There's just something about the sound of the train hovering past his ears as the sun emerges from and dips into the skyline that always seems to put Xiao Zhan to sleep.
His days always seem to flow so constantly like a tedious clockwork. He wakes at 5 in the morning, takes a 20-min shower, dresses up for work, eats breakfast for a good 10 mins, then finally leaves the house at 7 in the morning only to start dozing off once he takes a seat for his morning train ride.
In the afternoons, when he leaves for home, the same thing always happens. He walks out of his office tired, shoulders slumped, eyes heavy and bagged. His fingers barely hold onto his case as he feels the weight of his bag dragging him down. The asphalt that screeches along the soles of his shoes seems to trudge his journey on the way home as he heads for the train station. And, when he finally boards a ride, he always finds himself beginning to close his eyes, that sound of the train moving buzzing in his ears like a nuanced lullaby.
By now, he's used to it. It's been two years and a half since he's hauled himself a position in an architectural design firm managed by a big company, for which the pay is actually good, enough to earn and build his own firm in three years or so. That had always been Xiao Zhan's goal, of the reason he took up this job offer Yubin's given him, of why he can somehow endure the pressuring deadlines and excess workloads always assigned to him.
And it had been good, fine even. In his first months at work, he had already been assigned as the team leader (he doesn't know if he can account this to his skills and the company's newly built and found confidence in him, or if he's team members just aren't that... up to the standard (or perhaps both)). He also doesn't know if that had been a blessing. All the important tasks given by his superiors were entrusted to him and him alone, and all his members have to do is to comply with whatever he says.
Those aside though, he actually loves this job, he really does. But sometimes and somehow, especially these days, he feels as if, it's draining the life out of him. And it's not supposed to be like that.
Each time he'd walk his way home at the end of his day, he would have thoughts like that. Knocking and knocking in his mind and it'd make him start to think, ask himself if what he was doing is right, or if this path that he chose to take is still somehow okay, alright. But he has a goal, he reminds himself, just a little more tiredness and sleepless nights then he'd be able to stray a path different from this.
A phone call disrupts him from his thoughts as he hears the sudden sound of the train approaching that morning. He checks his watch hiding under the sleeve of his white shirt as he takes his phone out of his pockets. It is already past 7 in the morning, and he'd waited 10 minutes for the train to arrive.
When he takes the callㅡfrom his senior managerㅡhe sees the seats in the train already fully occupied. He sighs, squeezing himself in as he holds onto a railing. At the very least, however, he'll be spared from mild embarrassment of sleeping on a stranger's shoulder again like yesterday, or the many instances he'd done so in the past months.
It is, to say, humiliating each time. And Xiao Zhan doesn't wish to elaborate any of them.
"Xiao Zhan," Manager Gu greets from the phone.
Xiao Zhan nods as if Manager Gu can see him do so. "Manager Gu, good morning. Is there something urgent?"
He hears Manager Gu cough. By now, he can hear the train setting off as the doors are closed. The windows are made of glass and tightly shut, and he can only make an outline of the trees standing behind the rising sun and the waking cityline from the outside.
"I just have to remind you that you'll be supervising the new interns today." says Manager Gu. Oh, Xiao Zhan actually forgot about that. He can feel another distressing headache looming. "They're coming this morningㅡoh, I can see some of them are already here. Conduct a meeting once they're complete, there should be 8 of them. Remember to get the handouts here as well."
"I'll take note of that, sir, thank you."
When the phone call ends, Xiao Zhan can feel another wave of exhaustion seeping in him, ready to drain all his energy away. He really did forget about the incoming interns he was assigned to handle for the next six months. But no one can blame him, really. Above all the workloads piling, the many deadlines he has to chase and that numbing ache in his head reoccurring there and then, he really didn't have a headspace to think about those interns too.
Xiao Zhan is somehow utterly fucked.
The time moves into 7:30, and he can already feel his legs go numb. It isn't that packed inside, but it isn't all too spacey either. Somehow, though, it's enough for Xiao Zhan to take a momentary breather and make a lapse in his head over the dread and antsiness he's feeling.
He opens his Weibo account for a while to calm himself down, oversees past his friends' post and lands on cute cat videos. Though it is indeed a bit unusual for an adult male to watch these kinds of videos but like, it's not as if Xiao Zhan actually cares.
The train skids to a stop the moment it lands on another station and, when Xiao Zhan looks up from watching a baby panda rolling its body on the grass, he sees a man wearing a black mask staring at him.
And the stare is relenting.
“Uh," he mutters once he's bothered enough. "Can I help you?"
The man doesn't answer. From this distance, Xiao Zhan can see under the rim of his glasses the features of the man unconcealed by the mask. He notes that the man's eyes are pretty, his lashes are long, and the bridge of his nose is shaped somewhat perfectly. It's tall. The man is tall too, dressed up in black slacks and red blazer paired up with a white undershirt.
The man keeps staring at Xiao Zhan as if in a daze, and Xiao Zhan doesn't realize he's staring back in the process too. But he blinks, catching himself. He tilts his head and waves a hand in front of the man only to have him eventually wake up from his daze too. Xiao Zhan watches the way the man's lips part, eyes widen before his ears are flushed red.
"Sorry…" he hears the man mumble, eyes now trained on the ground.
Xiao Zhan blinks again, shrugs as he puts his phone back to his pockets. He's a little used over random people randomly staring at him in the most random places. He doesn't know if there's something interesting in his face or what.
"It's okay," he says.
Eventually, as the doors of the train open, some of the passengers inside leave the seats vacant as they head out and a new influx comes in. Xiao Zhan takes this as a chance to take the seat behind him, with the man occupying beside.
The silence begins to permeate in the air, saved by the buzz and zooms of the train as it starts moving again. This makes Xiao Zhan feel a little sleepy, the heaviness in his eyes and the steadiness of his surroundings somehow lulling him to close his eyes and to ease his shoulders just for a while.
He remembers how he's stayed up late again last night, trying to comply with a contractor's request over a major change in the structure his team designed sometime last week. It has been one of his major stressors lately, having to repeat the presentations he’s prepared everytime the day before.
But that’s only one of his worries. He has quite a few more behind his back. He groans inwardly, tries to let those thoughts be buried at the back of his mind for now, and keeps the sound of the air as the train moves occupy it. At the very least, it keeps him sane. He can feel the anxiety thrum down as his eyes are no longer shut so tight. He yawns as he feels the sleepiness dawn on him. And when he stretches an arm within his confined space, he can feel his head finally resting… on something...
When he wakes, he feels the train is no longer moving. When he wakes, it’s in that lightest shrug on his shoulders, that slow stir in his gut simmering as he slowly opens his eyes.
“This is the last station,” the man tells him as a greeting. He sees that tiny mischief in those eyes and it makes him wonder what could have brought it out. But then, when he notices their positions and the close proximity of their faces, he begins to realize that.
"I am so sorry!"
As if scalded, Xiao Zhan hastily detaches himself away, isn't all surprised that he's slept on a stranger's shoulders again but it feels humiliating all the same. He blinks his eyes as the sunlight streams through the glass panes of the windows.
When he looks around, there are no more people other than the two of them inside. He immediately checks his watch and sees it's only 10 minutes before 8. He's going to be late.
Xiao Zhan bites his lips and says, "Then I'll get going, I'm sorry again…"
He then bows his head before he gets up and walks out, carrying his baggage along. He isn't sure if he hears a coming "Wait!" from behind so he doesn't acknowledge. He runs through the station and through the crowds on the streets he passes by, feels the heat of the day emanate in the form of sweat sticking around the collars of his white buttoned down shirt.
It doesn't take Xiao Zhan long to reach the building where the firm is located. Once he gets inside, he is greeted by Yubin holding two cups of black coffee in hand.
"Xiao Zhan!" Yubin approaches and gives one cup to him. The drink is hot in his hold and he has to be careful not to spill some on his very white, very clean, freshly laundered shirt.
"I don't drink coffee," he says.
"It's not for you," Yubin snorts. Then adds just to spite, "L-O-L."
He chuckles at that.
"You're late than usual today," Yubin observes. "Stayed up late last night again?"
He nods. "Yeah," As if Xiao Zhan would tell Yubin the exact reason why. For all he knows, when he tells him he'd accidentally slept on his commute ride again, on a stranger's shoulders again, Yubin will have to have his best laugh in his whole life again. And Xiao Zhan doesn't want to be a laughing stock, not today, no thank you.
But also and honestly, as he sometimes tells Yubin his train ride predicaments, his friend would give him thoughtful advices. He'd tell Xiao Zhan to sleep more, to rest, to not work too hard. To take care of himself too. And Xiao Zhan would just nod, those words falling to deaf ears as he'd sleep late in the night again, work both his body and brain a little too hard that sometimes he gets lost along the way, his vision blurring and blurring until his mind knows no rest but to work and work and work.
And he feels bad. Not just to Yubin, but to himself.
They walk together on the way to their respective offices, with him asking Yubin whose coffees these are.
"It's for the 2 interns who just arrived," Xiao Zhan furrows his brows at that. "I know right, I'm confused too. Didn't think the company's a little warm, though actually pretentious but huh . I'll bet we'll have the interns mopping on floors first thing tomorrow. What a very warm welcome for them indeed."
"Stop," stating the obvious, Yubin.
"What? But it's true!" The elevator dings as soon as it opens. They both enter. "And it's not as if Boss Yizhou will fire me. Heck, I'm his best employee here, I'll have you know!"
Xiao Zhan only shakes his head at that, smiling. "I heard the company's trying its best to keep one intern to continue working here after the internship," he says. "Is that true?"
"Maybe," Yubin shrugs. "I've taken a look at their portfolios and there really is one intern standing out the most. His plates are amazing." He chews on a gum that Xiao Zhan hadn't noticed it's been there the whole time. "But I dunno, we can't still judge yet 'til we meet them all."
Xiao Zhan nods. "That's true."
When they finally reach the floor of their office, he can count that there are 7 people waiting outside Manager Gu's office. These must be the interns.
Xiao Zhan gives the cup of coffee to an intern with a smile as Yubin does the same (though without a smile because smiling is Xiao Zhan's thing "only" as his coworkers would say and he'd protest because he's sure as hell he didn't invent smiling).
They enter Manager Gu's office and Manager Gu hands him a handout meant for his short meeting with the interns as well as their portfolios. Yubin, on the other hand, receives two rolled-up blueprints which his coworker can only groan. Manager Gu chuckles at that.
"Rejected again?" Yubin says dismayed. Xiao Zhan can only look in sympathy, though they're actually facing the same situation. "Just how picky these clients get? I've pulled two days of an all-nighter for these, FYI."
"At least they pay more than enough," he comments.
Yubin frowns. "Right…"
Once they get out of the office, Yubin leaves him alone with the interns as he heads to his own office. Xiao Zhan, on the other hand, takes note to himself that he has to go to Ji Li after this to get the guidelines for the annual team project. He also has to pick two interns to join in it, has to assess and follow their performances in the first few weeks closely so he could evaluate them objectively.
"So, um," he coughs as he faces the interns. He smiles at them, bright and friendly but also hopes he's not overdoing it. "Follow me?"
He notices that they're already complete. There had only been 7 of them earlier but with the addition of a guy standing tall right in front of him, they're 8 now, complete as it should be. This guy must be the last intern. He directs his smile at him and looks at him in the eye, though a little bothered why those eyes are achingly familiar.
"Have you just arrived?" he asks as his smile doesn't waver. He can feel the stiffness of his cheeks already, the crinkles around his eyes becoming more and more apparent.
He watches the guy get a little tense, Xiao Zhan somehow catching those smallest movements. The guy only nods quietly and it makes Xiao Zhan feel quite lost. Perhaps, he's indeed been overdoing it… suddenly thinking if he's also being perceived as pretentious (which isn't true at all. With much confidence, he can say he's anything but that).
Anyways, he tries not to overthink, urges them to follow him instead to a small meeting room. They don't have much to discuss, just a small guidelines here and there, as well as company protocols, ethics, and the likes. The interns listened to him attentively throughout, which was good. It always makes Xiao Zhan feel some sense of accomplishment whenever he knows he's being listened to.
And, when his eyes glance over the guy, Xiao Zhan can see he's listening well too. He feels his shoulders relax at that.
Once the meeting comes to an end, he finally heads out first. He goes straight to where the tea brewing pot is and makes himself some green tea as what he'd usually do in his mornings.
He turns around when he hears a deep voice call him. It's that guy again. He knows his name nowㅡWang Yibo, he’s looked him up in his portfolio.
When he looks Wang Yibo in the eye, he almost wants to look away. He doesn't know why. It may be because this intern is good-looking, but there's also something about those eyes that opens Xiao Zhan's most inquisitive thoughts. And it makes him think that he's met that gaze before...
"Wang Yibo," he calls Yibo. He smiles. "Can I help you?"
Yibo shakes his head. He's fidgeting, looking quite tense. Xiao Zhan wants to laugh. He doesn’t even know why they’re feeling this way around each other, despite the first time getting acquainted. He asks, "Is something wrong?"
"I just want to," Yibo stutters. "Earlier, at the train, I had been rude for staring."
"At the…" he paused. "Train?"
"Yes," Yibo nods. “I want to apologize…”
He looks at Yibo straight in the eye and finally answers that small question he’d formed in his head each time they meet eyes during the meeting. That guy at the train, tall and with broad shoulders, who he'd caught staring... who he'd doze off on... He can feel his cheeks go warm at the memory. That was why Yibo felt familiar, his gaze, his stature, that deepness in his voice when he’d approached Xiao Zhan today…
He scratches his head as his smile has now turned into a grimace. “That… I didn’t recognize you immediately,” It also doesn’t help the fact that Yibo had been wearing a beanie on the train and had discarded his red blazer now. “You didn’t need to apologize, really…” His smile is back again, this time it’s of assurance. “And I had slept on your shoulder so um, I’m sorry for that. Again.”
“It’s okay Senior Xiao,” says Yibo. “You looked really tired that a stranger like me could tell,”
"Do I?" Xiao Zhan yawns. He hadn't intended that.
"Yeah," Yibo finally smiles at him. He beams, "Then Senior Xiao, please take care of me!"
I'm not even your boss but okay…
Xiao Zhan smiles back but his smile doesn't reach his eyes this time, that drowsiness he feels rippling like waves. "Then, do well on your job, Wang Yibo."
The next day, he is met with stacks of documents and a cup of black coffee laced with a note on his desk.
“And I thought I wouldn’t get loaded with paperworks this month…” he grumbles.
Last night, he’d stayed up again, trying to fix and revise all the changes his contractor had requested him to do. His contractor had decided they didn’t like the arch opening by the entrance of a private green building which his team had submitted in their fifth (5th!!!) design. His contractor had suggested to give it some edge to which they didn’t even specify what or how . He’d even try giving a call to them about it, but they still remained as vague as ever. And that is why, he is especially grumble today. He doesn’t even know how many times he’s removed his glasses just to pinch his nose in frustration from time to time since last night.
“Those just mostly need verification,” says Ji Li, taking a seat beside him. Ji Li belongs to another team. As to why he’s here in Xiao Zhan’s office room, he has no idea… “By the way, you drink black coffee now?”
He goes to check over the note on the coffee, wondering who’d even brought it for him.
‘I hope Senior Xiao has a great day today!
- Yibo ^___^’
Xiao Zhan isn't actually having a great day even if it’s just started but he appreciates the thought. So, even if he doesn’t drink coffee, he still takes a sip.
“Who’s that from?” he hears Ji Li inquire.
He crumples the note and throws it in the trash bin. “No one.”
When he walks out of his office, he hears boisterous laughs echoing throughout the lobby. Though there aren't many people in the common area right now, he still thinks it’s rude to make this much noise, especially in such a professional setting.
Xiao Zhan turns a corner to get his daily dose of green tea before going to Yizhou’s office when he sees Yibo joking around with Cao Chengyan, another intern. They’re both holding a mop, and true to the words Yubin’s told him yesterday, the company is really making these interns clean the whole floor. Xiao Zhan almost wants to cry.
“Senior Xiao!” Yibo greets. He’s wearing a smile on his face quite the opposite of yesterday’s. Today, he is beaming and it makes him possess some kind of glow intrinsic to him (Xiao Zhan oh so wishes he still has such a glow).
He nods when he meets both the interns' eyes. He gets his cup of green tea and finally heads over to Yizhou. He doesn’t immediately notice Yibo following behind, bringing that ridiculous mop along. He slows his steps down to let Yibo catch up and thanks him for the coffee but tells him he didn't need to do that.
"But why?" Yibo leans close to see the teacup in his hold. He can feel their shoulders touching. "It’s because Senior Xiao actually likes green tea, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Xiao Zhan nods. “But alsoㅡ”
“Then, I’ll just have to bring him green tea everyday!” Yibo exclaims, nods to himself as he looks up the ceiling, probably calculating the time he’ll bring the tea to Xiao Zhan every morning, Xiao Zhan doesn’t know.
Xiao Zhan lets out an exasperated sigh. “No, you won’tㅡ”
“So you won’t have to come to the common area to get it!”
“Wow, great idea,” Xiao Zhan pauses on his steps and takes his glasses off again to pinch his nose. It’s becoming a habit. “But please don’t.”
Yibo tilts his head to look at him, that mop in his hand tilting along too. “Why not?”
By that time, they've already reached the front of Yizhou's office. He places his hand on the door as he looks back at Yibo standing behind him.
"It's unnecessary," he answers before pushing the door open and getting in.
Inside, Yizhou greets him with a prompt that another contractor is requesting for the designs to be sent by the afternoon. The assignment was just given merely two weeks ago and to be demanding it already at this time now… Xiao Zhan wants to cry.
“I told them to give us a week though?”
“As I had been telling them,” Yizhou replies. “But they wouldn’t listen. They said a draft would do.”
“Alright,” Xiao Zhan accepts the flash drive from Yizhou as he skims through the folders where the contractor’s design is in. “Would that be it?” Yizhou nods.
When he leaves the office holding both the flash drive and green tea cup in his hands, he doesn’t expect Yibo to still be waiting outside, and still have that mop in his hold. Xiao Zhan blinks.
"You... don't have anything to do?"
Yibo blinks back, waving the mop. "Cleaning?"
They walk back together, precisely to Xiao Zhan's office. Yibo still follows him inside. He just lets him. It's the first time Yibo's entered here. As to the reason why people have been flocking to his area lately, Xiao Zhan still has no idea.
He watches Yibo look around as he places his teacup on his desk. The teacup has gone cold now. He knows he should've gone to make one after his departure from Yizhou's office.
"Wow!" He hears Yibo exclaim. "Senior Xiao, your office is so cool. I want to live here."
Yibo saunters around, too careful not to disturb his coworkers working peacefully in their respective spaces. Xiao Zhan just lets him as he opens his PC and attaches the flash drive. He walks around to obtain more files, asks Li Xiu, a member from his team, to get him more layout papers as he grabs a mechanical pencil from the table.
As he walks back to his desk, he glances at Yibo watching a plane passing by from the view on the window. And somehow, he doesn't realize he's joined along too.
Their office is situated on the 13th floor of the building. Because of this, when he looks at the window, he can see the view of the plain blue sky and the towering skyscrapers. When he looks down, he can watch the tiny busy streets moving along with time.
As the plane disappears into the clouds, Wang Yibo's gone from where he's standing too, only for Xiao Zhan to see him sitting so casually on his desk.
"Senior Xiao, your place is great!" Yibo earns looks from Xiao Zhan's coworkers when he's said that a little too loudly. But Yibo doesn't feel the looks at all as he continues to blabber, with flailing arms and legs as his butt keeps rubbing the surface of the desk. "I want to work here! It feels like I'll be more productive when I'm here," he says, beams. "Can I work here, Senior Xiao?"
Xiao Zhan only smiles. "That is not for me to decide."
When he takes a seat on his work table and opens his PC, Yibo doesn't move away at all. Xiao Zhan doesn't told him to get off either. He is sitting exactly beside Xiao Zhan's mouse so when Xiao Zhan moves it, he'd occasionally hit the side of Yibo's butt.
Yibo has Xiao Zhan's portfolio now on his hands, looking at a few designs he'd made, one leg dangling as the other is rooted on the floor.
"Senior Xiao, you're so creative," he mumbles as he starts briefing through folders and folders containing all of Xiao Zhan's designs spanning to years. "Wow, look at this…" he mumbles again.
Xiao Zhan only snorts as he starts working through the digital blueprints. He's been deleting and modifying some layers, checking on the simulations as his computer slows down from the file size. When he tries to hover the cursor on the options at the far corner, his mouse (and his hand) hit the side of Yibo's butt again.
"Sorry," he mumbles. Yibo doesn't answer, too immersed with whatever he's doing.
"This one is amazing!" Yibo squeaks after some time of silence that gets Xiao Zhan startled. Okay, Xiao Zhan thinks. This kid's enthusiasm is too much for me. "How did you make this one Senior Xiao?" Yibo asks while displaying a layout paper in the air.
Xiao Zhan squints his eyes to see the drawing and remembers it's one of the first designs he'd drawn when he first entered a firm, back when he was also just an intern. It's a two-storey building with slopes on the edges and mirrored walls. It's nothing special and honestly, that particular design was rejected.
"But why? It's good, though?" Yibo keeps on flipping more through the folders as his legs swing back and forth. Xiao Zhan turns his attention back to his screen.
"Not really," he says. In his opinion, it's one of his unimpressive designs to date. "There are better ones than that."
"Is that so?" Yibo then stops and turns to look at him. He can feel his stares, and though with just a mere help of his peripheral vision, he can somehow feel them contemplating.
"It's already so good though?" Xiao Zhan tries not to feel anything from that compliment. "I want to learn from Senior Xiao…" Yibo says after a while and if he can hear the faintness in Yibo's voice, he just puts it at the back of his mind. "Can I?"
"Then you're welcome here anytime," he replies nonchalantly.
"Really?" Yibo is thrilled. He can hear it. His desk is vibrating as Yibo's legs haven't stopped swinging back and forth then. Cute . He nods. "Wow, then I'll be so honored!"
Please. Xiao Zhan wants to chuckle but keeps his face steady instead, eyes on the screen, and hands on the keyboard and mouse (he still accidentally hits Yibo's butt by the way).
Their conversation gets interrupted with a call for Yibo, ordering him not to slack around and get back to cleaning. Xiao Zhan doesn't say anything. He keeps his eyes on his work.
He watches Yibo get up from seating on his desk and pats his pants.
"Then, Senior Xiao I'll see you this afternoon! You'll teach me, right? You said so!"
Xiao Zhan nods. That gets Yibo to smile. With a final wave, Yibo finally leaves with a skip on his steps and Xiao Zhan watches his back disappear behind the door of the office.
That same day, afternoon, Yibo does not in fact see him.
When he’s about to go home and board for the train, he sees Yibo instead riding a motorbike, about to go on his way home too.
“Senior Xiao, wanna hop in?” Yibo pats his motorbike. He grins and when he does, his cheeks become way more prominent. “I just got it fixed yesterday, it’s all good now! And besides, we were from the same station the day before, it'd be more convenient if you take a ride with me instead, hm?"
Of course Xiao Zhan refused. He was never a fan of riding two-wheels.
"But Senior Xiao…" Xiao Zhan only smiles, shaking his head. "That's sad," Yibo says. He wears his helmet again. "Then, Senior Xiao, please take care on your way home!"
Xiao Zhan nods and says back, "Take care too."
When he goes back home that day, still with the sounds of the train lulling him to sleep and the occasional murmurs that go along with the tiniest buzzes, Xiao Zhan thinks he's never met someone brimming with so much energy like Wang Yibo.
In a bout of miracle, that annoyingly meticulous contractor has finally accepted the presentation he'd sent last night.
'Greetings Mr. Xiao Zhan and team,' he reads the email, feels the pleasure rolling off his tongue. It gets him in a good mood. 'This is to say that I'm already quite satisfied with the design you've sent,' "Quite," Xiao Zhan tries not to let his mood go sour. 'It just needs some finalizations then we're good. When can I expect the finalized version?'
He then starts typing, 'I'll send it later this afternoon, sir. Moreover, if you have some final suggestions then it is still up for discussion.' Oh, but please don't. He presses Send.
He taps on the empty teacup that Wang Yibo had brought to him that morning as he waits for a reply (When Xiao Zhan had arrived earlier, the teacup was already there and so, he really didn't have the chance to refuse it and the noteㅡSenior Xiao, I hope you have a great day!!! -Yiboㅡthat came along). The reply comes immediately.
'There is no need. Again, many thanks for your cooperation and patience. I will be waiting for the file until afternoon.'
He feels that certain baggage inside his chest lift off as he takes a single huge breath. Though he still has lots of things to do after, but for now he'll celebrate even just a bit.
Li Xiu must have already seen the exchange of emails between him and the contractor as he turns around to give Xiao Zhan a thumbs up.
"Finally," Li Xiu says. "I'm sorry we weren't much of a help Senior Xiao…"
"What are you even saying," he smiles. "You've helped plenty enough, that's fine."
And it's true. His team had been the ones to come up with the framework of the design as Xiao Zhan pieced it all together. So it's a lie that they really weren't that help at all.
Once he's saved all the files that he had been working that morning, he walks out of his office and heads for the elevator. He thinks that he needs to celebrate somehow, even if it came with such a simple reason. And his celebrations at instances like this, no matter how big or small, are always in the form of buying himself large bags of chips and some bread in the convenience store beside the building. He'd also buy himself some cartons of banana milk too just because (Xiao Zhan has a sweet tongue).
He walks out and heads for the store as soon as he reaches the floor of the building. When he gets inside, he is greeted by the muted walls of the store and a chime of the bell on the door. He rolls his sleeves up as he walks along the lanes, hears the clack of his shoes as they hit the tiles. He picks some Dorito's and Oishis and Lay's, along with a pack of banana milk. Of course he has plans on sharing all these to his team so he buys as much as he can. And, when he goes to where the pork buns are steamed, he finds that the steamer is empty
He tries not to let the disappointment get to him and heads for the cashier. He's bought enough anyway.
And when all's done and he's already checked the items out, he leaves the store and heads back to the building when he sees three interns come out. One of them is Wang Yibo, the others, Cao Chengyan and Li Wenhan.
"Senior Xiao!" Yibo greets.
Xiao Zhan smiles as the interns approach him. "Hello."
"What did Senior Xiao buy?" Yibo asks.
"Just some," he raises his plastic bag. "Chips and, yeah,"
Yibo's lips form into a little O. "Then, is Senior Xiao already hungry? We were just about to have lunch together, come with us!"
Xiao Zhan blinks as he looks at his wristwatch. He didn't even realize it's near lunchtime already. It's always like that, until someone else points out to him.
He doesn't decline the offer. It seems, he thinks, the snacks can be saved for later.
Side by side, the group walked all the way to a small restaurant standing at the end of the street. He holds onto Yibo's wrist as he leads the way, crossing on the pedestrian lane as the cars halt with the red light. And when they've reached the other side, he finally lets go of him.
Somehow though, it's strange when he watches Yibo's eyes lingering on the hand he used to hold him. It makes Xiao Zhan wonder if Yibo had been uncomfortable being touched. He reminds himself to be cautious on touching people next time.
The restaurant they're heading onto is of a traditional Chinese one. It mostly offers Northern cuisines as one hailing in Beijing, but recently, they've added Southern dishes tooㅡones that remind him of home.
Once they get inside the restaurant, he lets the interns order whatever dish they wish to eat as he insists on treating them. They object, which he isn't surprised at all. But he tells them it'll be the first and last time he'll do and that's it. Chengyan and Wenhan seemed to have agreed on that as Yibo remains unconvinced.
"Just let me, hm?" It's not as if Yibo can do anything now, he's already paid to the counter anyway. Yibo casts one wistful glance on his eyes as he finally sighs in defeat.
"But next time I'll treat you, Senior Xiao!"
Xiao Zhan doesn't say no to that. Well, for now.
Once they're settled with roasted duck and some beef stew noodles, they head over to find a table. He observes that there are only a few people inside. Perhaps it's because it's still a little earlier than the usual lunch break. Though, Xiao Zhan can already see familiar faces dining on the tables.
"Xiao Zhan!" waves Yubin from afar. He's kneeling on his seat, as if afraid Xiao Zhan wouldn't notice him.
But Xiao Zhan does of course. He waves back as he approaches his friend. He can sense the interns following him like little chicks from behind. (The analogy he's come up out of nowhere somehow making him heave out a chuckle).
"It's a first you're getting an early lunch." Yubin says with a grin as he pats the seat beside him. Xiao Zhan takes the seat.
It's true. Xiao Zhan would always be the one to come out for lunch break. The paperworks and multiple follow-ups eating him alive first. He shrugs as he gestures to the interns. They've already taken their respectives seats by the table.
"Gotta treat them, I guess," he replies. "You're alone?"
Yubin shakes his head just in time Ji Li comes into view.
"Xiao Zhan, fancy seeing you here," Ji Li then meets eyes with the interns, feels that pregnant pause as his eyes land on Yibo. He watches the grin on Ji Li's face widen. "Well, aren't we such a big happy family?"
Lunch with the interns can be quite eventful.
Cao Chengyan tells them lots of stories. He's told them that he and Yibo are best friends, childhood friends, whatever friends. They met first in Korea, where Yibo had moved for a student exchange program before going back to China some three years later. They were 14 or 15 only that time, and it had been a great fancy when they'd met again five years later, when Cao Chengyan's family had decided to move in China for good.
Li Wenhan, on the other hand, doesn't have much to say. He's pretty distant but gets along the two of them well. The three of them have only met during their last year in university and once they graduated, they decided to apply together on the firm for an internship experience.
"What a touching friendship solidarity," Ji Li fakes a cry. Yubin smacks him on the arm as the interns just laugh along.
Throughout the conversation, Xiao Zhan's ashamed to admit he isn't paying that much attention. He feels bad. He's been yawning, the small tears in his eyes welling up, that lack of sleep that has been going on for daysㅡweeks actuallyㅡis constantly taking a toll on him. He thinks he might be sick for a week.
"Senior Xiao?" He looks at Yibo sitting beside him only to see the intern peering over him. He hasn't noticed that throughout the exchange too, Yibo's been quite silent. He didn't even say an input while Chengyan had been telling their days at university. "Are you feeling okay?"
Xiao Zhan nods. He mumbles back. "Just sleepy," he admits.
"Then, you should sleep after, or take a nap at least." Yibo whispers. It's as if they're sharing a secret no outsider can know. Xiao Zhan just finds the hilarity of their exchange amusing. He shakes his head.
"Can't, I've got too much to do." Still, he appreciates the concern. Yibo is one thoughtful boy now that he thinks about it.
He can see Yibo frown at that just in time a question from someone on their table gets directed to him, for which then their small conversation ends at that.
As they head back to their offices, Yibo hasn't stopped checking on him for once. And honestly speaking, Xiao Zhan feels quite dizzy. But he doesn't tell the intern that.
"I can do the afternoon tasks for you," Yibo tells him.
They're lagging behind the group, as Xiao Zhan can hear Chengyan's enthusiastic voice bragging about being a dean's lister for four straight years to Ji Li and Yubin. Ji Li would counter with a "That doesn't matter, I'll have you know the real world is much harder than that. University is just an ant waiting to be squashed."
"Wow, Senior, you're so philosophical," Chengyan had exclaimed.
"Of course," Ji Li huffs.
Xiao Zhan maneuvers his attention back to Wang Yibo when he hears him call his name. "Hm?"
"Can I?" Yibo stares at him. "I don't have much to do this afternoon, anyway."
Xiao Zhan stares back at him. Their steps halt, the two separating from the rest of the group.
He doesn't want to slack off and that was why he'd kept ignoring Wang Yibo, even if the thought is nice and the boy is just being… attentive? Caring? (And this kind of attention somehow makes Xiao Zhan feel a little warm). Admittingly though, he's devoted most of his time in his work in and out of office hours that he's constantly deprived of the rest he needs to continue to function that sometimes, he questions himself if he needs to lay back just a bit.
But still, he doesn't consider Yibo overtaking his work even for a meantime.
As he reaches his team's office room, Yibo is still following behind. He just lets him. He distributes the food he bought from the convenience store earlier to his team members, gives one to Yibo before opening his PC. All these while Yibo takes a seat on his desk again, on that spot beside his mouse, peering over his monitor as his legs swing back and forth, his butt rubbing the surface of the desk.
Xiao Zhan yawns as he fixes his glasses up, glances at his wristwatch to see that it's only quarter to one. It's not even office hours yet but he has to start now anyway.
Once he takes a seat down, he opens up his CAD program. He goes to his saved files and finally resumes his work.
"Senior Xiao, are you sure I can't take over? I know how to work on that." Yibo leans to check on the monitor, fingers an inch away from his own ready to take over the mouse. "You canㅡ"
"I am fine." he snaps.
And oh, he hadn't meant to do that. He really didn't.
He sees Wang Yibo falter, retreats his fingers as he straightens his body again. He watches Yibo's legs hover awkwardly in the air before he eventually stands up from his seat and bows to Xiao Zhan, arms on both sides, eyes down while wearing a face that he suddenly can't read.
And somehow, this kind of politeness the young intern is showing to him is new. Unfamiliar. Like, it shouldn't be, it shouldn't be like that at all.
"Then, Senior, I'll be going…" Even his voice sounds down. That gives a pang in Xiao Zhan's chest.
Before Yibo can even turn around to leave, Xiao Zhan holds his wrist. "You can." What. "If you have nothing to do. If," What am I saying. "If you want, then," he clears his throat. "You can. Help meㅡtake over, I mean…"
Yibo blinks as he meets his eyes again. He seems uncertain. Xiao Zhan himself is unsure too, blurting those words out while he'd recently just been adamant on keeping up his work…
He sighs as he stands up from his seat, letting go of his mouse as he gestures for Yibo to take it.
"I'll just take a nap for an hour or two, then I'll be back to claim my seat again," he says. He gives Wang Yibo a thumbs up. "Sounds good?"
And just like that, the gloom on Wang Yibo's face is gone like it hadn't been there at all. A smile spreads across his lips as he gives Xiao Zhan back a thumbs up. Xiao Zhan smiles back but deep inside, he actually wants to chuckle. Wang Yibo is easily appeased. Cute.
"I won't leave this seat for an hour then, senior. If you take your words back, then you'll just have to sit on my lap." Yibo says it as if a threat. This time, Xiao Zhan chuckles for real.
"Hm, whatever," He takes his glasses off and puts it on the table. He massages his temples. "Have fun doing your senior's work, you know the specifics now right? The know-hows?"
Yibo nods, eyes now attentive on the computer screen, brows furrowed in concentration. "Of course, I have been watching Senior after all."
"That's…" Xiao Zhan watches Yibo start working, notices the way the intern's immediately immersed himself with the work he's given him. Wang Yibo is such… a hardworker. That gives a smile on Xiao Zhan's lips. "...good."
"What happened to you? Why are you suddenly taking a rest?" Yubin looks scandalized. "You never take a nap at all."
"There are first times in everything." he says as he lies on the couch, arms cushioned by his head as he starts to close his eyes.
"And I heard Wang Yibo took over?" Yubin swings his chair to get closer to Xiao Zhan. He rests an elbow on the arm of the couch where Xiao Zhan is lying. "And you really let him?"
"How did you even know?"
"Chengyan told me."
"You're best buddies now?"
Yubin lets out a snort. "The interns are really stationed in my office, thank you very much. Oh and by the way, Wang Yibo's the only one who's almost always missing. He frequents on your office. What's his deal with you?"
Xiao Zhan shrugs as he faces his back against Yubin. "Said he wants to learn from me, so I'd just let him come whenever he's free," he yawns. "I'm sleeping now, only gave Wang Yibo an hour."
"Alright," he hears Yubin swing his chair back to (probably) his table. "Wake up by yourself, I'm having a meeting in 30 minutes."
Xiao Zhan only hums as he finally, of what feels like an eternity of waiting, lets sleep take over him.
Except when he wakes up by himself, he finds that it is already 5:30 in the afternoon, past the office hours. Past the time when he'd told Yibo he'll come back, past the time thatㅡ
What the fuck. And no one ever bothered to wake him up too. What the fuck.
He hastily gets up from his nap and observes that the lights in this room are already on, though there is no one but him inside. When he looks out the windows, he can see that the sun has already dipped in the skyline and the lights in Beijing are now on too. He places a hand on his temple as he prays that none of his superiors would scold him from not just slacking off but also sleeping in the workplace. How unprofessional.
Once he's sure he's sobered himself enough, he stands up and walks to open the door. Thankfully, as it is already past the office hours, there aren't many people in the building now. He'd guessed that Yubin might have already gone home too. He sighs. Why didn't Yubin wake him up at least?
He checks his phone to see if he'd received some messages. And indeed, there are.
Yubin sent 2:30 pm
boss yizhou caught u sleeping earlier btw
id meant to wake u up but he said to just let u be
so dont worry about getting scolded
boss yizhou is so nice yakno B)
Yubin sent 3:35 pm
help. arent u awake yet?
u havent read our messages at all
even wang yibo had to ask me ur number and where u're sleeping
reply soon kkkkk
Xiao Zhan then sees that indeed, there are messages from an unknown number.
Unknown number sent 3:33 pm
senior xiao!! hi! it's yibo!!!
where are u???
Unknown number sent 4:31 pm
senior xiao i already went ahead
having urgent matters with family ;((
i have completed your tasks for the day btw! looked them up on your to-do list (hehehe)
i also didn't want to disturb you on ur sleep
so please rest well :D!
Unknown number sent 4:35 pm
Xiao Zhan places a hand on his temple. He swears he didn't mean to sleep like this long. He'd never even slept in the office before except for some occasional short naps on his desk. He's only realized the extent of his exhaustion when it presented itself to him this unexpectedly.
He goes to his office to retrieve his glasses and some belongings, all the while sending replies to Yubin, a detailed thanks to Yibo (no one's ever completely taken his tasks before and now, he feels really indebted to him) and an apology to Yizhou. Yizhou and Yubin reply back in a few minutes, the former saying that It's okay, Xiao Zhan. You've exhausted yourself enough. Take a day off at least? to which Xiao Zhan declined immediately. Yubin just replied with a HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA i feel bad for cackling in the train but HAHAHAHAHAHAHA how come u just woke up?. Yibo has not replied yet. He must be really busy right now.
Once he's ready to go, he finally leaves the office and with that weariness still clinging on him, still unable to recover himself from that almost 4-hour worth of sleep, he finally heads for a train ride on the way home.
That night, at his apartment, while answering a few potential client emails, he finally receives replies from Wang Yibo.
Wang Yibo sent 8:05 pm
sorry i just saw your messages
no need for a thank you and a sorry!!
it's literally my job to help my senior
i hope you rested well tho!!!
Xiao Zhan sent 8:07 pm
i did, thank you :)
if i can treat you out, please let me know
Wang Yibo sent 8:07 pm
no need no need
you just treated us out for lunch remember?
i'll just see u tmr!!
Wang Yibo sent 8:08 pm
btw senior xiao…
have you seen this alpaca?!
Xiao Zhan squints his eyes as he taps to view the image. He can blearily remember that it's from a wholesome meme page he'd stalked a few days ago.
Xiao Zhan sent 8:09 pm
Wang Yibo sent 8:09 pm
Wang Yibo is typing…
Wang Yibo is typing…
Wang Yibo is typing…
Though Xiao Zhan has no plans in keeping the conversation going (and has actually left a client on read for five minutes now), he still sends Wang Yibo a video of a baby elephant he'd saved earlier during his way back home.
Xiao Zhan sent 8:12 pm
check this out too
Wang Yibo sent 8:12 pm
wow!!!! that's so cute
Xiao Zhan sent 8:14 pm
and this too
Wang Yibo sent 8:14 pm
Xiao Zhan sent 8:17 pm
i am what now?
Wang Yibo sent 8:18 pm
i never thought senior xiao would be such a soft guy
Xiao Zhan tries not to roll his eyes at that, casually resting his back on his chair, one foot resting on his thigh as his phone has suddenly become way more interesting than his laptop. He types in a reply, his thumbs holding more pressure than they usually do.
Xiao Zhan sent 8:19 pm
a soft guy... me???????
He then sends Yibo a clip of a roaring lion cub in one of his collections just because. (At least, it's a little not softer than kittens and puppies, right?)
Wang Yibo sent 8:20 pm
omg even cuter
that little rawr
did you know that rawr means 'i love you'?
Xiao Zhan sent 8:21 pm
that's for dinosaurs…
Wang Yibo sent 8:21 pm
that's not the point, senior xiao 😔
how many more clips of that kind do you have stashed in your memory?
send them all to me 😁😁
Xiao Zhan sent 8:22 pm
then i'll get called cute and soft again
i'm going back to my work
have a great night ahead wang yibo
Wang Yibo sent 8:23 pm
oh? senior xiao is still working?
don't work anymore senior xiao 🙁
its already late
talk to me talk to me talk to me talk to me talk to me
Xiao Zhan snorts as he reads the replies. He puts his phone on silent mode as he types in his last(???) reply to Yibo that night.
Xiao Zhan sent 8:24 pm
yes i am still working
good night wang yibo
(And that, in fact, isn't his last reply at all.)
(When Wang Yibo immediately sends a cat meme, Xiao Zhan feels compelled to send back one of his best cat memes saved at the very back of his phone storage (he takes pride in it, no one can blame him). And then Yibo replies, he'd reply immediately too (Yibo's actually questioned his taste of memes and he has no choice but to defend himself, okay). And that goes on and on until Xiao Zhan's lost track of time, until Yibo is the one to actually say good night between the two of them and end the conversation.)
Wang Yibo sent 11:35 pm
lao xiao i thought you were working 🤨🤨🤨
but you actually wanted to talk to me more didnt you
it's okay, i'm irresistible anyway, i understand 😔
dont u agree senior xiao?😏
dont u dont u? 😏😏😏
Xiao Zhan sent 11:36 pm
didnt u say good night already
go to sleep now lao wang
Wang Yibo sent 11:36 pm
Wang Yibo is typing…
Wang Yibo is typing...
okay, good night
Xiao Zhan sent 11:37 pm
Xiao Zhan is typing...
The next two weeks have had the interns constantly under Xiao Zhan's radar.
As he'd been entrusted to supervise as well as choose among the interns to participate on the annual team project, he's keen on not making a single mistake and getting his judgement right or even at least as accurate as possible. He's been curating his perceptions over the standards both he and the firm has over the interns, trying to at least find a common ground in-between (though there really aren't much difference anyway). Xiao Zhan's 8 years of experience in the field has adequated him enough knowledge and skills to do so, and he's confident in himself that he's getting on the right track.
Right now, as he heads for the train that early morning, he's flipping through the folder he's holding. It contains documented files of certain project specifications that he'd asked some of the interns to work on and make an output out of as one team. It's one of the indicators for his intern assessment. The task is easy and with Wang Yibo on the team, they can pull it off by next week.
Speaking of Wang Yibo… Xiao Zhan has quite witnessed the genius that he is in the weeks that have passed.
He still helps Xiao Zhan as much as he can when the intern doesn't have anything to do and Xiao Zhan had been grateful. He can feel the incessant work piles lessening and lessening as Yibo clears and checks on the project specifications that Xiao Zhan would give him. He'd do it fast and swift enough, leaving no room for errors and miscalculations. Yibo would get some textbooks and technical manuals to read on too, write a few write-ups as he'd ask Xiao Zhan blueprints as a guide.
And when Xiao Zhan doesn't give him anything to do, Yibo would take a seat on his desk, on that certain spot beside his mouse as he'd observe Xiao Zhan working on the models and simulations on the computer screen, legs swinging back and forth as he'd hum to a tune Xiao Zhan isn't familiar with. Xiao Zhan would just let him, would just let him talk about the mundane and random things in his life as Xiao Zhan remained focused with his work (Wang Yibo tells him that aside from this boring internship life, he has a life outside of it too. That he can ride a skateboard. That once, on his way to a class back in university, he was riding his skateboard and the guards caught him doing so and had reprimanded him from doing it ever again. That had made Yibo so upset that he'd treat himself ice cream everyday for the next two weeks (Xiao Zhan laughed at that). Wang Yibo also told him that he's joined a motor racing event once and he had absolutely loved it. He plans on joining another one this year too, once his internship period in the company is over. He also tells Xiao Zhan that he can dance, and from that day on, Xiao Zhan hadn't stopped thinking about how someone, born six years after him, can have that much talent and skills. That had quite been mind-blowing).
He is heading down the alley where the building is located once he turns right. Beijing is damp as it had just drizzled a little earlier. He keeps his hands on the pockets of his coat as he walks, striding large steps through the busy streets heading to his workplace.
And once he arrives, particularly to his office, he sees Wang Yibo sitting on his desk again, one cup of piping green tea accompanying him. It's a sight that he and his teammates have clearly gotten used now. They're never bothered, as if Wang Yibo sitting randomly in Xiao Zhan's desk has always been a normal thing in their lives.
"Lao Xiao, good morning!"
Xiao Zhan grins. "Good morning, Wang Yibo laoshi,"
And in those weeks that have come by too, they have somewhat become closer.
Wang Yibo, to Xiao Zhan's surprise each time, would text him after work. At first, he'd swoop in random topics. He'd ask Xiao Zhan if he'd gotten home already or what he'd have for dinner. He'd also send him memes and then selfies too to whichㅡ laoshi aren't you a little too much? ㅡXiao Zhan would reply just that. He doesn't stop him however (even saves some of itㅡYibo wouldn't mind. He knows because Yibo actually tells him to save them and Xiao Zhan is too nice of a guy to say no, okay...)
Sometimes but a little rarer, he'd ask Xiao Zhan related to work, anything that would supply to his learning as an intern or anything that he's merely curious about. And Xiao Zhan would entertain him of course, despite the pending emails and ongoing project that he's currently working on (and so far and to his greatest frustration, his team has barely made progress with it, currently just on the floor planning, even if they've started the project a week ago).
He places his file on the table as his glasses are perched up his nose. The sleeves of his white button up shirt are folded as he rests an elbow on the desk. The room is a little quiet saved by the buzz of the air conditioner and that constant squeak under his table as Yibo swings his legs, his body moving along.
"Lao Xiao, how can I help today?"
"Nothing much," he says. "You don't have anything to do?"
"Nope!" Yibo sways his legs again.
"The team project? How is it going now?"
"Very well," Yibo grins. "I think we'll be done by it tomorrowㅡ"
Cao Chengyan suddenly enters the office, eyes landing both on him and Wang Yibo
"Senior," he bows. "I'll borrow Yibo for a while we," Chengyan grabs Yibo by the arm and Xiao Zhan only watches him struggle, trying to break off. "Have an emergency."
"What emergency?" Yibo has that disbelief look on his face, mouth slightly agape. "Didn't you say you'll take care of the rest today?"
"Yes but," Chengyan winces as he whispers (but still loud enough for Xiao Zhan to hearㅡChengyan has a loud mouth, after all...), "Someone may have accidentally corrupted some of the files."
Oh. That is, indeed, an emergency.
"Someone did…" Xiao Zhan swears he can see Yibo's eyes bulge right out of its sockets. "...what now?"
"Yes so," Chengyan meets Xiao Zhan in the eye again, his grip on Yibo's wrist squeezing. "Senior Xiao, if you'll excuse us."
"Oh no, no, no problem," he smiles.
"Lao Xiao I'll," Yibo's eyes trail from Chengyan to him, hesitance filling his voice. "Be back as soon as I can."
But you don't have to, really…
"Sure," he smiles again, looking up on them from his seat. "I'll be waiting."
Despite that inconvenience, Wang Yibo's team somehow managed to recover and redo the corrupted files and by the end of Friday, they managed to pass the project, earlier than what Xiao Zhan had been expecting. He's actually impressed.
Carrying the files that afternoon, he finally heads home for the train. Tomorrow will be a weekend and though he doesn't expect much rest given that he'll have to start with the planning of the annual team project as well as the intern assessment for this week, at least he'll be able to breathe after a long five eight-hour working days.
The same rush hour scene greets him every time he heads down the alley, regardless of coming to work or going home. It's been a little rainy for days too that Xiao Zhan sees umbrellas among the crowds while tightly holding his own. The air in Beijing when it rains gets a little foggy that he has to squint his eyes even while wearing his glasses, afraid he'll slip or bump into something along the way. It's why he doesn't like rainy days that much, it adds to his headache.
Once he reaches the station and affords himself a seat inside, he receives a text from Yibo that day.
Wang Yibo sent 5:13 pm
lao xiao it's raining QAQ
cant go home yet
have you seen this pouting duck?!?!?!?!
Xiao Zhan should get used to it by now, but he still can't help but chuckle over whatever random shit Yibo sends him.
Xiao Zhan sent 5:14 pm
didn't you bring any coat? wear that or you'll get wet
i don't think the rain will stop anytime soon…
and oh, i've seen that duck now thanks to wang laoshi 😄 thanks for the meme rec ❤️😔
Wang Yibo sent 5:15 pm
i think i hav one under my desk, xiao laoshi so caring 🥺🥺
but damn i have to go back to the office now…. 🙁🙁🙁
& ure welcome 😁😁😁 saw that while scrolling thru weibo and thought of you
Xiao Zhan sent 5:17 pm
i look like a duck now? the hell?
Wang Yibo sent 5:17 pm
no no no
xiao laoshi doesnt look like a duck
xiao laoshi just pouts a lot dont u realize?
its so cute when he does that, so cute so cute 😆😆
Xiao Zhan sent 5:18 pm
Wang Yibo sent 5:18 pm
it's true.. it's true..
you're cute, you're cute
pretty, handsome, good-looking, angel, ethereal...
xiao laoshi the best in the world
Xiao Zhan leans his head on the glass windows of the train, trying not to have those words etched in his mind and Yibo's voice echoing inside. It's stupid, ridiculous and he really shouldn't be this affected over a goddamn praise vomit by an intern who lives off by doing so to him. But it does. It affects him. It exhausts him.
Somehow, the tiredness from all those days of this week is dawning onto him again. It comes in the form of those little butterflies fluttering in his guts for the lack of a better word. He doesn't know why it's like that. It's weird.
Xiao Zhan sent 5:20 pm
you even know the word ethereal now...
Wang Yibo sent 5:21 pm
have to be more creative
xiao laoshi deserves more ok 😔
Xiao Zhan sent 5:22 pm
yeah, yeah, whatever...
shouldn't you be going back to the office now?
Wang Yibo sent 5:22 pm
Xiao Zhan sent 5:22 pm
im in the train already heading back home
Wang Yibo sent 5:23 pm
oh ok. take care on ur way home lao xiao!!!😁
Xiao Zhan sent 5:23 pm
mn you too, lao wang
dont get wet, stay dry
and dont drive too fast, the road is slippery
Wang Yibo sent 5:24 pm
lao xiao really cares me 🥺🥺
okay i will
Xiao Zhan doesn't reply anymore, keeps his phone in his hand as the train moves and the scenes outside the windows continue to change like a filmstrip from a movie. The lull and the zooms penetrate through the silence lying in between the passengers and even though Xiao Zhan would always find himself occasionally closing his eyes at that, this time, he finds that he doesn't.
Instead, his thoughts are threading along to the phone tightly clutched in his hold and to the words exchanged with Wang Yibo ceaselessly circling in his mind like a gyre.
Monday arrives with a call for a meeting.
Registrations for the team project are coming up in the next two weeks. And Yizhou had been a little frantic over the proposed draft they currently have in tow. He's still not satisfied but Xiao Zhan assures that it'll get approved by their superiors.
Objectively speaking, the draft is already good to his standard, given how there's still not much layers added to the sketch. He'd been re-modifying it during the weekends, with the help of Ji Li and Yubin coming over to his apartment. He'd also ask Yibo his opinions through messages because Yibo always has something to say that matches his favor. He finds that Wang Yibo is one of a rare few that he's easily agreeable with. Their minds think alike.
And that is also why he's decided to have Wang Yibo as one of the interns to participate for this team project.
In retrospect, Wang Yibo has always been a candidate in his mind. He's a genius. He knows his hands well, knows how to play with the commands in the program that Xiao Zhan's sketches end up looking way better. He's also taught Xiao Zhan how to render layer masks once and that has made Xiao Zhan's job in doing menial tasks more productive.
Right now, he has his files on his side of the table as Yizhou is at the front discussing their proposed sketch. He observes that their superiors seem warm to the idea and that has him exhaling a sigh of relief throughout. Yizhou remains tense however.
The meeting goes on. Once his part of the presentation comes up, he somehow manages to pull things off and explain well despite that small agitation he's feeling. It doesn't take long for the meeting to finally get adjourned. It's only then that he gets to relax.
Yubin and Ji Li are standing by his side as they wait for him to finish packing up when Yizhou approaches them.
"So this has been thankfully approved, or else I can't wrack my brain anymore attempting to come up with another design," Yizhou turns to look at him. "You have the profiles of the two interns joining in this right?"
Xiao Zhan nods as he hands in the folder. It has Wang Yibo and a female intern named Liu Wenwen's profiles inside. "I've settled with the two of them based on their performances in the past weeks."
Yizhou nods as he opens the folder. "I'll send in the assignments tonight. For now, we'll add more details in regards to this project. Check your emails by then."
"Alright, thank you senior!" They say in chorus with a bow.
That night, he finally receives the email from Yizhou and, at the same time, a text from Yibo.
Wang Yibo sent 8:03 pm
xiao lao xiao lao xiao lao!!!!!
Xiao Zhan sent 8:05 pm
Wang Yibo sent 8:06 pm
Xiao Zhan sent 8:06 pm
Wang Yibo sent 8:06 pm
check your email
Xiao Zhan opens the email he's received from Yizhou and it contains a list of assignments assigned to his respective team members for this project. He scrolls down as he searches for his name and sees he's mainly assigned in making the digital prototype of the design along with Wang Yibo. He wasn't expecting thisㅡbeing partnered up with Yibo, that is.
Wang Yibo sent 8:09 pm
so have you already seen it?!?!????
Xiao Zhan sent 8:11 pm
i'm looking forward to our cooperation then, yibo laoshi
Wang Yibo sent 8:12 pm
me too me too!!!
i cant wait
this project will be huge!!
Xiao Zhan sent 8:14 pm
it will, indeed
He doesn't receive a reply anymore after that. Xiao Zhan thinks Yibo must be busy.
As soon as he types in his reply to affirm Yizhou that he's already read the email, he goes to his kitchen to get some food from the fridge. He'll have to suit himself with microwaved food for now, as he can feel his steps wobble with every spin in his head. He thinks of sleeping right after this, but immediately scatters those thoughts away. He still has things to finish.
When he comes back to his room, he sees that there are four missed calls from Yibo. Xiao Zhan blinks. They've never talked through the phone before. It makes him wonder if the intern has something important to tell him. He picks his phone up, feels that light drum in his chest as he dials Yibo's number for a call. It doesn't get picked up until a few seconds later, for which then he is greeted by a soft exhale from the other side.
"Lao Xiao? Why did you call?" Yibo speaks.
Xiao Zhan snorts. "No, why did you call? And stop with the Lao Xiao, just call me Xiao Zhan here."
"I, that-I accidentally pressedㅡ"
"You called me four times,"
"ㅡit four times…?" Yibo's voice squeaks and it makes Xiao Zhan almost want to laugh.
He lets out a tiny huff and narrows his eyes instead. "Yibo do you have something to say? Spill it out."
"No, I don'tㅡ"
"I really don't-I'm," He hears him pause. "I just-I was bored…?"
"Bored." he deadpans. "Are you sure? Maybe you're keeping something from me?"
"No, no, I would never!" Yibo squeaks again and this time, Xiao Zhan lets a chuckle escape past his lips. "I really am! Bored, really. And I just want to… erm, talk… to you…?" Yibo's voice softens at that.
Xiao Zhan tries to bite back a smile.
"Sure you can," is what he manages to say, though that certain drum in his chest seems to tell him more. But he doesn't acknowledge. "Keep me awake while I work on these, okay?"
And Yibo does exactly that.
Yibo asks him questions relating to work. He'd ask him some tips, all the know-hows, and specifics in their field and Xiao Zhan would happily answer all those and give him advice as his senior. He also mentions the team project and how they'd execute it together, tells him his thoughts and still vague plans.
Along the way though, Xiao Zhan doesn't realize Yibo's questions have shifted onto him until he gets asked with a personal one.
"Say, has Zhan-ge ever had a girlfriend? A boyfriend? He must've had one. Zhan-ge is too good-looking not to..."
"A boyfriend," Xiao Zhan replies nonchalantly, eyes stuck on the screen for hours now he has to take his glasses off to rub the bridge of his nose. "But that was years ago… I don't have time for that."
"Really…" he hears a yawn from the other side. "That's… oh , okay,"
"Yibo," Xiao Zhan turns to finally shut his laptop down, plugs the charger in as he fixes the pages of paper lying on his desk. "Are you already sleepy? I think you should sleep now."
"Not if Zhan-ge sleeps too."
"Well I'm about to," He places his laptop back to its case and turns the lights on the ceiling off, leaving his little lantern on his desk switched on. "Should we say our good nights now?"
He plops on his bed as he lets out an audible yawn. It's only quarter to 11. Tonight would be the earliest sleep he's gotten in weeks. He doesn't know if he can account that to the growing drowsiness and lack of energy he hears from Yibo's voice as their mid to late night talks on the phone go on.
"Sure," He hears Yibo yawn again. It makes him smile. "Good night Zhan-ge…"
"Good night, Yibo,"
They only really start working together once some of the sketches have been finalized, by which then Xiao Zhan finds Yibo waving pages of paper at him one fine morning in his office.
He watches Yibo hop off his desk as the intern approaches him with those usual little skips in his steps. He carries Xiao Zhan's cup of green tea along (to add that this little habit of his has left Xiao Zhan letting him do as he pleases some long time ago. Frankly, it really does save some of Xiao Zhan's time from getting the morning drink on his own).
"Zhan-ge!" he greets. "I already have some of the sketches in my hand given by Senior Yubin, I think we can start working on it later."
"Really?" He scans the sketches Yibo hands him and nods. "Oh, this will already do."
"So…" Yibo peers over, licking his lips as Xiao Zhan heads over to his seat. "...your place or mine?"
That has Xiao Zhan looking up.
"Where we'll start working on this…" Yibo gestures to the sketches he's holding. "You said in our call last night that we can do it in our apartments?"
"Oh did I say that?"
Xiao Zhan honestly can't quite remember. From all those nights that have started to get filled with frequent calls with Wang Yibo and the random topics they go through, add in the fact that he's spaced out in-between those conversations, it's no wonder he can't recall whatever words he's told Yibo last night.
"Then, mine?" Xiao Zhan thinks he's wronged himself for saying that, eventually sees that immediate grin spread wide on Yibo's lips.
They ride the train together, as if Yibo had been expecting he'll be coming over to Xiao Zhan's apartment that day seeing as he didn't bring his motorbike at all.
It's the second time he's on the train with him, the last being they were still strangers and he'd accidentally slept on Yibo's shoulder. That has already felt like a long, long time ago. During that time, he didn't expect they'll be coworkers, much less be actually close friends with the guy on the train.
They arrive in the usual time Xiao Zhan does every afternoon coming home from his work. At this time, the sun has already gone down, leaving only traces of sunlight in the sky with the blue and red patches clashing in the far horizon. They walk through the alleys and streets together, with the streetlights guiding and Yibo's voice filling his ears as he tells Xiao Zhan how this place is near to his own.
"Really? Then we'll do this in your place next time."
Yibo grins. "Sure!"
Once they get inside Xiao Zhan's apartment, he now understands that inexplicable dread he's been trying to ignore the whole damn day. And he really shouldn't have done that.
"Wait, Yibo don't enter yet! I'll justㅡ" He sprints inside as Yibo only stands by the entrance, watching Xiao Zhan gathering all the crumpled pieces of paper on the floor, the pencils that have scattered, and the papers spread all over the couch. There are some of his plushies that have fallen from the couch too, some of his shirts unfolded lying around that Xiao Zhan can't remember why they're even there in the first place. He's convinced they walked themselves out of his cabinet.
Once he's done cleaning all his mess (Yibo had been unfortunately watching), he gathers a face to finally turn to Yibo and properly welcome him.
"You may now, erm, come in…"
"Thank you, Zhan-ge!" Yibo's eyes roam around the creamed walls of his apartment. "I can see that you have quite a very warm and very tidy home."
Xiao Zhan doesn't know if that's sarcastic or what. He only smiles squarely as Yibo passes by him and eventually settles down on his couch.
They really don't have much to do tonight, only just an initial digital sketching process in his program as Yibo does the measurements and other specifications involved in the design. They work through the 1st floor planning and thankfully, Yibo's hands work so fast that by the time it's time for them to eat, Yibo's already finished with his part.
"Yibo laoshi, that's so fast." Xiao Zhan claps just because. (It adds to the moment).
Yibo grins as he happily munches the fried chicken Xiao Zhan's prepared that night.
"Awf kaws," he says through his chewing. He gulps his food down and Xiao Zhan stares at the way his Adam's apple bob (he can't help itㅡYibo has quite a prominent one, anyone in his place would have appreciation for it, okay...) He looks away. "Aren't I so good, Xiao Lao?"
"Mn," Xiao Zhan nods. He grins as he says, "You're so good that I look up to Yibo laoshi so much now,"
Yibo smacks him on the shoulder. "Don't joke about that, Zhan-ge,"
Xiao Zhan can only let out a peal of laughter as he watches Yibo's ears redden. In his defense though, Yibo does his job incredibly well, even if he's just in the intern level. Xiao Zhan, after all, doesn't say his words so carelessly and with mere emptiness. Whatever he says, he truly means it.
He picks their plates up once they're done and heads for the kitchen. Yibo volunteers to wash the dishes and he just lets him. He feels really tired to protest anyway as he can feel that backache reoccurring there and then. He sighs.
Once it's time for Yibo to go home, he walks him out of his apartment and until the end of the street where his apartment building is located. Right now, they're standing exactly at a corner where a streetlight lights overhead. Yibo points to a far distance to their right and tells him it's the direction where his own apartment is.
"Then next time we'll do the project there," he says. Yibo nods.
"I'll do my best to tidy my place up to accommodate Zhan-ge!"
It's now Xiao Zhan's turn to smack him on the shoulder. He glares. "Shut up."
Yibo only lets out a loud laughter.
Once they've finally said their take care's and good night's to each other, Yibo heads home and Xiao Zhan can only watch his back going further and further away until it's out of his sight.
Their next times don't happen in Yibo's apartment. But instead, it's during their consecutive lunch breaks.
Xiao Zhan still had been so busy that he couldn't find the perfect time to go to Yibo's place and instead, they work for the project in the office despite the minor inconvenience they face in the form of unexpected client calls, meetings, and abrupt appointments. It's exhausting, having to deal with everything all at once, and so, they can only really squeeze their free time together with no interruptions during lunch. And that is how Yibo's started becoming like an every hour fixture in his life, with him still staying in his office and sitting on his desk, on that spot beside his mouse as he swings his long legs back and forth like a pendulum (and Xiao Zhan has no complaints actually. He really likes Wang Yibo's presence around that if only he were to be honest with himself, he'd feel empty whenever that certain spot on his desk is unoccupied).
And when Xiao Zhan finally got to borrow some time to head over to Yibo's apartment, Yibo had been obviously delighted.
"We'll ride my motorbike today then, yeah?"
"No…" Dread pools his stomach. He's seen Yibo ride his motorbike and Xiao Zhan… he doesn't like the idea at all. "I'll take the train and you'll wait for me at the station."
"No, that's too much of a hassle Zhan-ge," Yibo grabs his hand and looks at him in the eye. "I'll take it slow, I promise."
And somehow, that serious expression Yibo's wearing along with those words he's told him does wonders to Xiao Zhan's mind. Before he can interpret it with completely something else, he shakes his head as he pulls his hand back, feels a blush spread on his cheeks. Yibo doesn't seem to notice, which he's thankful for.
"Please, Zhan-ge?" Yibo pouts. "Don't you trust me?"
"No, let’s not do that. I'm-" When he looks at Yibo's pouty face again, he lets out a sigh. "Only if you do take it," he coughs. "Slow…"
Yibo visibly brightens. "Of course! Whatever Zhan-ge says!"
True to his words, Yibo does go for a smooth, slow ride, though they've reached the area a little late. But that's fine, Xiao Zhan tells himself, at least he didn't get a heart attack throughout.
Once they enter inside Yibo's place, he sees that the intern's space is a lot times neater and cleaner than his own. Xiao Zhan feels ashamed. He can see Yibo's legos arranged neatly into a corner as his helmets are lined up in a straight line. His worktable is void of scattered papers as his laptop sits quietly in the middle.
"Suit yourself inside, Zhan-ge," Yibo gestures for him to take a seat on the couch. "What would you like to have for dinner?"
Xiao Zhan shakes his head. "We just arrived…"
"Then for some snacks?" Xiao Zhan watches Yibo place his things on the table, back turned against him. From the thin blue polo Yibo's wearing, he can see how broad and defined his shoulders are. He gulps and decides not to entertain those thoughts anymore. "We should've dropped by in the convenience store first…" he hears Yibo whisper.
"Then let's go?" he stands up as he folds the sleeves of his shirt. He checks his watch and reads it's near 7pm. Maybe they should also really get dinner along the way.
He looks at Yibo again and sees him staring in a daze. He tilts his head as he snaps two fingers in front of him. That gets Yibo to wake up.
"O-oh,” Yibo stutters. “Let's go?"
Xiao Zhan nods. "Let's also get dinner…"
"Okay," Yibo replies, fidgets around as he fixes his beanie. "Let's get dinner."
Their dinner is in the form of two cups of spicy noodles. Unhealthy but Xiao Zhan likes it anyway. They finish it as fast as they came and although Yibo seems to have a low tolerance against spices, he’s let Xiao Zhan pick the flavors. Xiao Zhan, himself, didn’t know this and only watched Yibo with his whole face reddening.
“A brand new experience for you, isn’t it Lao Wang?” he chuckles. Yibo only smacks him on the shoulder.
They buy bags of chips too as per his request. Yibo insists on paying everything and Xiao Zhan of course, protests against it. He can’t let someone younger, much even his junior, pay for him.
“No, I’ll pay. They’re all mine anyway. If you want, you can have some too, but I insist on paying these myself,” is what he says. Yibo shakes his head as he pulls Xiao Zhan’s hand holding the wallet away from the counter. The cashier standing in front can only watch them bicker, looking a little lost. Xiao Zhan almost feels sorry.
“Zhan-ge didn’t I say that I’ll treat you next time from that lunch treat you did?”
“But that was a long time agoㅡ"
“But you agreed…”
“Yes I did butㅡ"
“Let your boyfriend treat you, sir,” The cashier suddenly interrupts, looking at Xiao Zhan with a smile on their lips and mirth in their eyes.
Xiao Zhan freezes. By his side, Yibo, seeming unfazed by that, grins as he pays the cashier with his money. He then faces Xiao Zhan.
“Yes Zhan-ge,” His grin widens. His face looks smug that Xiao Zhan has that urge to slap him. “Let your boyfriend pay for you,”
By the time they come back to Yibo’s place, it’s near 8pm. They’ve wasted so much time but Xiao Zhan doesn’t get bothered by it at all. At least, he has his bags of chips by his side nowㅡhe thinks his life gets better this way.
He tries not to let his thoughts linger with whatever’s just happened in the convenience store, the words that Yibo had said inside, that resurging flutter and mushy feeling in his gut and instead, lets himself focus on the project. They’re almost halfway through and it’s great. They still have some few months to go but they’ve already made this much progress. Xiao Zhan admits, if he were to do this all by himself and without Yibo’s unprecedented fast skills in making things done, he thinks he’d only make so much of a dent on it.
They get to accomplish little this time, given that they only had an hour to spend working on it until Xiao Zhan has to go back home. And when they decide to finally wrap things up, it's already past 9pm.
"Zhan-ge let me take you back to your apartment, it's pretty late now."
Xiao Zhan shakes his head as he starts arranging his things. "I can take care of myself, Yibo. And it's just a twenty-minute walk anyway."
"Well," Yibo tugs on the hem of his shirt. It gets Xiao Zhan to look up at him. "Let me know if you've arrived safely, Zhan-ge,"
Xiao Zhan nods as he smiles, feels his eyes soften as he stares at Yibo. Yibo stares back and all he can feel is that gradual quickening pace of his heart. It makes him nervous.
Once they part that night, Xiao Zhan walks himself alone and into the narrow alleyways. The streetlights are dim as the night remains dark and cold. But all he has on his mind is that certain warmth in his chest that blooms into a small smile on his face and that one realization that maybe, he may actually like Wang Yibo more than as a friend.
He does like Wang Yibo more than as a friend. And it puts Xiao Zhan in a dilemma.
For a thing, he doesn't like the idea of it, to be thinking of a coworker that way, to be bearing such feelings, even just a tinge of it, towards said coworker that way. Xiao Zhan after all tends to separate his work life from his personal one. But what can he do, really, if Wang Yibo's just sucked himself into Xiao Zhan's life so easily and without so much of a preamble?
He knows he may just be overthinking. Maybe it's just some sort of admiration towards the intern. And he can't blame himself for that. Not only is Wang Yibo good-looking and a genius hardworker, he's also very attentive towards Xiao Zhan. He listens to whatever he says, takes in his advice, and applies it whenever applicable. He's also caring. He always asks Xiao Zhan if he'd already eaten, and if he didn't, he'd pressure him to eat. He tells Xiao Zhan to go to sleep early, to not work so hard and surprisingly, Xiao Zhan would listen.
That has become a consistent thing in the month that comes, then two, three, and four… for which, Xiao Zhan tries to actively ignore those feelings that bud along. He still interacts with Yibo just as before, though now a little more cautious.
Sometimes, when they head for either their apartments to work on the project and they’d decide to ride Yibo’s motorbike (Xiao Zhan eventually overcomes his fear of riding the vehicle though it’s mostly because Yibo is driving slow for him), Yibo would take his arms to wrap them around his waist. Sometimes, Xiao Zhan would initiate and he’d see Yibo smile at that while having his back face him, that unmistakable rise of his cheeks making Xiao Zhan let out a small smile too, tightening his hold around Yibo’s waist. Sometimes, when they decide to take the train, Xiao Zhan would eventually let himself fall asleep on Yibo’s shoulder and he’d feel Yibo patting his head as the train moves, as if it's the most natural thing to do between coworkers. Or friends.
And it's in those little tangible moments that gets Xiao Zhan to think if these things in life do come so easily, that warmth bubbling in his chest each time as he comes home with Yibo, or if it's just some kind of luck that so happens to come to him.
(He realizes, he actually really, really likes Wang Yibo.)
The time now zooms into a week before the project presentation.
And in that week, Xiao Zhan gets sick. Great.
Somehow though, he isn't surprised at all. He knows he's foreseen this sometime ago… he just can't remember when. Perhaps all those tiredness and exhaustion have now dawned on him like this that maybe he'd been unconsciously expecting this after all. It doesn't make him feel any better, however.
Still, that doesn't stop him from coming to the office. He still tries to smile at his coworkers though he's aware his face is deathly pale and he can feel his head constantly spinning and his vision swimming. He feels hot all over that the air conditioner in his space doesn't seem to suffice.
Yibo had been quiet other than a "Good morning Zhan-ge!" since the time they've seen each other that day, though Xiao Zhan can't deny the worried looks the intern's been giving him throughout.
During lunch, he doesn't even dare go out and Yibo volunteers himself to buy him a takeout. Xiao Zhan can only agree. It's the only way he'll get to eat anyway. Throughout lunchtime, Yibo accompanies him with the two takeouts he bought for the two of them. Yibo is still quiet and Xiao Zhan's actually grateful. The noise from the outside has already been giving him chronic headaches, he doesn’t think he can still take it with Yibo blabbering around him. (And at these times, it makes Xiao Zhan appreciate the tacit understanding they have around and with each other. He doesn’t ever think he’ll find someone like Wang Yibo again).
At night, Yibo calls but only asks if he’s resting well and if he isn't, Yibo threatens that he’ll come over and take his laptop away from him.
Xiao Zhan lies.
He tells him he's resting while having his laptop open and working on the presentation. He feels bad. But he's barely done anything this day anyway, occasionally spacing out as he tries his hardest to go through the day.
Yibo believes him. Xiao Zhan feels worse.
By next morning, even if he'd already taken medications, his fever doesn't seem to alleviate even just a bit. His temperature is still the same as it had been yesterday.
Yibo notices this and he'd unconsciously follow Xiao Zhan in the office all day long, check up on him, make him drink water, ask him questions if he had rested well, that Xiao Zhan would answer he's fine, he can still work, that this doesn't bother him at all. He's not a baby.
This time though, Yibo doesn't believe him. He seems unhappy, that jut in his lips and creases in his brows tell him so, as if Xiao Zhan did something wrong. He feels his gut twist at that.
"You lied to me last night, didn't you, Zhan-ge?"
And that's all it takes for Xiao Zhan to feel as if he got drenched in ice cold water.
Yibo sighs. "I'm taking you home."
Yibo switches the lights of his apartment on as Xiao Zhan watches him draw the curtains and eventually open the windows. Air comes in and he shivers, wrapping himself up with a blanket lying on the couch as his hands tremble.
"Do you want me to close the windows?" Yibo asks once he's noticed.
Xiao Zhan only nods, feeling his throat too dry to even speak.
For dinner, Yibo, as bad as a cook he is, actually gets to make him a decent chicken soup (though he's still put too much salt but Xiao Zhan doesn't tell him that). They watch some movies as they eat ("No horror movies, Zhan-ge, we're eating,") while Xiao Zhan is still wrapped in his blankets.
He yawns throughout the movie as he can still feel the heat of his body emanating. He feels Yibo shift beside him as the TV shows them a motorbike gliding through a corner. He scratches his head. He didn't even notice when Yibo switched the channels.
He starts shivering again and hugs his blankets tighter. He feels Yibo's eyes train on him, Yibo's fingers touching his own as their legs are pressed on each other's.
"Zhan-ge do you want to sleep? I can take you to your bed."
Xiao Zhan stares up at him and shakes his head. Yibo then comes close and puts his head on his shoulders.
"Then you can just lean your head on me until you sleep. Until then, I'll stay."
Xiao Zhan looks up at him again and their eyes meet. Yibo smiles and it unleashes a small one out of Xiao Zhan's lips too. Xiao Zhan yawns again, feels that thrum of drowsiness actually getting to him.
And he doesn't know why, perhaps it's the fever and the haziness speaking in him when he suddenly blurts out, "Yibo I think I really really like you,"
Silence occupies between the two of them in a long while. He hears Yibo holding his breath. He begins to press his eyes close when he knows he won't get an answer. He can feel Yibo soothing his back with his palm as he feels him lean closer, breath tickling the hair of his neck.
"Go to sleep now, Zhan-ge,"
For the rest of the week, Xiao Zhan remains in his apartment.
And in those days, Yibo would always come after work, constantly checking up on him until late in the night where he'd subtly hear that tiny noise of his door closing and that roar of a motorbike engine coming to life as Yibo finally leaves his place and heads himself home. He'd told Xiao Zhan that Yizhou had granted him a temporary sick leave so he can focus on his recovery and need not to worry. But, still. That doesn't ebb Xiao Zhan's worries at all. With all his incoming presentations and that team project happening in a few days, he can't just lie there, stare at the ceiling, then do absolutely nothing.
He could only watch Yibo working on their project, answer him questions if he had any. Yibo wouldn't let him near his laptop at all. Eventually, as his fever gradually goes down, he'd attempted to help but Yibo keeps him away anyway.
"Zhan-ge, you have to rest, like no interruptions, hm?" Yibo tilts his head, gives him a thumbs up as he raises his two brows. Xiao Zhan just can't help but to comply. He's too weak to resist if Yibo is being cute that way anyway.
By the time Monday comes again, Xiao Zhan feels a hundred percent fine now.
"Zhan-ge, I'll come pick you up now," Yibo says through the call. "Are you ready?"
Xiao Zhan nods, untucks the folds of the sleeves of his white buttoned-down shirt as he wears his navy suit. "I'm ready,"
It is also the day of presenting their annual team project design that they had been preparing for half a year.
Though this annual event isn’t considered a competition, it still holds weight to all the firms participating as notable architects from all over China get to spectate it. It can make or break reputations, as well as define a firm’s excellence in the field. So it is a lie that Xiao Zhan doesn’t feel nervous. It’s also his first time participating. He hopes they do well.
“Are you nervous, Zhan-ge?” He can hear a low chuckle from Yibo’s voice.
“It’s okay Zhan-ge, I’m here,”
“Aren’t you such a sweet talker?”
That gets Yibo to laugh. “Only to Zhan-ge though. By the way, I’m already outside,”
As usual as it had been the past few weeks, Yibo brings Xiao Zhan along to the complex hall with his motorbike, sliding past cars and buses blocking their way. The scene seems pretty comical and Xiao Zhan thinks so too. Though it’s still pretty early, Beijing’s sweltering heat has been on the rise the past few weeks with the fast approach of summer. He just hopes their attires don’t get drenched with sweat that much.
Once they arrive, the hall is already packed with people lounging around to see the architectural design models displayed. Xiao Zhan goes sight-seeing too as Yibo tugs along.
The presentation doesn’t start until the next hour for which they find themselves, together with the whole team, seated in the middle row. Different designs from different firms are being presented and Xiao Zhan watches attentively, takes note of the few intricacies as well as nuanced details that he can learn from.
And once it’s their turn to present, he feels Yibo’s hands wrapping his own. He doesn’t even realize his fingers are shaking until he feels Yibo’s warm palms wrap them up. He looks up at Yibo and feels himself swimming from the stare he’s receiving.
“Zhan-ge, we can do this hm?”
Xiao Zhan nods, returns the stare with the same intensity Yibo holds. It’s enough for his worries to thrum down, enough for him to have that kind of security again that Yibo keeps on making him feel.
God, he really does like Wang Yibo a little too much.
Once the powerpoint is staged up and the rest of the team stand on the platform, they begin to present. It goes as smoothly as Xiao Zhan had hoped in his mind, with Ji Li and Yubin holding out the blueprints as Yizhou cues for them. Manager Gu would explain every detail as the audience before them remain watching. They’d take cues in presenting, with Xiao Zhan taking the process of programming and Yibo helping him throughout. Liu Wenwen, the female intern, would then showcase the physical model of their design.
Xiao Zhan has to admit, this is one of the most exemplary designs he’d seen in his whole career, and this isn’t just to give their firm a face. After all, their firm is one of the best in Beijing. He wouldn’t sign himself up for long tedious work hours in the firm if it isn’t.
Though he still doesn’t forget the goal he’s kept at the back of his mind.
They finish presenting with the audience’s warm round of applause. It’s only then that finally, finally after months of endlessly working through this big of a project, Xiao Zhan gets to breathe. It’s done now. He's finally got something to prove to himself now. He feels warm, that brimming pride of accomplishment residing in his chest gleams into that spark in his eyes.
When he looks back, he catches Yibo staring. He smiles, that certain smile with his eyes folding like crescents as he thinks about all those days and nights they spent working on this project together. He smiles and it works like instinct with Wang Yibo each time and Yibo would always, always smile back. They head back to their seats together and if Yibo takes his hand to hold as they sit side by side, Xiao Zhan just lets him.
They head home that day after a full-out feast headed by the company. It is already past 6pm by the time they reach the streets of Xiao Zhan's apartment. When he turns to give Yibo the helmet he's always worn, he gets greeted with a press on the lips instead.
Xiao Zhan pauses. The kiss is gone just as it had come. His eyes blink as they turn to stare at Yibo. Yibo's still sitting on his motorbike, just below a flickering streetlight on an obscured corner of an alley, retrieving that helmet from Xiao Zhan's hold as he holds his own on his other arm. He's looking at Xiao Zhan with that hope in his eyes, Xiao Zhan can see, biting his lips as his shadows conceal some features of his face, Xiao Zhan unable to completely read him.
It's only then that Xiao Zhan gathers that courage to close the gap between the two of them this time, caressing Yibo's cheeks with his fingers as he draws their faces closer. He feels Yibo inch a little forward too, lips now pressing and sliding against each other as he tilts his head for better access. His arms slide on Yibo's neck as they wrap around it, chest pressed against Yibo's as all the apprehension contained inside melts into one yearning heat.
He cards his fingers through Yibo's hair, feels that softness on his palm as Yibo tilts his head with the guide of Xiao Zhan's hands. He feels so alive suddenly, like that lethargy he's felt in all years from his strenuous architectural job draining away and that energy that comes out as some sort of a magic life force suddenly surging inside him.
They don't even stop even if Xiao Zhan comes to realize they're making out in public, that gust of the summer wind and tiny rustles of the leaves by their footsteps tangible to their senses. He only tries to deepen the kiss, eyes closed, fingers clutched as Yibo only follows his lead. Throughout all that, he feels Yibo smile that he has to smile back too. It's only when he feels he needs to inhale some breath did they finally part.
Still in a daze, he asks, “Yibo, you like me?”
Yibo chokes. “Zhan-ge, are you serious right now?”
Xiao Zhan laughs. “I mean I know you’re obviousㅡ" Wang Yibo is. He actually damn is, that Xiao Zhan feels so stupid to realize all that now. He can't believe himself sometimes. "ㅡbut it would feel nice to hear it from you,”
“Okay Zhan-ge," Yibo heaves out a breath. "I like you. So much. Does Zhan-ge like me too?”
Xiao Zhan nods, though blearily remembers he's somehow said the answer before. Perhaps, in a dream... he isn't so sure. He only presses his forehead against Yibo's, feels Yibo's breath brush his lips as he stares at his eyes.
“Mn, I like Yibo too,”
When Yibo’s internship period ends, Xiao Zhan doesn’t feel sad. Though that emptiness in that certain spot on his desk is stark and swellingly obvious that gives him some void in his chest, still, Xiao Zhan doesn’t feel sad.
Because he still sees his boyfriend everyday.
And actually, he doesn't know if he should be thankful for that.
Yibo, after his internship, had decided that being in a firm doing paperworks, designs, and chasing deadlines do not suit him after all, despite having finished a 5-year course degree in Architecture. Though, he's told Xiao Zhan that he had absolutely enjoyed working with him (and even got to be his boyfriend, no less!), he thinks he fits to a more active, physically-inducing profession like motor racing.
Just as he'd told Xiao Zhan he'd join a race after the internship, he did do so and swooped in 1st place just like that, with Xiao Zhan watching from the audience, heart on edge each time as Yibo's motorbike race through the tracks.
As for Xiao Zhan, he still works on the firm, carries on his tasks as usual, slowly climbing his way up to the top as he keeps his goal of building himself his own firm one day tucked at the back of his mind. His daily routine of a clockwork is still the sameㅡwaking up at the right time, eating breakfast for certain minutes, taking a bath, dressing up for work then finally heading outㅡexcept he has Yibo now; Yibo would drive him to the firm, get him lunch, do him errands, and take him home, would take him out for dates after his work as Yibo would be done practicing for his blooming racing profession. He had also taken up jobs as a dance instructor in some dance academy too, that sometimes he'd invite Xiao Zhan to watch him.
And, for all the times that Yibo had been so energetic and lively towards him before, it seems that he only got way worse.
He'd bombard Xiao Zhan with his selfies, ask him if this is handsome or not and if Xiao Zhan tells him that he is, he'd actually send some more. If Xiao Zhan answers he isn't, then Yibo would pester him why, ask him which part of his face is ugly, what angle to take for his next selfie this time, etc., etc., until Xiao Zhan has had enough that he outright blocks his number (he unblocks it the next day).
He'd also make memes out of his selfies too and he'd send it to Xiao Zhan just because.
Wang Yibo sent 2:07pm
zhan-ge i have some meme rec for you😁❤️
Xiao Zhan sent 2:08 pm
if that has your face on it then i dont want it
Wang Yibo sent 2:08 pm
arent i so handsome? 😁❤️
Xiao Zhan sent 2:09 pm
so handsome.. too handsome! the most good-looking gege in the world!!
when i see wang yibo laoshi's face i feel like a weak girl in front of him~
are you happy now?
Wang Yibo sent 2:10 pm
but also zhan-ge doesnt miss me?🥺🥺
Xiao Zhan lets out a sigh. It's one of these moments again when Yibo gets clingy. But there's a small smile that slips on his lips anyway.
Xiao Zhan sent 2:09 pm
i'll be coming home in 3 hours, until then wait for me ok?
and i miss you too...
i have to focus on work now bye
During nights, when Xiao Zhan comes home to now their shared apartment, Yibo would surprise him with fervent kisses, like some lovesick puppy in need of its master's attention until Xiao Zhan's left out of breath as they head for the bed.
And on the bed that Wang Yibo gets to show him the different kind of energy he can give, thrusting into Xiao Zhan with full force each time, that creak of the bed audible as it moves in tandem to the swing of their hips. Xiao Zhan's moans would break past the walls that the morning that comes the next day, a neighbor would complain about the sounds they'd been making during sex and told them both to keep it quiet next time. Xiao Zhan had never in his life felt so ashamed as Yibo had just laughed about it the whole day.
All that though, still, even if Yibo's energy sometimes consumes a lot out of Xiao Zhan, that sometimes it exasperates the life out of him, he still can't deny that it's one, if not the sole, of a reason that Xiao Zhan can go through his days and weeks, that finally when he comes home after a long, tiring day, there would be someone waiting for him to come to their arms, draw all those tiredness away, and make him feel alive all over again.
And that's all that matters in his life right now.