It was cold and numbing – it was like the time Yue had to jump down a waterfall for a stunt. It was mid-winter when they had filmed the scene; the water then had been freezing. As soon as Yue hit the surface, the cold water engulfed her entirety, for a second, all the air in her lungs came gushing out; the cold water ate away at her bare skin. She was under for less than half a minute but it was more than enough; by the time the crew managed to get her out of the water, her skin had turned pale; her lips were blue and her extremities were numbed. It had taken her two hours to get her body temperature back to normal.
“Yue, why are you here and where is Wei?”
To Yue, it felt as though she had jumped back down the waterfall and into the same water then. It was as though the warm blood that had been coursing through her veins had been frozen; frozen blood crystal shards were stabbing within her and her heart felt crushed. Her eyes widened in shock and fear as every fiber in her body went stiff.
He knew her.
He recognized her.
He knew about Wei.
Zhao watched as the girl before him froze up; her eyes were terrified and as if it were still possible, her already taut posture became even stiffer. Reaching up, Zhao placed his hands above Yue’s and was alarmed to find her hands cold and trembling.
“Yue, relax. Yue, listen to me,” Zhao grasped on tight to the smaller of hands. “Don’t worry; Lang is here too, I’ve got him watching the entrance.”
“Yeah, he’s outside. Will you please tell me why you are here instead of Wei? This is no place for a girl such as you.”
Yue was worried. Zhao acted as though he knew her – and if he did, Yue wasn’t sure how close they were before she took over the identity of the Yue from here. Zhao knew about Wei as well, that meant that Yue would either need to lie through her teeth and hope for the best or just come clean.
“Lang; does he know I’m here too?”
“Yeah, he spotted you when you were reporting in. He was helping Saihe at the desk.”
“Saihe’s the one with the bulging muscles and bad teeth?”
Zhao gave a small laugh as he leaned back onto his arms to observe the girl before him. Yue was still nervous, but she had managed to gather her emotions and was at least breathing less rapidly as before. He hadn’t seen her in years considering how both Zhao and Lang decided to join the army as soon as they were of age.
“You’ve haven’t changed at all. Still the scrawny little kid we left behind those years ago.”
“Hey! Who’s scrawny?” Yue snapped as she brushed off the hand that had reached forward to ruffle her hair.
“How old are you now anyways?” Zhao asked.
“Huh? Twenty-eight? But I’m twenty-four. Weren’t you four or five years younger than Lang and I?”
“Sorry, I heard the question as ‘how old am I’ – ‘I’ as in you?” Forcing a laugh, Yue wished she could just slap herself. “I’m er nineteen.”
Back in her time, Yue had been twenty-eight. Having left the orphanage at sixteen, things only started to pick up for her during her late twenties after she had been scouted by a Hollywood agent to perform as a stunt double for several big-shot actresses. After travelling back in time, one of the first things she found out was that the body she was now in was almost ten years younger. However, old habits die hard apparently.
“Erm, why don’t you grab Lang in as well? That way I don’t have to repeat myself to him again later.” Rambling, Yue watched with apprehension as Zhao continued to look at her with suspicion.
“Understood, wait here. I’ll go get him.”
As soon as Zhao exited the tent, Yue gave herself a slap on the face only to regret it immediately after the swelling from the punches earlier started to burn again. Cursing her own stupidity, Yue crept over to the mouth of the tent and pulled the flap open slightly. She spotted Zhao talking to another soldier in the shadow of an adjacent tent; both their facial features were shrouded in the shadows but Yue could see the tension in their body postures. Without any prior warning, the man who was Lang turned and looked right at Yue.
To Yue, Zhao was like a friendly older brother one could rely on. He was meticulous, slightly clumsy and kind. He gave off the impression of being someone who was non-judgemental and unbiased; he would listen to the entire story and the inputs from the parties involved before taking a stand. Lang on the other hand was like the eldest brother with a double-barrelled shotgun and a shoot-first-ask-later attitude.
Gulping down the breath she had been holding, Yue released her hold on the flap and proceeded to march back to the seat she had just vacated. Releasing a ragged breath, Yue brought her knees up to her chest and hugged them tight as she closed her eyes and lowered her head. They were already suspicious of her – how is she ever going to get out of this. In order to calm herself down, Yue silently counted the sound of her heartbeat in her ears – why did she even think she could work this out?
“JESUS.” Yue yelped as she fell off the chair.
“Gezeus? What’s that?” Zhao laughed as he pulled the girl off the ground and onto her feet.
“Oh! Er, nothing!” Yue slapped herself mentally. “He-hey there Lang.”
“Yue, what are you doing here?”
“Okay, y’all know what? Let’s all grab some chairs before we start anything.”
Yue wished she could bite her own tongue; without meaning to, she had just started to ramble. Quickly, Yue hurried round the tent gathering the three chairs together around the wooden table she had jumped into previously. Her brain was working in hyper drive as she tried to make up excuses and escape routes.
“Oh, and how about some tea? Let me go grab some tea cups and make some tea. How’s that?”
Fingers closed around her wrist. Stiffening, Yue cursed no one in particular as she turned around to face the stoic Lang. Smiling sheepishly, Yue gave up trying as Lang pulled her to a seat and settled into the one next to it. Now that all three of them were seated together, there was no other way to avoid it anymore.
The atmosphere between them was tense and awkward. The Yue Zhao and Lang knew wasn’t the same one that was seated before them; they may look and sound exactly the same but they were utter strangers to Yue. Chewing on her bottom lip, Yue looked at everything but just couldn’t bring herself to look up at the men.
“Alright, fine! What do you want to know?” Yue asked finally, unable to take the awkward silence between them.
“How’s Wei doing now?” Zhao asked gently.
“He’s - well he was doing fine the last time I met him. He was happy – I hope.” Yue sighed.
She missed being with Wei. She missed his witty jokes and the rare smile he would only show to her on days his experiments were going well.
“I’m surprised you’re that fond of him.”
“I didn’t like him before?” Yue asked Lang.
“You used to hate him; you used to say he was weird and all.” Lang replied with a weird look.
“Well, we grew up. And now I know Wei wasn’t weird; he was just different, in a good way.”
“So, why are you here instead of him?”
Sighing deeply, Yue scratched at the wooden edge of the table. She knew that there was no other way around this, but she didn’t want to get Wei into trouble, and she didn’t know if she could trust them with her secret. She was planning to fail out of the military training, but that in itself would still require a few months and if her identity was revealed before then –
Groaning silently, Yue reached up to touch her neck. If her identity was to be revealed before she could successfully escape, she was going to lose her head and that meant she’ll never be able to return back to her own time.
“If I tell you why, can you promise me that you will not get Wei involved in this?”
“Yue, you have to understand; we are in the middle of a War. The very idea of you being here in place of Wei is—”
“Yue, you are not a child anymore. Do you know what will happen if the commanders find out about this? This is not something you can get yourself out so easily after you get in.” Lang interrupted fiercely.
“Can you promise me that Wei will be safe?” Yue asked stubbornly.
“No we cannot.” Lang stated irritatedly. “Why are you acting like this? You could die!”
“So could you! Why are you here then? Who are you risking your lives for then?” Yue retorted back at them.
“Yue, listen to me. We are different; we are men, we have to protect our family and our country. This is our duty as sons.” Zhao explained.
“As a male, Wei should be here to defend his family and his country. Did he make you do this? Is he going to be a coward and send his-his sister to die for him?” Lang asked in anger, his fist slamming against the table top.
“HE IS NO COWARD.” Yue snapped back; glaring at the offending male with angry tears in her eyes. “WE are no different. You fight to protect your family and country. I want to fight to protect MY little brother. This is my duty as his family; who cares if I’m male or female?”
“I don’t want him to die.” Yue cried as the hot tears streamed down from her lids.