Zhu Yilong is snuggled up in a corner of his cozy warm bed in the shared dorm room, reading a book and enjoying his sunny Sunday off when Chen Weidong opens the door. He swings his backpack down his shoulders and throws it down next to his bed.
“You’re going to the school’s end of year party next weekend, right?”
Zhu Yilong turns a page. “No, you know I don’t like events like that. Plus, I’m already going to the Drama Department one this Friday.”
“Huh,” Chen Weidong shrugs, “I thought you’re definitely going since Baiyu is getting auctioned.”
He settles into his bed and scrolls on his phone for a good minute before he realises the room has gone unusually silent. When he looks up, Zhu Yilong’s expression is stuck between stricken and horror.
“......” Chen Weidong really didn’t think he’d be the bearer of this explosive news today. “How do you...not know this.”
Zhu Yilong puts his book down very slowly. “I thought Yang Rong is organising this year’s party? Why would she auction off her best friend?”
“Uh, I think you got the logic all wrong here. Yang Rong is auctioning off Baiyu because he’s her best friend.”
“Shit,” Zhu Yilong sits up straight and scrambles to find his phone that’s been lost to the sea of blankets on his bed. “Can you send me the link for ticket registration again?”
“I’m fairly sure it’s all sold out. It’s definitely sold out since the list of people participating in the charity date auction was announced on Thursday.”
Chen Weidong makes a face while watching Zhu Yilong put on his coat and shoving his shoes on in record speed. “Yilong, how is it possible that you didn’t hear about this? It’s literally what everyone’s been talking about since.”
Zhu Yilong responds by slamming the door close and running down the corridor, down the stairs and out to the main campus.
Where are you?????
The reply comes within a minute but Zhu Yilong feels like he’s been running around the university campus like a headless chicken for hours.
Ok meet me at entrance in 2 mins
Zhu Yilong legs it in the direction of the library. It’s a sunny day but it’s still so damn cold when you run. His throat and lungs burn by the time he reaches the campus main library, he can feel a sheen of sweat coming out and dampening the T-shirt he’s wearing underneath and oh my god what if it’s the law library and not the main library. Why didn’t he ask?
He’s taking deep painful breaths in the freezing cold and typing out his question when he hears a voice shouting at him.
He looks up to see Yang Rong standing just inside the sliding doors of the main library, dressed in just jumper and jeans and clearly refusing to come outside into the cold. Zhu Yilong jogs towards her, thanking the gods he doesn’t have to run all the way across campus for the law library.
Yang Rong scans Zhu Yilong’s disheveled appearance, watching him pant like a dog. She raises an eyebrow looking utterly unimpressed. “I was wondering when you’d come running.”
“Why would you do this?” Zhu Yilong can feel his heart still pounding from his run. He unzips his thick jacket because the heating inside the library is getting a bit much with how much heat his body is currently radiating. “I thought we were friends?”
Yang Rong crosses her arms. “Oh, I thought we were friends when I asked you to participate in the auction and you turned me down.”
“I didn’t know you were going to ask Baiyu if I said no! I would have said yes if I knew!”
“Zhu Yilong, are you fully awake yet? I was going to ask Baiyu regardless of whether you said yes or no.”
“Can you swap me in? I’ll do it so he doesn’t have to.” Mr Zhu Yilong is in the bargaining stage of grief.
“Why would I do that?”
“Girls like me, I’ll get your charity plenty of money. I’ll throw in extra perks for the date. The money I’ll raise will more than cover what Baiyu will raise.”
“Wow, Zhu Yilong. Arrogant much?” Yang Rong deadpans.
Zhu Yilong blanches when he processes what he’s just said in his desperation. “I didn’t mean it like that. Baiyu is very attractive, as you know.” If Yang Rong rolls her eyes any further they’d fall out. “I just mean I’m willing to do a lot more to get you that money,” he pauses, “for the sake of charity, of course.”
“Of course,” Yang Rong echoes. “I’ve already sent out the list of participants, I’m not changing it. You’re too late.”
“Can I at least get a ticket to the party?”
“It’s sold out.”
“I know, but you can get me one, right? Please? I’ll owe you one,” Zhu Yilong offers quickly. “I’ll do whatever role you want in your final year project. Literally anything. I’ll do a make out scene with no play on angles, I’ll do it straight up.”
Zhu Yilong can see she’s tempted. “I’ll also pay three times the price for the ticket.”
“Sold! I’ll email you the ticket. Great doing business with you, fellow student Zhu.” Yang Rong gives him a bright smile and shakes his hand.
Zhu Yilong has a distinct feeling like he’s just been played.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Zhu Yilong asks his boss at his part time job for an upfront payment for the month, asks his parents for more allowance, asks his small group of bffs to lend him what they’ve got, and it is still miles away from what people are offering when Baiyu is put on stage. There’s really...too many rich kids who go to their university. Zhu Yilong with his middle class family background never stood a chance.
And he can see how wrong he was when he told Yang Rong he would raise her more money than Baiyu would. Zhu Yilong forgot one key issue. He may be popular with the girls, but Baiyu is popular with the girls and boys. His pool of suitors is no smaller than Zhu Yilong’s. And apparently these boys are all freaking loaded. Zhu Yilong is out of the race by the first bid, which is already twice the amount of what he has on him. Peng Guanying laughs till he cries as each bid gets more outrageous than the last, and Chen Weidong pats him on the back like a mother comforting her child who just lost the raffle at his classmate’s birthday party.
Honestly, it’s ridiculous. Zhu Yilong’s heart turns to stone watching all the rich boys and girls bid far more than his year’s worth of salary, while Baiyu hides his embarrassed smile behind his hand. The more he does that, the higher the price gets. Zhu Yilong knows Yang Rong can’t possibly know where he’s sitting in the audience, but he still feels like she’s smiling directly at him from her position on the stage next to Baiyu.
Friendship is overrated. Zhu Yilong only has enemies and love rivals now.
The rules are the date night officially ends at 10pm, but if the two people really hit it off, the bachelor/bachelorette is allowed to extend it by one more hour. Although 11pm is the hard stop and the date is supposed to escort he or she back to their dorm on the dot or else.
Zhu Yilong sits on the floor with his back against the wall near the entrance to their dorm at 9:45pm. The heaters are running even on ground floor but icy cold air rushes in every time someone gets in and out of the building so he’s got his thick coat on and the tips of his fingers are still numb.
The guy who won Baiyu’s night bid so much money Zhu Yilong suspects his family either owns half of China’s manufacturing business or is the literal mafia. He’s god damn tall and handsome as well, which definitely triggered Zhu Yilong’s height inferiority complex big time when he got up on stage and was actually tall enough that Baiyu had to look up at him. By that time, Peng Guanying had finally stopped laughing and was eyeing his shaking fists in concern. Chen Weidong had stopped patting him in case he spontaneously combusted on contact out of pure jealousy.
Zhu Yilong thinks he might have blacked out when he saw the guy lead Baiyu off the stage by his hand because the next thing he remembers is a round of applause for all the money raised that night with the ten bachelors and bachelorettes who participated. Baiyu was the second to get auctioned off.
Zhu Yilong is stressed when the clock hits 10 and Baiyu is nowhere to be seen. Every second after that is pure torture. It’s over, his epic university romance with the actual boy of his dreams is ended by some guy who walked straight out of a shoujo manga, otome game, harem anime, whichever one has the more unrealistic standards. Baiyu is being swept off his feet by this guy, they’re going to be the power couple of the campus from today onwards. Baiyu is going to meet that guy’s rich parents next week, they’re getting married next month. It will be like in all the soap operas where he’ll be invited to be one of Baiyu’s groomsmen, he’ll be so upset on their wedding day but he’ll put on a brave face because he’s willing to sacrifice his own happiness if it means the boy he loves will be happy.
Zhu Yilong is very moved by his own hypothetical actions when he checks his phone and what the fuck, how is it only 10:02?? He’s certain it’s been 30 minutes since he last checked the time.
At 10:10, Gao Yuer, Baiyu’s other best friend sends him a text.
Rong jie told me to tell u if ur waiting for Baiyu at the door, don’t bother. Apparently the guy bribed her to overlook the date end time rule. She’s counting the money rn
Zhu Yilong’s hands holding his phone are shaking when a second text comes through.
It’s a lot of money. It’s taking her a while to count them all
Zhu Yilong presses down on the voice message button without a single thought.
“Has she gone insane?? Is money everything in this world?? Rules are in place for a reason! What if that guy is a serial killer? Who has that much money anyway? Only psychopaths!! A whole family of psychopaths!! Does she not care about the safety and well-being of her best friend?!” The message sends the moment his thumb lifts from the screen. Zhu Yilong’s primal survival instincts tells him he should delete that message immediately but the principled side of his brain tells him he did the right thing.
He receives a voice message back a minute later. Yang Rong’s voice comes through his phone speaker loud and clear.
“Have you lost your mind?! Accusing me of neglecting Baiyu’s safety? I’ve told that boy to check in with me every hour! If you care about him so much maybe stop being a coward who’s only a thirsty bitch for my best friend behind his back and actually, oh I don’t know, ASK HIM OUT?? I can’t hear your excuses over all this money I’m giving to charity!!!”
Zhu Yilong can feel cold sweat running straight down his back. Yang Rong is not a good person to cross by herself, but Zhu Yilong definitely cannot afford to anger Baiyu’s No.1 bff.
Why is life so hard? If Baiyu isn’t in his drama class, if he didn’t go to this school, then Zhu Yilong would be able to enjoy his university career in peace. Instead he’s here stressing over the most perfect boy every day, stressed when he’s around him, stressed when he’s not around him, stressed when other people like him, stressed when rumours fly around their department about him liking someone or another. This is only their second year. How is he supposed to survive another two years of this? Or worse yet, two years of Baiyu dating this guy?
Zhu Yilong is up to his gills in stress. He looks down at his phone again and it’s 10:25. Should he leave like Yang Rong told him to? He potentially has to wait past 11, or even till morni- Nope. He’s not going there. Baiyu will come back tonight, even if Zhu Yilong breaks his arse sitting on this hard floor and cuts off all blood flow to his legs because he’s bending them in weird positions trying to sit comfortably.
You’re not waiting at the door, are you?
Chen Weidong texts him in their group chat. Most likely growing concerned by Zhu Yilong’s continued absence in their dorm room.
Ofc he is. Did u rly hv to ask
Baiyu can come back wearing that guy’s clothes in the morning n our Yilong would still go up n ask him what he’d like to eat for breakfast
Peng Guanying assassinating his character in the next reply.
Show me where I’m wrong
Zhu Yilong mutes the chat and puts his phone back in his pocket. He doesn’t know what he’s done that all his friends seem to know he likes Baiyu. He’s always been someone who keeps his crushes to himself since he was young, and this is no exception. But his best friends knew within the first month they started the course, and Baiyu’s best friends knew by the third month. He barely even spoke to Baiyu that entire time. They operated in different circles of friends within their class, and didn’t hang out much until they were well past the first half of their freshman year.
He sighs and leans against the wall, closing his eyes. He’s sort of managed to stumble his way into Baiyu’s group of friends. He’s not exactly in his clique, but they do regularly hang out. Zhu Yilong wonders if any of it will change once Baiyu gets a boyfriend. He’ll hang out less with them since he’ll be off on dates. Maybe...maybe he’ll bring his boyfriend to one of their outings so he can meet all his friends. He frowns as his heart squeezes down on itself. He’ll get used to it though. He’s always been an adaptable person. His teachers have praised it as one of his skills many times.
Zhu Yilong suddenly has a moment of clarity of how ridiculous he is sitting here waiting for Baiyu to come back from his date. What Baiyu does or doesn’t do is none of his business. Yang Rong is right. He’s just some guy who’s crushing on some boy but never said or did anything about it. Baiyu’s life goes on with or without him. Baiyu is happy or sad without him, loved or unloved without him. What is he doing here?
Zhu Yilong opens his eyes.
A couple of minutes later, Zhu Yilong is just about to stand up when he spots Baiyu and his date walking towards the dorm. Through the sliding glass door, Zhu Yilong watches them chat away, and as if in slow motion, he watches the guy’s eyes trail down towards Baiyu’s lips and he leans down. Zhu Yilong is frozen in place until Baiyu turns his head at the very last second and the kiss lands on the corner of his mouth.
Both of them smile awkwardly at each other and a few seconds later, they say their goodbyes and the guy turns to leave, while Baiyu heads inside the building.
Baiyu is clearly shocked when he sees Zhu Yilong sitting on the floor by himself in the deserted reception area. “Hey, Long ge! What are you doing here?”
Zhu Yilong stands up and realises both his legs are completely useless and his knees hurt like hell. He struggles his way up with his hands leaning heavily against the wall.
“Hey...I uh,” he realises for as long as he’s waited, he never thought of what to say when he finally sees Baiyu walk through that door. “I’m...waiting for someone.”
And the strongest pins and needles settle in. He uses all he has learned in class about expression control to maintain a look of mild interest.
“Oh,” Baiyu nods in understanding, “well, don’t wait up too long. It’s quite late already.” He turns towards the lifts and is about to wave him goodnight when Zhu Yilong blurts out “So how was it?”
“How was what?” He turns back to Zhu Yilong, face open and neutral.
“Your uh, date?” Zhu Yilong clarifies, waving his hand in a vague manner like he only just remembered Baiyu participated in the auction tonight.
Baiyu smiles genuinely and Zhu Yilong has never felt more terrified of a smile than right then and there. “It was good. He’s really nice, we had a good time.”
Zhu Yilong feels his lips being pulled into a thin smile of his own. “Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t like you were rushing to come back at 10, right?” He even adds a chuckle to make his amusement more realistic.
Baiyu laughs. “He bid so high for me! I’d feel bad if I ended the night on the dot.”
“But you had a nice time?”
They stand there looking at each other, then they both look away around the reception area, then their gaze end up on their own feet.
“Well, I should really go bac-”
“I would have bid for you.”
Zhu Yilong doesn’t know what he’s saying. It doesn’t matter anyway. It really doesn’t. Why is he bringing this up?
“What?” Baiyu looks at him in surprise.
“I- I saved up a bunch of money but who knew our school has so many rich kids, right? Haha.”
“Oh right. Yeah! I was really surprised as well. Couldn’t really believe it. It was kind of embarrassing standing up there on the stage, but it was all for a good cause.”
They fall back into silence again.
“I really should go to bed now. It’s getting quite late.” Baiyu shuffles towards the direction of the lifts again.
“Yeah, of course. Good night, Xiao Bai.” Zhu Yilong wants this conversation to end as much as Baiyu does. He’ll just have to wait until after Baiyu disappears through the lifts, then he’ll take the stairs up to his own floor.
“Good night, Long ge.”
Zhu Yilong looks at the cheap laminated floor and his chest won’t stop hurting with each step Baiyu takes as he walks further away from him. His breath is becoming shallow and he clenches his jaw hard so his face can focus on something else other than the heat gathering around his eyes. It’s so stupid. So stupid stupid stupid stupid.
“Would you go on a date with me anyway?”
Zhu Yilong calls out so Baiyu will hear him despite being half way down the corridor already.
Baiyu turns swiftly around. “What?”
“I said,” he digs his fingers into his palm so hard that he’s sure he’s breaking through skin, “would you go on a date with me anyway? Even if I didn’t win the auction?”
Baiyu is walking back towards him, and Zhu Yilong is surprised by the relief he feels. At least he’s said it. Even if Baiyu rejects him, at least he finally said it. He won’t have to suffer in regret watching Baiyu’s relationship with that guy grow knowing he never made a move.
Baiyu stops in front of him. “You want me to go on a date with you? Without winning the auction?”
Zhu Yilong nods furiously. “There was no way I could have won. He’s just too rich. To be honest, everyone is too rich. But if you give me a chance, I promise you'll enjoy our date as much as you enjoyed your date with him tonight.”
Baiyu stares at him blankly for a few moments. With each passing second, the bravado that suddenly overcame him dissipates. A few more seconds of silence later and Zhu Yilong is about to take it all back when Baiyu laughs.
“I didn’t enjoy the date that much,” he grins, his eyes disappearing in two mirthful lines, “and I don’t like him that much either.”
He takes the two steps that’s separating the two of them and Zhu Yilong’s heart rate spikes at their sudden proximity. “I didn’t get a proper goodbye kiss tonight,” he glances down at the lower half of Zhu Yilong’s face then looks back up again. There’s a strange sense of déjà vu, like Zhu Yilong has seen this literally just moments ago.
“Maybe you can give me one on his behalf?”
Zhu Yilong definitely did not hear Baiyu just now. There is like a loud train running right past his ears and he doesn’t hear anything at all, even though the dorm’s reception area at 11:05 is so, so quiet. His body reacts on autopilot despite his brain no longer processing information.
He feels like his face can heat up a whole room when he leans in to cover Baiyu’s lips with his. He can’t believe he’s stealing the bid winner’s date like this, this would never happen in his wildest dreams. It feels like cheating. He’s cheating the bid, cheating the game, cheating at life by blundering into having the boy he likes the most ask him for a kiss, when he’s only just come back from a date with someone else.
His hand goes up to cradle Baiyu’s face when Baiyu leans in to deepen the kiss. He feels hands sliding around his waist, so he puts his other arm around Baiyu’s neck, pulling him further into himself. What Zhu Yilong thought would be a brief good night kiss has turned into deep lingering French kiss, one he is wildly unprepared for. He hasn’t kissed anyone like this since he was a fumbling teenager in high school, trying to replicate what he’s seen on TV with a couple of girls he liked back then. Those were messy and awkward and painfully embarrassing in hindsight. This kiss has every reason to be the same but somehow isn’t.
Both of them are breathing heavy when they let go of each other, though their arms stay where they are.
“Was I the one you were waiting for?” Baiyu’s lips curl prettily at the edges, his grin shows off his pearly whites and Zhu Yilong can feel his breath against his own lips.
“What if I didn’t come back on time?”
“I don’t know… I think I would have left if you still didn’t show up after 11,” Zhu Yilong pulls his arms down to cup Baiyu’s face in his hands instead. He’s a little mesmerised by being able to look at the mole at the corner of his lips up close. He glances back up at Baiyu’s eyes. “If you stayed out, it would have meant that he’s got you.”
“But I came back.”
“Yes, you did.”
Baiyu pulls him into a hug, his chin resting on his shoulder with his arms fastened around Zhu Yilong’s waist. Zhu Yilong can feel Baiyu laughing softly to himself against his chest. After a while, Baiyu pulls away a little so he can nudge his forehead against Zhu Yilong’s shoulder and neck instead. Soft like a kitten, intimate without a care in the world, happiness bubbling up from his every move.
“I like you too, Zhu Yilong,” he says gently, “I like you so damn much.”