Xiao Zhan hears about it from Yu Bin, which probably should've been the first warning sign.
They're almost a week into boot camp in Hengdian. Xiao Zhan's body is sore in ways he hadn't realized he could be sore, head a jumble of dialogue from the scripts they've been mainlining for the past six days. It's hard work, but something about the unshakeable routine is nice. It means Xiao Zhan never has to wonder where he's going to be or what he has to do. At eight, he goes jogging with anyone else who actually wants to be up that early, and then the rest of the morning is devoted to strength and etiquette training. After lunch, they spend five hours reading through the next chunk of episodes, highlighting important points and going over character motivations. Xiao Zhan's surprised he hasn't yet developed a sore throat from all the talking he's had to do.
It's only been six days, sure, but Xiao Zhan feels pretty good about the project. He likes the other cast members and the crew, likes the stolid encouragement from the PDs and ADs, likes the conscientious care everyone's bringing to the table. He can feel the steady rapport building between them, the ease with which everything is clicking together, which is of course when Yu Bin slides into the seat next to him at lunch, sly look on his face, and asks, with the air of someone cradling a large bombshell: "Have you heard?"
Xiao Zhan shares a look with Xuan Lu and Zhuocheng across the table. Xuan Lu shrugs. Zhuocheng raises his eyebrows, curious. Xiao Zhan shakes his head. "Heard what?" he says, against his better judgment.
Yu Bin's mouth spreads into a wide grin. He leans in, conspiratorial. "Wang Yibo is a virgin."
Zhuocheng chokes on a piece of chicken; Xuan Lu coughs politely into her hand. Xiao Zhan sighs and stares at the ceiling for a minute, girding himself from thinking anything too untoward. "Where'd you get this intel?" he hears Zhuocheng ask, wheezing around his food.
Yu Bin waves a hand. "Oh, you know, here and there," he says, eyes twinkling. "I've got reliable sources." Xiao Zhan makes a mental note to act as boring as possible, lest he spark Yu Bin's overactive imagination. "Plus I watched some variety show clips last night—"
"Ah, yes," Xiao Zhan interrupts as dryly as he can manage. "Variety shows, where everyone tells the truth all the time and nothing's ever embellished for the cameras."
Yu Bin tisks. "You're no fun, Xiao-laoshi," he grumbles good-naturedly, knocking their elbows together. "We're just passing the time, speculating about our co-stars. Wouldn't it be interesting if it were true?"
Xiao Zhan meets Zhuocheng's eyes again; he looks a little uncomfortable for reasons Xiao Zhan doesn't care to dwell on. "He's barely twenty," Xiao Zhan points out, nudging Yu Bin back. "Not an old fart like you and I. There's nothing wrong with being a virgin at that age, or any age. What's the rush, anyway?"
Yu Bin opens his mouth to reply, but Yibo takes that opportunity to slide into the cafeteria, his manager trailing behind him. Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Zhuocheng chokes on another piece of chicken while Xuan Lu sips primly at her soup.
Xiao Zhan's interacted with Yibo the most so far by dint of being co-leads. Yibo has been pretty quiet outside of the table reads, but Xiao Zhan likes to think Yibo's warmed up to him. He's pretty sure Yibo smiled yesterday afternoon, for instance, when Xiao Zhan kept flubbing one of his lines about Baoshan-sanren, and he'd snorted after Xiao Zhan said something derogatory under his breath about Lan Qiren's dumb sect rules. It's good to know when your colleagues have a sense of humor. Now, Xiao Zhan straightens in his seat and firmly pushes the previous conversation out of his mind. "Wang-laoshi," he calls, waving. When Yibo's head jerks toward him, Xiao Zhan sends him a disarming smile. "Come over here when you've gotten your food."
Yibo does, which is something. His manager breaks off to talk to the other staff, and Yibo lingers at the end of the table. Yu Bin busies himself with his lunch, and Xuan Lu manages to dislodge the chunk of meat in Zhuocheng's throat with a couple of solid thwacks to his back.
"Sit down," Xiao Zhan says, gesturing at the seat next to him. "Not eating a lot, huh."
Yibo's tray only has a scoop of rice and some veggies on it, along with a small bowl of soup. "Tend to lose my appetite when I'm tired," he explains. He nods at the others and runs his fingers through his hair.
"You're tired?" Xiao Zhan says, grinning as he wrings his hands. "After reading two lines every hour? What about me?"
Yibo's eyes flash. Xiao Zhan doesn't think he imagines the twitch at his mouth. "Xiao-laoshi's obviously talented enough to carry an entire five-page monologue on his back," Yibo replies demurely, digging into his plate. "I have a lot to learn."
Xiao Zhan laughs out loud, torn between giddy delight over the joke and chagrin at the excessive compliment. When he turns back to the rest of the table, Yu Bin's eyebrows are raised. "Come on, eat your food, we have table reads in fifteen minutes," he says, reaching out to snatch a piece of chicken from Yu Bin's tray.
Yu Bin blocks him with his chopsticks. The rest of lunch devolves into a competition to see who can steal as much food from everyone else. They stroll out of the cafeteria somewhat greasier than they arrived, but Yibo's also laughed more than Xiao Zhan has seen all week, so. It's a win for sure.
By May, Yibo's started shooting the new Produce show on his days off set. In the interim, Xiao Zhan only managed to hobble through his one episode as a team leader thanks to copious dance coaching from Yibo in between takes. Even away from production, when Xiao Zhan's doing photoshoots or recording CFs, the survival show seems like all people can talk about.
So it's not surprising that the other cast members keep watching clips at the salon during hair and makeup, the one place on this entire godforsaken set where there's actually good Wi-Fi. It's barely seven and they're supposed to be filming something in the woods today; Yibo isn't here yet because his call time is later, the lucky bastard. Xiao Zhan resurfaces from a light doze to Ji Li and Yu Bin muttering over the latter's phone, sharing AirPods as they tab through videos. "Just look at the way he interacts with the girls," Yu Bin says, with the practiced ease of someone who's been pitching this theory for weeks. "He's obviously a virgin."
Ji Li clicks his tongue. "Okay, but what about this?" When Xiao Zhan shifts and tilts his head to see what's on Yu Bin's phone now, it looks like a video from some party. It's kind of blurry from one seat away, but he thinks he can see furious gyrating happening. "You think someone who dances like this hasn't slept with anyone before?"
"That's performing," Yu Bin says dismissively. "That doesn't count."
"Hey, Wang-laoshi," Xiao Zhan says brightly, pretending to wave at the door, and laughs when Ji Li nearly drops Yu Bin's phone.
Yu Bin pouts at him. "So mean, Xiao-laoshi."
Xiao Zhan sends him a peace sign and stretches as the makeup artists flocked around him cease attacking him with brushes. "You guys are very obsessed with this," he points out.
"No more obsessed than we are about when Xuan Lu-jie and Yuchen are finally going to start making out," Yu Bin counters, which is, now that Xiao Zhan considers it, actually true. He's seen the way they look at each other when the cameras aren't running; you could cut the sexual tension with a knife. "You want in on the betting pool, by the way?"
"Put a hundred yuan on June 12th," he says, picking a date at random, and lets his eyes drift shut again as Yu Bin flips to another video on his phone.
One of the hairstylists starts brushing his hair back, and Xiao Zhan sinks into the feeling of fingers scratching against his scalp. "I'm telling you, he's so awkward around these trainees," he hears Yu Bin say over the rustling of various wigs.
"As if you wouldn't be," Ji Li remarks, which makes Xiao Zhan let out a quiet laugh.
"If you wanna know the truth so badly, you could always just ask him," Xiao Zhan suggests, sliding down further in his chair.
"Ask who what?" comes a low, dry voice. When Xiao Zhan's eyes pop open, Yibo's staring at him upside down, standing next to the hairstylist, arms folded across his chest. He's still dressed in his street clothes, a big logo shirt and basketball shorts. From this angle, Xiao Zhan can see a couple of tiny zits on the underside of Yibo's chin.
Xiao Zhan grins when he hears Yu Bin's phone actually clatter to the ground this time. "Yu Bin over here seems to think you're a virgin," he says lightly.
The thing is: the Untamed is a bigger set than some of the other productions that Xiao Zhan has been on, but it's still very contained. The rampant speculation was bound to get back to Yibo eventually. This way, Xiao Zhan reasons, the matter can be settled once and for all, and they can move onto whatever juicy piece of entertainment gossip crops up in the next news cycle.
"Something about you being awkward around girls, I guess?" Xiao Zhan continues, shrugging. "It doesn't really matter to me, but I have no doubt a few people have money riding on your response, so answer wisely."
To his credit, Yibo doesn't get flustered or angry. He raises his eyebrows at Yu Bin, who smiles cheekily at him, and considers it for a long moment. Then he says, in a perfect deadpan: "I'm not a virgin. I'm just awkward around girls because I'm gay."
For a moment, their corner of the salon goes so quiet that Xiao Zhan is pretty sure he'd be able to hear a pin drop. Yu Bin gapes like a fish; Ji Li's eyes go round as saucers. The stylists and makeup people keep doing their thing, because they're professionals or something. Xiao Zhan's heart seems to stop in his throat for one beat, two, and on the third, all hell breaks loose when Yibo's expression resolves into a shit-eating grin. "Holy shit," Yu Bin says, leaping up to hang onto Yibo's shoulder and shaking him like a ragdoll. "You asshole, I just lost like a thousand yuan all at once."
"You looked like such an idiot a second ago," Yibo cackles, elbowing Yu Bin in the side. He plops down in the seat on Xiao Zhan's left, too pleased with himself. "Good joke, right?" he stage-whispers, smirking over at Xiao Zhan.
"Right," Xiao Zhan says, his blood running hot and then cold and then hot again. "Good joke."
Xiao Zhan has long since made peace with his own sexuality. Even before he decided on a post-college career change, he was content to ride on a wave of cheerful ambiguity, letting people assume what they wanted. Being in the entertainment industry now means he's had to exercise more discretion in all areas of his life. Liking men isn't something he's terribly eager to advertise, but then again, neither is dating anyone of any gender. The rumors just aren't worth it.
He's worked with plenty of gorgeous people over the past two years, and it's been pretty simple to school his thoughts into strictly aesthetic appreciation. In a way, it's like looking at a very beautiful painting: a feast for the eyes, no touching allowed. With Yibo it's been more difficult, if only because he's ingratiated himself so thoroughly into Xiao Zhan's life since filming began. After the initial period of shyness, Yibo had shown his true colors; it feels like not a day goes by without several rousing rounds of slap-fighting, compliment wars, and too much laughter. When you have to be around someone for weeks on end, it's hard not to start liking them.
If anything, that makes Yibo's flippance even more disappointing. It's not that Xiao Zhan had really hoped for anything to happen between them, but he had at least thought better of Yibo than to think he'd make tired gay jokes. Xiao Zhan tries to act normal during the next few days of filming, but it's impossible to control his flaring irritation with the conversation so fresh on his mind. They have evening shoots together for the rest of the week, and they end up having to do several more takes than usual, the chemistry off-kilter. Yibo spends Saturday night shouting at him from the one of the rooftops, and Xiao Zhan can't even bother trying to crack a smile. "Just ignore him," he tells one of the rolling cameras instead, grimacing.
Yibo finally brings it up when they get back to the hotel at first light of dawn, exhausted from seven hours of straight shooting. He wedges himself in the frame of the bathroom door as Xiao Zhan brushes his teeth. "Are you mad at me?" he asks bluntly, and the only indication that he might be nervous is the fingers twisting at the hem of his shirt.
Xiao Zhan sighs, too tired to pretend. He does spare a moment to admire Yibo's bravery, despite everything; if it were Xiao Zhan, he'd probably have lived with the discomfort to his grave. "It's nothing," he says, spitting into the sink. "I'll get over it." He always does.
But Yibo doesn’t drop it. He's like a dog with a bone sometimes, too stubborn to let go. "Was it about what happened with Yu Bin and Ji Li earlier this week?" Yibo presses. Astute motherfucker.
"Maybe," Xiao Zhan allows. He scrubs at his teeth some more, hard enough to make his gums bleed a little. There's pink when he spits in the sink again.
A flash of annoyance rises up in the back of Xiao Zhan's throat. He pushes it down and rinses his mouth out with water, runs his toothbrush beneath the tap. Tries to figure out how best to explain this without completely blowing up. "It just gets old," Xiao Zhan says carefully, staring at the bristles, "hearing the same old jokes. Being gay, it's normal, you know? There's nothing particularly funny about it." He wipes his hand on the towel next to his cup, shoulders tight. "Anyway. Like I said, I'll get over it."
Yibo's staring at him when Xiao Zhan turns toward the door. He looks kind of stunned, but when Xiao Zhan tries to push past him, he blocks the way.
"Come on, let's catch some sleep," Xiao Zhan says.
"No," Yibo says, and then shakes his head. "I mean, yes, but I just — sorry." He sounds so earnest that Xiao Zhan feels his heart melting, god damn it. "I mean, it was funny because it shut Yu Bin up," Yibo continues, brow furrowing, "but it was also true."
Xiao Zhan blinks. He's not sure if he heard correctly, brain about two seconds from quitting on him. "Huh?"
Yibo straightens up, like he's decided something. "I don't want you to think I was trying to be homophobic," he says slowly, eyes bright. "I actually am gay, but they don't need to know that. They can keep thinking whatever they want." He searches Xiao Zhan's face, chin tilted up, as if daring him to protest. "But I wanted you to know." The corner of his mouth curls up. "I'm a virgin and I'm gay. Double whammy."
"Oh," Xiao Zhan says lamely, reeling as he tries to process this information. "Okay." That doesn't seem sufficient enough a response, so he adds, helpless: "Yibo, you should really watch who you tell that kind of stuff. You can't trust everyone."
"I can trust you, thought, right, Zhan-ge?" Yibo says, and Xiao Zhan feels like he's suffocating, Yibo's grin and his closeness wreaking havoc on his respiratory system. Jesus Christ.
"Yeah," Xiao Zhan says, swallowing. Yibo's eyes drop to his — neck. Surely he's looking at his neck. And maybe it's because Xiao Zhan's lack of self preservation always flares up at the most inopportune moments, or maybe he wants to level the playing field, give back some secret of his own. Maybe it's just that he feels vulnerable and is so damn tired of hiding. Whatever the reason may be, the next thing that comes out of his mouth is: "Me too, actually."
Yibo's head snaps up as he meets Xiao Zhan's gaze again. "What?"
"Or, well," Xiao Zhan amends, shrugging. "I like guys and girls." He raises three somber fingers, Wei Wuxian-style. "I don't discriminate." It feels good to say out loud, like an enormous weight has been lifted off his back. "It's not a big deal. But sometimes I do get kind of sensitive about stuff." He sends Yibo a small smile, relief percolating through his chest — that he doesn't have to mad anymore, that they can go back to the way things were, resume the easy push and pull of their banter. "Sorry about being a dick instead of talking to you about it. I'll try not to make that mistake again." Yibo's still staring at him, agog, and Xiao Zhan reaches out, maneuvers him gently toward the sink. "Brush your teeth and go to bed, kid. We've got another long night of filming to look forward to."
The problem Xiao Zhan hadn't accounted for (but really, really should have) is that things inevitably change after you tell someone one of your deepest secrets. It's nice not to feel vaguely pissed off all the time after a week of giving Yibo the cold shoulder, but aesthetic appreciation just doesn't seem to cut it anymore now that Xiao Zhan knows what he knows.
It doesn't help that these revelations happen to coincide with a slew of scenes that involve Xiao Zhan 1) lying in Yibo's lap, 2) sprawled on top of him, or 3) being carried across his back. "Could you guys act a little more intimate," Director Cheng calls from across the soundstage in the middle of June, the two of them swaying in a rickety boat while Yu Bin watches from the other end. Xiao Zhan has to put his hands over his face to block his flush from the cameras. Yibo laughs at him, because of course he does, and helpfully spreads his legs wider.
Yu Bin's erstwhile negging also takes on a different quality now that Xiao Zhan knows that it's actually true. It's incredibly stupid, but Xiao Zhan can't stop thinking about how no one's ever touched Yibo that way. Yibo always moves through the world with such elegance; someone, Xiao Zhan thinks, too wistful for his own good, is going to be very lucky in the future.
To add insult to injury, Yibo seems to have decided that Xiao Zhan's some sort of personal sex guru. "Have you had sex with dudes?" he asks one evening, point-blank, when they're going through the next day's scripts together.
Xiao Zhan sends him a quelling look. It doesn't work in the slightest. "Not in a while, but yes," he says, hoping against hope that that'll be the end of it.
No such luck. "When?" Yibo asks, folding himself against the armrest, eyes wide with interest. "What was it like?"
Xiao Zhan puts his script down on the coffee table and sighs, long-suffering. "A few times in college," he says, deliberately vague. "It was fine."
Yibo wrinkles his nose. "Just fine?"
"Were you expecting more?" Xiao Zhan says, arching his eyebrows, and grins when Yibo pouts. "Alright, alright." He drums his fingers against his knee, thinking about it as clinically as possible. "Handjobs are obviously easiest. Lick your palm and go. Blowjobs you have to practice to get good, but it's worth it. Anal sex is kind of messy, there's a lot of prep involved, and sometimes people just aren't into it, which is okay." The last time Xiao Zhan had penetrative sex was with a coworker's friend, back when he was still working at his professor's design company. They were both tipsy after clubbing all night, which made the other guy — Haoxing was his name, if Xiao Zhan remembers correctly — extra pliable. "When it's good, though, it's really good."
"Cool," Yibo says, voice cracking. He bites his lower lip, lashes fluttering as he blinks.
Xiao Zhan mercilessly kills the burgeoning thought in his head that — maybe, maybe Yibo might want him back. Just because two people are both into dudes doesn't mean that they have to be attracted to each other. That's such a fucking cliche. And even if they were, it would be a terrible idea. Yibo has his entire career ahead of him, the whole world at his feet. Xiao Zhan isn't looking to ruin anyone's life.
He keeps thinking the holding pattern might break when he's back in Beijing doing other work, that distance will loosen the tightness in his chest whenever Yibo's around, but it somehow just makes everything worse. Yibo sends him questions and memes via WeChat instead; seeing have you been to a gay club and how do i tell if a guy's hitting on me in stark black text every time Xiao Zhan scrolls up in their chat history always feels like it knocks a few years off his life.
"Who else knows about you?" Yibo asks once over FaceTime, in the middle of a conversation about schedules. The hour's late, and Xiao Zhan can hear the telltale buzz of a television turned down low in Yibo's hotel room in Changsha.
Xiao Zhan doesn't do Yibo the disservice of pretending to misunderstand. "Old friends from school," he says, "and some of my bandmates," thinking about Chuyue's ribbing every time they were on a variety show with a cute camera guy. "My parents," he adds. Mom keeps sending him photos of eligible young bachelors and bachelorettes from Chongqing and making roundabout proclamations about how Jian Guo might find the absentee father situation more tolerable if Xiao Zhan found her a second parent. "What about you?"
"I don't really try to hide it," Yibo says, matter-of-fact, so blasé that Xiao Zhan's a little envious. He wishes he could be that bold. "It just doesn't seem to come up in conversation that much."
"That'll change when you get older," Xiao Zhan says darkly, "and all your aunties want to know is when you're going to get married."
"I can't even legally do that yet," Yibo points out, smirking.
"Stop reminding me how young you are," Xiao Zhan grumbles. Yibo's still grinning like an idiot when he drops the call.
One of the biggest issues with trying not to be so preoccupied with a famous person is that their face tends to be plastered everywhere you go. The ubiquity of Yibo's L'Oreal and Abercrombie endorsements follow Xiao Zhan around like a specter. These days, every time he opens up Weibo, it feels like there's some newly released CF where Yibo's acting like the nation's boyfriend trying to wake you up, or get you to buy makeup, or selling random yogurt drinks. Then Xiao Zhan opens up their private message, sees new pics from Yibo's latest photoshoot, wants to throw his phone into the wall. It'd be unbearable if Yibo didn't look so good. (It's still pretty unbearable.)
Near the end of June, Produce 101's last episode airs. Xiao Zhan watches it on the plane ride back to Guiyang. He remembers Yibo trying to teach him the last dance, laughing as his hands moved Xiao Zhan's hips in the right direction, and resigns himself to another two months of this. The only thing he can do is press on.
As if Xiao Zhan's emotional state couldn't get any more woeful, Yu Bin's steady updates about the Xuan Lu/Yuchen betting pool never fail to remind Xiao Zhan of his own situation. June 12th has long come and gone, so that's a hundred yuan down the drain, but there's a smaller series of auxiliary wagers involving who's going to make the first move, whether it'll happen on set or off set, and a whole slew of other details that Xiao Zhan has no idea how anyone is going to verify. It's a pretty complicated system that Yu Bin's tracking on his phone. In another life, he would've been a killer bookie. Xiao Zhan wouldn't be surprised if he actually was one on the side in this life, but he'd rather not ask for the sake of plausible deniability.
Every time Yu Bin brings up some charged glance or significant interaction to stir the pot, Xiao Zhan thinks about the way Yibo looks at him sometimes when he thinks Xiao Zhan isn't looking back. How he pesters Xiao Zhan for attention, and how Xiao Zhan is powerless to resist. It's driving Xiao Zhan nuts, and there's really no one to even complain at without revealing too much. The only person who would maybe get it is Yibo himself, and that's obviously out of the question.
Today, they're filming one of the sequences in the woods, the fierce July sun beating down on them from above. Yu Bin nudges Xiao Zhan in between scenes, points through the trees. Xuan Lu technically doesn't even need to be on set for this, but she's here anyway, dressed in street clothes, hair done up in two buns as she hangs out with the camerawomen and set design people. As they watch, she leans over to fuss at Zhuocheng's wig. Yuchen wanders toward them as the crew get set up for the next take. She smiles up at him; he says something, and she laughs and smacks his arm. Xiao Zhan can't help remembering how Yibo did the exact same thing earlier this morning, eyes crinkled and teeth gleaming, and wants to kick himself.
"Shouldn't we have better things to be doing than creepily spying on our coworkers?" he asks Yu Bin.
"Don't be ridiculous," Yu Bin says, taking avid notes on his phone. "I'm still trying to recoup the thousand yuan I lost, you know. And besides, this is the most interesting thing happening on set by far."
When Xiao Zhan turns and catches Yibo's eye from across the clearing, Yibo winks saucily. Damn him. Yu Bin, buddy, you don't know the half of it, Xiao Zhan thinks, despairing. At this point, he almost wishes Xuan Lu and Yuchen would just get it over with already, if only to restore some level of sanity in his day-to-day life. "With friends like these," he wonders aloud, "who needs enemies?"
Later that evening, when they're all piled in Ji Li's corner room, chowing down on midnight ramen and hydrating like crazy to keep from bloating the next morning, Yibo plops himself on the armrest of the chair Xiao Zhan is curled up in. He's freshly showered, hair damp, skin glistening. Xiao Zhan tries not to notice the heat of his body and the nice lemon smell of the hotel shampoo.
After a minute of companionable silence, during which Zhuocheng wins whatever phone game they're engrossed in and nearly falls off the bed cheering, Yibo bumps Xiao Zhan's shoulder and asks, "What were you and Yu Bin talking about on set today?" He swirls his disposable chopsticks in his soup cup. "You looked like you were having fun."
Xiao Zhan grimaces. "You mean you haven't heard about the bet yet? I envy you." Yibo stiffens next to him, and Xiao Zhan shakes his head. "Nothing to do with you this time. This is a different one."
Yibo takes a bite of his ramen and chews thoughtfully. "Oh?"
"Shijie and Yuchen," he says, tilting his head back against the chair and staring up at the ceiling. "When one of them is going to make a move. Apparently life is supposed to imitate art."
Yibo snorts quietly. "You don't think there's anything between them?"
"Just because two people play lovers on screen doesn't mean they are lovers," Xiao Zhan says, food sitting heavy in his stomach all of a sudden. "It's called acting for a reason." He studiously does not think about the source material of this drama, the original relationship between the two leads, all the scenes they've had to film over the past three months. He does not think about soulmates, or walking down a plank into the dark together, or how the edges of Yibo's character sometimes bleed over even when they aren't on set.
"Yeah, but Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt," Yibo says. His tone sounds playful, but when Xiao Zhan looks at him again, his expression is serious.
Xiao Zhan huffs out a laugh. "That's the exception, not a rule," he says.
"It could be," Yibo says, gaze intent, and Xiao Zhan's mouth goes dry. He doesn't think they're talking about Xuan Lu and Yuchen anymore.
"It's a bad idea," he says, but it sounds hollow even in his own ears. Perhaps if he repeats it enough, he'll start believing it. "What are people supposed to do when the project's over?"
"Figure it out?" Yibo says, tilting his head. "Just like everyone else does."
"Relationships aren't that easy, kid," Xiao Zhan says, gentle but firm, slurping down the rest of his lukewarm ramen. "You'll learn one day." He squashes down the feeling of discontent in his chest when Yibo's gaze shutters. It's for his own good.
Everything comes to a head the week before Yibo's birthday, at the tail end of filming in Guiyang. They'll see each other in Hengdian for most of August, but before that, Yibo has to fly to Changsha for Day Day Up and Xiao Zhan's got recording commitments of his own.
Their last morning on location, they take a two hour bus ride and then hike forty minutes into the wilderness to shoot one of the final scenes in the drama. Despite the heat, it's a beautiful day, the sky a gorgeous, billowing blue, the grass greener than Xiao Zhan's ever seen it. Halfway through filming, one of their camera-drones crashes into the mountainside; while some of their crew breaks away to try to rescue it, Xiao Zhan collapses back on the hill next to Lil Apple, arms pillowing his head.
Yibo sits down next to him, cross-legged, fingers picking at the grass. "Wish I could live out here," Xiao Zhan says, closing his eyes against the sun.
"The lack of quality internet access would kill you," Yibo remarks, and Xiao Zhan reaches out without looking to thwack his knee.
"You know what I mean," he says. It's peaceful. He could stay in a cottage, let Jian Guo roam the hills as she pleased, and paint all day. That's not the life Xiao Zhan has right now, but maybe, in some nebulous, far-flung future, he can retire to the countryside.
"It is nice," Yibo murmurs. When Xiao Zhan opens his eyes again, Yibo's leaning on his hands, face angled toward the sun too, the thick muscle in his neck standing out as he tilts his head back. Xiao Zhan wants to put his mouth there, wants to suck at the flutter of Yibo's pulse. He keeps his hands to himself.
Afterwards, when they get back into the city, all the cast members that are still around take the crew out for dinner at a mom-and-pop restaurant down the road from their hotel. Xiao Zhan definitely overeats, stuffed full of noodles and fried rice and pickled veggies, but it's a good time, especially after Director Cheng decides to order several rounds of baijiu. Yibo winces and coughs after he takes a shot of it, slaps Xiao Zhan's shoulder when he starts laughing at him. "There'll be more of that next week when you turn twenty-one," Yu Bin promises, a truly alarming look on his face, and spins off to offer a cup to Zhuocheng, too.
Xiao Zhan throws back his own shot, the burn fizzing down his throat, and then two more before they all hobble back to the hotel. He's in high spirits when they get back to their room; he should probably pack his shit, but there'll be time for that tomorrow morning. Hopefully he isn't too hungover.
Yibo flops onto his stomach in bed, pink-cheeked and sloe-eyed, chin propped in his hand. "So what are you getting me for my birthday, Zhan-ge?" he asks, feet swinging behind him.
"Who says I'm getting you anything?" he says, and doesn't quite have the coordination to dodge the pillow Yibo throws at him. In reality, Xiao Zhan had ordered a new motorcycle helmet for Yibo weeks ago, but it's impossible to look at him right now and say that. "You'll just have to wait and see."
"Hm," Yibo says, head lolling to the side as he smiles. "What if I have a whole wishlist?"
"Kids these days are so greedy." Xiao Zhan sinks onto his own bed, legs dangling over the edge of the mattress, and braces his arms against his knees. "I'm vetoing any type of motorized vehicle, but let's hear it."
Yibo just looks at him for a minute, the dim light of the bedside lamp casting shadows over his face. Then he says, just a little too fast, "So I haven't slept with anyone before," and it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room. Xiao Zhan knows exactly where this is going, was a fool not to expect it. He opens his mouth, but Yibo shakes his head almost savagely, a determined look passing over his face. "Let me finish. Please?"
Xiao Zhan closes his mouth. Yibo does deserve that, at the very least.
"It's not that I haven't been interested before," he continues, eyes sweeping down toward the floor, the end of the bed, the far wall. "I've just had other stuff that felt more urgent. Easier to focus on work and dance and motorcycles and video games than other people. I could just watch some porn and jerk off. No frills, no fuss." He laughs a little, shaking his head, and his eyes are wide and guileless when he meets Xiao Zhan's again. "And then I met you, and you were interesting and cool and beautiful and kind, and you told me all these things about yourself without asking for anything in return. You didn't care that I didn't have any experience. You didn't ask why. You just accepted it."
The weight of Yibo's gaze now is like an anvil pressing down on his chest. "You don't," Xiao Zhan says, and has to clear his throat. "You shouldn't ever have to feel obligated to explain yourself to me, or anyone. It's okay to wait if you're not ready. If you — want it to be special."
"You aren't hearing me," Yibo says, and then he's rolling off the bed and closing the gap between them. It's hard to look at him when he's like this, body sinuous, sliding into Xiao Zhan's lap like he was made to be there. "I am ready. I want it to be you."
Xiao Zhan swallows thickly, closes his eyes to collect himself. The whole world seems to be spinning when he opens them again, Yibo pressed so close that he has to crane his neck to see his face. Yibo's big hands are in his hair, cupping his cheeks, thumbs brushing against the soft lobes of Xiao Zhan's ears. "I don't want you to rush into anything," Xiao Zhan says. More truthfully, he adds, quieter, "I don't want to mess up your life."
He expects Yibo to say something about how Xiao Zhan shouldn't be so dramatic, that one night isn't going to fuck anything up. "Mess up my life if you want to," Yibo says instead, so serious that Xiao Zhan stops breathing for a second. "I don't care."
"Maybe you should."
"I'm not a child, Xiao-laoshi," Yibo says, a simple declarative, a firm statement of fact. "You don't have to handle me with kid gloves. I know what I want." He sways even closer, bangs falling into his eyes. "I want you to fuck me. I want you."
Something in Xiao Zhan's chest breaks wide open, a rush of warmth suffusing the space it leaves. For some reason, the only thing Xiao Zhan can think about right now is Yibo taking his green tea with impunity every morning, the audacity of youth. This is still a terrible idea, but Yibo's spent the entire summer wearing down all of Xiao Zhan's defenses. "That's a lot of responsibility," he manages to say through the roaring in his ears.
Yibo's mouth rises into a smirk. "I can take responsibility for myself," he replies, tossing his head. He settles further into Xiao Zhan's lap, rolling his hips, and Xiao Zhan gasps. "You just have to say yes."
"Okay," Xiao Zhan says before he can stop himself, and the way Yibo's whole face lights up — he's going to be living off that for the rest of the week. Yibo bends his head down and slants their mouths together, tasting of salt and liquor, sloppy but insistent. Xiao Zhan rises into the press of his lips, arms coming around Yibo's waist beneath his shirt. He tries his best to funnel three months' worth of desire into the kiss, tongue sliding past Yibo's teeth and curling up, fingers digging into Yibo's skin.
When they break apart, Yibo looks dazed, red and panting, which Xiao Zhan is pretty sure means he succeeded.
"Not right now, though," Xiao Zhan says, and Yibo rewards him with such a dejected look that he has to laugh, has to lean in and brush his lips against the smooth column of Yibo's neck to soothe him. "Listen, I don't have the right stuff today. But next week, alright? For your birthday."
"I'm gonna kick your ass if you back out," Yibo mutters mulishly.
"Of that I have no doubt," Xiao Zhan says, solemn, and accepts the next kiss when it comes.
He does briefly consider reneging just one time, two days before he has to fly back to Hengdian, while incognito at the Watsons a block away from his apartment. It's more out of sheer embarrassment than anything. Xiao Zhan feels like a freshman in college again, furtively buying lube and condoms at the drugstore catty corner to the design building at CTBU. It probably would've been wiser to have gotten the stuff shipped straight to his house, but by the time he thought of that, it was way too late.
So he's here in person instead, hunched over in the birth control aisle, bucket hat pulled low over his eyes and face mask fastened securely over his face. At the register, an uninterested cashier pops her bubble gum. She scans the two bottles of travel-sized lube and a box of condoms without blinking; she's probably seen plenty of weirder things.
The Watsons bag lives at the bottom of Xiao Zhan's carry-on for two days, nestled next to Xiao Zhan's small pouch of regular toiletries. The anticipation feels even worse than anything that's come before it: every time his phone buzzes with a new message from Yibo, no matter how innocuous, Xiao Zhan's spine seems to tingle.
The less innocuous messages include a few evocative mirror selfies Yibo takes in his hotel bathroom in Changsha and a fervent request to teach him how to finger himself. all in due time, young padawan, Xiao Zhan replies. He manages to keep his face admirably straight, but he does have to take a cold shower when he gets home that evening.
They spend the night before Yibo's birthday on set, singing songs and eating cake in their white student uniforms, Xiao Zhan chasing Yibo around with a caterpillar and yelling congratulations. The night of Yibo's birthday they eat even more cake at a party his staff and the crew help throw at the hotel. Xiao Zhan gives Yibo the motorcycle helmet, which gets buried behind an assortment of figurines and Lego sets and other motorcycle-related paraphernalia.
Xiao Zhan's trying to figure out an inconspicuous way for both of them to excuse themselves from the party when all hell seems to break loose on the other side of the room. Xuan Lu, it seems, has finally seized Yuchen by the collar of his shirt next to the long dessert table and smacked a big one right on his mouth. Yu Bin's flipping furiously through his phone, and several of their friends are waving bills around like they're at a strip club. It'd be hilarious if Xiao Zhan didn't feel like such a live wire, entire body sparking with expectation.
As if on cue, Yibo appears at Xiao Zhan's elbow, the corners of his mouth turned up. "Let's go," Xiao Zhan murmurs. They hustle out of there without anyone noticing.
Yibo's nearly vibrating out of his own skin by the time they get back up to their room. Xiao Zhan would laugh at him, but he's in the same boat, hands shaking as he fumbles with the keycard. They're kissing before the door can even swing shut behind them, Yibo's mouth hot and sweet beneath his, his hands rucking up the material of Xiao Zhan's shirt. It turns dirty immediately, like now that Yibo's gotten a taste of this, he can't control himself.
It's a familiar feeling; Xiao Zhan remembers being twenty and horny, just waiting for someone to come along and set him on fire. "Slow down, Yibo," he says, laughing against Yibo's lips. He blindly maneuvers them both toward the closest bed, nearly trips over the slippers at the foot of it.
Yibo makes a vague noise of protest when Xiao Zhan pulls away to kick his shoes off and rummage through his suitcase for the Watsons bag. When he straightens up again, Yibo's already lying across the bed stripped down to his underwear, his clothes crumpled in a pile on the floor. Xiao Zhan's caught flashes of Yibo in various states of undress over the past three months, but this is different. This is for him, the flat plane of Yibo's stomach and the cut of muscle at each hip, the pale stretch of his legs flexing beneath the thin material of his boxer-briefs.
"Sweetheart," Xiao Zhan says, too endeared to stop the word from slipping out of his mouth. Pleasure curls low in his gut when Yibo visibly freezes, fingers pausing at the hem of his underwear. "We can take our time. It'll feel better if we do."
"I just wanna see you," Yibo says, plaintive, and Xiao Zhan can't argue with that. He wants to see Yibo too, wants to push him down on the bed and kiss a trail down the center of his chest, wants to get his mouth around Yibo's dick and on his ass and against the soft skin behind his knee. No one's ever done any of that before. A thrill runs up the back of Xiao Zhan's neck just thinking about it.
Patience, though. He can't do everything he wants tonight, but he can show Yibo a good time. The best time.
Xiao Zhan deposits the bag in his hand on the bed and peels his shirt off slowly, drops it on the ground next to Yibo's pile. Yibo watches him with wide eyes, jaw clenching as Xiao Zhan sheds his basketball shorts and steps out of his own underwear, kicking it off his ankle. "Satisfied?" Xiao Zhan asks, crawling up the bed.
"Not nearly," Yibo replies, arms winding around him, and then they're kissing again, languid and tender. Yibo lets out a quiet noise when when one of Xiao Zhan's hands brushes lightly against his half-hard dick. There's a strangely mortified expression on Yibo's face the next time they pull apart. "Zhan-ge, if I come too fast…"
"Then you come too fast," Xiao Zhan says, circling his fingers around the shaft of Yibo's dick and starting to rub upward, towards the head. Yibo's hips buck into it, faint pink spreading delicately across his skin. "It's okay. We'll try again."
He presses their mouths together once more, gently at first. It deepens quickly, in time with the rapid pace of their breathing. Yibo's already leaking against his palm when Xiao Zhan moves down to kiss the rabbiting pulse at Yibo's throat, the graceful dip of his collarbone. He really wants to get his mouth on Yibo's dick, but it might be too much too soon, so he lets it go instead, lifts his hand to his mouth, uses the tip of his tongue to clean away the spot of precome on his palm. Smiles at Yibo's sharp intake of breath.
There are plenty of alternatives, anyway. "You wanna try sucking me off a little?" Xiao Zhan asks huskily.
"Yes," Yibo says with feeling. He scrambles up, knees sinking into the mattress. Always so eager, Xiao Zhan thinks, unbearably fond. He settles back against the pillows, spreads his knees apart, dick soft against his thigh.
"It'll be more comfortable if you lie on your stomach," Xiao Zhan says.
Yibo does, scooting forward till his face is level with Xiao Zhan's crotch, elbows propping him up. For a long moment, Yibo just rubs his palms along Xiao Zhan's legs and stares at his dick, as if cataloguing the exact size and shape and specific curvature. He lets out a short puff of breath as Xiao Zhan reaches out to cup his nape.
"If it's too much, you don't have to," Xiao Zhan says, but Yibo makes a noise of dissent, chewing on his lower lip.
"It's just a lot," he says, flicking his gaze up through his eyelashes and smiling a tremulous smile. "I've been thinking about doing this since at least May." Before Xiao Zhan can fully react to that, Yibo's wrapped his right hand around Xiao Zhan's cock and taken the tip into his mouth, warm tongue swiping across the slit.
"Fuck," Xiao Zhan says, trying not to tug too hard at Yibo's hair. "That's it, Yibo. Take it slow." Yibo's eyes stay trained on his as he sinks down further, plush wet lips stretching around Xiao Zhan's dick as it hardens in his mouth. Xiao Zhan lets out a shaky breath, petting absently at the back of Yibo's neck. "Now suck."
There's something heady about the way Yibo obeys without hesitation. He hollows his cheeks out and swallows, lashes fluttering to half-mast, and Xiao Zhan's stomach lurches. Never mind Yibo; Xiao Zhan's dangerously close to coming too soon himself, synapses firing in his lizard hindbrain. He almost loses the thread entirely when Yibo tries to take him all the way down and ends up choking, eyes watering as he rears back.
"What did I say about taking it slow?" Xiao Zhan chides, wiping saliva from the corner of Yibo's mouth with his thumb.
Yibo wheezes out a laugh and admits, "I've been watching way too much porn as research."
Xiao Zhan groans, dick kicking against Yibo's palm; that's hot, but it's also misguided. "Porn is… inaccurate, at best," Xiao Zhan says. "Deepthroating isn't that easy, but, um. We can work up to it next time, if you want."
Yibo goes still when Xiao Zhan says next time. For a heart-stopping moment, he's afraid that he's revealed too much. It's the first time he's really articulated any sort of vision for the future, the small, tiny hope inside him that maybe they can keep doing whatever this is, can see where the path less taken will lead them. Can ride this wave until it crashes against the cliffs or, perhaps, carries them to shore.
It feels scary to say out loud, like dangling off the edge of a precipice without a safety net, but maybe Yibo's bravery has rubbed off on him. Maybe Yibo just makes him brave. It feels scary, but it also feels right.
"Next time," Yibo says, enunciating carefully, like he's testing the words out in his mouth. A brilliant smile spreads across his face. "I'd love that."
He bends down, takes half of Xiao Zhan's erection into his mouth so fast that Xiao Zhan's head swims, all the blood in his body rushing south. "You sure you haven't done this before?" he pants, fingers twisting in Yibo's hair as Yibo bobs his head.
Yibo pulls off with a pop and trails his tongue down the underside of Xiao Zhan's erection, eyes crinkling when he laughs. "I'm a very quick learner," Yibo says, flashing him a sunny peace sign.
Xiao Zhan hisses, abdomen clenching, when Yibo wraps his mouth around the tip again, slurping showily. He lets Yibo go for another minute, until his toes are curling in the sheets, and then guides Yibo's head away, tugs him up the bed. Yibo makes a disapproving sound when they're face-to-face, brow wrinkling. "If you don't want me to come before I even get my dick inside you," Xiao Zhan explains, cocking an eyebrow, "you have to stop."
Yibo's mouth forms a tiny 'o' of understanding, and then he smirks. Xiao Zhan rolls his eyes and kisses the expression off his face, rolls them over, pressing Yibo down into the mattress. They stay like that, Yibo melting underneath him in increments, until Xiao Zhan's gotten a better handle on his racing pulse, doesn't feel quite so much like he's about two seconds away from orgasm. Then he breaks away to find the Watsons bag in the sheets.
Xiao Zhan fishes one of the bottles of lube out first, brandishes it between them. "So," he says sternly, with the air of a teacher imparting grave wisdom to his students. "This is lube. It's for—"
Before he can finish his sentence, Yibo snorts and kicks out at Xiao Zhan's knee, a deeper flush spreading down his chest. "I know what lube is for, Xiao-laoshi," he mutters. "I'm not an idiot."
"I thought you wanted me to teach you how to finger yourself," Xiao Zhan points out, grinning, but he relents. He twists the cap off, squeezes some out on his palm to warm it up before he spreads it across his fingers. Yibo's eyes track his hand, tongue darting out to lick his lips. "Take your underwear off," Xiao Zhan continues, gruff. "And spread your legs."
He hadn't been able to watch Yibo take off his clothes earlier, but the way he does it now is filthy, a strip-tease, revealing each centimeter of skin with excruciating exactness. Finally, after what feels like an eternity, Yibo's dick springs out past the waistband, and he does a little shimmy to get the fabric off his legs, mouth curving as he parts his knees.
Xiao Zhan leans in to capture his lips, bruising and brutal, until Yibo's gasping into his mouth. He reaches down with his slippery right hand and circles the tip of his index finger around the rim of Yibo's asshole, smiles when he feels Yibo's entire body jerk. Xiao Zhan tilts his head and kisses Yibo's cheek, the sharp line of his jaw, before pulling back. "You have to tell me if it's too much, alright?"
Yibo blinks hazily, mouth slack, breathing shallow. He looks so fucking lovely, flushed and shaking, spread out across the bed for him, eyes clouded with desire. Yibo's chest heaves as he inhales, and precome streaks across his stomach as his dick bobs. No one else has ever had the privilege of seeing Yibo like this. Xiao Zhan is going to take good care of what he's been given.
"Yibo," Xiao Zhan says, so tender that it's almost painful. "Honey, I have to hear you say it."
"I'll — I'll tell you," Yibo manages, and then he's clutching at Xiao Zhan's biceps as Xiao Zhan works the tip of his index finger inside him. He's so fucking tight, and he squeezes his eyes shut when Xiao Zhan wiggles up to the second knuckle inside.
"Try to relax," Xiao Zhan murmurs, soothing, other hand coming up to circle Yibo's dick, distract him from the intrusion. It works a little bit, Yibo unclenching slowly, throat working as Xiao Zhan fits his finger all the way in. He keeps it there for a long moment, making space, before he slides it out and pushes it back in with one smooth motion.
Yibo groans, thrashing beneath him. "I'm okay," he pants, when Xiao Zhan stops moving. "Keep going."
"Okay," Xiao Zhan says. He leans back in to kiss Yibo, finger thrusting in and out. Xiao Zhan feels more than sees Yibo get used to it, his body loosening up. When Xiao Zhan presses two fingers to the pucker of Yibo's hole and starts pushing them in, Yibo just kisses him harder, shifting into it.
"More," he murmurs after a moment, lifting his hips, biting down gently on Xiao Zhan's lower lip. "Need more."
When Xiao Zhan moves back to gaze at him, there's a resolute look on Yibo's sweaty face. "You sure?"
"I won't break," Yibo says, mouth curling. "I can handle it. I promise."
Xiao Zhan reaches back behind him, catches the bottle of lube again and dribble more on his hand, Yibo's stretched hole. The squelching sound of three fingers sliding into Yibo fills the room, and Yibo tosses his head back against the pillows, spine arching. "How do you feel?" Xiao Zhan asks, kissing his throat.
"Full," Yibo gasps, squeezing experimentally around Xiao Zhan's fingers. Xiao Zhan rubs them deeper, searching for Yibo's prostate. After a minute, he must find it, because a long whine falls out of Yibo's mouth and he goes even more malleable, sagging into the mattress.
"There you are," Xiao Zhan says, gaze sweeping over Yibo's lithe body, trying to commit the image to memory. First times only happen once. Xiao Zhan aims to remember everything about this.
Yibo's moaning jumps an octave when Xiao Zhan starts moving both of his hands in earnest, palm hot on Yibo's dick and fingers twisting up and in. "Zhan-ge," he says urgently, eyes flying wide open. "I'm gonna — you have to—"
"Have to what?" Xiao Zhan says, stilling abruptly.
Yibo makes a wet, frustrated noise, nails biting into Xiao Zhan's arms, knees hooking around Xiao Zhan's middle. His ankles cross behind Xiao Zhan's back. "I need your dick inside me," Yibo says, voice thready, shot through with desperation. "Please."
Xiao Zhan kisses him one more time before letting him go. Yibo lets out a thin needy sound as Xiao Zhan reaches back into the bag for the box of condoms. He rips it open so fast that half of them spill out onto the bedspread, little packets dotting the sheets. "Fuck," Xiao Zhan says, shaking his head sheepishly as Yibo cackles at him. "Just so you know, I can't actually go that many times in one night."
"That's a pity," Yibo says breathlessly, eyes luminous. He watches as Xiao Zhan snatches one of the condom packets and tears it open with his teeth ("Show-off," he says, delighted), exhales as Xiao Zhan rolls it on, squeezes more lube onto his hand, jacks himself a few times. Yibo's breathing has evened out by the time Xiao Zhan knee-walks close again, but his hands are still trembling when he reaches out to reel Xiao Zhan in.
Xiao Zhan kisses the side of his face, pushes Yibo's legs up. "Ready?"
Yibo grins at him, tongue caught between his teeth. "I was born ready," he replies, which is, quite possibly, the most Yibo thing that Xiao Zhan has ever heard him say. Xiao Zhan's laughing when he plants one hand in the pillow beneath Yibo's head, lines himself up, and starts sinking into him.
Even with the prep, Yibo's still so fucking tight, the clutch of his body like a vice. The entire world funnels down to just this: their bodies straining in tandem, Yibo's arms holding Xiao Zhan close as he slides all the way home, the breath shared between them. When Xiao Zhan's ears start working again, he can hear Yibo chanting his name over and over again like a mantra, a prayer punched out of him. "I got you, honey," Xiao Zhan babbles, pulling out and then slamming back in, loving the way Yibo sighs. "I've got you. I'm going to make you feel so good." He rolls his hips, sweat dripping down the side of his face, hands sticking to Yibo's skin. "Going to ruin you for anyone else."
"You already have," Yibo bites out, the sweetest smile cresting over his face, and then he raises his head and fits their mouths together again. Xiao Zhan swallows his muffled moans, exhaling hard through his nose. He keeps the pace slow and steady for as long as he can, but he can already feel the tightness gathering in the pit of his stomach. His hips stutter as he reaches down to circle his hand around Yibo's dick, and that's really all it takes. Yibo comes with a cry, hot and slick against Xiao Zhan's palm and his own abdomen, face screwed up with pleasure.
Xiao Zhan manages to fuck into him two more times before he's spilling too, a low, guttural sound yanked out of his chest. He collapses against Yibo, heart racing. It takes a long time for Xiao Zhan to get his breathing under control, and longer still for his thoughts to come back together. By that point, Yibo's pressing sleepy kisses into the shell of Xiao Zhan's ear, nuzzling his hairline.
Yibo sighs again as Xiao Zhan slides out of him, ties the condom. He makes himself get up to throw it away in the bathroom and runs two hand towels underneath the tap until the water's warm.
He cleans himself off slowly, notes the tiny red crescents on his arms left by Yibo's nails, the mark that Yibo must've sucked into his neck when he wasn't paying attention. Xiao Zhan thinks about the open look on Yibo's face when he said he wanted this, the unshakeable faith he'd had that Xiao Zhan wouldn't disappoint him, the fact that Yibo's waiting for him just outside the door. Xiao Zhan's feeling a lot of things right now, but regret isn't one of them. He feels tired, sure, but also satisfied. Hopeful. Content.
Yibo's still reclining against the pillows when Xiao Zhan returns. They've made an absolute mess of the bed, sheets damp and mussed; Xiao Zhan is pretty smug about that. "So," he says, sinking down on the edge of the clean mattress, the corner of his mouth lifting. "Happy birthday." When Xiao Zhan hands the towel over, Yibo makes a pleased noise and starts wiping at his stomach. "Was losing your virginity everything you ever dreamed of?"
Yibo cocks his head, pretending to think about it. "I don't know," he says blandly, shrugging, but he can't keep the silly grin off his face for long. "Xiao-laoshi, I think I'll need a repeat performance to be sure."
"That's not how that works," Xiao Zhan complains, but he's grinning too when Yibo discards the towel, leaps over the divide, and bends his head for another kiss.
In the morning, Yibo coaxes Xiao Zhan into showering with him before going downstairs for breakfast. "I see I've created a monster," Xiao Zhan laments under the spray as Yibo's dick slides, half-hard, against his hip. He laughs when Yibo flings soap suds at him, but he does also obligingly lend Yibo a hand. Wringing an orgasm out of him isn't a bad way to start the day.
The hotel restaurant is full of their hungover castmates when they finally emerge from their room. "Where the hell did you guys fuck off to last night?" Yu Bin croaks behind a pair of dark sunglasses, doublefisting bottles of water. "You missed all the excitement."
Yibo raises his eyebrows. "What are you talking about?" Xiao Zhan says, playing dumb.
Xiao Zhan lets the story of what exactly happened between Xuan Lu and Yuchen wash over him; apparently, after the first kiss, Xuan Lu had proceeded to march up to every other cast member in attendance at Yibo's birthday party and lay a big wet one right on them, girls included. She'd also demanded monetary recompense for the free entertainment they'd providing all summer; Yu Bin had to give her two-thirds of the pot. "She's my hero," Yibo says dryly, glancing over at her table. She waves cheerfully when she notices them looking.
The woman herself does corner Xiao Zhan later, during hair and makeup. "Did you have a good night?" she asks appraisingly. She looks across the room at where Yibo's sitting, the makeup artists caking foundation onto his face, and then back at Xiao Zhan.
"Uh," he says, feeling himself flush. "Yes?"
Xuan Lu pats his arm. "You know Yuchen and I were stringing everyone along so they wouldn't bother you two, right?" she says, and Xiao Zhan feels such an overwhelming rush of gratitude that he can't even begin to feel embarrassed or panicked or afraid.
"How did you know?"
Xuan Lu snorts inelegantly, brushing her hair back. "Anyone with eyes who paid even a little bit of attention would've known," she says, smiling when Xiao Zhan sighs. "To his credit, Yu Bin was pretty sure too, but he didn't want to make you guys uncomfortable."
Xiao Zhan glances across the salon. Yu Bin's dozing in his chair, sunglasses dangling from one limp hand, hairstylists fussing at his wig. "He was in on it and didn't say anything?" Xiao Zhan asks, biting back a smile. "That seems out of character."
Xuan Lu chuckles. She's shaking her head as Xiao Zhan turns back toward her. "He likes chaos, but he tries not to be too much of an asshole," she says, sounding fond. "At any rate, it didn't help that Wang-laoshi isn't actually a very good liar."
When Xiao Zhan tells Yibo this later, in between takes, Yibo starts laughing. "I don't think I was being particularly subtle either, to be honest," he says, swatting at Xiao Zhan's legs with Bichen. "You're just slow on the uptake, Zhan-ge. Now I know I just have to tell you exactly what I want."
Xiao Zhan huffs. "Oh, yeah?" He leans back against the big rock they're sitting on and squints up at the sky. "What do you want right now?"
"Just you," Yibo says, without artifice, like it's that easy. Maybe it is. He's smiling when Xiao Zhan looks at him again.
Xiao Zhan's heart seems to grow wings and take flight, burgeoning in his chest. "You have me," he says, knocking their knees together. He means every word of it.