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Into Character [入戏]

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Zhu Yilong has pretty eyes. That’s something that’s well-known. God knows how many Guardian girls have screamed and cried about how they get lost in his eyes and how he can talk with them. Bai Yu thinks that with the months of those eyes being trained on him, speaking stories beyond their script, it’s no wonder he fell for Zhu Yilong.

As an actor, they all know there’s the danger of getting too into character. There’s a reason so many actors and actresses who play love interests end up together. When you’re so immersed in a role, it feels like it’s a part of you, and that love you feel for the other person becomes a part of you too. Sure, you’re supposed to turn that part off when the cameras shut off, when the director says “that’s a wrap” and you turn around and leave the set, but since when has the heart been good at following guidelines?

And sure in the drama, Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan were ‘only’ friends, but even for watchers who never read or heard about the book, they could tell there was something off. Or not off, maybe, but on, a current between them, a charge they didn’t even have to manufacture because it happened so organically. From the polite handshake and “Hello, I’m Bai Yu” the first time they met to him leaning against the length of Zhu Yilong’s body with a “Long-ge” every time they share a couch.

Bai Yu doesn’t know whom to blame for how he couldn’t leave his feelings behind on set. Then again, how could he get to know Zhu Yilong and not fall for him? Zhu Yilong and how he can deliver an emotionally charged monologue that can bring tears to the audience’s eyes but can’t answer a simple question about himself without stuttering, Zhu Yilong and how he won’t ask for a break even though his waist is hurting him to the extent that he can’t stand up straight the next day, Zhu Yilong who seems so aloof and distant but will laugh until he falls over at Bai Yu’s jokes and look at him, always, like he’s the brightest thing in the room, like he casts everything else into shadow.

Zhu Yilong. Zhu Yilong. Zhu Yilong. (And then, in the corner of his mind, in a different voice from how he usually says it: Long-ge.)

He knows he’s fooling himself if he tries to dismiss his feelings simply as a product of crawling too far into Zhao Yunlan’s skin. He isn’t Zhao Yunlan, and Zhu Yilong isn’t Shen Wei. Zhu Yilong is the mornings of yawning into their steaming noodles, and the afternoons of trying to one-up each other with memes of their ugliest moments, and the evenings of texting about aimless topics until they fell asleep with WeChat still open. Zhu Yilong is the endless days of filming and the fleeting nights of being so immersed in his character that even his dreams would be of the SID, of the Hallows, of Shen Wei. Except Shen Wei didn’t have his glasses and didn’t wear vests and he’d realize he wasn’t dreaming of Shen Wei after all, he was dreaming of the man who brought him to life, who captured millions of hearts, including Bai Yu’s.

Zhu Yilong is the prettiest eyes in the world, framed by the longest lashes, the smoothest voice that would get a whine at times when he talks to Bai Yu, the cutest laugh that doesn’t even seem like it would come from him. He’s all the –ests to Bai Yu, the superlative that hasn’t wormed his way into his heart so much as set up a flag there and claimed it as his own.

And Bai Yu… Bai Yu is fucked.

 

Of course, he doesn’t let any of that show when he actually sees Zhu Yilong.

“Long-ge! Long time no see. You’re even more handsome than before. What’s your secret? Come on, you must do something, don’t hide it from me now.”

Zhu Yilong looks at him in that way of his, something between fondness and exasperation. “Well, I shave, for one,” he says, running a finger across Bai Yu’s stubble, and Bai Yu has to hide his shiver.

“Come on, you love my beard. It complements my beauty. You might cut yourself on a thorn if you’re picking a rose, okay.”

Zhu Yilong snorts. “I don’t know how our fans came up with that for your peach fuzz.” The corner of his mouth tugs up, that line that’s not quite a dimple showing up. “Or mango fuzz, maybe I should say.”

Bai Yu schools his scowl into a smile in the blink of an eye. “You know who likes mangoes? Monkeys.”

Zhu Yilong reaches his arm over as if to hit him, and Bai Yu ducks away – Long-ge can chest press 80 kg like it’s nothing, he’s not going to risk it – but Zhu Yilong only touches his shoulder, light, fleeting. “Xiao Bai,” he says softly, and Bai Yu melts. He expects Zhu Yilong to add something else, but he stops there, at the nickname.

And a rose blooms in Bai Yu’s chest, the soft silkiness of the petals filling his rib cage, while he forgets all about the possibility of thorns.

 

Bai Yu starts jabbering about something, his cast members and his hotel and his favourite new restaurant, and he sees those big, expressive eyes blink more and more slowly, while taking longer to open each time. Exhaustion is practically written over Zhu Yilong’s face, but Bai Yu can tell he’s fighting it, trying to pay attention to Bai Yu, occasionally asking a question or making a warm “hmm” sound that sinks into Bai Yu’s bones.

“Long-ge,” Bai Yu says, fighting the urge to pull Zhu Yilong’s head again his shoulder. “I can tell you’re dead on your feet.”

“I’m fine,” Zhu Yilong insists, even as he poorly muffles a yawn behind his hand.

“You’ve been sleeping, what, only one or two hours every day? You finally have a chance to rest, so take it. Otherwise, you’re just going to nod off now and I’m going to think I talked you to sleep.”

“I like listening to you talk,” Zhu Yilong says sleepily, looking at Bai Yu through his unfairly long lashes, and even as he speaks his body is already teetering to the side.

“Ugh, Long-ge, you’re the older one here, you’re supposed to set a good example for a 90 liner like me. Look at the way you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re going to turn into a wrinkled piece of leather like this, and then what will your fans do…” Bai Yu never thought of himself as a nagging person, but he must be channelling his mother right now because his mouth has decided to forsake its default setting, bullshit mode, and go full-on into lecture mode.

There’s a quiet sound from beside him, not snoring but the murmur of peaceful, even breathing. Zhu Yilong is asleep, head sagged against his shoulder and ridiculously long lashes laid flat across the planes of his cheeks. Bai Yu resists the urge to trace them with a fingertip, and instead gently adjusts Zhu Yilong so that his head is resting comfortably against Bai Yu’s shoulder. He’s reminded of the improvised car scene when he had ‘fallen asleep’ against Zhu Yilong’s shoulder, and Zhu Yilong had pushed him away at first, out of instinct, but then channelled Shen Wei and pulled Bai Yu, or rather Zhao Yunlan, against him.

He can’t help but wish that Zhu Yilong, as himself, would want to pull Bai Yu, as himself, against him.

 

Bai Yu must have fallen asleep too, lulled by the warmth of Zhu Yilong next to him, because he’s awakened by the soft stroking of his hair.

“Xiao Bai, you won’t say anything but you’re tired too, aren’t you?” Zhu Yilong’s voice is gentle, tender, yet deeper than usual with that post-sleep raspiness, and it makes Bai Yu just want to burrow into him and soak him in. His Long-ge, and the hidden warmth behind his cold demeanour, the passionate heart that gets overlooked amidst his awkwardness and reticence. His Long-ge, with his camel lashes and storytelling eyes, the line at the corner of his mouth when he smiles that Bai Yu wants to coax out. His Long-ge, who he truly wants to call his.

The hand stroking his hair stills. “You’re awake?” Zhu Yilong’s voice is still warm, but there’s something a bit different about it. Something missing.

“I shouldn’t even have fallen asleep.” Bai Yu muffles a yawn behind his hand. “Guess I got too comfortable. You make a good body pillow, Long-ge.”

“You need your rest too. I’m not the only one who’s been filming a lot.”

“Naw, your workload is much heavier. You must be raking in the cash, you’re definitely the breadwinner between the two of us.”

Zhu Yilong keeps up with his banter. “What does that make you, the trophy wi—husband?”

Bai Yu puts a hand over his chest and pulls a touched look. “Would you keep me swimming in gold and diamonds, Long-ge? I have high standards, you know.”

“I’ll try my best,” Zhu Yilong says solemnly, with that deep, intent look in his eyes, like he’s Shen Wei, with ten thousand years of buried want and suppressed yearning. Then he breaks into a shy smile and looks away. “I’m really not doing that much, though. You know I like filming. It’s not like it’s a chore.”

Bai Yu nods. “I know you do.” Zhu Yilong has always treated every single project he’s worked on, no matter how trashy the script, like it’s the most important one of his life. He’s always put all of himself into his role. Bai Yu wonders, then, if he’s walked away with Shen Wei carved indelibly into his bones the way Zhao Yunlan is into Bai Yu’s.

“Plus, I’m not… You know variety shows and interviews aren’t my strong suit. I’d rather be filming.”

“Long-ge,” Bai Yu says gently. “Don’t give yourself a hard time over that. Not everyone can be as charming as me, you know.” He makes a V with his thumb and forefinger and places them under his chin.

“Indeed,” Zhu Yilong says wryly, and he’s smiling now, a small one but those lines – like ripples on Lake Baikal – are fanning at the corners of his eyes. “You’re the most charming, Bai Shu.”

“You know it,” Bai Yu says, running a hand through his hair, and Zhu Yilong smiles with his eyes again even as he pretends to make a vomiting face. “Long-ge, you have so many fans and it’s not just because you played Shen Wei or Qi Heng or whoever else. It’s because you’re you. And nobody’s perfect, okay, except for me, so don’t give yourself a hard time over having some flaws. It wouldn’t be fair for you to have a flawless face and personality.”

And of course Zhu Yilong, being Zhu Yilong, latches onto one part and says, “I don’t have a flawless face.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Bai Yu rolls his eyes. “I know, your mom said you’re just ‘ordinary good-looking.’ Then what are the rest of us, ogres?”

“You’re very handsome, Xiao Bai,” Zhu Yilong says earnestly. “You don’t give yourself enough credit.” His gaze turns piercing. “For your looks, or for other things.”

Bai Yu gives an airy laugh. “What do you mean? I just acknowledged my perfection, didn’t you hear that?”

“I must have missed that part,” Zhu Yilong says, all wide, innocent eyes, his trademark I’m-Helpless-Don’t-Ask-Me-More-Questions look in interviews, and Bai Yu shakes his head and sighs. He’s never been good at denying that look.

“Xiao Bai,” Zhu Yilong adds, soft.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

For what? Bai Yu wants to ask, but Zhu Yilong gives him that shy smile, the tips of his ears faintly turning red, and his heart thumps so hard he hears it ringing in his ears. For once, he’s the one without words.

 

“How’s your current project going?” It’s a very PR-friendly question, the type that polite but distant coworkers would ask each other, but Bai Yu is genuinely curious. He wants to know how Zhu Yilong is doing, what he thinks of the drama, the crew, the cast, his character. Zhu Yilong throws himself so wholeheartedly into his projects that it’s both inspiring and endearing.

“It’s good. Great,” Zhu Yilong says and, knowing him, that’s already great praise. “I think that the director and I have a really unified viewpoint on the story. And the whole cast is very dedicated to giving the project the attention it deserves. There’s some great synergy among us.”

And of course Bai Yu is happy to hear that. Zhu Yilong has been in so many trashy dramas that he somehow still lit up in his own way. Even their own drama was hardly the most cohesive or logical one. Bai Yu wants him to have quality projects that can match his talent and drive. But then…why does a part of him ache to hear Zhu Yilong talk about sharing ‘great synergy’ with this new cast, these new people?

“Did I use that word right, ‘synergy’?” Zhu Yilong suddenly asks, with that wide-eyed look of his when he’s worried he said something wrong. “I just learned it the other day on the Internet.”

Bai Yu can’t help but laugh at him. Fondly, but still. “Long-ge, you sound like a grandfather discovering Weibo for the first time.”

Zhu Yilong frowns. “So I used it wrong?”

“No, no, you used it right. And…the leading actress? You have great synergy with her in particular?” Bai Yu uses every ounce of acting ability he has to keep his voice casual and light-hearted, but he sees Zhu Yilong’s eyes narrow at the question.

“She’s good,” Zhu Yilong says, and Bai Yu makes a note to get Zhu Yilong’s agent to remove that word from his vocabulary for a while. “The director says we have great chemistry.”

“That’s—great.” Bai Yu’s voice sounds vaguely choked. “Chemistry is-is so important and all.”

“It is,” Zhu Yilong says slowly. “Not everyone can click.”

“Don’t tell me you click with anyone the way you click with me, Long-ge, you’ll break my heart.” Bai Yu is hitting himself on the inside right now, but he can’t seem to stop his mouth from running. “We’re still the best CP, right?”

“We,” Zhu Yilong repeats. “As in Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan, or Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu?”

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

“I-I don’t know about you, but I thought I left Zhao Yunlan and his feelings behind, but they still haunted me. And then I realized it wasn’t his feelings doing that.”

Zhu Yilong stares at him for a long moment without speaking, without even blinking, his eyes not giving anything away for once, the seemingly calm surface of a still pond whose depths can’t be fathomed.

Finally, just as Bai Yu is ready to try to make a joke out of it all to salvage the situation, he says something.

“Xiao Bai.” And Zhu Yilong’s voice is gentle, so gentle. Bai Yu steels himself for a rejection; of course, Zhu Yilong would be a gentleman about it, as he is with most things, and maybe they could even remain friends afterwards. He can see Zhu Yilong merely sweeping it under the rug, and Bai Yu could try too, he could try to pretend it wouldn’t bother him, that he wouldn’t look at Zhu Yilong and imagine him using those arms to cage Bai Yu in, or those long lashes fluttering shut as those thin lips meet his, or the longing in his eyes wouldn’t be Shen Wei’s but his own. He’s an actor; he could try to play a Bai Yu who is satisfied with only ever being friends. Maybe if he plays that role long enough, he could really become that person.

Zhu Yilong’s next words completely derail his thoughts.

“I thought I was the only one.”

“What?” Bai Yu stares at him like he’s an idiot.

“I thought…” Zhu Yilong licks his lips nervously, lowering his eyes, his lashes fanning over them. “I just. I.” He seems to run out of words and then looks at Bai Yu with the same pleading, helpless expression he does in interviews, when he doesn’t know what to say and trusts Bai Yu to answer for him. Bai Yu has complained many times about needing to brighten the atmosphere or carry on the conversation because of Zhu Yilong’s restricted verbal output, but he’s never said that it means a lot to him how Zhu Yilong trusts him to speak for him, how Zhu Yilong trusts him to hold onto his secrets and reveal the best side of him. Zhu Yilong’s trust means a lot to him. Zhu Yilong means a lot to him. And he was so scared, he still is, that he would lose that trust, that he would lose him.

Maybe he doesn’t have to be scared.

“Long-ge,” Bai Yu says, not ungently. “You’re going to have to say something. I can’t speak for you this time. I don’t know what you’re thinking.”

“You,” Zhu Yilong says, and Bai Yu just blinks at him. “That’s what I’m thinking. You.”

Bai Yu points to himself like an idiot. “Me?”

“Yes, you and your stupid monkey memes that you’ll never let go, and your stupid beard that you think makes you look hot, and your stupid—” Zhu Yilong seems to give up on speech and just makes a hand gesture.

“So basically you think I’m stupid,” Bai Yu says slowly.

“Yes,” Zhu Yilong says decisively. “Because I’m the worst actor in the world when I’m playing myself, you know that”—Bai Yu does know that, because nobody has ever failed so hard to feign interest or amusement like Zhu Yilong—“but you still never saw how I feel.”

“How about you? You never saw how I feel either!”

And Zhu Yilong – how dare he – laughs. “So we’re both stupid, then. How about that?”

Bai Yu pretends to deliberate over it for a moment. “Well, I guess I’ll forgive you, since you were away from civilization for a long time…”

Zhu Yilong has him pinned against the couch in a flash, and it really is every bit as electrifying as Bai Yu’s fantasies, even more than that, to be caged in by those arms, to have those eyes pinned on him with only inches between their faces.

“One more time,” Zhu Yilong warns, his eyes flashing. “If you bring up the monkey thing one more time—”

“What?” Bai Yu challenges, tilting his chin up and meeting Zhu Yilong’s gaze squarely. “What are you going to do, Long-ge?”

Zhu Yilong lowers his mouth.

 

“Also,” Bai Yu interjects when Zhu Yilong is getting them out of their clothes, so desperate about it that he’s fumbling, like his fingers suddenly can’t open a button or pull down a zipper. “My beard is totally hot, don’t deny it.”

“Do you ever shut up?” Zhu Yilong groans, mouthing at his neck in a way that’s definitely going to leave a mark. The makeup artists for his drama will kill him later, but he doesn’t have enough brain cells working to worry about that right now.

“Why don’t you make me?” is Bai Yu’s cheeky suggestion.

Zhu Yilong pins him with a glare that actually sends a shiver down his spine. Not the frightened kind, oh no. He always wondered what his Long-ge would be like when he gets mad, and now he’s getting a sparkling firsthand chance to find out.

“Hey, that’s my shirt!” he protests when Zhu Yilong seems to give up on proper undressing and actually rips his shirt off, sending buttons flying.

“I’ll buy you another one,” Zhu Yilong says carelessly, and that sends another shiver down his spine. Not because of Zhu Yilong promising to buy something for him, but because he’s finally shedding that veneer of composed civility. It’s fascinating, like watching Shen Wei exchange his sleeve garters for the Black-Robed Envoy’s blade.

“I knew you’d be a responsible breadwinner,” Bai Yu purrs. “Or should I call you my sugar daddy?”

Zhu Yilong gives him a sweet smile that he doesn’t trust at all, and sure enough, he follows it up with, “You can call me whatever you want when you’re screaming it” and kisses Bai Yu so heatedly that he’s left gasping and breathless afterwards.

He just knew that getting Zhu Yilong fired up would be a great idea. And Zhu Yilong called him stupid. Hmph.

 

Bai Yu was wrong about one thing. Zhu Yilong is not a gentleman in bed.

And just this once, he’s thrilled to be wrong.