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cabbage fever

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The first few months away from Bai Yu were especially hard for Zhu Yilong. They had continued to text on MeChat, sent selfies and played games together on some nights, but hadn’t been able to physically meet at any time they’d wanted. Like when they were filming Guardian.

The distance apart caused Zhu Yilong to stare at his phone a little more during his breaks at work. He would be waiting for messages from Bai Yu. And when he gets them, he would reply immediately, not wanting to miss the opportunity to talk. If time allowed, they would video chat away from everyone else. Even if it was just for five minutes, he wanted to feel like he’s talking to Bai Yu right there. But if they were messages from someone else, he would sigh wistfully and ignore them, locking his phone and staring dejectedly at the floor.

Because of his increased sighs, his manager would sometimes shoot him looks of concern and ask if everything was fine. He would nod and smile that all was good. In fact, everything was going well, except the fact that he didn’t have Bai Yu beside him. That was not something his manager could resolve for him.

As much as he’s thinking of Bai Yu, he never let it affect his work. Between the months of being apart, they still found the time to meet for some meals. They had even managed to spend time together at each other’s places whenever they could align their breaks. Eventually, they had decided that they needed a place just for the two of them, so they secured an apartment together after a year. That place has become their home, a haven where they can spend time together. A place where they can be comfortable and do whatever they want away from scrutinizing eyes. It’s a place just for the two of them.

But even so, this just isn’t enough for Zhu Yilong. He wants to be able to take Bai Yu along with him for work. Of course, there isn’t any way he can do that. Even visiting each others’ set is nearly impossible.

…Unless he brings a replacement. A replacement that is nothing like the real Bai Yu, but Zhu Yilong decides he will just have to make do with it.

And so, with four days before setting off to film again, Zhu Yilong is on Baotao, attempting to search for the items he’s wanted to purchase. After twenty minutes of browsing and searching, he reviews his cart and clicks “Place order”.

Now, he only has to wait for the items to arrive.

 

XXXXX

 

Two days later, Zhu Yilong opens his door to find his delivery on the ground. There are two boxes, but they aren’t very heavy. He brings them both in in no time, placing it on their coffee table in the living room. Next to it, there’s an open suitcase that he is slowly packing for tomorrow’s journey to another city for his new drama. As he will be away for an extended period this time, he prepares by taking with him some things that can help him feel comfortable.

…So maybe what was originally just ‘a replacement’ has gone slightly out of hand, but he couldn’t resist. There were Baotao sales and so many items to choose from, and he wanted to support the people who made all these cute merchandise.

Excited like a child who has just received their birthday present, he fetches a pair of scissors and uses the sharp end to tear into the tape. Opening up the box flaps, he pulls out two adorable naked Bai Yu dolls.

The first one has thick, black lines sewn expertly across the area between his lip and nose, and down his chin to represent his little beard. His mouth is in the shape of a ‘w’, its edges very round, giving the Bai Yu doll a soft look. His wide eyes stare right back at Zhu Yilong, and for a moment it feels like Bai Yu is looking right at him. Zhu Yilong sighs contentedly as he gives the doll a squeeze in his arms, setting it aside first.

The other Bai Yu doll is one that is constantly beaming with his mouth wide open and his eyes in the shape of crescent moons. Zhu Yilong gives this doll a hug too and places it beside the first one. He reaches in to pull out a bag of accessories. There are character clothes and outfits from past public appearances, a few pairs of shoes, a pair of glasses with retainers and the famous fisherman’s hat that the fans love. He takes his time to dress his dolls up.

Once content, he picks them up and takes a couple of pictures around their apartment with them—around the pantry, their dining table, their couch and on their bed.

Afterwards, he happily stashes the two dolls into his suitcase. The other dolls will have to remain at home for the time being. If he could take all of them, he would, but he can only carry this much.

Although this time, he is extra prepared.

From the open box, he pulls out a white cabbage plush, large enough to use as a pillow, wide enough to hug to sleep. He figures that if he wants to sleep at night, he would need something to remind him of Bai Yu. Nobody is going to see this anyway, so he doesn’t care.

He finishes packing everything and shuts the suitcase. He stores the rest of his dolls and accessories away into the cupboard and goes to bed for the night.

Zhu Yilong is ready to charge into this drama and finish it feeling good.

 

XXXXX

 

It is almost two months into filming, and Zhu Yilong is far from feeling good. He is sitting at the table with the other crew members having their dinner. Many of them are merrily drinking away and enjoying the buffet spread. Tomorrow is a designated rest day where everyone is to recharge before jumping back in to film again.

The crew and actors are interacting with one another, including Zhu Yilong. Except he’s mainly only responding to questions with short answers and nodding at his co-stars. He adds his signature smile in order not to be rude and tries his best to pay attention. But he’s drained, and all he really cares about right now is the hotpot.

Even if it’s been some time, Zhu Yilong still finds socializing without Bai Yu tough. There is no one to take the questions for him or help him along. He sighs, shoulders slumping as he watches his soup come to a boil. He picks up his plate of ingredients and absentmindedly dumps everything into his soup. Picking up his ladle, he stirs his pot slowly, staring at nothing in particular as his mind wanders. Will he be able to call Bai Yu tonight? If they can’t call, will he at least be able to play a round of Honor of Queens tonight with Bai Yu before he goes to bed? When will they next be able to relax in their apartment together undisturbed? When should he take out their couple accessories so that their CP supertopic1 gets talking?

Then, he realizes that everyone at his table has fallen rather silent. They seem to be looking at his hotpot for some reason. Even his manager beside him is looking rather quizzically at him.

“Um, Long-ge… Are you sure you’re okay?” His manager asks, eyes darting between his hotpot and him.

“Yes, I am,” reassures Zhu Yilong. But he realizes that his reply does nothing to reassure his manager.

Bewildered, he looks at his steaming pot of soup and it finally dawns on him the reason for those stares.

His pot of soup has nothing but white cabbage in it. Stunned, he looks at his empty plate and realizes that he had really only taken cabbage earlier on. He takes a few bites of his cabbage and rice with difficulty before setting down his chopsticks and bowl of rice.

Face red with embarrassment, he politely excuses himself and leaves the restaurant for his hotel room.

His manager watches his slumped, retreating back and sighs. Whipping out her phone, she fires off the shortest and most concise text message she has ever sent.

 

XXXXX

 

After Zhu Yilong leaves the restaurant, he immediately retreats to his room and shuts himself in it. He switches on the television and idly surfs the channels, not knowing what else to do. It is barely seven in the evening and he has no appetite. He decides that he will simply just collapse in bed and try to sleep it off.

Two hours pass by quickly when Zhu Yilong is suddenly awoken by a series of knocks on his door. Feeling disoriented, he pushes himself up slowly and throws the covers off, thinking it’s already the next day and his manager is here to check in on him. He rubs his eyes as he slowly shuffles to open his hotel room door.

Upon opening the door, he squints and blinks a few times before widening his eyes. His mouth hangs open as he gapes at the unexpected guest before him.

It’s Bai Yu. Not a white cabbage plush, not a Bai Yu doll, not the white cabbage he put in his hotpot yesterday—earlier?—it’s the real deal. He almost pinches himself to see if he is dreaming, until he hears the clear and smooth voice from the other man.

“Can I come in?”

Zhu Yilong returns to himself as he quickly nods and steps aside for Bai Yu to come in.

“Why are you here?”

“Can’t I come?”

“I… That’s not what I meant.”

Bai Yu laughs. “I got a message from your manager! Told me to deliver some food and care apparently.”

Zhu Yilong reddens, knowing that he has made his manager take such a risk by arranging for Bai Yu to drop in with a whole care package. He squeezes his eyes shut, determined to pull himself together. After all, there’s only a bit more until they are done filming.

He looks at the plastic bags that Bai Yu has set down on the table of his suite. They all look like food and some drinks. He peers into them—two instant self-heating hotpots2, a few side dishes to share and two bottles of juice.

“Have you switched your profession to a delivery man?”

“Only if I get to deliver to my adorable Long-ge, sure,” replies Bai Yu smoothly with a wink.

It’s a lame yet endearing pickup line, and Zhu Yilong feels his face heating up. He’s sure his ears are red by now. He hasn’t managed to talk to Bai Yu face to face like this for at least two months. It’s all too overwhelming and not enough at the same time. But just as he is about to smother his boyfriend in a crushing hug, his stomach decides to rumble loudly.

Bai Yu chuckles as he shuffles off to heat up the side dishes in the microwave. Meanwhile, Zhu Yilong prepares their hotpots and brings them to the coffee table by the two-seater couch. He sets a timer for their hotpots and settles down to wait for Bai Yu. It is an easy rhythm they both fall into, very much like what they do at home—Bai Yu hanging back in the kitchen to finish up as he’s usually the cook, and Zhu Yilong bringing some of the food out and settling down by the dining table to wait for Bai Yu. Something about seeing a person dear to you making your favorite food stirs something in his heart.

Seeing Bai Yu stride so naturally towards him with those side dishes and joining him at the couch makes him feel like they are at home, in their sanctuary, and it brings forth an intense wave of comfort and joy. It’s like they are meant to be. Anywhere can be home, as long as they can be with each other.

Bai Yu sits close to him, their knees touching. It’s familiar and it’s reassuring. Zhu Yilong feels vigor returning to him again.

While waiting for their hotpots to be ready, Zhu Yilong asks, “How…?”

“My new project’s shooting location is near yours, so I’d planned on surprising you tomorrow,” says Bai Yu as he opens up their drinks for them. “I’d already talked to your manager about it, but I got an SOS message from her earlier.”

Bai Yu whips out his phone and shows Zhu Yilong the message.

SOS! It’s cabbage fever here but replacement cabbages don’t work anymore. I’m sorry to ask you of this, but please, please please drop by NOW. Long-ge needs to be able to function the day after tomorrow!

Reading this, Zhu Yilong sighs as he lowers his head and places both hands on his face, utterly embarrassed just at how lovesick he had become.

“I’ve caused trouble for you, haven’t I?” He winces as he says apologetically.

The timer rings and Bai Yu reaches over to switch it off. He opens the lids of both hotpots and pushes one closer to Zhu Yilong.

Softly, Bai Yu replies, “You’re someone I’m willing to go through all sorts of trouble for.”

Zhu Yilong stares at Bai Yu, touched by that open sincerity. This man beside him has always been forthcoming, especially when showering him with affection. It’s something that Bai Yu has never stopped giving, never stopped showing. In contrast, Zhu Yilong sometimes finds it difficult to let words of affection escape him. Instead of using his words, he apologizes with his eyes and thanks Bai Yu with a shy smile.

As he picks up his chopsticks to dig in, he can’t resist but quip, “It’s no wonder you excel in all those pickup line sections in your interviews. I’m a good practice partner, aren’t I?”

“I’m glad you realized! Keep doing this so I can get a chance to shine in those types of interviews!”

As they savor their food, they fall into their usual rhythm of discussing their upcoming projects, other shows they have been watching, the hottest game on the market and the latest food trends.

Before they know it, it’s already two in the morning and drowsiness is beginning to hit them. So they make quick work of cleaning up and perform their ablutions to get ready to turn in for the day.

As Zhu Yilong steps out of the bathroom, he sees Bai Yu lifting the covers of the bed and trying his best to hold in his laughter.

He forgot that he’d left the white cabbage plush under the covers.

Zhu Yilong makes his way to the bed and snatches the cabbage plush from a chuckling Bai Yu.

“I had no choice,” he manages with a pout as he climbs into bed, hugging the plush tightly.

Biting his bottom lip in an attempt to stop laughing, Bai Yu follows suit and joins his boyfriend in bed. He reaches for the plush and coaxes it out of Zhu Yilong’s firm embrace, placing it on the bedside table. He dims the lights and snuggles in with his back facing Zhu Yilong, filling those empty arms with himself instead.

“Now you do,” says Bai Yu as he pulls the covers over the both of them.

Zhu Yilong closes his eyes and hugs Bai Yu tighter, relishing in that familiar heat against him.

Truly, no replacement cabbage will ever be good enough.

“Goodnight, Long-ge.”

He hears Bai Yu’s soothing voice quietly say. And he thinks he might just be the luckiest man on earth.

“Goodnight, Xiao Bai.”

Smiling, he thinks about how great tomorrow will be, for it will be spent with Bai Yu. Nothing else can beat that.