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With a three-day hiatus from filming, a rare pause in his hectic schedule, Zhu Yilong is looking forward to some much-needed rest. So of course the very first morning of their break Bai Yu turns up on the doorstep of his rented flat with two overstuffed backpacks in his arms and a conniving smile on his handsome face. Zhu Yilong stands on the threshold and glares at him, his arms crossed over his chest, one eyebrow raised in not-quite-feigned disapproval.

“We’re going hiking!” Bai Yu proclaims, dropping the backpacks on the hallway floor and spreading his arms wide. “Just you and me, spending a nice, peaceful day in the mountains. I even packed your lunch. Plenty of spice, super hot, just the way you like it.”

Zhu Yilong immediately thinks of a dozen reasons why the two of them spending an entire day off set alone together is a terrible idea, although several of them aren't things he can actually say to Bai Yu and still keep up the facade that what he feels for the other man is nothing more than friendship. But he ticks the ones he can say out loud off one by one on his fingers while Bai Yu patiently shoots each of them down with his usual combination of enthusiasm and wit. When Zhu Yilong finally pauses, desperately casting about for another excuse, Bai Yu makes an exasperated face.

“You act like you’re afraid to be alone with me,” he chides, shaking a finger at Zhu Yilong with a sly, sideways look. There is so much of Zhao Yunlan’s character in his expression that the Shen Wei dozing inside Zhu Yilong’s head opens one metaphorical eye with shockingly lascivious interest. Yilong tamps down on that response, hard, his mouth going dry - they are not on set today, and Bai Yu isn’t really pretending to be someone else, so Zhu Yilong shouldn’t either. At least, not anyone other than who he normally has to pretend to be, when he’s around ordinary people.

“It’s going to rain,” he says, deflecting Bai Yu's thinly veiled flirtation for his own sanity. It’s not a lie - there’s only a few miserable gray clouds drifting overhead at the moment, empty and silent, but he can feel the air pressure slowly changing and smell the faint tang of ozone from a brewing storm in the distance. It may eventually skirt to the north of them, he thinks, and he’s pretty sure it will be over not long after midday - but it might be enough to convince Bai Yu to change his plans.

“So we’ll get wet,” Bai Yu shrugs, stubbornly refusing to be swayed. “I packed extra clothes, and waterproof containers for everything.” He reaches forward to put a hand on Zhu Yilong’s shoulder and gives him a gentle shake. “Long-ge, please? I really want to go up and see the view from the top of the mountain while we have the chance. But it’s not safe to go hiking without a buddy. There could be wild animals up there.”

Even that one small point of contact between them is enough to make Zhu Yilong's skin tingle where Bai Yu's hand rests softly, but firmly, against him, warm through the thin cotton of his shirt. “How am I supposed to help you fight off wild animals?” he snorts, ignoring the physical sensation as best he can. Honestly, any wild animal that caught his scent would probably flee immediately. But if they didn't - and even if he could shift into his non-human form, which he’s never been able to accomplish, even under years of his mother’s patient tutelage - he wouldn’t ever dare risk doing so in front of someone else. Not even Bai Yu, who he feels closer to - and, inexplicably, trusts more in just the short time they've known each other - than any person he’s ever met.

But Bai Yu has hit on the key tactic that never fails - his own well-being - and Zhu Yilong is wavering. He can see by the glint in Bai Yu’s eyes that he senses Zhu Yilong's weakness. “You don’t have to fight them,” he says. “Just start singing in your beautiful voice; then they will all become instantly tame, and lie down at your feet.”

Zhu Yilong presses his lips together to hide a hint of a smile. “You’re a better singer than me,” he points out.

Bai Yu frowns and shakes his head. “But you’re the more handsome one. Between the two of us, I’ll get eaten for sure.” He rolls Zhu Yilong’s tensing shoulder gently under his fingers and clicks his tongue against his teeth, the soft intake of his breath enough to raise the fine hairs on Zhu Yilong’s arms. “Come with me.”

His muscles relax, warmth spreading through him under Bai Yu’s touch. Zhu Yilong wants to spend time alone with him - in fact, he wants to very much, which is exactly why he should keep saying no. Maybe they can go out and catch a movie, in a nice, safe, public theater. Maybe they can hook up with some of the other cast or crew and do some gaming. Something that won't involve the two of them being completely alone, in the middle of nowhere; something in a place where Zhu Yilong will be safe from the temptation that whispers to him every time his eyes fall on Bai Yu's plush lips, or every time he gets close enough to breathe in the man's utterly intoxicating scent. The more time he spends with Bai Yu, the more relaxed and careless he becomes around the man, the more danger Zhu Yilong puts himself in: Shen Wei isn’t the only person, real or imagined, around the Guardian set with life-altering secrets to keep. But he’s helpless under Bai Yu’s gentle persuasion. Whenever Bai Yu comes to him like this, fixing Zhu Yilong under the steady gaze of his deep, dark eyes, his expression so trusting and unguarded - Zhu Yilong feels seen in a way he never has before; he simply can’t bear to say no to whatever is asked of him. And, he tells himself, at least it will be cooler in the mountains than it has been around the set. Especially if it rains.

“I’m not carrying your pack for you,” he sighs, resigning himself to his fate. His mind is strong, and he's stubborn; surely he can do this. He can manage a day alone on a hiking trail with Bai Yu without either of them getting into too much trouble. There won't really be wild animals on the mountain, anyway. Probably.

Bai Yu claps his hands together, beaming with happiness. “You will not regret it!” he proclaims, swinging one backpack up over his shoulder and holding the other out for Zhu Yilong. “I will even carry the heaviest one. See how much I am willing to sacrifice, just for you?”

The hike is easy at first, and the conversation is, too. It’s unusual for Zhu Yilong to feel this comfortable around anyone, especially a co-worker. But Bai Yu knows his quirks well by now, and is willing to let Zhu Yilong have his moments of silence when he can tell that his friend really needs them. Bai Yu is perfectly willing to carry the conversation for both of them until Zhu Yilong finally wants to talk, and that’s usually enough to get him to open up a little more than he would for anyone else.

Most of the actors and crew Zhu Yilong have worked with in the past have been as serious and studious as he is, and his reluctance to engage with professional colleagues on a personal level is nothing unusual in their craft, so they rarely push him to be more social than he wants to be. He’s always friendly enough: he makes eye contact, smiles pleasantly, laughs at others' jokes when appropriate. He attends the little impromptu celebrations for people's birthdays, and that sort of thing. But even the smallest degree of genuine openness only comes after an acceptable breaking-in period. He has to get to know the people around him well, first. He needs time to decide who he trusts.

But he’d signed on for Guardian at the last possible minute, as a favor to an acquaintance, without the usual amount of preparation time to figure out who he needed to be - not just for Shen Wei, the role he would play in front of the cameras, but for the persona he'd need to adopt off-camera as well - Zhu Yilong, professional actor, ordinary human. He’d rushed to read the novel to build his impression of Shen Wei and as a consequence, perhaps he’d over-identified just a bit with a secretly powerful being trying to hide his true self from those close to him. Whatever the case, he’d let more of his character construct take over his off-camera persona in the beginning than he ever had before, without realizing the consequences that might bring.

With his nerves already on edge from the time pressure and Shen Wei's reticence bleeding heavily into his off-camera life, he’d said very little to anyone on their first days of work on Guardian, including his co-star. The first words he’d exchanged with Bai Yu after their mutually polite introductions had been all about the job: character interpretations, scene blocking, suggestions to make lines flow more smoothly. Their relationship had been launched with a heaping measure of reserved cordiality, just like he'd done with all his other co-stars on the productions he’d worked on before.

But Bai Yu turned out to be not like any other person Zhu Yilong had ever worked with before. His eyes, even on day one, were mischievous and kind, and something about his face made Zhu Yilong reluctant to look away even when they weren't in character. With physical beauty being the norm in their line of work, Zhu Yilong hadn't really thought his tiny infatuation with Bai Yu was anything unusual at first. But as time passed, he'd soon come to realize that handsomeness wasn’t Bai Yu's only attractive quality.

Certainly there were things about Bai Yu that had annoyed Zhu Yilong. He bounced incessantly, even in his chair at their table reads, seemingly unable to sit still for any length of time. During breaks he would romp from person to person in the surrounding vicinity with greetings and jokes, back-slaps and hearty laughs. He was gregarious and outgoing from the start, and his extroversion had been way too much for the sensitive and cautious Zhu Yilong to take. The more Bai Yu came after him those first few days, wanting to be his friend, the more an overwhelmed Zhu Yilong had pulled away.

He had expected Bai Yu to take the hint and back off. His kind are not easily swayed in any aspect of life, so in all the relationships he’d ever had with humans before - including the family, friend, and miserably-failed, barely romantic kinds - Zhu Yilong had been the immovable object. If he didn't want to do something, he would simply plant himself solidly in one place and wait patiently for the human instigator to tire of pestering him and go away. He’d expected his usual coping strategy to work this time too, but it turned out that he hadn’t encountered a truly irresistible force - not until Bai Yu stumbled into his orbit.

Bai Yu had responded to Zhu Yilong's withdrawal by taking it as a challenge. He'd seemed almost tireless, his charm relentless. There is enough of Zhao Yunlan’s stubbornness inherent in the man playing his character that it hadn’t taken Bai Yu long at all to wear him down and drag Zhu Yilong out of his shell. Zhu Yilong’s reservedness quickly crumbled under the onslaught of Bai Yu’s attention, and Bai Yu has been a constant presence in Zhu Yilong’s daily life ever since. Now they eat together, run lines together, have Segway races against each other... and Zhu Yilong, who had spent a fair portion of his life learning to accept and even enjoy being alone, found that not only did he not mind having Bai Yu so near so often - he'd even started to miss Bai Yu on those rare occasions when he wasn't around.

Bai Yu had simply worn his defenses down with kind persistence, and despite his initial reluctance to give in, Zhu Yilong had been surprised at the sense of relief that came as they’d finally settled into an easy camaraderie which quickly grew into real friendship. And - but no; he stops himself before he takes that line of thought any further. Friendship. That’s what they have between them; it's all they have between them. Anything more he might imagine is one-sided, it's just… character bleed. Nothing more. The confusion he feels when Bai Yu smiles at him, the way his body responds when his friend throws a careless arm over his shoulders - that’s just Shen Wei, mistaking him for Zhao Yunlan. Zhu Yilong let Shen Wei get too deeply imbedded into his human persona from the beginning of filming; he won’t make a mistake like that ever again, on any future projects. He will make sure he has enough time to build what he needs for every aspect of his on-the-job life, before a project starts.

“What made you go to Beijing Film Academy?” Bai Yu asks him casually, the question snapping Zhu Yilong out of his private thoughts as they work their way up the trail. He realizes that he's been too silent, drifting in thought longer than he’d meant to, so he scrambles to help restart their stalled conversation.

“My mother talked me into going. She wanted me to -” he catches himself, just before blurting out: learn how to act more human. A tiny thread of panic tugs at him. Being away from set has his guard down, as he was afraid it would, and he’s far too relaxed around Bai Yu as it is. He can’t let himself slip. He must step more carefully.

“Be more outgoing,” he finishes, a little weakly. “I was… very shy.”

It’s one of his more practiced lies, the one he tells producers and co-stars and media interviewers. Not the truth: that his mother has always been terrified of humans discovering their secret, and harming or exploiting them - even in China, where for centuries his kind were revered and honored (things are different in the modern world, she’s told him many times; humans are different than they used to be back when she was a fledgling like he is now. They have strange new power sources, and are driven by greed; she's had the benefit of more than a century to watch them evolve through war and oppression against each other, and she doesn’t trust them, anymore). He doesn't tell anyone that she always begged him to try to behave as humanly as he could. That he’s taken her pleas to heart since the earliest days of his childhood, observing humans and cataloging the things about himself that are different; mimicking their behavior and changing his own to be less conspicuous. That he isn’t just shy and unassuming, unusual enough for a person in such a public-facing career, but that he intentionally does everything he can not to stand out from the crowd.

“What do you mean, ‘was’,” Bai Yu teases, dropping back just enough to elbow him gently in the ribs. But there’s no mocking in the words, only fondness. Zhu Yilong grins back at him and turns the question around on Bai Yu, who thankfully launches into a nonstop stream of tales from the Central Academy of Drama. In no time at all he has Zhu Yilong laughing along with him, even as thunder begins to rumble, somewhere off in the distance.

A heavy downpour finally catches them when they’re about halfway up the mountain, but Zhu Yilong has been pre-emptively keeping watch for shelter as they’ve gone along, so when the first splattering drops start to fall he drags Bai Yu to a rocky overhang he’s spotted not far away. There’s enough room underneath for them both to sit up comfortably, so they tuck in and have a bite to eat while they wait out the weather.

They sit side by side, their backs against the rock wall, shoulders and thighs touching as they dig into the food. The rain falls in curtained sheets across the entrance to their little hideaway, obscuring the view of their surroundings to a blur of soft greens and browns. Zhu Yilong feels blissfully content in their private hideaway. He wishes they could just stay there until they have to go back to filming. He wishes he could let himself have more times like this, being with Bai Yu and taking space for themselves, away from the chaos of their working lives. He wishes... a lot of things. Shaking his head softly, he buries those thoughts alongside all the others he keeps carefully tucked away out of the harsh light of too much self-examination. He’s never been an overly romantic fool, and no matter how tempted he is by Bai Yu’s casual openness, his thinly veiled attempts at light flirtation - and maybe more - giving in to those invitations would be too dangerous for them both. In more ways than one.

He hears a soft, delicate snore and glances over to see Bai Yu’s head tipped back against the rock, his ubiquitous bucket hat sliding down over his face, his lips parting as his breaths come slow and even. The man really can fall asleep anywhere, Zhu Yilong thinks, smiling fondly to himself. He lets his body drape a little more lazily against Bai Yu’s warmth, snatching the opportunity for closeness while he can, and settles in to wait out the storm.

They reach the trail’s summit, an unofficial overlook at the mountain’s peak, in late afternoon. Both move as close as they dare to the edge of the sharp drop-off, looking out across the landscape in awed silence. It really is beautiful, and Zhu Yilong is grateful for once for Bai Yu’s ability to talk him into things he doesn’t realize that he actually wants to do. The clouds have cleared away and the sun is shining down brightly, but the higher elevation is just as cool and comfortable as they’d hoped. It’s been ridiculously hot on set and heat makes Zhu Yilong indolent, as it does to all his kind; even his little fan is barely enough to keep him awake and alert, sometimes. But up here, as the refreshing breezes caress his face, life seems a lot less complicated.

His attention is caught by some drifting fog raised by the rain showers as it makes swirling patterns through the forest canopy below them, so he doesn’t notice Bai Yu, his camera raised to his face, inching closer and closer to the edge until his foot slips in the loose, wet soil of the overhang that unexpectedly starts to slide away beneath him. He yelps, startled, his arms flinging out wide and windmilling for balance. He drops the camera and it lands with a thud on the damp earth as Zhu Yilong lunges for him, miraculously managing to catch hold of Bai Yu's wrist before he falls.

But before they can each relax into a sigh of relief, the unsteady ground crumbles away beneath their combined weight.

Zhu Yilong keeps an iron grip on Bai Yu and grabs frantically with his free hand for something, anything, as they start to slide over the edge. He catches onto the jutting ridge of a seam of rock that moments ago had been buried under all the dirt now pattering down the sheer cliff face beneath them. He is moderately stronger than an ordinary human, so it’s enough to bring them both to a sudden, jerking stop as he clings to the stone with desperation. They hang suspended like that for a few terrible seconds, Zhu Yilong pressed flat against what’s left of the outcropped edge, Bai Yu dangling freely beneath him. The only part of Bai Yu’s body touching anything at all is the wrist Zhu Yilong holds in his grasp.

He tries to pull Bai Yu up, putting everything he has into the effort, but he can’t with only one arm; even his strength has limits. Bai Yu looks up at him, all the color drained from his face. “Long-ge,” he says, his voice steadier than it has any right to be under the circumstances. “You have to let go, or we’re both going to fall.”

Zhu Yilong cannot answer. His jaw is clenched, every muscle in his body straining with the effort of clinging to both Bai Yu and the side of the mountain, though he knows he can’t hold them both forever. If he could just shift into his other form - but he’s spent too many years fighting his instincts, burying those hidden parts of himself deeper and deeper under layers of artfully constructed humanity. He's never been able to let go of the iron control that it took his entire life to build. If he’d known, back when his mother first tried to teach him, that his failure to shift could cost the life of someone he cared for - that it wasn't just his own safety he'd one day be worried about - maybe he’d have worked longer, tried harder, to get it right.

He can feel his grip on the stone sliding, pulled slowly by their joined weight toward the eventual point of no return. He closes his eyes for a moment - he knows Bai Yu is right, but he cannot let go. He will not let go. If Bai Yu falls, he will not fall alone; Zhu Yilong will take that plunge with him, holding onto him as tightly as he can all the way to the end.

“Long-ge!” Bai Yu pleads. “Let go!”

He shakes his head silently, squeezing his eyes shut tighter against what he hears in Bai Yu's voice. He can’t. He won’t.

There is a tug at his wrist and he opens his eyes, staring into Bai Yu’s pale determined face, so close yet so unreachable. Bai Yu has raised his free hand, and -

“What are you doing!” Zhu Yilong cries. “Don’t! Don’t!

Bai Yu doesn’t respond as he peels Zhu Yilong’s cramping fingers off of his captive wrist. Zhu Yilong watches, horrified but powerless to stop it as he feels his tenuous hold giving way. Their eyes meet again as a flurry of emotions pass over Bai Yu’s face. Zhu Yilong feels each one as a dagger to his heart: grief, regret, adoration, devotion, despair. Everything that’s grown between them in their brief time together, but gone unsaid before now, is written in Bai Yu's expressions, condensing into a final moment of serene acceptance as his grip fails and Bai Yu slips free, falling away without a sound.

Time slows, as though he is watching an action scene play out on a monitor screen, the footage of his own life unfolding in super-slow-motion, frame by excruciating frame. Only there are no wires, no green screen. Bai Yu is falling off the side of a mountain, away from his empty, outstretched hand. Bai Yu is going to die.

Anguish explodes through him, raw and primal, an onslaught of emotions he cannot hold back. All his carefully crafted control vanishes in an instant. Something in his brain clicks under the outburst of unfiltered love, grief and terror, and for the first time in his life Zhu Yilong understands. Long-shuttered instincts that he’s fought into submission since childhood blossom into life; he gives over conscious thought, lets intuition flow to the surface of his mind and take over. Without hesitation he flings himself out into the open air where Bai Yu’s body was a mere second ago, and plummets after him.

He feels the change happening from the inside first - a quick, searing agony, almost like he's on fire. His bones grow, twist, push his body apart as he doubles, then triples, then quadruples in length and mass. His clothes tear off and fall away, but he barely spares them a thought. His fingers and toes elongate at the end of his broadening limbs, sharp claws like a lion’s sprouting from their tips. Armored scales erupt from his tender skin, overlaid next by a silky, feathery mane and coat of deep vermilion that flows out from his body like liquid, rippling when it’s caught by the wind as he falls. It hurts indescribably, the process of shifting, the speed and intensity of it almost blinding. Somewhere on the edges of his altering consciousness the actor in him fleetingly observes that his mother’s description of how shifting feels absolutely did not do it justice.

Then just as quickly as it came the pain is gone, the change complete within a matter of seconds. His vision sharpens, focusing with inhuman intensity on the falling speck below him. He arrows toward it, sinuous and fast. In dragon form, Zhu Yilong can fly with greater speed than gravity can force upon a falling body, so within seconds his talons are closing around an arm and a leg, the closest parts of Bai Yu he can grab.

He twists his body around on itself frantically and pulls the man against his chest, more hampered by the added weight and his own newborn clumsiness than he'd expected. His dragon body is new and strange, and he doesn’t quite know where all of him is in space, yet. He gives up trying to rise back into the sky and flings himself sideways, fighting his instincts, struggling to hurtle parallel to the approaching ground instead of up and away from it. He curls himself into a ball around Bai Yu and shields his fragile body as they crash through a small grove of trees, branches pelting him mercilessly about the head and face before they snap off. He rotates himself as best he can so when they finally hit the ground, most of the force of impact is absorbed by the wide, overlapping armored scales underneath the soft feathery coat on his muscled shoulders. They bounce twice, then skid across the surface, plowing up great clods of soil before abruptly sliding to a stop.

Zhu Yilong shakes his head, dizzy from tumbling, blinking the dirt out of his eyes for a moment before he remembers the precious cargo he is protecting. He unfurls himself and finds Bai Yu still in his paws, curled against his torso, his eyes squeezed tightly closed. Zhu Yilong lays him gently on the earth, then prods his shoulder with his muzzle, his warm breath ruffling Bai Yu’s hair. Bai Yu does not move, and for a few terrible seconds, Zhu Yilong’s heart freezes in his chest.

Then Bai Yu opens one eye, followed by the other. He looks up, and up, until he’s finally looking Zhu Yilong in the face. Zhu Yilong ducks his head shyly, out of habit alone; there’s no need to try to hide the blush that feels like it should be rising in his cheeks, since his formerly delicate skin is now covered in hard scales and silky fur. He wants to shift back, but he isn’t quite sure how he shifted at all, and now that the immediate danger is over he’s probably going to overthink things and be stuck as a dragon forever, but he can’t worry about that until after he’s learned what, exactly, Bai Yu is going to do now that he knows he’s been spending all this time flirting with someone a lot less than human.

“Long-ge?” Bai Yu asks, his eyes wide. “Am I hallucinating? Am I dead? Is it - is it really you?”

Zhu Yilong droops miserably. “I’m sorry,” is all he can think of to say. His voice sounds surprisingly the same in his own ears; maybe a little louder, maybe a bit more resonant. He hopes it helps Bai Yu be less frightened of him, to hear human speech in his human voice coming from his definitively non-human face.

He isn’t expecting it when Bai Yu begins to laugh with sheer, unadulterated delight.

“Long-ge!” he guffaws, pointing up at him in between fits of uncontrolled giggling. “You are an actual dragon!”

Zhu Yilong blinks, then frowns. His panic has died down enough that he is confused - and possibly a little insulted - by the human’s bubbling mirth. Surely he doesn’t look that ridiculous in dragon form. Most of the paintings he’s seen of Chinese dragons like himself have been quite beautiful. So... “What’s so funny?” he asks finally, raising his chin haughtily, which only sends Bai Yu into louder peals of laughter.

“Ah, Long-ge, Long-ge, don’t be offended,” he gasps, when he finally gets himself somewhat under control. “Look, I thought I was about to die, but then I didn’t die, and then I found out the man I’ve spent all this time falling in love with is secretly a fucking dragon. It's a lot to take in all at once, so you’re going to have to be patient for a bit until I can get used to the idea.”

The latter part of what Bai Yu says barely penetrates his awareness. Zhu Yilong’s brain had stopped accurately processing human language after falling in love with; now his fractured thoughts are spinning frantically between this cannot be happening and oh, it wasn’t just me after all. He’s so disconcerted that it breaks whatever conscious or subconscious effort he’s been expending to hold himself in his dragon form. He shifts back unexpectedly, the process of shrinking and compacting back into his human shape even more shockingly painful than the reverse was. When it's over he sinks to his knees, overcome by a sudden wave of exhaustion. He shivers, but not from cold; he feels raw, and exposed. Vulnerable. Small.

Something soft and warm wraps around his naked shoulders and he glances up, surprised. He’d forgotten that Bai Yu was wearing his pack when they went over the edge, yet somehow in all the chaos, it seems that it never slipped off. He pulls the proffered fleece tighter around himself, then realizes that what he’s holding onto are the lapels of his own hoodie.

His favorite hoodie.

The hoodie he thought he accidentally left on set, and hasn’t been able to find for two weeks.

“You took my hoodie?” It should be comical, that after everything that’s just happened, this is what Zhu Yilong focuses on. But he seizes the tiny spark of normality like a lifeline, his innate possessiveness anchoring him in this suddenly upside-down world. The sense of fond frustration with Bai Yu is familiar, and he knows it’s safe, so he pulls the feeling around him as tightly and protectively as he does the fleece.

Bai Yu has the grace to look sheepish, sitting down heavily on the ground next to him, politely averting his eyes from the remainder of Zhu Yilong's nudity. “It smells like you,” is all he has to say for himself, but there is a flush rising in his cheeks, his pupils are blown wide, and in an instant Zhu Yilong has already forgiven the transgression.

But his own adrenaline rush is almost completely worn off by now, his mind is clearing, and that’s the only thing he’s forgiven at the moment.

He fixes Bai Yu with a pointed stare, letting his emotions boil up to the surface again. He’s relieved and grateful they're both alright, but he can still feel the echo of terror in his chest and it makes him lash out, uncharacteristically angry. “How could you do that,” he growls, his voice a low rumble in his chest. “How could you think I would let you go!”

Bai Yu leans in closer and meets his eyes, unblinking and brave. “How could you think I would let you fall with me?” he snaps back, his voice edged with an emotion Zhu Yilong can’t quite parse, something vacillating between anger and apology. The air crackles around them as something shifts again in Zhu Yilong’s chest; something just as primal as before, but this time significantly more - human. They stare at each other, eyes wide, lips parted, the tension between them a distinctly palpable thing.

The next instant, before he can react, Bai Yu’s hands are in his hair and he's pressing their mouths together with a ferocity that Zhu Yilong rises easily, hungrily, to meet. There is desperation in the kiss, and raw honesty, and boundless relief. Bai Yu pulls him in closer with a muffled groan and Zhu Yilong doesn’t resist as they tumble together on the damp, upturned earth. To say they have a lot to talk about is an understatement, and in the back of his mind even as his teeth drag across Bai Yu's bottom lip Zhu Yilong knows this is really a terrible idea. But with practiced ease he shoves that thought into a dark corner of his mind, to be examined another time, as he tugs at Bai Yu's shirt, his hands sliding underneath the fabric to trail across sweat-slick skin.

His deepest secret has been exposed, his true self revealed, yet despite all that the man he desires more than anything else in the world is pulling him closer instead of pushing him away. There will be time later for talking, for explaining. Time later to figure out what this means for both of them, and what they might mean to each other. Right now there is no need for words. He surrenders to letting himself have what he really wants for the first time in his life, concentrating on nothing but the feeling of Bai Yu pressing against him, warm and safe and alive, and finally in his arms.