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A Desperate Scheme

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“Zhan-Zhan,” Xiao Zhan’s mom admonished over the phone while he awkwardly shuffled into his apartment, loaded down with his suitcases and travel bags. At her tone, the tenuous hold he’d been keeping on his front door with his heel slipped and slammed shut. ”When are you going to give me grandchildren?”

He sighed into the mouthpiece, kicking off his shoes with a bit more force than necessary. He was too tired for this. Fresh off a three hour flight to Beijing, a fight through a crush of fans, a two hour fight through traffic -- even at ten in the evening -- he’d called his mother to let her know he’d gotten home safe like a good son was supposed to once he’d gotten sequestered safely into the company car. He’d managed to keep them veered off onto other topics for the last hour. But this was, of course, the topic they always inevitably ended up on.

“Mom,” he said, trying to draw patience out of a deep, centering breath. “You know that a relationship right now would be career suicide.”

Gathering the bags he’d dropped, he rolled his suitcase towards his bedroom without turning on the hallway light, padding barefoot through his silent apartment. He’d left the shades half drawn in the large living room window and the faint glow of the city gave him just enough light to navigate by.

”I know sweetie, but we just worry about you. We see the news too. You’re not eating enough.”

He bit back the instant retort of eating too much is also career suicide, but managed to hold it at bay. He nudged the suitcase out of his way with his foot when he got to his bedroom, dropped the bags in a heap to sort out when he had willpower in the morning, and flopped onto his neglected bed.

He heard his mother shuffling around on her side, picturing the way she was puttering around in the kitchen. She had just as bad a sleep schedule as he did. He used to call her in the middle of the night, fully expecting voicemail to kick in at one in the morning and would always be pleasantly surprised that she picked up around the guilt roiling in his gut at the late hour despite each time he expected her to admonish him for waking her up. Except she had the option of sleeping in, most of the time.

“Parental privilege is worrying about their children,” he said, rolling over onto his back. He grinned at the snort she failed to smother.

”Don’t be a pest. Find someone nice who will give me children.”

“I’ll dream a nice boy up just for you, mom.” He laughed when she laughed, stomach swooping with a spark of nerves.

Because his mother was the best, she’d taken his sexuality in stride the day in University he’d called her, so hungover he was leaking with the scent of alcohol he hugged the toilet bowl for half a day. As far as coming-out stories went, his had smelled acutely of vomit and burned like heartbreak.

He could feel the urge to wallow in self-pity rising. “Anyway, Mom. I love you, I’m home safe, I’m going to sleep now.” He ended the call, dropped his phone on his chest, and sighed up at the ceiling.

In the silence of his apartment, loneliness lay over him like a heavy, weighted blanket. There were nights, long nights, when he would browse social media in his weak moments from old habits he’d formed long before he was a feature of every other article on the front page of Weibo. It was enough to make a man give up on the internet and go into the woods to film historical dramas for eternity. He didn’t need a hairline, he could just use wigs for the rest of his life. No one needed to know. He could live in the mountains on grilled bamboo and mushrooms and never have to worry about seeing another living human again.

But it was a weak thought, and he was a brand he had to uphold with his body, now. He had a wonderful crew that worked tirelessly with him. He still had so much to learn when it came to acting, so many roles to fulfill. Most of the time he still thought he was lucky to have been able to experience so much of life before he got thrust into stardom. But if he hadn’t been a graphic designer with no free will at some point and only ever knew this life, maybe it would suit him better. These days he felt like he was trying to wear an ill-fitting suit and doing his best to make it work for the cameras.

“Imagine sleeping,” he told the ceiling, rubbing the heel of his hand into his eyes. The ceiling said nothing back. It was probably asleep.

Rolling to his feet he forced himself into a long, hot shower to wash away the dregs of make up and soak his muscles, and padded to his kitchen to snag a beer from the fridge while scrubbing his hair dry with a towel. His phone buzzed with a notification in his pocket. He forced himself to at least take a swig before he took a look.

There was an email from his manager about the scripts he’d promised to give a verdict on, a reminder of his calendared schedule for the next day. He thumbed through it, mentally plotting the day in his head, but his thoughts kept lingering back to his conversation with his mother. He tried not to let it bother him. At this point, every interview brought the topic up, even when he was extra picky to find shows that asked thoughtful questions. Everyone wanted to know why he was single when he was Xiao Zhan, actor-singer extraordinaire, and his resolve to give straightforward, thoughtful answers was slowly crumbling to dust. The restless, reckless part of him that he’d carefully stuffed aside under layers of propriety kept digging at him to snap a true, real answer to the question.

If he dug down deep enough, if he reached in for that true part of him that he always tried to pull from for acting, for his careful answers, he was just tired of being alone. Loneliness was an ache that stung every time someone asked why he was, why he worked so hard, why he didn’t share his personal life. He scraped himself raw against the livewire that was work until it was all he had.

If he thought he’d felt the pressure immediately post-The Untamed, that was nothing to the scraped raw feeling he had now after over-exposure to overzealous fans for a winter. At the final concert for Ah-ling in Nanjing, he’d been so afraid that all of it would end, that he’d fade into obscurity and all of this was for nothing. He’d kept his head down, kept working hard, and somehow, every time he lifted it to look around he was always stunned to see that he still had supporters.

Yibo had pulled him aside backstage, his ridiculous Luffy hat still on his head, and had said, in all seriousness, to come to him if he needed help.

“Don’t worry, Wang-laoshi,” he tried to be reassuring, but the smile he’d flashed had fallen flat. Both of their eyes had still been red from the emotional goodbye on stage. Yibo’s large hand was warm at its place at his elbow. “I can handle it.”

Yibo had pursed his lips, worked his jaw like he was going to argue. “You don’t have to do it alone, though.” But he had dropped it after that, bumping shoulders with him with a grin like he couldn’t stand being so serious.

––– 

Xiao Zhan had returned it with a bop to the back of his head, but then they were both whisked away from each other in the bustle of backstage. As he peeled himself out of the expensive designer wear and back into his regular street clothes, his thoughts had lingered on the way Yibo had so seriously bent his head towards him, offering his help. It would be better for Yibo, honestly, if he weren’t able to handle it, that they be able to split their images away from each other.

Even while The Untamed was live he had his fair share of controversies. He weathered them as best as he could. They kept him on his toes, kept him up at night, kept him wondering just when he was going to lose all of this fragile success he’d gained. The beginning of the new year had been a disaster all around, globally and for his fans. His manager had run flawless damage control throughout the backlash and acclaim. Nothing fazed her, handling everything with a steel first that barely wavered. From fan meetings to charity work to carefully chosen TV shows with an edge of nationalism, his image had been wrangled into one of a careful, considerate person.

Xiao Zhan looked out over his counter island at his picturesque, carefully curated living room. He had taken his time setting it up, putting everything in its place from the couch to the art on the walls that he’d bought from a gallery showing of an old art school friend. Even with his personal touches here or there it still looked foreign to him, like he couldn’t possibly live here. It was a far cry from the smaller home he’d lived in with his parents in Chongqing, or the crowded dorm of X-Nine. Even with furniture in the proper places and all the right appliances, even Wang Yibo’s home had more personality. When it came down to it, that was the thing. Xiao Zhan had lost himself somewhere along the way.

Flicking over to WeChat while taking a swig from his bottle, he pulled open last his conversation with Wang Yibo, scrolling down past a grainy selfie of himself with a tiny lego baby Yoda he’d found. He’d sent it at the start of February, a lifetime ago now, before everything had become complicated. Yibo had sent a grabby hands emote and a series of exclamation marks in reply, but Xiao Zhan had opened the message in the middle of a flurry of production and promptly forgotten all about it. Then the storm broke with a world of chaos and he’d gotten under fire internationally and replying to chats had flown out the window.

He chewed on his lip, not sure how to start the conversation. He finally settled on Wang-laoshi is too good for this world with a Lan Zhan emote of him gazing into the distance handsomely.

The reply came almost instantly: WOW. Zhan-ge is too handsome, toooooo cool to handle!!! then, What’s with the rainbow farting?

Can’t I compliment the worlds’ greatest dancer? He smiled into his phone, instantly feeling better. Guilt rolled in like a thick fog a moment later for using him when he had his own things to worry about.

No, came the reply, complete with an emote of his own face making an exaggerated expression. Not when we haven’t talked in ages.

It hadn’t occurred to him that Wang Yibo would be hurting. It had been his fanbase, not Yibo’s, for all he’d been somewhat involved due to the nature of the material. The thing was, Xiao Zhan endorsed creativity. He’d thought that if he stayed quiet and let everyone do what they enjoyed, it would have been fine. He hadn’t thought past taking it all into himself and waiting for the storm to pass. I’m good, Wang-laoshi, don’t worry so much.

The dots pending a message started and stopped a few times. Xiao Zhan watched them with a hint of amusement. He jumped when his phone started ringing instead, choking on his beer.

He answered, throat still raw. “Yibo, you didn’t need to call.”

“Are you alright, Zhan-ge?” he asked, concern thick in his voice. Xiao Zhan realized with a stint of horror that he probably sounded like he’d been crying. He cleared his throat a few times.

“I’m great, Wang-laoshi, just tired.” He tried to inflect as much cheer as he could into his voice. “Congratulations, by the way, one of the producers on set the other day was talking about how good your Xie Yun footage was. I’ve never seen anyone wax poetic like that before.”

“I remember people said the same about your Wei Ying. Zhan-ge, don’t be so humble. Seriously, tell me what’s going on with you.”

It occurred to him with a clench of his gut that he’d dropped off the face of the earth for more than just his fans. He hadn’t realized he’d been so reclusive even after the social distancing and the drama that had unfolded for his fanbase. It had been months. Had he really just been going back and forth without contacting anyone for this long? He did his best to check in with his friends whenever he could but the more he thought about it the less he could remember typing replies or posts. His social media team had been doing most of the hard work these days. He normally tried to post for himself, to read at least some messages, but it had gotten so draining to try not to see enemies and flaws in every word, that he’d slowly retreated from it.

He worked his bottom lip between his teeth. “I think I might have given too much of myself away.” He had thought his honesty and careful consideration might have been able to change something of the industry. That if he tried hard enough, and was careful enough, that his fans would listen to him. Instead he’d come under fire for that exact thing. “If I gave less, maybe things would be easier to deal with.”

Yibo’s voice on the other end of the line was rough with sleep. “Zhan-ge, that’s just the way you are.”

Xiao Zhan, to his horror, felt a familiar stinging pressure building behind his eyes. He gave a bitter laugh. “How unlucky.”

”Are you going to be home tomorrow?”

“Yeah, in the morning. I have to read through a few scripts.”

”Great, I’ll see you then. Stop thinking so much and go to bed.” Yibo said, and the line went dead. Xiao Zhan cried out in protest, pulling his phone away from his ear to stare at Yibo’s icon.

He tapped his phone to his lips a few times, then sent a final message before turning in. You shouldn’t associate with me so much, Lao Wang. Think of your image.

–––

The first thing Wang Yibo said when Xiao Zhan opened the door to him was: “Fuck you, my image is whatever I say it is.” He pushed in, kicking off his shoes at the door. “What have I done to make you think I’d give up on a friend?”

It was six in the morning. Yibo looked windswept, cheeks red from the wind. He was wearing a leather jacket that must have cost a small fortune, and a pair of baggy black checkered pants. Compared to Xiao Zhan’s rumpled, sleep-creased face, he looked every inch the idol he was. He tossed his jacket on one of the stools at his kitchen island, looked around at the pristine living room, and whirled back to face Xiao Zhan with a frigid expression on his face. He’d seen that a handful of times over the length of filming. A few times directed at him, smacking back when he wasn’t in the mood. They’d both used one another as a springboard for their feelings more than once over the length of Ah-ling, in more than just cheerful ways.

This was a Yibo out for a fight and not afraid to throw hands.

“Ah, Wang-laoshi, you’re right, you’re right.” Xiao Zhan raised his hands to ward off any coming blows, dropping them when none came and Yibo kept staring at him. He edged past him to pull a pair of mugs down from the cabinet for coffee. “Of course you’re the boss of your own image, and you’d never let down a friend––”

“Go out with me.”

Xiao Zhan bit down on his tongue as his heart attempted to leap out of his chest. The mugs slipped from his tenuous grasp, bouncing against his white granite countertop while the bottom of his stomach dropped away. He managed to catch one as it skittered towards the sink, and Yibo had grabbed the other with his usual lithe grace and quick reflexes, reaching into his space to hook the handle with his fingers before it went pinwheeling to the floor. He made even that look as graceful as a dance.

Xiao Zhan whirled to face him, hands cupping the mug like it would shield him somehow. “W-what did you say?”

Yibo set the mug carefully onto the counter, inspecting it for damage. Finding nothing, he raised his eyes. “I shouldn’t have led with that, sorry.” He took the cup from Xiao Zhan’s grasp, fingers a warm flash of heat, and set that aside as well. “I’ve thought about it a lot lately. Why not just pretend? Give people something to really freak out over?”

“Oh, is that all?” Xiao Zhan knew he was gaping. He raised a hand to feel Yibo’s forehead. “Are you insane, Yibo? Sick? Do you feel woozy? My couch is right there if you need to take a nap.”

His jaw had clenched, a line of frustration appearing between his brows, grasping his hand. “Look, you had to navigate all of last year by yourself. I told you I could help you a thousand times.”

“Is this helpful?” Xiao Zhan squeaked. “How is this helpful?”

“It won’t be much different than skinship anyway, we always have to play up our relationship as it is.” His hold tightened on his wrist. “You don’t have to deal with fans alone.” Xiao Zhan felt his bones creak. He could also feel the way Yibo was shaking. The look he was giving him––oh, he was worried.

“That’s your reasoning? Yibo, I know I’ve had trouble lately but please, don’t be like this. I can handle a little loneliness.”

“Why should you? It’s all just perception anyway,” Yibo had pressed, concern fading away into that same stony faced expression. Oh, no. “You don’t owe anyone anything. If they’re going to drag you around don’t you want to give them something real to complain about?”

“When they turn on us, It’ll end up dragging you down with me,” Xiao Zhan said, still strung out tight from the beginning of the year when everything had come crashing over his shoulders. “Think of your image, Wang-laoshi.”

Anti-fans would always be a problem. But he couldn’t stand the idea of bringing Yibo down, not when the entertainment business was his entire life. Xiao Zhan could go back to design if he truly ever needed to. This was Yibo’s life. He hadn’t even finished secondary school. Where Xiao Zhan was an ordinary person, Yibo was born to be a star.

“I don’t know how to make it any clearer that I don’t care what they think,” Yibo said. His face had shuttered off all emotion. “The fans that really care have stayed with me through everything. Yours will too. You don’t need to let everyone else decide your life for you.”

Xiao Zhan could feel his resolve caving. He very carefully moved out of Yibo’s grasp so that he could sit down on a stool. Yibo followed him around the corner, maintaining eye contact. He felt so weary, it was only six in the morning. “Why, though? Just let me handle it, you don’t have to help me with this. You don’t even like guys.”

Yibo choked on his tongue, going oddly quiet for a moment longer than usual. “What made you think that?” His hands had turned to fists.

Xiao Zhan’s breath caught on his inhale. “Oh, Yibo.”

They’d talked about this casually when they were filming together, talking around the subject as much as about it. Back then, Xiao Zhan had mentioned past relationships he’d had and how they compared to Lan Zhan and Wei Ying, but Yibo hadn’t once. He’d assumed that Yibo just hadn’t given it much thought.

“Trust me, ge. It’s mutually beneficial.” His Adams apple worked around a swallow.

Xiao Zhan took a deep, steadying breath, trying to center himself before he made any decisions he regretted. This was going to end terribly. More than that, much more than any of it: Yibo had come up with this crazy scheme to help him in his own straightforward way. Xiao Zhan had tried his own, slow, considerate way for so long that it had taken all parts of him and dashed them against the rocks more than once. What Yibo was proposing was putting it all on the line, just to, what. Take some of the heat onto himself? Share the load?

“Only you could come up with a scheme like this and say it’s beneficial.” Xiao Zhan muttered, running a hand over his face and then through his hair.

Yibo was smirking when he looked at him. The light sparkled in his eyes. “That’s an easy fix. Stop thinking.”

He choked out a startled laugh, pitched high. “Reckless.”

Xiao Zhan felt a little like he’d felt when he’d chosen to drop his stable life as a designer and take up this whole crazy profession. Wasn’t this part of why he wanted to become an Idol? To reach more people, to have a greater effect on the world? He looked up at his ceiling for a moment, then back down.

“Okay, Yibo,” he said with a deep breath. “How do you want to do this?”

–––

They discussed Yibo’s grand scheme while Xiao Zhan threw together an easy breakfast of bacon and eggs. He’d plotted it out on the ride over to Xiao Zhan’s house in the morning, because of course he did. It began tame by all respects. Fans were smart and would pick up whatever subtext they wanted. That had been part of the problem after all; overanalyzing their interactions and reading into their affection for one another. First, publicize. Second, match their schedules. Third, skinship. Fourth, a breakup, and return to relative normalcy.

It was just like normal, but with more pandering than usual. Gross, lovey-dovey pandering.

Step one, which they completed after Xiao Zhan had cleared their used dishes, had been for Yibo to slide open his new Redmi phone and wrap an arm around Xiao Zhan. Leaning back into his warm chest, he smiled at the camera and tried to make it seem less terrified for his life and more genuine. They were both actors, they could do this. A tickle of nerves closed up his throat as Yibo snapped a couple candids. They chose the best one of the lot together.

“Here goes nothing,” Yibo muttered under his breath, and posted it with a little heart in the caption before either of them could take it back.

Xiao Zhan carefully took one too, in black and white of their fingers overlapping together. He posted his without a caption. The idea was that the two side by side would be irrefutable. Or at least enough to start a scandal.

It only took a minute for Xiao Zhan’s phone to go off. “Please know that I mean this with as respectfully as possible, but what the fuck have you kids done?”

His manager’s voice was cold as steel in his ear. He winced. He’d heard her talk this way to press and other people, but so far he had managed to avoid her ire. She was a veteran of the industry as far as managers were concerned. She’d taken a break when her children were young but had been talked back into working for him when his staff put out feelers for someone who could help him weather the scandal in February.

“Ah, what do you mean?” He tried for nonchalant and flopped. Beside him, Yibo’s phone started ringing. He walked over to the window to answer, watching the traffic go by. The morning light painted him in pink and gold hues. He looked like a living God.

“Please don’t pretend with me, boss.” She groaned into her phone and he felt a stab of guilt. “I can’t believe you two. Is this why you avoided him for so long? Because you two had a thing? You can tell me these things, that’s what I’m here for!”

“I’m sorry, Li Na.” He winced. “I figured it would be better to rip the bandaid off.”

“We were in the car for three hours together just last night, couldn’t you have told me then?” She grumped. He could hear her fingers typing away at the keyboard at her home desk. There was a long pause as she centered herself. “Please don’t do anything else until I’m there.”

The line went dead. He was starting to feel a little numb now that the adrenaline began to wear off. By the window, Yibo’s shoulders were tight, back straight. He was drumming his fingers against his thigh. He was murmuring into his phone, too low for Xiao Zhan to hear.

When he finished, he turned back and stowed his phone in his pocket, sagging back against the window.

Xiao Zhan couldn’t help a little vicious jab. “Regret it?” He asked shakily, with a swallow.

“Nope.” Yibo said, vindictive in his sincerity. He grabbed one of the stuffed animals from the corner of the couch and chucked it at him.

“Oh, good.” He breathed around the honesty of it, catching the stuffed duck with one hand. He squeezed it, smiling down at it with his heart still beating in his throat. “Same.”

–––

Li Na arrived in a deadly pair of heels, a laptop bag, an expression like a stormcloud. He had been lucky to appeal to her sensibilities. At the moment though, he felt nothing but fear.

“I’ve talked with your manager,” she said the moment she slammed through the front door, wagging a finger at Wang Yibo. “He said it was all your fault.”

Yibo smirked a little. In heels, Li Na was an entire inch taller than him. It was interesting to watch from the other side of the counter. At least until she whirled on him. “I can’t believe you, I really can’t.”

“Li Na, wait.” Xiao Zhan raised his hands in a placating gesture. A piece of the plan had been telling their managers, but they had both agreed that they had to do it after so that they couldn’t be talked out of it. “It’s not real, okay?”

“What do you mean it’s not real?” Li Na asked, waving her phone in his face. He saw just enough to know it was overloaded with notifications. “Half the team I hired for your social media just quit on the spot while I was driving over here.”

He cringed. They really should have been more cautious, setting this up. Yibo stepped in, noticing he’d been caught speechless. “Fans want to complain about something fake, so we’re going to give them something real to be mad about.”

“But it’s fake.” Li Na repeated, the color draining out of her face. She spoke in clipped, measured tones. “Have you considered what this is going to do to your reputations?”

Yibo pursed his lips. “In the long run? Only good things.”

“I’m telling you,” Xiao Zhan said, hurrying to do damage control. “Because I would treasure your help with this. I understand if you don’t want anything to do with it, but your help would make everything astronomically easier.”

Li Na stared at the two of them, incredulous. “Because you want to -- get back at someone? Xiao Zhan, after all that’s happened this should be the last thing you do.”

“Because we’re tired of hiding.” Yibo said, bullheaded in his usual straightforward way. It was something that Xiao Zhan envied in him, that ability to charge forward. It was what let Yibo do as much as he did all the time. But even when Xiao Zhan stood back and considered all aspects of the idea, as reckless as it was, it felt like a chance worth taking.

“Tired of––” She groaned into her hands, massaging her temples. “I want a raise.”

“Done,” Xiao Zhan said without pause.

“I want a year of free spa dates.”

“You’ve earned it.” Xiao Zhan said with a nod.

“I want you to stop being so agreeable all the time.”

Wang Yibo choked on a laugh. Xiao Zhan’s face broke into the first real smile he’d felt all day. The vice-like clamp over his heart eased for the first time since Yibo came bursting through the door. “Not possible.”

She hefted her laptop bag onto the counter, zipping it open vindictively. “Okay, okay. What’s done is done. I assume you must have a plan. What’s first?”

–––

Things were a lot easier under Li Na’s iron fist. The first few weeks were rough, of course. A few endorsements had crumbled under the news. Most of the people he dealt with on a day to day basis were polite about it. When he had finally taken a look at his phone, he’d had a plethora of congratulations messages to sort through. From old hometown friends to his small celebrity circle, it seemed everyone wanted to talk to him.

”Congratulations you guys!!” Xuan Lu had texted in their group chat, followed quickly by Wang Zhuocheng. Yu Bin had chimed in with I feel like my parents finally got together, with a meme of Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji gazing at each other with heart emotes in their eyes. For each congratulations, Xiao Zhan felt a pang of guilt. He gave his thanks, and Yibo had posted a picture of the two of them with their fists raised high in the air to cheer Ah-Ling on.

By all accounts, their fans had been in an uproar since the photos, verging from antis who were adamant that they were using each other for popularity, or that Yibo was trying to cause drama for Xiao Zhan again after all he’d gone through. Some of the fans who had supported them as a “ship” posted hate on their pages about how wrong they were to exist, which he had expected. But that was the worst. There were also better, kinder messages, where fans had been supportive, or where they were confused about if it was real.

Comments ranged from I’d love to believe this but it seems too good to be true. There’s no way they would ever get together for real, they must be messing around. to I can’t believe bjyx is real!!! to the more cautious ones that really pulled at his heartstrings: I can’t believe my two favorite idols are just like me

The last one he sent to Yibo in the dead of night, his heartbeat loud in the silence.

Worth it, Zhan-ge Yibo sent back with a peace sign.

–––

Having their teams behind their stunt made the whole thing a little easier when it came to the heavy lifting of synchronizing schedules where they could. Somehow, when Yibo had an endorsement for a coffee company, Xiao Zhan had an endorsement at the company’s little sister tea stores. The call time had been about 11 in the morning, which meant Xiao Zhan had arrived with his team at about 10:45 am with coffee for the crew before getting started.

Xiao Zhan was coming out of the changing room in the back of the dressing room, swapping his street clothes for the company's clothing line, when he heard a bit of a production at the front of the room. A team had entered in a hurry, calling their greetings and settling. Perhaps the make up artists? He bundled up his clothes into a bag so he could shove it under the makeup desk for later, and was almost run over. He reached out instinctively to steady them and froze on the spot.

“Ah, Yibo?”

“Zhan-ge?” Yibo blinked, a blush coloring his cheeks. He looked like he’d come straight from his dance studio, hair still dripping, ball cap on his head, smelling of his lavender shampoo. “What––”

“Did we forget to tell you?” Li Na stood in a corner of the room with Yibo’s manager, arms crossed, phone in one hand. “This is a joint production.”

Beside him, Yibo made a noise like he’d choked on his tongue, and immediately pushed Xiao Zhan back. Tripping over his own bag, he yelped as his back hit the wall. Yibo drew it closed, eyes wide. He wasn’t wearing any make up yet, which somehow only added to the vulnerability.

Xiao Zhan had to take a deep, centering breath at the thought of being alone in a closed space with him like this.

“What the hell,” Yibo hissed, “They’re going to get this commercial banned.”

Xiao Zhan slid down onto the bench, staring up at him. He started laughing, manically. “We’ve been set up.”

“Fuck,” Yibo muttered, turning around to leave.

“Wait, wait. Where are you going?” Xiao Zhan asked, gesturing to the clothes in his hands. “You have to change.”

Yibo froze on the spot, swallowing so hard that Xiao Zhan could hear the sticky click it made. “You’re in here. I’ll use another one.”

“There are people who aren’t our crew out there,” Xiao Zhan said as gently as he could. Yibo turned around, looking scandalized. The vicious part of him pumped a fist in victory at getting back at him for this crazy idea. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen, right?”

“Right,” he said, dumping the clothes in Xiao Zhan’s lap.

He heaved his baggy hoodie, t-shirt, and hat off in one go. The roll of his muscles as he twisted was enough to make Xiao Zhan’s mouth go dry. Maybe this wasn’t the greatest come-uppance after all. He idly folded Yibo’s street wear without looking away, dropping it onto the seat beside him. Yibo pulled the t-shirt on and reached for the soft sweater in Xiao Zhan’s lap.

Then he looked up at Xiao Zhan and smirked, like the little shit that he was, and Xiao Zhan was sure he saw stars. He didn’t realize he had stopped breathing until he’d pulled the sweater on as well, then shucked his sweatpants off in the next moment. Then he breathed so loud that Yibo froze with one leg into one side.

“You good?” Yibo asked, somehow managing to make the act of putting on jeans to be unfairly hot in a way that went straight to Xiao Zhan’s dick.

“I’m fine,” Xiao Zhan said a beat too late. He waited until Yibo had tapped into the shoes to chuck his hat at him. “Nothing I haven’t seen,” he muttered again. Yibo flashed a grin at him, grabbed his clothes, and pushed the curtain open.

Instantly heads whipped back to their places like they hadn’t all been attempting to eavesdrop. Xiao Zhan waited until his heartbeat had returned to normal before he finally remembered where all his limbs were enough to join him.

If Xiao Zhan had thought the dressing room was enough, he hadn’t counted on a PD dropping by with a camera to film the backstage process. Beside him in his own chair, Yibo texted him what the hell!!!

Xiao Zhan pasted on a smile for the camera, replying with one hand while a stylist ran product through his hair. We’re actors, right? We’ll have to act.

i hate you so much!!!! Yibo typed so quickly it took him less than a second to send.

Xiao Zhan bit his lip to keep from giggling. “You love me,” he said out loud, tipping his head in Yibo’s direction. His stylist dropped her comb with a squeak. He wasn’t sure why he said it, except the whole thing had gone to his head, turning his brain to mush and leaving just nerves tingling in his stomach like sparkling water.

Yibo coughed, glancing down at his lips and back up. “Yeah,” he said. The tips of his ears had turned a brilliant red. “I do.” The camera descended upon them like a vulture, but the damage had already been done. Xiao Zhan was already doomed.

The photoshoot itself was an exquisite torture. Working with Yibo was never bad, they could entertain each other all day long with the prop plushies they’d been given. Yibo squeezed the stuffed orange until its cute face looked flat like a platypus, then bounced it off Xiao Zhan’s head while they were waiting for a lighting change.

It started with poses with the two hanging off each other while standing, first Xiao Zhan’s arm over Yibo’s shoulder, then one with Yibo’s arm around his waist. A couple where they stood back to back smoldering, then smiling, then the photographer made Xiao Zhan sit. Yibo leaned over him, arms draped over his shoulders.

“Okay, now act like you mean it,” she said, “Try to forget we’re here.”

Xiao Zhan let out a breath, leaning back in the stool until he fell against Yibo’s hard chest. Yibo looked down at him, arms still looped around him. His mouth lifted in that ridiculous half smirk of his, looked up at the camera, and leaned down.

“This is for coffee?” Yibo whispered, tucking his face close to Xiao Zhan’s ear.

“So I hear,” Xiao Zhan whispered back, biting his lip.

The next set were with props, a little more of what they’d both come to expect. Xiao Zhan was changed into a vest, and Yibo took his sweater off. When he came back, Yibo was holding a coffee, and there was a tea for Xiao Zhan. Lifting them together, they had to glance –– smoulder at each other over the rim of their cups, then smile cheesily at the camera.

After a couple hours of photos, they had both almost sweated off their make up completely. They stepped off the photoshoot set to get touch ups and Xiao Zhan groaned as his back muscles protested movement. It was just pretending and yet somehow he felt like it was ten times more work than any promotion he’d done before.

The director and producer of the CF came hurrying up to them to outline the premise. The set itself was a living room/kitchen set, stocked with the usual shiny endorsement appliances. Xiao Zhan was to lay down on the couch and Yibo was to bring him a tea, say a few words, and then Xiao Zhan would say his bit.

Easy enough, except: “Lingering touches.” Yibo muttered, thumbing through the random coffee table magazine as they waited for the set up.

“Easy skinship, huh?” Xiao Zhan murmured, feeling wicked.

Yibo shoved his head down with one big hand and stood up to take his place.

–––

The end of the set found the two too exhausted to move to even protest. Yibo’s manager had volunteered to take Xiao Zhan home since Li Na had children and was, apparently, a legend in the managerial circles. Xiao Zhan collapsed in the back of the van in the seat beside Yibo, trying his best not to watch him out of the corner of his eye in the reflection of the glass. He tried to watch the night lights of the city roll by, but by the end he gave in.

“Yibo’s a little closer, so I’ll drop him off first,” the manager said, peeling off the expressway with a lurch that made Xiao Zhan flail for the safety grip.

“Scared, Zhan-ge?” Yibo asked with a smirk, reaching across the gap to pat him on the knee. Xiao Zhan’s stomach lurched again. If he were less honest with himself he would blame it on the driving.

“In your dreams, Wang-laoshi.”

The car lurched against the curb when they finally approached the side of Yibo’s apartment. Yibo slid his side of the door open and made to hop out, but stopped on the threshold, glancing at his manager.

“Do we have an early morning tomorrow?” He asked, hesitating.

“Tomorrow,” the manager paused for dramatic effect, turning around to face the two of them. “You’re both taking the plane to Changsha together.”

“Oh,” Xiao Zhan sucked in a breath. “Oath of Love promotions started. Day Day Up films tomorrow. I completely forgot.”

Yibo blanched, “Oh.” Then, with a recovery time Xiao Zhan could honestly only admire: “You should stay the night, Zhan-ge.”

“Eh?” He gaped, vaguely aware his jaw had dropped open. He choked out a laugh. “Yibo don’t joke like this.”

“It’s easier,” he leaned forward. “Do you really want to ride in the car alone all the way back to your house?”

Xiao Zhan blanched, glancing at the manager with his amicable smile. “I guess, you’re right.” He slid out of the van on shaky legs.

Yibo rounded his side, duffel bag in hand. He slapped him on the back and punched the code in at the entryway to let them inside. “Good night Lao-ge.”

“Good night, kiddo,” his manager waved, peeling off the curb with a screech of tires. A laugh bubbled up out of Xiao Zhan’s mouth before he could stop it.

“You let him call you kiddo!” He was still laughing as they waited for the elevator, delighted. Yibo pouted at him.

“I can’t stop him,” he muttered, jabbing the button with force.

“Ah, this kid.” Xiao Zhan sighed, wrapping an arm around Yibo’s shoulders and tucking him into a headlock. Yibo jabbed him in the side in protest hard enough to make him drop his bag. His things spilled out over the elevator floor. Xiao Zhan jumped when he prodded him again and poked the sensitive spot just below his ribs. His foot came down on his tea bottle. His ankle rolled on it, sending him crashing to the side with a shriek. His arms tightened around Yibo’s neck, taking him down along with him for the ride.

He slammed into the wall of the elevator, jabbing his funny bone on the handlebar. The elevator jerked to a halt at the motion. “Fuck,” he gasped, dropping to his knees.

“Shit,” Yibo gasped as the elevator started again with a sickening lurch. “Zhan-ge, let go.”

Tears in his eyes, he loosened his arms, biting his lip and rubbing his throbbing arm. When he looked ‘round, Yibo was kneeling beside him, massaging his neck, face flushed and practically in Xiao Zhan’s lap.

It was just their luck that as the elevator dinged for Yibo’s floor, the door opened and revealed a young mom and her daughter. “Um,” the mom said.

“Shit,” Yibo said again. The girl gasped. Xiao Zhan kicked him, frantically hurrying to gather all his scattered belongings. Yibo grabbed his bag, the offensive tea bottle, and Xiao Zhan’s hand, and threw them out of the door with a shocking amount of strength.

Xiao Zhan didn’t manage to stand up fully until they were ensconced safely in Yibo’s apartment. Yibo flicked on the lights at the entrance, leaving his sneakers in a heap at the door, and beelined for the fridge.

Xiao Zhan followed at a sedate pace, taking in all the changes to the apartment since the last time he’d been inside. Yibo still had a wall of helmets, boxes scattered in the entryway, expensive lego sets on every surface. His interior decorating hadn’t changed, but then neither had Yibo. There was a half-built car sitting on the coffee table, instructions propped open by built lego wheels. One of his game controllers was sitting inside the toolbox he used for sorting his billions of parts.

There were take out boxes heaped up on the counter. Yibo dragged a couple beers out of the fridge, popped them open and slid one to Xiao Zhan. He downed half of his in one long swig.

“Yibo, have you eaten real food in the last year?” He tutted instead of staring at the way his throat bobbed.

“Nope,” Yibo said, burping as he came up for air. “No time.”

“Ah, right.” Xiao Zhan said, sipping from the tip of his bottle, looking around the room.

“Don’t judge me, Zhan-ge.” Yibo scowled, wagging the mouth of his bottle at him. “I’ve worked hard for my things.”

Xiao Zhan couldn’t help his affectionate smile. “Why would I judge you, Wang-laoshi.”

“You called me kid.” Xiao Zhan blinked at Yibo’s annoyed expression. “I’m not a kid anymore Zhan-ge. Don’t judge me like one.”

“I know you’re not,” Xiao Zhan said, fingers thrumming along the neck of the bottle. Yibo glared down at them. He forced himself to stop tapping. “You’re just so young, Yibo.”

“So are you,” Yibo said, wrinkling his nose.

“I’m going to be thirty soon!” Xiao Zhan said, touching his pointer finger to his lips. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“Thirty is young,” Yibo scowled.

“Ah, if you say so.” Xiao Zhan saluted him with a slight tilt of the bottle and lifted it to his lips. Yibo wet his own with his tongue, then turned away in a huff to the fridge.

“Are you hungry?” He asked, pulling out a leftover box and stacking them on the counter. “I have––” he paused so he could lift the lids. “––uh, spaghetti. Or pizza.”

Xiao Zhan winced at the food so outside of his diet plan. “Pizza,” he nominated, making the mental note to make him some damned food.

“Great,” Yibo said, tossing it on a plate and into the microwave. He shuffled the other one back into the fridge. Xiao Zhan snagged the handle from him to survey the state of his refrigerator, wincing at the energy drinks and stacked instant meals.

“Yibo, where are your vegetables? Fruit? Real food?”

“I’m busy, Zhan-ge.” Yibo took plates down, splitting the pizza slices evenly between the two of them and handing one plate to him. “Stop nagging me.” He bodied him over to the couch and flicked channels around until finally letting it stop on a gameshow.

They ate in amicable silence until, as always, it descended into a contest. By the end of it they were shouting answers over one another. “It’s 1969!!” Xiao Zhan shouted. Yibo smacked him with a pillow. Xiao Zhan fell over, raising a hand to defend himself.

The announcer confirmed it with a buzz of surprise for the contestants and Xiao Zhan flashed him a thumbs up, eyebrows raised. Yibo jumped on him in retaliation, smothering him with his pillow.

“You only know that because you’re old!” Yibo scowled, smacking him one final time. “And you finished school.”

Ah. Xiao Zhan froze, half a wince on his face. “Yibo,” he said softly, patting Yibo on the thigh. “These shows are all rigged anyway.”

“Whatever,” Yibo scowled, dropping the pillow on Xiao Zhan’s chest.

Shoving it over his head, he reached up to comfort him with a hand on his arm and froze. Yibo was straddling him around the waist. Heat pricked down his spine, arousal spinning warming his gut. He was half-hard and hadn’t even realized. He sucked in a staccato of a breath.

“Yibo,” he said again, swallowing hard. Yibo met his gaze, hair falling into his eyes. His hands were pressed against his chest. Xiao Zhan bit his lip.

“Zhan-ge,” Yibo said, dangerously slow. He could feel something hard digging into his abdomen. It took all his control to not confirm it. Yibo’s body shuddered, and he was jolting off him the next second, slamming into the bathroom at lightspeed.

Xiao Zhan lay in stunned silence for a long minute, listening to the crash of Yibo’s shower door opening and closing, then the water starting. He shook himself, got up, and did the dishes. Then he tidied the rest of the kitchen and living room, pacing until he had calmed himself down. He drank the rest of his beer and recycled the bottles and nosed around Yibo’s linen closet to pull out blankets.

He did all this, sat down, stared at the lego car on the table, and dropped his head in his hands. “Fuck,” he groaned emphatically, running his fingers through his hair.

By the time Yibo left the shower his heart rate had returned to normal, but it was a struggle. Yibo padded back out into the living room with wet hair still dripping. He dropped a change of clothes and a towel on the couch next to him.

“Showers all yours,” Yibo said, locked eyes with him for half a second, and fled to his bedroom.

Xiao Zhan laughed to himself at their lives, picked himself up slowly, and tried his hardest not to think about Yibo masturbating in that exact same spot the entire time he was showering.

–––

Dawn greeted them on the car ride to the airport. Yibo had a skateboard with him today, and he kept wheeling it back and forth with his foot the entire time in the car. Xiao Zhan followed Yibo through the shrieking crowds of fans, doing his best to keep his head down and between the Yuehua bodyguards. Even with his airpods in, he could hear them shrieking his name. He raised a finger to his lips to shush them, to general amusement, and was given a little bear by a fan even though they hadn’t known he was coming with Yibo this early.

While waiting for their plane, Yibo was a quiet presence at his side, absorbed in a game on his phone with his legs stretched out. When Xiao Zhan leaned in to watch, he had too, until their shoulders touched. Yibo froze up, sprite dying in a pit of lava. A couple surprised squeaks from across the way had startled them both badly and Yibo dropped the phone in his lap with a huff.

Xiao Zhan leaned carefully back in his seat, eyes on Yibo. “Are you alright?” He asked, because now that he was looking closely, Yibo was looking a little pale. “We’re not acting very natural.”

“I’m fine,” he said, stretching his arms up and then, with a pointed look towards the girls who had squeaked at them, wrapped one around the back of Xiao Zhan’s chair. His arm was as stiff as an iron bar.

“Yibo, loosen up.” Xiao Zhan murmured, tucking his mask under his chin so he could lean in close. “A little more skinship would go a long way, Wang-laoshi.”

Yibo took a deep breath and let his arm drape over his shoulders instead. His fingers found the elastic strap on his shoulder and fiddled with it. Xiao Zhan forced himself to keep his body relaxed. He resolutely refused to think of Yibo straddling his hips, or that focused look he’d given him.

“Better?” He asked, his hand drifting down until it hovered over his heart. Xiao Zhan shuddered.

“Mm, better.” He said, because he was a masochist.

–––

The plane ride was another form of torture. They were seated right beside each other because their management were horrible people, and Xiao Zhan kept having to duck his head at the stares of the old lady at the end of the row. It was a three hour flight to Changsha from Beijing, and it was already torture.

The second the plane rose in the sky, Yibo pulled out his notes for the episode, flipping through the cue cards on his phone quickly. “You don’t speak much, do you.” Xiao Zhan asked, surprised.

Yibo huffed a laugh. “I have gege’s for that.”

Xiao Zhan snorted. “You’re so shameless.”

“I’m cute though,” Yibo said, fluttering his eyelashes. Xiao Zhan pushed his head back with his hand. Yibo licked his palm. Jerking his hand back with a gasp, he smacked him in the arm. Yibo smacked him back in retaliation, and they kept their play fight up until the hostess came around.

Xiao Zhan felt light, a bubble of happiness so rare that it made him want to do horribly reckless things. He waited until she had moved on after giving them both water before he turned in his seat to face him. “Yibo, I want to talk about last night.”

Yibo choked, coughing up what he’d just swallowed. “What, why?” His throat bobbed with his swallow. Xiao Zhan pushed forward.

“Because I think we need to.” He fought the urge to clench his jaw. “Because I need to know if you were just reacting, or if you like me, too.”

“I was just––” Yibo froze mid-sentence. “Too?”

Xiao Zhan held his gaze until Yibo dropped it, face flushing red. “Shit, Yibo, I’m sorry.” Yibo covered his face with his hand, waving the other to make him stop.

“No, no,” Yibo swore under his breath until the old lady cleared her throat in displeasure. “Don’t say sorry. I’m sorry.” He swore again.

Xiao Zhan’s gut twisted, feeling a hole drop under his feet. “Not part of the plan, I know.” Yibo mumbled something into his hands. “Eh?”

He raised his head, looking at him with an exasperated expression. “Do you have to be deaf? I said fuck the plan.”

Opening his mouth to reply, Yibo leaned into him at the same time, tugging the collar of his borrowed sweater. Yibo’s lips were warm when they pressed against his, crushing them together in a loud, smacking moment. He pulled back with a curse on his lips, and Xiao Zhan finally remembered that he could move, cupping his cheek. He kissed him softly, sucking in his bottom lip faintly before he leaned back. Yibo breathed out, releasing his collar but keeping his hand in place, a warm weight against his collarbone.

They looked around at the startled gasp. Xiao Zhan met the gaze of the old woman down the aisle and channeled his best Wei Wuxian move to wave at her. She flushed a dark purple and turned away, pulling out her knitting needles with a huff. For half a second he thought she was going to throw them at him, but then she pulled out half a baby onesie and he relaxed by a fraction of an inch.

When he turned back to Yibo, he burst into a startled laugh at how red his face had gone trying to smother his laugh in his sleeve. “Should we prep for the show?” He asked, blinking innocently. Yibo laughed harder, falling against his shoulder with great, bodily giggles.

–––

Yang Zi smacked him lightly in the chest the second she saw him, bopping him right on the breastbone. “When were you going to tell me Zhan-zhan! I can’t believe you!!” He laughed, feeling breathless.

“Sorry, sorry, please forgive me?” He bat his eyelashes at her. She bopped him again, making him wince.

“You’re trouble,” she wagged her finger at him. “Under all that kindness, you’re just trouble!”

“Agreed,” Yibo nodded, coming to stand at Xiao Zhan’s other side with a smile as radiant as it had ever been backstage of The Untamed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Da Zhangwei do a double take and almost walk into a stagehand.

Once the show had started up and he and Yang Zi were brought onto set to a shocking amount of screams, they had a brief interview about the show on the beat points that had aired already. The main point was a cultural expose about folk medicine that featured a game that paired them off with hosts. Due to luck of the draw (also known as pre-scripted talk shows), Xiao Zhan was shuffled off to be paired with Wang Yibo. Standing side by side had created a stir among the fans in the audience. When Xiao Zhan leaned in to comment on shameless writers, fans screamed. Everytime they looked at each other, more screams. This wasn’t new, but the newest thing was the swoop he felt everytime it happened, instead of dread. He’d valiantly tried to respect the explosion of enthusiasm, but by the end of the show his face hurt from trying to maintain a smile for them.

Day Day Up was a long filming, but Yibo had to scatter after the filming to rush to another schedule. Xiao Zhan tried not to feel too bad, especially when Yibo pulled him into a shadowed corner and kissed him breathless. He flashed a brilliant smile before stuffing his mask over his face and taking off after his team.

It left him swallowing against a lump in his throat as he ducked into the dressing room to put his street clothes back on and join his team. Instead he was greeted by a slap on his shoulder. Wang Han smiled amicably at him. “Xiao Zhan, do you have a moment?”

He almost tripped over himself to bow. “Anytime.” Han-ge sat him down in one of the arm chairs.

“Coffee?” He turned away before Xiao Zhan could say not to trouble himself, eyes wide while he poured it from the urn in the center of the room for staff. Taking it with both hands, he bowed again, and then fought the urge to bow again.

Settling beside him, Wang Han sighed. “I want to say thank you for what you’ve done for Yibo. For all he’s active, he has a hard time opening up to people.” Xiao Zhan felt a trickle of sweat slipping down the back of his neck.

“He just needs a little prompting,” Xiao Zhan said, sipping his cup. It burned on the way down.

Wang Han nodded. “When he opens his heart to someone it’s hard for him to take it back.”

He sort of reminded him of the Godfather. Xiao Zhan realized with a start what was happening, and tried not to think about having his body dumped in a river.

“I don’t plan on making him regret this,” Xiao Zhan said, doing his valiant best not to smile.

“Of course not! I just don’t want to pick up the pieces if you ever break his heart.” There it was. “A heartbroken Yibo hurts all of us.”

Xiao Zhan swallowed hard. “Did you have to help him before?” and when?

Wang Han sighed. “I know you’ve had a hard time this last year, Xiao Zhan. Don’t forget who you have in your corner.” A member of the staff started waving frantically at him from the door. He stood with a sigh. “Here’s to a bright future for you both. If you ever need help, know there are good people around you.”

Xiao Zhan watched him go, more bemused now than he had been before.

–––

On the ride to the airport, Xiao Zhan pulled open his WeChat with Yibo. I just had the strangest shovel talk with Wang Han-ge.

Oh no

He said you were heartbroken before? Who?

There was a long pause where he thought maybe Yibo wasn’t going to answer, then:

You Xiao Zhan sucked in a breath. It was always only you, Zhan-ge.

Really? Since when?

”Zhan-ge didi loves you”

Xiao Zhan sucked in a breath, “Oh, Yibo.” he tapped his phone to his lips. I’m a late bloomer I guess.

You got there in the end, it’s all good. Xiao Zhan shook his head, stowing his phone in his pocket to get ready to board. He tried to ignore how hollow his chest felt.

–––

“Can you drop me at Yibo’s house?” He asked his driver, rattling off directions.

Li Na looked up from her phone, looking over at him with a frown. “Why? Did you forget this is fake?”

Xiao Zhan felt his nerves swoop in his gut. “It’s not.”

“Eh?” Li Na dropped her phone, stared up at the ceiling, and sighed. “Aren’t you too old for this rom-com nonsense?” Xiao Zhan laughed. “I want free spa visits for a lifetime.”

“You’ve earned it,” Xiao Zhan said with a nod, dodging her neck pillow with a cackle.

–––

The second Yibo opened the door, Xiao Zhan threw himself on him, dropping his bag on the floor by their feet. Yibo had time to scramble for footing among his sneakers before the door slammed shut behind them and he was being kissed up against the wall. He cupped his cheeks between his hands, tongue warring with Yibo’s until they were both heaving, breathless.

When he pulled back, Yibo’s pupils were blown. “Yibo,” Xiao Zhan said, trying for a reasonable tone that had too much of a bite of Chongqing accent. “Please fuck me.”

“Shit,” Yibo swore, wrapping a hand around his wrist. “Fuck yes.”

He dragged them down the hall, slamming against every wall as he stopped to kiss his wrist, his cheeks, his mouth, his collarbone. They finally reached the bedroom, banging into the room without looking. Yibo pushed him until he fell onto the bed and fought with his sweats for an endless moment before he tripped out of them and followed him with a tackle. He leaned his long body over to the nightstand for supplies, dumping a line of condoms and a bottle of lube on the cover and pulled his sweats down off his hips. Xiao Zhan relieved him of his oversized shirt, then his own, hands scrabbling for purchase wherever he could find.

Yibo kissed a sloppy line down his body, taking his time to be as obscene as he could. Xiao Zhan felt his heart rate escalate, arousal pooling in his gut. He was so hard he was aching. Yibo was enthusiastic as a puppy. Xiao Zhan’s hands grasped his shoulders, then ran through his hair, gripping it lightly when he got a hasty hand on his dick and thumbed the tip.

“Yibo,” he hissed, biting his already swollen lip hard. “Please just fuck me.”

Yibo shuddered over him, thighs trembling. “How do you want to do it?”

Xiao Zhan lifted himself to kneel in front of him, running his fingers down the seamless lines of his body. He was so damn beautiful it took his breath away. “Facing each other.” He said, grasping the lube.

Yibo snatched it out of his hand. “I’ll do it.” He said. “I want to do it.” Xiao Zhan swallowed, throat thick.

“Alright,” he said, cupping Yibo’s face to kiss him again. Yibo’s pulse was viper quick under his fingers when he drew them down his neck.

Lying down and pulling Yibo with him, he bend his legs. Yibo stood over him, coating his fingers with lube. He leaned against him, fingering him open with hasty fingers that were reckless enough to go leave him burning with heat and aching in a way that made him thrust up without warning.

“Fuck,” Xiao Zhan tried to breathe through the burn, grinding down against Yibo’s hand.

“That’s the idea, Zhan-ge.” Xiao Zhan shuddered around Yibo’s fingers as he laughed.

“Wang Yibo,” he enunciated as delicately as he could. “If you don’t fuck me right now, I’m going to come all over both of us before you get inside me.”

Yibo stared, struck speechless, and withdrew his fingers after another twist of them that left Xiao Zhan wanting to arch his back. Groaning, Xiao Zhan reached down to pull hastily at his dick, leaking precome already. Yibo watched with a stunned expression.

“Yibo please,” he huffed, shamelessly. He nudged him with a knee. “Wake up.”

Giving himself a visible shake, he coated his fingers with more lube, strapping the condom on and slathering himself. The sight of his large hand on his own cock made Xiao Zhan squeeze his own, seeking stimulation wherever he could get it.

Yibo leaned over his spread legs. Lining up, he trailed a line of kisses along Xiao Zhan’s collarbone and thrust in slow. The burn was so much more than Yibo’s fingers were, even with the thorough, teasing touches he’d added. He thrust in to the hilt, until his abdomen crushed against Xiao Zhan’s dick. Breathing together, he drew back just to thrust again, and this time Xiao Zhan moved with him. Picking up the rhythm by following the beats of Yibo’s actions, he arched his back when Yibo pushed all the way in.

Shuddering, he blinked sweat out of his eyes, hand pumping his dick. He ran his thumb lightly over the crown and groaned as Yibo thrust back in at the same time. He tossed his head back, hips snapping up into the movement at the same time. Yibo hit his prostate and he felt his entire body light up. He shuddered, gasping into Yibo’s mouth when he went in for a kiss.

Xiao Zhan managed to last through two more full-body reactions before his vision swam. His body on fire, when he came every muscle in his body tensed and relaxed at once. The nails of one hand scraped Yibo’s arm. Time blinked, lasting for eternity and yet not at all, and he came between them with a yelp, clamping around Yibo’s dick until he came too from the pressure with a gasp.

They collapsed together in a messy heap. Yibo slipped out in inches, dropping beside him bonelessly. Xiao Zhan had seen him dance nonstop for hours and hours, had seen him on stage lighting it up. He’d never seen him breathing as hard as he was now.

“Fuck,” Yibo gasped, swallowing hard. He leaned in to press a kiss to his chin, then his lips. “That was––”

“Worth the wait?” Xiao Zhan asked, cackling when Yibo hit him lightly with the back of his knuckles to the center of his chest.

“Don’t flatter yourself.” He rolled his head to gaze at him with those fathomless eyes of his. “We’ll have to do it a lot more.”

Xiao Zhan huffed out a laugh. “You said it first.”

Yibo got up with a groan, peeling the condom off and padding to the bathroom. Xiao Zhan’s awareness swam pleasantly. Yibo came back with a warm cloth to clean him off, then pressed a kiss to his chest, right over his heart.

“Come on, ge. Under the covers.” Yibo tugged at him.

“You’ll have to move me.” Xiao Zhan murmured, keeping his eyes closed. Yibo dragged him towards the edge of the bed until he gave in with a laugh. They scuffled with each other until Yibo managed to throw the covers over both of them and wrapped around him the moment he laid down.

“Admit it, ge.” Yibo said, tucked up against his back. Xiao Zhan could hear the smile in his voice. “I have the best ideas.” The last thing he remembered was patting his hand reassuringly, thinking more than saying of course you do.

–––

Early morning found Xiao Zhan throwing together breakfast from the meager rations Yibo had in his fridge, his phone tucked between his ear and his shoulder. “Mom, I’m telling you, he has no food, what do I do?”

”Go shopping for him, of course. You weren’t raised a slob, Zhan-zhan.”

Xiao Zhan rolled his eyes, flipping the omelette in the pan with a twist of his wrist. “Oh, of course. Shopping, easy.”

”I believe in you, sweetheart.” Xiao Zhan blinked, feeling a telltale trickle build behind his eyes.

“Mom, please.”

”I’m glad you seem happier, take care of your boy.” Oh, those were definitely the words he didn’t need to hear. He blinked to try and keep the tears at bay. She sighed into the mouthpiece. ”I have to go take care of mine, bye honey!”

“What is it with you and supermarkets?” Xiao Zhan almost dropped his phone on the stove, barely managing to save it. He slid it towards Yibo instead, who picked it up, looking like a decadent prince in low hanging sweats. The way the muscles in his arms moved when he picked up the phone almost made his mouth water. Though that could also be hunger. “You had an hour long conversation?” His eyebrows rose in alarm. “Why? How?”

“We had a lot to talk about.” He lifted his pan. “Plate?”

Yibo took plates down, watching as Xiao Zhan slid an omelette onto each plate. “Where did you get this? Did you go shopping too?”

“You have eggs,” Xiao Zhan said, shaking utensils at him. “Though now that you say that, I wonder how old they are.”

“They’re fine,” Yibo said, mouth already full.

“Sit down at least!” Xiao Zhan sighed in faux-dismay, watching Yibo wolf it down like the first real food he’s ever had. “Drink your coffee.” He put a cup in front of him.

Yibo did, then choked, swallowed, and came up for air laughing. Xiao Zhan watched him with a fond smile. Then Yibo blinked rapidly down at his plate, biting his lip, and he felt a stab of alarm.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, reaching into his space to wipe a tear away from the corner of his eye.

“Nothing,” Yibo scrubbed at his face. He gestured between the two of them. “I just thought this wold never happen. I thought I’d have to pretend forever.”

Xiao Zhan’s smile turned a touch bitter. “I really am a late to the uptake, huh?”

Yibo rolled his eyes, reaching across the counter to grab his hand. “You aren’t. You were just miserable. I just wanted to make it better.”

Xiao Zhan let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. To his horror, his vision swam. “Ah, shit.” He turned away, scraping wetness from his eyes with a pinky. He sniffed, then laughed a little. “What’s done is done, right?” He asked, turning to him with his best attempt at a bright smile.

“Right,” Yibo said, clearing his throat. “It was. By the way. You were worth the wait.”

Xiao Zhan ducked his head, swallowing around a shy smile. “Shut up and eat,” he admonished, wagging his fork at him. Those familiar sparks of happiness he got everytime he was around Yibo fluttered in his stomach like little butterflies. Worth the wait, indeed.