Zhu Yilong's waist, and nuzzled Zhu Yilong's cheek. "Don't speak nonsense! This is at least our second kiss, isn't that right? We even kissed in front of the whole world, right, Teacher Zhu? Look at how thin-skinned Long-ge is, don't be nervous, don't be nervous."

"Be serious." Zhu Yilong adjusted his glasses and pushed Bai Yu back.

"I am being serious!" said Bai Yu. "Come on, come on, Long-ge, let's practice! Remember my dance steps! One-two-three-four…"

The disdainful expression on Zhu Yilong's face was prime meme material, but he still followed Bai Yu's movements. This time they moved slowly, and actually succeeded in completing the choreography without stepping on each other's feet or bumping into each other.

Unfortunately, the filming didn't go as smoothly as their rehearsal. There were several takes where they didn't even get to the kiss before the director yelled "cut!"

"Teacher Zhu, your expression and body language are too restrained." The director frowned as he watched the video monitor. "You need to embody your inner desires a little more directly. You need to show that you want Teacher Bai."

Hearing the word "want" made even Bai Yu feel self-conscious. He glanced over at Zhu Yilong, and as expected, Zhu Yilong's ears had turned completely red. Under any other circumstances, it would still be fine. But this commercial had no specific roles or script, and the person playing opposite him was Zhu Yilong. No matter how he thought about it, it was no good.

Zhu Yilong was in low spirits, and quietly said a "sorry." Frowning, he seemed quite upset at himself for being so out of form today.

Bai Yu patted Zhu Yilong's shoulder, and whispered in his ear. "Long-ge, why don't you go into character and see if that works? Do you have any roles that fit this sort of… feeling?"

Zhu Yilong had been an actor for a long time now, and had played a large number of roles, but the majority of them were tragic, gentle souls. For a moment, Bai Yu actually couldn't come up with any candidates, unless… Ye Zun? But that had more of a juvenile and delusional feel, didn't it?

"I know." Zhu Yilong licked his lips. "Do you remember the scene I acted out for you on the plane?"

"How ferocious…" murmured Bai Yu quietly.

Zhu Yilong smiled at him gently. "Are you ready?"

The next time "Action!" was called, the whole set's atmosphere changed. Bai Yu held Zhu Yilong tight, while Zhu Yilong deliberately tilted his head back, exposing his vulnerable neck. Following that, Bai Yu grabbed Zhu Yilong's chin, and trailed kisses along Zhu Yilong's throat.

Zhu Yilong placed one hand on top of Bai Yu's hands that rested on his hips, while his other hand rested on the back of Bai Yu's head, his fingers slowly running through Bai Yu's hair.

The touch of their lips was like the flip of a switch. Zhu Yilong's grip on Bai Yu tightened, while Bai Yu's thumb pressed down on Zhu Yilong's chin, coaxing apart Zhu Yilong's lips. The tempo suddenly increased. Bai Yu's tongue explored the inside of Zhu Yilong's mouth, kissing him with the force of the torrential winds and rains. Meanwhile, Zhu Yilong responded with equal strength, neither submissive nor domineering.

Finally, Bai Yu pulled away and stepped back. He ran his fingertips from Zhu Yilong's lips down his throat, then in one move, he grabbed the loosened tie around Zhu Yilong's neck.

The tacit understanding between them was too terrifying. The movements that had caused endless bad takes earlier posed no threat to them now. They moved together like the floating clouds and flowing waters. As Bai Yu pulled Zhu Yilong towards the wall, they didn't forget to continue kissing like neither could bear to lose. Bai Yu sucked on the tip of Zhu Yilong's tongue; in response, Zhu Yilong bit down on Bai Yu's lower lip. In the process, those gold-rimmed glasses were roughly removed by Bai Yu and carelessly thrown to the ground.

Until he was pushed against the wall, Zhu Yilong was still smiling, a hint of a sneer hidden beneath. He slowly licked a path along his teeth, then curled up the corners of his lips, revealing a provocative grin.

Without a single word, his feelings were laid bare, his meaning too clear.

Bai Yu leaned close to Zhu Yilong's ear and whispered. "Babe, you brought this onto yourself."

The next kiss was even more passionate than the last. Bai Yu's hands sought out Zhu Yilong's slender attractive waist again, while Zhu Yilong's hand returned to Bai Yu's hair, gently tugging on it, causing a light stinging sensation.

When they pulled apart, Zhu Yilong's eyes were still closed. The lipstick they had applied to his lips was smeared along the corners of his mouth, unmistakable on his pale skin. Bai Yu, however, seemed like he hadn't had enough yet. He moved his thumb along Zhu Yilong's lips, causing the red color to deepen.

Cupping Zhu Yilong's face, Bai Yu moved closer, then with the thumb that came away with a trace of lipstick, he lightly touched the outer corners of Zhu Yilong's eyes. The faint red color added an illusion of enchantment to a face that was normally gentle and guileless.

After that touch, Zhu Yilong's eyes slowly opened. His long eyelashes were like curtains, slowly rising up to reveal a pair of dangerous eyes. However, his eyes involuntarily began to water, so the instant they opened, a tear rolled out the corner of his eye.

Bai Yu leaned in close again. A flicker of his tongue, and the tear melted away.

From outside the scene, a clear and resounding "cut!" was shouted. Then there was a burst of applause.

Bai Yu was still in a daze. It wasn't until his assistant handed him a paper towel, and he saw Zhu Yilong wiping away tears that he reacted.

They had… they had finished filming?

The crew members chattered around them.

"What a strong aura!"

"Teacher Zhu isn't like his usual self."

"If anyone still says Teacher Zhu's kissing scenes are bad, I'll hit them!"

"Teacher Bai is so steady."

"This must be the real chemistry between husbands."

The stream of chatter seemed to have no end.

"This was perfect! That's a wrap!" The director looked up from the video monitored, excitement in his voice. "The atmosphere was too good. This is worthy of professional actors!"

Bai Yu had filmed plenty of kissing scenes, but this was the first one that had left him dazed. He scratched his head in embarrassment, and patted Zhu Yilong's shoulder. "Long-ge is amazing! And you still claim you don't know how to do a kissing scene?"

"I really don't know." Zhu Yilong had long since lost his composure from earlier. Right now, his face was even slightly flushed, his innocent expression making him look like a wide-eyed university student. "Teacher Bai took the lead well."

"Not at all, not at all." Bai Yu touched his lips. "This kiss got lipstick and foundation all over my lips, like I ate your face."

At this description, Zhu Yilong burst out laughing. "And my face is full of your saliva! Like being licked by Cola."

"Like father, like son. That's very normal!" Bai Yu patted his chest, looking extremely proud.

Zhu Yilong had no idea how to respond. "I'm calling you a dog."

"So? We'll learn how to bark like dogs. Let's woof woof woof together?"

"Go woof by yourself!"[2]

They were still joking around when the stylist came over to call them for make-up and their costume change. Bai Yu's part was simpler, but he had to shave off his precious beard.

Looking like he was in so much pain he'd rather die, Bai Yu treated his beard like a rare treasure, ready at any time to launch into an impassioned eulogy, remembering his lost rose thorns. It got to the point where the stylist wasn't sure if he should shave the beard or not.

"Go ahead and shave it." Zhu Yilong found it too funny. "If he causes trouble, I'll take responsibility."

"Then I'll cause trouble right now." Bai Yu's face was full of excitement.

"Be good. You can cause trouble back home." Zhu Yilong wore a benevolent expression, like a kindly grandfather looking down at his kindergartner grandson.

Bai Yu broke character in a split second. He sat down obediently and smiled at the stylist. "I was just joking around. Go ahead."

The style of this second shoot was very different from the first. Zhu Yilong's hair was tied up in a high ponytail, giving off a disheveled look that was both casual and willful. A baggy coat hung loose over his shoulders, and the v-neck he wore underneath had a neckline low enough to reveal a large expanse of pale skin.

Bai Yu, on the other hand, wore a black turtleneck. He wore a necklace and a large assortment of accessories to accompany the jacket draped over his arm. His hair was messy, and some barely discernible stubble was on his chin.

If the first shoot had them both as gentlemen, then the second shoot had them ready to head for a nightclub.

Bai Yu looked closely at Zhu Yilong's eyes, feeling as though there was something unusual about his eye make-up that was quite different from his usual style.

"My God, this look on Long-ge won't be too… sexy, won't it? It's indeed a little risqué." Bai Yu looked Zhu Yilong up and down, babbling.

In truth, the two of them had done more risqué photoshoots over the past several years. Not mentioning any others, just the Bazaar shoot from two years ago had them wearing outfits whose necklines weren't much higher than this one[3].

The stylist laughed. "Is Teacher Bai jealous? Don't want to let others have a look?"

Bai Yu flushed and hurriedly waved away the idea. "No no no."

"They're only looking," added Zhu Yilong, his voice low.

The meaning behind that could be understood without needing any more words. Bai Yu covered his face with his hand and sighed. "Long-ge…"

The stylist teased them a bit more before standing back to look them over. Then he turned to talk things over with the director, before speaking to Zhu Yilong. "Teacher Zhu, the director and I think your chest area is a little bare. We think it would be best if we could add some love bites there to look more authentic. It will fit our second theme better as well."

Zhu Yilong had just tilted his head to drink some water, so he almost choked when hearing that suggestion. Bai Yu immediately helped steady him. "Long-ge, calm down, calm down."

Although those were the words he said, Bai Yu felt that he was far more worked up. His eyes couldn't stop wandering over to that stretch of exposed skin. And the more he thought about it, the more he thought the stylist made sense. But his Long-ge was so shy! A surge of protectiveness arose, and Bai Yu squeezed Zhu Yilong's shoulders comfortingly. "Will you add those using make-up, or…?"

"If Teacher Bai is here, then we shouldn't need make-up, right?" The stylist seemed surprised.

The tears in Bai Yu's heart formed a roaring sea. He lamented in his heart that Teacher Bai didn't dare be rash! Right now, he didn't even dare to privately hold hands, let alone do something so obscene.

But in this instant, he couldn't come up with a good reason. He scratched his head trying to help Zhu Yilong out of this predicament, yet unexpectedly, Zhu Yilong was the one who held down his hand and spoke softly. "All right, then we'll do as you say. Can we borrow the changing room?"

Once Zhu Yilong obtained permission, he directly pulled Bai Yu behind him by his hand, the sudden movement causing Bai Yu to stumble and exclaim in surprise.

The door closed and the lock slid in place. With two men, both of them above 180cm, in the same changing room, it truly was a little cramped. Zhu Yilong pulled back to a corner. His coat was too loose, its long sleeves covering the back of his hands. When he lowered his head, his bangs hid his expression.

Bai Yu leaned against the door, crossing his arms. Doing his best to keep his voice light and relaxed, he said, "Gege, tell me - I wasn't the least bit nervous with all those cameras outside, so why am I so nervous now?"

Zhu Yilong raised his head, his expression unexpectedly a little panicked, like a startled rabbit. He withdrew his hands even further into his sleeves until only the tips of fingers were visible, looking for all the world like he wasn't the one who'd just pulled Bai Yu in here with him.

"Don't be nervous," said Zhu Yilong softly. "If you're nervous, then I'll be even more nervous."

Chapter Text

They stood frozen for a while before Zhu Yilong sighed and left the corner he'd retreated to. With a righteousness that inspired reverence, he spoke. "The sooner we die, the sooner we can reincarnate[1]. Come on. Hurry."

Bai Yu was taken aback at first, before almost doubling over with laughter. "Gege, with your fearless march towards death, how can I bear to put my mouth on you?[2]"

"You can still laugh?" Zhu Yilong lightly shoved him.

"Are you sure it wouldn't be better if I asked the stylist to use make-up for this?" asked Bai Yu. As much as he'd like to take advantage, he didn't want to put Zhu Yilong in a difficult spot.

"Didn't you see that stylist's expression?" asked Zhu Yilong quietly. "Besides, even with the stylist doing it, it still feels pretty weird… Hey, it's not like I'm a woman, why are you nervous?"

"What does that have to do with you being a man or woman?" retorted Bai Yu. Yet he didn't say the next sentence out loud. What he cared about wasn't gender, but Zhu Yilong the person.

The changing room was a bit cramped, and the air conditioner didn't seem to be working either. The two of them were too close, and the air quickly heated up between them. Since things had already progressed to this extent, stopping now would be as difficult as dismounting a tiger they're riding.[3]. They could only brace themselves and move forward.

Bai Yu stood up straight, but the courage he'd just mustered disappeared by half the moment he looked into Zhu Yilong's eyes. He passed a hand over his brow. "Then… Long-ge, you can just pretend you're being bitten by a dog."

Zhu Yilong suddenly thought of Bai Yu singing about barking together, and couldn't help laughing out loud. Brows that had been tightly knit now relaxed, and his eyes curved into crescents. "Have you had enough?"

The atmosphere had just relaxed, with Zhu Yilong's voice not yet faded, when Bai Yu pressed in closer. With one hand, he put aside his bundled jacket, loosely draping it on his arm. His lips kissed the mole on Zhu Yilong's snowy white chest. The warm, soft sensation of Bai Yu's lips caused a shiver to travel through Zhu Yilong's entire body. Bai Yu pinned down the wrist that Zhu Yilong unconsciously raised, swirled his tongue over Zhu Yilong's skin, then sucked down hard, even adding a light bite to it. He stayed there quite awhile before letting go, making a light popping sound as he withdrew.

A pink mark was left on Zhu Yilong's skin. With his head turned to the side and his eyelashes faintly trembling, Zhu Yilong quietly called out, "Lao Bai…"

"Don't be afraid." Bai Yu gently caressed the back of Zhu Yilong's head, slowly running his hand through Zhu Yilong's hair. Lightly grasping that high ponytail in hand, Bai Yu gave it a strong tug.

Zhu Yilong let out a startled noise, but Bai Yu's mouth was already on his collarbone. His head was being tilted back, while Bai Yu's fuzzy hair rubbed against his chin and throat. That tingling feeling on his skin made him react by pushing Bai Yu away.

Bai Yu very quickly looked up, smiling at Zhu Yilong. "Relax. Let me take care of you."

These comforting words were ill-timed, but for some reason, Bai Yu saying it made them seem especially trustworthy. In that instant, Zhu Yilong completely forgot being pushed into a corner and having his hair pulled. He even forgot that his throat was bared in a vulnerable pose, making him resemble a sheep awaiting slaughter.

It wasn't that he couldn't push Bai Yu away, but the trust between them went bone-deep. Zhu Yilong gave him a smile that expressed reassurance.

But feeling someone's teeth on his neck was still too strange. Almost immediately, Zhu Yilong began to tremble. Bai Yu's body was pressed tightly against his own, one hand firmly gripping his waist, as though afraid he might escape. Bai Yu's body temperature was a bit high. With only a thin, form-fitting black top separating them, Zhu Yilong unexpectedly felt as though he were being scalded. This time, they kept going for a particularly long time. Things went on for so long that even though he bit down hard on his lips, Zhu Yilong couldn't suppress a soft, brief moan.

Bai Yu acted like someone who'd received an electric shock, immediately letting go of Zhu Yilong. Gasping heavily, Bai Yu's voice was husky when he spoke. "Long-ge, take a look. It's not too bad, right?"

A changing room naturally had full-length mirrors, so Zhu Yilong very quickly glanced at the red marks on his body. His cheeks immediately felt like they were on fire, and he pushed Bai Yu outside. "Okay, let's go outside. We can't hold up filming…"

If they continued like this, it wouldn't just be a matter of delaying filming. Bai Yu's ears reddened, and he did not dare to turn around and see what Zhu Yilong looked like right now. Cooling his cheeks with the back of his hand, Bai Yu scolded himself in his head three hundred times.

Long-ge treated you like a good friend, while you're thinking of sleeping with him. This was extremely improper.

The second set didn't have too many complex props. The pure white walls and pure white floor tiles immediately made a person feel as though they stepped into an endless space without edges. But when filming officially began, the lighting director switched off the main lights, and brilliant, multi-colored rays of light bounced around the room. The scene changed completely.

Bai Yu lay down in the middle of the set as crew members helped fix up his clothes. He tilted his head back slightly, his eyes half-lidded, giving off a tipsy appearance.

In the first scene, he had a female model as his co-star. The close-up began with a beautiful hand extending into the shot. Her arm was pale and delicate, and her fingers were slender. She reached over Bai Yu's head to drag her fingers under his chin, the scratch of her bright red fingernails carrying a light sting. Meanwhile, her other hand slowly drew a streak of red on his face with the lipstick. Just as she was about to lift her hand, someone caught her wrist. Nimble fingertips deftly took the lipstick from her hands. After that, Zhu Yilong's handsome profile view appeared on-camera.

When Bai Yu first read the script, he conjured up countless interpretations and fantasies. Being a trained professional, he always loved coming up with character profiles. This time, he even came up with a very satisfying "jealousy" plot-line that successfully raised goosebumps on his skin.

But now that they were filming, all his nonsensical imaginary scenarios scattered the moment he looked at Zhu Yilong. A pair of beautiful eyes looked down at him from above, gazing steadily at him. In his peripheral vision, he could see the glitter of diamonds from the small planet on the earring Zhu Yilong wore[4].

This time, Bai Yu was sure that Zhu Yilong was wearing eyeliner. Those eyes lost a bit of their gentleness, and gained a bit of enchantment. Face-to-face, Zhu Yilong followed the natural path of their positions, lowered his body and pressed a kiss to Bai Yu's forehead. This kiss was soft, yet it held indescribable meaning. Zhu Yilong trailed kisses from his forehead to the bridge of his nose, before finally finding Bai Yu's mouth.

However, the pace remained slow-moving. Like a snake that finally found its chance to move, Zhu Yilong's tongue gently pushed past Bai Yu's parted lips. Their tongues entangled together in a mutual push and pull, their rhythm slow yet urgent until Bai Yu bit Zhu Yilong's lower lip and tugged on it lightly. Zhu Yilong first withdrew at the sensation of pain, then as though in retaliation, he bit down on Bai Yu's chin.

The next second, Bai Yu lifted his hand, and in a practiced motion, grabbed Zhu Yilong's ponytail and pulled it back. Matching those movements, Zhu Yilong tilted his head back, baring his neck without any apprehension. From the camera's point of view, his silhouette was practically a work of art, elegant and distinct. Especially when his Adam's apple bobbed, it was as though Pandora's Box was opened.

In an instant, even the flashing of the lights sped up. Bai Yu propped himself up and raised his head to bite Zhu Yilong's neck. Following this move, with a tacit understanding, the two of them rolled over and switched positions. Zhu Yilong now lay on the floor, with his long hair in disarray, spilling over onto the ground.

The dragon-shaped earring on Bai Yu's right ear was now shown to the camera[5]. The dragon's slender, silver body twisted into an elegant shape, while delicate claws clung to his ear. It was simple and vivid, as though it was truly a young dragon about to take flight.

Zhu Yilong lifted his hand and traced the shape of the dragon with his pinkie finger. Then he was caught by Bai Yu, and the lipstick in his hand was taken away.

His coat had been draped over his arm, and was currently under his body. With only his top with the low neckline covering his chest, his pale skin was revealed, the three bite marks on it extremely noticeable.

He didn't know if Bai Yu had long planned this out, or if it was spontaneous inspiration. But Bai Yu took the lipstick and traced lines between the three marks that were left behind. From his chest, to his collarbones, to his throat, the three marks were gradually connected together.

This course of events was too fantastical. The sensation of lipstick against skin was magnified a thousand-fold, warm and tender yet also strange. Bai Yu didn't use too much strength, but Zhu Yilong still tensed up under the trajectory of the lipstick. He gradually tilted his head upwards, allowing the gorgeous red line to extend up to his chin.

Then Bai Yu threw away the lipstick, lowered his body, and kissed Zhu Yilong's lips once again. After that, the two of them turned to the camera, the lights stopped, and the world fell silent around them. Then as though coming out of a dream, the director yelled "cut!" and immediately headed to the video monitor to re-watch the scene.

"Amazing!" The director's voice almost rose an octave. "Connecting the love bites with lipstick, how did you think of something like this?"

Actually, Bai Yu, the party responsible, didn't know either. Maybe it was because the atmosphere was too soft and enchanting. Maybe he wanted to tease Long-ge out of habit. Throughout the entire scene, it seemed no thoughts ran through his head at all.

However, Bai Yu thought something like that was forgivable. Having Long-ge lying down in front of you like that, with the marks you left visible on his body, it was very difficult not to reach out and do something. He was only afraid that Zhu Yilong took offense.

Fortunately, Zhu Yilong didn't look displeased. After his assistant helped him up, he shook out his limbs and went to talk to the director.

The filming this time went more smoothly than even they had anticipated. Bai Yu didn't know if it was because his tacit understanding with Zhu Yilong was too strong, or if his thoughts were too heavy. A wicked idea materialized, accompanying the theme of setting love free.

Despite that, the day's work was still exhausting. They worked without rest, being photographed for the special feature, and then the rest of the promotional pictures. When everything was done, it was already very late at night. Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu had already changed into loose and comfortable t-shirts, so tired neither of them could utter a word.

Zhu Yilong still had to work the next day, so he naturally wanted to rush back to the filming location. When Bai Yu followed him onto the van, he was startled. "Aren't you going home?"

"I already sent my assistant back." Bai Yu yawned. "It's too late. I'll send you off."

"So you know it's late too?"

"Either way, I don't have anything scheduled tomorrow." Bai Yu waggled his eyebrows smugly. "Jealous?"

"Even if you have nothing to do, you should still get some rest early." Zhu Yilong sighed, a helpless look on his face.

Bai Yu leaned his whole body against Zhu Yilong, his voice sticky, sounding like he was speaking through his nose. "Gege, I won't have too many days until I start filming. Why don't you just let me keep you company for a bit?"

Zhu Yilong was the weakest against Bai Yu acting spoiled. With this, he could only acquiesce and tell the driver to start the van. The distance to the Beijing suburbs where Zhu Yilong was filming was too far. Even though it was late at night and traffic was fairly unobstructed, it still took considerable time to arrive.

Bai Yu had no idea when he had fallen asleep, but when he woke up, he had drooled all over Zhu Yilong's shoulders.

"My God!" With a start, Bai Yu sat up, surprising the bewildered Zhu Yilong next to him. "Long-ge, sorry! Look, I'm all muddled in my sleep."

Zhu Yilong shook his head, and moved closer to the window. "We're almost there."

The hotel arranged by the production was pretty good. At this time of night, the lobby was deserted. Wrapped in their coats and wearing face-masks, the two of them entered while whispering to each other. Zhu Yilong started to lead Bai Yu to his hotel room.

The truth behind Bai Yu's marriage to Zhu Yilong was only known to their assistants and managers, along with two of the higher-ups in their companies. However, their driver and other staff members who accompanied on the drive over were completely in the dark. It was almost one o'clock in the morning, and everyone was extremely exhausted, so Bai Yu didn't let them drive him home.

All this was within Bai Yu's calculations, but now that he reached the critical junction, he unexpectedly wanted to retreat. Once they got on the elevator, Bai Yu finally spoke sullenly. "Long-ge, how about I book another room…?"

"You're already 'walking the dogs alone, looking thin and pallid,'" retorted Zhu Yilong. "Do you want tomorrow's headlines to be about the two of us not getting along and sleeping in separate hotel rooms?"

"How can there be that many paparazzi?" Bai Yu rubbed his cheeks. But in truth, he knew the score too. Ever since Guardian, his popularity had steadily increased. By now, there wasn't anything he hadn't seen anymore. There weren't any gaps that those paparazzi and stalker fans couldn't slip through.

After a while, Zhu Yilong turned to look at him. "Sorry, Xiao Bai. I didn't take into your consideration your feelings. If you mind it a lot, I'll let my assistant book you a new room."

"No no no." Bai Yu hurriedly shook his head. "I'm actually worried about affecting your rest. I wish I could…"


"Nothing! Is it the 17th floor? We're here, we're here," mumbled Bai Yu as he pushed Zhu Yilong along. Yet his heart was already clamoring loudly - What is it that I wish? I wish I could fall asleep next to you every day!

Zhu Yilong's room wasn't too spacious, but it could be considered cozy. Since Bai Yu didn't bring any clothes with him, Zhu Yilong had to overturn his luggage and drawers to find him something. Luckily for them, Zhu Yilong had hastily packed away some new underwear that they put to use. Then, Zhu Yilong found him a loose t-shirt to act as pajamas, all while warning Bai Yu to keep his hands off the only pair of beach trunks he had.

Even though Bai Yu was no longer straight, he still maintained the stereotypical straight guy's showering speed. Except when he came out of the shower, he noticed something strange about his clothes. Wearing black briefs along with a loose white t-shirt - no matter how he looked at it, it didn't look right.

With his head full of chaotic ideas, Bai Yu ran out of the bathroom at full speed, and dove under the covers, badly startling Zhu Yilong, who had been sitting in bed reading his script.

"Lao Bai?"

"It's nothing, it's nothing. Long-ge, you should shower quickly. You still have work tomorrow!"

Zhu Yilong patted Bai Yu's legs through the covers. "Dry your hair. I'll go shower."

As a result, when Zhu Yilong came out of the shower, Bai Yu had obediently picked up a hair-dryer. Except he was only sitting on bed letting the hair-dryer blow hot air, without any intention of aiming it at his head.

"Xiao Bai… Xiao Bai?" Zhu Yilong swept back the damp hair that hung over his eyes, revealing a smooth and beautiful forehead. He stepped closer. "What are you thinking about?"

"My God, Long-ge! You scared me to death!" Bai Yu gave a start, dropping the hair-dryer to the floor, causing it to become unplugged.

Bai Yu wanted to pick it up, but when he looked up, he was greeted by the sight of Zhu Yilong in a black tank top. The lights in the room were too bright, so the marks he'd left on Zhu Yilong's collarbone and neck were especially conspicuous.

Zhu Yilong picked up the hair-dryer. "You're already thirty years old, but you don't know that you should aim the hair-dryer at your hair?"

"Indeed, that's… Aren't I just pondering the meaning of life?"

Zhu Yilong's face immediately showed an "I'm not buying this" expression. With his free hand, he grabbed Bai Yu's shoulder to fish him out from under the covers.

"Heipao-gege, what are you doing?!" Bai Yu resisted with all his might, but he had never been able to compete with Zhu Yilong when it came to strength. Add to that he was in a disadvantageous position, he ended up being forcibly pulled out of bed.

"I'll help you dry—" Zhu Yilong looked at the complete picture Bai Yu made, taken aback. He didn't think too much of it when he gave Bai Yu the clothes. They were close, and they were both men, so there was no reason to over-think.

But this look combined with their ambiguous situation, not to mention the intimate activities they engaged in earlier in the day… A dangerous thought suddenly entered Zhu Yilong's mind.

"This… this looks a lot like a boyfriend t-shirt?" Zhu Yilong was a bit embarrassed when he finished speaking, but he also found it a little funny. Unsure what expression he should have, he momentarily lost control of his facial muscles.

Bai Yu's face turned completely red. After a long pause, he finally shouted, "My God! Long-ge, you look like such a nice boy with those large eyes and thick eyebrows. But I never thought that in reality, you're actually a Casanova!"

"No…" Zhu Yilong found himself at a loss for how to respond to this counter-attack.

Bai Yu, who had only moments ago been so embarrassed he wanted to hide, immediately regained his energy and became smug.

"Have you ever seen someone with so much leg hair wear a boyfriend shirt?" Bai Yu shifted forward, and with great effort, lifted up his leg to show off the world-renowned leg hair that was an immense source of pride to him.

Unfortunately, the person he wanted to share this with was completely unimpressed, pushing him aside with a disdainful expression. "Go away. I don't want to see this. It's like an iron stick yam[6]."

"Is this something a decent person would say?" Bai Yu cried out. "You're the iron stick yam! You're a shaved iron stick yam! Hey, Long-ge, let me take a look, let me take a look. You can't possibly have no leg hair, right?"

Seeing Bai Yu come over, Zhu Yilong immediately ducked under the covers. However, Bai Yu reacted quickly, grabbing the corner of the covers. At that moment, the two of them seemed to have a combined age of five. One side teased, "Are you a man or not?" while the other side responded with "A real man isn't afraid of shaving his legs." With these arguments being tossed back and forth, they fought until they became tangled in a heap together.

They finally stopped when they were both gasping for breath. Bai Yu lay on top of a panting Zhu Yilong, whose eyes were half-lidded. His hair was still wet, dampening that form-fitting tank top. His face was flushed as his chest rose and fell. The corners of his lips curled up.

Meanwhile, Bai Yu was trapped between Zhu Yilong's legs, while his hand gripped one of Zhu Yilong's ankles, stuck in a somewhat awkward pose.

"Lao Bai, enough. You've seen my leg hairs, can you let me go?" Zhu Yilong smiled as he said this, his tone gentle.

"Long-ge, look, you're letting me win again." Bai Yu leaned in closer. "Could it be that you actually…"

His next words faded, replaced by a passionate kiss. Bai Yu had no idea where he found this sudden courage as he pressed his entire body against Zhu Yilong. This kiss was much more intense, much more direct, and much more urgent than any of the kisses earlier in the day. Terrified of missing his chance, Bai Yu plundered Zhu Yilong's mouth with feverish intensity. He didn't notice Zhu Yilong's eyes widening in shock.

Bai Yu's palm slid from Zhu Yilong's shoulders to his waist in a gentle caress, causing Zhu Yilong's hips to buck up, squirming beneath him. That movement allowed Bai Yu's hand to travel to Zhu Yilong's lower back, before sliding into the loose waistband of Zhu Yilong's shorts and squeezing his backside.

In an instant, Bai Yu was kicked away, or maybe he was knocked aside. He barely managed to steady himself so he didn't fall off the bed.

Zhu Yilong sat up, his chest heaving and his face full of disbelief.

"Bai Yu, what are you doing?!"

Chapter Text

No one spoke after that. The only sounds in the room that Bai Yu could hear were the low rumblings of the air conditioner, and the thunderous pounding of his heart. He watched Zhu Yilong sit up, adjust his disheveled clothes and sweep his hair back once more. Zhu Yilong's hair was still damp, and a drop of water rolled down towards his collarbones.

Zhu Yilong always had extraordinary control over his facial expressions, and at this moment, he had already recovered his calm composure. But to Bai Yu, he only felt that this kind of appearance was too distant. Although he was always saying "Long-ge is aloof," he knew Zhu Yilong didn't actually treat him with indifference. The more familiar Zhu Yilong was with someone, the less restraint he had around them.

Zhu Yilong's face showed no outward expressions. There were no signs of anger or volatility, as though he were impervious to emotions[1].

Bai Yu, on the other hand, was in a state of utter panic. His mouth opened and closed several times before spitting out, "I'm sorry."

His whole mind was blank, his thoughts swept away by an earth-shattering wave of hysteria that left only one worry behind - Would Long-ge never speak to him again after this?

This deadlock continued for several minutes. Zhu Yilong didn't answer, but he didn't move either, his gaze searching every inch of Bai Yu's face. Finally, he gave a light sigh.

"Lao Bai." Zhu Yilong's expression softened into a smile. "How did you get lost in character after filming a commercial?"

Bai Yu understood the situation well. This was Zhu Yilong giving Bai Yu a way out of his difficult predicament, his refusal all too clear. They still had to remain married for two more years. There was no need to still be so brazen, making things awkward and embarrassing for everyone.

A sharp, bitter pain shot through his heart. Bai Yu knew what he should do, but he was unwilling. However, when it came to feelings, that wasn't something that could be changed by his reluctance to let go. Bai Yu pulled the corners of his mouth into a smile, then felt as though it probably wasn't a good look. Maybe it didn't look like a genuine smile, but more of a sneer, mocking himself for being reckless and blind, effectively ruining a good game of chess.

"It's getting late, and I have work tomorrow. I'll dry my hair and go to sleep." Zhu Yilong picked up the hair-dryer that they had kicked to a corner of the bed, and walked towards the bathroom.

"Long-ge," Bai Yu called out. "We've worked together before… you know that…"

"There are times when there's no need to dwell on a small matter." Zhu Yilong sighed again, turning to look into Bai Yu's eyes with slightly furrowed brows. After a long pause, he continued with a hint of remorse in his voice. "I really am sorry. If you want to divorce, I'll go along with you."

Bai Yu knew better than anyone that the person who should be apologizing was himself. Back then, he was the one who brought disaster upon them, he was the one who pulled Zhu Yilong into this game, he was the one who developed feelings, and now he was the one who lost control.

"Gege, hurry and dry your hair. I'm sleepy." Bai Yu scratched the back of his head, averted his gaze, and shrunk under the covers.

Everything fell silent. After a short time, he finally heard the sound of Zhu Yilong stepping out of the bathroom.

Unable to sleep, Bai Yu stayed awake the entire night, his body held rigid. Next to him, Zhu Yilong slept not more than four or five hours before getting up early. His movements were quiet, and he didn't wake Bai Yu up before leaving.

It wasn't until Bai Yu heard the door close that he relaxed his vigilance, letting his body unwind and lie flat on the bed. At last, he let out a long yawn and stretched. Tentatively, he rolled to Zhu Yilong's side of the bed, running his hands up from the bedsheets to the pillow. Finally, he sighed and covered his face with his hands.

He wasn't sure how long he stayed there staring the ceiling. Climbing out of bed, he spotted a pair of jeans neatly folded at the other end of the bed, with a note placed on top of it - "Lao Bai: I'm leaving for the set. Why don't you wear this? Don't forget to eat breakfast." At the bottom corner of the note was a bold cursive signature that had the character "dragon[2]."

Bai Yu clutched the note tightly in his hands, then loosened his grip, thinking the note looked a bit unsightly with all the wrinkles.

After slinging a bag over his back and putting on a hat, Bai Yu left the apartment while putting on his face mask.

"Teacher Bai?"

Hearing this, Bai Yu stumbled a bit in surprise, then turned around and grinned. "Good morning!"

The one he ran into was an assistant director he had met before. Since the production booked this hotel, it wasn't strange to run into him here.

"You came to see Teacher Zhu?" Being acquainted already, the assistant director asked after him warmly. "I thought I just saw Long-ge going down to eat breakfast. How come you didn't go together?"

"I'm just lazy! Long-ge has work, and can't wait for me."

"I just happened to have something I need to bring on set." The assistant director patted Bai Yu's shoulders. "Why don't I bring you there? Teacher Zhu has a big, important scene today."

"No no no, I have to go."

The assistant director looked stunned, unable to understand. "You're leaving so early? You don't want to visit Teacher Zhu on set?"

"This time something came up! It's truly unlucky." Bai Yu smiled with some difficulty.

Everyone could understand the meaning behind those words. The assistant director wasn't in a place to inquire further, so he could only ask if Bai Yu needed help arranging a car, which Bai Yu then politely refused.

Bai Yu's assistant didn't live too far away, so he arrived shortly after Bai Yu finished breakfast. Normally a lively person, Bai Yu unexpectedly lost much of his spirit. He was huddled within his coat, hat and face mask covering himself up. Upon closer inspection, the corners of his eyes had reddened, and his bloodshot eyes had dark circles under them as well.

"Yu-ge, did something happen?"

"What could possibly happen to me?" Bai Yu climbed into the door, closed his eyes, and didn't speak any further.

The rest of the day passed in a daze. Bai Yu completely passed out in his sleep, not waking again until it was noon, and even then it was only to reply to Zhu Yilong's assistant about eating his lunch.

He very properly replied with "I've eaten," then lay back down, no longer wanting to move. It wasn't until eight or nine o'clock at night that he finally couldn't put off eating any longer. He carelessly cooked a bowl of noodles for himself, then sat on the couch to watch TV as he ate.

Oscar and Cola snuggled up to him, and he suddenly felt much more comfortable. The tiny poodles climbed onto his legs, alternating between licking and pawing at him, constantly misbehaving.

"Cola, watch out, my hand almost slipped!" Bai Yu glared at the little guy, who responded with a whimper. The sight of those adorable large eyes staring at him made Bai Yu's heart soften.

"I really am helpless when it comes to you." Bai Yu put down his bowl of noodles and took Cola into his arms. "I'm helpless about what to do about Long-ge, too. Do you think your dad never wants to see me again?"

Bai Yu wasn't sure which show was playing on the TV, but he felt that the leading actress looked familiar. Maybe she had worked with Zhu Yilong before. He stared at the TV for quite a while, but was unable to follow the plot. In the end, he lay down on the couch and closed his eyes.

"Is he going to wait until he's finished filming before divorcing me? Divorcing me is fine. It's fine."

The little dogs' furry bodies were warm and comfortable, just like Zhu Yilong's lips, just like Zhu Yilong's steadfast gentle temperament. He suddenly remembered an old interview from a long time ago, where they played a game of answering questions with the opposite of what they actually wanted to say. One of the provocative questions had been: "If a man confessed his feelings for you, what would you say?" At the time, Zhu Yilong had widened his eyes, playing cute to get out of trouble. He answered with a simple "Okay."

Zhu Yilong had always treated him well, and he'd never doubted that. They were friendly colleagues, and good friends who could talk about anything. Bai Yu liked to think that there was something a little special about him, but ultimately it was only a little. Zhu Yilong didn't treat him any differently from Peng Guanying. No, he was the one who had stupidly entered a happy dreamland, daring to hope that they could be by each other's side for the rest of their lives.

Bai Yu felt that he was a little ridiculous.

Lying on the couch, he fell asleep again. It was only the cold that woke him up late at night. Thankfully, the two poodles were lying on his stomach, keeping him warm.

"You still care for your father." Bai Yu grinned as he cuddled the little dogs, before placing them back in their own tiny nests.

The next day, he got in touch with the people on his new project. It was a pure wuxia[3] movie, which he hadn't done before. The script was fairly interesting, and the team producing the movie was not bad either. That was why Bai Yu accepted the role, even though he usually didn't do historical period pieces.

Filming was about to start, so Bai Yu contacted the director and the people in charge, asking for the specifics on the start date and mentioning that he'd like to arrive on set earlier. The director was over sixty years old, but he hit it off with Bai Yu quite well, with their interactions during the screen test and their subsequent meetings all very friendly. Although this old director was quite influential in the entertainment circle, he was an easygoing person with a strong personality who liked to follow his heart. When he heard Bai Yu's request to arrive two days earlier, he immediately agreed, telling Bai Yu that the wine and food were already prepared. They were just waiting for Master[4] Bai.

After hanging up, Bai Yu sent his manager a WeChat message notifying him of the new situation, then put his phone on silent. Taking out his PS4, he connected it to the TV and began playing games.

Once he started playing, he was lost in his own world again. Other than lunch and dinner, he didn't set any alarms, nor did he go eat. He only answered the messages from Zhu Yilong's assistant. When it was night and he couldn't ignore his hunger anymore, he ordered take-out, and in a fit of pique, ordered a bottle of beer as well.

But when that ice-cold beer was in his hands, Bai Yu hesitated again. It wasn't that he couldn't drink, but it was best if he didn't. In addition, he had stomach issues, and Zhu Yilong wouldn't allow it either. Thinking about it, he felt incredibly aggrieved. Everyone else could go on drunken binges after having their hearts broken, but he had to obediently listen to Zhu Yilong and properly eat his meals and avoid alcohol.

Ultimately, he didn't bring out the bottle opener. Bai Yu sat unmoving on the couch in a daze. Then, he turned off his PS4 and found a movie to watch. It was a foreign road trip movie with magnificent scenery, following along the Western US Coast. Bai Yu couldn't pay attention to any of the plot, but his eyes felt hot.

He and Zhu Yilong had also traveled these roads, and admired the beautiful views along the way. They laughed and fooled around in the car as the wind blew by them through the open windows. Singing, watching the sunset as they drove along the Californian highways… the first time he had a vague thought about spending the rest of his life with Zhu Yilong.

He couldn't think of any part that he disliked. Everything that had to go with Zhu Yilong was good. He looked at the beautiful wedding ring he still wore, then he took it off and held it up against the light, his eyes fixed on the engraved letters, "M&M."

He remembered Zhu Yilong's post saying "I suspect my husband is mentally unbalanced. What should I do? Not urgent. I'm waiting online." That day, he hadn't even realized how happy he had been to read that. One was because of the word "husband." The other was the words "Not urgent."

Not urgent. What soothing and wonderful words. At this moment, Bai Yu wished that time would move more slowly. He wanted it to slow down past the cars, the carriages, the cattle and the sheep. He wanted it to slow down past the gradually setting sun. He wanted it to slow down past that never-ending coastal road, until he was standing back in that Las Vegas chapel.

Bai Yu fell asleep again. This time, he didn't sleep for long, but he slept soundly. By the time he woke up, it was almost midnight. He took out his neglected cell phone, and saw "Incoming call from Long-ge" on the screen, making him almost drop the phone on the floor in shock.

"Lao Bai?" Zhu Yilong sounded suspicious.


"Where are you?"

Bai Yu felt confused by the harshness of Zhu Yilong's voice. "What is it? I'm at home."

A sigh of relief sounded on the other end of the phone. "Then why didn't you answer when your manager called you?"

It was true that after he had sent that WeChat message to his manager in the morning, he didn't bother to check for a reply. He must have missed several phone calls since then as well, but Bai Yu wasn't in a mood to answer, so he didn't call back. Who knew this guy would directly look for Zhu Yilong?

"Are you sick? Does your stomach hurt?"

"Long-ge, why do you think everything's related to my stomach? I just didn't pay attention. I've been home playing games and watching movies. I'm very satisfied."

"Lao Bai… are you okay?" Zhu Yilong's voice carried hesitation and guilt, like he had done something unforgivable that day.

But the one who committed the offense was obviously Bai Yu. Lowering his voice, he mumbled. "I'm good. I'm pretty good."

"Don't even think about lying to me."

"I didn't…" Bai Yu moved just then, and accidentally knocked the bottle of beer to the floor. At the sound of glass breaking, he immediately swore. "Fuck!"

"What is it? What did you break? Are you hurt?"

"Beer…" The minute he said it, he knew he had misspoke. But by then it was too late to take back.

Zhu Yilong's voice immediately became more severe, even carrying a bit of reproach. "You're drinking?"

"I didn't," Bai Yu hurriedly replied. He truly felt distressed, and deliberately replied in a joking tone. "My God, Long-ge, I'm an adult! I'm already thirty. Do I still need to report to you before I can drink? That's not one of the laws of marriage, is it?"

His words were light but cutting, his jokes carrying considerable firepower.

There was a stunned silence at the other end before Zhu Yilong responded. "Lao Bai, don't be like this."

"Long-ge." Bai Yu looked at the broken pieces of glass on the floor, seeing the beer spill over to stain the carpets. "Long-ge, I got your carpet dirty. I was wrong. Long-ge… I'm sorry…"

"Xiao Bai? Xiao Bai… you… don't cry."

"I have a flight tomorrow, so I'll go first." Bai Yu wiped his nose. "I know, I know I'm not quite myself. But this has nothing to do with you, it's purely my own problem. Don't worry, once I start filming, I'll feel better. I'm going to be fine soon. Long-ge, you have to take good care of yourself. Really, you're too thin, eat some more. Otherwise, your fans will be anxious. And you want me to learn to make soup? You should make more of that yourself first, to restore your health."

"Xiao Bai."

"My filming location is pretty remote, deep in the mountains and forests. I probably won't have much of a signal. Ah, that's going to be tough, I won't be able to play any games." Bai Yu lowered his head as the contents of his words became more and more disorganized. "Once I'm back, I'll be all better, Long-ge. I'll be exactly the way I was before, I won't have any more unnecessary thoughts. Long-ge, you're not going to refuse to speak to me again, right? I still want to go to Wuhan to eat genuine hot and dry noodles… and dried bean curd[5]…"

Bai Yu blinked as a large, transparent teardrop rolled down from his lashes, landing on the back of his hand. He bit down on his knuckles, the pain in his heart making him feel numb.

Chapter Text

"Xiao Bai, you don't… you don't have to push yourself too hard." Zhu Yilong's voice sounded slightly different over the phone, but what always remained the same was his kind, gentle tone.

Bai Yu bit down on his knuckles, swallowing back a sob. He rarely lost control like this, but the sound of Zhu Yilong's voice seemed to open a valve that allowed all of his emotions to flood through. Many people who knew Bai Yu would consider him warm, friendly, lively but mature. He was outwardly rambunctious, but on the inside, he was meticulous and tender. However, those around him often neglected to think that this affectionate soul also had times when he was dejected, restless and vulnerable.

"I'll be exactly the same as before." Zhu Yilong spoke evenly, every word earnest and steady. "How I treated you in the past, I won't change. I won't hold any of this against you. But Xiao Bai, you don't have to be like this… you can be angry with me…"

"Why would I be angry with you?" Bai Yu's voice was hoarse, and his throat felt tight. He reached out to wipe away the tears that blurred his vision, then rubbed the sting out of his eyes. "It's not like you did anything wrong. Ai, gege, if you truly made a mistake, it would be because you treated me too well."

There was silence on the other end. Everything was too quiet. It almost seemed as though he could hear the faint sounds of Zhu Yilong's breathing.

"It's nothing," said Bai Yu softly. "I'm not putting pressure on myself. Seeing you will always make me very happy."

More than just happy, Bai Yu felt like he was completely bewitched. As long as it was related to Zhu Yilong, then it was like being wrapped in a layer of honey, the sweetness seeping smoothly into his heart. He wanted to be on hand for every moment of Zhu Yilong's life; he wanted to see Zhu Yilong safe and happy; he wanted to see his Long-ge lying under the sun smiling lazily. Whether he was the cause of any of that wasn't important.

"I…" Zhu Yilong stuttered, then stopped. A single syllable weighed a thousand pounds, held a thousand meanings, unable to express everything clearly. A long time seemed to pass, or maybe it was only an instant before Zhu Yilong continued to speak. "I'm not going leave you. But I will respect your every decision."

"Okay," answered Bai Yu. He pressed his lips together, but ultimately didn't say anything more. "I'm hanging up now. Good night."

Bai Yu sat still for a while, then made a decision.

While he had always seemed to be an irreverent chatterbox, in reality, he knew how far to go and when to stop, especially when it came to his work. This overgrown kid rarely let other people worry about him. Seeing the on-screen notification about his successful ticket purchase, Bai Yu did still feel a twinge of guilt in his heart. However, this time, he wanted to be willful for once.

He glanced at his manager's message, and replied with a "Thank you" and "Sorry for making you worry, I'm okay." Then, turning to go back to his room, he picked up a small suitcase and started packing.

His original flight was supposed to be for tomorrow evening, and his manager had already mailed him his tickets. Once he arrived, there would naturally be people to pick him up to transfer from Kunming to the filming location.

Bai Yu opened his chat with the director and sighed at himself. He hated inconveniencing other people, yet within the span of a single day, he's already managed to bother the old director twice.

Unexpectedly, the director was still awake at this hour. He wasn't at all fussed about Bai Yu changing his flights, declaring it settled with just a word, his attitude as carefree as ever.

Bai Yu politely gave thanks before continuing to pack.

Early next morning, Bai Yu took a cab alone to the airport. The driver was an old hand, quiet and courteous. Around fifty years old, the driver likely didn't recognize the taciturn young man sitting behind him. All the way to the airport, they only exchanged a few simple words. And when they arrived, Bai Yu paid his fare, lowered his head, and walked towards the terminal.

At this time, Beijing Capital International Airport was much less crowded than usual, though there was still quite a number of people coming and going. Wearing a hat along with a simple black t-shirt and jeans, Bai Yu looked just like an ordinary student walking with his head down.

His original itinerary was already private, so combined with his last-minute change in flights and the early hours, there weren't any of the usual people following after him to take pictures. Without too many other people around, his security check and boarding all went smoothly.

Not even Bai Yu himself remembered when he last came to the airport alone. Ever since his popularity boomed, most of his airport experiences consisted of shouldering his way through throngs of people surrounding him. He usually didn't dare to go through this without at least bringing an assistant.

He once again remembered their time together in Shanghai when he recorded Happy Camp with Zhu Yilong. Before that, he'd never had a concrete idea of what it meant to be hugely popular. But seeing crowds as vast as the mountains and seas surrounding them and making noise, he'd felt both happy and worried. So he had reminded everyone over and over again to pay attention to safety, while half-jokingly, half-earnestly saying "Long-ge, stay behind me."

Bai Yu had always been glad that he especially went from Changzhou to Shanghai that time, and grateful that the person next to him was Zhu Yilong.

On that day, Bai Yu had looked down towards the end of the corridor, and caught sight of Zhu Yilong in a light-blue, long-sleeved shirt. Even though Zhu Yilong had been wearing a face mask, he still revealed a pair of eyes that curved into crescents as he smiled.[1]. At that sight, Bai Yu couldn't help quickening his footsteps so he could throw his arm around Zhu Yilong.

When two people experienced something special together, the marks they left in each other's lives would become all the more enduring. Together, they had stood hand-in-hand, taking their bows towards the audience. Together, they had listened the sounds of the fans' screaming and the fans' singing "Flying Through Time." [2].

On that beautiful night, the skies had been clear with not a cloud in sight. Like a majestic firework display, you could never forget the person who stood next to you through it all.

Bai Yu suddenly had a mischievous thought. He wanted to broadcast his location; he wanted to lure everyone over; he wanted to hear Zhu Yilong say "Bring Bai Yu over here!" Then, he could once again see Zhu Yilong's smiling face at the end of the corridor.

Of course, he didn't do actually anything. Very carefully, Bai Yu burrowed in his seat in the VIP lounge, sipping his coffee while waiting for his flight. Zhu Yilong didn't even know his flight number. It was impossible for that clichéd scene from the idol dramas to play out. No one was going to chase him to the airport.

Kunming and Beijing were located at two opposite ends of the country, and the duration of his flight was fairly long. Bai Yu covered himself with a blanket, placed his hat over his face to sleep, then stuffed earbuds into his ear to ensure no one would disturb him.

He suddenly thought back to that year early in their acquaintance. Zhu Yilong would often go out of his way to ask the flight attendant to switch seats in order to sit next to Bai Yu. The two of them would share earbuds while listening to music, or put their heads together to quietly chat. The low timbre of Zhu Yilong's voice was very enchanting, breathy and soft. Even his complaints and ridicule sounded gentle, without a single shred of malice.

Zhu Yilong trusted him without reserve, so how could Bai Yu not return that same trust? If he had his way, he would share everything with Zhu Yilong, including the most embarrassing moments of his past, unafraid to walk the path of mutual destruction[3]. Bai Yu always loved bickering with Zhu Yilong, teasing him until he would lose his composure and lightly shove Bai Yu away. Their interactions were too natural and intimate, their shared in-jokes too many to count. Often in their interviews, they only needed to exchange a glance before bursting into laughter.

Bai Yu had always thought that he never held any expectations towards Long-ge, but now that he thought about it again, how could that possibly be? He was greedier than anyone he knew. He had always hoped that Zhu Yilong would treat him differently, would be willing to change a tiny bit for him. He wanted to hold a special place in Zhu Yilong's heart; and now, he could never again suppress the yearning in his heart that wished for Zhu Yilong to belong to him, openly and completely.

He seemed to have accomplished this in the world's eyes. But in reality, he had absolutely nothing, having made a complete mess of things.

Once Bai Yu got off the plane, he contacted the staff member sent over to pick him up. Although his contact was surprised to see him alone, he didn't ask any questions. At the same time, he also sent Zhu Yilong a WeChat message about his arrival in Kunming. After a while, the reply arrived, saying simply "Pay attention to your safety." Bai Yu didn't give it a second look. Putting away his phone, he followed the staff member to the parking lot.

In the car, he made a call to his manager. As expected, she flew into a thunderous fury. Bai Yu suspected that if dimension doors existed, he would immediately see a flustered and exasperated woman who wished she could beat him to death with paperwork.

"Bai Yu! Do you know how to write the word 'dangerous'?? What if you got stopped by stalkers? What if you had an accident?? What were you thinking! Where did you get the guts to do something like this[4]?!!!"

Bai Yu impishly tried to coax her. "I was wrong, I was wrong. But aren't I just fine now? Do you want me to send you a selfie?"

He really did take a selfie with the staff member next to him and send it over. Once his manager saw that he was still in one piece, and verified that he had been picked up without any mishaps along the way, her anger finally dissipated by half.

"Don't be angry, you'll get wrinkles if you stay angry. That's no good, wouldn't you agree?" Bai Yu used the softest voice to continue to coax her, this trick truly effective at making people feel good. "Indeed, look at how childish I am, why get angry over trifles with me? I'm still a thirty-year-old child!"

"Can somebody please keep you under control?" His manager sighed again. "If your Long-ge knew about this, he'd definitely scold you."

"Long-ge knows."

"Then how can he still go along with you?" His manager raised her voice. Then she suddenly paused, as though realizing something. "Bai-shu, what happened with you? It seems to me that something has been off about you these past few days."

"Nothing happened! Didn't you see just then? My face is glossy and full of color! I'm telling you, once I shave, I look like I'm eighteen."

His manager didn't bother arguing with him about these trivial points, directly asking the question. "Are there problems between you and Long-ge? Don't tell me the relationship between you two is so great that you can't even put up with each other for more than a month after getting married?"

Bai Yu shrank down and lowered his voice. "There are no problems. Didn't you see the other day? Sparks were flying everywhere during our kissing scenes! I even stayed the night with him afterward."

"Are you telling the truth?"

"It's true." Bai Yu stared out at the unfamiliar streets. "What are you worried about? He and I are good friends for life."

Although the movie hadn't officially started filming, the cast and crew had almost finished their preparations. While he was one of the leads, he was currently only on-set as a friend of the director. Over these next few days, he would still be in an idle state.

Their location was fairly remote, so they drove for a long time over winding roads before arriving. Their living conditions may be somewhat poor, but he had no complaints about the scenery. And although the weather was humid, it thankfully wasn't stifling hot, with the mountains bringing along cool and refreshing winds. Other than there being too many bugs, Bai Yu felt the overall situation was pretty good.

The signal at their location wasn't very strong, and the WiFi that the crew set up suffered frequent disconnects. Because of that, Bai Yu practically didn't touch his phone at all. During the day, he chatted with the director in a thatched pavilion. At night, he lay in bed listening to the chirps of the insects. Like this, he effectively started living like someone from the past.

Although he and the director had an age difference of almost thirty years between them, they still found interests in common. They chatted about the different characters, the script, the martial arts circles, cultivation principles, and the human soul.

The wandering hero that Bai Yu played traveled the vastness of the world, having only himself to rely on. The role may appear simple, but it had quite some complexity to it. He clearly appeared to be a youth, yet he had experienced great changes in life. His heart held hardships, yet he was still carefree. But if you wanted to say that he had already seen through the world, that wasn't necessarily true either.

For this role, he had plenty of homework and went back and forth many times trying to figure it out. Unexpectedly, within these last few days, his pondering finally produced something with a different flavor.

Once filming officially began, he started to become busy. Just like it was in all of his previous productions, as long as he was there, the atmosphere would become perfectly warm and friendly. Everyone was incredibly fond of this affable and cheerful overgrown kid. In this crew were a few young actresses in their twenties. With their calls of "Yu-ge, Yu-ge," their boisterous attitudes were very endearing.

In the initial days of filming, he didn't have as many scenes or tasks to perform, so he would sit in a chair, lost in his own thoughts. This was a mountainous region, which meant he couldn't use his beloved hoverboard. He idly wondered if he might look like a floating ghost if he did use it, considering the long robes he was wearing.

At that thought, he wanted to laugh as he remembered his days on the Guardian set. He had seized Zhu Yilong's hoverboard, pulling and tugging at Long-ge, asking to be taught how to use it. At first, he had been too inexperienced, so Zhu Yilong pulled him by the hand while supporting his shoulders. In a warm and gentle tone, Zhu Yilong explained everything to him. Meanwhile, Bai Yu frequently pretended to fall, startling Zhu Yilong into widening his beautiful eyes.

Zhu Yilong, Long-ge, gege. Bai Yu remembered calling for Zhu Yilong non-stop, his heart melting into a puddle.

"Yu-ge!" A beautiful young woman called his name and hopped over in excitement. "Have you seen the video?"

"What video?" Bai Yu was a little surprised.

"Teacher Zhu's video!" The young woman looked even more surprised. "Yu-ge, is your signal too weak? You can look at mine."

It was a video sent out by the official Weibo account of Zhu Yilong's new show, entitled "Love's ice cream van." Bai Yu immediately understood what this meant. He had once arranged a formal visit to Zhu Yilong's set. As the "husband" of the lead, he couldn't be lacking in pageantry. At that time, he had been full of happiness, wanting to give his Long-ge a big surprise. Since it had been the height of summer, after a discussion with his manager, he had bought fruits, drinks, and even rented an ice cream van.

Bai Yu had imagined poking his head out of the ice cream van's window, smiling at a dazed Zhu Yilong before handing him a special jumbo-sized, mango-flavored ice cream.

"Gege, I'm inviting you to eat me."

He had imagined just how red Zhu Yilong's face would be. But after all the planning, he himself ended up being absent from it.

The video that was sent wasn't long. Zhu Yilong wore a suit, looking endearing as he waited outside the ice cream van. The staff member inside the van handed him a large cup filled to the brim with ice cream, taking care to emphasize that "This is specially from Yu-ge."

Everyone immediately started to laugh, while Zhu Yilong held the ice cream in his hand and smiled. Slowly, he gave the ice cream a lick.

The director and the rest of the cast sent thanks and well-wishes to Bai Yu through the camera, sending him luck for his filming to go smoothly. Zhu Yilong still had that same lovable look as he ate the ice cream. Although he was clearly the topic of conversation, he appeared to be nothing more than an innocent bystander.

Finally, someone shouted, "Everyone should thank Teacher Zhu! We benefited from being near him and received these delicious fruits and ice cream. Does Teacher Zhu have something to say to Yu-ge?"

"There's no need to thank me. I should actually thank everyone on Xiao Bai's behalf for your well-wishes." Zhu Yilong raised his head. Licking the ice cream from the corner of his mouth, he finally turned to the camera and smiled. "Mango-flavored ice cream is pretty tasty."

Then he waved the ice cream cup in his hands. "You need to pay attention to your safety and be sure to eat your meals. Once you're home, I'll take you to eat whatever you want."

Everything was energetic, even the background music had the air of sugary love. It almost seemed as though he could taste the sweetness of the ice cream through the screen.

"Yu-ge is so attentive! Teacher Zhu is really lucky!" The young woman took her phone back and propped her chin on her hands. "But I'm pretty jealous of Yu-ge too! Teacher Zhu really is very warm and gentle."

"Yes." Bai Yu gave a huge grin, and waggled his eyebrows as though showing off. "My Long-ge is just that great."

Chapter Text

The movie's progress couldn't be considered fast. At least compared to other domestic movies, it could even be considered slow-moving. The old director wasn't lacking in renown or money. Bai Yu adopted a studious attitude, and felt that he learned quite a lot.

Throwing himself into the role allowed him to put many things to the back of his mind, while giving many of his emotions an outlet. During this time, he didn't have much contact with Zhu Yilong, though it wasn't on purpose. Both of them were busy with work. And being over thirty years old, neither were going to appear overly infatuated and clingy after the initial period of attachment.

Bai Yu felt that he was essentially still reliant on Zhu Yilong. But like a believer reliant on their deity, he didn't need too much acknowledgment in response… Though when he put it like that, it sounded excessive.

As the summer passed and autumn arrived, the temperature in the mountain cooled. Listening to the sounds of insects outside his window gradually decrease, Bai Yu thought of the cozy lights in Zhu Yilong's apartment, the fuzzy Cola and Oscar, and the wool carpet he'd spilled beer on.

The old director liked to grind away at everything during filming. He deliberated over the script, he mulled over the lines, and he went through take after take with the actors. Over his many years of filming, many famous actors had suffered this treatment, and today was Bai Yu's turn.

Bai Yu wasn't inexperienced, nor did he lack talent. But the old director stubbornly didn't care about experience or talent. A good actor always understood performing, understood the artistry in front of the camera. But the old director insisted on grinding them down until they cast off their armor, until they were battered and exhausted, until they forgot the equipment around them, until they forgot the set, until they forgot everything that had nothing to do with the role.

For this critical scene, they filmed from morning to evening. Bai Yu had no idea how much longer he could keep going. No matter how good his temper or how strong his willpower, he still couldn't endure something like this. His complexion didn't look too good. He sat in the break room for a bit, drank some water, before he once again heard the director say, "Let's do this one more time."

This scene was extremely pivotal. This was a turning point for his character. After this turn of events, the character no longer had anything left in this world. There were many ways to act out the heartbreak of losing a loved one, but the way the old director wanted him to showcase it was one of both utmost restraint and perseverance. All the emotions that threatened to spill out had to be locked tight in his heart. No one could be allowed to see what he was feeling, yet everyone had to be able to tell what he was going through.

Once he reached the middle of the set, Bai Yu felt a sudden spell of dizziness. He had been an actor for so many years, but he had never cut such a sorry figure before. He always took his job seriously, did his homework for all his roles, and made sure he was in the best state of mind beforehand, putting his heart and soul into every role. But he knew that he was hovering on the edge of collapse right now, vaguely aware that in the next instant, he might lose control of his body.

The place where they stood had a view of the wide-open horizon. Bai Yu furrowed his brows and stared off at the golden sunset in the skies. At this moment, he unexpectedly thought of Zhu Yilong.

Threads of tenderness spread through his veins, but the sweetness seemed to be mixed with tiny needles, causing a piercing pain to arise in his heart. He had been too anxious, so he let this tenderness comfort him. His heart was joyful, yet it also bled from the sharp prick of the needles.

In an instant, the boundaries between reality and fiction, space and time, actor and role all blurred together. Nothing seemed as important as before, even though it seemed to him that he should be drawing clearer distinctions.

Bai Yu himself couldn't recall how he finished this particular performance. The camera was so close to him, while his surroundings weren't at all quiet. He was aware of everything, yet at the same time, seemed to be unaware of anything.

The handsome swordsman smashed the jade pendant, shattering it into pieces on the rock. The setting sun reflected onto the broken jade pieces, unexpectedly creating an image of the ocean's sprays. He didn't cry, nor did his eyes redden. With a gentle yet penetrating look, he lowered his gaze before showing a brief smile.

"Well-done on that smash!" The director stood up from behind the cameras and gave a resounding round of applause.

Everyone was stunned. It took several beats before everyone joined in on the applause as well.

Only Bai Yu still stood in the same place. He first grinned mischievously, asking the director, "I broke the prop, what should I do?"

Before there was time for a response, tears started streaming down his cheeks. Bai Yu didn't seem to notice it himself. It was only when the tears fell closer to his mouth and their salty taste touched his tongue that he reached up to wipe them away. But everything spiraled out of control. Bai Yu took the napkin that his assistant handed him, and continued to wipe away his tears all while mumbling, "Ah, I'm so sorry," "I don't know what's wrong either," "It's nothing, it's nothing, just let me calm down and I'll be fine."

All the comfort and reason in the world was of no use to him. Bai Yu felt as though he had split into two, with one of him in this world, the other not.

"Give him some time." The director's wavering voice carried over. "This really is too hard on actors."

His voice held some remorse. Everyone who heard it could understand his meaning. Even a good actor who can easily go in and out of character couldn't bear this kind of torment. Although the end product was breath-taking, ultimately, the process was too strenuous.

By dinner-time, Bai Yu was already back to his old self. He threw on a jacket, and with his dinner in hand, went to chat about video games with a few other actors his age. The signal in this area wasn't very strong, and they would frequently get kicked from games after disconnecting. Bai Yu was nodding along to their complaints, saying "indeed, indeed," when unexpectedly, tears started rolling down his cheeks again.

"Yu-ge?" His assistant was the first to notice.

"Something got into my eyes," said Bai Yu, wiping away the tears.

"Is something wrong?"

"What could possibly be wrong with me?" Bai Yu grinned. "Today's dinner is pretty good. After I'm done, I won't have any more work. Jealous?"

All the other actors still had scenes to film later at night, so they all chimed in with a "jealous!"

"The director said," continued his assistant. "Tomorrow morning you can take half a day off to recover a little."

"Amazing! Then I can wake up naturally?" Bai Yu was smug enough to want to start singing, but he had to sweep back the hair that threatened to get into his mouth. "Acting in a historical drama is just a little inconvenient. This hair is too bothersome."

"I worry about my hairline!" lamented an actress.

Everyone around them burst out laughing. As Bai Yu laughed along with them, he suddenly felt a stinging sensation in his eyes again. Standing up, he mumbled a "I'm full, you guys keep eating," before turning to leave.

Removing his make-up and fixing his hair took a considerable amount of time. Throughout the process, he unexpectedly fell asleep several times, though it was a shallow sleep. He could still hear the sounds around him, but his consciousness couldn't quite break through the fog.

He returned far earlier than everyone to his room. In truth, he knew that everyone was refraining from saying it out loud, but they must have noticed that his state of mind wasn't good. Today, he was so physically and mentally exhausted that he didn't even dare to re-watch the scene he had filmed.

Once he lay down on bed, he felt a little better. He couldn't describe this feeling well. It only felt like after teetering over the precipice of collapse, he finally took a step back onto solid ground.

He took out his phone and played two game matches on it. Miraculously, the awful WiFi in this place didn't disconnect him, and in the end, he even won two MVP awards. He flexed his aching hands, but stayed still at the end, too lazy to budge.

When his manager's message came in, he was still half-asleep. In the message, his manager notified him that the brand company would air their commercial tonight. Since it was an important endorsement, he should make sure reblog their post as part of his professional duties.

Bai Yu stared blankly for a long time trying to figure out which commercial was going to air when his manager reminded him, "Lipstick, lipstick! After a month of filming, are you so tired that your memory turned into a goldfish's memory?"

Doing promotions was a walk in the park for him even without his manager drafting his post for him. He could have let his studio take care of the post, but once he thought about how this was a commercial he did with Zhu Yilong, he accepted the task for himself.

For the past month, he didn't go on Weibo too much. There were only a few scattered posts made by his studio. He finished his shower first, then came out to a new WeChat message telling him to reblog Zhu Yilong's post. Bai Yu dried his hair with one hand while swiping through his screen with the other. Immediately, he saw Zhu Yilong's post on the trending topics page. He tapped open the video below, and shivered at the sound of the background music.

The final product was both more classy and more sensual than he had imagined. Long shots and close-ups matched the rhythm of the music, from unhurried to frantic, from weak to strong. Close and intimate, lips and tongues mingled together while fingers encircled a slender wrist, and lipstick wandered over skin.

Bai Yu's heart thumped. He felt he couldn't keep watching, yet he couldn't look away. He couldn't take watching Zhu Yilong be so passionate. It was one thing when they were acting, it was another thing now that he was an observer. With his emotions written too clearly on his face, this was nothing more than a blatant, sweet public execution[1].

It was clearly just a lipstick commercial, yet the close-ups were all incredibly seductive. He couldn't bear the camera's focus on that tiny planet ornament hanging from Zhu Yilong's earrings, nor could he bear the sight of Zhu Yilong stroking the silver dragon on his own earring. The stylist took a new approach, letting them wear earrings that represented the other person's name. This concept was too enchanting and ambiguous. It had nothing to do with desire, and everything to do with love. He saw the rise and fall of desire, but could not see the depth of emotions.

Bai Yu copied the message from WeChat, and directly reblogged Zhu Yilong's post with it. As expected, after only a brief delay, his Weibo exploded. Just like in the past, the fans clamored loudly. Comments like "I have no regrets in this life!" or "AAAAHH this is too provocative!" and so forth all jumped up at Bai Yu, making him laugh.

He watched the commercial again, and suddenly felt that Zhu Yilong was like a stranger. Maybe it was because they hadn't seen each other in a month, but he felt as though Zhu Yilong was extremely far away from him.

When it came to Zhu Yilong, he rarely had these kinds of thoughts. The moment they had met, they had already felt like old friends, as though they were born to be close. So even if they hadn't seen each other in a long time, Bai Yu could still throw an arm around Zhu Yilong's shoulder and call him "Long-ge," and "gege." Whenever they had free time, they'd meet to eat dinner or schedule a gaming session together. When they were busy, sending each other memes would make them happy as well. Bai Yu had never experienced this feeling of drifting apart.

During this month, he had put all his energy into filming, as though he could be just like the characters in the movie and cut off his emotions and desires. In the end, it was just wishful thinking.

In truth, if someone were to ask Bai Yu what he was thinking when he broke that jade pendant, he would be too embarrassed to admit it.

At that time, his mind had wandered too far away, until he himself couldn't understand what had happened. He had clearly already fully embodied the character and his emotions, even losing track of time and space. But in that instant, he had completely broken character.

He suddenly thought: Zhu Yilong is from Hubei. Would he like lotus root and pork soup?

"Gege, what are you doing?" Bai Yu sprawled on the bed and sent Zhu Yilong a WeChat message.

The response came quickly this time. "I just wrapped up my scenes today and came out of the shower. I'm not doing much."

"Video chat? I haven't seen you in too long! I want to see if gege has lost too much weight or not!"

"Okay." A single word reply was swiftly followed by a video chat invitation.

The video chat window first showed a shot of the ceiling, before swinging around to display Zhu Yilong's face. He wore a simple t-shirt, his hair still dripped with water, and his face was slightly flushed.

"You wrapped up filming so early today?" asked Zhu Yilong.

"Isn't it the same for you?" Bai Yu grinned. "The past few times you were filming until almost midnight. It was too hard on you."

"What about you?"

"I even have half a day off tomorrow! Are you jealous?" asked Bai Yu with a face full of smugness.

"Jealous," replied Zhu Yilong with a smile. "What do you plan to do?"

"What else can I do? I plan to sleep!" Bai Yu smoothed out his hair. "Historical dramas really aren't designed for human beings to film, waking up early every day and sitting down for make-up and hair for who knows how long. I'm so impressed with you, Long-ge, you're indeed the god of historical dramas, indeed…"

"Have you gotten used to the fight scenes?"

"Yes! I'm very used to it now." Bai Yu put down his phone, scooted backwards, then wildly gesticulated with his hands and feet before settling into a pose. "My God, Long-ge, I'm so awesome right now! I learned so many techniques from our choreography, you definitely won't be able to beat me in a fight."

But Zhu Yilong seemed to have suddenly noticed something. He sat there stunned for a moment, before finally asking, "Lao Bai, you… how did you get so thin?"

Bai Yu stopped and looked down at himself. He hadn't paid much attention to himself this past month. Although he actually ate on time, and didn't eat any less than before, when he looked at himself, he did seem to have lost considerable weight. Maybe it was because of his lack of vitality. He was already skinny to begin with, but now he looked almost emaciated, like he was worn to the bone.

The swordsman he played was supposed to be thin, but his director had never asked him to lose weight. He had no idea if he lost weight as he got more into the role, or if it was for other reasons.

"Really? I don't think I've gotten thinner."

"Did you not eat properly? Are your living conditions too poor?" asked Zhu Yilong.

"It's fine, I don't think it's especially bad. Did you know that this production has pretty good funding?" Bai Yu rubbed his cheeks. "Actually, I didn't lose that much weight. Maybe I'm just tired today."

Zhu Yilong looked at him and gave a light sigh. "I have my assistant supervising you every day, making sure that you eat. But you just won't gain weight."

"The director said this is just what the role is supposed to be like. Don't worry! Even if I'm thin now, it's fine. Once we go back to Wuhan, then we can eat anything we like without feeling guilty." Bai Yu propped his cheek on his hand and looked at Zhu Yilong. "Right? When I was filming today, I even thought of lotus root and pork soup."

"Bai Yu." Zhu Yilong called out to him. Then he raised his voice and called out again, "Bai Yu."


"Wipe away your tears." Zhu Yilong gestured at his eyes. Then he frowned heavily, his fingers curling into his palms. His next words were careful and earnest, yet also helpless and anxious.

"Don't cry, okay? I'm not worth it."

Chapter Text

"Long-ge, it's not… Long-ge!" Watching Zhu Yilong's face on the screen, Bai Yu hurriedly explained himself as he wiped away his tears. "I'm not… it's not because of you. Don't be like this. Long-ge, really, it's not! Long-ge look at me. Listen to me. I just finished a really heavy scene, so I'm feeling incredibly unwell…"

Bai Yu blew his nose and wiped away the snot with a tissue. All the grievances and pent-up frustrations that he had held back now came tumbling out. The director's expectations for him were too high, the other actors were all too outstanding, the script was too good, the grind of the filming was too miserable, he was afraid and tense… All the distress that he couldn't reveal, all the words he never spoke out loud, one by one, he divulged it all.

Zhu Yilong was the same as he had always been, listening quietly as though he were sitting next to Bai Yu again. Every now and then, he would make sounds of acknowledgment or give a simple reply.

Meanwhile, the anxiety and gloominess that surrounded Bai Yu's heart unexpectedly began to slowly dissipate. Taking its place was a sense of security and relief. In a gentle voice, Zhu Yilong helped Bai Yu analyze the role and the director's thoughts, reassuring him that all his efforts would eventually bring about a shining future.

Bai Yu remembered the massive impact that Guardian had on them, attracting a large number of fans. Happy and nervous, he had been at a complete loss facing this overwhelming wave of frenzied popularity. In reality, he couldn't even begin to approach the image of steadiness, maturity, and constant carefree joy that he projected. He also had his moments of fear and confusion. Luckily, he had Zhu Yilong by his side.

They chatted through the entire night, encouraging and supporting each other, making sure that they stayed true to themselves. Zhu Yilong's indulgence and kindness surrounded Bai Yu like warm water, dissolving his hurts and worries. Amidst the chaos, Zhu Yilong was always there to guide him back on track.

"I've heard of Director Wang's style. Filming over ninety or a hundred takes for a scene is very normal for him," said Zhu Yilong unhurriedly. "Sometimes, a person can't enter that particular state of mind without the pressure. Once you've passed this hurdle, it'll be like you've returned from the gates of Hell."

"Long-ge, you're exaggerating too much!" Bai Yu laughed, though it truly was fitting. During these days, the filming conditions were too harsh - not in a materialistic sense, but in a spiritual sense. The character he played suffered too much, while he allowed himself to fall too deep into that same state of mind. His negative emotions were greatly amplified, yet he had no outlet for them. So he could only let these emotions fester and grow uncontrollably in his heart. He walked alongside this swordsman until he strayed too close. He even forgot that he wasn't the one who had lost everything, that he wasn't the one who had been forced into a dead end.

He had pushed himself too far for yesterday's scene. His mind had wandered near the edge of collapse. The pain that filled his heart had reached an apex when he had to forcibly suppress it. Having sunk too deep into character, he felt the grief of losing a loved one, while forgetting that loving someone should be a happy feeling.

"Don't push yourself too hard," said Zhu Yilong. "Pushing past your limits can give you good results in the moment, but it can harm you afterward. When it comes to emotions, it's probably about the same too…"

Suddenly, everything became clear. Ever since that night, he had constantly put too much pressure on himself, and by extension, put too much pressure on Zhu Yilong. Stubbornly, he had tried to force everything back to the way it used to be, forgetting that life and emotions had always traveled along a winding road. No one could traverse it in one step.

It was true that the rush of excitement which came from love at first sight felt too good. But in this world, how many people experienced that? Most of the time, one person fell for the other first, then afterward they would attempt to move the other person's heart.

This wasn't an opportune moment for him and Zhu Yilong. Their external circumstances were so special, their own identities, status, and relationship all seeming to push them towards a dark gloomy corner. But in truth, how could there be so many twists and turns? Love was unrestrained and could not be taken back. It shouldn't be painful. It should be the softest emotion in one's heart, able to withstand all the winds and waves.

What was pushing him towards the abyss wasn't Zhu Yilong, wasn't love, and especially wasn't his surroundings. It was actually himself. He could retreat, but was determined not to. So he took a step forward under the sun, into the boundless vista of the open world.

Bai Yu adjusted his posture, propped up his chin, and smiled at Zhu Yilong. "I think there's something that I should tell you. Gege…"


"Look at the two of us, both unmarried men." Bai Yu gave a mischievous grin. "But our marriage turned out pretty well. You don't have a partner right now. So you could consider me as a possibility, right?"

Zhu Yilong seemed a bit dazed, not expecting Bai Yu to suddenly land on this topic. But he smiled and replied lightly. "You've made your decision?"

"Actually, I've thought about it a lot this past month, but every time I thought of you, I subconsciously wanted to retreat. It was like I was determined that you couldn't possibly like me back. But now that I think about it, it's a bit foolish, isn't it?" Bai Yu licked his lips. "Indeed, indeed, I felt pretty awful back then. But now that I've thought it through - when it comes to love, someone always has to fall first, right? Pursuing someone is such a normal thing. I'm already thirty, yet I was afraid of pursuing someone! What a new experience."

Zhu Yilong watched Bai Yu with his usual gentle demeanor. He didn't reply, apparently waiting for Bai Yu to continue.

"Back then, I was too impulsive… Long-ge, this month must not have been pleasant for you either. I let you down." Bai Yu rubbed his face and smiled warmly. "It's possible I may let you down a little in the future too. But ultimately, the pavilion closest to the water enjoys the moonlight first[1]. Such a good opportunity… gege, you've said before that you won't leave me, that you'll wait for me in the same place, just like before, right?"


"Then, if I wanted to pull you closer towards me?" Bai Yu met Zhu Yilong's eyes. "I won't pressure you, and you don't have to indulge me. Thinking back to this past month, we've actually been mutually tormenting each other, but no one has let down the other person, wouldn't you say so?"


"I, Bai Yu, as Zhu Yilong's colleague, good friend, and fake husband, intend to challenge for the position of your real husband. Gege, will you give me this chance?"

Bai Yu looked into Zhu Yilong's eyes through the screen, earnest and focused. He spoke neither too hurriedly nor too slowly, as though he were announcing a major event that would impact the future of the galaxy.

After a long pause, Zhu Yilong tilted his head slightly and smiled, the corners of his eyes tugging upward. His smile was natural and relaxed, like someone who had finally found the shore after treading on thin ice.

"Bai Yu." Zhu Yilong looked at Bai Yu too, calling his name with steadiness and warmth. "I've never considered this before, and it's possible the final result may not be the one that you want. But I'll put you on an equal footing without any bias. I won't let your identity or our relationship compel me into living the rest of my life with you. That would be disrespectful to us both."

"Wow, indeed, Long-ge is indeed strict!" Bai Yu showed an exaggerated expression.

"Don't interrupt."

"Okay, okay. I'm listening."

"This opportunity is given to everyone…" Zhu Yilong smiled at him. "This time, it includes you[2]."

Bai Yu's state of mind improved a lot. This was something that everyone on-set noticed. That emotional climax they filmed was like the precursor to a butterfly bursting out of its cocoon. Casting off his old cocoon, all the hardships he had endured transformed into beauty, leaving him carefree and at ease.

Prior to filming, Bai Yu had already discussed this role with the director. This character was solitary, all alone with no possessions left in this world. From the very beginning, he seemed to have suffering etched deep into his bones. But even in the later part of his story, he could still live a quiet and solitary life[3]. In the past, Bai Yu felt that this character cut off his emotions and passions, having nothing more to do with life, death, desire or needs. But now, it seemed more like this character walked past his limits to free himself of restraints. Finally, he walked out from the narrow path of an individual into the vastness of the entire world.

While Bai Yu had not reached that limit himself, he did experience that same sense of zen to some degree. All phenomena were like dew and lightning[4]. There was nothing better than following one's heart. No path was more beautiful.

For several days after that critical scene, Bai Yu didn't film any more scenes that were too emotional. The old director was taking care of him, afraid his spirit was broken by that scene, making him unwell.

They chatted about the role again, and this time Bai Yu brought up his latest realizations. The old director pounded the table and couldn't stop laughing. "This is the first time I've seen an actor really get that far into character."

This was like heavenly tribulation[5]. Or it was like the gates of Hell described by Zhu Yilong. Once he got past this hurdle, everything became clear and opened up before him.

Bai Yu no longer painstakingly hid his love and care, but he didn't turn impetuous either. Whenever he had time, he still threw memes Zhu Yilong's way. Sometimes he didn't receive a response for a long time, getting only an eye-rolling emoji at the end of the day. But he no longer worried about gaining and losing favor. He only felt warmth and happiness.

Liking someone was truly a joyful experience.

Half a month later, the filming moved from Yunnan to Gansu. Because the crew had too many preparations to make, the director gave the actors a few days off. They had all worked too hard these past few weeks, so he wanted to let them recover in body and in mind.

The instant he left the mountains, Bai Yu actually felt a little unaccustomed to his surroundings. Sitting on the plane to Beijing, everything felt surreal. The early morning sun gradually shone brighter with the passing of time. When they were about to arrive, the flight attendant reminded him to move the window shades up. As the sight of Beijing city's crowded streets gradually became clearer, his heart began to beat faster and faster.

Wearing a hat and sunglasses, he walked down the VIP passage wrapped tightly in his coat. His assistant followed behind him, looking around everywhere.

"Xiao Bai."

The moment he heard that voice, he looked up from his phone, and stared with disbelief at the person in front of him. Zhu Yilong also wore a grey coat, along with a peaked cap, and a face mask that covered up half of his face, though his beautiful eyes could still be seen.

"My God! Long-ge!" Bai Yu kept his voice down, afraid of attracting unwanted attention. Hurriedly, he followed after Zhu Yilong towards the car. "Aren't you supposed to be filming? Why did you come? Didn't my assistant say he was picking me up?"

"I don't have too many scenes to film right now, and I have an event tomorrow." Zhu Yilong pulled Bai Yu into the car. "So I figured I may as well take an extra day off."

"Ah, sorry to be so much of an inconvenience." Bai Yu took off his glasses and stared at Zhu Yilong's profile, only looking away when he received a glare in return.

"There's nothing to be sorry about. It's been almost two months since you left." Zhu Yilong furrowed his brows, as though actually counting the days.

"So, Long-ge…" Bai Yu grinned. "It's been too long, give me a hug?"

Zhu Yilong blinked, seeming surprised.

"Long-ge, look at you… I don't think a hug is too much to ask, is it?" Bai Yu looked down at his shoes. "Didn't we used to always… if you don't like it…"

Zhu Yilong sighed, reached out and pulled Bai Yu into his embrace. They were still in a car, so their movements were somewhat awkward. Zhu Yilong only lightly hugged Bai Yu and patted his back.

Although it didn't last long, there was enough time for Bai Yu to hear two softly whispered words - "Welcome back."

Ever since he first joined the cast a month ago, Bai Yu had imagined the scene of their reunion countless times. He had imagined that each and every move, whether intimate or distant, would turn into excruciating torment.

But now, everything was completely different. Their interactions were indistinguishable from the past, intimate and ordinary, like every other pair of old friends.

Just like this, the affection he held in his heart increased. Every time Zhu Yilong smiled, his heart swelled up like a multicolored balloon, filling up more and more, until it escaped his hand and floated into the sky towards the sun and rainbow.

Bai Yu stepped past the door of Zhu Yilong's apartment, arriving in the place that brought memories of untold pain and inspired incomparable yearning. Oscar and Cola dashed towards him, each biting down on one of his pants legs, as though protesting his hurried departure.

With a grin, Bai Yu crouched down and comforted these two little guys in their own raucous way.

Zhu Yilong put down his things. "Actually, I only picked these two up today. It looks like they're closer to you."

"Jealous?" Bai Yu raised his head and waved the little dog's paw in front of his face. He spoke in a small, high-pitched voice. "Dad, don't be angry. I still like you the best."

Zhu Yilong couldn't help but laugh, sending a light kick towards his back. "Get up, stop blocking the door."

"Resorting to force after losing the competition isn't too appropriate, is it?" Bai Yu let out a few exaggerated sounds of pain, but he still stood up and walked inside.

It was likely that Zhu Yilong really hadn't come back here more than few times recently. None of the furniture had been moved, everything still in the same location it was when Bai Yu had left. Dust covered many places in the apartment, with only the dinner table looking like it had been wiped clean recently. On it, there were even a few plates covered in lids, hiding what they contained.

From the kitchen, he could smell an extremely faint, fragrant scent. Bai Yu looked inside with astonishment, discovering the earthenware pot on the stove.

"Wait, Long-ge, this…? Is this the pot that my mom bought for me?"

"Yes." Zhu Yilong walked into the kitchen, grabbing Bai Yu's hand before he could take off the lid. "Careful, you might get scalded."

Zhu Yilong crouched down and put on oven mitts, then slowly took off the lid, releasing a large cloud of steam.

Bai Yu blinked a few times before he realized what was inside. Lotus root and pork ribs floated in the clear soup, its delicious aroma dispersing into the air and into Bai Yu's heart.

"My mom sent this over from Wuhan," said Zhu Yilong. "I didn't know how to make this myself, so I hired a cook to help. The food on the table was made by her as well. She said the food was about done, so she left to look after her child."

"This… aren't you putting in too much effort for this?" Bai Yu was a bit stunned.

"I wasn't the one who made it, so it wasn't too much trouble." Zhu Yilong bit his lower lip out of habit. "Didn't you really want to eat this? We don't have much time right now to go back to Wuhan."

"My God, my God! Long-ge, I'm not a two-year-old kid. It's not a problem to wait."

"Actually, I'm the one who wanted to eat this." Zhu Yilong turned around. "I borrowed your name to reward myself. This can't count as excessive, right?"

"Not at all, not at all." Bai Yu shook his head. "My God, Long-ge, what was that saying again?"

Bai Yu suddenly winked. "Today is another day I love gege!"

Chapter Text

As Zhu Yilong carried the soup to the table, Bai Yu arranged the bowls, chopsticks and spoons. Then, he lifted the lid off each plate on the table, exclaiming "Wow!" with each dish uncovered, his exaggerated tone matching his movements.

Zhu Yilong, who sat across from him, was laughing so hard he could barely hold his ladle steady. "It's not like I made these. Why bother fawning over it?"

"But they were specially prepared by gege for me!" Bai Yu batted his eyelashes, grinning so wide that his ears almost popped out from under his hair. "Besides, do the two of us need to quibble over something like this? Just being able to eat together with you makes me unbelievably happy!"

After Bai Yu shaved his beard, his clean-shaven face was as tender as that of a university student. He was clearly thirty years old, and a seasoned actor in the entertainment circle. Yet he still looked as sweet as honey.

In fact, the food on the table wasn't high-end, just some ordinary home-cooked dishes, nothing too fancy. But Bai Yu ate everything with great relish, looking incredibly pleased. Every now and then, he would make approving sounds while nodding his head, as though he were eating some rarely seen delicacy on a jade plate.

"Long-ge, why are you looking at me?" Bai Yu looked up from his bowl of rice, blinking in confusion. "Is there something on my face?" He touched his face.

Zhu Yilong shook his head. "I'm just not used to it."

"Not used to what?" Bai Yu was a little baffled. After a while, he finally reacted, nodding. "You're not used to my rose thorns being gone?"

Zhu Yilong nodded, reaching out to stroke Bai Yu's chin. "Let me feel a bit. You look like you got younger by ten years."

"Long-ge! You can't exaggerate like that!" Bai Yu looked alarmed. "My God, didn't you used to love saying 'Although I'm older than you by two years, but I look younger than you' and things like that?"

"You're pretty good at holding a grudge."

"How could I not hold a grudge? I also remember when you saw my publicity pictures for Suddenly This Summer and said that I was trying too hard to act young!" Bai Yu's face was full of indignation when he brought this up. "In all honesty, I really am a 90s kid!"

"Haven't you heard what they're saying online?" Zhu Yilong stopped, as though pondering something. "They're saying that all the 90s kids are old now, and things like that."

Seeing Zhu Yilong tilt his head and look thoughtful about something so trivial, Bai Yu really wanted to laugh. Unconsciously, he began to bounce his leg. "Long-ge, you don't have to be so cruel to yourself. If the 90s kids are old now, then you as an 80s kid must be…"

Bai Yu deliberately trailed off at the end, waggling his eyebrows with a "You understand" expression on his mischievous face.

"I'm only two years older than you!" Zhu Yilong quickly defended himself.

"Indeed, indeed. My Long-ge is still young!" Bai Yu stared at Zhu Yilong's face, thinking that its appearance really was too deceptive. No one could see that beautiful face and tell that Zhu Yilong was already thirty-two. However, his eyes were as calm as water, and his temperament gentle and astute, revealing his many years of refinement.

Right now Zhu Yilong was smiling, his eyes curved into crescents as his eyelashes cast shadows that seemed to flutter directly against Bai Yu's heart. Since the first time they met, Bai Yu had always loved seeing Zhu Yilong's smiling expression. He used to do his best to tease Zhu Yilong to cheer him up, until his usual calm and gentle expression crumpled. Although Zhu Yilong always looked exasperated, he never failed to play along.

Bai Yu never used to think about why he did this, but he thought he understood it better now. This was no different than when his elementary school self enjoyed pulling the pigtails on the girls he liked; it was a way to get someone's attention. In fact, he was even more greedy than that. He wanted to prove that he was more special to Zhu Yilong than anyone else.

"Why do I feel like you're mocking me?" Zhu Yilong smiled as he slowly drank his soup.

"I wouldn't dare!" Bai Yu wrapped his arms around himself and pretended to shiver exaggeratedly. "I was wholeheartedly admiring your beauty, and I lost my heart."

Zhu Yilong seemed skeptical, only letting out a "hmph!" sound from his nose.

Bai Yu hit the left side of his chest with his fist. "Gege! I'm telling the truth. I was especially moved. It's not like you don't know…"

He paused, put down his chopsticks, and took on a mysterious expression. The atmosphere suddenly turned strange.

Zhu Yilong was a little taken aback, unable to respond. "What?"

Bai Yu spread his arms, drawing a large circle in the air. "I like you — this much."

Hearing this, Zhu Yilong couldn't help but laugh. Shaking slightly, Zhu Yilong lowered his head as his hands held onto the table. "You don't necessarily have to use your hands to demonstrate, do you?"

"Isn't this a bit more intuitive?" Bai Yu lowered his voice. "I have to make this clear. My feelings for you aren't just this tiny bit. They last from time immemorial until eternity, and they cover the entirety of the universe."

After they finished eating, Bai Yu took the initiative to wash the dishes. Although Zhu Yilong wanted him to rest after his flight, Bai Yu used arguments like "if you eat someone's food, you should be kind to them[1]" to push Zhu Yilong out of the kitchen.

While Bai Yu was washing the dishes, Zhu Yilong took this opportunity to clean up the living room, cleaning up the coffee table and couch. The moment Cola and Oscar saw him sit down, they immediately leapt onto him and started acting spoiled.

So when Bai Yu finished putting away all the pots, plates, bowls and other utensils, this was the sight that greeted him. Zhu Yilong lay back on the couch, his long legs sprawled about carelessly while a furry poodle sat on his chest licking his chin. Zhu Yilong threw his head back and laughed, lightly pushing Cola away. But soon after, Cola jumped back once more, making it so Zhu Yilong couldn't help but laugh again. Meanwhile, Oscar had pulled off one of Zhu Yilong's socks, and was currently chewing on it, but Zhu Yilong was too pre-occupied to stop him.

"Hey, darling son, you can't eat this." Bai Yu reached out and picked Oscar up, tugging the dripping-wet, black sock away. The sock already had a hole torn into it, its threads pulled apart. It seemed unusable now.

Zhu Yilong raised his head from the couch and looked at Bai Yu. Cola still snuggled against Zhu Yilong, only opening one eye.

"Is it all chewed up?"

"Indeed." Bai Yu shook the sock with some distaste. "I'll throw it away?"

"Throw it away," answered Zhu Yilong, who turned back to take care of Cola. "Okay, okay, get up, get up."

"Didn't you say these two aren't close to you anymore? This is their objection." Bai Yu held Oscar, rubbing his fur. This little guy seemed quite dissatisfied that Bai Yu threw away his sock. Right now, he was chewing on Bai Yu's sleeve, occasionally letting out a protesting bark.

Holding Cola, Zhu Yilong sat up, petting the little guy's soft, furry head. "Be good."

Bai Yu handed Oscar over to Zhu Yilong, who stroked Oscar's soft fur as well.

"Gege, you have to be fair."

"What fairness?" Zhu Yilong put down the dogs, patting them on their butts to send them away so they could play. Then he turned to give Bai Yu an earnest look. From top to bottom, Zhu Yilong looked especially lovable. With his hair in disarray and his slender figure, he looked much younger than his thirty years.

Bai Yu crouched down and leaned against Zhu Yilong, turning to smile at him. "You still have a very obedient big dog waiting to be petted too."

"Pfft." Zhu Yilong burst out laughing. "How can anyone call themselves a dog?"

"Wasn't it you who called me that? I'm happily accepting it. Woof woof woof." Bai Yu batted his eyelashes, his eyes filled with expectation. His hair was fluffy, looking messy and soft. His entire person was curled up on the floor, and at over 180 cm, this posture suddenly made him look a little pitiful.

"You'll even argue over this… You aren't afraid people will make fun of you?"

"It's only because it's gege!"

Zhu Yilong looked at him for a long time before sighing. Then, he reached out and ruffled Bai Yu's hair. He didn't use much strength, and in the end, even smoothed out the hair he had messed up. "Okay?"


"Can you not be like this…"

Zhu Yilong had barely finished speaking when Bai Yu moved closer, bumping his head against Zhu Yilong's hand. Then Bai Yu retreated and sat down on the carpet, wriggling his feet. He grinned as though he was a kid who had just stolen his favorite cookie or his favorite piece of candy.

"Okay, I'll listen to everything Long-ge says. Tell me, Long-ge, I just finished washing the dishes. Asking for a reward isn't too out of line, right?"

"And you want this as a reward?"

"What else?" Bai Yu tilted his head. "Unless gege wants to give a more provocative reward? I can accept that too!"

"Go away." Zhu Yilong turned away, refusing to look at his face.

As the afternoon passed, they both were bored stiff. Wearing comfortable loungewear, they sat back on the couch playing video games, occasionally teasing Cola or Oscar when they jumped up.

Bai Yu still mocked Zhu Yilong the same way he did in the past. "Long-ge, why are you such a n00b?" "Long-ge, how come you died again?"

Zhu Yilong couldn't endure the trash talk anymore. With a roll of his eyes, he started beating Bai Yu up in-game.

"We're all teammates, what are you doing?" shouted Bai Yu as he dodged.


"Look at you, Long-ge, holding such a long grudge. I like you so much, do you think you'll ever give me payback for that too?"

"Xiao Bai, I think you're…" Zhu Yilong turned to look at him. Bai Yu was grinning openly, his eyes warm and bright. That carefree and adorable expression was more than enough to sweep away all the unhappiness. His good moods had always been infectious like that.

"What do you think, gege? Do you think I'm awkward?" Bai Yu's smile faded and he sat up straight, like a student preparing to listen to a lecture. He put on an earnest and proper appearance. "Then I'll go more slowly, wait until you're used to it. I don't want to make you angry."

"I'm not angry." Zhu Yilong sighed.

"Of course, my Long-ge is the best!"

"You didn't used to be like this originally."

"Because I used to be afraid of admitting it." Bai Yu tilted his head, leaning his cheek against his hand. "Now I want to tell you all of my feelings."

"I… I'm going to feed Cola and Oscar." Zhu Yilong suddenly stood up and threw aside his controller.

"Long-ge! Long-ge!" Bai Yu shouted after him. "You… this… you haven't died yet! I can't protect you! Hey hey hey, I'm going to die too! I'm dead I'm dead—"

"How old are you, Lao Bai?!" Zhu Yilong's voice sounded from not too far away, mixed with Cola and Oscar's barks.

"I'll be however old you want me to be."

"I want you to be forty. You'll be more quiet."

"That's not possible. Even at forty, I still won't be quiet."

Zhu Yilong peeked out from a corner. "Really?"

"Real or not, you'll see when I'm forty." As Bai Yu sat on the couch, sunlight shone on his hair through the window, coating it with gold, making it look soft and lustrous. "As long as you want, you can watch me turn fifty, sixty, eighty, a hundred, until I'm so old that all my teeth fell out. And even then, I'll still tease you to cheer you up. Okay?"

Zhu Yilong didn't answer, but by his legs, Cola let out a loud and clear "Woof!"

For dinner, they heated up leftovers from lunch. Neither of them was particular about the food. Bai Yu and Zhu Yilong happily ate away, both eating much more than usual. When all the food on the table was cleared away, Bai Yu let out a satisfied burp.

After resting for a while, the two of them decided to walk their dogs. Holding two leashes in his hand, Bai Yu let himself be pulled everywhere by the two little dogs, who for whatever reason were especially excited today. As he ran after them, he let out exaggerated wails.

"Long-ge! Save me! Keep your sons under control!" Bai Yu turned around to see Zhu Yilong rejoicing at his misfortune, even aiming a camera at him. "Look at you. You can still focus on collecting meme materials at a time like this?"

"Cola. Oscar. Stop." Zhu Yilong slightly raised his voice. Unexpectedly, the two poodles actually listened to him. Looking obedient and cute, they stopped, as though waiting for Zhu Yilong's next command.

Zhu Yilong walked over and patted Bai Yu's shoulder. "What do you think?"

"You… you're pretty good at this, Long-ge. You're pretty fierce."

"Not bad, not bad. I'm a little more fierce than you are."

"Indeed, Long-ge is fiercer than I am." Bai Yu looked at him. "Teach me?"

"What's there to teach? Actually, they listen to you too. You're just always playing along with them."

"Cola, come over. Call me dad," said Bai Yu. "Look, Long-ge! He's completely ignoring me. Your suggestion doesn't work."

"How can a dog speak a human language?" Zhu Yilong smiled helplessly.

"Indeed. Long-ge, your point is pretty biased." Suddenly, Oscar started running again, the pull of his leash making Bai Yu stumble.

Zhu Yilong reached out to steady him while grabbing the two leashes. "Let me take this."

Maybe it was habit developed over the years. Maybe Zhu Yilong truly was more intimidating than Bai Yu. The two little dogs who were just making a ruckus and running around everywhere suddenly quieted down.

Just as Zhu Yilong was about to take away the hand that was still supporting Bai Yu's shoulder, Bai Yu caught and held Zhu Yilong's hand. With some surprise, Zhu Yilong looked up at Bai Yu.

Bai Yu didn't actually use too much strength, he was only holding onto that hand. The dazzling sunset behind him couldn't compare to his smile.

"It's still the same thing as before." Bai Yu's voice was soft, holding a hint of flattery and coyness. "Gege, you have to be fair, right? Why don't you take my hand and lead me along too?"

Chapter Text

Zhu Yilong froze. He didn't shake Bai Yu off, but he didn't tighten his grip around Bai Yu's hand either. He stood in place, somewhat dazed and lost, like a computer that had crashed.

"I'm going to count down from three. If gege doesn't shake me off, then I'll assume you're agreeing." Bai Yu grinned as he gazed at Zhu Yilong. "I'm starting the countdown now! Three— two-one."

He dragged the "three" out very long, while the "two" and "one" came out in a rush, as though he was terrified he'd be interrupted. Zhu Yilong didn't have time to react before Bai Yu firmly gripped his hand. With an immensely smug expression, he said: "I just knew Long-ge was an especially fair person."

"How can you be so shameless?" Zhu Yilong followed along, sighing helplessly.

"Am I? No, I'm not. Long-ge, I only said that I'd be counting down from three. I never said how I'd be counting down from three."

"Xiao Bai, you're really…"

Bai Yu was grinning so hard his eyes curved into crescents. His mood was so good that if he weren't careful, he would float up into the sky like a helium balloon. "Okay, okay, I was wrong. Long-ge, can't I just hold your hand? I really want to hold your hand."

His lips turned downward, like he had suffered a great injustice.

"Why are you so childish?" asked Zhu Yilong softly.

"It's not like you just found out today that I'm childish." Contrary to expectations, Bai Yu was frank and open about himself. "I'm exactly as childish as you say. I just want to hold your hand, and I just want to tell the whole world that I like gege the most."

Zhu Yilong lowered his head. Perhaps it was because of the sunset, but his cheeks and his ears were tinged with red. Together, they walked at a leisurely pace. At the same time, Cola and Oscar seemed to have gained tact as well. They took small steps as they trotted forward, neither hurrying nor going too slow.

Bai Yu hummed a tuneless melody, turning every now and then to look at Zhu Yilong's profile. Staring straight ahead, Zhu Yilong appeared incredibly gentle, a faint smile on his lips.

Feeling Bai Yu's gaze, Zhu Yilong turned. "What are you looking at me for?"

"I'm not even allowed to look at you anymore? Long-ge, that's too much."

"I didn't say you couldn't look." After speaking, Zhu Yilong felt his words sounded a bit awkward. He averted his gaze and licked his lips.

Bai Yu swallowed and inched closer. "Then, gege, how do you feel?"

"What do you mean?" Zhu Yilong blinked, an innocent expression on his face.

"Do you feel a little happy?"

"This… I can't say that yet." Zhu Yilong seemed like he was having trouble coming up with a response.

"Then I'll continue to work hard!" Bai Yu tilted his head back and inhaled deeply, closing his eyes in contentment. "Either way, I'm especially happy now. Truly, incredibly happy."

By the time they got home, the sky was already dark. Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu both showered. And afterward, Zhu Yilong took a call from Li Chan to go over his scheduled activities the next day.

It was just a sponsorship event, so it wouldn't last too long. He just had to say a few words, play a few games with his fans, and so on. Zhu Yilong had never been any good at events like these. Every time he went on stage, he always gave off a subtle sense of bewilderment. Although he had become much more adept at handling himself these past two years, but outside of acting, he still didn't like participating in public activities.

Bai Yu didn't disturb Zhu Yilong, sitting quietly on the couch reading his script. He wouldn't be staying in Beijing for longer than two days. By the time Zhu Yilong went back to his filming location the day after tomorrow, Bai Yu would need to prepare to leave for Gansu for his movie as well.

Thinking of this, Bai Yu sank into a kind of sweet misery. Although modern technology could shrink the distance between people to nothing, it couldn't replace the importance of having the actual person standing in front of you. Bai Yu didn't dare initiate any contact that was too intimate, but even a brotherly arm slung over Zhu Yilong's neck or a pat on the shoulder was enough to make him happy.

The room was too quiet. Zhu Yilong's voice was low and gentle, brushing lightly against Bai Yu's heart like fluffy feathers.

Bai Yu truly felt content. Zhu Yilong was so amazing, but right now, only Bai Yu was in the same room with him, hearing his voice, and experiencing his gentle kindness. It was a pity that times like these were too rare. Bai Yu wished he could split himself in two, one to continue his acting career while his other self stayed with Zhu Yilong, never moving even a single step away.

"Working so hard, Teacher Bai?" Zhu Yilong walked over, looking over his shoulders to see the heavily highlighted script.

"Teacher Zhu is working hard too!" Bai Yu looked up at Zhu Yilong and smiled. "Are you done?"

"Yes," answered Zhu Yilong. "I'll help you cut up some fruits."

"You wouldn't be so cruel as to choose mangoes, would you, Long-ge?[1]" Bai Yu switched positions, draping himself over the back of the couch to stare at Zhu Yilong rummaging through the fridge.

"Oranges," answered Zhu Yilong. "You like eating yourself so much?"

"That should be fine. I think they taste pretty good."

"True. You're actually in a pretty good mood."

"Of course I'm in a good mood! Gege, you don't have to go through all this trouble. Why bother cutting it up? We can just eat it directly. When did you become so refined?" Bai Yu leapt up on his feet and headed into the kitchen. "Let me take care of this. Long-ge's hand is such a precious thing, how can you use it to cut up fruits?"

Zhu Yilong looked like he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "How did I turn into something precious? Lao Bai, that's enough. I'll do it."

"In my heart, Long-ge is the greatest treasure!" Bai Yu blocked Zhu Yilong's outstretched hand. "In any case, I'm the one chasing you. Can't you give me a chance to pamper you?"

Finally, Zhu Yilong had nothing he could say to refute this. He simply turned around to take a box of tomatoes out of the fridge. Then, he began to slowly wash them under the faucet.

"I didn't think gege would be so well-prepared."


"You not only have fruits but vegetables too. You're living pretty well!" The clear, sweet scent of oranges filled the air. "It's been awhile since you've been home, hasn't it? Did you buy these recently?"

"When the cook was buying ingredients, I asked her to buy some extra vegetables and fruits. You came home just in time."

"Ai, when I hear these words, why do I feel… why do I feel that…" Bai Yu looked up and raised an eyebrow. "This sounds a lot like a housewife's words when her husband returns home?"

"Xiao Bai!" Zhu Yilong glared.

Bai Yu immediately held up his hands in surrender. "Long-ge, Long-ge, I was wrong! I was just joking, don't be angry, okay?"

"I…" All of a sudden, Zhu Yilong's fist seemed to have struck cotton[2]. He sighed heavily. "I don't get angry that easily."

"Indeed." Bai Yu fed a slice of orange to Zhu Yilong, his gaze intent yet gentle. He couldn't help but smile. "Otherwise, why would I like you so much?"

Zhu Yilong still had work the next day, so Bai Yu urged him to go to bed early. Although he selfishly wanted to spend more time with his Long-ge and chat a little longer, he was more concerned for Zhu Yilong's health. They were both actors. Bai Yu knew how exhausting their work could be. Leisurely days off like today amidst the bustle of work were all too rare. He couldn't allow his selfishness to increase Zhu Yilong's burdens.

"Then, good night, Long-ge?" Bai Yu stood next to the bed, watching Zhu Yilong who sat charmingly on the bedside.

Zhu Yilong didn't seem to be used to this arrangement. Unconsciously, his fingers caught and rubbed the fabric of his pajama pants. His gaze wandered aimlessly around the room, as though this wasn't his bedroom but an interview set instead.

"Long-ge, why are you so nervous?"

"I'm not." Zhu Yilong shook his head, completely unconvincing. "I just felt that since I've been an adult, there's never been… there's never been anyone who said good night to me like this. It's like you're coaxing me to sleep."

"I wasn't coaxing you to sleep, Long-ge!" Bai Yu grinned. "But if you need me to coax you, I can provide you this service free of charge."

"I don't need it."

"Don't be so cold-hearted! My lullabies sound pretty decent."

Zhu Yilong's lips curved up into a smile. "If I listen to them, I may have even more trouble falling asleep."

"So overwhelmed by your emotions from my singing? I never would have imagined, Long-ge!"

"Can you talk less?"

"Okay okay okay, I'll talk less. You just go obediently to sleep." Bai Yu crouched down and looked into Zhu Yilong's eyes.

Seeing him like this, Zhu Yilong couldn't resist reaching out to ruffle his hair. "I'm not three years old. You should go to bed early too."

"Of course, I'm the most well-behaved one here." Bai Yu smiled. "Then… Can I have a hug before bedtime? Just one?"

Bai Yu held up a single finger, his expression cautious. He placed a heavy emphasis on the word "one," afraid that saying anything more would result in rejection.


Zhu Yilong barely finished responding before Bai Yu burrowed into his arms like an oversized puppy. Caught off-guard, he staggered back, with no choice but to steady himself on the bed with his hands.

Bai Yu was clearly a thirty-year-old man, but when he started acting coquettish, it was enough to frighten a person to death. Pulling Zhu Yilong closer by his waist, Bai Yu bumped his fluffy head of hair against Zhu Yilong's chest and chin. Then, he reluctantly but obediently let go and stood up.

"Good night, Long-ge!" Bai Yu's voice was exuberant. "I love you."

After he finished speaking, Bai Yu actually became shy. Immediately, he turned and ran out of the room, not forgetting to close the door behind him.

When Zhu Yilong got out of bed the next day, he heard a commotion outside. He had woken up fairly early for work, yet when he opened the door, he could already smell the fragrant aroma of food.

On the table were recently bought soy milk and steamed buns. Meanwhile, Bai Yu had already gotten dressed, putting on a loose blue shirt and a pair of jeans. With one hand on his hips, he was humming a song as he fried eggs in the kitchen.

"Good morning, Long-ge!" Bai Yu turned at the sound of footsteps. "I just knew you'd wake up at this exact time. Too terrifying!"

"Morning." Zhu Yilong rubbed the sleep out of his drowsy eyes, looking a little lost. "Why are you awake so early instead of getting some more sleep? You have a flight tomorrow."

"Aren't I just making you breakfast?" Bai Yu took out a few plates from the cupboard, and awkwardly tried to move the eggs onto the plates, needing several tries to succeed. He clicked his tongue in irritation. "But I really only know how to fry eggs. Don't get the wrong idea and think I made the steamed buns!"

"That I know. You're not nearly skilled enough."

"My God, what if I did?" Bai Yu widened his eyes. "Gege, you're constantly attacking me!"

"We don't even have flour here, how could you have made it?" Zhu Yilong smiled. "The cleverest housewife can't cook without rice[3]."

"Long-ge is so cultured! Indeed very cultured. Go on and wash up, otherwise the steamed buns will get cold."

Zhu Yilong moved quickly. When he returned, Bai Yu was already sitting at the table with his chin propped in his hand, his gaze tracking Zhu Yilong until he sat down. Bai Yu loved watching Zhu Yilong no matter what he looked like. He loved it when Zhu Yilong was drowsy and muddle-headed, eyes half-open, double eyelids almost turning into triple eyelids. He also loved Zhu Yilong's current appearance, clean-shaven and wearing a white t-shirt, with water dripping off bangs that hung over a pair of bright, energetic eyes. That water dripped onto Zhu Yilong's collar, making it stick to his collarbones.

"Why didn't you eat first?" Zhu Yilong sat down and moved the soy milk in front of himself, inhaling its aroma.

"I was waiting for you!" Bai Yu opened the bag holding the steamed buns and placed it in the middle of the table. "I'm really too unfamiliar with this area. I only found this single convenience store in this entire neighborhood! And I can't travel too far away either."

"Actually, you really don't have to do this. It's not like my assistant doesn't know how to prepare breakfast," said Zhu Yilong as he answered a WeChat message on his phone.

"But I've already told you. If I'm chasing someone, I should get a chance to pamper them, right? I barely get to see you more than once every several weeks. If I don't even buy you breakfast, that would be pretty bad form."

"Lao Bai, you really don't have to…"

"Gege!" Bai Yu bit down on the steamed bun, his cheeks puffing up like a hamster. "Back then, you bought me breakfast every day, but you didn't see me complaining, right? You're so polite to me, aren't you being too conscientious, Long-ge?"

"I don't mean anything by it." Zhu Yilong smiled at him. "I just thought you clearly could have gotten more sleep."

"My internal clock already woke me up! Now that I'm older, I have trouble falling asleep while waking up early every day. I'm going to buy a mynah bird tomorrow. Then I can take it out for a walk every morning."

"Pfft." Zhu Yilong seemed to have thought of something, almost spitting out a mouthful of soy milk.

Bai Yu prompted handed him a napkin. "My God, Long-ge, was it that funny?"

Zhu Yilong was still laughing. He laughed until his whole body shook, his eyes blinking non-stop. It was a long time before he finally spoke. "I just had a mental image of you in a tank top and underwear, clutching a walnut in your hands. It was pretty funny."

"Can't I be wearing something better-looking, Long-ge? Even if I'm eighty years old, I'd still be the most handsome old man in the mountains, all right?"

"In the mountains? Do you plan to live in the mountains as a hairy monkey?"

"If Long-ge went, then I would go as well. You can be the beautiful monkey king. I can be the handsome monkey king. What do you think?" As Bai Yu said this, he struck the classic Sun Wukong[4] pose and exaggeratedly waggled his eyebrows.

Zhu Yilong helplessly looked at Bai Yu, shook his head, then, unable to hold out any longer, he ducked his head and began to laugh. "What goes on through that head of yours all day long?"

"I'm thinking[5] about being with you." Bai Yu propped his face in his hands and gazed at Zhu Yilong. His smile was happy and content, as though the sight before him was a vast sea of flowers or an endless sunset.

Chapter Text

When Bai Yu walked in backstage at the event, all the staff were surprised. With a hat on, he followed behind Zhu Yilong, waving greetings at everyone while smiling. "I'm just an assistant today, don't call me Teacher Bai. I'm Assistant Bai. Assistant Bai."

Bai Yu had pestered his way to this event. Although Zhu Yilong made multiple attempts to talk him out of it, in the end, Zhu Yilong could only fall back on that familiar sentence: "Either way, I always let him win in the end."

Luckily, the details for this event were kept fairly private, and it didn't last long either. Bai Yu only needed to obediently stay in the backstage lounge, and there shouldn't be any mishaps.

Zhu Yilong got in touch with his assistant and manager, gaining a tacit approval of Bai Yu's last-minute entry as a family member. Of course, they also notified the organizers, but the news couldn't reach all the staff members in time. At this moment, everyone in the room stared at Bai Yu, a little confused.

"Don't mind me, everybody! I'm just a family member, no need to worry about me, I won't get in your way." Bai Yu's expression was full of innocence, and he even held up his hands in surrender. Then he turned to Zhu Yilong. "Teacher Zhu, do you have any instructions?"

"You can talk less." Zhu Yilong looked helplessly at Bai Yu's radiant smile.

"Okay, okay! I'll talk less." Bai Yu made a zipping motion across his mouth, then dutifully sat down next to Zhu Yilong and took out his phone. He really stopped talking.

The make-up artist and stylist knew each other well, and they worked quickly together. Bai Yu curled up next to Zhu Yilong, and other than occasionally handing out a bottle of water or a napkin, he kept his presence inconspicuous. It was almost as though he really was nothing more than an assistant.

The rest of the preparations went very smoothly. The organizers found someone to go over the programme with Zhu Yilong. And then it was almost time for the event to start.

"Xiao Bai, why don't you get some rest in the lounge later? Once I'm done, I'll go find you."

"Okay, okay! You go ahead, Long-ge! Don't worry!" Bai Yu gave him the "OK" sign and nodded.

When Zhu Yilong smilingly patted his shoulders and prepared to leave with one of the staff members, Bai Yu suddenly stopped him. Bai Yu put his phone in his pockets, then reached out to adjust Zhu Yilong's collar and tie. Once done, he stepped back and sized Zhu Yilong up.

"It was a little crooked just then. It looks okay now though, right?" Bai Yu turned around and asked the stylist. Once he received confirmation, he turned back to Zhu Yilong. "Long-ge really is handsome."

"Not as handsome as you." Zhu Yilong had heard Bai Yu's words countless times by now, but it seemed Bai Yu would never get tired of saying it. He almost had no idea how he should respond to it anymore.

"Look at you insincerely flattering me. Go on, Long-ge. Go and collect the affections of all the girls out there!" Bai Yu threw a flying kiss at Zhu Yilong, then smiled and nodded at the staff member standing nearby. "I'll leave Long-ge to you. Thank you for your hard work!"

Zhu Yilong didn't delay any longer to bicker with Bai Yu. But he did mumble something right before leaving. "The whole world already knows I'm yours. What affection is there to collect?"

"Indeed!" Bai Yu smiled at his retreating form. "Why do I love hearing those words so much?"

"Teacher Bai, why don't I take you to the lounge?" asked a sweet-looking young woman standing next to him, her voice trembling slightly.

Bai Yu gave her a good-natured smile. "Thank you. I'll be troubling you then."

The lounge was only a few steps away. It was small, with only a small couch and water dispenser inside. The young woman helped him pour a cup of water, which Bai Yu immediately took in his hands while he thanked her.

"Teacher Bai, you'll wait here then? Teacher Zhu will find you once he's done. If you need anything, just look for any staff member with a nameplate."

"Sorry to inconvenience you! I'm fine, you can go ahead and get back to your work!" Bai Yu smiled. "But I did have one question. Do you have a livestream of this event?"

"Yes, yes, we do." The young woman nodded and helped Bai Yu find the livestream. They opened it just in time to see Zhu Yilong greeting his fans.

In a flash, Bai Yu's smile grew wider and his eyes crinkled. In a small voice, he called out, "Long-ge…"

"Teacher Bai and Teacher Zhu's relationship is so good." The young woman couldn't help remarking.

Bai Yu turned around. With a mix of surprise and happiness, he asked: "Really?"

"Yes… It's easy to tell." The young woman was obviously a little startled by his question. For a moment, she was a little at a loss.

"No, no, no, don't be nervous. I was only casually asking." Bai Yu grinned. "You can get back to your work, there's no need to worry about me."

His gaze returned to the screen. Watching that slightly reserved figure on-stage, an immeasurably sweet and gentle smile appeared on Bai Yu's face that even he himself didn't notice.

Although the event itself didn't last too long, miscellaneous wrap-up activities like taking group pictures ended up delaying Zhu Yilong for quite a while. When he finally found Bai Yu, he saw Bai Yu holding his phone, seemingly reliving something.

"Xiao Bai." Zhu Yilong walked over and sat down next to him. "Are you tired?"

Bai Yu was so startled he almost jumped off the couch. "My God, you scared me to death, Long-ge! Shouldn't I be the one to ask you this? You're the one participating in this event, but you ask the person tagging along for fun if he's tired?"

"I let you wait for so long… you should have been at home resting."

"It's not like I'm pregnant!" The moment those words came out of his mouth, he received a warning glance from Zhu Yilong. Bai Yu shrugged and stuck out his tongue. "It's not like I'm made of glass and can't go out. I haven't caused any trouble for you, did I?"

"That's true. You haven't." Zhu Yilong leaned back and stretched. "Everyone said that Teacher Bai was a lot more quiet than they expected."

"Of course! I'm a quiet, beautiful uncle. It's even in my Weibo description."

"Not too bad," replied Zhu Yilong, though his expression clearly conveyed 'I don't believe a word of it.' "What were you doing just now?"

"Watching your livestream!" Bai Yu became more energetic when he heard the question. "I also took lots of screenshots so I can make plenty of memes! Look, your eyes are closed in all of these!"

Bai Yu put an arm around Zhu Yilong's shoulders, and showed him the glorious results of his efforts. The picture quality of a livestream already wasn't too high. Zhu Yilong had no idea how Bai Yu accomplished it, but not a single one of the screenshots of him had a normal expression in it.

With an extremely irritated expression, Zhu Yilong shoved Bai Yu away before glaring at him. "This is what you meant when you said you really like me?"

"But look at how difficult it was for me to capture these pictures! Right, Long-ge?" Bai Yu shifted closer and showed Zhu Yilong a few zoomed-in pictures. They really were too funny, even Zhu Yilong couldn't resist laughing out loud.

Completely defeated, Zhu Yilong could only helplessly give admit: "You're formidable."

"Indeed." Bai Yu shifted even closer, until he was hanging off Zhu Yilong's shoulders. "But Long-ge is still good-looking, really. Who else can look so good while making these faces? It's only Long-ge!"

Zhu Yilong lifted his shoulders, but ultimately didn't shove Bai Yu away. He spoke in a soft voice. "When you compliment someone… do you have to use such a strange angle?"

"You've never been complimented like this before, have you? That's right! It's because no one likes you more than I do." Bai Yu laughed until his entire body shook.

Zhu Yilong couldn't help patting Bai Yu's hand. "Did you ever pay attention in math class?"

"What does this have to do with math?" Bai Yu turned around and blinked, an innocent and confused expression on his face.

"Otherwise, how else would you come up with this kind of logic?"

Bai Yu grinned again. "Because of love, of course."

Even though Bai Yu was all kinds of reluctant, neither of them could neglect their work. On the third morning, Zhu Yilong had to head back to his filming location, while Bai Yu had to catch his own flight, so he couldn't see Zhu Yilong off.

Bai Yu accompanied Zhu Yilong all the way to the parking lot, looking like an over-sized puppy who was about to be abandoned. Zhu Yilong couldn't help but ruffle his hair and urge him, "Focus on your filming and make sure you eat well. Gansu's weather is much drier than Yunnan. You might not be used to it, so you should pay attention. If you feel any kind of discomfort, tell your assistant, don't hide it from them."

"Yes, yes." Bai Yu repeatedly nodded. "Gege, you should pay attention to your health too. You're the one who's always hiding things during filming."

That old incident from when they filmed Guardian was brought up again. Zhu Yilong shook his head. "I promise I won't do that now. Okay?"

"I still need to check up on you to be sure." Bai Yu grinned. "Gege, if you're free at night, then let's video chat? All right?"

"All right," answered Zhu Yilong with a smile. Lifting his head, he glanced over at his van, where his staff members were waiting for him. They had their usual expressions on their faces, none of them seeming in a hurry.

Zhu Yilong turned back around. Although Bai Yu didn't say anything, Zhu Yilong could still detect a slight sense of despondence. In fact, even he himself felt a subtle parting sorrow. They were obviously used to spending more time apart than together. Previously, even having the time to meet face-to-face for dinner was a luxury. He had no idea when things changed between them that they became so loath to part.

"I'll see you. Don't forget to send me a message when your plane lands." Zhu Yilong reached out and drew Bai Yu into his embrace.

At first, Bai Yu froze, as though unable to believe what was happening. The next second, he reached out and tightly hugged Zhu Yilong back. He rested his chin on Zhu Yilong's shoulder, his entire upper body pressed so tightly against Zhu Yilong until there was no space between them. He snuggled against Zhu Yilong's neck. Then he whispered in Zhu Yilong's ear. "Long-ge, I'll miss you."

Zhu Yilong lightly patted Bai Yu's back, his voice soft. "I'll miss you too."

Over the next two weeks, they were so busy that their feet barely touched the ground. Every day, they only had about ten or so minutes of free time to video chat after showering. There weren't many sentimental words spoken. They always talked about the simplest and most ordinary topics, like the food on-set, amusing anecdotes during filming, or the weather.

On the third week, Zhu Yilong's production moved to Shanghai for filming, and his scenes increased by a great deal as well. Bai Yu's work was even more exhausting. Not only was it a historical drama, but it was wuxia as well. Forget the filming. Just the make-up and costuming every day was enough to wear a person down. The old director was a perfectionist who insisted on using real locations for filming, so their progress was slow and laborious. The end of filming seemed so far way it was completely out of sight.

Once Zhu Yilong arrived in Shanghai, he received a call from Peng Guanying, who was also filming in the city. The two of them hadn't seen each other in over half a year. Since they happened to be near each other, they set a date to eat dinner together.

It was clearly already late autumn, yet that night, the temperature in Shanghai was a little high. Zhu Yilong had worn too many layers when he left the set. Wrapped up in a coat, face mask, and hat, he actually ended up drenched in sweat. Entering the private dining room didn't provide him relief either. The steaming hotpot heated the air around it.

Without another word, Zhu Yilong began to take off his clothing items one by one. He was only half-way through taking off his coat when Peng Guanying exaggeratedly covered his eyes.

"What are you doing, Zhu-jiejie[1]? The minute you enter, you perform a striptease?"

Zhu Yilong was taken aback. He still had layers on underneath; he was being extremely upstanding and honest. "I haven't even taken off my pants[2], and you're already covering your eyes?" Zhu Yilong snorted, threw his coat onto the small couch next to the table, and sat down. "Did you order already?"

"Of course! How could I not order anything?" Peng Guanying rolled his eyes. "I say, Zhu Yilong, can you be more careful? Taking your pants off - you're a married man right now, you have to pay attention to your image."

Inexplicably, the words "married man" poked at Zhu Yilong's funny bone, making him cover his mouth to muffle his laughter.

Disdain was written all over Peng Guanying's face. "Is it so amazing to be married?"

"It is indeed pretty amazing." Zhu Yilong took a look at the bill listing what had been ordered. Peng Guanying truly did understand him, having ordered everything he liked. Even the hotpot base was already prepared for him.

"Why do I dislike hearing those words from you?" asked Peng Guanying. "Bai Yu won't accompany you here himself. How are you feeling?"

"What do you mean, how am I feeling?" Zhu Yilong pretended not to understand, staring back blankly. He picked up a piece of tripe and put it in the pot.

"What do I mean?" Peng Guanying was so annoyed he almost kicked out with his legs. "How does Bai Yu treat you?"

"Pretty well."

"Other than this sentence, can you say something else?"

"Things really are pretty good." Zhu Yilong raised his head and blinked his large eyes, seeming especially innocent.

"Eat more slowly. You're acting like you haven't eaten hotpot in years!" Peng Guanying took a leisurely sip of tea. "Wait a minute. Bai Yu, this guy! Don't tell me he didn't go out with you for hotpot at all in the past half year?"

Zhu Yilong tilted his head, searching his mind for a long time. Unexpectedly, he discovered that although they had been married for several months, they hadn't been around each other for more than two weeks during that time. Added to that his concern over Bai Yu's stomach, he really ended up not eating any hotpot.

"Xiao Bai's stomach is weak…"

"So because you couldn't bear him to hurt him, you turned to me instead?" Peng Guanying's face was full of question marks.

"Lao Peng, can you not talk about eating hotpot like it's a prison sentence? It's so delicious!"

Peng Guanying was usually the weakest when faced with Zhu Yilong's pure and innocent expression. This time, however, he was filled with displeasure. Suddenly, an unbidden thought arose: The pig that he raised for so many years was unexpectedly rooted out by a cabbage[3].

"The two of you are currently where the winds and waves are the fiercest. I don't dare join in on the fun. What if tomorrow someone says I'm the third party? How would I explain things?"

"No need to exaggerate!" Zhu Yilong blew on the piece of beef he just picked up. "Such a hard to come by opportunity to eat hotpot, why do you have so much to say?"

"Can I talk more than Bai Yu?" Peng Guanying rolled his eyes so hard they almost flew up to the sky. "Next time, don't bother finding me for this kind of thing again! You can put an a poster up on the streets: 'A sexy young married woman, lonely in the bedroom, offering a heavy reward for hotpot.'[4] No need to look for me."

When Zhu Yilong heard this, he almost sprayed out a mouthful of food. With chili oil going down his throat the wrong way, he couldn't stop coughing as his eyes filled with tears. Peng Guanying could only hand him water and napkins.

With perfect timing, Zhu Yilong's phone rang. In a flurry of movement, he connected with the call. On his screen, he saw that Bai Yu seemed to have just come out of the shower. Bai Yu's hair was still dripping wet, and he had no top on, only a towel slung over his shoulder.

"Long-ge? Long-ge?" Bai Yu's phone moved and his face filled the screen. "Hey, what are you doing? Why are you crying?"

"I was eating hotpot and choked. It's nothing."

"Wow, you're having such a good time?" Bai Yu blinked. "Gege, you have to be careful… Hey, wait. Whose hand is that?"

Peng Guanying's hand that still held the napkin froze mid-air. Zhu Yilong naturally took the napkin, and without a second look, answered Bai Yu. "It's Lao Peng's."

"Hello, Teacher Peng!" Bai Yu waved to the screen, not caring whether Peng Guanying could see him or not. Then he turned to look at Zhu Yilong, who was currently wiping away his tears. "Gege, what do I do? I seem to be a little jealous."

"Don't be jealous," replied Zhu Yilong quietly. He clearly knew that Bai Yu was joking around, and that there was no need for explanations. Yet, as though he were possessed, he inexplicably added another sentence. "Next time, I'll take you somewhere more expensive for dinner."

Peng Guanying threw the entire pack of napkins at Zhu Yilong's face. "Zhu Beauty, let's break our sisterly bonds today!"

Chapter Text

"Tell me, what's there to quibble about with a little kid?" Zhu Yilong gathered the pile of napkins around him and moved them to a corner. Then he turned and smiled at Peng Guanying.

Hearing this, Peng Guanying couldn't help but burst out laughing. "It's still Lao Zhu who's ferocious. 'My family's Bai Bai is only thirty years old, I won't allow you to bicker with him.'"

"Teacher Peng is being too flattering." Bai Yu was laughing on the other side of the screen. He even covered his face with a bit of embarrassment.

"I'm going to die from anger. I have to talk to Lao Zhai about this." Peng Guanying fished out his phone and directly tapped on Zhai Tianlin's picture in WeChat. "Lao Zhai, tell me, is this infuriating or not? Lao Zhu went out to dinner with me, but spent the whole time video chatting with Bai Yu. Then he tells me not to quibble with a little kid?? This is too saccharine for me! The two of us have known him for so many years, how come he never protected us like this?"

After a while, Zhai Tianlin responded, the resounding sound of his voice echoing in the room. "Bai Yu is a young actor. He is younger than you. Not to mention, he's Zhu Yilong's husband. Why bother inviting humiliation for yourself?"

The phrase "inviting humiliation for yourself" precisely hit Peng Guanying's sore spot. He first rolled his eyes, then he wore a "I'm so angry I can only laugh" expression.

Meanwhile, Zhu Yilong couldn't keep calm anymore. Sitting in place looking back and forth between the screen and Peng Guanying, his eyes pleaded "Can you guys let me go?"

Peng Guanying stretched and returned to his seat, throwing Zhu Yilong a look that said "I don't want to hear whatever you two are talking about." Without another word, he immersed himself in eating.

"Have you eaten?" Placing his phone to the side, Zhu Yilong rolled a piece of meat in the dipping sauce before putting it in his mouth.

"I haven't! I'm dying of hunger! Dying!" Bai Yu made a ruckus as he put on his t-shirt. "I just ordered take-out and it hasn't arrived yet."

"Take-out again? Noodles again?"

"This little actor who's living a hard life only has noodles available to eat. It's so tragic, Long-ge! I'm so tragic—" Bai Yu's howling made Zhu Yilong unable to suppress his laughter. On the other side of the table, Peng Guanying's face was filled with contempt. Looking at Zhu Yilong as though he were a piece of iron that refused to become steel[1], Peng Guanying shook his head.

"Why don't I…?" Zhu Yilong picked out a newly cooked strip of beef from the pot. Beef was a specialty of this restaurant, famous for being thin and fresh. Now, this strip of beef just happened to catch the warmth of the room's lights, giving it a glittering and translucent appearance. Holding the beef in his chopsticks, Zhu Yilong moved it closer to his phone's camera, causing a startled Bai Yu to unconsciously open his mouth for a bite. "… give you a look?"

Then Bai Yu was left staring open-mouthed as that strip of beef was dangled in front of the screen before it went into Zhu Yilong's mouth.

"My God, My God! Long-ge!" Bai Yu slapped his leg and laughed. "This is too much!"

Peng Guanying was laughing hard enough to shake the heavens and earth, almost rolling under the table. "Truly ruthless, Zhu Beauty."

"No more fooling around." Zhu Yilong cleared his throat and took a sip of his drink. "Is it very hot where you are?"

"No, it's very cool. I turned on the air conditioner," said Bai Yu. "I heard that you went to the hospital last time. Gege, you didn't tell me again."

"It was just a little cold and fever.[2]" A few days ago, Zhu Yilong did actually catch a cold due to the changing weather and increased workload. He went to the hospital for an IV drip, but it didn't delay anything at all. This all happened a week ago, not even everyone in the cast and crew was aware of it. Who knew why Bai Yu's information network was so effective.

"You promised you wouldn't hide anything from me."

"I was wrong." Zhu Yilong wore a sincere expression.

Seeing Zhu Yilong like this, Bai Yu immediately lost the solemn expression on his face. He grinned. "Then don't eat things that are too spicy. Get some rest early. I won't disturb your dinner anymore."

"All you know is eating noodles every day. Pay attention to your nutrition."

"I know, I know." Bai Yu smiled. "Then… Teacher Peng, sorry about that. The two of you can continue chatting. Bye bye!"

"It's fine, you two can continue. Just pretend I don't exist. A beauty who's been married off is like spilled water[3]. I understand." Peng Guanying raised an eyebrow at Zhu Yilong.

"No, no, no," said Bai Yu with a look of terror. "My take-out is here. You guys eat! Teacher Peng, next time I'm free, I'll invite you and Teacher Zhai for dinner."

"Now you finally sound like someone sensible," judged Peng Guanying. "I was only joking around just then. Don't take it to heart. Zhu Beauty's husband is everyone's…"

He deliberately paused there, making Zhu Yilong look up with alarm.

"… Friend," finished Peng Guanying. "What are you doing, Lao Zhu? What did you think I was going to say?"

"Nothing, nothing." Zhu Yilong furiously shook his head. Bai Yu's laughter sounded from the screen again, making Zhu Yilong's face several shades redder.

Bai Yu said a few more parting words, said goodbye, then finally ended the video chat.

"Actually, his personality's not bad." Peng Guanying looked at Zhu Yilong, who was wiping clean his phone screen. "Lao Zhu, wanna gossip for a bit?"

Peng Guanying was Zhu Yilong's long-time friend, but because of the contract's terms as well as Zhu Yilong's own embarrassment, he wasn't aware of the truth behind their marriage. Moreover, the nature of the matter had already completely changed, with far too many twists and turns. Even if Zhu Yilong wanted to, he couldn't explain it clearly. If this were a reporter in front of him, then he'd already know his lines inside out. But facing Peng Guanying, he was used to letting his guard down, so he naturally wouldn't be too wary.

As a long-time friend and someone who cared and worried about Zhu Yilong, Peng Guanying naturally wouldn't be like a reporter either, trying to dig for dirt. Although he started out as though he were holding a joint interrogation between all three departments[4], in the end, it turned into two friends casually eating and chatting.

Zhu Yilong wasn't very good at lying, especially to Peng Guanying. He answered with half-truths, at most only obscuring a few things here and there. Either way, truth and fiction were already too sticky to separate cleanly. Even he himself didn't know what his feelings for Bai Yu ultimately were.

"Then…" Peng Guanying fished out a strip of meat and put it in Zhu Yilong's bowl. "Lao Zhu, I'm still really curious. You said you've never had a boyfriend before? Then, how is it? Are you satisfied with your sex life?"

Zhu Yilong was eating with his head down. He didn't have his guard up at all, so he simply blurted out: "What sex life?"

By the time he realized that answer wasn't right, Peng Guanying had already spit out a mouthful of water.

"Damn! Is that true or not? You don't have a sex life? Is it that he can't, or is it you?"

"No…" Zhu Yilong rested his head to the aside and rubbed his forehead. "Xiao Bai doesn't have a problem…"

"Then it's you who can't…?" With an expression of alarm, Peng Guanying looked all around them before speaking in a low voice. When he was choosing hotpot restaurants, he had paid special attention to their privacy. This restaurant was pretty decent. Their private dining room was towards the interior of the restaurant and had good soundproofing. In addition, the two of them had long sent their waiter away, and even gave the assistant special instructions. Now, Peng Guanying was extremely thankful that he took these precautions.

Zhu Yilong had no idea what he should say. Bai Yu… he remembered Bai Yu's actions that night: that passionate kiss, those fervent movements, and that burning hot arousal pressed against his thighs. He couldn't possibly spread that kind of rumor about Bai Yu. As for himself, he still had a small bit of unavoidable resistance when it came to the things that could happen between two men, which he supposed could barely count as being "incapable."

Zhu Yilong didn't anticipate that this answer, along with his awkward expression as he hemmed and hawed trying to muddle his way through, would cause Peng Guanying's mood to become complicated.

"Fourteen years, Lao Zhu. How come I never knew about this?" Peng Guanying's expression was filled with pity.

Seeing Peng Guanying appear as though he were crying at a funeral, Zhu Yilong almost laughed out loud. "It's not like that. Besides, don't you think there's actually something wrong if you did know about it?"

"Yeah…" Peng Guanying had nothing to say to that. He looked Zhu Yilong up and down. "You unexpectedly have a point there."

"Let's stop talking about this…" Zhu Yilong attempted to change the subject.

"It looks like I was biased against Bai Yu. He's a good person."

"We haven't been married for that long." Zhu Yilong put his head down and ate, stuffing his cheeks with food like a hamster.

"No, it's been almost half a year! And did your three years of dating count for nothing?!" Peng Guanying looked into Zhu Yilong's eyes. After a long pause, he spoke with a stumped expression, his voice filled with disbelief. "It can't be? Thirty years old and you're telling me the two of you are still platonic?"

Zhu Yilong couldn't help rolling his eyes. Not only were they platonic, they were still just good friends.

"No, Zhu Yilong, this is you being unkind. Did you swindle that kid for three years? Is he a little dumb?"

Zhu Yilong lowered his eyes as he thought about Bai Yu acting spoiled and coquettish around him. Bai Yu clearly could have complained, could have gotten resentful, could have kicked him aside. Instead, Bai Yu didn't change and continued to be so incredibly good towards him. It seemed as though a single word from him could make Bai Yu happy for a long time.

"Maybe a little." Zhu Yilong didn't notice that he had side-stepped the question.

"He already sacrificed so much for you! And you call him dumb?" Peng Guanying knocked on the table. "To think… I originally thought he'd slept with you back then, so you'd been forced to marry him."

"It's not like I'm a woman who can[5]… Ai, what is going on inside your head?"

Peng Guanying shook his head. "It doesn't matter what I'm thinking. The important thing is that you need to be honest about something like this. Your marriage is for life, and this is a critical stage of your marriage. You can't hide it from him. Unless you want to be platonic for the rest of your life?"

When Bai Yu received a WeChat message from Peng Guanying, he was a little surprised. He had actually already been friends with Peng Guanying before marrying Zhu Yilong; it seemed they had run into each other at a certain event at some point, and had chatted for a bit. Because both were friends with Zhu Yilong, they had added each other as contacts.

But since they'd added each other, they actually hadn't talked at all. The message that had just been sent was actually their first.

"Bai Yu, Lao Zhu isn't deliberately hiding his illness from you. As his friend, I don't want you to abandon him at a time like this. The two of you can come up with a plan together, and everything will be okay."

Bai Yu had just been happily eating his noodles while watching one of Zhu Yilong's old shows, but when he got this message, he almost dropped his chopsticks.

"Lao Zhu's illness," "abandon him," "will be okay" - these words swam before his eyes. A sudden dizziness overcame him, blurring his sight until he almost couldn't see the screen clearly. His hands trembling, he sent replies to Peng Guanying.

"What's wrong with him?"

"What illness?"

"Teacher Peng, tell me!"

"I can handle it."

"What's ultimately going on with Long-ge?"

He didn't know how many messages he'd sent, but he only received a single reply.

"… It's better if you personally ask Lao Zhu."

Bai Yu immediately sent his assistant a message, telling him to buy a plane ticket to Shanghai, just for one person, as soon as possible. His heart was in complete disarray. He thought about how much thinner Zhu Yilong had gotten recently, and how very carefully Zhu Yilong had been acting. He thought about how it was "nothing serious" when Zhu Yilong had gone to the hospital a few times. Then he remembered Zhu Yilong's reddened, tear-filled eyes when he had called just moments ago. Did he really believe Zhu Yilong's lies just like that? Did he really think there wasn't anything wrong?

When his call went through, he suddenly didn't know what to say.

Zhu Yilong's voice was still warm and gentle. "Xiao Bai?"

"Long-ge, what's going on with you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Teacher Peng told me."

"Peng Guanying, what did you do?!" Zhu Yilong's indignant roar sounded from the phone.

Peng Guanying's replies could be heard very faintly in the background as well. "You have to tell him. You can't keep hiding this from him."

"Long-ge, don't blame him." Bai Yu's voice was steady, but his hands shook as he packed his bags. "You promised you wouldn't hide things from me."

"Xiao Bai, it's not like that. I'll explain it to you later." Zhu Yilong paused. "Lao Peng, don't look at me like this… Ai, it really isn't some… ai… serious illness."

"Wait a minute, Long-ge." Bai Yu heard a knock on the door and put down his phone. When he opened the door, he was greeted by his confused-looking assistant. His assistant then reported that he'd bought a ticket on the nearest flight out, but it was incredibly last-minute. There was only one seat left, so if they didn't leave now, they'd be late for the flight.

Bai Yu nodded, ignoring his assistant's "Yu-ge, what happened?" When he went to hang up the phone, he could still hear Zhu Yilong's breathing.

"If gege doesn't want to tell me over the phone, then we can talk about it face-to-face." The moment Bai Yu finished talking, he hung up the phone. After thinking a bit, he also turned the phone off.

This was a town known for tourism with good traffic conditions, and the airport wasn't too far away from their filming location. After his assistant called him a cab, Bai Yu told him to ask for a few days off from work, stating that he'd explain everything when he returned.

Although this assistant had followed Bai Yu for so many years, he had never seen him act like this before. Bai Yu was forcing himself to stay calm, but he looked as though the sky had fallen. At last, they managed to rush their way to catch the final boarding call. It wasn't until his assistant saw Bai Yu go through the safety check towards the departure gate that he let out a breath of relief and took out his phone.

Immediately, he was taken aback by the messages and missed calls that came while he had his phone muted.

"Teacher Zhu is looking for you, can you answer him?"

"Teacher Zhu added you as a friend."

"What are you doing? Where's Teacher Bai?"

With fear and trepidation, the little assistant accepted Zhu Yilong's friend request. Zhu Yilong didn't open with any pleasantries, directly asking - "Where's Bai Yu?"

The little assistant was still somewhat confused by all of this. He organized his thoughts for quite a while before finally explaining the matter of Bai Yu hastily taking a flight to Shanghai.

"Give me his flight number."

After a while, there was another message, and he was finally able to match up this Zhu Yilong with the same Zhu Yilong that he knew. "Thank you for this. And also for taking care of Xiao Bai."

"Peng Guanying, look at this 'good deed' you did!!!" Zhu Yilong lost his composure as he put on his clothes.

"If you had explained this over the phone, then none of this would have happened." Peng Guanying didn't think things would progress to this extent either. "Sorry, I really didn't think this guy cared about you so much. That if there was even a little bit wrong with you, that'd be enough to make him go insane."

"I…" Zhu Yilong looked at Peng Guanying. Then he finally sighed. "I'm going to the airport."

"You'd better coax him well… Ai, this illness of yours…"

"I'm not sick!" For the first time in all these years, Zhu Yilong wanted to grab Peng Guanying's shoulders and shake him until he saw things clearly.

"Okay okay, you're not." Peng Guanying looked helpless.

"You can pay the bill!"

In the early morning of autumn, the temperature in Shanghai was a bit low. Wearing only a simple backpack, Bai Yu rushed through the airport. The moment he turned on his phone, several messages arrived. He ignored the meaningless ones that just said "Really, nothing's wrong" or "Lao Bai, what are you doing?" The last message came a few hours earlier — "I'm waiting for you in the parking lot. Give me a call when you arrive."

A brief phone call later, Bai Yu got a general idea of Zhu Yilong's location, and hurried through the underground parking lot. Finally, he caught sight of a familiar car.

As he ran closer to the car, he saw Zhu Yilong step outside. Their eyes met. And then Bai Yu pulled Zhu Yilong into a tight embrace.

"Gege." Bai Yu's tears finally fell. There had been far too many terrifying scenarios running through his head these past few hours. Making himself stay calm, he had forced himself to think up countless scenarios in order to come up with the appropriate responses and countermeasures for each one. He'd kept thinking: When he saw Zhu Yilong, he had to be calm, he had to smile, he couldn't add to Zhu Yilong's burdens. But in the end, he couldn't hold himself back.

"Xiao Bai, listen to me…" Zhu Yilong lightly pushed him away and sighed. He frowned, as though he had trouble expressing what he wanted to say.

"I promise to protect you." Bai Yu wiped away his tears and smiled.

Chapter Text

Although it was early morning and the parking lot was deserted, it was still a public place where they might be spotted. Zhu Yilong pulled Bai Yu into the car, and woke up the napping driver and bodyguard. He had originally wanted to come by himself, but after notifying his manager, she refused to agree. So he could only feel bad for these two staff members whose time he wasted for half a night.

Bai Yu looked to be in a terrible state. His face was deathly pale, his fingers ice-cold, and his eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. And ever since his arrival, he had been shivering slightly. Zhu Yilong could tell that he was trying to control himself, but he was holding himself back too much. Anyone with eyes could see it.

In the car, neither the driver nor the bodyguard were in-the-know about their situation. Not to mention, the topic of a certain body part not working was far too sensitive. Zhu Yilong really wanted to clear everything up right now, but though the words were on the tip of his tongue, he could only say, "Xiao Bai, I promise, there's really nothing wrong with me. I'll tell you the specifics at the hotel, okay?"

Bai Yu nodded. After a while, he lowered his voice and spoke. "Sorry, Long-ge… I… I shouldn't have done this."

Zhu Yilong had already beat up Peng Guanying over eighty times in his imagination. But at the same time, he felt it was strange. Even if he… even if he couldn't perform in that area, that shouldn't have caused Bai Yu to become upset like this. But because he was worried about Zhu Yilong's health, he ignored his own exhaustion and rushed over from Gansu. It was truly too moving.

When they interacted over these past few months, Bai Yu appeared carefree, always on the edge of getting a thrashing, testing the boundaries. It was as though he carried out "teasing Long-ge" as his life's work. Yet in reality, the thoughts in his heart were meticulous and sensitive. The more enthusiastic he acted, the more frailty he hid. Maybe Zhu Yilong was still somewhat slow to react when it came to love between two men. But he understood Bai Yu too well. Zhu Yilong knew that Bai Yu had sincerely opened his heart for him to see in a move that was both tender and cruel.

In a split second, Zhu Yilong wanted very badly to hold him. But Bai Yu had an iron grip on his hand. The moment he tried to move, Bai Yu gave him an alarmed and flustered look.

"Gege, don't let go, okay?"

"Okay." Zhu Yilong sighed as he stared at Bai Yu's profile.

The normally talkative Bai Yu who always had countless things to tell him now didn't say a single word. His expression was cold, and his brows were furrowed, like he was thinking about something. So this not too brief but not too long trip transformed into a torment that seemed to have no end in sight.

Once they were almost at their destination, Zhu Yilong arranged the next day's itinerary with his driver and bodyguard. When he turned around, he saw Bai Yu staring at him, seemingly wanting to say something but hesitating as a teardrop rolled down from his eye.

"I really am fine." Zhu Yilong truly didn't know what he should say, so he squeezed Bai Yu's hand. "Don't worry."

Bai Yu's lips moved as though to say something, but he ultimately said nothing and turned his head.

"Sorry," said Zhu Yilong quietly.

It was like a sudden impulse, yet also like everything falling effortlessly into place as it should have been from the start. Both his hands were still placed in Bai Yu's grasp, and he really couldn't continue looking at that teardrop on Bai Yu's face. So he moved closer, and very gently kissed it away.

That warm and soft sensation stunned Bai Yu. Then, he turned to look at Zhu Yilong, who had already moved back to his original position. Instantly, an immense panic overcame him. He no longer dared to think about the meaning behind the words "I'm sorry." He was even more afraid to think about what Zhu Yilong's sudden out of the blue kiss meant.

He'd given so much thought to this on the plane, even taking notes on the recovery rates and life expectancy for the most common illnesses. All those numbers were like multitudes of sharp blades cutting at his heart. He was afraid to contemplate them, yet he needed to think about them. He didn't know what stage Zhu Yilong's illness had progressed to, nor did he know how long the illness had been dragged out. How much would Zhu Yilong be suffering in the future?

He wanted to mentally prepare himself for the worst case scenario. His thoughts sank deeper and deeper, until the word "death" was imprinted in his mind. Finally, his body lost all of its strength, not daring to take a single step further.

Right now, Zhu Yilong clearly was the one bearing all of the burden. Yet he continued to conscientiously work like before, appearing so calm, like the pale clouds and light breeze that nothing could touch. He even took on the task of caring for his feeble health alone.

Bai Yu felt guilty, uneasy, remorseful, and vexed. There was no reason this should have turned into a melodramatic plot from a romantic drama. Long-ge was such a good person, why did it have to happen to him?

Zhu Yilong grabbed Bai Yu's hand and took him into the elevator, then pushed him into the hotel room, where Bai Yu turned on the lights, and removed his hat and face mask. His complexion looked awful, he had dark circles under his eyes, and his lips had lost color.

"Xiao Bai," said Zhu Yilong quietly. "I'm really very sorry about this whole thing… First, you should be mentally prepared."

Bai Yu's fingers dug into the flesh of palms as his brows furrowed. His whole body was rigid, yet his eyes never strayed from Zhu Yilong, looking solemn and resolute.

Zhu Yilong was truly startled by this attitude, while also feeling a faint, indescribable sense of indignation. Was it really necessary to place so much importance on his ability in this particular area? And so, this doubt in his heart followed along his momentary confusion, and he blurted out, "You really care so much… if I'm no longer capable?"

The words "I'm no longer capable of hanging on anymore[1]" was like a fatal strike. Bai Yu stopped listening to anything that was said after it. In an instant, the heavens shattered and the earth split. All his limbs went numb, and his mind seemed to have lost all its functions, like he was about to black out. But he still stood in place, as though he were still quite calm. He unexpectedly even conjured a small smile, then he pulled Zhu Yilong along, gently guiding him to a seat on the couch.

"Gege." Bai Yu crouched down, looked up and smiled. "I won't abandon you. We'll properly treat your illness, and everything will be okay. I'll always stay by your side. Don't say things like that anymore."

"Bai Yu, I…" Zhu Yilong stared at Bai Yu's focused expression, noting that this time there were no tears. However, in Bai Yu's gaze was a strong, palpable despair that he couldn't conceal. In that moment, Zhu Yilong felt as though Bai Yu had put on a mask of calmness. Although Bai Yu's spirit seemed on the verge of collapse, he forced himself to act like nothing was wrong. Zhu Yilong wished that Bai Yu would cry and wail instead. That would be better than having to see him like this.

But, wasn't this just an obstacle to his sexual performance? Was this matter really so grave? Even if it were true, it shouldn't mean someone needed to stay by his side every day. The doubt in Zhu Yilong's heart grew another level.

However, the top priority right now was clearing up the misunderstanding. Bai Yu's mental state was too pessimistic. Zhu Yilong hated himself for not clearing everything up earlier. Now he had made Bai Yu so upset…

"You shouldn't believe Lao Peng's words," explained Zhu Yilong.

Bai Yu suddenly stood up, all his fury seemingly erupting at once. Then, he forcibly suppressed his anger. Bai Yu supported himself with his hands as he trembled. "Gege, things have already reached this stage, you're… you're already like this! And you still want to keep me in the dark?!"

"I'm not keeping you in the dark. I'm extremely healthy, everything is functioning properly. Why won't you believe me?" Zhu Yilong was so surprised by Bai Yu's outburst that he took a step back. He didn't respond until he forced himself to calm down.

"Because gege keeps me in the dark every time! You clearly can't go on anymore…"

Hearing those words, Zhu Yilong frowned. Although he was astonishingly easy to embarrass, he couldn't care too much about that now. Somewhat impulsively, he shouted, "I really don't have an erectile dysfunction!!!"

In a flash, everything fell silent. Bai Yu's eyes widened, his gaze filled with confusion. After a while, he spoke. "When you said you're no longer capable… in what area did you mean?"

"What else could I mean…"

"The illness Peng Guanying mentioned… was this?"

"I thought he directly gave you all the details… but he didn't? So…" Once Zhu Yilong got to that point, he had a sudden realization.

He was an idiot. Bai Yu was an even bigger idiot. What the hell kind of misunderstanding was this? No wonder Bai Yu's reaction was so intense, filled with such despair, unease, and panic like he was about to lose his everything. Everything suddenly made sense.

Bai Yu took two steps back and ran his hand through his hair, seeming somewhat at a loss. The expression on his face was no longer under his control, looking like he was crying and laughing at the same time.

"Then that's good, that's good… If it's just 'that' not working, then that's fine… Ah, no, Long-ge, I didn't mean it that way." Bai Yu kept walking backwards until the back of his knee knocked against the side of the bed. He staggered a little before sitting down on the bed, bouncing a bit on the soft mattress. He looked up at the ceiling, and as though letting go of a heavy burden, he breathed out a sigh of relief.

After that, he rubbed his cheeks, blinked hard, and raised his head hesitantly. "Is it true? Long-ge, it's only your sexual abilities…"

"I don't have anything wrong with me!" Zhu Yilong rarely responded so quickly. His face flushed as Bai Yu continued to look at him.

"Okay, okay, you don't, you don't." Bai Yu laughed, then lowered his head and ruffled his disheveled hair. "My God, how could I have been so stupid? How could anything be the matter with Long-ge? My God, I… The moment I think about you, Long-ge… Ai, then my mind becomes muddled. I was so scared, I've never been so scared in my life. My first thought was: why couldn't I take your place instead?"

Tender affection surrounded Zhu Yilong inside and out, Bai Yu's words making his heart tremble. This was a complicated, indescribable emotion. He felt happy yet guilty, joyful yet filled with sorrow, but most of all, he felt stunned. Thousands upon thousands of words filled his mouth, thousands upon thousands of actions extended to his fingertips, but he still didn't know what to do. He only knew that he wanted to reach out and touch Bai Yu.

"I'm too useless, Long-ge, too dumb, too embarrassing." Bai Yu covered his face with his hands. "But I'm so happy right now. Ah, it's like I've fallen ill right now. Maybe I really have an illness…"

Zhu Yilong cautiously stretched out his hand, letting his fingertip tap the back of Bai Yu's hand. Then, he intertwined their fingers together.

With some surprise, Bai Yu looked up at Zhu Yilong, and noticed a never-before-seen emotion in Zhu Yilong's gaze.

"Xiao Bai. Xiao Bai," said Zhu Yilong quietly. "Why are you so dumb?"

"Ai, Long-ge, you don't have to twist the knife. I'm dumb, I'm indeed dumb… But you! You're not that much smarter either!" Bai Yu looked like he wanted to beat a messy retreat, but he still put up a stubborn resistance with his back to the wall.

Zhu Yilong suddenly smiled.

Bai Yu didn't know what kind of feeling this was. He only felt that even if he traded all the beautiful scenery in the world for that single smile, it would be worth it. Snowflakes fell on the soft fur of a silver fox, thousands of flowers bloomed in one night in a vast desert, plants sprouted and withered with the seasons, the seas and mountains transformed, time seemed to stretch and then suddenly accelerate, until one day, one month, one year, and even one lifetime wasn't long enough for him to stare at the person standing in front of him.

"You're right," said Zhu Yilong. He didn't say anything more, only reaching out to brush his hand gently across Bai Yu's cheek. Then he blinked and bit his lips.

"Long-ge…" Bai Yu grabbed Zhu Yilong's hand. Because he used a slight bit of force, Zhu Yilong lost his balance and fell forward. Bai Yu reached out to steady him, then turned his body to trap Zhu Yilong between himself and the nightstand. "I seem to remember gege kissing me in the car just then?"

Zhu Yilong blinked innocently, once again trying to muddle his way through.

"Long-ge, don't try to deny it." Bai Yu grinned, keeping his eyes fixed on him without any avoidance, his gaze hiding nothing.

Even though Zhu Yilong had already gotten used to all the various curveballs Bai Yu threw at him, his heart still raced at Bai Yu's current appearance.

Bai Yu bit at his lips, then slowly let go. His tongue darted out to lick a full circle around his lips. He swallowed. "You kissed me like that, and still act like I'm only your good friend. Isn't that inexcusable?"

"I…" Zhu Yilong's throat felt tight as an unusual feeling spread through his body.

"Gege, I want to ask you a sincere question." Bai Yu lowered his head, pulled Zhu Yilong's hand over, and started playing with one of his fingers. "Right now, have you started liking me a little? It's the type of like I've been especially hoping for - the type of like from Zhu Yilong to Bai Yu."

"Xiao Bai," Zhu Yilong called his name. "Bai Yu…"

Bai Yu looked at Zhu Yilong with a smile, and very gradually started to move closer. They were clearly close to each other, yet it felt as though they were at two different ends of the world.

Bai Yu's lips were made to be kissed. Zhu Yilong didn't remember where he'd heard that phrase before. He only remembered that Bai Yu seemed to have read similar words about himself, like "the shape of Zhu Yilong's lips is very suited for kissing" and so on. At that time, he didn't take it to heart at all, thinking only in those little fans' eyes, probably every person's lips were suited for kissing.

But things were different today. Bai Yu kissed him softly and carefully, only daring to lightly press his lips against Zhu Yilong's lips at the start. He waited for a time until he confirmed that Zhu Yilong wasn't resisting. Only then did he slowly slip his tongue past Zhu Yilong's lips, exploring his mouth.

This wasn't the first kiss between them, but it was their most tender and earnest kiss. Their surroundings weren't the least bit romantic - the covers on the bed were a mess, various junk items were careless strewn all over the nightstand, clothes and backpacks were piled up together on the couch not far away, and two tags still lay on the table.

Yet Bai Yu's eyes shone so brilliantly. A fervent and warm feeling entered Zhu Yilong's chest, bringing about a clamor stronger than the cheers and applause of thousands of people.

"Gege. Just then, it was Bai Yu kissing Zhu Yilong." Bai Yu smiled sweetly, tilting his head like a spoiled cat.

Zhu Yilong gently caressed Bai Yu's cheek and stroked his chin. Then he leaned in closer and bumped their noses together.

"Zhu Yilong kissed Bai Yu too," he said quietly.