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An Unrealized Truth

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Zhu Yilong wakes up feeling disoriented. He doesn’t remember falling asleep and, taking a look at his phone, it’s late but not late enough for him to have gone to bed yet. Usually he and Bai Yu will talk a bit before sleeping, whether about the scene they filmed today or the scene they’ll film later or something unrelated to filming.

As if on cue, he hears a familiar knock on his door and opens it to see Bai Yu smiling at him and strolling in like it’s his own room.

Bai Yu’s eyes scan over his face. “Sorry, were you sleeping?”

“Huh?” Zhu Yilong runs a hand over his hair self-consciously, realizing that it’s mussed from the pillow. “Oh, no. No, I was waiting for you.” He wasn’t, really, but the words leave his lips with the ease of an unrealized truth.

“Oh.” Bai Yu’s eyes look a little brighter, and Zhu Yilong averts his own, suddenly shy for no apparent reason. “I wanted to talk to you too. It’s a big day tomorrow, huh?”

“Mm,” Zhu Yilong replies noncommittally. For some reason, his mind is a bit blurry and he can’t pull to mind what scene they’re filming tomorrow or even what they did today. It’s so strange. His mind is usually a neatly organized file cabinet from which he can pull out scenes with ease. However, it’s like somebody’s gone through it and scattered all the folders. Maybe it’s his unexpected nap that threw off his memory.

“Long-ge?” Bai Yu asks. “Are you nervous?”

Zhu Yilong blinks. “Nervous?” he repeats.

“Yeah. I know I am.” Bai Yu scratches the back of his head. “I know it’s just a kiss scene but it’s also not just a kiss scene, you know?"

Wait, what? A kiss scene? Between Bai Yu and someone? Since when did Zhao Yunlan have any kiss scenes? Did they decide to last minute add a scene that they didn’t tell him about?

Zhu Yilong must be giving him a blank look, but evidently Bai Yu is used to that expression from him and keeps on going.

“Not that I don’t want to with you or anything! I’m sure you’re a great kisser. I mean, not that I think about it or anything, except of course I’ve thought about it a bit for this scene, but you know, don’t feel pressured! Just, uh, have fun. Or well, not fun but—”

Zhu Yilong is used to Bai Yu’s rambling by now, but even with his vast experience he’s having some trouble making out what Bai Yu’s saying and he intercepts with a blunt, “What kiss scene?”

Bai Yu closes his mouth and then stares at him. “Long-ge, are you pulling my leg? That’s not very nice.”

Zhu Yilong just looks back at him, and his genuine confusion must be written clearly enough over his face that Bai Yu falters.

“The kiss scene between Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan?” he says slowly. “After Shen Wei gets drunk and throws himself at Zhao Yunlan? The scene we’ve been building up to for weeks?”

“B-but—” Zhu Yilong has to swallow. “That scene only happens in the novel.”

“Well, what do you think our show is based on?”

“But.” How could that ever be allowed? Zhu Yilong wants to ask. They already had to cut out so many seemingly innocuous lines that only barely hinted at romance. How on earth can they film a kiss scene? What’s next, he and Bai Yu are going to film a bed scene too?

However, he can’t get any of those words past his lips and he’s left just hopelessly staring at Bai Yu, wishing he’d somehow parse Zhu Yilong’s thoughts like he has the uncanny ability to at times.

“Are you okay, Long-ge?” Bai Yu asks carefully. “Did you hit your head or something?” There’s the barest flicker of playfulness in his voice, but it’s barely there. Mostly, he sounds concerned.

“I. I don’t think so.” Zhu Yilong brings his hand to his head as if to check for lumps.

“Was there something weird about the mushrooms you had for lunch? Or did you have a couple glasses of something while I wasn’t looking?”

“I’m not on drugs, Xiao Bai,” he says dryly. “Or drunk, for that matter. I’m just…” He lets the sentence hang in the air, unfinished. What on earth is he supposed to say?

Bai Yu looks at him for another long moment, scrutinizing, assessing, like Zhu Yilong is a particularly complex script he’s trying to work out. It’s strange to be on the other end of such a look from Bai Yu, who’s usually so open with his emotions.

“What’s the relationship between Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan?” Bai Yu finally asks, like a test, almost.

“Well, they’re. In the novel, they’re lovers, but obviously we can’t film that so it had to be rewritten into a friendship.”

“And why can’t we film that?”

Zhu Yilong gives him an incredulous look. “Do you want to be pulled off air before we even start? They’d never let something like that go through.”

“Something like what?” Bai Yu asks, and Zhu Yilong almost thinks that Bai Yu’s playing a prank on him, but Bai Yu wouldn’t go that far. He may tease Zhu Yilong about his monkey role and aloof aura, but he’s far more sensitive and empathetic than he comes off as and he would never genuinely cross a line. Certainly not a line this thick. “Two men being together?”

“Two men, or two women.”

“Does that disgust you?” Bai Yu suddenly asks, and Zhu Yilong’s eyes widen as he immediately replies, “No, of course not. I mean, it’s not like it’s up to me. In fact, I’ve been trying to—” But he falls silent.

“To what?” Bai Yu prompts.

“We both read the book and we’ve come to a tacit agreement that we should stay true to the characters as much as we can. Of course, there’s only so much we can do, but we’re trying our bests.” Zhu Yilong looks at Bai Yu and thinks about how absurd it is that he’s saying ‘we’ when this Bai Yu isn’t the one he’s gone through so much with. This Bai Yu apparently has no restrictions imposed on him and is preparing for a kiss scene with Zhu Yilong the next day.

Oh God. A kiss scene the next day.

“What?” Bai Yu takes in Zhu Yilong’s expression of sudden panic. “What’s wrong?”

“You said the big scene is tomorrow.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“So I’m supposed to…to”—he can’t bring himself to say throw myself at you—“act that out when I’ve never even seen the script for that scene?”

“Oh.” Bai Yu exhales. “That is…kind of bad.”

Zhu Yilong almost wants to laugh at him reducing such a situation to ‘kind of bad’, except he worries that if he laughs it might turn into hyperventilating. He can’t remember the last time he felt so completely unprepared. He’s been in the industry for so many years now, he’s been in all sorts of dramas, modern and ancient ones, action and romance ones, he’s played the hero and the villain (and in this drama alone, both) but one thing he’s never done and never thought he would do is kiss a man.

It’s not that he’s opposed to it on principle. He’s an actor, after all, and his body is a tool that he puts to many uses for his work. He’s done far more taxing and dangerous things, stunts and fights that he’s even been offered to have a body double do but he insisted on doing as much as he could himself. He’s played damaged, twisted characters that left him feeling hollow or ill afterwards, having crawled far too deeply into their skin for that role. His friends and coworkers have even remarked that he’d be slightly different while filming a role, that he’d take on traits of the character he was playing, and he didn’t view it as a negative thing.

However, there is a huge social taboo on homosexuality, and even in a show based on a BL novel they couldn’t lift it. He questions how anyone can believe that Shen Wei waited for a ‘friend’ for ten thousand years, sacrificed as much as he did and suffered as much as he did for ‘brotherly love.’ Shen Wei’s feelings are not shameful or wrong to Zhu Yilong – how could they be? People have asked him if he would have preferred the same work but with a female main in place of Zhao Yunlan, and he had, every single time, adamantly replied no. Shen Wei wouldn’t be Shen Wei without Zhao Yunlan. There are no such what ifs worth contemplating.

“Long-ge,” Bai Yu says. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?”

“How are you being so normal about this?” Zhu Yilong has to ask.

Bai Yu, unexpectedly, smiles. “Well, I figured that one person panicking between the two of us is enough.” Zhu Yilong wants to deny that he’s panicking, but 1) it’s rather evident and 2) this is Bai Yu, and if he can’t be vulnerable with Bai Yu, who can he vulnerable with? “Plus…”

“What?” Zhu Yilong asks when he breaks off.

“You may have different experiences and memories but you’re still Long-ge. How could I leave you stranded?”

Oh, Zhu Yilong thinks, as something tightens in his chest.

 

“Look, here’s what we’re going to do,” Bai Yu says decisively. “You try to find your scripts, they should all be here, and I’ll go get mine. We’ll talk about what scenes may have changed and, most importantly, practice for tomorrow’s scene.”

“P-practice?”

“Yes.” Bai Yu’s expression is solemn. “I think that’s the most pressing concern right now. If you’re as surprised as you are right now tomorrow, they’ll know something is up. You don’t want everyone to find out that you’re…you know, going through this, right?”

“I thought you were going to use a word like ‘crazy’.”

“You’re not crazy, Long-ge,” Bai Yu says softly, reassuringly, and then breaks into a playful smile. “Crazy good-looking, maybe, but not crazy.”

And somehow, Zhu Yilong still manages to laugh. Bai Yu has that effect on him.

 

Zhu Yilong finds his script, or rather his other self’s script, easily enough. Thankfully, it seems that some things are always the same, as he sees his own handwriting in notes written carefully in the margins, accompanied by plenty of highlighting, circling and underlining. It’s clear the other Zhu Yilong puts as much care into his characters as he does.

Zhu Yilong thought that he knew Shen Wei. He read the novel, after all, with the careful eyes of not only a reader but an actor, with the intent of bringing the character out of the page and into the world. Insofar as he could, anyway. However, he realizes now, looking at this script, just how much they shaved down both Shen Wei’s and Zhao Yunlan’s characters when they rewrote their love story.

Shen Wei’s restraint is even more evident, how much he has to temper, to hold back, like a prisoner inside his own body. His want, so desperate and powerful and yet so bridled, his loneliness, his insecurity, his mortal passion stifled by an immortal existence. All of that reflected in his love for Zhao Yunlan, Zhao Yunlan who so boldly reaches for him and yet he has to constantly remind himself to draw back his hand.

Zhu Yilong finds himself aching for Shen Wei, actually feeling the pain course through his body because he’s put himself so completely into Shen Wei’s place. For a second, when he brings his hand to his chest he almost expects to feel a pendant there.

“Long-ge?” Bai Yu says, hushed, like he’s worried about disturbing him.

Zhu Yilong turns and looks at him, and even though Bai Yu isn’t styled like Zhao Yunlan or even trying to act like Zhao Yunlan, for a moment Zhu Yilong is overwhelmed by a rush of want for him. It’s so heady, so potent that he almost feels like he’s truly waited ten thousand years for him.

Bai Yu takes in his expression and, just like that, his own changes. He reaches for Zhu Yilong, hand curling around his wrist, and the contact is like striking steel with flint. Fire erupts between them.

Zhu Yilong feels it engulf him, and he’s no longer aware if he’s being himself or Shen Wei as he pulls Bai Yu forcefully, almost savagely, towards him and practically devours his mouth. Bai Yu doesn’t offer even a modicum of resistance, his own hands cupping Zhu Yilong’s face, pulling him closer.

They’re sitting conveniently near the bed, and Zhu Yilong thinks, briefly, of throwing Bai Yu onto it the way Shen Wei does with Zhao Yunlan, but he doesn’t want to stick to the script. He doesn’t want this moment to just be practicing a scene, of playing their characters; he wants it to be real and theirs.

Bai Yu’s skin is smooth and surprisingly soft as Zhu Yilong’s hand slips beneath his shirt, tracing a line above his waistband, territory he’s never touched. His waist is thin, his bones compact, and it makes a wave of protectiveness sear in Zhu Yilong’s chest, that he has something precious in his arms that he’d do anything to guard.

Bai Yu pants, leaning backward just a little to murmur, “Baby, you’re too hot.”

That startles Zhu Yilong enough to make him return to his senses, and he stares at Bai Yu, whose heated expression falters.

Bai Yu gives a laugh that’s so obviously forced Zhu Yilong almost winces. “Long-ge, you were so good!” he says, reaching his hand toward Zhu Yilong as if he wants to clap him on the shoulder, but he never makes contact. “So in character. I could almost believe that was Shen Wei.”

Zhu Yilong swallows. “Xiao Bai—”

“Well, that was Shen Wei,” Bai Yu says, lower, almost like he’s reminding himself. “You know, I don’t think you’ll have trouble tomorrow after all. Tell you what, if you still feel unprepared tomorrow we can have a quick run-through before breakfast.”

“Bai Yu—”

He jokes that Bai Yu talks so much he can’t get a word in, but that’s never been true because Bai Yu’s chatter is meant not to be a monologue but to encourage him into a dialogue. However, this time, Bai Yu really is talking over him.

“Have a good night, Long-ge! I’ll see you tomorrow.”

And then, not even looking at Zhu Yilong, Bai Yu rushes out the door like a cyclone, leaving Zhu Yilong rooted to the spot with a storm brewing inside him.