KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
Someone was knocking the door. Loudly.
Zhu Yilong frowned, he wasn’t expecting anyone. He tentatively made his way to the front door while trying to remember if he had recently bought something online.
“Who is it?” He asked evenly.
“It’s me.” Came through his co-stars unmistakable voice.
Zhu Yilong gave a start. He opened the door and there stood Bai Yu, in that big yellow shirt he was so fond of lately. Bai Yu grinned. He usually had a mischievous air about him but today he looked particularly smug. “Hey neighbour.”
That threw Zhi Yilong off his horse for a second time. “…Neighbour?”
“Yup!” Bai Yu’s grin broadened. “I just rented the apartment downstairs. As of now we’re neighbours.” He cheerfully explained before swinging past him and starting down the corridor into the flat.
Zhu Yilong simply gaped for a few seconds before rushing to follow his uninvited guest into the living room.
“Wait a minute. Did you say you rented the apartment downstairs?
Bai Yu cast his eyes about the clean and tidy living room. “Wow, your place isn’t bad. How about you come and help me get settled in later?”
Zhu Yilong gave him a long look that said don’t change the topic. He hadn’t known Bai Yu long but he’d already figured out he needed handling.
“Weeeell,” Bai Yu drawled with a twinkle in his eye “I figured this would make working together a lot more convenient.”
Zhu Yilong knew an agenda when he saw one. “Why are you here?” he asked calmly.
“Long Ge, that’s not very hospitable of you. People might think you don’t want me here.” Bai Yu sulked, which outwardly didn’t seem to melt Long Ge’s heart one bit, though in reality he was happy to see Xiao Bai.
He quickly switched tactics. “Let’s have dinner together, what do you want to eat?”
Zhu Yilong pondered this new predicament for a few moments before graciously giving in and going along with it. “How about I cook?”
Bai Yu threw him one of his devilishly handsome smiles. “I can’t wait to try your cooking.” And plopped himself on the sofa.
Zhu Yilong had rented a two bedroom flat in a high rise in XX city for the duration of filming Guardian. With China being so big it didn’t make sense to be constantly flying to and from his hometown in Wuhan for filming, and he didn’t enjoy living out of hotels. The spare bedroom would come in handy if his family or friends came to visit him. The gated community had a vibrant family atmosphere. The shared gardens brimmed with willow trees, flowering shrubs and an array of plants pots with various things the neighbours tended to. There was also a big lotus pond just below his living room window where the neighbours kids often made a lively ruckus chasing frogs and dragonflies. He very much liked his new home, even if it was only temporary.
It was now late spring and they’re already been filming for a month. Zhu Yilong remembered his first time meeting Bai Yu when they’d auditioned for their roles. His first thought had been “Wow, he’s handsome.” He was also struck by how comfortable Bai Yu was in his own skin, how well he fit the bill for Zhao Yunlan’s character. He went home after that audition praying that they both got the roles. He needn’t have worried because the director, the casting director, and every assistant in the room would have had to be blind not to notice their burning chemistry.
On the first day of filming his suspicions were confirmed that Bai Yu really didn’t have to stray too far from his own personality to portray Zhao Yunlan. He introduced himself confidently to everyone on set and quickly fell into friendly chatter about this and that, flattering and joking until anyone would think he’d known these people for years. He himself on the other hand, was by nature a shy person who keenly observed social politenesses. Unfortunately this was often misunderstood and thanks to an interview Bai Yu once gave, he now had a reputation for being cold and aloof. After a few days though, Bai Yu’s charm started to work its magic on him and he began feeling more at ease in his new environment.
Working with Bai Yu was a joy. He was friendly but professional. He was an exceedingly good actor, but incredibly down to earth and humble. He would stroll onto set in the mornings dressed like a southerner on holiday at the beach, one hand holding his breakfast of steamed dumplings while he sipped hot sweet porridge from the other, smiling and saying morning to everyone. There was a merry casualness about the way he did everything that Zhu Yilong couldn’t help being drawn to. He was easy on the eyes too, which he also couldn’t deny.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK.
It was early evening. Zhu Yilong was in the middle of preparing a spicy Sichuan style hotpot for two when the loud knocks came through to the kitchen. A small smile flashed across his lips. He dried his hands and unhurriedly made his way to open the door.
Bai Yu’s dapper face greeted him and he felt his heart give an elated jump.
“Long Ge, how can you so carelessly open the door without asking who it is first? What if I was a thief?” Bai Yu reproached as he stepped inside, kicked off his shoes, and helped himself to a pair of his Long Ge’s indoor slippers like he’d been coming here for years.
“No-one else knocks like you.”
Bai Yu raised his eyebrows in surprise. It was actually only the fourth or fifth time he was dropping by and he was already important enough for Long Ge to make a note of how he knocked? He liked the idea of that.
“What are we having for dinner?”
“Hotpot is my favourite!”
“I thought it would be.”
Bai Yu was surprised for a second time. “How did you know?”
“Aren’t you from the north?”
After that first time he’d barged into Zhu Yilong’s flat they’d agreed it would be nice to take turns cooking and eat together in the evenings. So far it had been Long Ge cooking every time since he hadn’t got his kitchen equipment yet. It was a well-known fact that northerners enjoyed a mean hotpot to see them through the cold winters, but he hadn’t realized Zhu Yilong put so much thought into cooking things to suit his taste, he felt touched.
After an eye-wateringly spicy hotpot, which Bai Yu had indeed thoroughly enjoyed, he inwardly congratulated himself that his plan to make Long Ge his wife was going so swimmingly. Even Zhao Yunlan hadn’t made this much progress this quickly.
From the first moment he’d set eyes on Zhu Yilong at the audition he’d been utterly enamoured by his gentle beauty. He didn’t even have to act having an affinity with this man, the attraction came to him naturally. He’d gone home thinking that if he didn’t get to work on Guardian with him, it would be one of the biggest injustices he ever suffered in this lifetime. He just had to have another chance to see him again.
He’d jumped for joy when his agent called to say he’d got the part. Before shooting started, he’d carefully read the script for the show and the character profiles for Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei . However, just a couple of days into filming, Zhu Yilong was already becoming painfully lovely in his eyes. Why did he gaze at him so intensely when he played Shen Wei? Finally, curiosity had won out and he’d delved into the online novel. There he found a world rich in fairy tales and folklore, fantastic monsters, ancient mysticism, thrilling action, quick-witted commentary, and, the thing he’d been looking for; an intriguing romance.
If only, he thought to himself, if only China wasn’t so conservative and we could act the scenes how they’re described in the novel…then I could kiss his beautiful face and nobody would blame me…
Then he had an idea. What if he could convince the cool and well-mannered Long Ge that practising the scenes from the novel was an absolute necessity to portraying their characters faithfully on screen? Long Ge was nothing if not a highly self-critical artist, he would surely consider it if he thought it would help him perfect his craft, right? Of course, Bai Yu had no such noble intentions for himself when he hatched this plan.
“Say Long Ge,” Bai Yu began one day, not long after he’d expertly made himself a permanent feature in Zhu Yilong’s apartment and life. He was draped over Long Ge’s comfy sofa pretending to read a magazine he didn’t realize he was holding upside down.
“Hmm?” Long Ge prompted absentmindedly. He was sitting upright on the other side of the long sofa with his legs crossed, sipping from a dainty cup of steaming Oolong tea and actually engrossed in reading a collection of Li Bai’s legendary poems.
“What if we were to practise some scenes from the book?”
The cup of tea Zhu Yilong was bringing to his lips stopped dead in its tracks and for just a split-second a panicked expression flashed across his face.
“Aha!” Bai Yu threw the magazine aside and turned his body to face the object of his shameless scheming. “So you have read the book!”
Zhu Yilong deliberated conceding the fact that he had indeed read the book, and read it blushingly. Shen Wei in the book wasn’t nearly as restrained about his physical yearning for Zhao Yunlan as Shen Wei in the show. Finally, he said coolly, “Yes, of course. As an actor it’s imperatively important to have a deep understanding of your character.”
“Exactly!" The crafty Bai Yu said triumphantly, "The book gives a much better description of our characters internal struggles than the screenplay. Practising some scenes from the book would go a long way to improving our portrayals. Don’t you think?” He audaciously proposed.
“Ok…” Zhu Yilong said cautiously, laying his book down. It hadn’t skipped his notice that Bai Yu had taken a particular liking to him, which had left him both flattered and pleased. He couldn’t understand why though, he didn’t consider himself remarkable. That said, after the initial surprise and confusion, he’d been secretly elated that Bai Yu had moved in downstairs. Ever since filming started he’d been agonizing over how he could get closer to his charismatic co-star, and now the universe had mercifully thrown him a bone.
“Which scene do you think we should try?” he asked hesitantly.
Bai Yu being just as sneaky as Zhao Yunlan, had the exact chapters and scenes he wanted to practise with Zhu Yilong memorized, and they weren't too innocent either, chapters 43 and 75 being at the top of his list. But, he figured he’s better play it cool to begin with and not scare him off.
“Oh I don’t know, something from the Pillar of Nature arc I guess?” He said, feigning nonchalance. He pulled out his phone, “Let me see…” He skimmed over chapter 31; the one where a lovesick Shen Wei watches over Zhao Yunlan sleeping deep in the icy mountains. Well, he thought to himself, nothing happens explicitly, but then again dear Shen Wei’s thoughts are pretty racy…
He glanced over at the poor, unassuming Zhu Yilong. No no no, he shook his head, that would definitely make him run a mile. He went back a few chapters and found a scene in chapter 27 which was written as if Zhao Yunlan himself used telepathy to read his dastardly plans and help him come up with the perfect dialogue. Damn, that Zhao Yunlan is smooth. He even talks about neighbours and relationships, thank you!
“How about this one?”
He passed his phone to Zhu Yilong who carefully read the parts he’d highlighted. Hmm…he thought, this scene is kind of suggestive, but then again it’s no secret than Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei end up as a couple…While Zhu Yilong quietly pondered if acting this scene was entirely appropriate, Bai Yu was starting to get worried that he would refuse, when finally he replied.
“Great!” Bai Yu exclaimed with jubilation before Zhu Yilong had a chance to change his mind. “I’ll start. 3, 2, 1, action!..........Shen Wei, what a coincidence!”