If you ask him, Bai Yu would never be able to tell you when or how it started. It was completely beyond him when things escalated into something. He was already bone-deep when he realised what was happening.
But here is what Bai Yu knows:
Falling for Zhu Yilong was like a thief in the night; sudden, unexpected. His heart has already been seized before he even knew.
Bai Yu was unaware that those times they spent together alone, those little touches they share, the jokes, the laughs, and everything else in between would mean the world to him.
He most especially liked the way Zhu Yilong sometimes looks at him with those kind and gentle eyes. Always attentive, always the most expressive part of him. Bai Yu sometimes thinks that maybe those looks that get thrown his way meant something.
And maybe in those eyes, he’ll also find the answer. That maybe there was something, anything that will say his Long-ge feels the same way too.
But it felt like things ended as quickly as it started. No more filming, no more promotions. The drama finished airing and it will just be another thing added to their names. And if he thought that his feelings would end with these things, that’s where he is terribly wrong.
Because here he still is, some three years later, missing all of those and thinking of what could've beens.
Maybe he had drunk a little too much that night. Maybe he will come to regret things when he wakes up the next day. But something tells him that this was something he should do tonight.
Pulling up the contact details he hasn't used in years, he almost presses the video call button, hesitating at the last second because why is he even doing this? What would he even say?
This was not the first time he attempted this, though. There had been many times in the past where he would be so close to dialing Zhu Yilong’s number because he misses him so so much that the occasional (once in a blue moon?) WeChat messages are not enough to fill the emptiness he was left with.
Maybe it was the liquor courage that finally pushed him because it took him five rings before he realises what he is doing. Of course, Zhu Yilong would probably be busy and has no time for random calls so he thinks of just hanging up…
Except, someone on the other line picks up on the seventh ring.
On the tiny screen of his phone is finally the man he has been wanting to see for years that it makes his heart ache both in happiness and in longing.
Bai Yu can’t help but stare for a while, thinking that the years have been too kind to his Long-ge. Zhu Yilong doesn’t seem to have changed much from three years ago, his face not looking a year older at all but definitely more handsome.
“Bai Yu, what do you… Xiao Bai, are you crying?”
Zhu Yilong’s words, laced with worry, startled Bai Yu that he frantically tried to wipe the tears that somehow made it to his face. Bai Yu never thought of himself as a crying drunk and yet here he is, most likely fueled by the feelings he’s kept for years that are now threatening to spill.
Shaking his head, he tells Zhu Yilong, “Long-ge. Gege, listen to me please?”
The Zhu Yilong on his phone nods in understanding. Bai Yu recognises the look Zhu Yilong was giving him, he had been on the receiving end of this many times before. Zhu Yilong, looking ever so gentle, but his eyes give him away. I’m worried is written all over his face and Bai Yu tries to focus elsewhere instead of getting drawn to those eyes.
“I miss you,” Bai Yu says in a whisper, while trying to hold back himself from crying again.
“Until now, I miss the way you made me feel, like I’m someone very special to you. How you used to look at me, like I mean something to you. I wanted all of those and more. I wanted to be that to you. And I still do. Even now. Because before I realised what this was, you already took my heart with you, you know?”
Bai Yu inhales as he tries to force a smile and looks straight into his screen. “Long-ge, why don’t you give my heart back? Please?”
Then the Zhu Yilong he sees is void of any expression, like somehow, Bai Yu said the wrong thing for his Long-ge to be like that. Suddenly, it hurts all over again.
It always comes back to this with you, doesn’t it gege? Bai Yu thinks.
Walking away from everything that has something to do with Zhu Yilong was quite painful for him. His everyday was filled with Zhu Yilong, in every corner of his life. From the start to the end of the day, it always had Zhu Yilong. Then one day, he woke up and there was nothing.
The feelings, he realises, never really went away. Bai Yu just learned how to deal with them and kept going on most days. It was easier to ignore it exists than acknowledge that it’s still there without any signs of going away any time soon.
Bai Yu felt like it took forever before Zhu Yilong finally spoke. “Xiao Bai, whatever it is that you’re thinking right now, I want you to stop. It’s nothing bad, okay?”
The soft and gentle voice Zhu Yilong had was enough to snap him out of his spiralling thoughts.
“Why didn’t you say anything then?”
Bai Yu wanted to laugh. It was something he envisioned will happen if it ever came to this. But he always had the same answer, the only reason why he never said anything.
“What if I was someone you’d never want. I didn’t want to know that. I don’t think I can take it. I mean, have you seen you? Why would you even want me?” Bai Yu smiles wryly.
“You―” Zhu Yilong sighs, suddenly at a loss for words, but Bai Yu knows he was just trying to put together his thoughts. After all, Zhu Yilong has always been someone who carefully considers his words before speaking up.
“I really thought I made it clear, with the way I treated you back then. I’ve always found it hard to connect with people, but with you, it felt right and easy. I knew you were different. And I made sure you knew that. Even when you’d never feel the same way.”
The last part was said in a quiet voice that Bai Yu almost thought he misheard them. Bai Yu just stares at Zhu Yilong for a while, not really believing what he is hearing.
“Long-ge, Long-ge. You mean to say, that all this time, you… How can you not know how I feel? I’ve always made sure, one way or another, that you will know you are different with others.”
“There was no way for me to know,” Zhu Yilong shakes his head. “You’ve always been kind and playful with everyone. You were all over others too and I saw there was not much difference with how you treated me. But... Xiao Bai, you’ve always been special to me. You’ve always meant something to me. You still do.”
After they went their separate ways, Bai Yu has only ever seen Zhu Yilong smile either on the television or in magazines一for millions of his fans. But right now, there’s just the two of them. He knows that the small and shy smile Zhu Yilong gave him was for him alone and oddly enough, it makes him very happy. A complete 180 from the start of the call.
In some stories, they end after the confession scene and that is where they get their happily ever after. But tonight, Bai Yu wonders if he can keep pushing his luck, if he can stir this conversation into something that could make him happier. Preferably if it does make Zhu Yilong happy too.
Hesitating, he asks, “Long-ge, what would happen to us now?”
Zhu Yilong’s eyes cast downward, appearing to be deep in thought. It was pretty obvious, considering he had just dropped a question that could make or break them. Bai Yu also felt like the turn this conversation took sobered him up, and now he only feels restless.
Zhu Yilong then clears his throat, most likely done contemplating things. He is staring at Bai Yu intently, as if he was a man with a mission that needs to be completed quickly.
“Bai Yu,” he says while his gaze softens. “I really don’t have a lot of things to offer except my heart. If you want it, you can take it.”
This time, Bai Yu really laughs. If there was something he expected from this, it’s definitely not this. He can’t say it was poor execution on Zhu Yilong’s part. He tried, he really did. It was even wonderful.
But Bai Yu just never thought that of all people, Zhu Yilong would be that person to use a line said by a character Bai Yu played. Never mind that Bai Yu never got to say it himself (except that one time he recorded it for their fans), but what matters is Zhu Yilong remembered something from this thing they shared and both have a connection with.
“I’ll take it,” Bai Yu says with conviction, because he has no other answer to that.
Zhu Yilong’s face lights up in glee, with the corners of his eyes crinkling as he nods and smiles widely. Bai Yu can’t help but be reminded of that scene where Zhu Yilong as Shen Wei gave him as Zhao Yunlan a similar smile. Bai Yu himself had liked that particular scene一Zhao Yunlan being thankful that his eyes were finally healed and Shen Wei being equally happy because finally, his Zhao Yunlan could see again.
Bai Yu’s mind wanders further away from the conversation, mentally listing things that he could do just so he can have Zhu Yilong smile at him more like that. He loves his Long-ge’s smile a lot, and even better when it’s directed at him.
Bai Yu doesn’t notice Zhu Yilong has been calling out his name until he’s heard him slightly shout. He only flashes him a grin to which Zhu Yilong just sighs exasperatedly, seemingly done with him. He also knows (and has just confirmed a few minutes ago) that Zhu Yilong is just really fond of him.
“Long-ge, what is it?” he asks sheepishly.
“Oh, it's just... the clock struck 12 a few minutes ago so happy birthday, Xiao Bai.”
Bai Yu thanks him with an ear-splitting grin because this might have just become his favourite birthday ever.
Bai Yu wakes up the next day with a pounding headache and a very vivid dream that he finally talked to his Long-ge with things going unexpectedly well and…
He frantically starts searching for his phone around the bed because it can’t be, right? Bai Yu finds the phone lying beside his pillow. He dives for it and taps it open, scrolling through his notifications.
There he finds three messages from Zhu Yilong, sent at different intervals. Bai Yu grins at the sight before him, because he definitely missed seeing Zhu Yilong’s name on his phone.
I don’t know how much you’ll remember when you wake up, but I assure you, it wasn’t a dream.
Drink lots of water and take painkillers if you have a headache. There should be some on top of your bedside drawer.
Xiao Bai, let’s see each other soon? I hope you have a happy birthday.
And I miss you too.
Later that day, when Zhu Yilong posts that picture, most people will say it was only a mere coincidence. If it was, or if Zhu Yilong had made it intentionally, then only the two of them will ever know. At least, for now.