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Reverse Star Chase (逆追星)

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Baiyu falls through their front door at 8:06pm, almost landing straight onto the floor if he doesn’t catch himself on the handle on time.

“He hasn’t shown up yet.” Zhu Yilong reassures him.

“Great!” Baiyu drops his bags and coat and quite literally everything on him except his phone and throws himself onto the sofa right up against Zhu Yilong. He lets out a relieved sigh when he sees the TV screen showing an arc that he, accordingly to his literal words last week – ‘Could not give two shits about’.

Zhu Yilong moves to stand up. “I got some food on the way home. I’ll go heat it up.”

Baiyu’s hand grips onto his bicep with speed and strength that Zhu Yilong has only ever seen him display when it comes to this. “You know the rules!”

Zhu Yilong sits back down with a tired sigh. He does know the rules. “You didn’t text me when you were coming back. I could have done it befo – ”

“He’s here!!!!!!”

Baiyu sits up so suddenly from where he was previously laid boneless next to Zhu Yilong that their whole sofa moves just an inch forward with him. His eyes shine with excitement and adoration as Zhu Yawen’s character finally appears on the screen.

The show is…okay, in Zhu Yilong’s humble opinion. It’s a white-collar crime investigative drama, which by itself is more interesting than the usual police shows about murders, psychopathic murders, serial murders, cunning murders, obsessive murders, charming murders– you get the idea. The cases aren’t bad, though the pacing can be slow at times. There’s also a romance subplot between Zhu Yawen’s character, the chief investigator, and this newbie who transferred from a different department with a secret past. It’s okay. It’s certainly not bad.

But the plot isn’t really what makes Baiyu hit Zhu Yilong’s arm with uncontainable joy, and shakes his knees in unrestrained excitement while bouncing on the sofa every time Zhu Yawen shows up. It’s the various ‘suits that are tailored to his Male God of a body’ that they put him in in every episode, and the plethora of uniforms and outfits he wears when his character goes undercover.

Zhu Yilong peers at the clock on the wall as Baiyu’s grip on his bicep tightens. On the screen, Zhu Yawen’s character rounds the corner in slow motion in an all-black suit, strutting down the sidewalk with a long umbrella, thin metal rimmed glasses frame his sharp eyes and fake tattoos peak out of his tightly buttoned up collar. Zhu Yilong’s arm is starting to hurt.

Five minutes till commercial break. Then he’s allowed to leave his seat and heat up their dinner.

 

---

 

Two hours after the episode finishes, Zhu Yilong is catching up on some news on his phone when Baiyu calls his name from where he’s washing the dishes.

“Can you help me sign in? I’ve been too busy all day.”

Of course, fans like Baiyu, signs in on Weibo for his idol’s Super Topic every day. The more fans sign in for a celebrity, the higher they rank in the Celebrity Super Topic chart. A dedicated fan like Baiyu signs in with both of his Weibo accounts.

Zhu Yilong unlocks Baiyu’s phone (Zhu Yawen and Baiyu’s own birthday), and taps into Weibo. It opens up with his main account first. Baiyu is a professional photographer and is actually considered to be part of the entertainment industry. Since graduating from university, he’s freelanced his way up the food chain to now regularly being invited to be the photographer for various magazines and even celebrity photoshoots.

His main account has a decent amount of followers from regularly being @’ed by numerous official accounts for his work with them, publishers and celebrities alike. His account would be like every other artistic account that posts aesthetic sceneries, calming black and white indoor shots and funny/thoughtful photo edits, if not for the terrible unfiltered selfies taken from the worst angles possible, and updates of him eating the same bowl noodles every other day thrown into the mix.

Overall, his main account is pretty to look at, with more than a dash of personality forcefully injected into every follower’s timeline.

Baiyu’s side account however, Zhu Yilong clicks into it with crippling dread, is an entirely different m(o)a(n)t(s)t(t)e(e)r(r).

 

白雅紋[1]

Have you ever seen a man as handsome as my lao gong[2]?? [photo][photo][photo]

白雅紋

Yawen ge please zhengmianshangwo[3] [photo][photo][gif][gif][gif]

白雅紋

One glance and I’m pregnant. [photo]

 

That’s right. Baiyu is not a mum stan, not an RPS stan, absolutely not a regular stan. He’s a boyfriend stan.

He’s also a stan with extremely good photography equipment and editing software that costs him hundreds in monthly subscription fee. Sure, he might need those for his actual work, but it’s certainly a huge bonus that he can bring one of his work cameras to events that Zhu Yawen attends and take pictures until his right index finger cramps up and his eyes see double.

Those editing software come in doubly handy when he speedily makes HD gifs, photo edits and manips after each episode is aired. That’s why Zhu Yilong needs to make sure he can get dinner in before the episode finishes, because once the ending song starts playing, Baiyu will sit in front of his computer, working away at reproducing every Zhu Yawen scene in gifs, while scrolling through his Weibo timeline, screaming with fellow fans about how hot his gege looked again tonight.

As outrageous as his fandom life sounds, Baiyu keeps it separated from his daily life as much as possible. In his normal day to day life, Baiyu will never be caught dead speaking or acting the way he does online or at home. He is the thoughtful, reliable and friendly photographer with excellent relationships with clients at work, and the playful, caring, older brother type of friend, who wants to hear everyone call him Bai shu[4] when he’s among his peers. Zhu Yilong thinks he might actually be the only person who knows both sides of him.

He taps to sign in for Zhu Yawen’s Super Topic.

 

You have signed in for 391 consecutive days! You are the 4304th person to sign in today.

 

Ah. Has it been that long already?

Next, Zhu Yilong does something he always does every time Baiyu asks him to sign in for him. He looks up his own Super Topic from the Ranking Chart and taps Sign In.

 

You have signed in for 1 day! You are the 27065th person to sign in today.

 

Damn it.

 

---

 

Baiyu doesn’t even follow Zhu Yilong’s main account, let alone his Super Topic. Not on his side account, not on his main account. We live together, why do I need to follow the Mighty Award-Winning Actor Zhu Yilong? was his answer.

Two things.

One, Zhu Yilong’s manager and assistants are always making fun of him for sharing a relatively humble apartment with his best friend like he doesn’t rake in millions every year in film and ad revenue. Whenever they catch him buying groceries online in his spare time, they tease him for living like some regular salaryman with a 401k, trying to live out his quiet domestic life with the one at home.

Zhu Yilong and Baiyu met in university. Zhu Yilong studied acting, and Baiyu studied photography. They decided to live together once they graduated and no longer had access to student accommodation. For the first five years, it was fine, since Zhu Yilong was still only getting minor roles in productions that no one had heard of, working with directors with even less experience than he had. By the sixth year, Zhu Yilong got casted in a web drama that had a very low production budget due to the original production company going bankrupt just weeks before filming was supposed to start. However, by some miracle or another, the web drama ended up getting a shocking amount of attention, and Zhu Yilong went from a tier 8 actor to a tier 1 big star. His name was projected on tall buildings in the city centre and airports became so packed that his agency hired six bodyguards for him overnight.  

Being suddenly launched into the limelight meant he became recognisable almost everywhere he went. Within a month of his popularity skyrocketing, sisheng[5] fans had found out where he lived.

Due to security reasons, his agency demanded that he move to a better neighbourhood at a better secured building. Better neighbourhood and better security meant higher rent, much higher rent from the list of example properties he was recommended by his manager. Baiyu was doing well for himself at that time, but nowhere near where Zhu Yilong was at. He had no clue how much Baiyu was earning. He had no clue if Baiyu even still wanted to live with him after all that had happened.

Zhu Yilong worried over it for a day before his manager informed him she would sign the lease for a random place the next day if he didn’t give her an answer in time. She also recommended him not to live with Baiyu anymore. Even though they were both men, eyebrows would still be raised if paparazzis ever found out he was living alone with another man. The phrase ‘long term live-in partner’ was thrown around a lot.

That night, things went to absolute shit. Everything that Zhu Yilong thought could be argued about was argued about. When he mentioned that he didn’t mind paying more rent to accommodate Baiyu, Baiyu’s face darkened and said he had been thinking about moving out and living on his own for a while now. Zhu Yilong lost it immediately and cried and begged and pleaded for him to stay. He doesn’t remember exactly how that night ended, largely due to the excessive amount of alcohol he had consumed prior to the discussion. All he remembers is that the next day when he woke up, Baiyu had already gone to work. When he went to check his phone, one unread message sat quietly on his lock screen.

 

Just send me the options. I want an open kitchen.

 

The second thing, is that Baiyu is prideful enough that he wants his connection to Zhu Yilong to be exposed as little as Zhu Yilong’s manager does. He doesn’t want anyone to ever think he gets the gigs he gets because Zhu Yilong’s name helped him in any way. This means even when Zhu Yilong’s agency asks him, bribes him, threatens him, he has never and will never do a photoshoot for him. And Baiyu’s time is only getting increasingly harder to book as his portfolio grows more and more impressive each year. Even fans of various celebrities have started noticing his name being associated to the most talked about photoshoots in recent years. Whenever a new set of pictures drop, they always cause big waves on Weibo and in fans’ hearts.

It’s not all without perks for Zhu Yilong’s agency that one of their biggest stars live with a highly decorated professional photographer. Every month or so, uncredited daily pics of Zhu Yilong get uploaded onto Zhu Yilong’s personal Weibo account or onto his studio’s account. Fans all go crazy for them and his follower count rises up by average of fifty thousand every time. Fans all assume a staff from Zhu Yilong’s entourage takes them. They don’t know that Zhu Yilong doesn’t show that side of himself to many people. And even if he did, not everyone is capable of capturing it.

Anyway, the point is, Zhu Yilong understands why Baiyu doesn’t follow him on Weibo (and doesn’t let Zhu Yilong follow him either). Whether Zhu Yilong can create a side side side account to follow Baiyu has never been specified, so he lets his fingers do what they want.

“Xiao Bai,” he calls out evenly.

“Yeah!”

“Zhu Yawen laoshi[6] has a girlfriend?”

“What!?” Baiyu barrels over towards him all the way over from their open kitchen.

Zhu Yilong points at the #15 Weibo trending topic.

“Oh,” Baiyu sighs, “you scared me.”

“What? You don’t believe it? I haven’t even clicked into it yet.”

“There was a trending topic ranking at #1 last week saying you’re secretly married with child. And are you?”

Zhu Yilong grinds his molars. “No, no I’m not.”

 

---

 

One day, Zhu Yilong’s nightmare comes true. He finishes off with a promotion event with a skincare brand at 7pm and finally takes a look at his phone when he’s in the backseat of his company car on the way home.

 

Best news!!!! BEST NEWS!!!!! BEST!!!!!! NEWS!!!!! See you at home!

 

Baiyu tackles him the moment the front door closes behind him.

“Long ge, Long ge!!! You won’t believe it!!” He lets go of Zhu Yilong and strikes a ‘Ta-Da’ pose pointing at himself. “Guess who’s just been invited to be the photographer for Zhu Yawen’s photoshoot?!”

The indulgent smile that is still on Zhu Yilong’s lips freezes. “Con- congratulations.”

“Thank you!! I didn’t even know I was on his radar!! I mean, probably not, I’m on the magazine’s radar, but still!!” He jumps around the living room and stomps his feet on the floor as he does whenever he gets incredibly excited.

“It’s kind of late notice though, it’s in 3 weeks. I’ll need to make sure I move some things around so I know I can dedicate all my attention to this.” With a flip of a switch, Baiyu is back to his professional mode as he goes through his mental diary, waddling back to his room.

“I’ll- I’ll starting cooking now!” Zhu Yilong calls out, feeling out of place in his own home all of a sudden.

“Okay, call me when you’re almost done!”

Zhu Yilong watches him close his door and kind of wishes he told Baiyu he would really prefer it if he cooked with him tonight.

 

---

 

The day before the shoot, Zhu Yilong is unfortunately free all day, so Baiyu sits him down on the sofa and does a full fashion show for him to decide on the one outfit that will grab him all the attention, including Zhu Yawen’s.

Zhu Yilong munches on some extra spicy prawn chips, against his manager’s explicit instructions, and feeling them turn into bitter ash at the back of his tongue while he watches Baiyu parade himself up and down the living room in clothes Zhu Yilong doesn’t even realise he owns. Where are the plaid shirts? The grandpa cardigans? He even put in contacts just for the ‘rehearsal’.

Zhu Yilong chokes on one chip and the spice he wasn’t tasting before all burst through the back of his nose like a grenade, squeezing out painful tears out of his eyes when Baiyu walks out of his room wearing a low-cut long sleeve. His well-defined collar bones are on full display, showing off smooth fair skin usually covered up by his big t-shirts. The sleeves are long enough to make little sweater paws. Paired up with black skinny jeans that accentuates his long, shapely legs. The whole outfit is alluring yet does not hide Baiyu’s natural cuteness. Zhu Yilong reaches for his glass of water.

“That means it’s good, right?” Baiyu tugs at his sleeves, making his sweater paws more prominent than before.

Zhu Yilong thumps his chest a few times, clearing his throat as he shakes his head. “That was unrelated.”

“I think this is quite good.”

Zhu Yilong nods supportively. “Then it is quite good.”

 

---

 

On the day of the shoot, Zhu Yilong can hardly concentrate. Luckily, he’s not filming onset, but rather just doing some post-production voice overs for parts where the audio turned out poorly. He keeps tapping on his locked screen in case he misses something from Baiyu because he’s had to put his phone on silent in the recording studio. He can almost say he did not get into character at all for any part of the lines, just putting the bare minimum through and hoping for the best. Somehow his poor condition is not picked up by anyone except his manager, who lets it slide because no one else seems to have noticed, but gives him several ‘Get your shit together’ glares nonetheless.

He's home earlier than he expects, but Baiyu still beats him home. He’s been so anxious all day and he doesn’t know how he feels about the complete radio silence from Baiyu. He quickly takes off his shoes and finds Baiyu working away at his home office, editing pictures taken from the shoot.

“Hey,” Zhu Yilong walks up to him and puts his hand on Baiyu’s head, fingers combing through his soft hair because it feels like if he doesn’t touch Baiyu in some way, his heart is going to burst, and an awful feeling is going to crawl up his chest, dreadful and distressing. He stands close enough that Baiyu’s shoulder knocks against his stomach when he moves his mouse around.

He looks at the pictures on Baiyu’s screen. They look really, really good.

“How was it?”

For a few moments, the only sounds inside the room are the soft keyboard taps and the slide of mouse against mousepad.

Baiyu shrugs. “It was okay.”

Zhu Yilong’s fingers pause. “What happened?”

Baiyu shakes his head. Zhu Yilong’s hand slides off and returns to his side. “No, nothing. It was good.” Baiyu nods at nothing in particular. “It was a good experience, the staff was nice, the set was amazing, the lighting was great, the shots came out really well.”

Zhu Yilong waits for a few more moments and when Baiyu offers nothing else, he decides not to press. If Baiyu wants to tell him, he will.

“Alright then, I’m going to take a shower first.”

He is about to close the door behind himself when he hears Baiyu speak again. Baiyu has stopped working, and instead is staring at his hands, placed loosely at the edge of his desk.

“He asked me out.”

 

---

 

It felt awful waiting for Baiyu to come home from his date the first time, felt worse the second time, by the third time, Zhu Yilong is seriously considering whether it’s time that they do live apart, but then feels awful about it because he was the one who begged and pleaded for Baiyu to stay. What does it say about him if he wants Baiyu to leave the moment he starts dating someone he likes so much?

Somehow, neither of them has seriously dated anyone the entire time since they graduated from university. Zhu Yilong never really felt the need to date, and he was busy enough as it was trying to get his career on track. And once it was, the topic of dating became more of a minefield than ever. It isn’t explicitly written in his contract that he is not allowed to date, but everyone knows what kind of media storm and PR crisis it would stir up if he ever gets caught. Especially with his type of celebrity and fanbase. Despite his many insistences that he just wants to be seen as a serious actor, people can’t help but categorise him as an idol because of his looks. The type of roles he’s done so far don’t help matters either, with them being mostly romantic male leads or second male leads.

And Baiyu, well Baiyu doesn’t have the same barrier to dating as he does as a public figure. He’s dated men and women here and there throughout the years but none of them was ever serious, none of them lasted more than a couple months or so.

Maybe if Baiyu never became a fan of Zhu Yawen, maybe if he was never invited to do that photoshoot, maybe they would have been able to live together like they did before for a long long time. Logically, Zhu Yilong knows that to be improbable. But he can admit to himself that that is what he wants. The thought of Baiyu leaving him, leaving Zhu Yilong to live all by himself in this empty two bedroom flat, is the most terrifying thing of all.

 

---

 

Baiyu comes home from his fourth date with piping hot jianbing in his hand. He smiles when he spots Zhu Yilong reading on the sofa and waves.

“I thought you might still be up,” he sits next to Zhu Yilong, a small space between them, and offers one portion to him, “I found a place still selling jianbing at this time of night. I originally thought I can buy it now and we’ll eat it for breakfast tomorrow, but I realised how soggy and rubbery it will be in the morning. I still wanted it, so, haha…”

Zhu Yilong watches him ramble and take a bite of his food. It feels weird seeing Baiyu eat hot food without seeing his glasses fog up as well. He’s still wearing contacts to his dates, he still looks very nice at every one of them. Zhu Yilong takes a bite of his own food so he can stop thinking about how he can’t sleep whenever Baiyu is on his dates with Zhu Yawen, his stomach doesn’t climb down from his throat until he sees Baiyu walk pass the front door and greet him with a smile.

“How was it?” He asks, like he does every time.

“It was nice.” Baiyu answer, like he does every time too.

Zhu Yilong nods and they both eat in silence.

After taking the very last bite, Baiyu chews slowly and looks down at the plastic bag in his hand. The inside of the bag sticks together where there’s oil and condensation.

“Have you ever…” Baiyu starts, “have you ever liked someone a lot, so so much, without actually knowing them? And then when you meet them, they aren’t quite the person you’ve built up in your head? Or maybe they are, they’re very similar, but somehow you just don’t like them the way you liked the person in your head?”

Zhu Yilong’s heart is pounding so loudly that he can feel every physical beat against his chest, a tangible, scared, hopeful rhythm.

“No.”

“I didn’t think so,” Baiyu laughs self-deprecatingly. “You don’t seem like the type to like someone who you don’t know well anyway.”

“What makes you say that?”

Baiyu seems to have suddenly caught on to what he’s said and his mouth opens and closes for a few seconds, “I- I don’t know. It’s just a feeling.”

He gets up to leave but Zhu Yilong holds onto his wrist, holding him down to where he’s sitting. The more Baiyu doesn’t look at him, the harder his chest pounds. “Xiao Bai…” he leans into Baiyu’s personal space slowly, cautiously. He leans right up to just a few inches in front of his lips, “who do you think I like?”

Baiyu’s hands are trembling the tiniest amount, and Zhu Yilong can feel every minute movement through the pressure on his wrist. He reflexively holds on to him even tighter. All he can hear in the small space between them is his own steady breathing. Baiyu swallows.

“No one, I don’t think you lik– ”

Zhu Yilong leans all the way in to cover Baiyu’s mouth with his own. Baiyu’s arm jerks back in shock but he stops once Zhu Yilong’s grip prevents it from getting very far. After a few seconds, Baiyu seems to relax into the kiss, like a heavy burden has been lifted off his shoulders. Zhu Yilong doesn’t let the kiss deepen too much, just the slide of lips against each other, and his hand resting on Baiyu’s thigh. When he pulls away, Baiyu’s expression changes from stunned to gently pleased.

“Does it feel like this when he kisses you?” He asks against Baiyu’s bright red lips, the surface shiny with Zhu Yilong’s own spit and he can hardly control himself not to bite down on them.

“No.” A definitive answer.

Zhu Yilong smiles, satisfaction blooming from within his chest. “Will you stop seeing him?”

“I was going to tell him the next time I see him anyway.”

“Tell him what?”

“Tell him I don’t really…feel that way about him.”

Zhu Yilong slides his hand around Baiyu’s slim waist and leans in again. “Tell him you’ve already found someone else.”

“I’m giving you an inch, and you’re taking a mile.”

Baiyu is sliding further down the sofa away from him, but Zhu Yilong follows him down. “Tell him your boyfriend doesn’t want you to see him anymore.”

“Who said anything about boyfriends?”

Baiyu’s back hits the sofa, lying down completely. Zhu Yilong takes his opportunity to climb over him. “Tell him Zhu Yilong is your boyfriend and that he should know better.”

“Have you gone mad!”

 

 

 

 

 

(Bonus!)

 

You have signed in for 685 consecutive days! You are the 4508th person to sign in today.

 

You have signed in for 1 day! You are the 29416th person to sign in today.

 

Loyal boyfriend Zhu Yilong stares at Baiyu’s phone in disbelief after he’s been asked yet again to sign in for Zhu Yawen’s Super Topic.

He shuffles into their room, shuffles up to their bed where Baiyu is leaning against the headboard, tapping away at his laptop. Zhu Yilong rests his knees against the edge of the bed and lets himself fall face first onto Baiyu’s stomach, pushing his laptop away in the process.

“Hey!”

Zhu Yilong lets out whimpers of distress against the duvet.

“What?”

Zhu Yilong uses the bare minimum strength still left in his body to lift himself up. “Why would you ask me to keep your almost 700-day sign in streak for Zhu Yawen laoshi, when you won’t even sign in one day for me.” Zhu Yilong flops his face back down onto Baiyu’s stomach. Sounds of distress continue to reverberate throughout the room.

“Ya, Long ge. Why are you being so petty? I’m a stan! I do what stans do.”

“Do you even love me!!” Zhu Yilong takes the duvet in his hand and rolls himself to the other side of the bed, leaving Baiyu completely uncovered.

 

---

 

“I really gotta give it to your live-in boy toy, not even I knew you could look this good,” Li Chan, Zhu Yilong’s manager, says in a way of greeting when the car picks her up on the way to the airport at 5am. “Maybe I should drop by your place next time, pay my respects.”

Today, Zhu Yilong leaves Beijing to travel to a different province in the west to start filming for his new drama.

Two days ago, his photoshoot and interview for the latest issue of BAZAAR was released. The Weibo hot trending topic #Let me be Zhu Yilong’s photographer in the next life# (#投胎转世做朱一龙的攝影師#) has been trending on #1 since morning that day and is still absolutely dominating the ranks today.

Zhu Yilong hugs the magazine to his chest with a honey sweet smile and snuggles further into his car seat, closing his eyes for a quick nap before they arrive at the airport.

Baiyu gave Zhu Yilong this physical copy of the issue the day before the official release.

In the credit section, there it is printed in black and white: ‘Photographer – Baiyu’.

Next to that, he wrote with a ballpoint pen: Wo ai ni[7]

 

 

 

 

Fin.