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breaking in thousand pieces

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It had been 1 month, 6 hours, 27 minutes and 6 seconds since they broke up.
It felt surreal when everything ended. It still did. Bai Yu had felt as if Zhu Yilong would come into their shared flat any second, smiling and chuckling, talking about how it was all a joke.. That he truly hadn't planned on leaving him, hadn’t even thought of leaving the flat for real. But he didn’t, and so many days passed, and soon a month came. The agony burning inside Bai Yu’s heart didn’t seem to want to slow or calm down. Instead he would find himself sitting on the now far too big queen sized bed subconsciously too many times over the past month, staring at the framed photo of him and Zhu Yilong on the night stand, stealing the spotlight. He couldn't really bring it over himself to throw it away or at least just put it away. It would feel too real, too final. Instead he would look at it every day he woke up and whenever he would go to bed until he fell asleep.
Every time he would wake up, Bai Yu would feel awful but he knew that he ultimately was the one who had brought this whole matter upon himself. It wasn't a lie that Zhu Yilong had indeed hurt him as well, but Bai Yu had lashed out too much, saying such crude things he didn’t even mean in the first place. Maybe it was because of the immense amount of hurt and anger he had felt that had him spewing such coarse words. But it may also be that he didn’t want to allow himself to be happy?

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Bai Yu came home fully drenched, looking like a wet dog. The rain had soaked through his clothes and his hair but Bai Yu really could really care less. Zhu Yilong had been running after him with an umbrella in his hand, trying to catch up to the fast-paced brown-haired man getting away. But Bai Yu didn’t really stop running away from the older man no matter how many times the latter had been calling out his name to get him to stop. When Bai Yu finally reached their shared flat, he rushed in without throwing another look back at the now whispering Zhu Yilong who was begging him to please stop for a moment. If Bai Yu hadn’t been too angry, he would have just turned around, looked at Zhu Yilong, and slammed the door shut right onto his face. It was what he greatly deserved for sure.
“Bai Yu! Wait for me! I said I was sorry, I didn’t-” Zhu Yilong tried to reason with him but got interrupted by Bai Yu before being able to explain anything further.

“You didn’t… what? Leave me there sitting alone for hours at the restaurant, coming in with colleagues while I waited so long for you? Didn’t mean to forget our date? Didn’t mean to make a total fool out of me?” Bai Yu asked with pain in his voice. His back had still been facing Zhu Yilong while he himself crossed his arms before his chest.

“I didn’t truly mean that to happen! I got really busy at work and—” Bai Yu turned around rather harshly and looked at the man with the most furious eyes. The arms that had been crossed before his chest now had come down to their usual position next to Bai Yu’s tense body.
“And what?! I know you have a lot of work to do at sets but at least care to remember about our dates! This was not only the first time, but the fifth time that I was sitting in a goddamn stupid restaurant waiting for you just like a pathetic dog waiting for its owner to come out of the store while it sits in the rain! You could have just at least informed me that you will come late or that you have a last minute appointment with a producer. I would have understood it, you know? I am also in the business!” Bai Yu almost screamed as he flung his hands in the air and glared at Zhu Yilong with rage burning in his eyes. If looks could kill, this one could have killed Zhu Yilong in a much slower and painful order.

“I really had no time left. I had just been wrapping up the photoshoot and-“ Zhu Yilong tried to explain further but Bai Yu aggressively interrupted him in fury.

“And?? Yeah! You just happen to never have enough time and you never fucking mean such bullshits like this to happen but it happens all the time! You just never consider the importance of how I fucking feel or how my day had been or anything like that and if you are even coming back home in time for me to just see you. Why should we even live together or be together if you can't even afford to have a small amount of time that you can spend alone with me? It's also not like we can just go outside in peace without having those rumours spreading about us being together. If I had known all about this before, I probably would have never given in…to all of this!” Bai Yu gestured wildly between Zhu Yilong and himself. His hands then came to rest on top of his head, gripping his hair with force and looking away from Zhu Yilong. As he paced up and down, he could see how the other man's posture hardened and got stiffer. Zhu Yilong’s face almost slipped for a little moment, his woe on clear display, before he put on a poker face and swallowed hard.
“That’s what this is, huh? You giving in?”, Zhu Yilong almost whispered.

“Yeah, maybe it is! I was normal before I met you, I could have had a happy marriage with a wonderful woman that wouldn’t keep on forgetting our dates but you -- you made me this way with your twisted mind and fantasies!”

In his fury Bai Yu didn’t even grasp what exactly he was saying. All he knew was that he wanted to hurt Zhu Yilong. He wanted to make him feel the way Bai Yu felt while sitting in this restaurant. The sorry looks the other people threw towards him, the way the servers looked after he said that he was still waiting for someone before ordering food. He wanted to hurt and he didn’t care how!

“You say I am at fault for being someone - no something - weird? Is that so? I have tinted and defiled you with my sick and twisted fantasies?” Zhu Yilong almost spit out the last syllables, his face hardening. His eyes were filled with heated rage and pierced Bai Yu. It was a face Bai Yu didn’t even know Zhu Yilong was capable of. As Bai Yu realized in horror what he just said, Zhu Yilong had already turned towards the door and grabbed his coat.

“Don’t call me, don’t even think about writing to me. We don’t want you to get more twisted by me, right?”, Zhu Yilong asked, his words tinted in venom as he stood at the door. Bai Yu wasn’t capable of answering. His mind was twisting with thoughts. All he could do was watch Zhu Yilong turn on his heels, looking outside the door and stopping for one last time.

“I don’t want to see you again.”

Without stopping and without even looking behind, he left, closing the door and leaving the key and all the memories behind. He only spoke seven words but they held so much weight. Bai Yu’s heart sank, a seemingly never-ending pain making itself comfortable at the place Zhu Yilong had stayed before. Everything seemed unreal. Bai Yu felt as if he was in a nightmare that he wanted to wake up from at all costs. But this was no dream. It was the harsh unforgiving truth. No more kisses in the morning, no cuddles whenever they had free time. Nothing. Bai Yu sank towards the ground, tears streaming down his face that he hadn’t noticed before. Seated on his knees, the apartment that felt warm before now felt ice cold. There was no longer a trace of the love that was once sparking in here. It didn’t feel like home any longer.

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But maybe it also was bound to end from the start?
He knew Zhu Yilong always was a workaholic, knew it from the moment he laid his eyes on him. From the very first moment they started filming Guardian and Zhu Yilong wanted to do a retake whenever there was a small mistake or something he didn’t like about his performance, which often resulted in them working from the crack of dawn til midnight.

They met there for the first time and for Bai Yu it was love at first sight. This aloof guy might have seemed unapproachable and very quiet but soon it turned out that he could also be particularly funny and caring. Zhu Yilong would always go out and beyond for his co-stars and co-workers when he was involved in a project. Not only did he try to bring out his best performance, he also cared about everyone and gave them his full attention whenever it was needed. So it happened that as soon as he had found out that Bai Yu had stomach problems just like the character he played -- Zhao Yunlan -- due to him always forgetting to eat, Zhu Yilong made it his task to visit him every morning and go with him to the noodle shop down the road. This regular visit soon became something Bai Yu held dearly to his heart, something that kept him through harder shooting days and nights.

Faster than he would have wished, their time together came to an end. The last scene almost felt like a goodbye not only to Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan but also to each other. They didn’t expect to see each other again.
They thought they might meet once for the press conference, but no one could have imagined the huge success Guardian would become, and with that came recognition and popularity.

They got interviewed a lot and even were able to participate in the famous variety show ‘Happy Camp’. Zhu Yilong always counted on him during these interviews, always too shy to talk first or answer questions. He was happiest when he could just be next to Bai Yu and listen to him talk. They were always close to each other, with one hand on the other's leg, arm or shoulder, an occasional small touch with the fingertips or just touching thighs. Whenever they forgot the people surrounding them, a longing or loving look at each other escaped them. This of course didn’t go unnoticed by fans and soon the first fics and even some rumours started spreading. Zhu Yilong and Bai Yu didn’t care about that. Nobody knew what really was going on between them and no one would ever know.
With their growing fame, more jobs and more advertisement deals started to pour down on them. Even though Zhu Yilong seemed to get more recognition than himself, Bai Yu didn’t care for that. They both took what they could, always ready to kill some free time for some extra work. Who knew how long this high would hold on, how long they would have the luxury of choosing their deals, choosing their roles and dramas?

Maybe he shouldn’t have taken the role of Zhao Yunlan, he thought back with an aching heart. His heart wouldn’t be as broken as it is right now, he would never have met Zhu Yilong. He would be happy now.

His eyes scanned the photo of him and Zhu Yilong standing on his nightstand once again. He should have thrown it away a long time ago. The picture was only a thread trapping him in a life he no longer had. Keeping him in a time they were happy, they loved each other more than anything. They still were together.

The phone in his hand felt heavy. He could call him, talk to him. Casually ask him how he was doing. Maybe it would be just like back then. With a heavy exhale he put the phone down next to him and stood up.

It would be nice to feel happy for once. To forget all the small things that reminded him of his Long-Ge, no. He wasn’t his no longer. So, he did what every responsible adult in his thirties would do. He drank his sadness away. He drank that stupid wine Zhu Yilong had given him once. Drank it out that stupid glass he liked so much and watched the stupid movie that always made his Long-Ge laugh. And soon he found his pathetic self on the floor, writing to him again. It was probably the 25th message he sent to him during this time. There was never an answer. He didn’t dare to check if he was online and not writing to him, not clicking on the chat but still seeing all the pathetic attempts he made at contacting him. Another Sorry, another I miss you, another Please talk to me, Long-Ge. Don’t ghost me, but just like all the other times, he didn’t receive an answer.
He scrolled through the chat, reading all the small and sweet messages they had sent each other when they still had been together. Another thread binding him to the time before the break-up. A time of happiness. He stumbled over some photos they had sent each other. Some dirty, some sweet. Long-Ge sitting somewhere reading his script thoroughly, Bai Yu kissing Long-Ge on his cheek, a smiley dad with his two dogs, Bai Yu sitting on the couch wearing a way too big sweater while smiling sweetly into the camera. Oh, he remembered that day.

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It was a particular cold day in Shanghai. Zhu Yilong had surprised him with a visit, even though he was extremely busy and had a full schedule. They cuddled all day long, had a romantic time in the bathtub, and afterwards, he stole one of Zhu Yilong’s sweaters out of his bag. It smelled just like him. So he put it over his head and smiled brightly at the doe-eyed Zhu Yilong who looked at him with an amount of adoration not one person Bai Yu had met could match. He had taken his phone out right afterwards, took a photo and soon the sweater was off again and many kisses were shared besides other things.

Sadly Zhu Yilong had to leave when the dawn of the new day painted the sky in a soft yellow. But he had worn the sweater all night just as Bai Yu had requested so sweetly. When Bai Yu had woken up, he had found the sweater neatly folded next to his pillow with a small note attached to it
‘Keep it - Long-Ge’

A smile had made itself a home on his lips this day, when he looked at the note. Bai Yu could keep the sweater and so he did. In the following lonely night, he had pulled it closer to his chest and slept soundly with the calming scent of Zhu Yilong.

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Bai Yu stood up and walked to his wardrobe. A fond feeling had situated itself in his broken heart, and with his slightly intoxicated mind, he longed for the sweater he still had somewhere in his closet. And he was right, the sweater was still lying where he remembered leaving it. He had put it there without washing it to preserve Zhu Yilong’s smell. As he looked at the sweater, his hand started reaching for it like he was in a trance. Soon, it was not only in his hand but also pushed against his chest, and a small whimper escaped him. As he brought it to his nose to smell the person he was missing so dearly again, he realized that the smell was no longer there. Another thing he lost through time. Even though the smell no longer lingered on it, it still brought him comfort. It comforted him, yet it also made his heart ache because of the memories attached to it. As a small tear rolled down his cheek, Bai Yu took a photo of it and sent it to Zhu Yilong. “Hey, I still have your sweater. Don’t you want it back?”, he wrote, attaching the photo. It clearly was a stupid idea. He won’t answer this message nor any other messages he has sent him over the past month but somewhere in Bai Yu was the lingering hope that maybe, just maybe, he would answer this one.

The moment he realized Zhu Yilong went online, his heart stopped. Maybe there would be an answer this time after all. This one time. But he knew there wouldn’t be an answer. There never was an answer, not even a birthday message. But Bai Yu’s eyes stayed fixed on the screen, hoping foolishly that it would be different this time. Some seconds later, the point next to Zhu Yilong’s name told him that he went offline again. Bai Yu felt pathetic for even thinking for a moment that there would be an answer. Frustrated, he threw the phone on the bed. Hugging the sweater, pushing it hard against his chest and face and then deciding that he would be better off just wearing it. He didn’t care that it would be too hot. He wanted to feel the comfort of the soft material on his skin again, knowing his Long-Ge had worn it. And that he had left it with him even after the break-up.

After a bit of struggling -- thanks to the amount of alcohol he already had consumed -- he had finally succeeded in putting the yellow sweater with a white smiley face on it. A smile painted his face but with a loud exhale, the grin fell into a grimace. Instantly, tears started rolling down his face, soaking the yellow sweater from Zhu Yilong. In the darkness of the night, this grown man only felt like a small ant. Bai Yu grabbed for his heart that didn’t stop aching, clutching the fabric over his chest because it was the only thing he could reach. His tall, lean body fell back on the bed that once had two people spending their nights in it. With quiet sobs and big tears still rolling over his sunken cheeks, he slowly rolled into a round ball of sorrow. He hated Zhu Yilong for not answering, he hated him for leaving small parts of himself in this apartment, he hated his own betraying heart for hurting this much, but mostly, Bai Yu hated himself for letting Zhu Yilong leave.

For a long time, the only thing one could hear were quiet sobs that slowly died down with time. When the small ball opened his eyes again, he saw his phone light up. Who the hell would write or call him at this time? Bai Yu had to be honest -- he didn’t even know how late or early it was. His bedroom was dark regardless of the time as the curtains were always pulled in front of the windows to keep out the noisy paparazzi and the always way too enthusiastic sun. But as the screen lit up and died down again, a small glimpse of hope lit up in his ever so eager heart. Could this be a message from Zhu Yilong? Did he see all the messages and forgive him? Was it all a misunderstanding? Was it all a bad dream which he had been woken up from? Bai Yu almost jumped towards the smartphone and tried to unlock it. Sadly, it turned out that the device had died down from a dead battery. That wasn’t possible! Not now, when there was the possibility of his Long-Ge replying to him! Bai Yu jumped out of the bed in seconds which made him a bit dizzy at first. Thank god the bed was closely placed to a wall which provided much needed help for his balance. When Bai Yu felt less dizzy, he looked up, almost jumping at the sight in front of him. He had forgotten that there was a mirror placed with a view toward the bed -- which had been used inappropriately once or twice while he and Zhu Yilong still were together -- and that now greeted him with his own miserable look. Bai Yu’s eyebags were painted almost black thanks to the many hours of lost sleep, his eyes and his cheeks still wet from the tears that he had cried for who knew how long. He looked like shit. Bai Yu let out a huff with a crooked grin on his face and then looked away. He didn’t have to look at himself longer than that, he had a goal he suddenly remembered. The dead phone still in his hand, he ran towards the living room where he had last used the charger, almost tripping over some clothes he had left on the floor because he did not really care about them decorating his floor.

When he finally plugged in the charger, the phone finally started up and Bai Yu’s heart started beating faster. Soon he would know if his Long-Ge had written to him or even called him. His heart jumped at the thought of it and his eyes kept plastered on the screen, which now asked for his SIM lock. Damn! He didn’t know it out of his head, his screen lock code he knew from his heart but the SIM lock? How often does one shut down one’s phone in the year of 2020 anyway? He silently cursed himself and ran towards the small box on top of the shelf he imagined the code was still resting on. The box had already collected dust, which Bai Yu blew away with one big puff. On the box was a small sticky note with a small message written on it.

‘In case you forget it again - Long Ge’

Bai Yu’s heart stopped for a second. Remembering the day wouldn’t be a good idea but his heart was greedy in nature and so his head fed him small snippets of that day. How Bai Yu had walked up and down the hallway, putting everything upside down searching for that stupid card with his PIN and PUK on it. How he had searched for hours and how Zhu Yilong had found him when he came home. Bai Yu, full of sweat and with a face painted in horror, just made Zhu Yilong sigh with a small laugh. Said young man had gone towards one of the drawers, opened it, and fished out a piece of plastic.

“You left it here with the words -- and I would like to quote you here -- ‘I will remember where I left it, and besides, how often does a smartphone die in this modern age?’.” He remembered how Zhu Yilong had given it to him and how he had smiled so warmly and full of love. The very next day, there was a small box on the shelf with a small note attached to it. Bai Yu had looked over to Zhu Yilong, who had only winked at him knowingly.

With the code finally in his hands, he ran towards his phone. The memories only fueled the glimpse that had been awakened and had become a flaring flame of hope and need for the warmth Zhu Yilong always had captured in him.

After he put in the six digit number, he had to put in the screen lock code. 880416. He knew that date all too well and he didn’t need any note to remember this one. A small smile formed on his lips, which dropped as soon as he saw from whom he had gotten a message.
It wasn’t Zhu Yilong. The heart that did flips just seconds ago almost stopped in its movement. Why would Zhu Yilong answer him? He made clear several times that this thing between them is over, that the things they once had are no longer. Bai Yu was close to throwing the phone away in a fit of sadness but instead looked on WeChat and opened the chat with the director for the new movie he was participating in. He had sent him an invitation for a dinner this evening, where all the actors participating in the movie will meet for the first time. It was a new project and there was no way he couldn’t participate at the very first meet-up with all his new colleagues. He read it further and almost choked on his spit when he found out when the dinner was going to be. He only had 30 minutes to put on some presentable and clean clothes, make himself look like a human again, and drive to the restaurant as fast as possible. And even worse, his phone still needed to charge. He would go with a half-charged phone to an event, he won’t be able to drive back on his own. Bai You was sure that he would be drinking at least some glasses of beer and he wasn't stupid enough to drive intoxicated. Which meant that, if he wanted to get back without relying on the generosity of someone, Bai Yu had to save some battery while he was at the dinner. Bai Yu exhaled deeply, replied to the director that he might be a bit late because of traffic, and put down his phone. A small lie never hurt anybody, especially since it didn’t seem as if he was the one in fault here.

First, he took out a blue button-down shirt and one of his tight black pants and put them aside to wear after a nice refreshing shower. After a much needed shower, he went to the sink and looked at the mirror right above it. Bai Yu tilted his face slightly sideways and looked at his reflected features. With a bit of hesitation, he took the electric razor and cut down his dark beard and then used a regular razor to create a perfect clean shave. The beard reminded him too much of his time on the set of Guardian and how they have met. He didn’t like to think about Zhu Yilong, and he definitely didn’t want to get reminded by his reflection every time that he had first met Zhu Yilong while he was rocking this beautiful beard. It really was a shame. But Bai Yu wanted to leave Zhu Yilong behind. After all these days, there was no reason for him to hope that Zhu Yilong would answer or call him back. He really was pathetic to think that there was something to save, that Zhu Yilong wanted to save this relationship at all. The face of a younger man smiled crookedly back at him and he had to look away from his own reflection. Pathetic. A laugh escaped his dry throat, while his clenched fist landed on the sink. He really was pathetic, but this evening, this night, he would be happy! He wouldn't let Zhu Yilong stop him from enjoying this evening with new and nice actors. Maybe he would even find someone that would make him happy, even though Bai Yu normally wouldn't date colleagues. Especially after everything that happened with Zhu Yilong. And once again his thoughts went to the person he tried to not think about in the slightest. Oh, Bai Yu hated how predictable he himself was.
A long exhale escaped his mouth and Bai Yu slowly got up, straightening his back and smiling at his reflection. This evening will be nice. He will have fun and he will socialize and most importantly, he will forget all the thoughts circling around in his head. He gave a thumbs up back to his own cheeky reflection and promptly received one back, which made him giggle a bit.

When he finally arrived at the restaurant, most of the actors already seemed to be seated at the table. After greeting everyone accordingly, he sat himself on one of the few free chairs and smiled at the group. It seemed they were a big group, around 20 people so far if Bai Yu counted correctly, and counting the still unoccupied chairs, there was still one person missing. Who the hell would come this late to a meet-up with a colleague?

And then he walked into the room. The person Bai Yu wanted to forget so badly. The one person he swore not to think about. The person that broke his heart and Bai Yu his.

Zhu Yilong.

He walked in, sporting a wonderful dark blue turtleneck with a suit of the same color. His hair had grown slightly longer -- Bai Yu loved how one of his locks already loosened itself from the styled hair and fell in front of his eyes. He looked stunning, god-like almost and Bai Yu already saw his composure crumbling just by seeing him again. Everything in his heart longed after Zhu Yilong -- after his touch, after his voice, after his eyes lingering on him. He wanted to be the only person in this room that mattered to Zhu Yilong. Just remembering the feelings that Zhu Yilong inflamed in his body and mind, his heart skipped a beat, jumping in happiness in his chest, and then their eyes met. But there wasn’t a smile and hug that followed. Instead, the soft brown eyes looked away and closed for a moment longer than needed. It was something no one else but Bai Yu might have noticed, along with the almost unnoticeable pause in his walk which Zhu Yilong overplayed by trying to find the table and needing to look around. Bai Yu’s heart sank. Zhu Yilong wasn’t his boyfriend anymore and he was definitely no longer his friend. A wave of sadness crushed against his chest, making him feel as if there was no air in his lungs anymore, a heavy feeling stopping him from gathering new air or even standing up. Suddenly, Bai Yu jumped up from his seat, which gathered everyone’s attention. Some glasses and plates clattered at the force Bai Yu had jumped up, one salt shaker threatening to fall but gladly found its balance again after some time. All eyes were turned towards Bai Yu. Even Zhu Yilong had stopped walking to look at Bai Yu in shock, his face changing from a shocked expression to an indifference Bai Yu had only seen on Zhu Yilong when he didn’t really like the person he was looking at.

One of the actresses -- the one sitting right to his left -- slowly put her hand on Bai Yu’s arm and smiled at him.

“Bai-Shu, are you alright?” Bai Yu needed a moment to catch his breath before he answered with a smile.

“Ah yes, yes! I just thought I had left the stove on.” Bai Yu laughed and lowered himself into his seat again. In the reflection of the glass filled with some wine in front of him, Bai Yu realized how panicked he looked and tried to put on a smile again. He had to calm down again. He couldn’t let Zhu Yilong affect him so much, especially since Bai Yu was sure Zhu Yilong didn’t feel the same. His beating heart that threatened to fall out his chest slowly calmed down. You no longer love him. You said so yourself, Bai Yu tried to say to himself over and over again. But a small nagging voice in his head did keep reminding him over and over again what he was actually telling himself.

A lie.

But Bai Yu didn’t care. Even if it was a lie, even if he himself might have some feelings for Zhu Yilong, Bai Yu had to bathe in the lie. He had to survive this evening at least. Just one evening, how hard could it be?

Some eyes were still resting on him and watching him carefully. Bai Yu must have looked so weird just a few minutes ago. He himself might have stared as well, if he would be honest. But he didn’t care about the stares. All Bai Yu cared about was Zhu Yilong slowly coming closer to the table. He looked aloof as always but as he got closer to the big table he greeted everyone with a bow and a small smile resting on his lips. Bai Yu watched his every move as if Zhu Yilong was just a fantasy playing in front of his eyes. He still couldn’t grasp that Zhu Yilong really was here and that he looked so good. He had worked out more, Bai Yu could see it clearly. His arms were bigger, more muscular and he was sure Zhu Yilong’s front had grown as well.

Another thing Bai Yu realized while staring at the man of his dreams -- whose heart he had broken and fucked up hopelessly -- was the tired eyes. Zhu Yilong might have become good at hiding them but Bai Yu realized that he was tired. He was probably overworking himself. When did he have his last vacation? His last break?

He rudely got thrown out of his thoughts when he realized that Zhu Yilong seemed to get closer to him. He could almost smell his cologne over the several other smells in this restaurant. He looked around, thinking about maybe changing his seat but there was only one chair free and that was the one right besides him. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. FUCK! Bai Yu’s heart started beating fast and his hands got all sweaty. This really was his stupid fucking luck! It didn’t take long until Zhu Yilong seated himself on the chair right next to him. His cologne -- Rose Prick by Tom Ford -- dominated all the other smells around Bai Yu, bringing back memories he wouldn’t like to go into right now. It took him some time to look to his side and see Zhu Yilong up close. Right above his lip were a hint of a slowly growing beard that made him look even more manly than before. Zhu Yilong apparently had tried to shave it off but the quickly growing beard was all eager to show itself to the world and Bai Yu. Seeing Zhu Yilong so close, his heartbeat sped up again, his heart trying to break through his ribcage again. He had to look away. Quickly he turned around again, looking at the full glass in front of him. Bai Yu wasn’t sure if he would survive this night but he could make it a bit easier for himself. And the answer was right in front of him.

Alcohol and noodles.

Without any more thought, Bai Yu threw the first glass of wine down his throat and filled it up again. He would pay for the wine himself so he wouldn’t feel bad for drinking all too much. More often Bai Yu was a moderate and slow drinker, only drinking when needed or when at a party. This meet-up was paid by the production company though, making him feel guilty for eventually drinking too much.

The fine wine went down his throat smoothly, and he downed yet another glass filled with wine. The alcohol slowly heated up his body and his cheeks became slightly pinker. Even though Bai Yu could handle his liquor quite well, he quickly became intoxicated by the alcoholic beverage. Once in a while he talked with the others, smiling brightly and laughing wholeheartedly, but the glass of wine never left his hand. And once in a while he heard a laugh coming from his right where Zhu Yilong was still sitting. The warm tune rang in his ears for a long time, making his heart jump and his guts dance in joy. But he soon remembered that this feeling wasn’t something he was allowed to feel. He wasn’t allowed to feel happy hearing the laugh of someone who he hurt so badly and who obviously didn’t want anything from him anymore. The heart that was doing flips before now crashed down harshly, breaking in a thousand pieces. They were too many to pick up but he glued them together anyway. He wouldn’t let Zhu Yilong win this game.

The alcohol didn’t stop his mind, instead making it even more creative and more imaginative. Zhu Yilong’s cologne was still the only smell that was dancing around his nostrils and didn’t help his case a bit. His mind started playing with his memories. Kisses they had shared while Zhu Yilong had worn the cologne, nights under the sheets where their passion had overwhelmed them. Heat shot up at his cheeks and Bai Yu had to swallow hard because of the very lively images playing in his mind. He moved his chair slightly towards his left, bringing more space between Zhu Yilong and himself. But it didn’t change a bit. He was still too close.

Way too close.

He had to get away from Zhu Yilong as fast as possible but going home wasn’t an option. The talks about work and their soon to be big project had ebbed down and Bai Yu didn’t plan on missing out on this small and nice gathering. Even someone less social like Zhu Yilong knew about the common courtesy and Bai Yu surely wouldn’t break these kinds of traditions only because his ex attended the same dinner as him. Ex. It was weird calling Zhu Yilong that way. After all, that someone still was his Long-Ge and a noisy voice inside his head wanted him to still be Zhu Yilong’s Xiao Bai. The same one he wasn’t sure how to call in front of the interviewer, making for a funny compilation of Lao’s and Xiao’s until finally settling on Xiao Bai. Yet his traitorous mind made clear that these times were behind, breaking the heart of the slightly intoxicated man once again this evening.

Trying to get out of these melanconical feelings, Bai Yu got up and put his hand flat onto the table. A small huff escaping his nose in the process.

“I am going to get some more drinks. Does someone want something as well? I am paying!”, he said with a smile, looking around. It wasn’t uncommon that everyone would pay for one round of drinks so everyone who wanted a drink was informing Bai Yu about what they craved for. He quickly noted it down on his phone until a dark warm voice came from his right side.

“Can I get just a simple beer?” Zhu Yilong looked at him with a face that Bai Yu once again couldn’t decipher. Sadness? Longing? No, that wasn’t possible. Bai Yu just looked at him for several seconds. Somehow he hadn’t even thought about Zhu Yilong requesting something to drink as well. The sheer fact Zhu Yilong had talked to him, made his heart race, taking away all the blood needed to think and shooting it right to his ears and cheeks. With trouble the young man tried to calm down his beating heart. A hand found his shoulder and dark brown eyes looked at him concerned. The hand on his shoulder felt heavy, burning into his skin and leaving behind marks no one could see. Bai Yu felt sick to the stomach as everyone's attention rested on him. “Hey, are you okay?”, Zhu Yilong asked with a whisper. These eyes were full of concern, yet in Bai Yu’s mind only one thought repeated itself over and over again.

This was the first time they talked to each other after the fight. The very first thing Zhu Yilong asked him was if he could bring him a beer.
Bai Yu would have laughed if he didn’t feel like crying. Zhu Yilong just stared back at him, not taking his eyes off him for a second before turning his head and laughing. The burning hand on his shoulder gone, only the burning heat staying behind, still lingering on Bai Yu’s skin.
“Aiya! Was it such a weird request?” Zhu Yilong looked away from the other people and looked at Bai Yu again. This time with a fake smile and Bai Yu felt his composure crumble as he noticed that there was taunt in Zhu Yilong’s words. “I thought you liked the simple things.” Bai Yu almost jumped when the voices of the people surrounding them started to get clearer again.

“Ah, n-no. I am sorry, I might have drank too much already.” Bai Yu tried to save himself the embarrassment but it was already too late. He was the center of attention and even if he would have been able to handle it in a normal situation, this wasn’t one of them. He tried to come up with a joke, an excuse or anything but the only joke there was him himself. Bai Yu walked away without a look back, trying to not think about the giggles that followed him even after his back was already turned towards the table. He wanted to leave this place so badly but he also didn’t want to lose the silent fight he was having against Zhu Yilong. Zhu Yilong seemed to enjoy his time here, was happy and didn’t seem to be all too affected by their breakup and their unplanned get-together. While Bai Yu was sure his sheer panic was visible for everyone in the room. Bai Yu hated how happy he looked. Yes, he should be happy that Zhu Yilong was feeling good but there was also the nagging feeling inside his heart that wanted Zhu Yilong to feel as hurt as he did himself. Why didn’t he seem as affected? How can he smile so much? Is he really happy or is he only playing the role of the happy and nice guy next door?

As he walked towards the bar, Bai Yu didn’t notice the eyes following his every move. Just as he started to order the drinks for his table, someone appeared next to him. There was the smell of a cologne that haunted his dreams mixed with a manly musk he knew all too well. It couldn’t be, right? It couldn’t be that he was next to him again. Why should he? With a small turn of his head, what he feared was confirmed. There he was. He was standing next to him, slightly shorter than Bai Yu himself, in his wonderful dark blue turtleneck and sleeves rolled up because it had become warmer fairly quickly. There were some small sweat beads on his forehead and his now more ruffled hair felt so familiar. It reminded Bai Yu about the night spent in bed together and the day they woke up in each other's arms, sharing kisses and cuddles as the sun was already burning in the sky. Bai Yu had to look away as his heart couldn’t take in the view, the memories dropping down on him. But it was too late, his heart was beating quickly in his chest and Bai Yu felt as if it were trying to break free every moment.
“Are you okay?” came the warm dark voice from his right and Bai Yu’s heart jumped again. Bai Yu didn’t want to answer this question. He couldn’t possibly be honest and Zhu Yilong knew him well enough to notice his lies anyway, so why even bother answering in the first place? A small huff escaped his throat before he could even answer. He fixed his eyes on the countertop that suddenly looked really interesting.

“Kinda weird seeing you like this again, huh? We are trapped in this... situation,” Bai Yu laughed, still staring at the countertop. “You and I both need to attend this and make it seem as if we are still good acquaintances.”

A small laugh escaped Zhu Yilon’sg lips which made Bai Yu look up from the countertop. Zhu Yilong’s eyes were fixed on the brown-haired, clean-shaven man who now returned his gaze. “We are actors, right? And you are a good one for sure. How else had you been able to play the role of a lover for over a year otherwise? This should be an easy task for you.” Bai Yu’s smile dropped instantly at these words. His heart was smashed into a thousand little pieces once again, even though he had so carefully put them together before to keep his composure.
“I didn’t mean it that way, you know? I--” Bai Yu tried to explain the thoughts and feelings running a marathon inside his head. He didn’t know how to explain himself. What exactly did he want to achieve that day? Did he just want to hurt Zhu Yilong or did he really feel that way? It felt all too real during that time. He knew that a small voice inside his head always thought about Zhu Yilong as twisted and weird. That his sexuality was weird, that it wasn’t normal to be like that. He didn’t like that voice but it still existed, and on that day, it broke free. Bai Yu knew it would hurt Zhu Yilong, he knew it all too well. He knew Zhu Yilong was struggling with his sexual identity, especially in the business where he was in society's view all the time. But it didn’t hinder him. Bai Yu used this weakness of Zhu Yilong against him. It was his fault things worked out like that, right?
Zhu Yilong went quiet for a moment. A small sigh escaped him before he spoke, a smile on his lips.

“Yeah, you just said this to hurt me and you succeeded, didn’t you?” Zhu Yilong didn’t look at him, his eyes got unfocused and instead fixated on something on his left but Bai Yu didn’t mind. He himself couldn’t keep looking into Zhu Yilong’s eyes either. It was just too hurtful for him. Bai Yu hated this conversation, nothing was working out. He didn’t want to argue with Zhu Yilong again, he didn’t want this to go downhill again just because he didn’t know what exactly he was planning to say.

“Long-Ge, I--”

“Don’t. Don’t even think about calling me that way. We aren’t that close anymore, aren’t we? You decided against it.” Zhu Yilong looked Bai Yu straight in the eyes, a painful smile making itself at home on his face. Next to them, the bartender put some of the drinks down on a tray and Zhu Yilong nodded towards him in gratitude for the small gesture. Bai Yu let some air out of his lungs, looked towards the floor, and then fixed his eyes on Zhu Yilong again.

“Zhu Yilong. Even if you were hurt, you hurt me as well, you know that, right? And instead of fixing it with me, you ran away. I tried to call you, to text you but you kept silent and you know what? I don’t care about it anymore. I tried fixing what was broken but you clearly told me with your silence that you don’t think that this thing between us was worth fixing.” Bai Yu’s eyes were still fixed on Zhu Yilong. The doe-eyed man looked shocked and hurt for a few seconds but hid that fact under a mask of smiles. Instead of keeping the gaze, Zhu Yilong turned towards the bar and kept silent. Bai Yu couldn’t handle seeing him this way. This grown man looked so much smaller and fragile. Bai Yu wanted to say something. He wanted to make Zhu Yilong feel better, he never could watch him be sad. So Bai Yu once again started to talk first and smiled at the sunken drop next to him. “But...we can talk about it. Just...not now?”

Zhu Yilong’s head shot up and he looked at Bai Yu with eyes full of emotions. These eyes sadly stopped looking at him before he even answered.

“Maybe we can talk after this?” Zhu Yilong asked with slightly tinted ears. His ears were always the first place Zhu Yilong got red and let his shyness be known.

“Maybe we can. Let’s see how long the event will be, alright?” A reassuring smile settled on Bai Yu’s face. He knew he couldn’t let this opportunity go. He knew that Zhu Yilong might not want to talk about it another time, that he probably was too scared to start the topic once again if Bai Yu wasn’t the one initiating. So he had to seize this opportunity, he had to take it, even if it wouldn’t change anything in the end. The bartender finally put down the second half of the drinks and Bai Yu threw him a smile and a thankful nod, taking one of the trays, which had several glasses filled with alcoholic beverages seated upon them.

“Would you help me with all the drinks? I think that’s probably the reason you followed me in the first place, didn’t you?”

“Ah yes, of course.” Zhu Yilong’s eyes followed Bai Yu’s hands before he himself grabbed the other tray.

“Then let’s get them their drinks,” he said before Bai Yu started going ahead. Bai Yu felt the warm brown eyes piercing through his back, not leaving him for one second, and somehow that made him feel warm. He was no longer scared to be under the attention of Zhu Yilong. He felt reassured, calm even. He felt safe, something he didn’t feel in a long time. When they put the glasses on the table, everyone thanked them for bringing them. Bai Yu seated himself on his chair and took the one drink he had gotten for himself. He was sure that Zhu Yilong would stop looking at him altogether now, and knew that he would get back into the role of the nice, social guy that liked being here. He was sure that the eyes would leave him, he expected it to happen any second but instead of doing just that, they stayed on him. Bai Yu didn’t even have to look to make sure that he was right, he just knew.

The time at the table passed more quickly than before. Soon, it had become rather late and the first groups excused themselves. While Bai Yu had drunk a lot more than Zhu YIlong, he seemed to be less affected by the effects of his consumed alcohol. When Bai Yu looked at Zhu Yilong’s face, he saw that it had become red from the alcohol he had consumed. Even though Bai Yu felt a bit dizzy, he still wanted to hold this conversation. He couldn’t let him slip away once again, so he threw over his coat, grabbed Zhu Yilong’s arm and almost pulled him with him. Zhu Yilong looked shocked for a second, but after a moment his mouth formed into a lopsided smile and he followed Bai Yu without hesitation. Bai Yu wasn’t sure if it was the use of alcohol that made Zhu Yilong follow him right away, that let him get pulled away from the group of people that still wanted to stay at the restaurant or if it was because he trusted him that much. No matter what the reason was, his heart made a few jumps and started pumping loudly. Of course his hand started to get sweaty as well. Ah, Zhu Yilong probably heard his heartbeat already. He had to because it was way too loud for his own good. Mixed in this happy and excited feeling was also anxiety he felt due to the circumstances and the reason they will be alone soon.

They stood outside the restaurant, the cold night air making their breath visible, and next to him, Zhu Yilong lit a cigarette. Apparently he had started smoking again after they had broken up. Bai Yu remembered how Zhu Yilong had stopped smoking some weeks after they had been living together. So many things had changed after they parted. Bai Yu had expected Zhu Yilong to let go of his hand as soon as they got outside but their hands were still clasped together. If Bai Yu wasn’t imagining things, Zhu Yilong even put more pressure on his hand. He surely was imagining things, it couldn’t be that the man next to him, his ex still had feelings for him, right? But Bai Yu also didn’t have the strength to let go of Zhu Yilong’s hand so they stood there together. On the cold autumn night, cars passed by and the walkway was slightly lit by lights positioned every 3 meters.

“I thought you quit,” Bai Yu remarked and looked at Zhu Yilong for the first time since Bai Yu had grabbed his hand and pulled him outside on the street.

“Old habits die hard, don’t they?” Zhu Yilong asked and let out some of the smoke while speaking. He was not even trying to pull his hand away, the one that Bai Yu was grabbing so strongly. “Does it bother you? I can put it out.” He then asked with clearer and more sober eyes and was about to throw that glimmering stick onto the paveway.

“Ah no-- I mean, you don’t have to do that for me.” Bai Yu declined Zhu Yilong’s offer with a fast head shake that made him dizzy for a second. The cold air had made his thoughts clear up again and had made the dizziness go away earlier, but obviously Bai Yu found out in the worst way possible how a head shake could bring the dizziness back again.

The street was gladly almost empty besides some drunk pairs stumbling back to their homes or into the next bar. For a moment they stood there in silence. Not one of them saying a word, just savoring the silence and calm before the storm, before the talk that had to come regardless. This was the very first time Bai Yu found himself not ready to take the first step. He was too tired to keep on walking towards Zhu Yilong only so he would take several steps back, putting a bigger clift between them.

“Where do you wanna go?” Zhu Yilong started and all Bai Yu could answer was a confused “Huh?” It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what Zhu Yilong had asked or implied. It was just that Bai Yu didn’t expect Zhu Yilong to take the first step for once, the very first step to fix a relationship that was way too beautiful to stay broken for longer. “For the talk?” Zhu Yilong almost whispered but tried to make clear what he meant. Bai Yu probably shouldn’t feel that way, but he somehow was quite proud of Zhu Yilong. He almost expected him to run away at any given moment but he stood right beside him.

“My flat isn’t clean but we can go there anyway,” Bai Yu offered with a small smile which was met by Zhu Yilong. “Mine isn’t either but when you are willingly taking the bullet, I won’t stop you.” A small laugh escaped Bai Yu’s lips. It was just as if they were still together. The same old banters, the same topics and the same familiar feeling.

“Good. We're going to my apartment then,” Bai Yu exclaimed with a smile, walked a step closer towards the street and extended his hand with his thumb put up. His one hand was getting slightly red from the cold but the other one was still warmed by Zhu Yilong’s hand. Their fingers had slowly intertwined in each other, which conjured an involuntary smile on Bai Yu’s face. He wondered if Zhu Yilong was also smiling. Is his heart also pumping that loudly? Is he also feeling extremely nervous just from the idea of being close to him or was this all a game for him? Bai Yu wished he could just read Zhu Yilong’s thoughts just like in a show. It would make things easier, wouldn’t it? But maybe Bai Yu didn't want to know what Zhu Yilong was thinking. Maybe it would only make him sad, and in this moment, Bai Yu didn’t allow himself to be sad. He was greedy for the touch of the intoxicated man beside him, he was greedy for the warmth he was exuding. Bai Yu allowed himself to be greedy once. And in this moment he promised himself to keep Zhu Yilong close even if the talk won’t work out the way he wants to. Bai Yu had missed that cologne and that lingering smell that was just indescribably Zhu Yilong.

As soon as they arrived at Bai Yu’s flat, the lingering fear of the anticipated conversation pushed itself in front of any other existing feeling Bai Yu had experienced earlier. But before he could speak, he felt warm lips on his. A wave of endorphins rushed through Bai Yu’s body, which reacted like on autopilot. The cologne from Zhu Yilong lingered close to him, busy hands roamed over his body and Bai Yu felt on fire. He had longed for his touch all night and had wished that his hands were on him instead of on the glass or other people's shoulders. Bai Yu got pushed softly against the wall and somewhere in the background he heard the door close while hot hands were still roaming all over his body. Zhu Yilong probably had closed the door with his foot because Bai Yu didn’t notice Zhu Yilong taking any distance from him. The kiss got more demanding and even though everything in Bai Yu longed for this passion and his touch, this wasn’t the reason they had come here in the first place. At least it hadn’t been Bai Yu’s plan. With a panting breath he parted from Zhu Yilong, pushing the sturdy and muscular body -- had he worked out more? -- from himself.

“Stop,” he almost whispered and looked down on the ground. Bai Yu couldn’t possibly look in the eyes of the man he loves so much, the same eyes that probably were devouring him right now. Without another word, the body in front of him got more limp. Zhu Yilong didn’t push anymore. Instead, he slowly sank against Bai Yu and buried his head in his neck. Bai Yu felt the hot breath and could still smell the alcohol still lingering in it. It made his body burn but he didn’t want to part from Zhu Yilong either. His hands wandered over his torso to his back and up his shoulders, keeping Zhu Yilong in a close but soft embrace. The body in his arms felt weak, his breathing was steady but fast and all Bai Yu wanted to do was kiss his head and every part of his face and tell him that it’s okay.

“I am sorry,” sounded the muffled voice from Bai Yu’s neck. Bai Yu wasn’t sure what Zhu Yilong was asking forgiveness for. For not answering his calls, for kissing him, for leaving him, for being here again with him. He didn’t want to know, but yet he had to. He needed this sorted out. He needed an answer.

“For what?” Bai Yu’s soft voice traveled through the chaotic apartment. But as soon as his voice was gone, it stayed silent. He knew that Zhu Yilong needed time. He always was someone who couldn’t talk easily about his feelings, but Bai Yu learned to wait for him. For he had learned that with Zhu Yilong, patience was the most successful approach.

“For walking out of that door. For being an asshole. For...not answering your calls or texts,” Zhu Yilong almost mumbled. The hands that had rested on Bai Yu’s side started roaming over his waist and around his back, pulling him Bai Yu in a tighter embrace. “I am sorry for hurting you,” came the quiet voice from Bai Yu’s shoulder now. He could feel the warm air leaving Zhu Yilong’s mouth whenever he said a syllable and it made his heart flutter in the process of it. A small smile played around the corners of his lips and all the tension Bai Yu had been feeling left his body.
“I am sorry as well. I shouldn’t have said these hurtful things in my fit of rage,” Bai Yu said softly, finally reapproaching the embrace the same way Zhu Yilong did. He leaned his head against Zhu Yilong’s head, his cheek resting against the soft dark brown hair of the man he was holding in his arms.

“Long-Ge.” Bai Yu said softly and nuzzled the hair a bit with his nose and then let out a small giggle. Finally Zhu Yilong looked up and Bai Yu gave him the biggest and most heartfelt smile he could even muster.
“You didn’t corrupt or twist me, you completed me.” Zhu Yilong’s eyes got wide in shock. Bai Yu could see how he visibly swallowed before he almost jumped at him in excitement and sealed their lips together. This time Bai Yu could give in, he didn’t need to think about all the possible outcomes this night could have. He didn’t need to worry if Zhu Yilong did this only because he was intoxicated. Bai Yu knew that Zhu Yilong wanted to kiss him as much as Bai Yu had wished for his lips on his own. He knew that he had missed him the same amount. That he had wanted to be back in Bai Yu’s arms the same he himself had longed for him. That he had missed his smell and taste but that he was just scared, just like Bai Yu himself.

Bai Yu gave into the kiss. The hands on Zhu Yilong’s back gripped his dark blue suit jacket, probably putting wrinkles in. Zhu Yilong’s manager might get mad about it but Bai Yu didn’t care. Neither did Zhu Yilong. They spent the night in beautiful domestic bliss, sharing kisses of all kinds between each other. Each was more loving than the other until they finally fell asleep next to each other,sharing a big blanket but staying as close as possible. Their arms and legs were entangled because they tried to get closer to each other.

When Bai Yu woke up the next day, Zhu Yilong was nowhere to be seen. Once again, Bai Yu’s heart sank. Has this been a dream? Has Zhu Yilong run home as soon as he had seen where his stuff from last night had brought him? Had he run away again? Bai Yu’s heart started beating fast at the thought that all they both had experienced last night had been a mistake in Zhu Yilong’s eyes, a drunk mistake he had made without much thought. As quickly as possible, Bai Yu touched the side of the bed Zhu Yilong had slept in last night. It was still warm. He couldn’t have been gone for long then. His hand stayed on the warm spot, while he himself contemplated if he could have changed Zhu Yilong’s mind. Had he woken up a bit sooner, he might have talked with him about his thoughts, his fear, and the whole thing might have been resolved. But Bai Yu had been too late. He was always too late. In agony, he closed his eyes again, trying to keep the tears that had been close to rolling down his cheeks at bay.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of a toilet flush from the bathroom that was right next to his big bedroom. Bai Yu looked up with red eyes, only to see a tired Zhu Yilong with tousled hair coming out of the bathroom. He looked at him with tired eyes, but as soon as he saw that Bai Yu’s eyes were red and a tear rolling down his cheek, his eyes widened and he was instantly awake.

“Aiya-- Xiao Bai, why are you crying?” he asked softly despite still being shocked, climbing into the bed again and pulling Bai Yu into a tight embrace. As soon as Zhu Yilong placed his arms around the small body, Bai Yu started to cry earnestly. Big tears rolled down his cheeks and dampened Zhu Yilong’s naked shoulder with their salty wetness. A loud sob escaped Bai Yu’s mouth but he only pulled Zhu Yilong closer in the embrace, resting his cheek in his neck crease.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay. Let it out,” Zhu Yilong whispered, caressing Bai Yu’s back softly, trying to give him the same reassurance he had received yesterday and several times before. Bai Yu couldn’t help but notice how much it felt like home. Being so close to Zhu Yilong and in his embrace made Bai Yu feel safe. Normally he would try to hide his sadness or his tears, but around Zhu Yilong, he could let them out. He could always feel safe around Zhu Yilong and he did so right now.

“I thought you had left me again,” Bai Yu finally mumbled, pulling Zhu Yilong once again closer in the embrace as if he was scared that he might be gone as soon as he would loosen their connection. One of Bai Yu’s legs was entangled with Zhu Yilong pulling him even closer.
“Aiya, Xiao Bai,” came the soft, dark voice from above. “I planned to stay if that’s okay with you.” Bai Yu finally loosened the embrace to look up into Zhu Yilong’s soft brown eyes. A soft smile greeted his view and a similarly soft hand wiped the tears away that kept rolling down Bai Yu’s cheeks. Bai Yu didn’t even answer Zhu Yilong. Instead he just planted their lips together in a soft embrace and pushed the other male down into the sheets.

They won’t be leaving the bed any time soon.