“Are you hot?”
Xiao Zhan doesn’t bother to open his eyes, groaning in misery under the heat of the sun. The way his body is melting into his chair should be answer enough.
Tiny bursts of air fan his face, providing minimal relief but helpful nonetheless. He peeks one eye open to see Yibo holding a mini fan up to his face.
“What time is it, Lao Wang?” They’re filming the final scene for the last episode, up on the mountaintop where Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji reunite after an indeterminable amount of time. Being higher up in altitude and surrounded by nature, there’s a merciful breeze keeping them cool enough to survive, but that means nothing when Xiao Zhan is wrapped in layers of dark fabric greedily absorbing the heat.
Yibo shrugs. “I left my phone inside.”
“Oh, me too.” Xiao Zhan sighs, ready to start round two of his daily melting routine — but then an idea hits him. The crew is still busy fixing a malfunctioning equipment, so the two of them should have plenty of time to spare. “Let’s go get our phones!”
He’ll take any excuse to make the trip back indoors at this point.
Yibo’s the one who goes to let the staff know of their plans and they’re let off with a reminder to come back quickly. With renewed energy, Xiao Zhan jumps off his seat and the two of them hurry back to where the precious air condition is left running free.
“Ah, I’m gonna die, really.” Xiao Zhan flops down on the ground, hugging the tube of cool air to his chest.
“Didn’t you feel refreshed after the cold noodle?” Yibo is annoyingly unfazed by the heat as per usual. “I thought it helped.”
Xiao Zhan doesn’t answer, pretending to be invested in the peeling edges of the tube.
He can almost pinpoint the exact moment Yibo changes his demeanour. “You didn’t eat again, did you?”
“Lao Wang, don’t do this right now.”
“You said you would start eating properly, ge.”
“It’s not long until we wrap up! I’ll manage until then.”
“Not good enough,” Yibo says, and that’s the only warning Xiao Zhan gets before Yibo invades his space and takes away the air condition. Xiao Zhan is literally going to die if he doesn’t get that back right now.
“I’m sorry Yibo, I was wrong, please give it.”
“You always apologize but you never correct yourself.” Yibo holds the tube out of reach, dragging it to the couch with him.
Technically, Xiao Zhan could simply walk over and wrestle the tube back into his hands where it should always belong, but it turns out he’s more exhausted than expected and his body refuses to cooperate with what his brain tells him.
“Yibo!” He resorts to whining pathetically, kicking his feet out in frustration.
“Fine.” Yibo turns the air condition on himself, humming in pleasure.
Xiao Zhan drags his protesting body off of the cool flooring and stands before Yibo with his hands held out. “Give it,” he says, wiggling his fingers expectantly.
Yibo pretends to hand it over only to dodge out of the way at the last second. “What do I get in return?”
“Hah?” Xiao Zhan makes a swipe for it, grunting when he misses twice.
“Come on, ge, what’s your bargain?”
“Nothing!” Xiao Zhan tries using both hands this time, leaning forward as Yibo holds the tube far behind his own head. After more struggling, his hands finally graze the sides of the tube — only for Yibo to throw it down on the floor, letting it skid away from them while his hands move lightning quick around Xiao Zhan’s waist.
Xiao Zhan squeaks as he’s pulled into Yibo’s lap, needing a moment to recalibrate his center of gravity. “Wha—”
“Gotcha.” Yibo is entirely too smug underneath him. Xiao Zhan swears to come up with a scathing rebuttal once his face is done trying to steam itself.
As it is, all he manages to say is the usual, “Wang Yibo! Are you even human?!” His fists come down harder than usual over Yibo’s chest, though, and the hiss it earns is gratifying.
“Shh, Zhan-ge, this is comfortable, let me nap.”
Xiao Zhan doesn’t listen, pinching Yibo’s fingers to try and pry each of them off his waist but he only manages to remove one at a time, which is ultimately useless. “Yibo, it’s hot, let me go.”
“If I get the tube for us, will Zhan-ge take a nap with me like this?”
He stops squirming, if only to gauge the sincerity behind Yibo’s words. Xiao Zhan looks at him, taking in the slight upturn of his lips, the unwavering focus in his eyes. Sure, Xiao Zhan has taken to dozing against Yibo’s shoulder in between filming, but he thinks this is too much — it would be taking their Unspoken Thing up a few notches and he’s nervous as to where that would leave them.
“Okay,” he agrees anyway, because he is, in fact, a weak man at the core.
The smile that blooms upon Yibo’s lips is radiant as they come and any lingering doubts Xiao Zhan has promptly dissipate at the sight of it.
Yeah, okay, napping on Yibo’s lap? No biggie. As long as it gets him to keep smiling like this.
Unfortunately for them, the napping is put on hold when the door behind them shakes, its hinges clacking with the force of the shudder.
“Did you hear that?” Xiao Zhan clambers off of Yibo, stumbling a little as the layers of his robes slowly untangle from his legs. He tries to make his way towards the rattling doors but a hand on his wrist stops him.
“Ge,” Yibo admonishes, tugging him back when the lights flicker on and off. “This is straight off a horror movie. Don’t be the stupid guy who dies first.”
Xiao Zhan laughs, swinging their connected arms. “Let’s just go grab our phones and get out of here.”
They head for where they’ve left their phones on the makeup table, still attached together because Yibo apparently doesn’t trust Xiao Zhan’s self-preservation instincts.
“Mine’s not here.” There’s an organized mess of brushes and product and hair extensions all over every table but Yibo’s is lacking a phone.
“Maybe you left it in your jacket?”
Yibo is frowning when Xiao Zhan raises his eyes from checking his notifications.
“My jacket’s behind that weird door,” he says.
“Uh oh, so we do need to confront the ghost behind the door.”
With impeccable timing, the aforementioned door begins rattling with more vigour, startling both men. The wind picks up, audible even from the inside, howling so loud it almost sounds like a person’s humming. Above them, the lights flicker faster.
And alright, Xiao Zhan’s maybe a little bit scared now too.
The sound of papers rustling makes him jump, and Xiao Zhan looks down to see his script turning its pages violently as if possessed. Yibo is right — this is straight off of a horror film.
“What the hell.” Initial fears aside, Yibo’s holding up pretty well for someone who despises horror scenarios with all his being. “Yeah, we’re getting out right fucking now.”
He follows after Yibo, offering no arguments. They attempt to navigate the crowded interior while the lights continue to malfunction, hands linked to avoid losing each other.
The cherry on top comes with a particularly strong gust of wind — strong enough to open the trembling doors from earlier, which brings about a mess of a storm with it, the winds so obtrusive that Xiao Zhan and Yibo instinctively let go of each other to cover their eyes against it.
“Yibo!” he yells above the noise, checking in. “Yibo?” he repeats when no answer is given. “Yi— ah!” Something grabs hold of Xiao Zhan, and try as he might, he can’t seem to escape its clutches. “Yibo!” he cries out, feet sliding uselessly on the floor.
So this is how he dies? Really? He hadn’t even been doing anything stupid!
“Zhan-ge?” Yibo sounds like he’s fighting through the wind — Xiao Zhan can’t see anything past all the loose papers fluttering in the air but he desperately holds out his hands, hoping Yibo is within arm’s reach.
Yibo yanks him close, wrapping one arm around his waist as his other hand holds the back of Xiao Zhan’s head, tucking him safely into his chest. Xiao Zhan squeezes his eyes shut, clutching tight to Yibo’s waist as they wait out whatever the fuck is happening around them. The pressure of the storm gets worse, if that’s even possible, and both boys curl into one another in search of security.
Somehow, it’s the sound of pages turning that wins out against the howling wind.
When Xiao Zhan comes to, he’s met with dizzying darkness and the feeling of strong arms holding him up by the waist and under his knees — he’s surrounded by the scent of sandalwood and his nose is ticked by soft, soft hair curtaining about half of his vision.
“Wei Ying,” a voice calls urgently. A voice that is decidedly not Wang Yibo’s.
In a panic, Xiao Zhan tries to scramble out of the stranger’s arms, Yibo’s name at the tip of his tongue. But before he could utter a word, he looks up to find Yibo already dashing in his direction, face crumpled with confusion beneath determination.
His relief is short-lived, however, when the man who refuses to relinquish his hold on Xiao Zhan twitches and suddenly there’s a sword — a legitimate fucking sword — pointed dangerously close to Yibo’s chest. Xiao Zhan screams, throwing himself forward to stop the momentum of the blade.
Yibo, on instinct, had reached for his own sword to parry the oncoming attack but as good as they might look on screen, their imitation swords would be useless against the real thing.
Xiao Zhan crawls forward when the stranger’s hold loosens, standing on shaky legs once Yibo pulls him up beside him. He turns around and experiences the shock of his life at the sight of his own face trotting along to come to a standstill by the man who’d previously held onto him so tight — the man who is an exact replica of Wang Yibo.
He sees the man — Lan Wangji, holy shit — narrow his eyes imperceptibly, the hand not holding Bichen hovers around the other man — Wei Wuxian, holier shit — in a protective stance.
“Well what do we have here?” Wei Wuxian twirls Chenqing in between slim fingers and Xiao Zhan gulps at the sight of it. As the one to play the role, he’s never put much thought on how intimidating facing the Yiling Laozu would truly be like and now — well now he realizes that it’s certainly not an experience he would recommend to anyone. “How could you fall for that, Lan Zhan? Did you really think I’d swoon so spectacularly from a little bit of wind?”
None of the men present deigns to grace that with a response.
Wei Wuxian clears his throat. “Anyway,” he says, continuing to walk forward until he’s in line with the middle of Lan Wangji’s sword. “Who summoned you?”
Xiao Zhan unconsciously steps back, stopping only when he collides with Yibo’s chest, and a warm hand comes up to wrap reassuringly around his elbow.
“Summon?” He finds his voice despite the fear and confusion, relaxing slightly when Wei Wuxian lowers the arm with Chenqing behind his back.
“Yeah. Me and Lan Zhan aren’t the impostors here.” Wei Wuxian scrunches his nose in thought. It’s a whiplash for Xiao Zhan to watch his own expressions on another’s body. “I don’t sense any resentful energy around you though… what do you think, Lan Zhan?”
Lan Wangji, who’s been silent this entire time, still hasn’t taken his eyes off Xiao Zhan’s face. “There is no energy at all,” he says, sheathing Bichen at the perceived lack of danger.
“No shit,” Yibo says, moving Xiao Zhan around until he’s standing behind Yibo. “This is probably just a bad dream, ge. Wanna try slapping each other awake?”
“Hey! Dreams with Hanguang-jun in it are never bad!” Wei Wuxian interjects.
Xiao Zhan ignores them and tugs on Yibo to whack him over the shoulder. Hard.
“Ow!” Yibo retaliates by smacking him on the ass.
Lan Wangji makes an aborted move forward while Wei Wuxian cackles in amusement.
“So… are we awake?” Yibo slaps his own face for good measure.
“Obviously not!” Xiao Zhan yells, cheeks still red from being hit there right in front of Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji. “They’re still here.” He points at the aforementioned men, rolling his eyes as Wei Wuxian watches them with unconcealed mirth.
“I think we should thank whoever summoned them, Lan Zhan. They’re funny.” Wei Wuxian walks back until he’s shoulder to shoulder with Lan Wangji. “Everything seems fine here now though, let’s go home.”
“Wait!” Xiao Zhan carefully shuffles forward when the duo makes to walk away, eyeing their stashed weapons. “We’re not from here.”
“Obviously.” Wei Wuxian tilts his head. “I would’ve known if there were others as handsome as me and Lan Zhan!” He laughs, moving closer to Xiao Zhan without a care. “Do you not know how to get back?”
It takes a moment for Xiao Zhan to answer, blinking rapidly at the fact that Wei Wuxian is looking down at him. He hadn’t noticed it earlier but now that they’re standing at a shorter distance from each other, it’s evident that Wei Wuxian has a few centimetres on him. “Uh, no, we don’t. I was hoping you could help us.”
“Wow, such trust. Do you know who I am?”
Xiao Zhan smiles, the fond feelings he holds for the Wei Ying he’s gotten to know coming back in waves. “I do. That’s why I know you’re the only one who would help.”
Wei Wuxian startles and Xiao Zhan sees Lan Wangji regarding him with those intense eyes once again. “A-ah, I guess you two can come with us, then. The library would probably have some answers, isn’t that right, Lan Zhan?”
“But no funny business!” Wei Wuxian waves his flute in the air, too playful to be threatening. “And you, little Hanguang-jun, you’re coming too, right?”
Yibo sputters, “Little—”
Xiao Zhan walks over with a laugh, tangling his hand with Yibo’s as the four of them start moving. To be fair, both of them are smaller compared to the real cultivators. “I’m Xiao Zhan and this is Wang Yibo. We’re, um, from the future? Or maybe another universe? I… I’m not exactly sure?”
He watches Wei Wuxian spin around, walking backwards as his eyes widen. “No way!” His hand comes up to stroke his chin, a gleeful look of concentration coming over his face. “Someone must’ve figured out the array for opening up timelines. Maybe time travel? But you two look so much like us! It’s almost like…” Wei Wuxian’s eyes glint with excitement, looking over the both of them with a new light. “Tell me everything, little Wei Ying.”
All things considered, the situation could have gone a lot worse.
Yibo comforts himself with this thought, walking alongside Xiao Zhan as his Zhan-ge and Wei Wuxian converse enthusiastically with each other.
When he’d come to without Xiao Zhan’s warm weight on him earlier, Yibo had scrambled into a stand without fully registering his environment — all he could focus on was the sight of Xiao Zhan cradled within someone else’s arms. It had taken him an embarrassingly long time to realize that someone else is Lan Wangji himself, considering the fact that they share the same exact face.
He kicks at a rock on the road, watching with narrowed eyes as the peerless Hanguang-jun stops in the middle of the path to clear an obtrusive branch in Wei Wuxian’s way — Wei Wuxian, who’s so confidently walking backwards to speak with Xiao Zhan, hasn’t stumbled nor ran into any obstacles even once. Lan Wangji has always been there to clear the way for him, to place a guiding hand on him whenever they need to slow down or speed up.
See, Wang Yibo wouldn’t normally have a problem with that — every couple to themselves, to each their own, etcetera etcetera — but for every time that Lan Wangji so easily does some effortless, thoughtful thing, his Zhan-ge’s face melts into this… expression that only Yibo had been privy to in the past.
He knows Xiao Zhan thinks Lan Wangji is the epitome of a Perfect Partner. Trash boyfriend as he’d been in the past, he’d fully redeemed himself in Xiao Zhan’s eyes by the time he’d gotten to the end of the script.
Since then it had been Lan Wangji this, Lan Er-gege that. Xiao Zhan would be singing praises until Yibo’s cheeks are hurting from the width of his smile and then he’d turn around and call him Lan Wangji instead of Wang Yibo.
“Ah, Lan Zhan…” Wei Wuxian finally makes his first misstep, but of course Lan Wangji is there with ready arms, catching him before Wei Wuxian has the chance to cry out.
“Walk properly,” he says, turning Wei Wuxian to face the correct way with a strength that has the latter yelping.
“So rough Hanguang-jun! What would our little friends say?”
Yibo watches Lan Wangji’s eyes land on Xiao Zhan at the mention of them—
There’s another problem Yibo’s got with this 188 centimetre wall of incurable romantic. Isn’t he madly in love with Wei Wuxian? Why in the absolute fuck does he keep looking at Xiao Zhan like that? He looks exactly like Wei Wuxian; there’s nothing new to be observed.
Yibo hurries his pace until he’s walking a little ahead of Xiao Zhan, but still close enough that Xiao Zhan would be obscured from the angle where Lan Wangji is standing. Unperturbed, Lan Wangji merely slides his eyes back to the path ahead of them.
“Interesting, interesting.” Wei Wuxian nods to himself, absorbing all the information Xiao Zhan is feeding him. Yibo’s not sure how their life story back home would help in putting them back in the right world but as long as Wei Wuxian’s gears are turning, all hope is not lost, he guesses. “Lan Zhan, let’s stop at that inn, little Wei Ying’s story is getting to the good parts.”
Xiao Zhan huffs from beside Yibo, the sound too fond to actually be annoyed. “I remember giving you our names, you know.”
“My memory is terrible! But you know that already, don’t you?” Wei Wuxian giggles as he slants sideways to knock shoulders with Lan Wangji. “Lan Zhan, did you hear that? We’re in their history books! People dress like us and make plays out of our story!”
Yibo snorts. History books. Xiao Zhan nudges him with an elbow as if to stop him from ruining Wei Wuxian’s fun.
Lan Wangji buys only two rooms without asking Xiao Zhan or Yibo of their opinion, hence the two of them are now standing inside their small quarters, eyeing the uncomfortable looking single bed with shifty eyes.
Barring their playful flirting and that bold moment he’d initiated before all this mess, Yibo and Xiao Zhan haven’t actually aired out this thing between them. And throwing them inside a room with only one bed to share is hardly the correct way to go about it.
Yibo glances over at Xiao Zhan and sees him restlessly fiddling with the belts of his costume, avoiding Yibo’s eyes as a pink hue kisses the apples of his cheeks.
Nope. Not the correct way.
Yibo sighs, “I’m taking the first bath.”
“Okay,” Xiao Zhan says, stripping down to his black inner robes before sitting on the bed. Yibo has to turn away from the view lest his imagination goes wild.
The problem with the bath is that Yibo has never taken a goddamn bath his entire life — with his hectic schedule starting from his teenage years, showering has simply been the more practical option. So now he sits in the wooden tub filled with hot water and he’s uncomfortable.
“Ge, they don’t have shampoo!” Yibo had finished removing the sticky residue their wigs leave behind and had been looking forward to washing the day away from his hair.
He watches Xiao Zhan’s silhouette pause behind the privacy screen. Xiao Zhan had been busy folding the robes they’d discarded into neat piles by the bed. “I think— there should be oil somewhere?”
“How’s that gonna clean my hair?”
“Use the soap.”
Yibo grumbles more under his breath, taking a sniff of the soap and is pleasantly surprised by the mild scent. He goes about his business pretty quickly, mindful of the agreement they had with Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian to meet back up for dinner.
“We should request for new clothes,” Yibo says as they wait for fresh hot water to be brought up for Xiao Zhan’s turn. “That’s a thing, right?”
“With what money?” Xiao Zhan is running a hand through his wig, preparing to take it off.
“Lan Wangji’s rich, and I’m pretty sure all of us would appreciate not having to walk around in practically the same clothes.” Yibo walks over to his folded costume and drops the Lan ribbon on top of it.
So Yibo inquires if the inn helper could spare them some extra clothing and inwardly rejoices when he gets a positive response. It probably won’t even make a dent in Lan Wangji’s endless money pouch but never let it be said that Wang Yibo is not petty enough to bask in the smallest of triumphs.
He changes into his new robes as soon as they come, enjoying the fact that the simple make of it doesn’t call for the unnecessary amount of layers that he usually wears.
“Should we be, uh, freaking out more about this?” He settles himself on the bed, putting his back against the rock hard pillow and resolves to sleeping without one tonight.
“Maybe,” Xiao Zhan mutters from behind the privacy screen. Yibo is enchanted with the figure his shadow makes, watching Xiao Zhan’s robe fall over his shoulders only to catch at his bent elbows as he kicks off his shorts under. “But I’m glad we ran into them instead of anyone else. At least we know they’re good people.” He lets the robe fall all the way to the floor and Yibo quickly redirects his gaze, blushing furiously all the way down to his chest when he glimpses the silhouette of his Zhan-ge’s naked body.
“Yeah,” he says as naturally as he can manage. “Fortunate… very much.” It misses the mark but at least Xiao Zhan doesn’t seem to notice, if the happy splashing sounds are anything to go by. “What if we get stuck here?”
“Not a chance.” Xiao Zhan doesn’t sound the least bit worried. “We’ll figure it out with Wei Wuxian working with us.”
“Aren’t you putting too much faith in him?”
“You think he doesn’t deserve it? After all the things he’s done?”
Yibo shakes his head, grinning at the infallible trust Xiao Zhan holds for the character — or person now, in this case. “Dimension hopping is a whole other monster, ge.”
“We won’t get stuck. Wei Wuxian would’ve been enough to help us but he’s even better with Lan Wangji around.” Xiao Zhan rinses out the lather in his hair and Yibo blinks sleepily as he watches his shadow move behind the screen. “Don’t you have faith in Hanguang-jun, at least?”
“Nope,” Yibo says easily enough.
Xiao Zhan sputters up from below the water, coughing a little as he laughs. “Yibo, what is your problem with Lan Wangji? Don’t think I didn’t see you making faces on our walk back there.”
Yibo makes another face in echo of the memory. “He’s too much.”
“What? No! I think it’s cute.” Yes, that’s the real problem, actually. “It’s like… he loves Wei Wuxian so much that it resonates in everything he does, you know? How romantic.”
“You like that?”
“Wouldn’t it be unbearable?” Yibo looks away from the screen when Xiao Zhan stands, letting him dry off in privacy. “Having someone monitoring you so closely?”
“Of course not— not when it’s done with their kind of love.” Xiao Zhan emerges from behind the screen rubbing a towel over his head. “Knowing someone’s watching over you so much that you don’t fear walking backwards in an open road… it’s— it would be nice.”
And to think Yibo had been holding back for him. To think that he’d been worried of being too intense too soon. Yibo vows to show Xiao Zhan his kind of love until Xiao Zhan forgets all about Lan Wangji.
“Come here.” He pats the edge of the bed and Xiao Zhan obediently sits there, letting Yibo dry his hair.
When there’s a knock at their door, neither of them bother to stand, Yibo simply yelling for whoever it is to come in.
“I’m not sure what kind of food you eat at your— woah!” Wei Wuxian pauses at the door, staring them down with wide eyes. “Where did your hair go?!”
Yibo looks to the side where their discarded wigs lay in a crumped heap. Wei Wuxian follows the direction of his gaze and screams.
Xiao Zhan starts laughing, sinking deeper inside Yibo’s arms as his body shakes with mirth. Yibo snickers along with him, watching Wei Wuxian's disgruntled expression morph into a pout as he faces Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji’s eyes are set only on Wei Wuxian, barely-there smile indulgent, gaze soft.
“Here I am buying you dinner and you repay me like this?” Wei Wuxian sets down the tray he’s holding, followed by Lan Wangji’s. Yibo knows Wei Wuxian didn’t pay for shit.
“Sorry, we didn’t mean to.” Xiao Zhan rises from the bed, helping to arrange the small plates on the table. “Not a lot of people keep their hair long back home. Yibo and I don’t.”
“You’re going to get some strange looks.” Wei Wuxian sits beside Lan Wangji, waving his chopsticks around. “Maybe you should put those back on.”
The food is still steaming when Yibo walks to the table, and his stomach clenches in hunger at the smell. “We can’t.”
Xiao Zhan sighs, tugging Yibo to sit on the floor with them. “Hopefully we resolve whatever’s keeping us here quickly enough that we’d avoid questions.”
“Ah, but the Cloud Recesses is still a day’s worth of travel.”
“God, I miss cars,” Yibo mutters under his breath.
“Cars?” Wei Wuxian mumbles around a mouthful of meat.
Yibo grins, latching onto the opportunity to blow Wei Wuxian’s mind away. Wei Wuxian does a visible double take at the sight of Yibo’s smile, eyes flickering over to Lan Wangji for a split second before returning his attention to Yibo. Hanguang-jun, on the other hand, shows no outward reaction to seeing what he could achieve if he'd just use more of his facial muscles. Yibo spoons up a mouthful of rice, wondering what wrong he'd done in a past life to now be seated with this pinnacle of humanity who just so happens to be wearing the same face.
It's annoying. It's like the universe is dangling in front of him a version of himself that he could never amount to.
“Cars are a thing in our time,” Yibo says, shoving down the thoughts that are surely too immature to even be thought. He concentrates on piling everything he can reach onto Xiao Zhan’s bowl before the guy gets any funny ideas about skipping dinner. “If we had one right now, we’d be at the Cloud Recesses before the night is over.”
“So like spiritual swords.” Wei Wuxian drinks from his cup, which Lan Wangji silently refills with wine right after.
Yibo thinks about what flying on the sword would entail — the rushing of the wind on his face perhaps, the freedom to move your body in the direction you want — and leans forward with his elbows on the table, smile widening. “Let’s talk about motorcycles.”