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First Meetings

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A frigid breeze rustled through the trees that bent their arms out over the busy street below. The leaves had long since gone, giving way to freezing temperatures and the grey clouds above them which sat heavy with the threat of snow. Bai Yu tucked his chin into the thick scarf around his neck as he made his way down the crowded sidewalk. He made sure his face was hidden from the world by his simple black face mask and ball cap which was pulled low over his eyes. 

A commotion a block or so ahead of him drew his attention just as he was about to cross the street. The people around him flowed past, keeping their heads down to avoid the biting wind and not paying much attention to what was going on around them. He could just make out a man being followed by a group of women who were shouting at him. Briefly he wondered if the man had done something wrong, but as they grew closer, Bai Yu could hear their shrieks of joy. 

He grimaced in sympathy at the man’s predicament. While he didn’t recognize the man, his fans obviously did and they were scrambling for a piece of him- calling out a name he couldn’t quite make out and reaching out with grasping fingers that barely missed his hand. As Bai Yu watched, one fan got close enough to get a grip on his jacket which he promptly slipped from his shoulders as he broke into a run. A pit formed in his stomach when the fans became somehow more excited and sped up their pursuit of the man that was now pelting down the sidewalk. 

Luck was on the man’s side as he threw himself across the street just an instant before the crosswalk hand blinked for the last time- forcing the fans to wait on the other side of the street until traffic was clear. Bai Yu realized that while he watched the drama unfold before him, he hadn’t crossed the street which meant the running man was heading his way at full tilt.

Shaking himself from his stupor, Bai Yu threw out his hand just as the man was about to run past and pulled him between a pair of buildings into a narrow alley. The other man’s eyes were enormous as he sucked in great lungfuls of air, fighting down the panic of being chased. Knowing their time was limited, Bai Yu pulled the hat from his head and shoved it onto the stranger, his scarf following immediately after. 

The other man finally caught his breath enough to speak when Bai Yu was shrugging out of his jacket. 

“What are you doing?” The other man asked in a pleasant voice that made Bai Yu wonder if he was an idol. 

“You looked like you needed help,” Bai Yu explained as he finally freed himself from his outerwear. “Now hush and put this on.” He held it open for the other man to slide his arms in, but he just stared at Bai Yu in astonishment. 

“We don’t have a lot of time here,” Bai Yu urged, shaking the jacket meaningfully with raised eyebrows. 

A quick war raged in the other man’s expressive eyes, but he quickly turned and slipped his arms into the waiting sleeves. 

“Okay, now follow my lead. Walk slowly, act casual, and I will help you avoid the sharks out there,” Bai Yu said, making minor adjustments to the outfit and pulling the scarf up to cover the lower half of his face. He tried not to think about how well the stranger’s broad chest filled out his jacket or the solid muscle he felt under his arm when he slung an arm around the man’s shoulders. He only tensed for a moment, shooting uncertain glances at Bai Yu from under Bai Yu’s ballcap, then something in him settled and he relaxed. 

Maybe an actor? He does look kinda familiar. 

“Alright, let’s go,” Bai Yu strode back out onto the street with a relaxed confident gait just as the little man appeared above the crosswalk, signalling the waiting fans to cross the street. 

He steered the stranger towards the fans, making him freeze up under Bai Yu’s arm. Gripping his shoulder tighter, Bai Yu leaned in and spoke quietly so only he could hear. “Shh, it’s alright. They’ll never know.”

Just as he said, the group of girls rushed past in a tittering whirl, their eyes scanning the people dotting the sidewalk in search of their target. One of the last girls in the group paused as the pair made it to the sidewalk and narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing their faces. 

“Damn,” Bai Yu cursed under his breath. “I’m sorry about this.” He turned to look at the stranger’s profile with smiling eyes then craned his head around to bring his face close to the other man’s. Making sure the girl couldn’t see anything, Bai Yu brought his hand up as he leaned in to pull his mask down and complete the illusion of a stolen kiss. 

He was glad that they had made it to the other side of the street because he was sure that he would have tripped over his own feet when he got an up close look at the man’s eyes. They were framed in the thickest eyelashes he had ever seen on any man or woman. This close Bai Yu couldn’t miss the way the other man’s eyes dilated, but it was hard to tell if it was in response to Bai Yu’s mimed kiss or the sudden darkness of their proximity. Their breath clouded between them for several seconds, bringing with it the smell of cigarettes which surprised him- he hadn’t pegged the man as a smoker. 

Bai Yu heard the girl squeak and scurry after the group then immediately moved away while he pulled the mask back into place. 

“Sorry about that,” Bai Yu slowly slipped his arm from the other man’s shoulders and rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. 

The stranger cleared his throat and stared at the concrete below their feet. “No, I should be thanking you. I don’t know how I would have gotten away without you.” 

“Yeah, speaking of which, don’t you have a bodyguard or something?” Bai Yu wondered. 

“We got separated and I didn’t think anyone would recognize me, or care so much if they did,” the stranger explained, still staring at the ground with his hands in Bai Yu’s jacket pockets. He seemed to realize at that moment that he was still wearing clothes that weren’t his. “Oh, I should give you this back.” He reached for the hat, but Bai Yu laid a hand over his. 

“Keep it. You don’t know if you’ll be recognized again. I live close by so I’ll be fine. Besides,” Bai Yu straightened the sides of the jacket and brushed the first fallen snowflakes from his shoulder. “It looks good on you.” 

Bai Yu tossed him a wink and turned to continue his way home, burying his hands in his jeans pockets and hastening his pace. He was happy to give his jacket away, but he immediately wished it wasn’t as cold when the wind cut straight through his white long-sleeved shirt. He turned his face up to the falling flakes of snow that were illuminated by the street lights which were turning on one by one. 

He didn’t think he would ever see the man again, but who knew? Fate was a funny mistress. 

 

-Four Months Later-

The excitement of the cast and crew was palpable- banners and tables piled high with offerings dotted the area outside of the soundstage. One of the assistants handed three sticks of incense to Zhu Yilong who bowed politely in thanks, holding them out carefully. 

He scanned the crowd wondering who was playing which role. Unlike his other roles, he hadn’t had time to research his co-stars before their first day and most of the faces here were new to him. Guardian might not be a roaring success, but Zhu Yilong was excited to be a part of it- even if the source material made him blush at times. It wasn’t that he minded homosexual relationships- quite the opposite, in fact- but he knew that there was a fine line they would have to walk to make it past censorship. Still, he would give the role his best, no matter who his partner would be. 

The assistants began to herd the actors towards the offering table to begin the ceremony then Zhu Yilong froze mid-step seeing a crew member leading one man to the front. His mind rushed back to a cold winter night and a kind savior as he watched the man approach. He looked different without his hair dotted with snow and ruffled from removing his hat. Still, there was no mistaking those eyes and mouth that he’d seen so closely while they were trying to fool the crowd of fans. 

The man was smiling and joking with every person he passed and when he noticed Zhu Yilong waiting at the front, his eyebrows lifted and his entire face lit up. If Zhu Yilong’s heart wasn’t already beating harder, the pleasure on his castmate’s face would have sent it into overdrive. 

Over the last few months he’d been thinking of this man to the point of distraction. He’d kept the jacket and hat with him on set and at home- he’d been sad when the smell of his cologne faded with time. He may have considered sleeping with it a few times, but he managed to stop himself- mostly. 

The man held his hand out to Zhu Yilong with utmost professionalism. 

“Bai Yu.”

Zhu Yilong bowed slightly and took the offered hand, making sure not to linger longer than was considered appropriate. 

“Zhu Yilong.” 

They regarded each other for a beat then the crew nudged them closer together and the ceremony began. Unfortunately, Zhu Yilong couldn’t focus on anything but the man standing beside him- luckily he didn’t bow too late after everyone else. He stole a quick glance and had to immediately look away to hide an excited smile. The fellow actor, Bai Yu, was still looking around and smiling brightly, fondly waving to cast and crew alike. That smile alone was making Bai Yu’s heart melt and they had barely spoken two words to each other. 

After the ceremony had ended and the cast and crew had dispersed to begin their work, Zhu Yilong heard someone clear his throat behind him. He turned to find Bai Yu waiting with a sheepish look on his face. 

“Funny running into you here.” He glanced around with a wicked smirk that definitely was not affecting Zhu Yilong’s stomach. Nope. “Do you need saving from a horde of fangirls again?”

Zhu Yilong ducked his head and fought back the blush that he could feel heating his ears. 

“Not as of yet, no.” His head shot up and Bai Yu lifted an eyebrow in question. “I still have your hat and jacket. I can return them to you.” He gestured towards his trailer and Bai Yu huffed a laugh. 

“You have them here?” Bai Yu asked incredulously and Zhu Yilong just nodded. “Did you know I was going to be here?” Bai Yu followed up and Zhu Yilong froze, eyes wide. Shit

Bai Yu’s laugh echoed out across the lot and Zhu Yilong just blinked, feeling the blush spread to his face and neck. Before he could say a word, Bai Yu dropped his hands on both of Zhu Yilong’s shoulders and squeezed. 

“Long-ge, I think we are going to have a great time together. I can meet you in your trailer later to get what I need,” Bai Yu told him with a wink then dropped his hands and sauntered away.  

Zhu Yilong’s brow drew down at the familiar name, but when the suggestive tone of Bai Yu’s words soaked into his brain a few moments later, his breath caught.

This was going to be a fun project.