Xiao Zhan is about to give Jianguo her dinner when his manager calls him.
Jianguo gives him an affronted look when he puts the cat food container back down on the counter and picks up his phone instead. He scratches her behind the ears in apology, which she tolerates while looking very unimpressed.
"Hi, Yang Mei," Xiao Zhan says, smiling. "How are you?"
"Great!" Yang Mei says, and he can immediately tell she has good news. "What about you?"
"Good, good," he says. "About to feed my cat, who is very disappointed that I haven't gotten around to it yet."
She laughs. "I'll let you get right back to that. So, I have news."
"Always," she says. "That crime drama you auditioned for? You got it."
He grins and picks up Jianguo to give her an excited hug. She meows plaintively. He was hoping it would be that; he loves shooting historical dramas, but he's ready for something modern again and the story sounded really interesting.
"That's great," he says. "Oh, which role?"
"The main villain," she says, and he whoops quietly. She laughs on the other end of the line. "I know how much you wanted it."
"I'm so excited," he says. "Thank you for calling me."
"Of course," she says. "I'm happy for you. Someone will contact you soon about the schedules."
"Great," he says, and finally puts Jianguo down. He knows the shooting will take place in Hangzhou so he'll probably have to take her to his parents again. It's the one thing he's not looking forward to; it's been nice to actually spend time in his apartment and have his cat with him. "Do you know if they need to call me in to cast the main detective or have they already picked him?"
"He's been chosen," she says. "It's someone you've worked with before, actually."
"Oh, really?" he asks. "That's great. Who?"
Xiao Zhan leans heavily against the kitchen counter. "Oh."
"From what I understood, they figured you'd be a good match. You have experience together."
"Right," he says. "Yeah, that makes sense. They aren't afraid it'll be too...too much?"
"It's been a few years," she says. "People have moved on."
Xiao Zhan takes a careful breath. "Right."
"The director was really happy to get you, specifically," she says. "I heard they're very excited to see how you play the role."
"I'm grateful," he says automatically. "I hope I'll meet their expectations."
"Of course you will," she says, reassuringly confident in him as usual. "Right, I have to go, actually, I just wanted to call you as soon as I heard. I'll see you in a few days at the Hunan TV event?"
"Yes," he says. "I'll see you then. Thank you, again."
He carefully sets the phone down after they've hung up. Jianguo stops sniffing at her food container and stalks up to him, butting her nose against his forearm. He lifts his hand to pet her and finds that it's shaking slightly.
He's just being stupid now. He straightens up and grabs the food, filling her bowl.
"Here you go, baby," he says, and sets it in front of her. "Here's your dinner."
She sets at it with gusto. He leaves her to it and sinks down into the kitchen chair.
He should have been ready for something like this, but he just hadn't seen it coming. The response to The Untamed had been so huge and overwhelming that sometimes their managers hadn't even wanted him and Yibo to be at the same events, because of the chaos that resulted.
He'd never thought they could be cast together as leads in something again.
He isn't prepared for this at all.
He and Yibo will occasionally run into each other at events, but the industry is large enough that unless you're actually shooting something together it's easy to go months without contact. He can't remember the last time they've talked, not even the usual pleasantries you exchange at award shows with people you've worked with. Not that he ever actively tries to avoid Yibo. He just lets his manager drag him away, lets his attention fall somewhere else. Doesn't let himself turn his head to look after him.
No one asks Xiao Zhan about Wang Yibo anymore, not even his friends.
And Yibo never seeks him out either, not the way he used to for a while after the first storm had settled.
Xiao Zhan sighs and rests his head on his forearms.
He supposes people have moved on, indeed.
There's no one really for Xiao Zhan to blame other than himself.
He is the one who had ended it; the one who looked Yibo in the eyes and said, "I don't think we should keep doing this."
Yibo had argued, but Xiao Zhan had been very convincing.
Walking away from Yibo that day had been awful, but Xiao Zhan knew that he'd made the right decision, for both of them. He couldn't keep holding Yibo back, and he couldn't bear to keep waiting for Yibo to leave.
Sometimes, though, he wonders if given the opportunity to relive that moment, he would make a different choice.
He knows he would try to go about it in a different way, at least. In a way that, hopefully, would mean that he could get to keep Yibo as a friend.
More than anything, he wishes he hadn't lost that.
He had known it would happen, and yet he'd still hoped that maybe they could just go back to the way they'd been before. But Yibo had pulled away and Xiao Zhan had let him go, because it wouldn't have been fair to say, "Wait, but could we still...?"
Maybe they'd never been anything else but this.
Xiao Zhan doesn't know when he'd fallen for Yibo, and now, years later, he can't remember when he'd realized it either. The feelings had just been there: sudden, and yet obviously having grown over time.
He barely remembers their first kiss. It had blended in with all the other ones; the quick and intense kisses stolen between shoots and interviews, the slow and languid kisses that turned into something more. Their first one had gotten lost somewhere among them.
But he does remember the first time he woke up in bed with Yibo. They hadn't even slept together then, not yet; Yibo had been upset about something that night and Xiao Zhan had offered cuddles as a cure. He'd thought Yibo would assume it was a joke, but Yibo had taken him up on it, and who was Xiao Zhan to refuse him? He'd fallen asleep himself almost instantly and woken with Yibo's arm still around his waist, his face awkwardly pressed into Xiao Zhan's armpit.
He can still recall the sudden tenderness he had felt at the sight of Yibo's bare face, lax in sleep.
He remembers the first time Yibo had threaded their fingers together, remembers the first time they'd fucked. Remembers the first time he'd held Yibo when he was sick, and the first time they'd fought, even though he doesn't remember what it was about.
He remembers the way Yibo's eyes used to light up when he spotted Xiao Zhan across a crowded room, and the way Xiao Zhan's stomach had swooped in response every single time.
He remembers realizing that he would have to let Yibo go.
He remembers their last kiss.
He can't remember falling out of love. He must have by now, surely? It's been more than two years, after all.
He's sitting on his couch, staring blankly at his TV. He's not sure how long he's been there, lost in memories.
He usually tries not to think about this. He's not prone to wallowing; he's far too busy for it, and it's not like he's not doing fine, or anything. He's not heartbroken, and if he was, then it would only be his own fault.
But he's not, and therefore it's pointless to think about it, especially as it's not like he can change any of it. He's used to living in the present, and being grateful for what he has and not missing what he hasn't.
This whole thing just caught him by surprise, and honestly, maybe he's just been overdue for a brief, nostalgic wallow.
His stomach growls loudly, and he realizes he hasn't properly eaten since breakfast. It's late already, and he has a photoshoot tomorrow, but—fuck it. Just this once, he'll allow himself to indulge in a late dinner. He won't begrudge himself the comfort of a good, warm dish.
He's also glad to have something concrete to do. He unlocks his phone and orders himself enough food to last for a week. He knows he needs to start being even more selective about what he eats soon, so he figures he'll let himself enjoy it for tonight.
He stands up and paces while waiting, tries unsuccessfully to get Jianguo to follow him. It feels good to move and not think about anything.
The food arrives blissfully fast, and soon he's settled on the couch again, almost inhaling it. The TV, left on a random channel, is running a variety show and luckily it's enough at the moment to keep his mind occupied.
He feels a lot better after eating, as he'd hoped he would. He sets the empty boxes to the side, leans back and closes his eyes, and lets the tension slowly seep out of his body.
He's really lucky, he knows. His belly's full of good food, his cat is curled up next to him, and he has an exciting role coming up.
He knows his mother worries, even more now that he's turned thirty, that there's something missing in his life. But as he keeps telling her, he's doing good.
He should go shower and get ready for bed before he falls asleep here on the couch. Luckily he doesn't have anything first thing in the morning, but he should still get up relatively early and go over his schedule for the next few days. His eyelids are getting heavier and heavier, and a part of him is just tempted to say fuck it and curl up right here. But he's thirty years old and his back would hate him tomorrow.
He's just nodding off when he hears a familiar voice. He flinches awake, and immediately fumbles for the remote, his heart suddenly thundering in his ears.
An old episode of Day Day Up, of course. He catches one glimpse of Yibo before he manages to switch the TV off. He falls back against the couch, hand pressed to his chest.
Fuck, what a stupid over-reaction.
Is that what he'll be like during shooting? It will never work. He's being an idiot.
He squeezes his eyes shut and waits for his breathing to calm. Then he reaches for his phone.
It's not like he hasn't seen Yibo. It's impossible to miss him; he's everywhere, still, much like Xiao Zhan.
But Xiao Zhan has never allowed himself to look for too long.
Yibo is out there, doing great, and that is enough for Xiao Zhan to know. He'd lost the right to anything more when he let him go.
But he needs to be prepared, now that things are like this. He opens Weibo and searches for Yibo's name.
He's immediately overwhelmed with the sheer amount of content. Pictures of photoshoots, events, performances. Candids, behind the scenes shots. Yibo skateboarding, Yibo with his bike, Yibo wearing ridiculous clothes in magazines and still looking ridiculously good in them.
Xiao Zhan hasn't been on the fannish side of Weibo in what feels like years and years, but now he goes deeper, into the comments. Yibo's immensely popular, still, and there's discussions about everything and anything as long as it somehow relates to him.
The most popular topic as of now seems to be whether Yibo's dating his co-star from his new movie. There are pictures and videos, and although Xiao Zhan doubts it, it's not like he'd know.
His stomach clenches painfully, and he presses a hand to it. He probably ate too much.
He keeps scrolling until his eyes burn. He takes his glasses off and rubs at his face.
He feels both more and less prepared at the same time. Fuck.
He tosses his phone to the side and picks up Jianguo instead, cuddling her to his chest. She meows, offended.
"You love me, right?" he asks her, scratching her behind the ears. "Of course you love me, I feed you."
She meows louder, but at least she's not struggling to get away. He sighs and lets her go. She climbs off his lap, her tail swinging, but she stays on the couch with him.
"You think I'm an idiot, don't you?" he asks. She meows, and Xiao Zhan laughs, startled into it. She looks at him as if he's offended her by making noise. "You're right," he tells her. "I am being an idiot."
He picks up his phone again and texts his mother, Got a really cool new role! Will tell you about it tomorrow, sleep well!
Then he stands up—his stomach only mildly protesting the sudden movement—and goes to brush his teeth. He's through with feeling sorry for himself. By the time he's done with his normal bedtime routine he's almost feeling relaxed. He knows he can sometimes overreact to unexpected changes, and working again with his ex-friend, ex-boyfriend, was definitely not something he had planned.
But he will adjust and adapt, like he always does, and it will be fine. (It has to be fine, because he's not sure he could handle it being anything but.)
He double-checks his alarm, sets his phone to charge, and curls up in bed. Jianguo joins him, settling into the curve of his legs, and Xiao Zhan closes his eyes and doesn't dream.
Xuan Lu is the first one to text him when the news comes out. He immediately feels guilty for not contacting her before, even though all she sends is, Congrats on the role!! [heart emoji] [heart emoji] (I'm here if you want to talk?)
Can I call you? he texts back, and ignores the other notifications coming in. Luckily he's home and doesn't have to leave until later.
Of course!! she sends back immediately, and he settles down on his couch and rings her.
"Hi, A-Xian," she says, her voice so warm, and Xiao Zhan has to close his eyes and just breathe for a moment.
"Hi, Lulu," he says. "How are you?"
"I'm doing great!" she says. "I actually have a new project coming up, but I can't tell you about it yet."
"Ah, congratulations!" he says. "I can't wait to hear more about it."
"Oh, but what about you?" Xuan Lu asks. "Are you excited for the new role? I saw that you're playing a villain this time. I'm not sure I can picture my A-Xian like that."
Xiao Zhan smiles. "Don't you have faith in me, shijie?"
She scoffs. "I know you'll be wonderful. I just won't believe you're actually the villain."
"Oh, I'm pretty villainous," Xiao Zhan says, and swallows. "Trust me, I've read the script."
"Mm," she says. "And what about Yibo?"
"What about him?" Xiao Zhan asks, a reflex.
Xuan Lu is quiet. Xiao Zhan picks up a cushion and hugs it to his chest.
"He's okay, I guess," he says. "I mean—his role is good. He's the charismatic and headstrong hero. He'll be great at it."
"I'm sure you'll both be amazing," she says.
"Thanks, shijie," he says.
They lapse into silence. Xiao Zhan picks at some of the loose threads on the cushion.
"What's my A-Xian thinking about?" Xuan Lu prompts him eventually.
Xiao Zhan swallows hard. "I'm not sure if I can do this."
She makes a sympathetic noise. "Why?"
"I don't know," he says. "It's stupid. I just haven't seen him in ages, and now it's like—and I should be excited, shouldn't I? It's a great role, and it should be good to get to work together again, and instead I'm like this."
"Like what?" she asks.
"Worried," he says. "Scared."
Her voice gentle, she asks, "What are you most worried about?"
"What if it's horribly awkward? What if he hates me?"
"He doesn't," she says, sounding almost affronted. "Why would he hate you?"
He thinks about it. She's right, why would Yibo hate him? It's not like he was in love with Xiao Zhan.
Not that he thinks that it meant nothing, that Yibo didn't have any feelings for him. Yibo had liked him, obviously. He could be startlingly open with his feelings when he wanted to be. But it hadn't been love. Yibo had been so young, and it had clearly been his first relationship with a man.
It was one of the reasons Xiao Zhan had known he had to let him go. Yibo was too young to be tied down in any way.
"I don't know," he says again. "I guess you're right, I'm just—Fuck. I don't know. It's weird."
"It might be a bit awkward at first," Xuan Lu says. "But you're both professionals. And it's been a few years, now. And you didn't part on bad terms, did you? You said you didn't."
"No," Xiao Zhan says. "We didn't."
He forces himself to think back to that night. Yibo had looked confused—and hurt, and sad—but he'd still leaned in for one last kiss before leaving. Xiao Zhan had let him. (Had wanted it, had welcomed it.)
He hopes they didn't part on bad terms.
"Well, there you go," Xuan Lu says softly. "Zhanzhan, it'll be fine. It's just Yibo."
"Yeah," Xiao Zhan says, and clears his throat. "Yeah, you're right. I'm just being—I don't know. I'm overthinking it."
"It will be fine," she says again, and Xiao Zhan closes his eyes and will himself to believe her.
"I'm kind of worried about the fans, too," he admits. "How do you think they'll take it?"
"They'll be delighted," Xuan Lu says. "I'm sure of it."
"I just hope it won't be too intense," he says, picking at a hangnail. "I should post something on Weibo, shouldn't I?"
He'd been debating over it, while waiting for the official announcement to be made. He's not sure what to go with, though. A random picture from shooting The Untamed, maybe, with the caption saying something about how he's excited to be working together again. He doesn't even have to take it from his archive, he could just find something online. It doesn't have to be personal.
It probably shouldn't be personal.
"I think that would be nice," Xuan Lu says. "When does shooting start?"
"Soon, actually," he says, squinting at his wall calendar. It's all pictures of Jianguo, a gift from his parents. "We start boot camp before the end of the month."
"That's quick," she says. "So they've cast everyone?"
"I think so," he says. He hasn't actually checked who else he'll be working with. He should probably get on that. Most of his scenes are with Yibo, but still. He's been too caught up in his own head to even look up who his other co-workers will be.
"I have to go soon," Xuan Lu says, her voice regretful. "I have a shoot."
"Of course," he says. "I'm sorry for taking your time."
She scoffs at him. "Stop that. You know you can call me any time."
"Thank you," Xiao Zhan says. "For, you know. Being you."
Xuan Lu laughs. "No need to thank me. I'm always glad to hear from you."
Xiao Zhan winces. He should talk to Xuan Lu more often. Time is just always slipping away from him.
"Stop it," Xuan Lu says. "I didn't mean it like that, A-Xian. We all get busy, me included. I'm just glad we found time to talk to each other now."
He hugs the pillow close to his chest. "Me too," he says. "And I will try to text you more, I promise."
"And I will try to do the same," she says, and he can tell she's smiling. "And we'll try not to feel too guilty if we fail. Deal?"
"Deal," he says.
"You don't have to worry so much," she says. "Just trust yourself."
Xiao Zhan closes his eyes and breathes in slowly. "Thank you, shijie."
"Bye, A-Xian," she says. "I'll talk to you soon."
Xiao Zhan waits until the call clicks off, and then waits a bit longer. Finally opens his eyes, sits forward on the couch, and unlocks his phone again. He swipes his notifications away; he'll deal with them later. At least they've mostly stopped now. He's not ready to see if there's anything in the old Untamed group chat. He opens Weibo instead, and then stops.
Wang Yibo has just posted a picture of the two of them.
It had been taken on the set of The Untamed; they're both wearing the white robes of GusuLan and standing near one of the waterfalls. Yibo is making a face, Bichen ready for striking, and Xiao Zhan is laughing at him. It's not the clearest shot, and not the best quality, but Xiao Zhan can't look away.
He doesn't think they'd been sleeping together yet, but he remembers the way it felt to joke around back then, to always try to one-up each other. The way it felt to have Yibo's attention on him, even when he thought it wouldn't lead anywhere, because how could it?
He wonders if Yibo remembers the exact day the picture was taken. If it was important to him somehow.
Or maybe it's just something his manager picked out for him.
But Yibo always took care to handle the more personal posts himself. Birthday messages, and the like. Xiao Zhan hopes he hasn't changed that much.
Yibo's written, Here we go! and tagged Xiao Zhan, The Untamed, and their new show.
Xiao Zhan likes the post, quickly finds a picture to post as well—one of the shots of them at the end of shooting—and writes, Excited to work with Wang-laoshi again!
It barely takes a moment for Yibo to like his post.
Xiao Zhan groans, tosses his phone down on the couch, and then buries his face in the pillow. He has a lot to do later, but for now he's going to sit here and try to figure out how to survive the next several months.
Regardless of what Xuan Lu had said, Xiao Zhan is still prepared for it to be awkward.
It seems inevitable; the last time they spoke at some award show it was stilted and uncomfortable to the point where Xiao Zhan had felt relieved when Yibo's people pulled him away.
So he's mentally bracing himself when he gets to the first script reading. He's ready to do his best and work past any awkwardness that might arise. He's a professional, and Yibo was—is?—his friend, and he can do this.
What he isn't prepared for is the way his heart suddenly clenches when Yibo walks into the room.
He arrives only about ten minutes before the official start, after Xiao Zhan has already introduced himself to everyone and sat down. (Xiao Zhan might have been checking Weibo on his way there, so he knows Yibo is cutting it so late because he has only just flown in.)
Everyone's attention turns to Yibo, and Xiao Zhan can see him pause for just a moment before beginning his trek around the room.
He's grown up. The pictures Xiao Zhan has seen on his tiny phone screen don't do him justice.
His face has grown more defined, with only the slightest touch of softness remaining. His hair is longer than he used to keep it, most of it held back in a small ponytail with a few wisps framing his face. The way he carries himself seems to have changed as well, his presence calm and firm, almost reminiscent of Lan Wangji.
He's almost at the table, and Xiao Zhan stands up, nearly tripping over his chair.
Yibo's eyes fall on him and for a moment Xiao Zhan can't breathe.
Yibo's expression is smooth, almost a mask, but when his gaze meets Xiao Zhan's something shifts. His eyes seem to soften, and then he smiles—more hesitant than usual, but still—and relief floods Xiao Zhan.
It's still Yibo. It's still Yibo, and surely he wouldn't hate Xiao Zhan and smile at him like that.
The girl sitting next to him introduces herself to Yibo first, and he greets her back, looking attentive and polite, but his eyes keep straying to Xiao Zhan. Xiao Zhan hears her laugh and then she steps to the side, and Yibo is there, looking up at Xiao Zhan, still slightly, devastatingly shorter than him.
Yibo looks tentative all of a sudden and Xiao Zhan thinks, "Fuck it," and pulls him into a hug.
It's a quick, one-armed thing, maybe slightly awkward, but it still feels like the right thing to do.
When Yibo draws back, Xiao Zhan has to fight the sudden, stupid urge to hold him closer for another moment.
They barely ever hugged in public, too aware of the eyes on them, but in private, simply holding Yibo in his arms was one of Xiao Zhan's favorite things. And yet it was still Xiao Zhan who eventually let him go.
"Hey," Yibo says. "How are you?"
"I'm good, yeah," Xiao Zhan says. "You?"
"Great," Yibo says. He's smiling, again, just a small thing. Xiao Zhan can't help but to think back to their first day in boot camp on the set of The Untamed, how Yibo had been sitting by himself, quiet and shy and clearly nervous. How his face had been a stoic mask of indifference, worthy of Lan Wangji, but his eyes had been wary.
Xiao Zhan had been worried about how they'd work together, since he wasn't sure he—a shy and quiet person as well—would be the right person to draw Yibo out of his shell.
In the end, he thinks Yibo had helped him more than he'd helped Yibo.
"Um, should we?" Yibo asks, and points to the chair next to Xiao Zhan.
Xiao Zhan nods mutely and sits down. Obviously they'd sit together as they're both technically the leads. In fact, they're going to be doing quite a lot close together if the scenes Xiao Zhan read in the script are still there.
Yibo's knee brushes against his as he takes his seat. Xiao Zhan clenches his fist, and holds his breath for a moment.
"So, Wang Yibo," someone calls from across the table. "Are you excited to work with Xiao Zhan again?"
Xiao Zhan blinks, and sneaks a glance at Yibo, not turning his head.
Yibo grins widely and looks over at Xiao Zhan, meeting his eyes. "Of course I am. I've been waiting for another chance to learn from Xiao-laoshi."
"We're excited to see it," someone else says, and then the talk turns to characters and the show in general, and the director starts introducing everyone again.
Yibo turns back to face the rest of the room, but he looks pleased with himself, and perhaps slightly flushed. He lifts his hand and tucks a lock of hair behind his ear, and Xiao Zhan has to remind himself to look away.
He wonders if there was any way he could have been prepared for this.
The tightness in his chest, the sudden shakiness, the urge to reach out and touch Yibo, even though he's no longer allowed to.
Yibo laughs quietly at something one of the other actors said, and Xiao Zhan's stomach flips over.
He is so fucked.
They don't get a moment to actually talk until the next day.
As soon as the read-through ends, Yibo gets whisked away somewhere while Xiao Zhan heads back to the hotel they're all staying at and tries to focus on getting to know some of his new co-workers over dinner.
He spends the night tossing and turning, falling into an unsettled sleep and being startled awake by the slightest of noises and his own brain yelling at him.
He wakes up feeling exhausted and out of sorts, but he tries to talk some sense into himself during his morning shower.
It backfires, slightly, in that instead of clearing his head, he ends up jerking off to the image of Yibo on his knees, grinning at him, his new longer hair all mussed by Xiao Zhan's hand.
The brief moment of bliss is quickly followed by an uneasy, guilty feeling in the pit of his stomach. He quickly rinses himself, and attempts to reason with himself while he's drying off.
It's normal that he'd react this way to Yibo. It's the nostalgia combined with being thrown into a room together after several years apart combined with the fact that Yibo is fucking gorgeous, still, and Xiao Zhan hasn't slept with anyone since—
There'd been a period where he'd tried, just in the hopes that he could stop constantly thinking about Yibo, but he'd always backed off before it could have gone anywhere. Luckily he was busy enough to not have much time to properly feel the lack of sex in general. The sex wasn't really what he missed anyway; it was the connection, the relationship, even though sometimes he found himself doubting whether he had ever properly been in a relationship, even with Yibo.
Could it be called a relationship when the people in question were constantly busy working and traveling and were forced to only meet up in secret?
It's not what he wanted their relationship to be, in any case, but it was difficult to imagine anything else, with their lives and careers the way they were.
And they'd made it work, for a while, until Xiao Zhan had decided to ruin it.
He tries to boost his mood and his energy levels with breakfast and coffee, and heads over to the read-through.
He does actually start to feel better. The cast are already bonding, and a lot of them have really great energy. Yibo seems to be in a good mood as well, and Xiao Zhan enjoys watching the way he takes charge of the scenes where his character is leading his team.
The show itself has a pretty simple format, but that just highlights the scenes that will eventually stand out. Yibo's character—detective Wang, hilariously, although spelled differently—solves strange crimes along with his team, while Xiao Zhan's character—doctor Lei, a neurosurgeon—keeps messing with him from behind the scenes. It becomes a true hero-nemesis dynamic, with a few interesting tidbits thrown in along the way. Xiao Zhan is excited to see how it'll turn out.
They get to break for lunch this time since they started earlier, and Xiao Zhan finds his feet leading him to where Yibo's loading up his plate.
Yibo smiles when he spots him, and Xiao Zhan wonders if he only imagined the momentary look of surprise on his face.
"Hey," Xiao Zhan says. "How's it going?"
"Good, I think," Yibo says. "The script's pretty fun, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it's good," Xiao Zhan says, and goes to stand next to Yibo to pick up his own food. "I think it'll be a fun show to shoot."
"Yeah," Yibo agrees. "Were you excited when you got the news? That you got the part?"
"Definitely," Xiao Zhan says. "I've always wanted to play an actual villain."
Yibo snorts. "Do you still wish you'd been cast as Xue Yang?"
"No," Xiao Zhan says, smiling. "No, I've made my peace with that by now."
Yibo laughs, and Xiao Zhan feels the sound light something up inside of him. Fuck.
"What about you?" he asks. "Were you excited to get the role?"
"Oh, yeah," Yibo says. He motions over to a table, and Xiao Zhan follows him. They sit down with their meals and Yibo immediately digs in, still eating as quickly as he used to.
"Have to enjoy it while we can, yeah?" Xiao Zhan asks, indicating at his plate.
They're both not the best at keeping to regular meals during shooting. Xiao Zhan usually just ends up tired, needing more sleep—and sometimes, unfortunately, an IV—but Yibo's stomach will start to protest pretty quickly. They had tried to keep each other mostly on track while filming The Untamed.
Xiao Zhan hopes Yibo's had someone to do that for him since then, even as his stomach clenches with jealousy at the thought. Yibo deserves to have someone good, someone to look after him. Xiao Zhan wishes it could be him, but he's lost that chance.
Yibo hums thoughtfully, pausing between bites. "I'm going to try to do better this time," he says. "Will you hold me to that?"
Xiao Zhan blinks at him, momentarily taken aback. Yibo looks at him, questioning, and stuffs another dumpling in his mouth.
Xiao Zhan clears his throat. "Yeah," he says. "I can do that."
Yibo grins. "Great."
They eat for a while in silence. It's not as uncomfortable as Xiao Zhan had feared.
"So," Yibo says, pushing away his empty plate. "How have you been, Zhan-ge?"
Xiao Zhan shrugs, and pokes at his food. "I've been good. You?"
"Yeah, same," Yibo says. "Busy."
Xiao Zhan nods. "I've noticed."
"Have you?" Yibo asks, tilting his head.
"Um," Xiao Zhan says, brow furrowing. "Yeah?"
Yibo looks away to the side, and leans back in his chair. His hair falls into his eyes and he raises his hand to brush it away.
"Will they make you cut your hair?" Xiao Zhan blurts out. "For the show?"
Yibo shrugs, looking unbothered with the thought. "Don't know yet. I'll just grow it out again after, if I feel like it."
"Yeah, but—" Xiao Zhan doesn't let himself finish the sentence. He's not sure what he even wanted to say, really.
Yibo turns back towards him, though, his eyes lighting up. "Why?" he asks, and there it is, that teasing smirk that Xiao Zhan remembers so well. "Does Zhan-ge like it?"
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes, ignoring the way his stomach flips over. "You know it looks good."
"Ah, but not as good as Zhan-ge's."
Xiao Zhan's hair is currently a sad, limp mess from the cold and the beanie he wore this morning. He raises his eyebrows, incredulous. "Are we starting this again?"
Yibo just blinks at him, his eyes wide. "Starting what?"
Xiao Zhan points at him. "Don't even."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Yibo says, and grins.
Xiao Zhan shakes his head and goes back to his meal. His neck feels flushed; he hopes no one can see it.
"Lunch is almost over," he says. "You sure you don't want any more food?"
"I'm good," Yibo says. "I'm not a growing boy anymore."
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes. "How about some green tea, then?"
"Oh," Yibo says. "Yeah, of course. I'll go get us some."
He's up and out of his seat before Xiao Zhan can respond. He watches Yibo walk away and can't help but think of all the times when he would beg for sips out of Xiao Zhan's personal tea bottle, and then would drink half of it in one go. Not that Xiao Zhan ever minded sharing, but still. Now Yibo's bringing him tea?
Yibo looks over at him while he's waiting in line, catches his eye, and smiles.
Xiao Zhan smiles back, helpless.
It's going to be a long few months.
Xiao Zhan thinks he'll be sick even before he gets to Yibo's place.
They've been stuck in traffic for ages, crawling through the city, and a part of Xiao Zhan wishes they'd never arrive. They're only a few streets away now, though, and the driver is telling him how this road isn't usually so full, and how the congestion in the city where he's from is even worse. Xiao Zhan lets most of it wash over him, only making polite comments here and there.
Yibo's apartment looms closer and closer.
He's decided to do it at Yibo's place, because he'd thought that would be better than to invite Yibo to his and then essentially kick him out. This way, he also doesn't have to watch Yibo leave. But he's starting to wonder if he'd miscalculated—would it be better or worse for Yibo for Xiao Zhan to walk in, break up with him, and walk back out again?
He's not sure if there is any good option, though, so this will have to do. It's not like they can talk about this in public, and it's not like Xiao Zhan was not going to do it in person. So this was the best he could think of.
He hates that he has to do it at all, but he knows it's the right thing.
He had been kidding himself, thinking this could work out long-term. He needs to let Yibo go before it's too late. It's been too late for Xiao Zhan for a while now, probably since that first summer. But Yibo's different, and they've been officially exclusive for only a few months, even if they've been sleeping together for longer.
It has kept Xiao Zhan up at night for a while now, and he can't keep going like this. He has to do this now, before the holidays get any closer. Luckily they've been too busy to talk about their plans for that or for next year. Which is another reason why it can't last anyway. They're both constantly swamped, and Xiao Zhan misses Yibo all the time, but it seems unfair to always ask Yibo to spend the precious little free time he has with him.
The main reason Xiao Zhan can't wait any longer, though, is a conversation they'd had a few weeks ago in Xiao Zhan's hotel room. Xiao Zhan had been feeling ill and exhausted after a long day that had ended with a concert. Neither of them were quite ready for bed yet; Yibo was sitting up, leaning against the headboard and scrolling through his phone, with Xiao Zhan sprawled out, his head resting on Yibo's lap.
Yibo had brought up a new project he'd recently booked, that would take him out of Beijing for a long time.
Xiao Zhan hadn't known what to say in response. He'd been proud of Yibo, but he'd known he'd miss him terribly. And sick and headachy as he was, with Yibo's fingers softly carding through his hair, the idea of him so far away had been worse than ever. He must have made some sort of displeased noise, because Yibo had laughed and said that if Xiao Zhan wanted, he wouldn't take the job.
Xiao Zhan knows Yibo had meant it only as a joke, but he's felt uneasy ever since. The idea that Yibo's career would in any way be damaged because of Xiao Zhan is awful.
Yibo is young, his best years still ahead of him, and Xiao Zhan won't be the one to get in the way of that.
He also wishes he could say that the things he's seen online haven't affected him, but he'd be lying. He knew what was out there and he'd tried to ignore it, but it was one thing if people said something about him. It was another if they said something about Yibo, because of him.
The few times Xiao Zhan had brought it up, Yibo had said he didn't care, said he was used to it. Shockingly, it hadn't made Xiao Zhan feel better.
And it won't stay just online.
People talk in the industry and word gets around, and even though they're careful, it will only be a matter of time. Xiao Zhan won't drag Yibo down with him.
It would be better for Yibo to not be associated with him.
That's the thought Xiao Zhan consoles himself with when he's heading up to Yibo's apartment, heart in his throat. He's doing the right thing.
Yibo's smiling when he opens the door. The smell of food is heavy in the air, and Xiao Zhan's stomach twists. He hasn't eaten properly since yesterday, too anxious. He'd told Yibo he didn't want anything for dinner, though, so he wouldn't have to drag it out. So Yibo wouldn't have to clean up after him.
"Hey," Yibo says, and pulls him into the room. He waits for Xiao Zhan to take his mask off, and then darts in to steal a kiss.
Xiao Zhan has to fight not to chase after him once Yibo leans back. It would be unfair to prolong this in any way.
"Hi," he says. "Have you been cooking?"
Yibo laughs. "No, I wasn't going to risk that, especially not without Xiao-laoshi's help. Hold on, though."
Xiao Zhan takes his shoes and coat off and moves carefully into the living room, while Yibo disappears into the kitchen.
"Here," Yibo says, coming back with noodles. "I know you said I shouldn't get anything, but I was hungry, so I ordered enough for both of us."
Xiao Zhan accepts the plate, his throat going tight. He might actually throw up.
"I'm really not hungry," he says.
Yibo tilts his head, brows furrowing. "Are you feeling okay? You're so pale. Are you sick?"
Xiao Zhan shrugs, then shakes his head. "I'm fine. I think the ride here gave me motion sickness."
"Maybe you should sit down," Yibo says. He takes the plate back and hands Xiao Zhan a glass instead. "Here, have some of my water. I'll go find that stuff you made me buy for my stomach."
He's halfway to the bathroom when Xiao Zhan finds his voice.
Yibo stops, and turns around. "Yeah?"
Xiao Zhan fights to swallow.
"Yibo," he says.
He doesn't know what Yibo can read in his tone, but his eyes narrow, and he takes a step closer. "What?"
Xiao Zhan sets the glass down on the coffee table and takes a deep breath. Then he forces himself to meet Yibo's gaze. Yibo's staring at him, his expression suddenly wary. Xiao Zhan has to briefly close his eyes. It doesn't really help.
"I need to talk to you," he says.
"About what?" Yibo asks. "Is everything okay?"
Xiao Zhan nods quickly, then stops. "It's—it's fine, I just—"
"Just what?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan takes a deep breath. "I don't think we should keep doing this."
There's a pause.
"What?" Yibo asks, his voice weak. "What do you mean, Zhan-ge?"
"I'm sorry," Xiao Zhan says. "I feel like it's best if we end this."
Something in Yibo's face breaks. Xiao Zhan can feel it echo through him.
Yibo wraps his arms around himself, hunching down. He has on a familiar pink hoodie, well-worn and slightly too big for him. His hair is down, no product in it, his face bare. He looks so young.
Xiao Zhan hates that he has to do this. But Yibo will get over it, will move on. Yibo will be fine, and he'll be better for not being with Xiao Zhan.
"I am sorry," Xiao Zhan says.
"Why?" Yibo asks. He's hugging himself tight, his arms a barrier against the world, against Xiao Zhan, and Xiao Zhan has to fight the urge to hold him.
"Yibo," he says. "I—"
"Did I do something?" Yibo asks, and something in Xiao Zhan's chest cracks.
"No," he says, rushing closer, and grips Yibo's arms. Yibo looks up at him, eyes wide and turning glassy, and Xiao Zhan pulls him into a hug. "No, Yibo, you didn't."
Yibo doesn't uncross his arms, but he leans in, and rests his head on Xiao Zhan's shoulder.
"Then why?" he asks, muffled against the fabric of Xiao Zhan's sweater.
"I just think it would be best," Xiao Zhan says. He realizes he's started carding his fingers through Yibo's hair. "It would be best for both of us."
Yibo doesn't make a sound, but he buries his face deeper into Xiao Zhan's shoulder.
Xiao Zhan takes a deep breath. He doesn't know what to say to convince Yibo. A part of him almost wants Yibo to argue. But he doesn't want them to fight. He hopes, however foolishly, that they can still be friends after this.
"We're both so busy," he says. "We shouldn't have to divide up our time like this."
"We've made it work so far," Yibo mumbles.
"We have," Xiao Zhan agrees. "But think of how much easier it would be for you if you didn't have to constantly be searching for holes in your schedule. If you didn't have to worry about whether any of this will affect your career in the long run."
"Is that what you worry about?" Yibo asks quietly.
Xiao Zhan presses a quick kiss to his hair. "Not when I'm with you," he says honestly. "But—"
"But you still want to break up," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan swallows carefully, and nods, helpless.
"Are you sure, Zhan-ge?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan squeezes his eyes shut. "I am."
Yibo finally unwinds at that, and wraps his arms around Xiao Zhan's waist, clinging tight. His face is buried against Xiao Zhan's chest, and he's shaking. Xiao Zhan runs a hand down his back, soothing.
"It's alright," he says. "It wasn't going to last forever. But I'm glad I got to have this with you."
Yibo lets out a shuddering breath. Xiao Zhan keeps him in his arms. He's not going to move before Yibo asks him to.
It's Yibo who pulls away first, hiding his face. He clears his throat. "Me too."
Xiao Zhan's heart aches. He has to fight the urge to reach out again.
Yibo finally looks up at him. His eyes are red but dry. He looks exhausted.
"I should probably go," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo nods shakily, and looks away again.
"I—" Xiao Zhan starts, but he doesn't know how to finish that sentence. Anything he'd want to say sounds trite, empty. I hope we can still be friends? Take care of yourself? I'm sorry?
In the end, he doesn't say anything. Yibo is staring at the wall, clearly done with the conversation, and waiting for Xiao Zhan to leave. He's holding himself so visibly tense, Xiao Zhan aches to reach out and touch him.
But Xiao Zhan has lost the privilege to do that. No; he hasn't lost it. He's given it up.
He hopes it will be worth it.
He puts his shoes and coat back on. He's tying his scarf around his neck when Yibo says, "Wait."
Xiao Zhan looks up, his heart leaping. He hopes—he doesn't know what he hopes for. That Yibo will stop him?
Yibo walks up to him, his jaw set. He tilts his chin up and asks, "How about one last kiss, Zhan-ge?"
Xiao Zhan's stomach twists painfully. The idea of having to kiss Yibo while knowing fully it's for the last time seems unbearable, but he can't deny Yibo this. And he can't pretend a part of himself doesn't want it, as well.
He nods. Yibo leans in.
Yibo's mouth is soft, and sad. When Xiao Zhan pulls back, Yibo has his eyes closed, lips still parted.
Xiao Zhan looks at him, and ignores the lump in his throat, the pressure building in his sinuses.
Yibo turns his back on him, wrapping his arms around himself once more. "You should go," he says.
Xiao Zhan lets himself out.
He decides to wait outside for his car to come. It doesn't take him long to start shivering, but he doesn't feel like he should be allowed back into Yibo's building. He can stand the cold for a bit.
He doesn't let himself cry until he gets home.
Yibo gets to keep his longer hair.
They're in costuming to help the stylists put the finishing touches on their primary looks. Yibo's wearing a vest, the sleeves on his shirt rolled up, and Xiao Zhan can't help sneaking glances. It's quite a youthful look, but then Yibo's character is meant to be one of the youngest detectives on the force.
Xiao Zhan himself is in a dark turtleneck, with a suit over it. He's meant to blend in until he decides to stand out by adding a touch of red to his outfits. It makes him feel nostalgic for Wei Wuxian; he wonders if the designer got their inspiration from that.
He sees Yibo move from the corner of his eye, and looks over again. Yibo's messing with his sleeves while the stylist looks on, assessing. His hair's falling into his eyes, and an assistant steps close and helps him pull it back into a short ponytail. Xiao Zhan hopes that won't be the look they go for, because he's not sure if he can handle it.
His own stylist sighs loudly, and he turns away quickly, feeling caught. She doesn't pay any mind, staring over at Yibo instead.
"Isn't he so handsome," she says. "Ah, but you must be used to it by now, since you've known him for so long."
Xiao Zhan forces a smile, and ignores the way his ears burn. "I guess."
"You know," she says, going back to her work. "I would have thought they'd pick him to play the villain."
"Oh?" Xiao Zhan says.
"Not that I'm not glad they picked you," she hurries to assure him. "I just assumed it would fit him better."
Xiao Zhan finds himself frowning. "How come?"
She shrugs. "I'm not sure. I just thought, out of the two of you, if anyone would play the bad guy, it would be him."
Xiao Zhan looks over to where Yibo is now adjusting his ponytail while the assistant takes pictures. He looks serious, and professional, and undeniably attractive.
"I really don't mean anything bad by that," the stylist says. "I think it's just his face, you know. The cold demeanor."
"He's not cold," Xiao Zhan says immediately, a knee-jerk response.
"Oh, I know," she says. "He's a really nice kid. I don't—I didn't mean that. It's just the perception people have. I'm sorry, I'm not expressing myself well."
Xiao Zhan shakes himself. "No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap."
"You didn't," she says, and gives him a smile. "You're protective of him. It's nice."
Xiao Zhan startles. Yibo doesn't need to be protected. He's smart and capable and he might be a bit slow to warm up to people, but he's still good with them. Everyone who knows him loves him. As they should.
And she hadn't said anything bad, not really. It was silly of Xiao Zhan to get his back up.
"I'm so sorry," he says. "What was your name?"
She looks up, seeming surprised. "Lin Sang."
He gives her a smile. "Lin Sang, do you think I could have a moment? I'll be right back. We're almost done, right?"
"Oh, of course," she says. "I'll go help out with Wang Yibo."
"You could take a break for a moment as well," he says. "I won't tell, promise." He knows the wardrobe department has been working non-stop with the cast since morning.
She pauses, and then smiles. "Alright, only a moment."
He nods and heads over to the other room where there's still some food left over from lunch. They'd had intensive training earlier in the day to prepare them for the chase and fighting scenes, and he knows neither he nor Yibo had the time to eat properly before the costume fitting. He tries to find something that would be hard to make a mess with, and grabs napkins and chopsticks as well.
When he gets back to the fitting room, they've stopped taking pictures of Yibo and have moved on to assessing his shoes instead.
"Hey," Xiao Zhan says. "Care for a bite?"
Yibo's eyes light up, and he's already reaching for the chopsticks when the main stylist—a short, stern woman—lightly smacks his leg and says, "No eating in costume."
"But Xu-laoshi," Yibo says, pouting at her.
Xiao Zhan holds the tray out to her. "I brought enough to share." She squints at him, and he holds out the napkins as well.
"Please?" Yibo tries.
She sighs. "Alright. But make it quick."
Yibo grins, taking the food from Xiao Zhan, and starts hastily—yet carefully—scarfing it down. "Thanks, Zhan-ge," he says, mouth full. "I was starving."
"I figured," Xiao Zhan says, handing the rest to the women standing closest, who proceed to divide it amongst themselves. He realizes that leaves him with nothing, but he can probably wait until dinner if needed.
Yibo makes a protesting noise when he notices Xiao Zhan is empty-handed. "Aren't you hungry?"
"I'm fine," Xiao Zhan says. "You should eat."
"We can share," Yibo says, and offers Xiao Zhan his chopsticks. "Go on."
Xiao Zhan blinks at him, but Yibo nudges at his hand until he's forced to accept them. He takes a careful bite and his stomach immediately growls as it realizes how hungry he really is.
Yibo smiles at him softly. It's not like his normal grin, wicked and playful and teasing. Nor is it the smile he gets when he's really happy and enjoying something. Instead it's just gentle, almost indulgent. Xiao Zhan rarely got to see it, even back then.
He's missed it, he realizes.
He knows he missed Yibo all this time, but now that Yibo's here it's like it's hitting him all over again.
I missed you, I missed you, I missed you.
He looks down at the meal, finding it suddenly hard to swallow. He hands it back to Yibo. Their fingers brush, and Xiao Zhan doesn't react in any way, he doesn't.
He declines when Yibo offers to let him have a few more bites. Yibo gets a little furrow between his brows, but doesn't comment. Xiao Zhan spots Lin Sang waiting for him now that the impromptu break is mostly over, and he's about to walk back over to her when Yibo grabs his wrist.
Xiao Zhan freezes, surprised.
Yibo smiles at him a bit sheepishly. "Wait," he says. "I got you something, it—Ah, A-jie, did you get it?"
Xiao Zhan turns and spots an actress who plays Yibo's teammate heading their way, looking unimpressed and a bit flushed.
"This was smuggled in," she says, handing something to Yibo.
He takes it and asks, "Didn't you get it from the vending machine in the other building?"
"Same difference," she says. "You owe me."
Xiao Zhan blinks, confused. Yibo grins, lets go of Xiao Zhan's wrist and holds out a chocolate bar. Xiao Zhan raises his eyebrows.
"Well, you heard her," Yibo says. "It was smuggled in. Go on, then."
Xiao Zhan takes the chocolate bar, his mouth already salivating. He hasn't had anything sweet since a few days ago when he indulged in a small piece of cake.
"Better eat it quickly, before the stylists catch you," Yibo says, and winks, but since he's Yibo it comes out more like an awkward blink. Xiao Zhan clutches the chocolate in his fist, oddly off-balance.
Yibo tilts his head. "Not even a thank you, gege?"
"Thanks, didi," Xiao Zhan says, and watches Yibo's face light up.
"It was nothing," he says. "Now go on before we both get in trouble for it."
Xiao Zhan snorts, and shuffles away while the stylists descend on Yibo again.
He eats the chocolate bar as discreetly as he can, feeling Yibo's gaze occasionally drift towards him. It's the most delicious thing he's tasted in ages.
Filming starts in earnest on a cold day at the end of February.
Xiao Zhan can immediately tell that it's going to be a difficult but good shoot. The director is demanding but precise and clear in what he wants, and while he has fairly high expectations he's not stingy with praise. Xiao Zhan believes he'll enjoy working with him.
The first few weeks are fast-paced with hardly any breathing room, but the cast still finds ways to spend some time together outside of shooting, and Xiao Zhan quickly makes friends with most of them. (Whenever he finds himself getting tired or feeling withdrawn or overwhelmed with social interactions he still tries to channel Wei Wuxian and his energy. It tends to work well.)
Most of Xiao Zhan's scenes are with Yibo, but Yibo has a lot more scenes than Xiao Zhan does—with his team, his sister, his love interest.
Xiao Zhan tries not to think about Yibo's love interest.
The actress is really fun—her name is Zhao Ling, and this is her first bigger role. Xiao Zhan had liked her already during the first read-through. She's quick-witted and friendly, and he can tell they have a similar sense of humor. Xiao Zhan will have a couple of scenes with just her—the regular 'kidnapping the hero's girlfriend' situation. He's looking forward to it.
He just doesn't want to think of her and Yibo. He tries not to dwell on why that is.
Luckily the romance isn't the main focus of the show, and as far as Xiao Zhan has seen in the script, there won't actually be that many moments between only Yibo and her. She's a part of the police force so mostly it'll be group scenes. There'll be a kiss, and one almost-kiss, and that will be it. Not a big deal.
They're in the middle of shooting a stand-off between Xiao Zhan's character and Yibo's team, waiting for the scene to be set up again while some people get their make-up touched up. Yibo's discussing something with the director, while Xiao Zhan is hanging out with Zhao Ling, both of them trying to keep warm in the unusually cold spring weather.
"I don't mean to complain," Zhao Ling says. "But I'm pretty sure soon I'll start losing feeling in my fingers."
"It's freezing," Xiao Zhan agrees. "Do you think we could ask someone to bring us blankets?"
"Could be worth a try," Zhao Ling says, and shivers. "At least they didn't make me wear a skirt."
"Were you afraid they would?" Xiao Zhan asks.
She shrugs. "You never know what people will think of."
"I guess," Xiao Zhan agrees. "Well, I'm glad you're not wearing a skirt, then." Zhao Ling lets out a loud laugh, and Xiao Zhan covers his face. "That came out wrong."
"No, no," she says. "You're good."
She bounces a little on her toes, and says, "You know, sometimes I wish you'd been cast in Yibo's role."
Xiao Zhan's eyes go wide. "Oh?"
"Oh!" she says, and laughs, waving her hands. "Obviously not—not like that! I'm not—It's not that."
Xiao Zhan presses a hand to his chest and takes a deep breath. He's pretty sure he's blushing. She's gone red as well, but she makes eye contact with him and he believes she's not protesting just for show.
"Sorry," she says. "Didn't mean to scare you like that."
"No, no," he says, feeling bad now. "I didn't mean to—I mean, you're very lovely."
"Please," she says, holding up a hand. "Don't, seriously, it's—I'm so not interested."
Xiao Zhan raises his eyebrows, choking out a laugh. "Ah, you don't pull your punches."
"Sorry!" she says again, wincing. "I'm—I didn't mean it like that. I—You know. Let's just forget this happened."
"Okay," Xiao Zhan agrees immediately. She turns away from him, and hides her face. Xiao Zhan can tell she's laughing, and he can't help but to join in. She looks back at him, and as soon as they make eye contact they're both gone.
Xiao Zhan is trying desperately to stop giggling as Zhao Ling is still covering her face and wheezing, when Yibo walks up to them. "What's up?" he asks, looking between the two of them.
Zhao Ling waves her hand at him, breathless, and Xiao Zhan tries to straighten up, clutching his stomach.
Yibo looks confused, though he smiles when Xiao Zhan shakes his head and grins at him.
"Nothing," Xiao Zhan says. "We're fine."
Yibo raises his eyebrows, looking at where Zhao Ling is now crouched down, her body still shaking with laughter.
Xiao Zhan wonders if they're both just exhausted, or if it really is that funny. Then he thinks of Zhao Ling's horrified face when she realized how Xiao Zhan had taken her comment, and he has to hide his face again.
"Okay," Yibo says slowly. "Well, it's going to take a bit more until we can go back to shooting, there's some problem with one of the cameras. So I guess you can carry on."
Xiao Zhan shakes his head, and closes his eyes, tries to hold his breath. "I'm fine," he says. "Oh, man."
When he opens his eyes again, Zhao Ling has finally calmed down as well. Yibo's looking between the two of them, expression curious.
"Oh, god," Zhao Ling says. "I definitely need to get my face touched up now." She heads over to the make-up station, leaving Xiao Zhan with just Yibo.
Yibo's holding the gun he has to use in this scene, idly twirling it. Xiao Zhan has left his somewhere; it's a prop and not even that realistic, but he still doesn't particularly like holding it.
Yibo seems to agree; he hits it against his other palm and says, "I wish we had swords instead."
Xiao Zhan looks over at him, narrowing his eyes. Yibo laughs and raises his hands.
"You just want a sword to hit me with," Xiao Zhan accuses.
"No, I want a sword because it looks cool," Yibo says. "That's just a bonus."
"You!" Xiao Zhan says. "Have you been tormenting your other poor co-workers like this?"
Yibo's gaze turns suddenly sharp, as he tilts his head and smiles. "Only you, Zhan-ge."
Xiao Zhan swallows hard and looks away. Does Yibo even know what he's doing?
Of course he does, he's not an idiot. This is exactly the way they used to flirt back then, even before either of them realized it was mutual flirting. But aside from that, it's also just their dynamic, and it's so tempting for Xiao Zhan as well to fall back into it.
It's not Yibo's fault that Xiao Zhan can't handle it anymore. None of it is Yibo's fault.
When he turns back, Yibo's watching him warily. It reminds Xiao Zhan of the day they broke up, and that, decidedly, is even worse.
He reaches over and smacks Yibo's arm. Some of the crew standing nearby throw him startled looks. Yibo, however, grins his familiar heart-shaped grin, the corners of his eyes crinkling up.
He hits Xiao Zhan back, and then darts away. Xiao Zhan can't help but follow him.
They chase each other around, the prop guns all but forgotten, their only goal to catch each other. Xiao Zhan is winded by the time the director calls for them to take their places. The make-up artists swoop in again, tutting over both of them. Xiao Zhan feels like he's a kid being scolded. He can feel sweat pouring down his face, and his heart is beating impossibly loud in his ears. He's nowhere close to freezing anymore.
Yibo catches his eye, and pulls a face, still smiling, and Xiao Zhan can't remember the last time he felt like this.
"What did you mean?" Xiao Zhan asks Zhao Ling later, when they're done with the scene and the crew is packing up. "Earlier, when you said you wished I'd been playing Yibo's part instead."
She throws him a look that clearly says, "I thought we agreed to pretend that didn't happen," and he raises his hands and takes a step back.
"Sorry, I was just wondering. You don't dislike him, do you?"
"Oh," she says, her face clearing. "No, no. It's just that I think you and I have way better chemistry, so it would probably be less awkward. I feel like he's not the biggest fan of me."
Xiao Zhan frowns. Yibo's seems perfectly lovely to her. Perhaps a bit shy, which can be perceived as awkward, but that's just how Yibo is sometimes. He opens his mouth to say something that hopefully won't come out too defensive, but she beats him to it.
"I don't mean that he's been rude to me or anything," she says, her smile kind. "It's just a vibe. And I guess I find it just a bit awkward that he's younger than me."
"You're barely twenty-six," he points out. "He's not a child."
She shakes her head, still smiling. "I know. Honestly, he's really nice. I didn't mean to imply otherwise. It was meant to be a compliment to you, not an insult to him."
"I—" Xiao Zhan says, and closes his mouth. "Yeah, okay. I was just wondering."
She shrugs. "But don't worry," she says. "I'm really not interested in—you."
The way she says it is careful, almost pointed. Xiao Zhan thinks maybe he gets it.
In case he's right, and even if he's not, he gives her a hopefully kind and friendly smile, and says, "That's okay."
She smiles at him, and it looks like she might want to go in for a hug, but then she shakes herself and says, "Alright, let's go get some dinner. You're coming with us, right?"
"Yeah, I'll be there," he says. "You don't have to wait up, though."
"Okay, see you then," she says, and heads off. Xiao Zhan finishes packing up his stuff, and is putting on his coat when he notices Yibo standing near the doors, looking his way.
Xiao Zhan raises his hand and signals to him to go on ahead.
Yibo stares at him for a moment, and then nods, leaving. Xiao Zhan pulls his hood up, picks up his bag and goes to wait for his own car.
Xiao Zhan is weirdly nervous for their first interview together. The ones they did during The Untamed had been so low-pressure; fun and exciting, as they were figuring each other out. Xiao Zhan remembers feeling thrilled at how well they got along, how easy it was to tease and play off each other.
He doesn't want to think about how this might compare.
They're doing the interview near the set that's used for Yibo's office, between scenes. They were promised it would be a short one, as they don't have a lot of room in the schedule today.
Yibo's been a bit withdrawn over the past few days, but he's got a sparkle in his eyes while they wait for the interviewer to set up.
Xiao Zhan squints at him. "What's got you in such a good mood?"
He's by no means complaining, but it does seem a bit unfair considering they've been working since the early morning, and Xiao Zhan feels like he's ready for a nap by now. Maybe he's getting too old for this. Not the acting, but just the long, long days.
Yibo shrugs. "Just excited."
"For the interview?" Xiao Zhan asks, confused, and gapes when Yibo nods. "Who are you and what have you done with Wang Yibo?"
"I like interviews," Yibo defends himself.
Xiao Zhan raises his eyebrows higher.
"Well, I like interviews with Xiao-laoshi," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan blinks at him. Yibo blinks back, innocent.
"Alright, are you ready?" the interviewer asks.
"Yes," Yibo says, and turns to her with a smile. Xiao Zhan shakes his head, disbelieving.
It becomes almost immediately clear what Yibo meant.
"So, how did you feel when you found out you were working together again?" the interviewer starts with.
"Thrilled," Yibo says. He doesn't exactly sound thrilled, but he sounds absolutely sincere. "I'd really missed working with Zhan-ge."
"Uh," Xiao Zhan says. "Yes, really excited."
"We were all thrilled as well," she says, smiling wide. "Can you tell us more about the show?"
They give her the generic spiel they've received from the director, careful not to reveal any key plot moments. The interviewer doesn't seem too interested in it anyway, and quickly turns the questions back to the two of them.
"So have you been keeping up with each other's careers?" she asks.
"Yes," Yibo says, and Xiao Zhan is quick to nod as well.
"What's your favorite project the other's done?"
"Uh," Xiao Zhan says, floundering. He doesn't actually have a good answer for this. He has watched some of Yibo's shows, but at some point it just became too painful.
"Oath of Love," Yibo says, no hesitation.
Xiao Zhan turns to him, eyebrows raised. Yibo's staring at the interviewer.
"Oh, yes, that was really good!" the interviewer says cheerfully, and Yibo nods, looking...pleased?
"Xiao-laoshi was excellent in it," Yibo says. "As always."
Xiao Zhan sighs, rolling his eyes. The interviewer laughs.
"Do you think he'll be even better in this show?" she asks.
"He's constantly getting better," Yibo says. "Xiao-laoshi has no limits."
Xiao Zhan buries his head in his hands, exasperated. "Bo-di, you can't just say that."
"It's true," Yibo insists.
The interviewer turns to Xiao Zhan. "And what are your thoughts on Wang Yibo's skills?"
"He's amazing," Xiao Zhan says honestly. "He's improved a lot as well."
"Wow," Yibo says. "That sounds like you didn't think I was good at it before."
"No!" Xiao Zhan says. "That's not—that's what you said as well."
Yibo tilts his head, and makes a face. "I think I phrased it better. But that's okay, I know I can't come close to Xiao-laoshi."
Xiao Zhan opens his mouth, and closes it again.
"Wang Yibo, how do you think Xiao Zhan looks now that he's thirty?" the interviewer asks.
"Better than ever," Yibo says, looking straight at him. Xiao Zhan muffles a squeak, and turns away.
"Do you think you'll look that good when you're his age?" she asks.
"I doubt it," Yibo says. He sounds so fucking earnest. Xiao Zhan doesn't know what to do with it. He's sure his ears are red by this point.
"Aw," the interviewer says. "I disagree with that."
"Me too," Xiao Zhan cuts in. "Wang-laoshi will definitely look better than me when he's thirty."
Yibo shakes his head. "Impossible."
"Speaking of the future," the interviewer says. "I know you've just started filming here, but do you already have anything exciting lined up after this?"
Xiao Zhan pauses at that. He does have a few things he's auditioned for, but hasn't heard from yet, and a possible short run on a variety show that he's still considering and is not allowed to mention yet.
"I'm not looking for the next thing yet," Yibo says next to him, voice clear and weirdly serious. "I'm happy here."
Xiao Zhan turns to him, surprised. He'd imagined Yibo would be booked full for the next year, at least. But maybe he isn't allowed to reveal anything yet, either.
"What about you, Xiao-laoshi?" Yibo asks, his expression strange, hard for Xiao Zhan to read.
"No," Xiao Zhan says slowly, and turns back to the interviewer. He can feel Yibo's gaze still on him. "I don't have anything lined up."
He hears Yibo let out a quiet breath. Something clenches in his stomach in response.
Then the interviewer changes the topic to hobbies, and Yibo starts talking about the collaboration with LEGO he got to do, and Xiao Zhan wonders if he just imagined the oddness of the moment.
He makes a stupid joke about motorcycles that he saw on Weibo, and the sound of Yibo trying and failing to stifle his laughter is both delightful and distracting enough to make Xiao Zhan forget about it for now.
It takes Xiao Zhan some time to understand exactly how deeply fucked he is.
They're filming in an abandoned warehouse this evening, which is technically a warehouse but is far from abandoned, even if there are parts of it that seem a bit left to disrepair. Nothing dangerous, though, just a bit unkempt. With Yibo here, Xiao Zhan can't help but compare all of the scenes and all of the sets to The Untamed.
He wouldn't say he misses shooting in the middle of a forest in horrible humid heat, but it did have a certain charm. It almost felt like they were invincible back then. They could act however wild they wanted and just blame it on being exhausted and overheated.
The atmosphere is different on this show, obviously, and Xiao Zhan knows nothing he'll ever take part in again will feel quite like The Untamed did. He's been aware of that ever since it ended, but the nostalgia still sometimes creeps up on him, like a sudden lump in his throat.
They're in between takes, waiting to start shooting the scene where Yibo's crew bursts into the warehouse to save him from Xiao Zhan. Yibo doesn't exactly need saving—he's not being held at gunpoint or anything—but it's still a good scene.
Xiao Zhan had accidentally ripped his sleeve earlier and is getting it fixed, while the next shot is being lined up. Yibo is wandering around the set, peeking out the windows.
"Now be careful with this," Xu Ying tells Xiao Zhan as she finishes up. "I don't want to fix this again."
"I will," Xiao Zhan promises.
There's a sudden shout from Yibo, and Xiao Zhan quickly turns towards him. Yibo's waving his hand around, looking distraught, and Xiao Zhan thanks Xu Ying and hurries over.
"What happened?" he asks.
"I walked into a spiderweb," Yibo says. He looks at Xiao Zhan, his eyes betrayed.
Xiao Zhan bites down on his lip, trying to hold in a giggle.
"Don't laugh!" Yibo complains. "It startled me, okay!"
"Okay," Xiao Zhan says, smiling.
Yibo huffs and pushes his hair behind his ear, and that's when Xiao Zhan sees it. It's not a particularly big spider, but it is perched right on the strands of hair still falling over Yibo's forehead.
"Um," he says. "Don't freak out."
Yibo's eyes immediately go wide, and he raises his hand again.
"Wait," Xiao Zhan says, grabbing his wrist. "Don't move, I'll get it."
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," Yibo says, and closes his eyes.
His eyelashes flutter and Xiao Zhan watches his throat move as he swallows. His arm is slightly trembling in Xiao Zhan's grip, and Xiao Zhan has to shake himself to banish the images trying to crowd in. Fuck, indeed.
"Did you get it?" Yibo asks.
"Almost," Xiao Zhan says. "Stay still, okay." He lets go of Yibo, and carefully picks up the spider with both hands, before crouching to set it down on the ground.
"Sorry, little one," he tells it. "You need to go talk to the casting director if you want to be in this scene."
"Is it gone?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan looks up at him and freezes. Yibo stares back at him, eyes wide, face a bit flushed, waiting for Xiao Zhan's answer.
Xiao Zhan doesn't know what it is—not something that Yibo does, perhaps just the fact that he is so very Yibo—but something shifts in him at that moment and slots into place. It is quickly followed by a deep want, a longing that suddenly fills his chest and settles in his stomach.
It feels as if he could drown in it. He's breathless.
"Zhan-ge?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan stands up, clears his throat, and says, "It's gone."
"Oh," Yibo says, clutching his chest. "My heart's beating so fast."
"You'll live," Xiao Zhan says, voice sounding weak even to himself. "It was barely a little thing."
"Shut up," Yibo says. "Fuck."
Xiao Zhan's spared from figuring out what to say next by Song Yongjun, who plays Yibo's right-hand man, walking over.
"What's going on here?" he asks.
"There was a spider," Xiao Zhan says.
"You're afraid of spiders?" Song Yongjun asks.
"It was in my hair," Yibo says defensively.
"Ah," Song Yongjun says, and raises a hand to his own hair. "Gross."
"Right?" Yibo says, his eyes wide. "Luckily Zhan-ge saved me."
Song Yongjun looks over at Xiao Zhan, amused. Xiao Zhan can only shrug.
"I thought we were supposed to save you from him," Song Yongjun says.
Yibo laughs, and Xiao Zhan's heart twinges, the stupid thing.
"What, you don't trust your fearless leader to handle things himself?" Yibo asks.
"Well, I didn't know that our fearless leader's weakness was spiders," Song Yongjun says.
Yibo makes a face, shuddering theatrically, and Song Yongjun laughs. Xiao Zhan smiles, the tight feeling in his chest starting slowly to retreat.
And then as they head to take their places, Yibo bumps against his shoulder and quietly says, "Thanks, Zhan-ge," and it's back again, rising in Xiao Zhan's throat and making it hard to swallow.
He pushes it down and focuses on his job. It's all he can do, really.
He's in his hotel room that evening, going through his phone and trying to unwind from the long day, when he sees, to his surprise, that he has a new message from Ayunga. They haven't spoken in a while, and Xiao Zhan hopes everything's okay if Ayunga's contacting him.
The text isn't what he expects.
Hi, Ayunga has sent. I saw on the news that you're working on a show with Wang Yibo? How's that going?
He feels the slightest trickle of annoyance, but mostly warmth at being known.
Hi! he writes back. Haven't talked in a while, hope you're doing well! It's going... well. As well as it can, I guess?
Yibo's being really great, actually, he adds. Honestly, sometimes it almost feels like nothing's changed, you know? But then I remember that it has, and it's just strange.
Ayunga had sent his message earlier during the day, so Xiao Zhan doesn't expect him to immediately respond. He makes himself a relaxing tea, takes out his contacts, and starts his bedtime routine. By the time he's done, Ayunga's texted him back.
That sounds good, he says. It makes sense for it to feel weird, but I'm glad it's not going badly. Yibo's a good kid.
Something smarts in Xiao Zhan at Ayunga calling Yibo a kid, even though it's not wrong. And he's right, Yibo is good. He always has been.
I guess I just expected things to be different, Xiao Zhan says. I swear that sometimes he's flirting with me, but then I'm not sure. I don't know.
And how do you feel about that? Ayunga asks. Or about him, really?
It's complicated, Xiao Zhan says. Confusing.
It always is, Ayunga says. Let me know if you need any help in figuring it out.
Xiao Zhan lets out a breath, feeling grateful. He appreciates that Ayunga never pushed him into talking, not even back then, and just let Xiao Zhan know he was there to listen.
Thanks, he sends back. I will.
They chat for a while after that about their lives in general. Xiao Zhan is happy to catch up; he'd liked spending time with Ayunga during "Our Song", and felt safe and seen in a way that two people sharing the same secret can feel.
He's about ready to turn in, when he gets a text from Xuan Lu.
Hey, I just finished a really long shoot and would love to talk to someone. Are you around?
He sits up straighter and texts back, Of course, you can call me!
His phone rings almost immediately, and he picks up, slightly worried. She sounds fine, though, if maybe a bit tired. Xiao Zhan understands the nights when your brain is just stuck on whatever you were shooting, and you'd give anything to talk to someone who is in no way related to the production.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asks her.
"Mm, maybe later," she says. "I want to hear about you first! How's the filming going?"
"Uh," Xiao Zhan says. "Good."
He can tell she's immediately suspicious. "Just good?"
"Yeah," Xiao Zhan says. "It's going well."
"Hm," she says. "And how's filming with Yibo?"
Xiao Zhan clears his throat. "Good."
"A-Xian," she says. "What are you not telling me?"
Xiao Zhan groans and flops over onto his back.
"It's stupid," he says.
"Try me," she says.
"I saved him from a spider today, and then he looked at me, or I looked at him, and he didn't even do or say anything, he was just Yibo, and it's like my stomach turned over, and my chest got so tight, and for a second I almost felt like I was going to pass out."
There's a long pause.
"And I swear it's not dehydration," Xiao Zhan says. "And I've been eating fine." He's been eating regularly since Yibo's been reminding him and always making sure he comes with when the cast goes out for food, and Xiao Zhan's been doing that for him in return, but he's not about to mention that.
"Xiao Zhan," Xuan Lu says. "Do you still have feelings for him?"
"No," he says. "Maybe." He sighs and takes his glasses off so he can cover his face with his arm. "I don't know. It doesn't matter."
"How can it not matter?" she asks.
"Because it's been two years," he says. "Because I broke up with him."
"But if you still love him—"
"I don't," he says immediately. "...I didn't think I did."
Xuan Lu is quiet on the other end of the line. Xiao Zhan digs his knuckles into his eye, and says, "I should have moved on. Right?"
"But did you?" she asks.
No. No, he really hadn't, had he? He'd pushed it away and ignored it, but the feelings he had for Yibo, the love he felt for Yibo had never gone anywhere.
But that doesn't change anything, really. It doesn't change any of their circumstances, and it doesn't erase any of the reasons why Xiao Zhan decided to end things.
It is just—an inconvenience.
He immediately feels bad after thinking that. Him loving Yibo, Yibo being loved, should never be described like that.
It hurts, yes, but that doesn't make it an inconvenience. It's just a fact of life. If he could choose to stop loving Yibo, he doesn't think he would.
The thought makes his throat feel tight, and he has to pinch the bridge of his nose and take a deep breath.
Xuan Lu reads his silence for the assent it is.
"A-Xian," she says. "What if Yibo—"
"No," Xiao Zhan says, cutting her off.
"You didn't even let me finish," she says.
"I know what you were going to say."
"Well, but what if?" she asks. "What if Yibo feels the same?"
"He doesn't," Xiao Zhan says. "Why would he?"
Xuan Lu makes a protesting noise.
"It's been two years," Xiao Zhan says. "Lulu, be realistic."
"I am," she says. "I just—"
"It wouldn't matter anyway," he says. "It wouldn't change anything."
The thought that Yibo might—Xiao Zhan can't even think about that. It does strange things to his insides, and he can't handle the idea, not now.
"If you're sure," Xuan Lu says, sounding doubtful.
He's not, but that's as good as it's going to get.
The thing is, it's nice to get to spend time with Yibo again, and that's the one thing Xiao Zhan really doesn't want to risk. It might not be how it was, but it's still Yibo smiling at him, laughing with him, teaching Xiao Zhan random dances for the hell of it. It's something Xiao Zhan didn't think he'd ever get to have again.
For that, he can push down the other feelings. To keep that safe, he can ignore whatever else might want to surface.
"I'm sure," he tells Xuan Lu.
"Alright," she says. "But if you need to talk about it more then I'm here."
"I know," he says softly. "Thank you. Do you...want to talk about your day now?"
She sighs, and says, "Yeah, okay."
Xiao Zhan lies down properly and gets ready to listen.
Whatever might happen, he's always grateful to The Untamed for bringing so many wonderful people into his life.
A week later, they're filming a chase scene in the rain.
For this one, Yibo's only in his shirt and boxers, barefoot as he's supposed to have just run out of his apartment in the middle of the night. Xiao Zhan is wearing nice pants and an almost skin-tight black sweater. The whole scene will culminate in a brief tussle before Xiao Zhan's character has the chance to get away.
Xiao Zhan is valiantly not thinking about that part.
Setting up takes forever, as usual with rain scenes. They're only shooting the outside parts now, nothing inside the apartment except the moment where they both run out the front doors. At least they're not in the middle of nowhere like with The Untamed, and can wait in an actual building until they have to start.
"Well," Xiao Zhan says. "This will be a popular scene."
Yibo snickers next to him. They're leaning against the wall, both already in costume. Which in Yibo's case means barely an outfit. His shirt is loose-fitting, at least, but Xiao Zhan can already picture what it will look like when wet, clinging in parts to Yibo's body. He clears his throat, and shifts from one foot to the other.
"Everyone will be really disappointed you're wearing so much compared to me," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan blinks. "Sure, that's what everyone will be thinking about."
"You'll see," Yibo says. "It'll be trending on Weibo. Hashtag, 'Why didn't Xiao Zhan take his pants off too?'"
Xiao Zhan reaches out and hits Yibo's arm. His warm, bare arm. It's possible he miscalculated this.
Yibo just snorts and hits him back.
"The fans will be too focused on you to even think about me," Xiao Zhan says easily. He doesn't mean it in a self-deprecating way. It's just that Yibo is Yibo, and if the fans have any sense they won't have time to even think about anything or anyone else. "They won't be disappointed."
"Xiao Zhan, we're ready for you!" the assistant director calls, and Xiao Zhan squares his shoulders and pushes away from the wall.
"Well," Yibo says, smirking. "I know I'm disappointed."
Xiao Zhan almost stumbles. God, Yibo.
Yibo looks mighty pleased with himself. Xiao Zhan could hit him. Could kiss him, could—
The crew pulls him away.
The rest of the shoot is a whirlwind. They film shots of them bursting through the doors separately, and after that it's just the two of them running, running, running, as the cold rain beats down on them. Xiao Zhan hadn't expected it would be quite so cold. He doesn't mind much, though, he prefers that to the stifling heat of shooting for hours under the blazing sun.
He's worried about Yibo, though, barefoot and practically half-naked as he is.
At least the running should keep him warm, Xiao Zhan reasons with himself.
And then they're done with running, and it's the fight scene. The director left it for last so it would be obvious how winded they are from the chase. Yibo's supposed to tackle Xiao Zhan to the ground, try to restrain him, and then Xiao Zhan will flip them, knee Yibo in the crotch, and escape.
Xiao Zhan wonders if it's a blessing or a curse that they didn't do any proper choreography for it. He's not sure he could have done it in front of their choreography teacher without dying of mortification, but at least he would have somehow been prepared for it.
They take care with the tackling part to make sure neither of them gets hurt, and it's a meticulous enough process that by the time Xiao Zhan realizes he's on his stomach on the wet ground with Yibo's hands gripping his wrists, it's too late to do anything besides at least attempt to control his reaction.
Yibo's fingers flex as the director shouts something, and one of his knees slips between Xiao Zhan's thighs. Xiao Zhan wishes abruptly that he wasn't wearing pants, either. Then he wishes he was dead.
Thank god they're shooting mostly in the dark. His body feels like it's on fire; he can't imagine how red his face must be.
Wang Yibo shifts above him again, and Xiao Zhan squeezes his eyes shut.
"You okay, Zhan-ge?" Yibo asks. He actually sounds concerned, the asshole.
"Fine," he grits out.
There's a crew member standing right next to them, holding an umbrella over them while they get in position, so Xiao Zhan can't even curse Yibo out like he wants to.
"Alright, go again!" the director shouts, and Xiao Zhan welcomes the water pouring down over him once more.
They have to do the part where Xiao Zhan changes their positions several times, because the director feels Yibo lets it happen too easily. Xiao Zhan could fucking scream. Instead he grits his teeth, ignores his dick, and does his job.
Being on top of Yibo—even briefly before he's supposed to knee him in the crotch—is worse. He didn't think it could get worse, but now he can see Yibo's face, and Xiao Zhan is honestly considering death.
Yibo looks wrecked, his hair plastered to his face, his dark eyes gazing up at Xiao Zhan, his lips parted. He's panting under Xiao Zhan, and there is a camera right next to them and Xiao Zhan is half-hard.
"Zhan-ge," Yibo says, and swallows heavily. Xiao Zhan watches his throat move, and wants to lick it. "Please don't actually hit me in the balls."
Xiao Zhan closes his eyes, his fingers digging into Yibo's bare arm, his mind filling with images of Yibo underneath him in bed, of Yibo naked and pliant.
Yibo's going to be the death of him.
"Zhan-ge?" Yibo says, and he sounds worried now, as if he isn't aware of what he's doing to Xiao Zhan. But when Xiao Zhan fixes him with a glare in return, Yibo pauses, and the corner of his mouth curves up.
And then the director calls for the shot and Xiao Zhan shoves everything to the back of his mind, and concentrates on doing his fucking job.
How much he succeeds in that, he can't tell. But he does the scene—managing to avoid actually kneeing Yibo—and finally the director calls it and it's over.
The crew descend on them, covering them with umbrellas again and wrapping them in blankets. By the time they trudge back to the building the water overhead has been turned off, and Xiao Zhan is struck by how much quieter it is. He feels slightly dizzy from the sudden change, and from the blood rushing to his head. At least he's no longer turned on, he thinks idly, as Yibo walks up to him and bumps his shoulder.
They shuffle into the building where there's a room set up for them so they can change their clothes. Xiao Zhan wishes they'd given them a place to shower as well, but luckily the hotel isn't that far away.
The room is divided into two sections, and their make-up crew and wardrobe stylists are hanging out, waiting to pack up for the night. There's a general round of tutting when they enter, and several people rush to bring them towels. Yibo shakes out the blanket someone placed around his shoulders and sets it to the side.
He's drenched, his shirt clinging to his chest, his—
Xiao Zhan valiantly keeps his eyes above Yibo's waistline. There are goosebumps all over his bare arms, and Xiao Zhan feels cold just looking at him. The room isn't exactly the warmest place, either, and he really wishes he could direct Yibo to a shower.
He takes the towel someone hands him and sets it on Yibo's shoulders instead.
"What are you doing?" Yibo asks. "I already have a towel."
"You're freezing," Xiao Zhan says. "You'll catch a cold like this."
"I'm not cold," Yibo says. "And that's not how it works."
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes. He has to forcibly hold back from drying Yibo off himself. "Alright, doctor Wang."
"Aren't you cold?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan's a bit chilly, but mostly he's just soaked, his jeans uncomfortable around his thighs, his sweater almost weighing him down.
"I'm fine," he says.
"You should get out of those wet clothes," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan pauses. He's suddenly hyper-aware of the crew milling around them, and he's unsure of how to respond. Yibo was always better at this—he was careful, and yet he could get away with saying the wildest, most honest things, and not having anyone bat an eye. Xiao Zhan was always the overthinker, and it's probably only gotten worse.
"Focus on yourself," he says in the end. "You need to get warm, you're shivering."
"Worried about me, Zhan-ge?" Yibo asks, his voice teasing now.
"Of course I'm worried about my co-worker," Xiao Zhan says, pointed.
Yibo's expression shutters, his eyes going cool and professional. Xiao Zhan feels the loss in the pit of his stomach.
He wishes he could take it back. He doesn't know what to do. He worries he's going to make a mess of things.
Yibo hands Xiao Zhan's towel back to him and disappears behind the divider. Xiao Zhan looks down, his breath stuttering.
He just can't deal with Yibo's flirting. He's so close to giving in. And what then? They'll fuck around for a bit, and go their separate ways? Xiao Zhan couldn't do that again. His heart is too tender. Yibo might be up for that, but he's not.
The fact that Yibo might still want him like that isn't really such a surprise. Xiao Zhan's someone he trusted, once, and that can be hard to come by in the industry, especially when it comes to same-sex relationships. It doesn't have to mean anything more than that.
It probably doesn't mean anything more than that. It's likely just a bit of fun. It should be easy to ignore, but when Yibo simply looks at him, it's like Xiao Zhan doesn't know what to do with himself.
It's ridiculous; he's thirty, not some teenager. And yet his heart yearns for Yibo's attention, and at the same time can't handle it.
The room has fallen quiet—half of the crew have left, and the rest are packing up the last of it.
"Xiao Zhan," someone says carefully. "Shouldn't you change your clothes as well?"
Xiao Zhan looks up, startled. "Oh, yes, I—"
His fingers clench on the towel he's still holding, and he looks over to the other side of the room just as Yibo walks out fully dressed. His hair is still slightly damp, and slightly wavy, his fringe plastered to his forehead. He glances at Xiao Zhan once as he walks past, his face unreadable.
Xiao Zhan swallows the lump in his throat, and heads to get changed.
He hadn't meant to do that to Yibo. He vows to himself he'll somehow fix it tomorrow.
Tomorrow brings a scratchy throat, and a slight headache. By noon he's coughing, and his lymph nodes are swollen, his sinuses clogged up. He keeps messing up his lines, so in the end it's strongly suggested that he should head back to the hotel and get at least a few hours of rest before they resume shooting. He's almost at the car when he realizes Yibo has followed him.
"Don't you have something else to film?" he asks, confused.
"Not right now," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan is too tired to question it. He's just grateful that Yibo doesn't seem to be angry at him for how things ended last night. At the hotel, Yibo follows him into his room without comment, and Xiao Zhan chooses not to question that either.
"This is deeply unfair," he croaks, when he's finally curled up on his bed, shivering. He was promised a doctor would be by soon to check on him. He wonders if they'll hook him up to an IV just to get him into good enough shape so they can finish shooting. It probably won't help with the cough, though.
"You brought this on yourself," Yibo says. He's making a lot of noise, shuffling around the room. It cuts right through Xiao Zhan's headache.
Xiao Zhan whines, muffling it against his pillow. "How did I bring it on myself?"
"You should have taken care of yourself," Yibo says. "Instead of fussing over me."
"I wasn't fussing," Xiao Zhan protests.
"Oh, my mistake," Yibo says. "It must have been some other Zhan-ge who tried to give me all of his towels."
Xiao Zhan frowns. His eyes hurt. "You were cold."
"I was fine," Yibo says. "You were cold, and you never look after yourself."
"I look after myself," Xiao Zhan weakly. He's gotten a lot better at it, he thinks. He even takes days off sometimes, when he can. "Besides, you said that that's not how it works. You don't get sick from the cold."
"Xiao-laoshi is a medical mystery," Yibo says. "Now sit up and drink some tea."
"I don't want tea," Xiao Zhan says. He does want something to soothe his throat, but the idea of having to move again is too much.
"Tough," Yibo says, as the bed dips under his weight. "Guess you're also not getting these painkillers, then."
Xiao Zhan groans, and pushes himself up. His head swims, and he almost slumps over, but then he's leaning against Yibo's side, Yibo's arm wrapped around his waist.
"Easy," Yibo says, his voice soft. "The doctor will be here soon. Here, take this."
Xiao Zhan swallows the pill, Yibo's hand around his as he clutches the glass of water. Swallowing fucking hurts, and Xiao Zhan must make some sort of sound, because Yibo's hold on him tightens.
"You shouldn't sit so close," Xiao Zhan tells him, even though it's the last thing he wants to say. "You'll get sick, too."
"Shut up," Yibo says, and picks up the tea. "Have a bit of this."
He lets Xiao Zhan hold the mug by himself, at least. The tea's good, warming him from the inside, and slightly soothing his headache. Or maybe that's the painkillers already working.
Or perhaps it's Yibo, still sitting on the bed with him, his presence soothing in a way that Xiao Zhan doesn't have the energy to think about.
There's a knock on the door. Yibo gets up to answer it, and Xiao Zhan pulls the blankets closer to himself, shivering at the loss.
The doctor is a kind, no-nonsense woman, and checks him over quickly. He has a small fever, and a throat that makes her tut disapprovingly. She gives him some cough medicine, and says the best thing he can do is to sleep it off, and contact her again if the fever rises too high or if he has any issues with breathing.
"You can't take this yet," Yibo says after she's left. He's squinting at the package. "It has the same painkillers in it that I gave you, so you have to wait a few hours."
"I'll take it when I wake up," Xiao Zhan says, and sets his alarm for two hours later. "Do you think it will knock me out again?"
"Probably," Yibo says.
"Fuck," Xiao Zhan says. "I have to take it after work, then."
At this point he can't even remember what scene they're supposed to be filming tonight. He can only hope that it's nothing too physically demanding. And nothing where he has to talk too much. His throat's feeling horribly sore.
He goes to lie down, but Yibo grabs his arm. "You need to take out your contacts."
"Oh, shit," Xiao Zhan says. He would have completely forgotten.
Yibo disappears into the bathroom, and comes back with the contact case, a small mirror, and eyedrops.
"Do you need me to hold the mirror?" he asks, settling down on the bed again. His knee bumps against Xiao Zhan's leg. Something in Xiao Zhan's chest squeezes. Maybe he's already having the breathing troubles the doctor described.
"Xiao Zhan?" Yibo asks.
It's just nice to have someone here, looking after him. Xiao Zhan often has people fussing over him when he's ill, assistants, his manager, but it's different when it's someone who doesn't have to do it. It's nice that it's Yibo. It's nice that he seems to know what Xiao Zhan needs right now even when Xiao Zhan himself doesn't.
"Yeah, thanks," Xiao Zhan says.
Getting the contact lenses out takes longer than usual, with the way his hands shake, and he has to pause in between for a coughing fit. Finally he's done and flops down, exhausted.
"If I sleep through my alarm," he says, "will you come and wake me? Don't let me be late."
Yibo doesn't answer, and Xiao Zhan squints up at him. Yibo's looking down at the contact case, his expression unreadable. Xiao Zhan suddenly feels bad for asking. Yibo's already done enough. But it's Yibo, and Yibo doesn't think like that. He does what he wants, no matter what other people want. Not that he isn't considerate, but he doesn't let himself be influenced. He knows how to say no and how to set boundaries. It's something Xiao Zhan has always admired.
Still, he doesn't in any way want to take advantage of Yibo.
"Yibo?" he asks. "I didn't—"
Yibo looks up, and nods. "Okay."
Xiao Zhan blinks. "Oh. Okay, good. Thank you." He checks the time from his phone and sighs. He has less than two hours now before he has to get up again. He sets the phone on the bedside and table and curls up underneath the blankets. The movement triggers a new coughing fit. Thankfully it doesn't last too long, but it leaves him with his head pounding, throat aching. He hopes to god he'll feel better after his nap. The thought of having to shoot like this makes him want to cry.
"Yibo," he says. "I'm so tired."
Yibo's quiet for a while. "Then sleep," he says eventually.
Xiao Zhan squeezes his eyes closed and tries to breathe shallowly. He can feel his body growing heavy.
"I'm sorry," he says. "About calling you my co-worker yesterday. You know you're—you know that's not all you are, right?"
There's a beat, and then Yibo says, "I know."
Xiao Zhan lets out a breath, relieved. "Good," he says. "That's good."
He's almost asleep when he feels a hand stroking his hair.
He might already be dreaming.
The next few days are a blur.
He has a fever and a bad head cold, and he's asleep more than he's awake.
He had ended up sleeping through his alarm that afternoon, only waking late in the evening. He'd been upset and confused at first, but when he'd checked his phone he'd seen several texts from the assistant director telling him the schedule for the night had been changed and he hoped Xiao Zhan felt better soon. His manager had also texted him, telling him she'd be coming by and that she'd let him know about the updated schedule as soon as she had it.
The messages he'd sent them both back had been as grateful as he could hope to convey through his phone. Even if he had to work again the next day, at least he'd had that evening off.
The next day he wakes up and feels worse. His manager hasn't texted him and no one has let him know to come in, so he takes some painkillers and goes back to sleep. He feels guilty about it, of course, but he had almost fallen when trying to get to the bathroom, and his temperature is a steady thirty-eight point seven. He is going to stay in his bed until someone actually comes to get him.
He doesn't expect that no one will need him for days. He's sure he has scenes to film, but when he messages his manager she just tells him that everything had been rescheduled and she'll let him know once she hears anything.
He takes his cough medicine based on the schedule his manager must have set up on his phone when she came by. There's also breakfast and lunch being delivered to his room every day, and even when he can't handle eating all of it, he's so grateful. He needs to do something nice for the hotel at the end of his stay here.
Yibo texts him occasionally to ask how he's doing, but he doesn't come by. Xiao Zhan tells himself he's not disappointed. At least it means that Yibo won't catch whatever he has, in case he is contagious.
By the end of the third day he's feeling better. His throat's less sore, and his head no longer starts pounding whenever he coughs. The cough itself seems to be pulling back as well, and he feels like if he needed to be back on set tomorrow, he'd be fine. Well, he'd be more or less okay.
No one has told him when he's expected back, though. He sets aside the plate he just finished and calls his manager.
She sounds cheerful enough when she answers, and Xiao Zhan lets out a relieved breath. She's glad to hear he's doing better and lets him know he has tomorrow off as well. That makes it four days of no work, and he's equally grateful for them accommodating him and embarrassed for having needed the time off. He probably would have insisted on working on the second day already, but since they'd apparently already rescheduled and Yibo's accusation of not taking care of himself is still stuck in his head, he lets it go. He promises himself he'll make it up to everyone somehow.
"Thank you," he tells Yang Mei. "For having the shooting rescheduled. I'm sorry you had to."
There's a pause. "Oh, but Xiao Zhan, I didn't," she says, sounding confused.
"What?" he asks, equally confused. "But—What?"
"I didn't," she says, and he imagines if he could see her she'd be shrugging. "When I talked to the director they'd already rescheduled everything."
"Oh," Xiao Zhan says. "Oh, okay, then I'll have to thank them, obviously."
"Oh, no, honey," she says. "From what I heard, it wasn't because you were ill. I mean, it worked out perfectly for us, of course, but you don't need to worry. Apparently they needed to change the schedule anyway."
Xiao Zhan frowns. "So it wasn't because of me? You're sure?"
"Yes, yes," she says. "Absolutely. The director made that very clear. Something else came up, apparently."
"Okay," Xiao Zhan says, an uncertain feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was sure they'd been accommodating. It was too big of a coincidence, right?
"Honestly," she says, "if you hadn't gotten sick, I would have been a bit upset over a last-minute change like that. But we could have probably fit a few interviews or something into all those days off, or maybe a commercial shoot."
"Oh," he says, still thrown. "Yeah, of course."
"But don't get me wrong," she says. "I'm glad you had those days off to recover. You are feeling better, right? You'll be okay with going back to work?"
"Yes," he assures her. "Completely! I'm doing so much better."
"Great, great," she says. "Alright, I have to go, but text me if you need anything or if anything changes."
"I will," he promises. "Thank you, again."
He sets his phone to the side and leans back against the headboard. It's not that late yet, but he still gets tired easily. His eyes hurt, and he can feel a slight headache coming on again. He should just take his meds and go to sleep, and try to wake up early tomorrow to get into a proper routine again before he has to go back to the set.
It still doesn't make sense for them to have rescheduled everything just as he fell ill, but not because of him. He wants to feel relieved, and a part of him does, but the low-level anxiety is still there in his stomach, twisting him up. Could it be that Yang Mei was somehow mistaken? Is it possible that the director decided to accommodate him on his own? But that must have been a huge inconvenience for everyone and he couldn't imagine the production doing it without pressure from his manager.
And if his manager had asked him, Xiao Zhan would have gone and done the shoots.
Maybe he should have pressed her harder on it. But if the production really had switched up the schedules then it's not like they would have changed it all back just for him, either. Still, he should have taken the initiative and at least offered.
But he's done this for years now, and has pushed himself to the limit more times than he could count. Maybe the universe owed him one. Maybe it's best not to question it.
He drifts off easily that night, his sleep for once sound.
He sleeps in until eleven the following day, but he feels so much better when he finally gets up.
He still has a cough, but his throat barely hurts, and his head is a lot clearer. He goes to take a shower, planning already to get properly dressed for the first time in days, and see if he can go see whatever is being shot right now. The shower leaves him feeling tired instead of invigorated, though, and he's forced to admit to himself that he should probably still take it easy for now, especially if he wants to be alright by tomorrow.
He contacts his manger, catches up on his emails, reads a few chapters of this book he picked up months ago from an airport bookstore, and takes a nap. When he wakes it's late afternoon, and he's famished and tired of sitting inside. He figures he can at least leave his room and maybe go to the restaurant at the hotel for dinner. Hopefully it won't be too crowded. Maybe he should text someone from the cast and ask if they wanted to join him.
The problem is that the only one he wants to hear from is Wang Yibo. Yibo messaged him in the morning, before five, asking once again how Xiao Zhan was feeling. Xiao Zhan got back to him once he'd woken, telling Yibo he was doing well. Yibo still hasn't seen the message. Xiao Zhan tries not to worry about Yibo being up at that hour. Sometimes they just have to film really early in the morning.
He gives up on the idea of texting anyone, and figures he'll just go downstairs and see if anyone's around instead. He does a quiet little cheer when he's finished getting dressed and doesn't feel like he has to sit down again for a moment. He was getting so tired of being ill.
The hotel lobby is thankfully not too crowded. To Xiao Zhan's relief he spots Liu Xinyue, who plays Yibo's younger sister, standing by the front desk, and waves to her.
She waves back when she sees him and pockets her phone, walking over to him. Her brow furrows as she runs his eyes over him, and Xiao Zhan fights to not fidget under her gaze. Has he done something?
"Are you alright?" she asks first thing. "You're looking kind of rough."
"Oh," Xiao Zhan says, realizing. "Yeah, I was a bit sick."
Liu Xinyue frowns. "Really? Ah, I just assumed you were away shooting something else. I didn't know you were sick."
Xiao Zhan shrugs. He's a bit surprised, but that would also explain why no one really contacted him. He doesn't really mind; he was glad to get those few days by himself. "I'm doing better now. It's a good thing the schedule changed, really."
"Oh, yeah!" she says. "That worked out well for you, then. Some people weren't that happy."
"Huh," he says. "Do you know why the director changed it, then?"
Her eyes go wide. "Oh, you haven't heard!"
"Heard what?" he asks, giving her a tentative smile.
She takes a step closer to him, and he has a brief moment to hope that he's really no longer contagious, before her words push everything from his mind. "It was Wang Yibo who insisted we change the schedule," she says. "Said it would fit him better like this."
Xiao Zhan blinks. "What?"
"I heard the director was pretty upset at first," she says, her voice going quiet and conspiratorial. "A few actors had to re-arrange their own schedules as well. It was a bit of a mess."
Xiao Zhan's head is spinning. She must be mistaken. Yibo is professional to a fault, he'd never inconvenience others like this.
"Are you sure?" he asks.
She gives him a look. "Um, yeah? Everyone was talking about it."
Xiao Zhan swallows hard. His throat still protests at that, and he has to turn away to cough into his elbow. When he looks back her face has gone gentle.
"Seems like you were pretty sick. I'm sorry I didn't know."
"I'm doing a lot better," he says, smiling. "But thank you."
"Well, Zhao Ling and I are going out to eat," she says. "But I'm guessing you're not up for that yet?"
"Probably wouldn't risk that," he agrees. "Thanks, though."
"Of course," she says. "Oh, there she is. See you later, then! I hope you feel better!"
She brushes past him and heads towards the front doors. Xiao Zhan turns to see a group of people have just arrived from a shoot—and Yibo is among them.
His eyes widen when he spots Xiao Zhan, and he immediately makes a beeline for him. "What are you doing here?" he demands. "You should be in your room."
"I'm fine," Xiao Zhan says, momentarily taken aback by Yibo's intensity. "I just needed to stretch my legs."
"But you're sick," Yibo says.
"I feel a lot better," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo squints at him. "Are you sure? You don't look it."
"Thanks," Xiao Zhan, rolling his eyes.
Yibo shrugs, undeterred. "You don't look bad. Just sick."
"I'm fine," Xiao Zhan says again. "I started feeling a bit cooped up. Thought I'd eat at the hotel restaurant tonight."
Yibo makes a face at that. "It's not that nice. Loud."
"Well, I'm a bit tired of just my own company," Xiao Zhan says. He only means for it to be a little bit pointed. Yibo didn't have to come see him. He was probably—
Fuck. Of course he was busy. He must have been shooting long hours to make up for asking the schedule to be changed.
It still doesn't make sense that Yibo would do this for him. He really thought Liu Xinyue had heard wrong, but looking at Yibo, it doesn't seem that far-fetched anymore. He definitely looks more tired than usual, and Xiao Zhan hopes this won't end with him coming down with a cold as well.
"Yibo—" he starts, not sure what he wants to say, but knowing he should say something.
Yibo interrupts him, though. "Come have dinner with me, then."
Xiao Zhan blinks. "What?"
"Come have dinner in my room," Yibo says. "If you're tired of yours. You still look ill, you shouldn't be out in the restaurant. We can just order room service. Are you still taking your meds?"
Xiao Zhan swallows whatever he meant to say.
He wants to ask Yibo why, wants to hear it from Yibo's own mouth, but he's not sure if he actually wants to know the answer. What if it doesn't mean what he wants it to mean?
What does he want it to mean?
He doesn't know what to think. His head's still too fuzzy. He feels helpless under Yibo's expectant—hopeful?—stare.
"Okay," he finds himself saying. "Sure."
Yibo smiles, and Xiao Zhan's stomach clenches, his body uncaring of the fact that he should long be used to that.
"Great," Yibo says. "Come on, then."
He heads for the elevators, and Xiao Zhan follows.
Dinner ends up a quiet affair, Xiao Zhan carefully eating his noodles while Yibo pokes at his own meal. Xiao Zhan coaxes him to eat a bit more than he knows Yibo usually does in the evening; if he's been working so hard he needs to replenish his energy. Yibo's clearly exhausted—he's blinking slowly and occasionally rubbing at his eyes, sitting slumped over on his bed. Xiao Zhan elected for the small arm-chair. He told himself it was because he still feared he might be contagious.
Eventually Yibo sets aside the empty plate and yawns, his face scrunching up. Xiao Zhan takes that as his cue.
"I should get out of your hair," he says, and starts gathering up the dishes.
"Oh," Yibo says. "I—shit, I wasn't very good company, was I? Sorry."
Xiao Zhan gives him a look. "It's not like I was any better."
Yibo shakes his head. "You're sick."
"I'm okay," Xiao Zhan says again. "And you are falling asleep."
Yibo winces. "Yeah, I—We had really long days. Some intense shoots. Kind of had trouble sleeping, I guess."
It's the perfect opening for Xiao Zhan to say—something. To tell Yibo he heard that it's thanks to Yibo he got to rest and get better instead of having to work late hours, in pain and feverish.
But if Yibo wanted him to know, he'd have told Xiao Zhan himself. Xiao Zhan doesn't want to make Yibo feel awkward for whatever reason.
"Try to stay awake for a bit longer," he says instead. "You'll feel sick if you go to sleep with a full stomach."
"Thank you, Xiao-laoshi, for your advice," Yibo says, his tone just a bit harsh, different from his usual teasing.
Xiao Zhan pauses, taken aback.
Yibo huffs, looking down. "Sorry. I'm just tired."
"I know," Xiao Zhan says gently. "Get some rest, okay."
Yibo nods. "Yeah. You too."
Xiao Zhan picks up the tray of dishes, and pockets his phone. He's at the door when Yibo says, "Zhan-ge?"
He turns, and finds Yibo with his head tilted, his eyes wide.
"I'm glad you feel better," Yibo says.
He looks so painfully earnest, Xiao Zhan doesn't know what to do with it.
"Thank you," he says, softly. For everything.
Yibo looks away.
"Sleep well," Xiao Zhan says. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Yibo's lips quirk at that, and he nods.
"See you, Zhan-ge."
Xiao Zhan smiles, and lets himself out.
He messages Xuan Lu the same night.
What does it mean when someone risks angering the cast and crew and asks for the shooting schedule to be re-arranged so that you don't have to work while sick?
He spent several minutes pondering the exact phrasing of the text; he doesn't want to seem biased in any way and influence her opinion. He sends it off and pulls the blankets up to his chin, shivering. He's tired again by now and feeling a bit chilly, sitting up in bed and clutching his phone. Xuan Lu's probably either asleep or busy anyway and won't get back to him until tomorrow.
She responds almost immediately.
Are you okay???
He smiles, and writes back, Got a cold, but I'm a lot better now! Don't worry!
Do you have a sore throat? she asks.
He frowns. Bit of a cough, but my throat's okay by now. Why?
His phone starts ringing. He curls up under his blanket and picks up.
"I'm sorry," she says, "but this is not a text conversation."
"It's not?" he asks.
"Obviously not!" she says. "Okay, first things first, are you really feeling better?"
"Yes," he promises. "I don't even have a fever anymore. I'm going back on set tomorrow."
"Okay," she says. "But you have to take care of yourself!"
"I will," he says. "I got to rest for four days. Because of the scheduling thing."
"Good," she says. "That's good. So—I'm taking that was Yibo?"
"Yeah," he says. "Apparently, I mean. I thought that it was my manager at first, but then she said that the schedule change didn't have anything to do with me, so I thought it was the director or something. But then Liu Xinyue told me that everyone's saying it was Yibo. That he asked for them to change the schedule so it would work better for him."
"Wow," Xuan Lu says. "Wow, that's so not something he'd do."
"I know!" Xiao Zhan says. "That's what I thought."
"But if he did it to help you...Oh, A-Xian."
Xiao Zhan buries his face into his pillow. "What does it mean, Lulu?"
"I think it means he cares for you," Xuan Lu says. "A lot."
"I'm not even sure if it's true," he says.
"Did you ask him?"
"No," he says. "It seemed weird. But he did mention that he'd done a lot of long days, so."
"I doubt everyone would be talking about it if it wasn't true," she says. "It's not like anyone has any reason to make up rumors about him, right?"
"No," Xiao Zhan says. He knows everyone's grown really fond of Yibo over the filming. It's why some of them are probably surprised now that he'd do something like that.
"Well then," she says. "There you go."
Xiao Zhan whines quietly, and she laughs.
"What if I'm reading into it?" he asks.
"Would you do something like that?" she asks. "For someone else? Not just agree to your shoots being rescheduled, but asking for that."
"Well," Xiao Zhan says, thinking about it. "I mean, yeah, I'd do it for Yibo—oh."
"Yeah," Xuan Lu says. "Oh."
Xiao Zhan covers his eyes with his forearm. "What if he didn't do it for me? What if he really needed to change it because it worked better for him? What if it doesn't mean anything?"
"What do you want it to mean?" Xuan Lu asks.
Xiao Zhan knows what he wants it to mean. But it seems selfish to hope for that. Especially after everything.
The idea that Yibo might feel the same as Xiao Zhan feels about him, the idea that he might maybe even love him, is dangerous. Because it's not like Yibo's acting any different as he did back when they were together. So is Xiao Zhan reading into it or has he gotten it wrong all this time?
It's not like Yibo had never said it. He'd said it many times—during sex, panting into Xiao Zhan's neck; after sex, pressed against Xiao Zhan's chest. Murmuring against Xiao Zhan's lips while they were lazily making out; whispering it into Xiao Zhan's hair right before falling asleep.
But he'd also said it during filming, in front of cameras, obviously joking, laughing.
Xiao Zhan didn't want to hold him to it. Yibo was young, and there was no reason to think that his affections wouldn't change. And after all, that doubt wasn't the only reason he'd ended it.
But still—if he'd gotten it wrong. If he'd assumed that Yibo's feelings weren't as strong as his.
Had he possibly hurt Yibo more than he'd thought?
Well, then that's just another reason why wanting Yibo to care for him is selfish.
He's brought out of his thoughts by Xuan Lu talking to someone else on the other end of the line. Xiao Zhan's stomach goes cold, but he quickly realizes it must be someone they both know, someone he'd trust with this.
"Hey!" he says, loud enough to carry. "Am I boring you, shijie?"
"Sorry," she says, voice coming through clear again. "You were quiet for so long, I thought I'd let you think. I was just asking for A-Cheng's opinion."
Xiao Zhan lets out a breath. "Zhuocheng's there? Are you hanging out together without me?"
She laughs. "We were shooting in the same area. Don't be mad, A-Xian."
He pouts, even though they can't see him. They should do a video call soon. "Hi, didi!" he calls, and hears Zhuocheng shout back.
"A-Cheng agrees with me," Xuan Lu says.
"About what?" he asks.
"That Yibo wouldn't do this just for anyone, and clearly cares about you. Hold on, I'm putting you on speaker."
"So you're ganging up on your poor brother," Xiao Zhan says.
This time he hears both of them laugh in response. It makes his chest go tight for a moment. He's missed them both.
"Tell him what you told me," Xuan Lu instructs.
"Well—" Xiao Zhan starts.
"No, not you," Xuan Lu says. "A-Cheng."
"Um," Zhuocheng says. "Well, I said that I think you should talk to him."
"I don't think he wants that," Xiao Zhan says. "Or he would have brought it up himself. I don't want to make him feel awkward about it." Especially if it turns out the whole thing actually has nothing to do with him. "What if it's just a coincidence?"
He hears one of them huff, and then Zhuocheng says, "That would be a pretty big coincidence."
"Obviously it's not a coincidence!" Xuan Lu says. "And that's not what Zhuocheng meant."
"I think you should talk to him," Zhuocheng says, with emphasis. "About, like—"
"About what you want it to mean," Xuan Lu says. "About your feelings."
Xiao Zhan's stomach twists. "No."
"Why not?" she asks.
"Because it's not fair," he says. "Because I don't want to put that pressure on him, especially if he doesn't feel the same."
"We're having this conversation because we're all pretty sure he feels the same," Xuan Lu says. "Remember?"
Xiao Zhan groans. "You're mean. I'm sick and you're being mean to me."
He's mostly teasing them, but then he does have to pull the phone away from his ear so he can cough for a bit.
"Aww," Xuan Lu says. "Poor Xianxian."
"Do you want to go to bed?" Zhuocheng asks.
"I'm already in bed," Xiao Zhan says. "About to fall asleep. I'm still kind of tired."
"Well, we won't keep you then," Xuan Lu says. "But think about what we said."
"I will," he promises.
"And text me if you need anything."
"You can text me, too," Zhuocheng adds.
"Thanks," Xiao Zhan says, feeling warm. "I hope we can see each other soon."
"We hope so, too," Xuan Lu says. "Goodnight, A-Xian."
Xiao Zhan wishes them goodnight back and hears Zhuocheng echo it. He lies there for a while after, his phone clutched in his hand.
No matter what he promised them, he knows he's not going to talk to Yibo.
It would be too easy to picture it—him revealing his feelings and Yibo just going with it. Or maybe Yibo feeling like he has to say yes? Yibo's better than Xiao Zhan at saying no, but the idea still haunts Xiao Zhan. (The idea of Yibo rejecting him outright is even worse.)
He doesn't want to push Yibo into anything, especially anything he might regret. It's safest to let Yibo take the lead.
And if that means that after they're done with filming and promoting this show they go their separate ways again, then Xiao Zhan will just have to accept that. But he's hoping that this time, at least, he'll get to keep Yibo as a friend.
Maybe that will be enough.
Xiao Zhan barely has time to finish getting over his cold before he has to fly to Beijing to film a commercial. He hasn't missed this part. At least he's not filming two different shows at the same time again; he's not sure if he could take it. Or maybe that's just him being defeatist. Plenty of people work a lot more than he does, and they can handle it. He's not even in as many scenes as Yibo is—which is still something he hasn't gotten used to—and Yibo's not complaining.
He arrives back in Hangzhou in the late afternoon and goes straight to the set.
The scene they're filming first is a bit of an odd one—it's set early in the season, and Xiao Zhan's character is supposed to trick Yibo's into believing he's not the villain. It includes him pretending to get hurt and passing out, and ends with him lying in Yibo's character's lap while Yibo waits for the ambulance.
Xiao Zhan has real trouble believing that the story isn't gay sometimes.
The warmth of early spring is in the air today, and the sun is out, painting the buildings around them light gold. Xiao Zhan shifts a little where he's practically lounging on Yibo, as they wait for the camera angles to be adjusted. Yibo's taking the chance to go over the script, quietly repeating the lines to himself. Xiao Zhan can't help but snicker at some of them.
When Yibo says, "Please, you can't die on me," Xiao Zhan has to laugh.
"No offense, Bo-di," he says, "but I don't think your character is the brightest."
Yibo snorts. "Maybe he's just blinded."
Xiao Zhan looks up at him. "Yeah?"
Yibo shrugs, his eyes still on the script. "I know the story isn't...you know. But I think it could be."
"If you squint," Xiao Zhan says.
"Yeah," Yibo says. "Exactly."
"Would suck for detective Wang's girlfriend," Xiao Zhan can't help but say.
"I guess," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan hums. He's enjoying this; they haven't spent that much time really discussing their characters this time around. He loves to hear Yibo's opinions. He wonders if it should be awkward, lying in Yibo's arms, especially as he still hasn't confronted Yibo over what he did for Xiao Zhan. It isn't, though. He just feels content. Maybe it's because he's so tired, he doesn't have any energy for any strong emotions at the moment. His eyelids are getting so heavy.
"I suppose they could have a threesome," he suggests, amused at the thought of getting that past the censors.
"No," Yibo says immediately, his voice low. His fingers tighten on Xiao Zhan's arm.
Xiao Zhan blinks, thrown by the way Yibo's body has gone tense.
"Alright," he says. "No threesome. Sorry, it was a weird joke, I guess."
Yibo clears his throat, and shifts a little. "I just don't think detective Wang would like that."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Xiao Zhan concedes.
He thinks Yibo might be about to say something else, but then the director calls everyone to their places again.
Xiao Zhan closes his eyes and lets Yibo do the work. He has to react only for a moment, while Yibo's character's not paying attention, to show that he's not actually passed out, and then he can go back to just lying there. It's not the worst scene to shoot. He's warm and comfortable and he doesn't even have to hold his body up by himself this time.
Yibo's voice rumbles through him, a comforting sound, and Xiao Zhan just lets himself drift for a moment.
The next thing he becomes aware of is someone gently shaking him and repeating his name.
He blinks his eyes open, confused.
"Zhan-ge," Yibo says. "Wake up."
Xiao Zhan scrambles to sit up, his head swimming from the quick movement. Yibo splays his hand over his back, supporting. Xiao Zhan looks around, and sees the crew has already started packing everything up.
His eyes feel gritty, his throat dry. How long could he have been asleep?
"Sorry," Xiao Zhan says. "I didn't mean to."
"Don't worry about it," Yibo says. "You needed to rest."
Xiao Zhan shakes his head, and tries to stand up. Yibo stands with him, and makes a face, rubbing at his thighs.
"You should have just woken me," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo bounces a little on his toes, probably shaking off the pins and needles, and shrugs. "Xiao-laoshi looked too peaceful. I didn't have the heart."
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes, and starts slowly walking towards the trailer. His legs are a bit weak, and he's still slightly woozy, but the main thing he's feeling is embarrassment. Yibo follows him, and Xiao Zhan tells him, "It must have looked really unprofessional."
Yibo makes a protesting noise. "You weren't asleep for that long. The makeup artists thought it was cute."
Xiao Zhan covers his face with his hands, groaning. Yibo laughs.
One of the crew gives Xiao Zhan his tea; he thanks her, ignoring the way she's clearly trying to hide a smile.
He drinks half of it, and holds the rest out to Yibo, eyebrows raised. Yibo takes it, smiling, and hands Xiao Zhan his eyedrops in return. Xiao Zhan clenches them briefly in his fist, and ignores the way his throat's gone tight.
"Thanks," he chokes out, and turns away. It's stupid for him to be affected by something so simple.
They're friends, and Yibo is caring and surprisingly perceptive. These little gestures don't necessarily mean anything.
But Xiao Zhan wants them to mean something. He's only now coming to realize that he's terrified of being wrong. He thinks his heart will break if Yibo doesn't mean it.
Which he knows is really, really unfair of him.
"Hey," Yibo says. "Want to get dinner together later?"
Xiao Zhan clears his throat and turns to look at him. "Zhao Ling said everyone's going out to eat together tonight. Didn't they invite you?"
"Oh, right," Yibo says, and it seems for a moment as if his face falls. Then he smiles, and says, "Yeah, I totally forgot about that. Want to go over there together?"
"Yeah, okay," Xiao Zhan says, and watches Yibo's smile widen, and thinks, Maybe.
Xiao Zhan's barely stepped into their shared hotel room when Yibo's on him.
"Whoa," Xiao Zhan says, his hands going to Yibo's hips. "Easy."
Yibo's wearing only boxers and a t-shirt, and he's still hot, sweaty where he's pressed up against Xiao Zhan. He only hums deeply in response, busy kissing his way down Xiao Zhan's neck.
Xiao Zhan puts his hand on Yibo's cheek and guides him up for a proper kiss. It's been a long day, and it's a rush to come back to someone who seems to want you so badly. No, not just someone. Wang Yibo.
It's a rush to be wanted by Yibo. Xiao Zhan learned quickly that when Yibo is interested in something, he gives it his whole attention. Currently that includes Xiao Zhan.
Yibo pulls back, eyes lit up, and says, "Can you fuck me? I've been thinking about it all day."
"All day?" Xiao Zhan asks. "Even at work?"
Yibo smirks. "Don't tell anyone, but Lan Wangji is secretly so horny in those scenes."
Xiao Zhan grins. "Really? In scenes without Wei Ying?"
"He's been thinking of Wei Ying," Yibo says. "Obviously."
"Oh, obviously," Xiao Zhan says, and pushes Yibo down onto the bed. Yibo immediately sprawls out and grins up at him.
Xiao Zhan quickly kicks his shoes off and starts taking his pants off.
"Hurry up," Yibo says. "Or I'll get started without you."
"Aw," Xiao Zhan says. "Bo-di, were you waiting for me?"
Yibo's eyes flash. "Maybe I was."
"Then why are your boxers still on?" Xiao Zhan asks. "I thought you'd be good and ready."
Yibo sticks his chin out. "I am ready," he says, voice low. "Always ready for you, Zhan-ge."
Something in Xiao Zhan's stomach twists, and he pauses briefly. They've only been doing this for about a month, and having Yibo looking up at him like this, open and trusting, is heady. Yibo saying always makes some part of Xiao Zhan that he's been trying to ignore sit up and take notice.
Yibo raises his eyebrows. "Come on, then," he says, and pulls his shirt off, his hands going to the waistband of his boxers next. Xiao Zhan's mouth waters at the sight of Yibo's abs. He climbs onto the bed and leans down to kiss them. It's not the look of them he likes as much as the knowledge of how strong Yibo is, how competent and confident, and how devoted to always doing his best.
Yibo whines, his fingers slipping into Xiao Zhan's hair. "You didn't even finish taking your pants off, Zhan-ge."
"I'll get there later," Xiao Zhan murmurs, trailing kisses down Yibo's lower belly.
"Okay, but how about now, actually?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan smiles, and looks up to find Yibo gazing down at him, eyes dark and insistent.
"I thought I'd blow you now instead," Xiao Zhan says. "And see if you can come again when I'm fucking you later."
It feels dizzying to be talking to Yibo like this. Xiao Zhan has had sex before, but it's never felt quite this freeing, this fun.
Yibo huffs. "If you think I can't come at least twice in one night then you're really underestimating me, Zhan-ge."
"I'd never underestimate you," Xiao Zhan promises, and tugs Yibo's boxers off.
The way Yibo groans when Xiao Zhan takes him into his mouth is obscene.
"Fuck, yeah," he says, his hand falling to the back of Xiao Zhan's head. "Why are you so fucking good at that?"
Xiao Zhan hums, pleased, and then goes to work in rendering Yibo incoherent. It doesn't take much, really, but it's still gratifying. He swallows when Yibo comes, and Yibo immediately pulls him up into a deep, open-mouthed kiss, chasing his own taste on Xiao Zhan's lips. Xiao Zhan had once jokingly called him a narcissist for it, and Yibo had spent several minutes pouting at him, which hadn't really deterred Xiao Zhan.
"Fuck," Yibo pants, his hands tightly gripping around Xiao Zhan's arms. "Really need you to fuck me now, Zhan-ge."
"You need to let go of me for that," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo grumbles and releases him. Xiao Zhan presses a kiss to his temple, and goes to get the condoms and the lube.
He fucks into Yibo slowly and with care, taking pleasure in working him up to another orgasm. Yibo's boneless underneath him, an arm casually thrown over Xiao Zhan's shoulders. Xiao Zhan loves seeing him like this, unwound and relaxed. Their days can be so long and intense, and he knows that even though they're both having a good time on set, Yibo still pushes himself so hard to prove that they were right to cast him as Lan Wangji.
Well, he doesn't need to prove anything to Xiao Zhan.
Yibo comes again with a hoarse shout, and Xiao Zhan is quick to follow. He catches his breath before pulling out and disposing of the condom, then settles back against Yibo for a moment, their foreheads pressed together.
"Fuck," Yibo says, breath hot against Xiao Zhan's mouth. "That was so good."
"Worth the wait?" Xiao Zhan asks, their lips brushing.
"Yeah," Yibo says, and lifts his chin up to kiss Xiao Zhan. "Definitely."
"We should clean up," Xiao Zhan says.
"I'm not moving," Yibo says. "I can't even get up."
Xiao Zhan laughs and goes to get a washcloth. When he gets back, Yibo seems already half asleep. Xiao Zhan cleans him off quickly, then strokes his thumb over Yibo's brow. "You should sit up and drink some water," he says.
"I'm good," Yibo says, eyes closed. "Just come to bed. Let's sleep."
Xiao Zhan bites down on his lip. "Give me a moment."
He ignores Yibo's protests and goes to get a glass. A few weeks ago, Yibo got hospitalized for heat exhaustion, and Xiao Zhan desperately wants to prevent that from ever happening again.
"Here," he says, coaxing Yibo to sit up. "Drink this."
Yibo sits up, looking long-suffering, but he dutifully drinks the entire glass. Xiao Zhan goes and fills it again.
Yibo raises his eyebrows, but takes it. "I'd rather be drinking Zhan-ge's green tea."
"You can have some tomorrow," Xiao Zhan says. "Drink this for now."
Yibo smiles, and drinks half of it. He gives the rest to Xiao Zhan, and says, "You should drink, too, I know you're always on the verge of collapsing."
Xiao Zhan glares at him, but accepts the water. Yibo flops back down onto the bed with a huff. When Xiao Zhan sets the empty glass aside and climbs into bed as well, Yibo immediately curls up against him, head pillowed on Xiao Zhan's chest.
He's sweaty, giving off heat like a furnace, but he looks alright. Xiao Zhan wraps an arm around his shoulders, and holds him close.
"Hey," Yibo says, sounding hesitant for once. "Can we go again later?"
Xiao Zhan laughs. "You're insatiable."
"I'm not," Yibo protests. "I just like fucking you."
Xiao Zhan tightens his grip on him. "Give me a few hours," he says. "I'm not as young as you."
"You're not that old," Yibo scoffs.
Xiao Zhan smiles. "Sure. Many people would disagree."
"Well, they're wrong," Yibo mumbles. "You're perfect."
Xiao Zhan pauses. By the time he's figured out how to respond, Yibo's snuffling quietly, his breathing gone steady. He's always fast to fall asleep after sex.
It still seems ridiculous to Xiao Zhan that he just knows that now about Yibo. The first time he saw Yibo at the first read-through, he never imagined he'd end up here.
He doesn't know what will happen when filming ends, but he can feel he's in this for the long haul.
The emotional peak of the season is going to be a scene where detective Wang's younger sister gets shot.
It's not quite as dramatic as Jiang Yanli's death—there's no big battle, no acrobatics, no never-ending night shoot.
There's a short fight in a parking lot between Xiao Zhan, Yibo and a few people from Yibo's team, and then someone's gun goes off, and Yibo's sister, who had come over to bring Yibo dinner, drops to the ground.
Xiao Zhan is glad he's in the scene, and he's glad it's not his character who ends up shooting her. He's meant to flee immediately after the shooting, only turning once to look back, so he gets to just stand there on the side and watch Yibo do a hell of a job acting out detective Wang's horror and pain.
His sister survives, at least, but she looks as good as dead when Yibo is clutching her to him and trying desperately to stop the bleeding.
Xiao Zhan knows Yibo can act well, but he's still impressed, and terribly proud. They're shooting in the evening, and it's already been a long day, even longer for Yibo who started early in the morning before anyone else with some solo scenes.
Yibo's calm after they've wrapped the scene, appearing almost unaffected. Xiao Zhan can see some of the crew throw him subtle glances, as if they're confused why he's not still a weeping mess like his character.
Xiao Zhan bites down on the sudden desire to snap at them, and instead makes his way over to Yibo. Liu Xinyue is hovering near him, looking slightly awkward, as if she's not sure if she should be doing anything. He catches her eye and nods; she gives him a smile, looking relieved, and leaves.
"Hey," Xiao Zhan says. "Want to head back to the hotel together?"
Up close he can see the way Yibo's clenching his jaw, the slightly lost look in his eyes.
His voice is steady, though, when he says, "Yeah, sure."
"Come on, then," Xiao Zhan says, and wraps his fingers around Yibo's forearm. Yibo releases an audible breath and lets himself be led away. Xiao Zhan nods at a few people as they leave, while Yibo keeps his head down.
Yibo's gone strangely pliant by the time they get to the car, so Xiao Zhan helps him into it. Yibo leans his head back against the headrest, and closes his eyes. Xiao Zhan quickly circles the car to get in on the other side.
The driver takes off and Xiao Zhan leans over to fasten Yibo's seat belt. He's not sure if Yibo even notices. He's seen Yibo after difficult scenes before, has seen Yibo crying with frustration because he hadn't been able to shed Lan Wangji's character as quickly as he usually did.
This feels different, though.
Yibo looks wrung out, exhausted. Xiao Zhan knows what that feels like.
Yibo spends the ride apparently dozing, but he's more alert when they get to the hotel. He thanks the driver, and gets out of the car fast enough that Xiao Zhan has to rush after him. Yibo's waiting for him at the elevator, and they ride it in silence, only the two of them. There's not many guests around at this time, and Xiao Zhan's glad for it.
Yibo is quick to reach his hotel room. He has to try the keycard several times before it works; Xiao Zhan is about to offer to help when it finally clicks open and Yibo disappears through the door. Xiao Zhan doesn't hesitate before following him in. Yibo doesn't comment on it. He kicks his shoes off, drops his jacket on a chair, sinks onto the bed and buries his face in his hands.
Xiao Zhan flounders only for a second. He goes and gets a bottle of water, grabs a throw blanket from the armchair, and sits down next to Yibo. He settles the blanket around Yibo's shoulders, and gently bumps the bottle against his wrist.
"I'm fine," Yibo says, his voice muffled.
"You're shaking," Xiao Zhan points out, not unkindly. "Have some water."
Yibo lifts his head and drags his hands over his face. He scrunches his nose, sniffles. His cheeks are wet with slow-falling tears. There are slight tremors running through him; Xiao Zhan can feel it from where he's touching Yibo's side. He's overtired and overwhelmed and Xiao Zhan's heart aches for him.
He holds out the water and Yibo takes it.
He chugs half of it, and wipes at his face. "Thanks," he says. "Sorry."
"For what?" Xiao Zhan asks.
Yibo shrugs. He's staring at his hands, not looking at Xiao Zhan. The tears are still falling. He wipes at his face again, his hand trembling. Xiao Zhan debates getting a tissue or a face towel or something, but he doesn't want to get up just yet.
He tentatively wraps his arm around Yibo's shoulders instead.
"Hey," he says. "It's alright. I'm here."
It's like Yibo's strings have been cut. He slumps over, his head falling on Xiao Zhan's shoulder, and Xiao Zhan only now realizes how tightly Yibo was keeping himself together.
He swallows heavily and holds Yibo tighter, gently stroking his shoulder.
"You did really great today," he says. "It'll be a great scene."
Yibo only hums in response, not saying anything.
"Have you eaten?" Xiao Zhan asks after a while. "We can order room service."
Yibo shakes his head, his hair brushing against Xiao Zhan's neck. "Don't want anything."
"You should eat," Xiao Zhan encourages him. "At least something."
"I just want to sleep," Yibo says. He's mostly stopped shivering, at least. "I'm not hungry."
Xiao Zhan sighs. "How about an energy bar? Do you have any in your room?"
"In my bag," Yibo says. "Maybe."
"Okay," Xiao Zhan says. "How about you get ready for bed and I'll find something for you?"
Yibo sighs, and pulls away. "Okay."
Xiao Zhan goes to look through Yibo's bag, while Yibo quickly brushes his teeth before getting undressed and slipping under the covers. Xiao Zhan is glad to see him calmer, even if it might just be exhaustion. He sits on the edge of Yibo's bed and offers him an energy bar and another bottle of water.
Yibo looks at him, his eyes still red, his face drawn, and Xiao Zhan's heart aches.
"Thanks," Yibo says quietly. He eats the energy bar in big bites, washing it down with water and hands the glass back to Xiao Zhan. He goes and fills it again and sets it on the bedside table. He hovers for a moment, unsure, and then Yibo clears his throat, his gaze on his lap, and says, "Zhan-ge, can you stay?"
Xiao Zhan doesn't know if Yibo would be asking that if he wasn't almost drunk with exhaustion. He does, however, know that he can't deny Yibo anything.
"Of course," he says. "I'm not going anywhere."
Yibo looks up at that, his eyes going wide, and the smallest smile flickers over his face. He shuffles over to one side, leaving the other free. It's the side Xiao Zhan used to always take when they slept together.
Xiao Zhan ignores the way that makes his chest tighten and focuses instead on undressing.
"I have a spare toothbrush somewhere in my bag," Yibo says. "If you want."
Xiao Zhan decides not to question that. It would make sense to have spares with you just in case, surely? Maybe Yibo's gotten more organized in the past years.
Yibo's curled up, clutching his pillow, by the time Xiao Zhan slips under the covers. It's not the biggest bed, but they'll both fit fine if they don't move around too much.
"Should I leave the light on?" Xiao Zhan asks. "Turn the TV on?"
Yibo was mostly fine without any lights or noise when they were sharing hotel rooms during filming The Untamed, but Xiao Zhan's not sure how he's used to sleeping now.
"No," Yibo mumbles, sounding half asleep already. "It's okay if you're here."
Xiao Zhan squeezes his eyes shut, and swallows hard. "Alright."
He turns the lights off, sets an alarm on his phone, and lies back. It's relatively early, still, but he finds he's tired as well. They rarely get enough sleep during filming in any case.
He assumes Yibo's already fallen asleep when Yibo shifts and says, "I've been thinking about something."
"What?" Xiao Zhan asks.
Xiao Zhan's suddenly wide awake. His first instinct is to turn the light back on, but when he reaches his hand out, Yibo makes a protesting sound, and Xiao Zhan freezes. Perhaps this is a conversation that's easier in the dark.
He settles back against the pillow, and turns over on his side to face Yibo. There's the slightest bit of streetlights coming in through the window, enough to make out each other's outlines, but nothing more than that.
"What do you mean?" Xiao Zhan asks, pitching his voice low and trying not to sound too harsh. "Quitting what?"
There's a rustle as Yibo shrugs. "The business, I guess."
"What?" Xiao Zhan asks. "All of it?"
Yibo's quiet for a bit. Xiao Zhan really wishes he could see his face.
"I like acting," Yibo says eventually, his voice careful. "I mean, I like all of it, really. But—You know how you said you were tired? I think I'm tired, too. Of all of this. I want to do something else. Something that doesn't get this intense. Something that would just let me be, you know?"
"But you're so young," Xiao Zhan can't help but say. "Why would you quit now?"
"I'm twenty-four," Yibo says. "Seems about the time to make a career change."
Xiao Zhan lets out a breath. "That's not—I just mean, that maybe you'll regret it."
"Do you regret it?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan doesn't have the answer to that. Some days, when it's impossible to go outside without people crowding him, screaming, he thinks he might. But other days, after a long, hard day of work, he feels fulfilled in a way he never imagined. And at times like this, when he's curled up in bed with a boy he still loves, he can't help but think that if he hadn't made that decision all those years ago and seen it through, he'd never have met Yibo.
"No," he says. "I don't. But that's—different."
Yibo sighs. "Why are you trying to change my mind?"
"I just think it's not a good idea to make decisions when you're emotional and tired," Xiao Zhan says.
"I've been thinking about it for months," Yibo says. "Maybe a year. I just—you're the first person I've told."
Xiao Zhan feels his breath catch. "Oh."
"I'm not a child, you know," Yibo says. "I don't just do things on a whim."
"I know," Xiao Zhan says, because he does know, even though a part of him wants to protest. Yibo's young, kind and lovely, and Xiao Zhan never strays too far from the urge of wanting to just wrap him up and protect him. But Yibo's also experienced, sure of himself, and more mature than Xiao Zhan sometimes gives him credit for. Not just in his career, but emotionally as well.
He's definitely grown up more, in these few years. But he also hasn't been a child for a long time. Not since he left home over a decade ago.
If he really wants to put this life behind him, then he should get to.
"What would you do instead?" Xiao Zhan asks.
"I'm not sure yet," Yibo says. "I'd want to be a dance teacher, I think. I really like doing that. Besides, it's not like I could be a professional skateboarder or biker or anything, you know?"
"I think you could do anything you want," Xiao Zhan says honestly.
Yibo sighs. "We're not doing an interview, or anything, you don't have to say that."
"You know I mean it," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo's quiet for a while. "Thanks, Zhan-ge."
"And if you want to do this," Xiao Zhan says, fumbling for the right words, "you know I—I mean—I'll support you. I'll—I'll be here. I'm sorry if I made you think I'd be against you."
He feels Yibo shift just a bit closer. "It's okay. I know you just worry about me."
Xiao Zhan wants to protest, because that's not it, really, but he's not sure exactly how to explain it. Yes, he worries, and yes, he wants the best for Yibo, but— It's Yibo who knows what's best for him.
He shakes his head, and closes his eyes. He can feel a thought forming in his head, but it's late and he's tired and Yibo's just thrown a bit of a curveball at him and he's no longer sure of what his feelings are doing.
He can hear Yibo's breathing start to even out, sleep finally claiming him.
He resists the urge to move closer, to pull him close, to curl up together the way they would have once. Before Xiao Zhan ruined it all.
He tries instead to relax and focus on his own breathing, to empty his mind and not think about all of the mistakes he's made along the way.
He stays awake for a long time.
Xiao Zhan wakes to Yibo clinging to him, still asleep.
It must be quite early, if his alarm hasn't gone off yet. The curtains are drawn but there's a bit of sunlight seeping in.
Yibo looks so soft in the quiet morning air, his hair a mess and mouth slightly open. One of his shoulders is bare, exposed to the unrelenting air-conditioner, and Xiao Zhan pulls the blanket up higher to keep him warm.
He should go.
He should set an alarm for Yibo and slip out of the bed. Head silently back to his own room and prepare for the scenes they have to film today.
He can't move.
His chest feels like it's bound impossibly tight, his heart beating loud enough that surely Yibo should hear it even in slumber.
He hardly dares to breathe.
If he could, he'd stay in this moment forever. Here, where he can pretend he didn't ruin it all two years ago. Here, where he can pretend Yibo is still his.
Yibo makes a low noise in his sleep and shifts slightly, his brows furrowing. Xiao Zhan is overcome with the need to soothe him. Before he can stop himself he's leaning down to brush his lips against Yibo's forehead.
When he pulls back, Yibo's eyes are open.
They stare at each other for a breath, and then Yibo reaches up and puts his hand on the back of Xiao Zhan's neck and pulls him down for a kiss.
It's slow and tentative, a careful press of lips, Yibo's fingertips a light touch against his skin.
Xiao Zhan realizes that he does remember their first kiss. It hadn't been like this at all, but it had felt the same.
They had stumbled into their hotel room after a long night out with the rest of the cast. They weren't drunk, but a strange mixture of wired and exhausted. Yibo had been throwing glances his way all evening, and Xiao Zhan was almost, almost prepared for how Yibo grabbed his wrist once they'd gotten inside, pushed him up against the door, and said, with his voice barely wavering, "I'm going to kiss you now, Zhan-ge."
It had been intense and frantic, right from the start, Yibo only relaxing once Xiao Zhan wrapped his arms around him, and promised that they had all night.
It had felt like the beginning of something. Maybe this will be the same.
And maybe Xiao Zhan will ruin it again.
Yibo makes a sound and deepens the kiss, his fingers slipping into Xiao Zhan's hair, and Xiao Zhan puts a hand on his chest and scrambles back in a rush.
He can't do this. Not while Yibo is warm and sleep-soft and vulnerable. Not when Xiao Zhan has already hurt him once.
"I'm sorry," he says, his voice coming out rough. "I shouldn't have."
"Wait," Yibo says, reaching for him. "Zhan-ge."
Xiao Zhan shakes his head and climbs out of the bed, starts pulling on his clothes.
"Zhan-ge," Yibo tries again.
Xiao Zhan looks back at him, helpless. Yibo's staring at him, his eyes wide, lips parted. Xiao Zhan can't handle it.
"I'm sorry," he says again, and Yibo's face shutters.
Xiao Zhan grabs his things and runs. The fact that he doesn't come across anyone in the hallway is a miracle that he'll gladly accept. He has to try his keycard four or five times until it works, his hands shaking too badly. When he finally makes it inside, he slams the door and leans back against it, just breathing. Then he takes out his phone and texts Xuan Lu.
I fucked up.
She doesn't seem to be online yet, but he knows she's working early hours on her current project, so hopefully she'll be around soon. He tosses the phone on the bed and buries his hands in his hair. Fuck.
He's pacing the room when his phone finally buzzes, and he lunges for it, almost tripping over his feet in the rush.
What happened?? Xuan Lu asks.
I kissed Yibo.
Xuan Lu sends back a row of exclamation marks and shocked emojis. It's unhelpful, but describes the inside of his own brain pretty well at the moment.
Oh my god! she says. I'm so sorry, I can't call you right now, but !!!
Wait, how did you fuck up?
Xiao Zhan sits down heavily on the bed, and types, I shouldn't have done it.
Why not? she asks.
Because he was half asleep, and he had a really intense scene yesterday, and I shouldn't have let it get like this.
Wait, she says. He was half asleep? Were you sleeping together? When did this happen??
Ten minutes ago, he says.
She sends back another row of exclamation marks.
Then why are you here talking to me and not Yibo????????
Because I freaked out, he says. I didn't know what to do. How do I fix this??
What part of it do you want to fix exactly? she asks.
All of it, he says.
If he could turn back time he'd—he'd sacrifice the feeling of waking up with Yibo in his arms in exchange for that. For not messing with Yibo's head like this, for not potentially ruining everything again.
I meant more like if you want to fix the part where you kissed him or the part where you ran away after?
Xiao Zhan groans and falls back onto his bed. Xuan Lu is right; any way you paint it, he acted terribly.
He doesn't have a time machine. All he can do is somehow try to fix it.
He'll talk with Yibo later, apologize again, and try his best to express to Yibo how important their friendship is to him and how much he hopes they'll get to keep that this time.
He can only hope Yibo will hear him out.
Both, he tells Xuan Lu. I guess. Thanks for being here for me, I'll figure something out. Sorry for bothering you so early.
Stop that, she writes back. And go and fix it, and get back to me later. I won't have time to talk until tonight, but I'm cheering for you, okay? You can do this!
Xiao Zhan presses the phone to his chest, against all odds feeling just a bit lighter. He's not alone. He can do this.
He lies there for a while, focusing only on his breath, and trying to empty his mind. When he checks his phone again, Xuan Lu has signed off with several hearts and an encouraging meme. He sends a row of hearts back, and sits back up and squares his shoulders.
He probably won't have time to talk with Yibo before the shoot—and he should really figure out first what he needs to say—so the first thing to focus on is the job.
He can't even remember what they're filming today. When he looks up the schedule, his heart drops into his stomach.
The first scene planned—the only one Xiao Zhan has to shoot today—is the one where Yibo and Zhao Ling kiss.
Xiao Zhan's standing on set, watching the scene being prepared, and trying to convince himself he can do it.
He'd made the mistake of making eye contact with Yibo when he first arrived.
Yibo had looked tired and cold, a carefully neutral expression on his face. He'd stared at Xiao Zhan as if daring him. To do what, Xiao Zhan isn't sure.
Xiao Zhan had looked away first.
Now he's hanging on the sidelines, waiting for the shooting to start. He only has to come in at the very end, to interrupt the kiss. The story is angling for Xiao Zhan's character to also be in love with Yibo's love interest, with mentions of him apparently being obsessed with her since high school. Xiao Zhan isn't really sure he's succeeded in playing it like that so far.
Finally they start, and Xiao Zhan watches Yibo and Zhao Ling play through the lead-up to the kiss several times. It's clear they're both nervous, and it's not going as smoothly as it could, but after a short break and the director quietly talking to both of them, it gets better.
And then it's time for the kiss itself.
Xiao Zhan crosses his arms, and takes a careful breath.
It's stupid. It's only acting. All of them are professionals, obviously, and there's nothing as unsexy as having to kiss in front of an audience whose only purpose is to make sure it looks good on screen.
Xiao Zhan knows all this.
He still hates it.
He hates it because even though this isn't real, it makes him think of all the other people Yibo has probably kissed. He knows that's petty and unfair of him, and he's trying his best to not let it show, but it's hard.
He's meant to lose his composure in the scene, to yell, truly the villain. It feels uncomfortable. He's good at channeling anger during a shoot—to the surprise of some people—but he's currently finding it a difficult line to tread.
He is angry. Not at Yibo, and definitely not at Zhao Ling, and not even at all of the unknown people Yibo has kissed in these past years, really, but at himself.
Angry at ruining it all again, angry at always overthinking everything, angry at not fucking talking to Yibo before it all got to this place. Angry for kissing Yibo and for running away from him.
Angry at how selfish he is for still wanting Yibo while knowing Yibo would be better off without him.
The director cues him in and Xiao Zhan takes all of that anger and puts it into the performance. He's shouting at Yibo and Zhao Ling, but he's really yelling at himself, picturing himself standing there instead of them.
It doesn't exactly feel good, really, but he does feel like he's exorcised something by the end of it. He slumps into a chair once it's over, exhausted, and hoping he didn't go too far. The director seemed really pleased with it, at least.
He's catching his breath when he senses someone walking over. He quickly raises his head, and doesn't know whether he's disappointed or relieved to see it's Zhao Ling.
She looks hesitant, but when he gives her a weak smile, she smiles back, and steps closer.
"Wow, you really went for it," she says.
"Was it too much?" he asks. "I didn't mean to—"
"No, no, it was great," she says. "It was just so interesting to see. I don't think I've ever seen you even upset before. It was really intense."
"You sure it was okay?" he asks. "I kind of feel bad."
"What?" she asks, raising her eyebrows, and gently kicks at his foot. "Don't, it was great acting. It's going to be a great scene. People will definitely be talking about that more than our super awkward kiss."
Xiao Zhan laughs a little, relieved. "Was it really that awkward?"
She makes a face. "I mean, it was fine, I guess? I don't know, I don't have much experience, I guess. Is it always just super uncomfortable?"
"Which part?" he asks with a wink, startling her into a laugh.
"God," she says, pressing a hand to her stomach. "Xiao Zhan, you—"
"On-screen kisses are always weird, yeah," he says, smiling, and pitches his voice low. "No matter who you're kissing."
She shakes her head, giggling. "I mean, he's not a bad kisser," she says. "I think?"
Xiao Zhan opens his mouth, and then quickly snaps it shut. "Uh."
She raises her eyebrows, but doesn't comment further, a grin still on her face. Xiao Zhan can feel a blush creeping up his neck. He was honestly going to answer her, as if they weren't still surrounded by the crew. Xiao Zhan knows crew members tend to turn a blind eye—they certainly did on the set of The Untamed, but that didn't mean they didn't at least try to be careful. All it took was for one wrong person to see you or overhear.
The thought is sobering, and he sighs, and stands up.
"I should probably go and get out of these clothes," he says. "Xu Ying will kill me if I accidentally spill soy sauce on the sleeve again."
She smiles and nods. "Probably a good idea. I'll see you later?"
"Yeah, sure," he says. "Good luck with the rest of the shoots today. And honestly, you did really well in this scene."
She looks down, and Xiao Zhan can swear she's blushing just a bit. "Thanks, Xiao-laoshi," she says.
Xiao Zhan pats her on the head on a whim, making her laugh again, and heads to get changed.
He runs right into Yibo. They both freeze.
"Whoops," Yibo says. "Sorry." He doesn't make any move to step out of the way of the doors.
"It's okay," Xiao Zhan says, and clasps his hands behind his back.
Yibo crosses his arms, says, "That was a good scene."
"Was it?" Xiao Zhan asks, before he can stop himself. "Which part?"
Yibo frowns. "I mean, I meant it as a compliment to Xiao-laoshi, but since you're asking, I'm guessing the best part should have been the kiss, right?"
Something hot twists in Xiao Zhan's stomach, an unfortunate combination of shame and jealousy, and he snaps, "I need to get going, actually, so could you step out of the way?"
He immediately feels bad, but before he can apologize, Yibo leans back and asks, "What's the matter, Zhan-ge? Having trouble getting out of character?"
Xiao Zhan draws in a sharp breath.
"No need to take it out on me," Yibo continues. "I didn't actually steal your girlfriend."
Xiao Zhan pauses, thrown. "What?"
Yibo huffs. "I mean, you don't need to be acting all jealous—"
"I'm not jealous about that," Xiao Zhan blurts out, and then immediately wishes the ground swallowed him. But how could Yibo assume Xiao Zhan would be—Surely he must know.
Yibo stares at him for a beat, and then his eyes go wide.
"Wait," he says.
Xiao Zhan takes an unconscious step back.
"Wang Yibo, the car's waiting to take you to your photoshoot!" someone calls.
Yibo looks to the side, visibly hesitating.
"You should go," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo turns back to him, his eyes narrowed. "We're not done talking about this."
"Wang Yibo!" the call comes again.
Yibo stares at Xiao Zhan, as if waiting for an answer. Xiao Zhan can only shrug helplessly. It seems to be enough to appease Yibo for now. He nods and hurries off, turning once to look back before he disappears through the door leading out to the garage.
Xiao Zhan closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Fuck.
Luckily, he has the rest of the afternoon off. He was scheduled to have a longer phone interview, but it got postponed, and his manager had let him have some time for himself, since he'll have a really early start the next morning.
Sometimes he would hang out on set, even when he didn't have to be there, just watching the others—Yibo, mainly Yibo—work. Today he heads back to the hotel as fast as he can, exchanging the barest of pleasantries with anyone he runs into.
His heart has started racing again. It feels like he's been having some sort of attack since the morning.
He holes up in his room, unspeakably grateful that he doesn't have to do any work at the moment. He's not even sure why exactly he's so on edge, he just knows it's going to take him a while to calm down. He can't stop thinking of Yibo's face. The way he'd tried to stop Xiao Zhan from leaving. The wide, incredulous eyes, when Xiao Zhan had betrayed himself.
Xiao Zhan knows he's hurt Yibo. This morning, yes, but also probably in the past, and more deeply than he'd ever realized.
He wants to fix it somehow. He's terrified Yibo will finally hate him.
He orders himself lunch from a nearby restaurant, because he feels like he should, and then proceeds not to eat it, because even the thought of it turns his stomach.
He thinks of calling his mother, but she would immediately realize something's wrong, and he doesn't want to worry her. He curls up on his bed, planning on playing some games on his phone until he feels better, but ends up falling asleep instead.
It takes him a while to claw his way back into consciousness hours later, sleep dragging him back down into annoying dreams where he can't see anything, but can only hear voices—his mother walking around his bed, his father talking about something in the next room, someone pounding on his door.
He stays in bed after he's woken, groggy and tired, and wishing he could just go back to sleep properly and not wake until tomorrow, when he'll hopefully feel well-rested and ready to face the world again. He just wants to put this day behind him.
He's checking his phone, trying to ignore all of his chat updates, when he hears someone pounding on his door again. It takes him a long time to realize he's not actually dreaming anymore. He thinks of ignoring it, but then the pounding stops, and his phone buzzes again.
Let me in, asshole.
Of course it's Yibo. Who else could it ever be?
Xiao Zhan pushes himself to sit up, his head barely swimming at the fast movement. He's a lot more awake than he was a few minutes ago.
The pounding starts again, strong enough that Xiao Zhan is afraid Yibo will alert the other guests, or even hurt himself. He throws himself out of bed and rushes over, pulling the door open and quickly stepping out of the way to let Yibo in.
Yibo stalks in and Xiao Zhan closes the door behind him, hissing, "You're going to piss off the neighbors."
There's no answer, and Xiao Zhan turns around to look at Yibo.
Yibo's standing in the middle of the room, staring at him, his mouth set and something desperate in his eyes.
"Yibo?" Xiao Zhan asks.
"Why did you break up with me?" Yibo asks.
Xiao Zhan stares at him. Yibo takes a careful step closer.
"Why the fuck," he says, "did you break up with me?"
Xiao Zhan shakes his head. "I—"
"The actual reason," Yibo says. "Zhan-ge, can you tell me why? What was the real reason why we broke up?"
Xiao Zhan drops his gaze. He can't handle the way Yibo's staring right into him, waiting for Xiao Zhan's answer. He doesn't want to lie to Yibo, not anymore, but he doesn't know what to say, or how.
There's a long pause.
"You see," Yibo says, his voice shaking now, "I always assumed that it must have been because you stopped loving me."
Xiao Zhan looks up, inhaling sharply. It feels like he's just been punched, the pain spreading through his chest and stomach.
"No," he chokes out. The fact that Yibo would think—had thought— "No, that's not—No."
"Then why?" Yibo asks, his voice rising slightly again.
"Your career," Xiao Zhan says. "Your whole life. I would have only held you back."
Yibo stares at him for a beat, before his face twists. "Fuck. You idiot."
Yibo steps right up to him and takes hold of his arm. "Do you love me?" he asks, his eyes desperate.
"I do," Xiao Zhan confesses. "I never stopped."
Yibo pulls him in and crushes their mouths together.
It's rough at first, teeth clacking, noses bumping, and then Xiao Zhan wraps his arms around Yibo's neck, and Yibo adjusts the angle, and the kiss slows down, deepens. It feels like they never stopped doing this. It feels brand new.
Yibo finally pulls away with a gasp, and rests his forehead against Xiao Zhan's. He's clutching Xiao Zhan's waist almost hard enough to leave bruises.
"You idiot," Yibo says again. "I've loved you for so long."
"I—," Xiao Zhan says. "I didn't—"
"Didn't what?" Yibo says. "Because if you say you didn't fucking know, then—"
"No," Xiao Zhan says. "I did, I did. I just—"
He just hadn't believed it. Hadn't believed that Yibo would keep wanting him, keep loving him. Had thought for Yibo it was something he was already prepared to put behind him if needed.
He'd gotten it so wrong. He'd hurt Yibo so much more than he'd thought.
"I'm sorry," he says, and pulls Yibo even closer, burying his face in his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Bo-di."
"You'd better be," Yibo says, lightly. He wraps his arms around Xiao Zhan's waist in return and squeezes tight. One of his hands goes to the back of Xiao Zhan's neck, and Xiao Zhan lets out a shuddering breath. "Why did you run away from me this morning?" Yibo asks.
"I didn't want to pressure you," Xiao Zhan says.
He feels Yibo freeze. "I kissed you," Yibo says.
"I mean," Xiao Zhan says. "I kissed you first."
"You kissed my forehead," Yibo says. "That doesn't count."
"What?" Xiao Zhan asks, and pulls back to look at Yibo. "Of course it does. It's a kiss."
Yibo looks exasperated with him. It's not an unfamiliar sight.
"Well, it doesn't count enough for you to need to run away," he says. "Besides, what if I wanted you to pressure me."
"I don't think that's how it works," Xiao Zhan says slowly.
"You should have just told me how you felt," Yibo says. "It's like you didn't want me to know."
"I didn't want to make things awkward," Xiao Zhan says. "In case you didn't feel the same. I mean, you could have told me how you felt."
"I was trying!" Yibo says. "I kept flirting with you. What did you think that meant?"
"That you liked flirting with me?" Xiao Zhan tries.
"Yeah?" Yibo asks. "And that didn't make you think I might still love you?"
"I mean," Xiao Zhan says. "I kind of started hoping you might still... like me. Eventually."
"You're so bad at this," Yibo says, shaking his head.
"Hey," Xiao Zhan protests.
"Last time, I had to spell it out for you, too. Zhan-ge, why can't you see I mean it?"
"I do," Xiao Zhan promises. "I do, Yibo. I just—I want you to feel like you're allowed to change your mind."
"That's stupid," Yibo says. "Why would I want to change my mind?"
Xiao Zhan opens his mouth, but Yibo swoops in and cuts him off with a kiss. He appears to be making a point, his arms secure around Xiao Zhan's waist, his lips insistent. When he pulls back, Xiao Zhan feels light-headed.
"I—," he tries.
"I knew you were going to say something stupid," Yibo says. "Don't even try."
Xiao Zhan sighs. "I just—"
"No," Yibo says. "You were the one who did all of the talking last time, and I just let you do it, and I didn't even try to argue with you because I thought you were older and more experienced and that you knew better than me. So now it's my turn."
Xiao Zhan opens his mouth, then closes it again. Yibo's right, it's only fair.
"So you broke up with me for a stupid reason—" Yibo starts.
"It wasn't stupid," Xiao Zhan argues.
"You broke up with me for a stupid reason," Yibo says again, "but you never stopped loving me, and I still love you. Does that cover it?"
Xiao Zhan blinks. "I... Yes?"
"Okay," Yibo says. "So we're back together then?"
Xiao Zhan chokes out a laugh. "Just like that?"
Yibo shrugs. He looks brazen, but Xiao Zhan can read him well enough to tell he's unsure. "Do you not—You don't want to?"
"Shouldn't we talk about it?" Xiao Zhan asks.
"We can talk later," Yibo says. "First you just have to say yes."
Xiao Zhan hesitates. Not because he doesn't want to be with Yibo—he's pretty sure it's the only thing he wants at the moment—but it doesn't seem right that he should just get to have it, after what he did.
"Zhan-ge," Yibo says, his voice hoarse. "Don't make me wait any longer."
Xiao Zhan takes a deep breath. "I hurt you," he says.
"Yeah," Yibo says. "But I forgave you a long time ago. So all you have to do is say yes. That you still want to be with me."
Xiao Zhan knows it's not going to be that easy. They do have to actually talk about this, and Xiao Zhan knows he needs to properly explain to Yibo what led him to this in the first place.
But it's been two years. He loves Yibo so much it physically hurts sometimes, and he never wants it to stop.
He says, "Yes."
Yibo smiles, his whole face lighting up, and kisses him.
Hours later, after slowly, and then not so slowly, getting re-acquainted with each other, they're lying in bed together. It's late enough that they should both be asleep, and Xiao Zhan thinks he could probably drop off easily, but he doesn't want to leave this moment. Yibo's pressed up against Xiao Zhan's side, his hand warm on Xiao Zhan's chest.
"You know," Xiao Zhan says, his fingers gently carding through Yibo's hair. "I really love the long hair on you."
Yibo looks up at him, smiling. "Thanks, Zhan-ge."
"I'm glad they let you keep it for the show," he says.
"Mm," Yibo says. "I talked them into it."
"You did?" Xiao Zhan asks. "I thought you didn't care."
"You said you liked it," Yibo says. Xiao Zhan pauses. Yibo whines and nudges his head against his hand, so Xiao Zhan continues stroking his hair.
Years later, Yibo can still catch him off guard with his honesty. Xiao Zhan wants to give some of that honesty back. He hates to disturb the peace, but he would rather discuss it now and get it out of the way.
"Yibo," he says. "About my reasons..."
Yibo groans. "Do we have to do this now, Zhan-ge?"
"I just—" Xiao Zhan says. "I didn't realize until recently how much I hurt you. I know that sounds stupid, but— I just want to try to explain properly this time."
Yibo sighs deeply, and pushes himself to sit up. He looks at Xiao Zhan, gaze assessing.
"After the stupid shit you said before about my career, I'm not sure if I want to hear the other reasons."
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes, and sits up as well. "That wasn't stupid," he says. "Your career is important. It's so much of your life. And you know it would have been at risk. If the wrong people had found out—"
"I knew the risks," Yibo says. "I'm not an idiot."
"I know that," Xiao Zhan says. "But you were young and—"
"Ah," Yibo says, and sits back, visibly withdrawing into himself. "That's another one, isn't it? That I'm too young."
Xiao Zhan shakes his head. "You're not too young," he says, even though that had been a part of it. But it's not the way Yibo assumes. "It's just that—I'm just too old."
Yibo scoffs at him. "I think I'm the one who should get to decide that. I like that you're older than me."
"That's not what I meant," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo squints at him. "Okay, explain then."
Xiao Zhan sighs and leans his head back against the headboard, looks up at the ceiling. "I was too old for you," he says. He feels suddenly exhausted. He shouldn't have started this conversation in the middle of the night. "I was too old, and you were so busy, and I was just holding you back. I thought you'd realize it, eventually."
"What the fuck," Yibo says. "Is that really what you thought?"
Xiao Zhan shrugs. It's hard to admit it, but Yibo deserves to know.
The bed creaks, and suddenly Yibo's in his lap, his hands on Xiao Zhan's shoulders. Xiao Zhan grabs his waist, steadying.
"I really thought you were smarter than this," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan frowns. "Hey."
"What do you mean, you were holding me back?" Yibo demands. "Holding me back from what?"
"You made that joke," Xiao Zhan says. "About that one show you booked, that was shooting really far away. You said you'd cancel it if I asked. And I guess I got scared you meant it. That you'd end up giving up something you actually really wanted to do, for me. And then when you no longer wanted to be with me, you'd regret it, and you'd hate me for it."
Yibo stares at him, his expression vaguely horrified.
"What?" he asks, voice rough.
Xiao Zhan looks away.
"So you decided all of this," Yibo says, "without even talking to me? Did you even think about talking to me?"
"I—" Xiao Zhan tries.
"No," Yibo says. "You didn't, did you?"
"It wouldn't have helped anything," Xiao Zhan says.
"Because I would have talked you out of it?" Yibo asks. His hands cup Xiao Zhan's face, thumbs gentle on his cheeks. "Zhan-ge."
"Would you have?" Xiao Zhan asks, looking up at him. "Talked me out of it?"
"Yes," Yibo says, and then sighs. "I would have tried. I should have tried harder, back then, but I thought you knew what you were doing. I thought you were doing the right thing."
"So did I," Xiao Zhan says. "So did I, Yibo."
"What about what you felt?" Yibo asks. "Did you think of that?"
Xiao Zhan shrugs. "I had to do what was best for you."
Yibo's face falls. He leans forward and rests their foreheads together. "You idiot," he says softly. "Did you regret it?"
"Every day," Xiao Zhan confesses. "It felt so selfish, but I did. I wished I'd never let you go. But I knew—I thought I knew that I was doing it for the right reasons. I would have done it the same way all over again. Yibo, I really thought it would be better for you if we broke up."
Yibo pulls him into a hug, his arms wrapped around Xiao Zhan's shoulders. Xiao Zhan hugs him back fiercely, clinging.
"I think we've established that you're an absolute idiot," Yibo says. "And next time you start thinking stupid things, you have to come and talk to me."
Xiao Zhan lets out a shaky breath. "I'm so sorry," he says. "For hurting you. For wasting so much time."
Yibo presses a kiss to his temple, and Xiao Zhan has to swallow a sob. His chest feels so tender.
"It's okay," Yibo says, his arms tight around Xiao Zhan. "It all worked out in the end, didn't it? You don't have to be sorry. Just don't do it again. Just talk to me."
"I will," Xiao Zhan promises. "I will."
They stay wrapped up like that for a while, just breathing together. Xiao Zhan is content to just hold Yibo, and marvel at the fact that he has the chance to do it. Eventually he realizes that Yibo is practically falling asleep in his arms, his body growing heavy and relaxed, so he rearranges them so they're both lying down again. Yibo snuffles and immediately curls up against him.
Xiao Zhan stares up at the ceiling for a while, just letting himself feel.
Yibo's right. He'd never taken into consideration how either of them felt, and he'd done a disservice to both of them. He'd underestimated Yibo's feelings for him and disregarded his own. He's known for a while that he made the wrong call. He just didn't understand the full extent of it. The way he'd broken both of their hearts.
Yibo doesn't have to worry about him doing it again, though. He has no intentions on letting Yibo go again, now that he's been lucky enough to have him back.
He grabs his phone to check his alarm and sees that Zhuocheng has sent him a message only a few minutes ago.
hey, guess what I heard from yu bin
Xiao Zhan frowns, and wonders why Zhuocheng is still awake.
why aren't you asleep? he asks.
why aren't YOU asleep? Zhuocheng asks.
Xiao Zhan shakes his head. what did you hear?
apparently it wasn't a coincidence that you got this role
Xiao Zhan frowns. what do you mean?
yu bin heard that yibo got cast first, and they asked him who he wanted to work with, and he suggested you
Xiao Zhan stares at his phone for a moment, before looking down at Yibo, fast asleep, breath warm against Xiao Zhan's skin.
guess he missed you, Zhuocheng says.
Xiao Zhan bites down on his lip, a warmth blooming in his chest. There's a remnant of regret buried deep in there, but it's alright. He can spend as long as needed making it up to Yibo.
thanks for telling me, he texts back. now go to bed!
He sets his phone aside, holds Yibo tighter and lets sleep pull him under as well.
They're almost late to set the next morning. Yibo keeps pulling him in for one more kiss, and Xiao Zhan finds it impossible to deny him anything.
"We have to go," Xiao Zhan murmurs, while Yibo is busy pressing kisses to his neck, his jaw. "We haven't even showered yet."
"We can shower together," Yibo says. "Save time."
Xiao Zhan chuckles, burying his hand in Yibo's hair. "Then we'll never make it."
"Well then I don't know what you want me to do, Zhan-ge," Yibo says, and swoops down again to kiss his mouth, his hands roaming over Xiao Zhan's chest.
"We won't even have time for breakfast," Xiao Zhan says, once Yibo's pulled away. His lips tingle, his mouth pleasantly sore. He wonders if the make-up people will notice. "We'll have to take separate cars anyway."
Yibo whines. "Stop talking about work while I'm kissing you."
His hands start straying downward. Xiao Zhan grabs them and shakes his head.
"I'd forgotten that you're insatiable," he says.
Yibo throws him a quick grin. "Is your memory that bad, Zhan-ge?"
"We need to go," Xiao Zhan says, smiling. "Later, okay? Just wait until tonight."
"But tonight is so far," Yibo says, pouting. Xiao Zhan screws his eyes shut. He can never resist Yibo's pout, even as exaggerated and dramatic as it is.
"We have to go to work," Xiao Zhan says. "Be responsible. Mature." He looks up at Yibo, and raises his eyebrows. "Can you do that?"
"Hey," Yibo says. "Out of the two of us, I'm the more emotionally mature one."
"Yeah?" Xiao Zhan asks, amused.
"Yeah," Yibo says. "Han-ge said so."
"Wait," Xiao Zhan says. "What?"
"Well," Yibo says. "He said I shouldn't assume that you're more emotionally mature than me just because you're older. I just translated it."
Xiao Zhan blinks. "You talked to Han-ge?"
Yibo shrugs. "I wanted to talk to him about how people make relationships work long-term."
"A few days ago."
"Oh," Xiao Zhan says. He realizes he's still holding Yibo's hands, and squeezes them. "Okay."
"Should I not have?" Yibo asks, looking confused.
"No, no," Xiao Zhan says, and sits up. Yibo shuffles back to let him. "It's nice. Uh, did you also talk to Yu Bin?"
"Maybe," Yibo says. "Why?"
Xiao Zhan shrugs. "No reason. Zhuocheng mentioned something."
Yibo squints at him. "What did he say?"
"Um," Xiao Zhan says. "Apparently Yu Bin said that you're the reason I got this role?"
Yibo frowns. "No."
"Oh," Xiao Zhan says, feeling oddly disappointed. It's not like it matters. He'd just liked the thought of it.
"I mean, yeah, I asked them to consider casting you," Yibo says, sounding indignant. "But that's not why you got the role. You got it because you're amazing, and perfect for this part."
Xiao Zhan stares at him for a beat before pulling him into a kiss.
Yibo makes a startled noise and they topple back down on the bed, barely managing to keep from smashing noses. Xiao Zhan laughs and wraps his arms around Yibo's shoulders. Yibo sinks into him, and starts pressing open-mouthed kisses against his jaw, his neck, his chest.
They both startle as Xiao Zhan's alarm goes off again. Yibo groans and reaches over to turn it off.
"We really have to—"
"Go," Yibo says. He leans in slowly and gives Xiao Zhan one last, lingering kiss. "I know."
"You should go shower in your room," Xiao Zhan says. "I'll meet you on set, okay?"
"Okay," Yibo says, nodding.
Xiao Zhan reaches up to brush Yibo's hair away from his face. "I love you."
Yibo pauses, mouth falling open, and then he grins wide and darts in for another kiss. "Love you, too," he whispers against Xiao Zhan's lips.
When he pulls away he's still smiling, soft and happy.
He climbs off Xiao Zhan, stupidly graceful, and starts putting on his clothes. Xiao Zhan leans back and just watches him; his lovely body, so familiar still, and yet different, older.
Yibo looks over at him. "Shouldn't you go and shower?"
Xiao Zhan chews on his lip, and bites back the, "Join me." They really don't have time for that.
He gets up instead and walks up behind Yibo, wraps his arms around his waist and rests his chin on Yibo's shoulder. He gets to do that now. He's missed this. He's missed Yibo so much, and now Yibo's here, again, in his arms.
"Hey," Yibo says, and rests his hands on top of Xiao Zhan's. "What's up?"
"Nothing," Xiao Zhan says. "You're here."
"I am," Yibo says simply. "Thought you wanted me out of your room so we wouldn't be late."
Xiao Zhan hums. "No," he says. "I don't want that. I want to just stay here with you."
Yibo's laughter rumbles through Xiao Zhan's chest, and Xiao Zhan can't fathom the feeling of contentment it brings.
"Now you're making me be the responsible one," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan whines and buries his face in Yibo's neck. Yibo squeezes his hands.
"You have to let me go," Yibo says. "So I can come back again tonight."
Xiao Zhan sighs heavily and steps back, his hands falling to Yibo's hips. "Fine."
Yibo turns and presses a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "I'll see you on set."
"Okay," Xiao Zhan says. "I'll see you."
Yibo pauses at the door and looks back, as if he doesn't want to let Xiao Zhan out of his sight either. Xiao Zhan smiles and gives him a sarcastic wave from the bathroom door. Yibo huffs and rolls his eyes, but he's smiling as well. He lets himself out the door, peeking around before quietly leaving. Xiao Zhan presses a hand to his chest, and goes to shower, knowing tonight he'll get to fall asleep with Yibo in his bed once again.
Filming is long and includes a larger cast, as they're doing a group scene in the morning. There's not much chance for Xiao Zhan to catch Yibo on his own, but that doesn't stop him from stealing glances whenever he can. More often than not, he finds Yibo looking back at him, and his stomach swoops in response. It feels like he's on a roller coaster, just waiting for the drop. He needs to get his hands back on Yibo.
In the late afternoon, they move indoors for a smaller scene—it'll be just him and Yibo and Yibo's younger sister in her hospital room. Zhao Ling will be there as well, but she's coming in later—Xiao Zhan is meant to pass her as he's leaving the room.
Xiao Zhan has escaped hair and make-up and is waiting around with Liu Xinyue, chatting with her idly. He still doesn't know her that well, but that doesn't seem to deter her, which is nice in a way.
"Are you looking for someone?" she asks eventually.
Xiao Zhan turns back to her. "Oh, sorry, I was just—Have you seen Yibo?"
Yibo disappeared as soon as he was let out of the chair, and Xiao Zhan hasn't seen him since. It's only been around five to ten minutes, maybe, and it seems it's still taking some time to get everything ready for shooting, but he hoped they'd finally have the chance to hang out for a bit.
"Ah," Liu Xinyue says, smiling. "No, but I can see him heading our way now."
Xiao Zhan turns immediately, relief flooding him. "Hey," he says, as Yibo walks up to them.
"Hey, Yibo," Liu Xinyue says. "Are you feeling better today?"
Xiao Zhan blinks and looks at Yibo. "What?"
Yibo keeps his eyes on Liu Xinyue. "Yeah, much, thanks."
"Okay, that's good," she says. "I was worried you might be getting sick."
"I'm good," Yibo says. "You didn't need to worry."
"Oh," Liu Xinyue says. "I—"
"Can I steal Zhan-ge?" Yibo asks.
"Oh!" she says. "Yeah, sure, of course. Do you need me to text you when they're ready?"
Yibo pauses. "Actually, yeah. That would be great. Thank you."
"Okay," Liu Xinyue says, smiling. "Go on then."
Yibo smiles back, and finally turns to Xiao Zhan, indicating for him to follow. Xiao Zhan gives Liu Xinyue a polite nod and hurries after him.
"Where are we going?" he asks. "And what did she mean about you feeling better?"
"I heard from some of the crew that there's a private garden on one of the balconies here," Yibo says. "No one should be there."
"And why didn't you feel well yesterday?" Xiao Zhan asks.
Yibo shrugs. "It was a bit hard to focus after—well, you know. Everything. Some people seemed concerned, so I just said I had a headache."
Xiao Zhan wishes he could take Yibo's hand, just to reassure him again, but all he can do is stay close and follow as Yibo leads them through a maze of hallways. They come to a stop in front of a closed door.
"This feels ominous," Xiao Zhan says.
"I've seen movies," Yibo says. "You just have to make sure the door doesn't lock behind you."
He pushes it open and reveals a small but lovely space, covered in greenery and overlooking the city.
"Wow," Xiao Zhan says. "I wouldn't expect to find something like this here."
Yibo shrugs and steps through the door. "The world can surprise you, Zhan-ge."
Xiao Zhan snorts. "Is that from a meme?"
"Shut up," Yibo says. "Let the door close, I'll try to open it."
They make sure the door does not lock automatically and then it's just the two of them, on an enclosed balcony. It's still not private, and there's the chance that any minute someone else might stumble in, but Xiao Zhan still lets Yibo pull him in for the quickest kiss.
"Just one," Yibo promises, breath ghosting over Xiao Zhan's lips. "Just so I can make it till tonight, Zhan-ge."
"I'll allow it," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo grabs him by the lapels and kisses him deeply. "You look so good in these clothes," he says after, brushing his fingers over Xiao Zhan's suit. "They should give whoever picked your wardrobe an award."
Xiao Zhan tugs on the soft gray sweater they've put Yibo in for tonight, to emphasize his vulnerability after his sister's shooting. "I could say the same."
Yibo shrugs and steps back. "This is nothing. Besides, I always look good."
Xiao Zhan covers his face, laughing.
"What?" Yibo asks. "It's what everyone tells me. I don't have the energy to argue with them."
"Fuck," Xiao Zhan says. "You're impossible."
Yibo gives him a winning smile and drops down onto a chair, and starts rummaging in his bag. "Sit down, Zhan-ge. I don't want your old legs getting tired."
Xiao Zhan gasps, and sits down next to Yibo. "Excuse me?"
"What?" Yibo asks. "I heard someone say that once you get to thirty your body already starts giving up. I'm just worried."
Xiao Zhan pouts. "You've been so nice to me the whole shooting, didi. Why are you being mean to me now?"
Yibo laughs. "I've achieved my goal," he says. "I don't have to be nice anymore."
He immediately belies his words by pulling out a sandwich from his bag and offering it to Xiao Zhan.
Xiao Zhan narrows his eyes. Yibo raises his eyebrows. "What? You have to eat."
"We'll share it," Xiao Zhan says.
"Alright," Yibo agrees easily, and breaks it into two. He bites down on his half and then says, mouth full, "I mean, I have more than one."
Xiao Zhan sighs dramatically. Yibo laughs.
"I did wonder," Xiao Zhan says, once he's eaten his half of the sandwich and is searching in Yibo's bag for another. "Not that you weren't nice to me that summer when we filmed The Untamed, but there's been a lot less hitting this time and a lot more plying me with food."
"That summer I wanted your attention," Yibo says. "This time, I wanted you to see I was still serious about this."
Xiao Zhan pauses. "Fuck," he says. "Han-ge was right, you really are the emotionally mature one."
Yibo shrugs. "I guess I grew up."
"No," Xiao Zhan says seriously. "You were always like this. You didn't need to grow up. I just didn't see it."
"Well, you are pretty nearsighted," Yibo says, startling Xiao Zhan into a laugh.
They eat in silence for a while; Xiao Zhan is content to just sit here and enjoy the break from working, knowing that Yibo is next to him. There is something that's still nagging at him, though.
"Hey," he says, turning towards Yibo. "That scene where you and Zhao Ling kissed. Did you really think I was jealous of you?"
Yibo looks away and hunches his shoulders. Xiao Zhan nudges his knee against his.
"Hey," he says gently. "Is it possible I'm not the only stupid one in this relationship?"
Yibo huffs but he turns back towards Xiao Zhan.
"You just get along really well," he says. "And you seemed angry at me after that scene. I didn't know what else to think."
"I wasn't angry at you," Xiao Zhan says. "I was angry at myself. And jealous at all the other people who had gotten to kiss you."
Yibo shrugs. "There really hasn't been anyone since you."
Xiao Zhan freezes. "What?"
"I told you," Yibo says. "I've been in love with you since that summer. I didn't want anyone else."
"Oh," Xiao Zhan says. "I—Me too. I mean—I haven't—"
Yibo looks at him, a smile breaking out over his face. "Really?"
"I thought of it," Xiao Zhan says, in the name of honesty. "I thought I should get over you, that it wasn't fair to still want you after breaking up with you, so I almost tried but—I never went through with it."
Yibo's face softens. "Good."
"Good," Xiao Zhan echoes. "Yeah."
Yibo offers the last of his sandwich to him, and Xiao Zhan shakes his head. "You go ahead." Yibo shrugs and eats it in two careful bites.
Xiao Zhan realizes he can't wait to get to cook for Yibo again. Yibo's eyes would light up every time without fail, as if Xiao Zhan had done something magical. It's another thing Xiao Zhan had missed terribly.
"Hey," he says. "That interview we did, when you said you didn't have anything lined up after this. Was that true?"
"Yeah," Yibo shrugs. "Haven't booked anything yet. I'm still deciding what I want to do next."
Xiao Zhan nods, thoughtful.
"What about you?" Yibo asks.
"I have a few small things," Xiao Zhan says. "Most of them not fully confirmed yet."
"Mm," Yibo says, and leans down to put the sandwich wrappings back in his bag.
"I could cancel them," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo whips his head towards him, his eyes going wide. "I don't want you to do that. I mean—Zhan-ge—"
Xiao Zhan smiles and shakes his head. "I think it would be a good thing," he says. "To have a small break before whatever my next role is."
Yibo is eyeing him, looking suspicious. "Are you sure? You're not just, like—I don't know."
"What?" Xiao Zhan asks. "Being impulsive?"
Yibo rolls his eyes. "You know what I mean. You don't have to take a break just because I'm taking one."
Xiao Zhan rests his chin on his hand, and looks out at the city. "I think it would be nice," he says. "I could bring Jianguo back to my apartment again."
"I guess that would be nice," Yibo says carefully.
"We could spend some time together," Xiao Zhan says. "At my place or yours."
Yibo's biting down on his lip. "I vote yours," he says.
"Because of Jianguo?" Xiao Zhan asks.
"Obviously," Yibo says.
Xiao Zhan smiles. "Okay," he says, and leans briefly against Yibo. "Then it's a plan."
Yibo reaches out and squeezes his hand. "It's a plan."
They have to run back on set once Liu Xinyue texts them, both out of breath and sweaty once they get there. The make-up team seems exasperated with them. It's worth it.
Before Xiao Zhan even realizes, it's fully spring in Hangzhou, everything in bloom.
He's taken to wearing his glasses whenever he doesn't have to be on set, since his eyes have gotten so sensitive to the sun and the pollen. The upside is that Yibo won't stop telling him how 'fucking cute' he looks with them on.
"What if you just leave them on for today?" he asks one morning.
"I'm afraid you'd be too distracted," Xiao Zhan says, and grins at him.
Yibo rolls his eyes. "I can control myself, Zhan-ge."
"Tell that to my elbow," Xiao Zhan says. Yibo had gotten a bit too enthusiastic last night and they'd toppled off the bed. Xiao Zhan had felt like he was still in his early twenties, instead of a thirty-year-old who went to bed at ten and liked it that way.
He can't blame Yibo much, though, for rolling them over too forcefully in his enthusiasm. It was the first night in a while they'd had any energy to even think about fucking.
They've been shooting a chase scene on a river, the harsh spring sun beating down on them. The days have been long, and they've both been so exhausted in the evenings they've gone straight to bed.
"I know I'm old and boring," Xiao Zhan had said one night when they were getting under the covers, both so tired they were barely able to keep their eyes open enough to brush their teeth. "But what's your excuse?"
Yibo had shut him up by kissing him, and then immediately falling asleep.
"Your elbow will be fine," Yibo says with a smile. "Do you need me to kiss it better?"
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes and goes to put his contact lenses in. They mostly stay in Xiao Zhan's room now; Yibo only stops by his to make it look relatively lived in. Xiao Zhan can't wait for when filming ends and they can stop worrying about things like, "How messy should a hotel room you're not staying in look to not appear suspicious?"
Aside from that, he knows he'll be sad when this project is done. The end is always hard for him. He'd been a mess for weeks after The Untamed finished shooting. He and Yibo had taken a break for a while after that as well, which hadn't helped at all. It had been months until they'd figured it out and started seeing each other. At least this time he can look forward to having Yibo with him.
They're hanging out after lunch, waiting for the evening shoot to start. Liu Xinyue has stolen a camera from someone and is filming her own behind the scenes footage for the network.
"So we're about halfway done with the filming," she says, pointing the camera at Xiao Zhan. "How do you think it's been going?"
"I think we're actually like sixty percent through," Xiao Zhan says, looking over at Yibo who's sitting near him, scrolling through his phone.
Yibo nods. "Sixty. Maybe fifty-five."
"You think fifty-five?" Xiao Zhan asks. "I think sixty."
"Well, I have more scenes than you," Yibo says.
"And how does it feel?" Xiao Zhan asks. "No, how does it feel to actually have lines this time?"
Yibo shrugs. "Feels fine," he says, looking smug. "I don't know what you were complaining about."
Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes.
Liu Xinyue laughs. "Okay, let me rephrase my question then: how great has it been?"
"Working with Wang-laoshi is always great," Xiao Zhan says, and throws a grin Yibo's way.
"Not as great as working with Xiao-laoshi," Yibo says immediately.
"Hm, I guess that's true," Xiao Zhan agrees.
Yibo pauses, his eyes going comically wide. He turns to the camera. "Did you hear that?"
"What?" Xiao Zhan asks innocently.
"I didn't realize Xiao-laoshi had gotten such a big head," Yibo says.
"No, no, you misunderstood," Xiao Zhan says, laughing. "I'm not saying it's great working with me, I'm just saying it's better to work with me than with you."
Yibo's eyes flash and he reaches over to smack Xiao Zhan. Xiao Zhan catches his hand instead and squeezes his fingers.
"It seems you miscalculated," he says.
Yibo laughs awkwardly, and pulls his hand back just to swat Xiao Zhan on the arm. His cheeks are flushed, and Xiao Zhan grins. He always feels accomplished when he manages to make Yibo feel bashful.
"No, I'm joking," he says, turning back to Liu Xinyue and her camera. "Wang-laoshi is the best to work with. He's so talented, too." He looks back at Yibo and says, "He's been teaching everyone how to dance."
Yibo rolls his eyes, but he looks pleased. "It's been fun."
Xiao Zhan smiles and asks Liu Xinyue, "Isn't he the best teacher?"
"He is," she agrees immediately. "Ling-jie and I have been practicing the dances he taught us last week. I think I might even take up dancing. Like, as a hobby."
"You'd be good at it," Yibo says, serious now. "You have a good control over your body."
Liu Xinyue pauses. Xiao Zhan makes a face.
"Not like that," Yibo says, and swats Xiao Zhan on the arm again. "Obviously."
Liu Xinyue laughs. "I think that's where I say cut," she says, and turns the camera off.
Yibo's ears have gone red, and he's looking grumpy about it.
"Aw," Xiao Zhan says. "Is Wang-laoshi embarrassed?"
"Xiao-laoshi needs to shut the fuck up," Yibo says. "If he doesn't want—"
Xiao Zhan tilts his head. "If I don't want what?"
Yibo stares at him, obviously considering. "If he doesn't want to have dinner alone tomorrow night."
"We have a photoshoot together tomorrow night," Xiao Zhan points out.
Yibo blinks, his expression clearing. "Oh, yeah. I forgot."
Xiao Zhan tuts. "You need to keep better track of your schedule, Wang-laoshi."
"Yeah, I've been a bit distracted lately," Yibo says, smiling.
Xiao Zhan narrows his eyes and Yibo laughs.
"Oh, you know that photoshoot the whole crew is having at the end of the week?" Liu Xinyue asks. "Guess what I heard from Zhao Ling."
"We're having a photoshoot together this week?" Yibo asks, sounding genuinely confused.
Xiao Zhan sighs, and Liu Xinyue laughs. "Well, anyway, I heard that they'll bring in dogs."
Xiao Zhan turns to her, eyes wide. "Really?"
"Yeah, like police dogs, I guess," Liu Xinyue says. "Zhao Ling is kind of afraid of dogs, so her manager told her about it."
Xiao Zhan clutches his chest, and looks over at Yibo. "I really want a dog one day."
Yibo purses his lips. "How do you think Jianguo would like that?"
"If it's a nice dog," Xiao Zhan says, "then surely she'd be fine. I just—Wow, I really want a dog. You know that dog I met when filming Jade Dynasty? That was the perfect dog. That's the kind of dog I want."
"What kind of dog was it?" Liu Xinyue asks.
"Oh, I still have some pictures," Xiao Zhan says, and takes out his phone. "Do you want to see?"
He hears Yibo laugh, and looks over, prepared to defend himself, and instead finds Yibo gazing at him, the softest, loveliest smile on his face.
Xiao Zhan can feel his cheeks flush in response. "What?" he asks.
"Nothing," Yibo says, and shrugs, still smiling. "I was just thinking that it would be cool to have a dog."
"What kind of dog do you want, Wang-laoshi?" Liu Xinyue asks.
"I'm not picky," Yibo says, holding Xiao Zhan's gaze. "I'm good with letting someone else decide."
Xiao Zhan can't look away. There's a strong feeling of calm happiness settling inside his chest, making a home there.
"What if the other person will make the wrong decision?" he still can't help but ask.
"I don't think they will," Yibo says. "Not this time."
"No," Xiao Zhan agrees. "Not this time."
Yibo smiles again, and says, "So where are those pictures you wanted to show us?"
"Oh, right," Xiao Zhan says, and turns back to his phone. Whenever he glances up at Yibo, Yibo's looking back.
It's possible Xiao Zhan is distracted for the rest of the shoot, thinking about the dog he and Yibo might get one day, the life they might have together.
Yibo walks over while they're on a short break, bumps his shoulder against Xiao Zhan and asks in a whisper, "Are you alright? You're all over the place."
"Yeah, sorry," Xiao Zhan says. "I'm just ready to go back home with you already."
"Home?" Yibo asks.
"Well," Xiao Zhan says. "The hotel, I guess. But eventually, home."
Yibo blinks at him, his expression going soft. "Home," he says.
"If you want to," Xiao Zhan says.
"Yeah," Yibo says. "Of course."
He keeps looking at Xiao Zhan, his eyes full of an emotion Xiao Zhan can't name but feels echoed in his own chest.
"I'm so mad that I can't kiss you right now," Yibo whispers.
"Later," Xiao Zhan promises. "And every day after that."
Yibo raises his eyebrows, and lets out an incredulous laugh, the tension breaking. "Oh my god," he says. "You're such a dork. I can't believe you'd pull 'every day' on me."
Xiao Zhan shrugs his shoulder, unrepentant. "If it works, it works."
Yibo shakes his head. "I can't even look at you right now. That was way too cheesy. We have to go back to work, and you need to focus if you want us to get out of here before nightfall."
"You're telling me to focus?" Xiao Zhan asks. "You started laughing out of the blue earlier, don't think I didn't notice that."
"Yeah, well that was only one time," Yibo says. "And I was picturing what your face would look like when you tried to explain to Jianguo why you've brought a dog into her home."
Xiao Zhan pauses, trying to imagine how that might go.
"Yeah, that was kind of the face," Yibo says, laughing.
Xiao Zhan reaches out to hit him, but Yibo reacts quickly and catches his hand.
"Hah," he says, grinning. "Got you."
"Yeah," Xiao Zhan says softly. "You did."