There's chaos backstage. There always is, and Xiao Zhan makes his way through it as if on autopilot, nodding and acknowledging people in passing, absentmindedly thanking them when they compliment his performance. He can still hear the deafening noise of the audience, but the screams are shifting towards the rhythmic kind of clapping that precedes the petering out and finally the end of the applause. The end of the show. Of an era.
Xiao Zhan wants to be gone when that happens. He quickens his pace, tries to swallow the lump in his throat, which lodged there at some point during the farewells and has only grown bigger since. He wonders how much of a fuss his manager will make if he bypasses his dressing room completely and just leaves. He can take off his make-up himself, and the clothes can surely be sent back tomorrow. He just wants to go home. Well, to the hotel.
The production company arranged for the cast to have a late dinner there, but not for another couple of hours, and Xiao Zhan desperately needs some time to himself before that. Otherwise he's afraid he's going to fall apart should anybody so much as touch him. There's a voice at the back of his head telling him that he's overreacting terribly, but he can't quite silence it.
He's never felt like this with any of his previous projects, and he reckons he's not likely to ever do. Chen Qing Ling has been... different, in so many ways. Not just in terms of its popularity, which has changed his career, his life, in ways he never quite dared to imagine, but in the sheer intensity of the experience. And Xiao Zhan just said goodbye to the whole thing. To Wei Wuxian.
Shaking his head at himself, he flags down a crew member, asks if he could get a car back to the hotel. After the guy hustled off to arrange it, Xiao Zhan turns to the Tencent PA who's been hovering on the edges of his awareness, blessedly leaving him alone, and tells her to inform his manager that he has a headache and will see her in the morning, when they have to catch a plane to his next engagement.
Work never stops these days, for which Xiao Zhan is grateful, because this means that he'll be forced out of this... nostalgic funk sooner rather than later, other things demanding his attention. For tonight, however, CQL still dominates his life, and he shoots off a quick message into the cast chat to let them know that he'll see them at dinner.
Then the venue employee returns, and Xiao Zhan lets himself be led to the black car waiting at the back exit. It's soon enough after the show that only a few especially dedicated fans are camped out there, and he manages to wave at them with a smile that hopefully covers for his burning eyes. If he wasn't feeling so raw, he'd have liked to talk to them, thank them for their support, but as it is, he's not sure he could keep up the appropriately cheerful facade.
So instead he slides into the back of the car with one last wave at the screaming girls. Settling in with a sigh of relief, he's about the tell the driver to go only for the noise to increase in pitch. He glances out the tinted window in confusion, when the car door opens and someone slides in. He's wearing a baseball cap and a black mask, but Xiao Zhan doesn't need to hear the fans shrieking to know who it is.
"Wang-laoshi?" he asks, and Wang Yibo pulls down the mask to grin at him, visibly proud of having surprised him. The answering smile on Xiao Zhan's lips is reflex, as is the warmth spreading through him. Normally that's not a problem, after almost three years he's built up a certain tolerance, but right now his emotions are still too close to the surface.
Something must have shown on his face, because Yibo stops giving him that self-satisfied gremlin smirk. Instead he scoots closer, reaches out to touch Xiao Zhan's arm and asks worriedly, "Are you alright, Zhan-ge? I saw you leaving and thought you might like some company."
Only five minutes earlier Xiao Zhan had been convinced that he wanted to be alone. However, now he finds himself covering Yibo's hand and nodding. "I'd like that. Thank you, Bo-di."
He's always been bad at saying no to Yibo. It's something he's come to accept at some point between the director pointing towards a closed-off seeming young man, saying, "I think you know Wang Yibo. He's going to be your Lan Wangji," and the wrap party a few months later, when a tipsy Yibo had rested his head on Xiao Zhan's shoulder and mumbled, "Can we pretend just one more night?"
That's what they've been calling it, pretending. As if it's only their characters who draw them together, nothing but the epic love story of Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian, and not Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan, horsing around in ways that have nothing to do with their on-screen personas, laughing and touching, eyes catching and holding. The way they are now, and Xiao Zhan is all too aware that he's yet to let go of Yibo's hand.
There's a privacy screen between them and the driver, but it's a risk anyway. Still, it's their last night, and Xiao Zhan's throat is still hurting with held-back tears. Surely he's allowed this bit of comfort, the warmth of Yibo's skin, his fingers around Xiao Zhan's wrist, the pressure of his rings when he tightens his grip comfortingly.
"I didn't think it would be this hard." The words escape him, unbidden.
Yibo's lips twist into a wry smile. "I did."
He's always been the blunt one, the one who doesn't mince words, the one who pushes bravely forward when Xiao Zhan would have retreated in order to protect himself. To protect them both. Maybe it's his youth or the fact that Yibo grew up adored, excelling at everything he puts his mind to, or maybe it's just how he is. In any case, Xiao Zhan wouldn't want him any different.
Smiling fondly at the familiar train of thought, he shakes his head when Yibo tilts his head questioningly, unable to put his feelings into words. Yibo accepts his silence with a shrug, slumping down a little in his seat, his legs falling open just enough for his thigh to touch Xiao Zhan's. Some of the tension bleeds out of Xiao Zhan, and he shifts slightly as well, pressing back.
Exchanging small, private smiles, they stay like this for the rest of the ride, sharing a comfortable silence.
At the hotel, Yibo mutely follows Xiao Zhan to his room, a warm presence by his side, which Xiao Zhan does his best not to miss already. He is grateful for Yibo following him after the concert, for recognising his high-strung emotions and not wanting him to be alone with them. Xiao Zhan's not lying when he tells people that Wang Yibo's actually a warm and caring person. It's just that not many get the privilege of getting close enough to see it. Which suits him just fine, truth be told, as long as Xiao Zhan gets to be the recipient of Yibo's unexpected gentleness.
Like now, when Yibo pulls him into his arms after his hotel room door is shut. It's nothing sexual, although there have been plenty of times when Yibo was all over him the moment they were alone, all need and hunger and youthful stamina that never fails to astonish Xiao Zhan. This time Yibo simply hugs him close, one hand around his waist, the other guiding Xiao Zhan's face to the crook of his neck while he does the same, breath hot against Xiao Zhan's skin, until they're tucked together as tightly as two people can be while still wearing clothes.
They stay like this for a long time, and if there's moisture staining both their faces when they part, smudging the little make-up that hasn't ended up on each other's necks and collars, neither one of them feels the need to comment on it. Gently swiping his thumbs over Yibo's cheeks, Xiao Zhan smiles through his tears, his heart strangely lighter. There's no need to pretend to pretend. Not anymore.
"Shower?" he suggests, voice almost steady.
Yibo's sunrise smile transforms his face, making Xiao Zhan's heart thump heavily in his chest. "Sure. Although gege looks perfect as always."
"Bo-di is such a liar!" Xiao Zhan laughs and silences Yibo's mock-offended protests with a kiss. "Let's save the planet and conserve water, didi."
He can still feel the sadness lurking at the back of his mind, but it no longer stings quite so much. After all, while the show might be over, he gets to have Wang Yibo in his arms, wet and willing, their gasps and laughter echoing off the bathroom walls. And afterwards they will have dinner with the wonderful group of people he's come to love, enduring their good-natured teasing and rounds of increasingly emotional toasts as the night goes on. Even later, his body heavy and content from too much good food and drink and a lazy round of love-making, he'll fall asleep to the low sound of the tv, the light from the bathroom casting shadows on Yibo's beautiful face, peacefully sleeping with his head on Xiao Zhan's shoulder.
Leaving behind Wei Wuxian hurts, but Xiao Zhan is beginning to realise that he won't have to leave behind the most important thing he gained from the show. Certain things are too precious to let go of. Xiao Zhan tightens his embrace and whispers into the dark, "Farewell - and thank you."