It's been a long day of shooting, and Zhu Yilong feels good about it, accomplished; but his shoulder's still sore from where the mat was placed a little wrong, and he's got an early morning call. So when the phone rings right when he's stepping out of the shower, he nearly lets it go to voicemail.
Until he sees who it's from—and it's been well over a year now, long enough that he really should've gotten over this. It's not like they don't talk several times a week, at least when his schedule is slower. He knows all this—but still, he fumbles when he grabs for the phone, and he's grinning as he hits the answer button.
—The little actor always monitoring in the back of his mind marks the feel of his lips stretched in that smile, remember this—Wu Xie would smile like this, getting an unexpected call from Xiaoge—
Then Bai Yu says, "Hey, Long-ge!" and Wu Xie falls out of his head and it's just Zhu Yilong who says back, "Hi."
"So how goes the tomb-raiding?" Bai Yu asks.
"You mean, retrieving important cultural artifacts," Zhu Yilong quotes, practicing Wu Xie's most naive diction, and is rewarded by Bai Yu's snort. "It's going well. What about you, have you decided if you're doing that Fairyland thing?"
"Think so," Bai Yu says, "it's my turn to be the pining immortal," and they chat for a few minutes about locations and stunts and who lost the worst on their last round of PUBG. They don't even try with video; the connection out here is weak enough not to bother. So Zhu Yilong can't see his expression when Bai Yu says, casually offhand, "So anyway, who's the mystery woman replacing me in your affections? You looked like you were having fun..."
"What?" Zhu Yilong says, frowning as he tries to remember the last time he had time for a game—it's been a packed couple of weeks. "Is there someone new on the PUBG squad?"
"No," Bai Yu says, "the—ah, oops, so you haven't seen. I was thinking you sounded relaxed... Sorry!"
"Sorry?" Zhu Yilong feels his shoulders tense. "What haven't I seen?"
Bai Yu's chuckle sounds rueful. "It's nothing, just rumors. Okay, a few photos—you've been hanging out with a young woman?"
"I was what?"
"Your team's already given a 'no comment,'" Bai Yu says.
Bai Yu's laugh is louder now. "Yeah, so the denial definitely made this start trending. Don't worry, Long-ge, it's not that bad. Nothing actually scandalous; you can just say you're friends and she won't get too much fan hate mail. You just have to watch who's fetching you drinks, you know?"
"I know," Zhu Yilong says. "I do—I haven't...?" He'd taken a good part of the crew out for hotpot last week—had he been alone with any of the women for any of that? He should at least figure out who it had been, give her a heads' up and an apology. And ask his team how best to mitigate what's going to be coming for her. "Where?"
"Just a second," Bai Yu says, "I'll send you the link," and a moment later Zhu Yilong's phone chimes. He almost doesn't want to look at it, already composing the letter of contrition in his head. Maybe if he sends flowers with it, or chocolate...
He takes a breath, opens the post. Then blinks at the photo set in confusion. They're a little blurry but his face is clearly identifiable. And he recognizes the windows in the back of one picture; that was the gym, he'd been there just last night, unwinding with a game of horse—and there had been a few women from the crew around, but he doesn't remember exchanging more than a few words with any particular—
He squints at the person standing beside him in the photo—the high ponytail, and that hoodie—he recognizes those colors—
"Long-ge?" Bai Yu asks.
"I didn't see anyone with a camera," Zhu Yilong says, weakly, because of course everyone has phones, and plenty of fans are used to recognizing him in a baseball cap anyway, he knows that, and just because it had been late, and pretty quiet—how could he have been so mortifyingly oblivious?
"Wait," Bai Yu says. "Wait, so this wasn't out of context? Don't tell me you actually were out on a date with this lovely lady?" and he sounds extremely—amused. So very amused. "Did you lose a bet?"
"No," Zhu Yilong says, "no, that's not—they're not—that's Liu Chang."
"That's—your co-star?" Bai Yu says. "The one you've been saying is a talented young actor?"
"Not that young," Zhu Yilong protests. "He's only a couple years younger than you."
"Also, like me, not a girl," Bai Yu observes.
"You know how popular the long hair can be," Zhu Yilong says. "Oh, Xiao-Liu's going to be so embarrassed...I should've noticed..." He feels his ears heating up as he reads the text with the post—"mysterious girl," "extra intimate." Maybe he should be writing that apology letter after all.
"'Xiao-Liu'?" Bai Yu repeats slowly.
"We should've been more careful," Zhu Yilong sighs. This is so ridiculous; hadn't he been the one supposedly giving Liu Chang advice about discretion as an actor? Some mentor he is.
Which Bai Yu could rightfully mock him about, given it's Bai Yu's own social media lessons that Zhu Yilong has been squandering—except for some reason Bai Yu doesn't sound as amused now as he just had been; his voice has gone softer, so his delightful smile isn't so obvious in it. For all he's still joking, "So were you actually out on a date with Xiao-Liu after all?"
Zhu Yilong rolls his eyes, even as he smiles—Bai Yu always can tease him at least halfway out of his worries. "Oh yeah," he says, "I asked him out two weeks ago."
"...You asked him out?"
"And he was playing hard to get, but I finally convinced him I could open a few doors for his career, so he gave in." Bai Yu makes a slightly strangled noise, no doubt at the absurdity of Zhu Yilong being such a smooth player without a script in hand; encouraged, Zhu Yilong grins and continues spinning the tale of whirlwind romance, "We weren't planning on announcing anything until the shooting was done, maybe wait until we had an airdate, to generate extra interest. But I guess if the cat's out of the bag now, we should just go with it."
"You're planning on going public?" Bai Yu says, still sounding strangled. "With Liu Chang?"
"I don't see why not?" Zhu Yilong says airily. "It seems like the time is right—it was such a romantic first date, too, in sweats and sneakers, on a basketball court. I'm sure my fans will be so jealous. Not to mention all the PingXie shippers—romantic rivals are so popular, after all."
There's a pause, before Bai Yu says, a little strained, like he had to catch his breath, "Long-ge—Long-ge, are you joking with me now?"
"Definitely not," Zhu Yilong says, "I am absolutely going steady with Liu Chang and can't imagine a single reason why I wouldn't want the whole world to know."
There's another pause, then Bai Yu snorts. "'Going steady'? Long-ge, are you secretly from 1955? Have you ever actually learned how to use a computer at all?"
"Better than you do, when it comes to PUBG," Zhu Yilong says.
Bai Yu laughs, loudly, and Zhu Yilong grins at his phone.
"You do look like you're having fun, though," Bai Yu says after a moment. "In these pictures—you're having a good time with Liu Chang, and everybody else?"
"It's a good cast," Zhu Yilong says. "Everyone works hard."
"And Liu Chang's keeping you hydrated—I'm glad to see he's taking proper care of his senior."
Zhu Yilong makes an exasperated sigh. "He could take a little less care," he says, and tells Bai Yu about how Liu Chang had insisted on catching him during the scene Wu Xie was drugged. Which had been in character for Liu Sang, which is the only reason Zhu Yilong had agreed to it, but it had still been pretty silly. "It's not a major injury, it's not like I'm really dying," Zhu Yilong says. "I think he forgot I'm not actually Wu Xie." Which sounds so absurdly arrogant the moment it leaves his mouth, that he quickly amends, "—Not that I'm that good an actor; it's just that everyone's getting into character, so it's natural they're worrying about my character—"
"Or they've had five minutes to get to know you," Bai Yu mutters, "so naturally they're fretting," but before Zhu Yilong can register a protest, he continues, "or else Liu Chang just wanted an excuse to put his hands on you on camera..."
"How many sports drinks did he bring you anyway, when you were shooting hoops?" Bai Yu asks.
"A couple? Three?"
"Uh-huh," Bai Yu says. "And then you smiled at him like that—the poor kid's crush must be out of control. Has he tried to confess to you yet?"
"Confess?" Zhu Yilong frowns. "Xiao-Liu doesn't have a crush on me."
"Don't tell me he actually tried to deny it?" Bai Yu says, sounding skeptical. "Or did you just think he was joking?"
"It hasn't come up!"
"Ah, so he's still screwing up the courage to say it."
"Liu Chang isn't going to be giving me a love confession," Zhu Yilong says patiently. "He's friendly and kind and a fine actor. We work well together."
"We worked well together," Bai Yu says.
Zhu Yilong can feel the color his cheeks are turning. "That's different."
"Uh-huh," Bai Yu says.
"I don't even have that many scenes with his character—and Liu Sang doesn't even like Wu Xie, particularly."
"Sure," Bai Yu says.
"I don't even know if Xiao-Liu plays video games."
"Just basketball," Bai Yu says brightly.
"It's not like everyone I work with falls in love with me!" Zhu Yilong cries. "That was a one-time thing!"
Half a second later he realizes what he just said, and snaps his mouth shut.
There's silence on the other end of the line, and Zhu Yilong wonders if maybe he managed to turn off the phone mentally thanks to the power of sheer embarrassment.
Then Bai Yu says, quietly, but warm enough that Zhu Yilong can almost see his smile despite the blank phone screen, "It's definitely not a one-time thing—I've seen you on set, Long-ge, with a whole cast and crew; I know how it goes."
"You mean like how I think the director is avoiding me now, just because I wanted the notebook that's the title of the work to actually be a notebook?"
Bai Yu laughs out loud. "Just like that," he says. "And all the million other times before, and that'll come after this. But, you know, I like to think there was one time that meant a little more to you."
Zhu Yilong is pretty sure an egg could be fried on his face right now. "There's only been one time," he insists, then blurts out, "and it means so much to me."
"Liu Chang?" Bai Yu says, and his grin is even louder in his voice.
"No," Zhu Yilong says. "Not Liu Chang."
"Even if he is crushing something terrible."
"Xiao-Bai," Zhu Yilong says, suddenly wondering—it's so implausible, but—"Are you jealous of Liu Chang?"
"You didn't actually think I would cheat on you with Xiao-Liu, did you?"
"No!" Bai Yu says. "...Besides, it wouldn't really be cheating, when we're not officially dating..."
"I mean, not publicly," Bai Yu says. "This whole rumor about your mysterious girlfriend, and it doesn't even mention me!"
"You're disappointed because you're not the betrayed boyfriend in a tabloid report?"
"I'm not," Bai Yu says. "I just...I was thinking. What you were joking about, going public—maybe would be easier for you, if you had an obvious excuse for dodging earnest love confessions."
"I don't need any excuse, because I'm not going to be getting any confessions. And you know what it would be like if either of us were openly in a relationship," Zhu Yilong says. "The scrutiny and the rumors and the fan backlash—you're the one who warned me about that to begin with, why we wouldn't want to risk it."
"...Yeah," Bai Yu says. "I know. And it's true—more true now, with all the Daomu Biji fans who are going to start following you when this show drops—"
"—If anyone even watches it—"
"They'll watch it," Bai Yu tells him. "They'll watch you, for sure, and they'll fall for you, just like everyone else. And I can't wait to see it, but at the same time...and it's been harder for us to even meet up, with your filming schedule now..."
"Yes?" Zhu Yilong says, and his heart sinks—because even if there's nothing for Bai Yu to actually be jealous about, it is difficult, trying to manage this; he could hardly blame Bai Yu, if he doesn't want...
"...And with all those hard-working, handsome young co-stars of yours who definitely don't have crushes on you..."
"Just...it'd be intense, going public," Bai Yu says. "And I know the reactions, the kind of messages we'd get, what they'd say online...but I just... I've been thinking, this would be worth it."
"...Oh," Zhu Yilong says, and his heart pops up again in his chest, like a cork submerged in bubbling champagne.
"—Anyway," Bai Yu says, fast and breathily light, like he's trying to laugh, "you've got a whole show to think about now, Long-ge, and it's not something you need to decide right away. But, maybe after this shoot, or after it airs; we could talk about timing—if you want to, obviously, we don't have to, if you don't; I'm good with whatever you—"
"Xiao-Bai," Zhu Yilong says, and he's smiling wide enough that he feels like Bai Yu should be able to see it, however many thousands of kilometers away, "I think it would be worth it, too."
Less than a week later, when Liu Chang comes by his trailer after dinner, Zhu Yilong assumes he wants to run lines. He gets him a drink and is looking for some snacks when he hears his co-star start to say, "Um, so, Long-ge..."
Zhu Yilong turns back to see Xiao-Liu staring down at his unopened soda, as he says—earnestly—"I know this is awkward while we're still filming, but I'll regret it if I don't tell you—Long-ge, I—"
Bai Yu is never going to let him hear the end of this.