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let me hear your body talk

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“But I am not a qualified personal trainer,” Zhu Yilong says, frowning. He suppresses the urge to shift from foot to foot or to cross his arms. He is uncomfortable but there is no need to broadcast it with such obvious tells. 

Bai Yu beams at him as if he’s just said something particularly clever. “And that’s why you will be perfect, Long-ge.”

“To… help you with your workout routine?” This time there is no stopping his body from doing a little shuffle on the spot. “Surely the company would…”

Bai Yu shakes his head. “No. I mean yes, they absolutely would but I don’t want a personal trainer standing over me and barking orders, or worse, being overly deferential because they’re paid to be, and not once cracking a joke or just… talking. Exercise is supposed to be fun, right? I’d rather do it with a friend.” He smiles, earnest and hopeful and devastating.

Zhu Yilong shivers and pretends it’s from the cold. He is wearing nothing but shorts and a tank-top after all, and the sweat from his recent run on the treadmill is definitely starting to cool off. It’s six am and he’s at the hotel gym at this time precisely because he thought he’d have it to himself, and instead there’s Bai Yu, holding out some kind of energy drink and talking gibberish.

“I’m not fun,” Zhu Yilong says. He doesn’t say ‘I’m not your friend’, not because it isn’t true – they’ve only really known each other for a couple of weeks – but because it feels like kicking a puppy. 

Besides, he may be oblivious at times but even he’s realised that Bai Yu is determined to make friendship happen, even if Zhu Yilong is not sure why. 

“Ah Long-ge, you mustn’t put yourself down like that. You are very funny. Especially when you pout like that.” 

“What?” Zhu Yilong gets indignant enough to forget about feeling self-conscious. “I do not pout!” 

Bai Yu laughs and throws him a towel. “So funny. Come on,” he says. “Get cleaned up and I’ll see you for breakfast? We can talk more.”

It may have only been a couple of weeks but it’s already obvious that Bai Yu’s relationship with food is one of absent-minded tolerance at best, and active avoidance at worst. For him to volunteer to at least be in the vicinity of breakfast is probably something Zhu Yilong shouldn’t discourage. 

“Fine,” he says and rubs the towel over his hair vigorously. 

When he looks up, Bai Yu is still there, watching him. He cuts an incongruous figure, visibly out of place in the middle of the gym equipment in his jeans and thick sweater, hands shoved deep into his pockets. 

Zhu Yilong waits to see if he says something more, but Bai Yu only holds his gaze for long seconds, and then rocks back and forth on his heels a couple of times before giving a brief nod and leaving without another word. 

Zhu Yilong blinks, the sense of puzzlement coming back. He’d thought he’d had Bai Yu figured out within hours of meeting him. The man is open and friendly, yet clearly determined not to waste his considerable talents. Ideal for a colleague, ideal for a long, intensive shoot. He’d expected to settle into a cordial but ultimately superficial working relationship with him. Except there was nothing superficial about the man, not really. Just layers. 

And for some reason, he’s just let Zhu Yilong see another one. 

Not that he really understands it.


***


Bai Yu regrets his idea the very next morning, when there’s a knock on his door even before the sun has risen. 

He contemplates just staying in bed and pretending he didn’t hear it, but he’s also pretty sure Zhu Yilong won’t try again if he gets no response this time. So he gathers the blankets around him and shuffles to the door, opening it. 

“Remind me again why this is the only time we can do this?” he asks, yawning. 

Zhu Yilong is looking disturbingly awake and put together, even if he’s only wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. 

“The hotel management are already doing us a favour by opening the facilities early. They cannot provide exclusive use in the evening. Besides,” Zhu Yilong tilts his head a little, a small smile quirking the corner of his mouth up, “I don’t think either of us has energy after a full day of filming.” 

The man has a point. Two of them. The hotel isn’t exactly a luxury establishment, but it’s the best they can afford, considering the shoestring budget the production is on. It really is only them, a couple of the other major role actors and the director who have been put up here. Bai Yu tries not to complain when he knows that most of the crew is staying in much poorer accommodation.

And there is definitely no energy left at the end of the day for anything but collapsing onto the bed and passing out. 

“Alright,” Bai Yu says. “Give me a minute.” He shuts the door and quickly uses the bathroom, finding his glasses and changing into workout gear. 

Well. He pulls on some tracksuit bottoms and decides that the t-shirt he slept in would do.

By the time they reach the top floor where the gym is located – by taking the stairs because “This is an excellent warm-up, let’s pick up the pace a bit.” – Bai Yu is fully awake and feeling much cheerier. 

And more optimistic about his idea of asking Zhu Yilong for some workout tips. Of course, the whole thing has very little to do with the actual exercise – although his agent will no doubt be delighted to hear that Bai Yu is taking an interest – and he suspects Zhu Yilong knows that too. But whether he does or not, Bai Yu takes his acquiescence as a good sign. They are in for several weeks of filming with little opportunity to socialise with friends or family and he is not prepared to spend it without some kind of proper human contact. Zhu Yilong is the only viable option. They are equal in status as the leads and in experience, and close enough in age for the difference to be negligible. 

Besides, Bai Yu just plain likes the man. He’s reserved, but dedicated, unfailingly kind with everyone from the catering assistant to the producers. There are also glimpses of wicked humour that Bai Yu catches and quickly makes his job to tease out more. A certain amount of goofing off is to be expected on set, but the intensity of the characters, of the story, makes it impossible to switch out of it too much. 

Zhao Yunlan is already under Shen Wei’s skin. Can Bai Yu really be blamed for wanting the same?

He looks around and sees the way Zhu Yilong’s shoulders relax when it’s clear that the gym is empty and no one else has decided to take advantage of the hotel management’s generous allocation of the early slot. Bai Yu hides a fond grin – the man really is an introvert – and instead slaps him gently on the back. 

“Now what?” he asks. 

“First we do some stretches.”


***


Zhu Yilong takes the time to go through his full warm-up routine of select yoga stretches and a few minutes on the skipping rope. It’s not his favourite part and even though he knows the wisdom of it, he often takes shortcuts. Today, he’s got a… His mind shies away from calling Bai Yu a student, if only because it quickly becomes obvious that he’s not a complete novice. 

A gym partner? That’s a thing, right? Zhu Yilong doesn’t know from personal experience, typically preferring a solitary exercise, but when he’s visited his cousin’s gym, he does see people arriving and leaving in pairs and small groups. 

He doesn’t remember any of them doing quite this much talking though. 

“Oooh, that’s a tricky one,” Bai You says cheerfully when Zhu Yilong goes for the Standing Big Toe pose, and from it to Crescent. 

And yet… He holds his balance probably better than Zhu Yilong does. There’s not the same strength to his form and he definitely struggles with grabbing his toe and extending his leg quite as high,[1a] but whilst flailing about it his one-legged stance remains stable and not once does he actually stumble or fall over. Zhu Yilong remembers doing quite a bit of that when he first started. 

“Am I doing it right?” Bai Yu asks, arms twisted around each other and one foot hooked behind the knee in a decent approximation of the Eagle pose.[2] His glasses have slid down his nose and Zhu Yilong suppresses an urge to push them up for him.

“Hmm,” Zhu Yilong says and then he… Well, there’s no way to sugar-coat it, he shoves Bai Yu, just a little. 

He’s horrified at himself as soon as he’s done it, hands flying out to catch Bai Yu when he… 

When he sways alarmingly, leg untwisting and shooting out to counterbalance but never actually touching ground, and within seconds he’s back to the pose. 

“Long-ge doesn’t play fair!” he accuses, but he’s laughing, little creases around his eyes and grin stretched wide enough to swallow all the air in the gym. 

Or at least that’s how it feels for Zhu Yilong. 

“Just testing your balance,” he murmurs, stepping back and focusing intently on the opposite wall. What is wrong with him? “It’s good.”

“Thank you,” Bai Yu says, finally untwining himself and shaking his limbs loose. “Snowboarding,” he offers as an explanation. “What next.”

Zhu Yilong wonders if there are photos online. Probably. Not that he’s going to go looking. 

Wordlessly, he motions toward the array of gym machines. 


***


It’s official. Bai Yu has the best ideas. They don’t go to the gym every morning but definitely more often than not. They don’t always have the place to themselves either – to his surprise other people besides Zhu Yilong sometimes choose to rise at the crack of down to pound on the treadmill or lift weights – but again, more often than not they do.

And… Well. It’s brilliant. 

Not at first, of course. But that’s fine, Bai Yu always expected to have to work for it. Heh. You could almost say he’s getting a double workout; one for his body and another for all his charm and social skills. 

Honestly, as good as Zhu Yilong’s workout tips actually are – Bai Yu knows way more than he used to about exactly which muscle group each of the equipment exercises and how to correctly use them – the emotional challenge he presents is way more intriguing. 

Bai Yu lets the weights on the lat pulldown machine clank into place and wipes sweat off his face, feeling a pleasant soreness in his arms and shoulders. He takes a moment to wipe down the bench, casting a covert look in Zhu Yilong’s direction. 

Today is a quiet day. Bai Yu has learned to read Zhu Yilong’s moods, cataloguing little tells and, importantly, finding out how to use them to his advantage. 

He frowns, moving to the leg extension machine, some ways off from where Zhu Yilong is busily rowing, probably half-way to Australia by now judging by the speed he’s going. ‘To his advantage’ and ‘emotional challenge’ sounds kind of… manipulative. Like Zhu Yilong is some kind of project for him to work through. 

Which is… Also not entirely untrue. But Bai Yu wouldn’t bother if he didn’t like the man. If he didn’t like him a lot. And he would definitely drop it if Zhu Yilong had given any indication that he genuinely didn’t want Bai Yu around. 

Which he hadn’t. The initial bafflement – endearingly, frustratingly sincere – over why Bai Yu would want to spend time with him, had slowly softened into cautious pleasure. His smiles were more frequent, and more genuine, and his willingness to share stories and little snippets of himself seemed to increase every day.

There were still days like this though, when Zhu Yilong was so deep in his own head that only drastic measures would do to pull him out and back to reality. 

Back to Bai Yu. 

He finishes his reps and just sits there, considering his options for a moment before determinedly pushing up and jogging over to Zhu Yilong. 

“Get off the boat,” he tells him. “Time to see who is the King of Chin-Ups.” 

Zhu Yilong slows his pace but doesn’t stop. “What are you talking about?” he asks, peering up at Bai Yu through sweaty bangs. God, Bai Yu is going to buy him the dorkiest sweatband and make him wear it. 

“Chin-ups,” he repeats, nodding toward the pair of pullup bars. “I bet I can take you. I used to go climbing, you know.” 

It’s such a blatantly outrageous claim that it stops Zhu Yilong mid-pull and he lets the handle clatter down the track. His eyebrows shoot right up and yes, there he is. Bai Yu gives a little congratulatory fist-bump to himself inside his mind.

“Climbing?” Zhu Yilong asks, getting to his feet. “Chin-ups?” He shakes his arms that must be tired from the long stretch on the rowing machine and eyes Bai Yu and the bars speculatively. 

Bai Yu nods. “Winner buys breakfast.” The whole thing is ridiculous of course. One, there is no contest here who is going to win. Even tired, Zhu Yilong has enough upper body strength to easily best Bai Yu, and they’ve been taking turns paying for breakfast pretty much since the start of their gym arrangement. 

Zhu Yilong clearly knows all of this. He still follows Bai Yu to the pullup bar, jumping up to catch hold of it with a gleam of determination in his eye. 

Bai Yu loses. But not by as much as Zhu Yilong clearly expected, which is a victory in its own right. He pays for their breakfast at the noodle restaurant and talks loudly about Long-ge’s legendary strength and prowess to everyone the whole day, absolutely delighted by the way Zhu Yilong flushes every time. 


***


It takes another week or so for Zhu Yilong to realise that Bai Yu’s aversion for looking after himself correlates with his preference to be around other people. He eats when he’s surrounded by a large group of people laughing and joking, during the break on set. He eats with Zhu Yilong, sometimes only by virtue of stealing things off his plate, but any complaints Zhu Yilong voices over that sound fake even to his own ears. He does not, Zhu Yilong is pretty certain, eat outside of those times. 

The same is apparently true with exercise. It is quickly obvious that Bai Yu isn’t nearly as hopeless around gym equipment, or other exercise routines they can do in the limited facilities they have at their disposal. He gets Zhu Yilong to demonstrate how to use each one, even though he must have used them all at some point. 

“Going to the gym is so boring usually,” he says by way of explanation, lightening the weights on the pec deck without a hint of self-consciousness. Zhu Yilong admires that. 

“I would rather hang out with friends. But now I can do both!” And that’s the cinch right there. Bai Yu loves people and company. Why he’s chosen to seek it from Zhu Yilong, he doesn’t know.

Bai Yu flashes him a wide grin. “Ai, my agent will be so happy. I will ask her to look for strongman roles next. Maybe a sports film, what do you think, Long-ge?”

Zhu Yilong laughs, surprising even himself. “Let’s see how long you’ll keep this up first, hmm?” 

Bai Yu only smiles wider, seemingly delighted, despite Zhu Yilong’s less than complimentary implications.

To his credit, Bai Yu keeps showing up. For the first week Zhu Yilong tenses against the inevitable – he reluctantly admits to himself after a few days – disappointment after knocking on Bai Yu’s door in the morning. But every time his co-star opens, usually still half-asleep and tangled in his sheets, looking soft and unbearably young. And every time he simply asks Zhu Yilong to wait until he changes into his gym outfit instead telling him that actually, today he’d just like to get another hour in bed. 

After a while he starts to trust that Bai Yu will be there on the mornings they arrange to go. It’s important to have rest days too, Zhu Yilong explains, and somehow that turns into longer breakfasts and Bai Yu seeking him out more during the breaks on set, slumping against his side with a mumbled “I’m resting, Long-ge. This is me resting.” 

Zhu Yilong had not expected to make a friend on this shoot. He never expects that, simply because it has turned out to be true so rarely in his life. 

And yet, the Guardian shoot is proving to be an exception in more ways than once. The role is something else and travelling the tightrope of Shen Wei’s coiled rage and unfathomable yearning leaves him exhausted on most days. Except Bai Yu is there, letting Zhu Yilong see how he lets Zhao Yunlan melt into the background, the detective’s suspicion and reluctant caring replaced by something lighter and yet no less genuine as Bai Yu chatters through the drive back to the hotel, a long line of warmth almost but not quite pressed against to Zhu Yilong’s side. 

In the morning they take the stairs up to the top floor of the hotel and Bai Yu’s stories and small talk and stupid jokes accompany their workout routines. Zhu Yilong alternates between strength training and aerobic workouts, usually on the treadmill, but Bai Yu tends to stick to the gym machines. “At least you’re sitting down. Or even lying down!” he explains. “None of this running around business.”

He seems to enjoy skipping rope, nimble on his feet, but declares fervent hatred for running in place. “Now hiking, that’s another story! One day I will take you trekking in Xian, just you wait! The scenery is…” He gets a dreamy look in his face and just like that they spend the next two days exchanging childhood stories, Bai Yu’s openness demanding nothing less in return. 

Zhu Yilong finds himself sharing things he hasn’t with anyone outside his family and Peng Guanying, and he can’t summon any regret for that, not when Bai Yu listens to each story like it’s the best he’s ever heard, laughing, sighing or expressing sympathy in all the right places. 

By the time the first month of the filming is behind them Zhu Yilong calls Bai Yu Xiao Bai in front of the crew without a conscious decision to do so and no one bats an eyelid, although Bai Yu’s eyes widen slightly, before his face splits into a radiant smile. 

Zhu Yilong smiles back helplessly, ignoring the swooping sensation at the bottom of his stomach. It’s fine. It’s great. 

They’re gym buddies. And friends.


***


Six weeks in and the mid-shoot slump starts to hit. It doesn’t help that they’re filming the scenes of Zhao Yunlan’s blindness and aftermath thereof. Zhao Yunlan is furious over Shen Wei’s decision to sacrifice his own wellbeing on his behalf, and that’s without having to watch him kneeling in the rain for hours. 

Alright, so filming that scene doesn’t actually take hours. The director is very good at being as quick and efficient as possible about the tough scene, but for Bai Yu, standing in the side lines and watching the way Zhu Yilong and Shen Wei break for his sake is…

He grabs the towel from one of the assistants and is there, draping it around Zhu Yilong’s shoulders when the director finally calls it a wrap. It’s not much but Zhu Yilong’s grateful smile eases some of the churning worry inside him. 

He’s still not over it by the next morning though. Zhu Yilong makes a quip about him being unusually quiet but when there’s no reply he lets it be. It doesn’t feel like a rejection though, or some kind of huff because Bai Yu is failed to be entertaining enough. He’s good at that, Zhu Yilong, just… Being there, without any expectation. 

The silent companionship is oddly soothing and while Bai Yu doubts he would enjoy it for the long run, for now it’s something he can appreciate. There’s another demanding day of filming ahead and Bai Yu can already feel Zhao Yunlan’s frustration simmering at the bottom of his stomach. The script calls for a confrontation and Bai Yu doesn’t think it will be difficult to reach the depth of emotion required. 

For now, he’s content to lose himself in the steady repetition of the workout, counting sets and feeling the ache settle into his muscles. Each lift of his legs makes his thighs burn and after finishing Bai Yu just sits there for a moment, getting his breath back. From the corner of his eye he can see Zhu Yilong, working on the free weights, and there’s something oddly compelling about the look of concentration on his face. 

Bai Yu turns his head to get a better look and gets lost in watching the rhythmic swell of Zhu Yilong’s bicep as he curls his arm up and down, up and down, over and over again. His tank-top is dark with sweat between the shoulder blades, hair sticking damply to his forehead. There’s a healthy pink tint of exertion to his skin and Bai Yu knows that it would be warm to touch, hot even. 

His eyes trace the line of Zhu Yilong’s arm again as he switches hands, trailing along the span of his shoulders, down to the shift of muscle in his legs and thighs as he braces himself before starting another rep. 

Unconsciously, Bai Yu licks his lips, the sharp salt of his own sweat jolting him out of his thoughts. 

What is he doing? 

He stands up abruptly, trapping his shin painfully behind the leg hold. 

“Ow, fuck!” He almost falls flat on his face as the result, catching himself at the last minute. 

Apparently, his distress is enough to rouse Zhu Yilong from his exercise trance. 

“Xiao Bai?” There’s a dull thud of the weight hitting the mat and the sound of rapid steps. “Are you hurt?” A hand clasps his shoulder and Bai Yu was right, it is warm, almost burning through his thin t-shirt. 

He closes his eyes tighter and it’s only partly because his leg really does hurt. Shit. 

“Shit,” he says. “I’m fine, Long-ge. Just clumsy.” He tries a laugh and twists out of Zhu Yilong’s hold under the guise of turning around and sitting sideways on the bench to inspect his leg. 

This turns out to be a grave mistake because no sooner has Bai Yu’s ass hit the seat than Zhu Yilong’s knees do the same to the ground in front of him. “You’re not clumsy,” he says. “Let me see.” Without waiting for permission he takes Bai Yu’s leg in both of his, gently prodding at the calf, fingers testing the kneecap and shinbone and even his ankle. 

“Come on, Long-ge,” Bai Yu says. “I didn’t break anything. It’s just a bruise.” His voice comes out husky and he desperately hopes the way he hunches forward could be interpreted as a reaction to pain and not… anything else. 

There’s a serious expression of focus on Zhu Yilong’s face as he keeps up his examination for a few seconds longer, seemingly unwilling to take Bai Yu’s word for it. 

“You need to be more careful,” he says, raising his eyes to peer at Bai Yu’s face. “Can’t have you injuring yourself.” For a moment, fleeting but breath-taking, it’s Shen Wei looking up at Zhao Yunlan, willing to take on any hurt himself, and Bai Yu doesn’t know if the complex mixture of frustration and affection, of anger and something darker still, something that has his hand reaching for Zhu Yilong’s face, is his or Zhao Yunlan’s. 

He catches himself at the last second, turning the caress into a jokey pat on the head. “Aww, Long-ge cares! I am touched!” He puts both hands over his heart, in an exaggerated gesture of being overwhelmed. Never mind that massive boulder of truth in it. 

It works though and Zhu Yilong huffs in exasperation and pushes back to his feet. There’s pinkness to his face though, and his eyes are warm. “Did you hit your head as well?” he asks. “I’ll ask the doctor on the set to look you over. In fact,” he glances at his watch and then heads to retrieve his towel from where he’d left it. “We should get going.”

Bai Yu lets out a quiet sigh of relief, grateful that his leg actually is bruised enough to distract him for the short trip back to their rooms. 

He knows Zhu Yilong will most likely have a bag of ice waiting for him in the car but right now he allows himself the hottest shower he can bear, very carefully keeping his mind blank as he stands under the spray, head bowed. If he doesn’t think about it too closely, doesn’t give a name to the spike of… Then it didn’t happen. It’s nothing. 

At the very least, it’s not something Bai Yu can afford to grow.


***


At first, Zhu Yilong had been disappointed that the hotel didn’t have a pool. He likes swimming and it would have added variety to his workout routine. Now however, he looks at the easy grace with which Bai Yu flows from one yoga pose to another, eyes caught by the narrowness of his waist as Bai Yu huffs and moans his way through a set of twisting sit-ups, and he’s mostly relieved. At least now there are clothes, although not always as much as Zhu Yilong would prefer. The first time Bai Yu shows up in shorts and tank-top instead his usual oversized t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms combo Zhu Yilong almost swallows his own tongue. 

That morning he increases both the speed and the incline on the treadmill, pounding the belt until his lungs burn and sweat stings his eyes until he can’t see any further than the digital display counting down the distance. By the time he finishes, his legs are trembling and he has quite literally run himself ragged in an effort not to ogle his co-star’s body. 

It’s not as if Bai Yu is even wearing anything particularly provocative. It’s not as if he’s doing it on purpose. It’s not as if his body is Zhu Yilong’s to… 

God, this is pathetic. He’s pathetic. Zhu Yilong slump onto one of the benches by the wall, his head hanging low and a towel draped over the back of his neck as he waits for his heartbeat to slow down. 

Maybe it’s just because he’s not used to making new friends? And maybe – his mouth twists self-deprecatingly – it’s because he’s certainly not used to forming more intimate connections, that now that the former has happened his mind, his heart, is confusing it with the latter.

“Here.” A hand holding a water bottle is thrust into Zhu Yilong’s field of vision. “Drink this before you pass out.”

Zhu Yilong reaches for the bottle automatically, uncorking it and tipping his head back to drink, coughing slightly as he almost inhales some of the water in his haste. He’s thankfully too tired to flinch when Bai Yu unceremoniously drops next to him. 

He does jerk a little in surprise when a hand lands between his shoulder blades and rubs a few soothing circles. 

“Don’t choke,” Bai Yu says, chuckling a little though it sounds strained. “What were you trying to do, run a marathon?” 

Zhu Yilong shakes his head, shrugging. There’s no way to answer that question properly so he settles for a vague “It’s good to push yourself sometimes.” 

The hand on his back slows down, stops, and then withdraws. Zhu Yilong tries not feel disappointed and fails miserably. 

“But not to the point of hurting yourself,” Bai Yu says quietly. His tone of voice is so removed from his normal jovial one that Zhu Yilong turns around to look despite his earlier resolution to avoid the very thing until whatever temporary insanity had taken hold of him had gone away. 

Bai Yu is staring straight ahead, elbows resting on his knees. Zhu Yilong’s gaze is drawn to the long, bare expanse of his leg, the shorts riding high on his thigh as he’s sitting. His skin is pale, somehow vulnerable, and Zhu Yilong finds himself wondering if he bruises easily. 

He swallows, eyes dropping lower and yes, there is a still a mark on Bai Yu’s leg where he got it caught in the machine, the skin now mottled sickly yellow. 

Zhu Yilong hisses in sympathy, reaching out to touch without meaning to, his fingertips barely brushing the skin before he realises what he’s doing and snatches his hand back. “You’re one to talk,” he says, mostly just to cover for his actions. 

Bai Yu darts him an unreadable look before tucking his legs further under the bench. He straightens up from his slump but wraps his arms around his middle as if for protection. 

But there is only Zhu Yilong here. He feels cold all of sudden despite the vigorous exercise. 

“That was an accident,” Bai Yu says softly. “This was on purpose.” 

Zhu Yilong frowns, uncertain of exactly what they are fighting about. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says, sharper than he intended. “I’m not hurt, just a bit winded.” 

“Right.” Bai Yu stands up suddenly, plucking the now empty water bottle from Zhu Yilong’s nerveless fingers. “Nothing to worry about then. See you at the car.”

With that he goes to collect his things and leaves without a backward glance. 

Zhu Yilong sits on the bench, staring at nothing, unsure of what just happened but feeling like it was his fault. Eventually, another hotel guest enters the gym and the noise startles him just in time to still manage to shower and change before having to be downstairs. 

He is late actually, for the first time on this shoot, and the last three as well. He hates being an inconvenience and apologises profusely to the driver. Bai Yu is already in, eyes trained on the tinted window, and simply waves off the “I’m sorry” Zhu Yilong directs at him. 

The cold pit at the bottom of his stomach opens up a bit more. He wants to fix this but doesn’t know how because he doesn’t know what’s gone wrong. 

Unless he hasn’t been nearly as subtle about his shifting feelings as he thought. He’s only really noticed it over the last week, but that doesn’t mean it’s only happened over the last week. Maybe any precautions he’s taken have been too little too late, and his face has already betrayed him.

Except it doesn’t quite fit. Yes, now that he thinks back on it, Bai Yu has been a little less exuberant than normal, but he isn’t exactly avoiding Zhu Yilong. And earlier, he’d seemed concerned – over nothing, Zhu Yilong still thinks – not… disgusted. 

He glances at his co-star but is met with nothing but the back of his head, still resolutely turned toward the car window. Zhu Yilong’s hand twitches with the urge to reach out but in the end, he laces his fingers in his lap and turns to his own window.


***


Bai Yu feels like shit. He is upset at Zhu Yilong for… No. That’s not right. He is upset because of Zhu Yilong, but none of the upset is his responsibility. Zhu Yilong did nothing wrong. It’s not his fault that Bai Yu has gone and ruined a perfectly good friendship by having feelings. ‘More than friendship’ type of feelings. ‘Would like to tangle my fingers in your hair and kiss your neck and your mouth and swallow the sounds you make and hope that one of them is my name’ kind of feelings. 

In retrospect it’s obvious that his self-imposed policy of ignore, deny, repress was not going to succeed. Bai Yu has always worn his heart in his sleeve, perhaps more than is strictly wise for someone who spends as much time in the public eye as he does. Once he’d realised that the scattered collection of ‘Zhu Yilong is awesome’, ‘wow Long-ge is so strong’ and ‘when he gets concerned over whether I’ve eaten dinner or not and then brings me some it gives me warm fuzzies’ in fact coalesce into ‘I wish he’d pick me up, push me against a wall and fuck me until I cried’ desire…

Well, there’s no turning back. 

Except he can’t really go forward either. 

Bai Yu isn’t naïve. People hook up on shoots all the time. Hell, the industry boasts more than a few married couples who met whilst filming together. And it’s not like he hasn’t had offers in the past; some even that he seriously considered accepting. 

But in the end, he never did, figuring that if he wasn’t interested enough to actually make the offer himself, it probably wasn’t worth destabilising a perfectly amenable working relationship. Thankfully, no one had ever been more than mildly disappointed either in response to his polite rejections. 

He has a feeling that things would not be so easy between him and Zhu Yilong. Largely because Bai Yu wants to keep what’s between them beyond the end of the shoot. He thinks Zhu Yilong is probably not expecting it, but Bai Yu fully aims to add him to his circle of friends and to make some plans to spend time together when their careers allow. 

Of course, none of that matters if he’s managed to screw things up already, just by failing to deal with his stupid feelings and instead taking them out on Zhu Yilong for the grievous crime of existing in Bai Yu’s direct eyeline with his beautiful face and frankly indecent body, not to mention his stupid, generous heart that he’d gone and let Bai Yu see. 

Put all of that on a treadmill, running like demons were on his heels, a look of grim determination on his face and Bai Yu had twisted himself into knots with concern and unadulterated lust because fuck, how long could he actually go on? That kind of stamina hinted at all sorts of possibilities that Bai Yu tried very hard not to think about, at least not whilst actually in the same room but this morning it had been impossible. 

So when Zhu Yilong had dismissed his awkward attempt at finding out if anything was wrong, he had reacted like a hurt child. 

And now it’s lunch time, Long-ge is not waiting at their usual table and Bai Yu is officially a bad friend. 

“He’s in his trailer,” Li Yan says, anticipating Bai Yu’s question before he has a chance to ask it. “Said he had a headache.” 

Bai Yu nods his thanks. He collects enough food for both of them, stuffs two water bottles under one arm, begs some painkillers off the production medic and stomps determinedly toward Zhu Yilong’s trailer. 

Once there, he resorts to kicking the side of the trailer as his hands are full and he doesn’t want to put the tray down. “Come on, open the door,” he calls. “I have brought lunch.” He doesn’t mention the medicine because Zhu Yilong is likely to be stubborn about that. Better to just hand it over with the water after he’s eaten. 

At least that’s the plan.

“Long-ge, please.” There’s a crack of emotion in his voice and he swallows hard to keep it from widening. “I’m worried. I’m sorry about this morning. Just open the—” 

The door swings open and Zhu Yilong gazes down at him with a familiar frown on his face. He’s still wearing Shen Wei’s three-piece suit from the morning’s shoot but the glasses are off. 

“There is nothing to apologise for,” he says firmly and then, more softly, “Xiao Bai, I…” He falters, mouth moving around words that don’t actually materialise, eyes wandering from Bai Yu’s face to the tray of dishes he’s holding. “Is that food?” he asks, unnecessarily, and takes a step down, closing the trailer door behind him. “I could eat,” he offers and sits down on the middle step, awkwardly patting the narrow space next to him. 

Bai Yu sits down without hesitation, even though the cramped space puts them flush against other. “This will be like eating on an airplane,” he comments and then hastily adds “I like it” when Zhu Yilong tenses as if to get up.

Bai Yu transfers the tray over to balance on Zhu Yilong’s knees and picks up his own bowl and chopsticks, hissing a little from the heat of the dish. They eat in companionable silence and little by little he can feel Zhu Yilong relax against him. When Bai Yu exchanges his empty bowl for a blister pack of painkillers, he only huffs and accepts them without a fight. 

He could just leave it at that, Bai Yu thinks, accept the silent truce and move on. But there’s a restless itch under his skin, and Bai Yu wants to clear the air. Long-ge seems relaxed, receptive right now so maybe Bai Yu can push… Just a bit. 

“Are you alright, though?” he asks, turning around as much as he can on the narrow step. “This morning… You seemed…” He shrugs, unable to put to words the sense of unease he’d had, watching Zhu Yilong run himself almost literally to the ground. No wonder he has a headache now. 

“It was not—” Zhu Yilong visibly swallows his instinctive denial. He takes a deep breath and turns his face toward Bai Yu although he’s not quite meeting his eyes. “I was just having a… weird morning. Guess I didn’t sleep well. I’m sorry for worrying you. And for dismissing that. You were just being… kind.” There’s something like pain, something broken, that passes over his face at the last word, but Bai Yu blinks and it’s gone, replaced by a neutral expression.

“It’s fine. I was fussing,” Bai Yu says. “Long-ge is knowledgeable in the area of physical skills.” Ruthlessly, he represses the urge to waggle his eyebrows at that and make it a suggestive comment. Now is not the time. “I should trust you know how far to push yourself.” But how about pushing me for a change, his mind adds, traitorously. Bai Yu ignores it.

Zhu Yilong nods, still a bit guarded, but smiling now, in a way that reaches all the way to his eyes.

And Bai Yu’s just, he’s just so relieved, the tension draining in a rush of giddiness, that he doesn’t think, just throws his arms around Zhu Yilong and pulls the man into a tight embrace. There’s a moment where it’s like hugging a statue, but then, before Bai Yu has a chance to start really regretting his impulsivity, Zhu Yilong’s arms come around him, tentative and light but there, wrapping around Bai Yu’s waist, broad palms coming to rest along his spine.

“Long-ge,” he says, and it comes out like a sigh, breathy and embarrassingly longing, falling into the scant space between his mouth and the curve of Zhu Yilong’s neck. He shivers, probably ticklish from the way Bai Yu’s beard must be scraping at his skin. Bai Yu squeezes his eyes shut and curses himself inwardly. Friends, he reminds himself and then gives Zhu Yilong’s back a couple of brotherly slaps to cover for his slip before pulling back. 

Except what he sees on Zhu Yilong’s face derails his ‘only friends’ with the subtlety of an oncoming train. He’s visibly flushed, lips temptingly parted, eyes kind of glazed and hands still fisted in Bai Yu’s shirt. Most damningly of all, he’s staring at Bai Yu’s mouth. 

Bai Yu blinks and then, because he has to be sure he’s not hallucinating things, he lets the tip of his tongue just… peek out a little, resting on his bottom lip before doing a slow swipe over it. 

Zhu Yilong’s eyes follow the movement and Bai Yu’s heart slams into overdrive. He swallows; a dry click of his throat that must be audible because Zhu Yilong’s fingers twitch in the fabric of Bai Yu’s shirt, tugging him imperceptibly closer. “Xiao Bai,” he murmurs. “I…”

“Ten minutes to places!” The Assistant Director’s familiar shout causes them to spring apart. 

“Uh, I should…” Zhu Yilong gets up and gestures nonsensically at his trailer. “Thanks for the lunch.” He opens the door and ducks inside, leaving Bai Yu still sitting on the steps, his heart beating like he’d been the one on the treadmill.

Did that just…? Was Long-ge really…? 

Is it, in fact, possible that Bai Yu isn’t the only one having the kind of feelings that aren’t easily contained under the friendship label? And if so, what would it take for the possibility to turn into certainty? What would it take for that look in Zhu Yilong’s eyes to transform into action?

After a couple of minutes and another call from the AD he mechanically gathers their lunch dishes and gets up. There’s a smile on his face as he walks back toward the catering tent, one that is both hopeful and perhaps just a tad… scheming.


***


Zhu Yilong manages to avoid Bai Yu for the rest of the day but there’s no way around a shared drive back to the hotel, not without inventing a medical emergency or throwing some kind of diva fit and demanding his own car which… No. Not even for this. 

He squares his shoulders and channels his inner Black Cloaked Envoy, walking to the car like he’s walking into a battle. The driver is waiting and politely opens the door for him. On the backseat, Bai Yu is already waiting. 

Zhu Yilong takes a deep breath and folds himself next to him. 

A takeaway cup of tea is thrust at him almost immediately. 

“Here,” Bai Yu says, flashing a smile. “I read that dehydration can cause headaches. Go on,” he urges when Zhu Yilong stares at the cup, “Drink it. For me?”

That’s the very least Zhu Yilong would do for Bai Yu if he asked so he reaches for the cup and raises to his lips, taking a sip, and then humming in pleasure as the flavour of honey and ginger hit his tongue. 

When he opens his eyes he finds Bai Yu watching him intently. There’s something intense, something heated in the gaze, but Bai Yu breaks it before Zhu Yilong has a chance to do more than draw his breath. 

Bai Yu launches into a monologue about who messed their lines, who told what to whom, whose aunt is in the hospital and who is tapped for what role after the Guardian filming finishes. It’s all achingly familiar, Bai Yu sharing all the gossip Zhu Yilong usually remains oblivious of, and gradually he relaxes back against the seat, sipping his tea and humming in all the right places. 

Maybe Bai Yu hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary after all. Of if he had, he was doing the kind thing and ignoring it. And while there is a twinge of disappointment in his belly at the thought, this is still far better than the outcome Zhu Yilong had expected. 

Far, far better. 

Except of course, it turns out to be far, far worse.

The next morning Zhu Yilong knocks on Bai Yu’s door as usual. What greets him though is not the usual sight of Bai Yu wrapped in sheets and looking like a sleepy toddler. 

He’s still sleepy and soft looking, but there are no sheets in sight. Instead, Bai Yu is leaning on the doorway dressed in nothing but boxer shorts, clearly old and worn and riding dangerously low on his hips. By the time Zhu Yilong manages to drag his gaze up – via the rest of Bai Yu’s lean torso, the dusting of hair on his chest making Zhu Yilong’s fingers itch – he knows without a shadow of the doubt that he’s been caught looking.

There’s a small smirk playing on Bai Yu’s lips and Zhu Yilong flushes, bracing himself for a comment that doesn’t come. Instead Bai Yu just says his usual “Give me a second” and closes the door gently on Zhu Yilong’s still shock slack face. 

He’s relieved when Bai Yu emerges dressed in modest sweatpants and a t-shirt that hangs loosely around his frame, rather than any of the more revealing workout clothes he also owns. 

However, his relief is short-lived.

On the surface, their morning routine is no different. They go through their stretches more or less in tandem, Bai Yu keeping up the small talk, something about new memes that are doing the rounds among the fans, while Zhu Yilong listens with half an ear and mostly focuses on the way his body is slowly waking up. Afterwards, they start the circuit at the gym, both of them on the resistance equipment today as Zhu Yilong judges it best to give the treadmill a miss for a few days. 

However, there is something that feels subtly different. So much so that first Zhu Yilong dismisses it as a result of an overactive imagination. 

During the stretches, Bai Yu stands just a bit closer than usual. When he spreads his arms wide, his fingertips brush over Zhu Yilong’s shoulder. “Sorry,” he says, but doesn’t move any further away, simply folding down into a Child’s Pose[3] and then up to Downward-Facing Dog[4] which… Is not one of the poses Zhu Yilong uses regularly, definitely not one he’s shown Bai Yu, and yet there he is, feet and hands flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart, the rest of his body forming a triangle. 

Zhu Yilong deliberately ignores the sight of Bai Yu’s rounded ass and instead focuses on his form. It’s not bad, but he’s sagging in the middle a bit, which will cause problems later. 

Trying not to question himself too much Zhu Yilong reaches underneath him and places the flat of his hand over Bai Yu’s sternum. “Up a bit,” he says, pushing to demonstrate. “You want a straight spine, no arch here.” He briefly touches the small of Bai Yu’s back, humming in approval as he tries his best to follow instructions. “This is one of those poses that’s more difficult than it seems.”

“Yeah,” Bai Yu agrees, voice strained from the effort. “Saw it online though, wanted to try it.” 

“Looks pretty good from here,” Zhu Yilong says and then clamps his teeth painfully on his bottom lip, except it’s definitely too late and he definitely did just say that, one hand still hovering perilously close to Bai Yu’s ass. Which, unlike his yoga pose, is perfect. 

Zhu Yilong steps back, deciding that he’s feeling quite warmed up now and it’s time to move to the gym equipment at the other end of the room. 

His attempt at putting some distance between them, however, fails spectacularly. For the rest of the morning Bai Yu follows him around, always choosing to work on the machine next to his, or at least within his eyeline. It could easily be a coincidence and Zhu Yilong can’t exactly accuse him of doing it deliberately without sounding like a lunatic. Besides, what if he is? Maybe it’s just because he seems particularly chatty today and it’s easier to keep the conversation going if you’re close enough not to have to shout. 

It’s probably nothing. 

It is not nothing. 

The pattern of behaviour continues the next morning. And the next. And the one after that. And so it goes on. It doesn’t mean Bai Yu does the same thing every day – the Downward-Facing Dog doesn’t make a reappearance for once and Zhu Yilong tells himself he’s relieved – but Bai Yu sticks close and every morning there is at least one occasion that he manages to get Zhu Yilong flustered. 

The indecently short shorts and the tank-top with pre-ripped sleeves – ridiculous on anyone else, but Bai Yu pulls it off with the kind of ‘bad boy done good’ charm that even Zhao Yunlan would envy – become a regular outfit much to Zhu Yilong dismay. He tries to keep his eyes to himself but it’s next to impossible when Bai Yu is always there, close enough to touch if Zhu Yilong dared to.

Zhu Yilong develops a hitherto unknown hatred toward gym equipment. It’s difficult to decide which is the worst. Each comes with its own variation of Bai Yu, sweaty and flushed, his lean frame stretched and straining in ways that make Zhu Yilong think of what all of that would look against bedsheets. Or maybe just the gym floor. 

Maybe even right there on the machine, arms held wide and open by the grips of the pec deck – unmoving because Zhu Yilong had told him to keep them there – while he traced the outline of his chest, rubbing fingers over the hard nub of a nipple, visible against the damp fabric. Would Bai Yu’s mouth open just like it does when he’s breathing hard through the last of his set? Would the little grunt he makes be the same if the effort wasn’t the weights but holding still while Zhu Yilong’s touch trailed lower, if he rucked up that twice-damned tank-top and dipped his fingers just under the waistband…?

Zhu Yilong breathes hard through his mouth and adds another weight onto his own machine. His muscles are burning but not nearly as much as Bai Yu’s gaze, seemingly fixed on him whenever he turns to look. 

The morning Bai Yu decides to try the leg curl machine is almost his undoing. They’ve both been ignoring that until now. There are other ones Zhu Yilong prefers more for lower body workout, ones without such an awkward, vulnerable position. 

However, when Bai Yu asks if he wouldn’t mind helping him with it, “Just to make sure I’m doing it right,” there is no way for him to refuse without either sounding like a prick or worse, explaining why watching Bai Yu lying face down, ass up on a bench is not conducive to his peace of mind.

Especially as he’s starting to suspect that Bai Yu is not really concerned about preserving Zhu Yilong’s peace of mind. Quite the opposite in fact. At least in here. 

Outside of the gym things are much less… tense. Bai Yu is still sticking close, his touches still linger, but he’s not draping his semi-naked body over furniture right under Zhu Yilong’s nose.

“Alright,” he says, licking his suddenly dry lips. “You need to lie down on your stomach, get your ankles under here… Slide a little lower.” He grabs hold of one of Bai Yu’s ankles, tugs it into position, trying to ignore the warm skin under his palm. “You’ve got handholds under the bench, just… That’s it.” 

He steps back to take a proper look. It’s not as bad as he expects. 

It’s worse. 

Oh Bai Yu’s position is perfect thanks to Zhu Yilong’s arrangement – his mind skitters away from the path that thought leads down to – but it’s exactly as provocative as he’d feared. Bai Yu’s front is pressed snug against the padded bench, his hips raised, all prominently on display, shorts bunching high enough to reveal pretty much the whole length of his thighs, the pale, soft skin on the inside of them practically begging for Zhu Yilong’s fingers, his mouth and…

“Long-ge?” Bai Yu’s voice snaps his attention back to the front end of the bench. He finds Bai Yu with his head turned toward him, watching him from under his fringe with a molten look. “Tell me what to do now, Long-ge?” he asks and the words go straight to Zhu Yilong’s cock. 

“Just…” He clears his throat, takes another step back, prays that Bai Yu doesn’t drop his gaze any lower than his face. “Lift. With your legs. You should feel it in your hamstrings. Backs of…” His eyes trail over the body part in question at their own volition. “Backs of your thighs.” 

“Like this?” Bai Yu asks, curling his legs up. The effort presses his hips tighter to the bench, his ass clenching just a bit along with everything else. “Am I doing it right, Long-ge?” He lowers his legs and curls them up again, and again, and fuck, fuck, there is no innocent explanation for this, not when Bai Yu is maintaining eye contact the whole time despite the awkward angle it puts on his neck, not when he’s staring at Zhu Yilong with something a lot like challenge in his eyes. 

He’s doing this on purpose, deliberately teasing and Zhu Yilong… 

Zhu Yilong panics. 

“Perfect,” he babbles. “You’re doing perfect. Just… Keep a good rhythm going.” Oh god, everything from his mouth sounds like the worst innuendo right now, except Bai Yu doesn’t seem to mind if the way his eyes darken is any indication.

“I’m very good at keeping rhythm, Long-ge,” he practically purrs, and that’s it. That’s the final straw. If Zhu Yilong doesn’t leave now, he’s going to climb right on top of Bai Yu right here on the damned leg curl machine, pull down his shorts and underwear and test just how well he can keep to the rhythm Zhu Yilong wants to set. 

He doesn’t even attempt an explanation, just turns on his heels and walks off, not even pausing to collect his towel. 


***


Bai Yu is getting increasingly frustrated. He’s pretty certain that Zhu Yilong is attracted to him. If the blushes and averted eyes and the sudden preoccupation with adjusting weights whenever Bai Yu is flaunting his body – yes, there really is no other way to put it; he is putting himself on display in every way he can think of – were about offended sense of decency, surely he would’ve just said something by now. 

It’s not just about physical lust either. They’ve always taken the time – first at Bai Yu’s insistence but he’d gotten Long-ge on board quickly enough – to hang out between takes, and even in the evenings despite their mutual exhaustion. Bai Yu makes sure to keep that up, doing everything in his power to show Long-ge how much he likes spending time with him, how much he likes him, beyond the purely physical attraction that he must have made more than obvious by now. 

Zhu Yilong’s pleased smile when he accepts drinks and enthusiastic tackle hugs, when he shyly seeks out Bai Yu’s company, comfortable enough to just be without needing an excuse, all suggest that Bai Yu is not alone in that either. 

The problem is that Bai Yu has no idea how to break the holding pattern they’re in. With anyone else, he would’ve just gone for a direct approach already, maybe just ducked in for a kiss when Zhu Yilong was reading the news on his phone or reached for his hand over the breakfast table at their regular noodle restaurant. Maybe he would’ve offered to help with the post workout shower or just dropped to his knees in front of Zhu Yilong right there on the gym mats. 

But with Zhu Yilong… He’s still afraid of having completely misjudged things, despite the evidence being objectively convincing. Except of course Bai Yu couldn’t be objective about Zhu Yilong if his life depended on it, so he’s certainly not willing to sacrifice their friendship without conclusive proof. 

He had honestly thought the leg curl machine would provide it. It was as blatant as he could make it without breaking some kind of public indecency law. He’d been glad for the excuse to lie on his front at first, but pretty soon the combination of Zhu Yilong telling him to get into just the right position, the heat of his eyes that rested like a physical weight on Bai Yu’s skin, and the way the effort of lifting the weight with his legs forced his hips to press tighter onto the padding, his cock trapped between his body and the bench, had resulted in a kind of delicious torture. 

Bai Yu knew that as soon as he got up, his condition would be obvious. The shorts were excellent for teasing Zhu Yilong but they also left no room for hiding the effect that had on Bai Yu himself. 

That, however, had turned out to be a moot concern, Zhu Yilong leaving like a pack of devils was at his heels. 

Bai Yu chooses not to follow. Instead he bangs his head against the – thankfully well-padded – bench and waits for his body to calm down enough that he can return to his room without traumatising any unsuspecting cleaning staff he may accidentally encounter on the way. Later, he acts like nothing had happened. Because it hadn’t and just because Bai Yu was disappointed about it, was no reason to take it out on Zhu Yilong.  

Zhu Yilong, for his part, acts like he doesn’t know if he wants to be alone with Bai Yu or not; taciturn when it’s just two of them, but worse still if someone else tries to join them, outright glaring at some poor tech guy who had simply commented on the hoodie Bai Yu is wearing today.

The next morning Bai Yu still doesn’t know what to do. Zhu Yilong is quieter than usual, but considering Bai Yu hadn’t been sure if he would show up at all, he’ll take it. 

He picks up his least sexy sweatpants and t-shirt combo and tentatively starts on his usual morning chatter about the weather, the scenes they’re doing today, whether or not it’s a good idea to get something extra spicy for breakfast today – for the record, it’s never a good idea and he always does it anyway unless Zhu Yilong looks particularly concerned about it – and is cautiously encouraged when Zhu Yilong plays along. 

They’re in the middle of doing their stretches and Zhu Yilong is actually smiling, almost laughing really, at one of Bai Yu’s stories, or maybe just the way he still struggles to catch hold of his foot for the Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose.[1b] The whole thing makes something like hope bubble up at the bottom of Bai Yu’s stomach and somehow it spills over in physical playfulness. 

Later, he’s not really sure why he does it but right then, instead of putting his foot down after the half-successful stretch, he instead pivots on his other foot and aims a kick at Zhu Yilong. It’s only meant to be a little nudge, maybe to just get him to lose his balance a little, in no way does Bai Yu plan to hurt him, or even shove that hard. 

It doesn’t matter though because his foot never makes contact. That Zhu Yilong sees the kick coming is no surprise – Bai Yu is not trying to be subtle here – but what happens when he does very much is. Instead moving out of the way Zhu Yilong turns into the incoming kick, stepping sideways and hooking his right arm under Bai Yu’s leg. Then he steps back, keeping hold of Bai Yu’s foot and leaving him to hobble gracelessly, while Zhu Yilong dances close again, now on the outside of Bai Yu’s leg and in one clean thrust of his knee to the back of Bai Yu’s thigh he takes him down.[5]

Bai Yu’s whole body is airborne for a split second before his back hits the mat with a resounding thud. He lies there for several seconds, mouth hanging open, blinking at the gym ceiling. 

Then Zhu Yilong’s face swims into focus above him, like a particularly handsome cloud. 

Alright, so maybe Bai Yu is a little dazed over recent events.

“Oh my god!” Zhu Yilong’s expression is a mixture of misery and embarrassment. “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” His hand comes down and Bai Yu grabs it on instinct, letting himself be pulled back to his feet.

“I’m really… I didn’t mean to. But you were just… And I… Are you hurt?” Zhu Yilong finishes uncertainly. His hands make an aborted twitch toward Bai Yu as if he would like very much to pat him down and check for injuries himself but doesn’t trust his welcome. 

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Bai Yu waves a hand, feeling way better than just ‘fine’. In fact, he feels downright… gleeful. “However,” he continues, grinning. “I do have some… observations. Questions.”

Zhu Yilong blinks, shifts his weight from one foot to another, all evidence of earlier grace gone. How is this even the same man? Bai Yu almost can’t cope. “Uh. Okay?” he says finally. “What...?”

“Three things,” Bai Yu interrupts, raising three fingers in illustration. “One: that was fucking hot. Two: What was that? And three: You’ve got to teach me how to do it.”

Zhu Yilong stares at him for several seconds and then he… He laughs. “Only you,” he says, shaking his head. His cheeks are stained pink but the look in his eyes is one of amusement and more than a little affection. 

The story of Zhu Yilong’s childhood muay Thai lessons and the reason behind them is revealed slowly, over the course of the next few days. By silent mutual agreement they don’t talk about it outside of the gym and Bai Yu loves feeling like he’s sharing in a secret. 

“This isn’t exactly new information,” Zhu Yilong points out a few days later, walking Bai Yu through the moves of a basic roundhouse kick. “Interviewers like to bring it up regularly, probably to embarrass me.”

Bai Yu hums noncommittally. He’s a hundred percent certain that the intention behind the questions is the exact opposite of that but knows he would just waste his breath trying to convince Zhu Yilong that the mere idea of him doing martial arts is enough to send most of his fans into fits of swooning. 

It doesn’t hold candle to actually seeing it though, and Bai Yu is equal amounts of grateful and despairing at getting to witness it with his very own eyes. Grateful because… wow. Despairing because… wow

“Okay, now you try,” Zhu Yilong says, and they spend the rest of morning dancing around, with Bai Yu trying, and mostly failing, to connect his foot to any part of Zhu Yilong’s body. It’s fun. He loves it.

Muay Thai becomes a regular part of their workout routine. They still start with the yoga stretches and Zhu Yilong won’t be pried that easily from his free weights, but more than half of their gym time is now spent on the mats, Zhu Yilong demonstrating a move, a counter move or a counter counter move until Bai Yu’s head is spinning.

Zhu Yilong had been at pains to explain that he’d not trained seriously for several years now and was no match for anyone who actually sparred or fought regularly. Bai Yu had politely nodded through all of it, said he’d understood and then asked if Long-ge would please throw him down to the floor again, but maybe slower?

And Zhu Yilong, bless his heart, had blushed a lovely shade of pink, and then proceeded to wipe the floor with Bai Yu several times and in several different ways. 

Although sadly not the way Bai Yu really wanted him to. 

Still, it’s good. Better than good. 

Bai Yu is genuinely interested in learning some of the cool kicks and punches, arguing that they will surely add to his resume and improve his future chances for being hired for action roles, and Zhu Yilong clearly realises that. Which is probably why, even though the change in workout routine means a much higher degree of physical contact, he is willing to do it. 

Maybe it’s just that Bai Yu is too busy falling, blocking kicks and trying to get his own in to flirt too outrageously. 

It doesn’t mean he stops entirely. And it definitely doesn’t mean there aren’t some moments when Bai Yu’s focus shifts from ‘what do I do with my knee again?’ to ‘holy shit, that’s Long-ge’s hand on my knee’ and Zhu Yilong must notice that. He can’t not.

Clinches are the worst. Or the best, depending on your point of view. 

“Alright,” Zhu Yilong says. “The objective is to get close enough to use your knee or elbow while binding your opponent so they can’t strike back easily.”

They are standing on the mats, early morning sun slanting in through the high windows. Zhu Yilong has his serious teacher face on and Bai Yu is certain he’s channelling Shen Wei on occasion during their lessons. 

“Okay,” Bai Yu says expectantly. 

Zhu Yilong takes a step closer and then hesitates. “I need to… Uh.” He gestures vaguely. 

“Touch me?” Bai Yu says and then bites his lip because… Fuck, that came out sounding more like a request than a question. “Yeah, I figured.” There’s absolutely nothing he can do about the way his voice drops to a throaty husk. “C’mon, Long-ge. Touch me then. How else will I learn?”

Something dark flashes in Zhu Yilong’s eyes and he inhales sharply just once before visibly pulling his neutral instructor expression back on. Then he crowds right into Bai Yu’s space and cups the back of his neck. 

Even though he was expecting it, his body somehow wasn’t, and Bai Yu jerks back except there’s nowhere to go. 

“Now you,” Zhu Yilong says. His face is very close to Bai Yu’s. 

“What?”

“Put your hand on the back of my neck too. Just like this.” He squeezes Bai Yu’s neck for emphasis and he has no idea how he’s supposed to be using his knees for anything anytime soon because they are quickly turning into jelly. 

Apparently, Zhu Yilong is done waiting for Bai Yu to follow orders and simply lifts his arm, bringing onto his shoulder. While Bai Yu catches on, slowly curling his fingers under the soft ends of Zhu Yilong’s hair, he gets a firm grip of his elbow. 

“Okay. Good.” Zhu Yilong clears his throat and Bai Yu can actually feel the little puff of air against his face. “Now, I don’t actually want to try to control the neck,” he says, sliding his hand up to the back of Bai Yu’s head. “The neck is too strong. I want to control the head. Like this.” And then his palm presses down, fingers tugging Bai Yu’s hair just a bit even though he’s clearly trying not to do that and oh god, oh god Bai Yu is going to die, he’s going to die of horniness and pathetic yearning, with his forehead pressed firmly to Zhu Yilong’s chest, held down by an unyielding grip.

He makes a noise somewhere between a grunt and a moan, which is a mistake because Zhu Yilong eases his hold almost immediately. He doesn’t let go entirely though. “See?”

Bai Yu nods, as much as he’s able. “Yeah,” he says, hoarse even to his own ears. “I see.”

“And then I want to control the elbow,” Zhu Yilong continues. “On the outside, or on the inside,” he switches grips to demonstrate, “doesn’t matter.”

“Okay.” Bai Yu has copied Zhu Yilong’s hold both on his elbow and at the back of his head. He tries not to give into the urge to fully card his fingers through Zhu Yilong’s hair like he wants.

“This gap,” Zhu Yilong lets go briefly to wave a hand between their chests, “needs to be wide enough for me to attack.”

Neither of them looks down. 

“So, from here, I can use my knee.” Zhu Yilong brings his knee up and lightly taps Bai Yu’s side with it. “But I want to keep the leg and thigh pressed together as tightly as possibly. Because if I leave it open…” He repeats the move with his leg and thigh at ninety-degree angle and then just leaves his knee up, casually hooked over Bai Yu’s hip.

Bai Yu swallows, thinks about stepping forward to close the distance, to press their hips together.

“C’mon,” Zhu Yilong prompts him. “What’s the risk here? You know this one.”

Bai Yu does. He lets go of Zhu Yilong’s head and brings his arm down to hook under Zhu Yilong’s knee, effectively blocking a potential attack.

“Very good,” Zhu Yilong praises. 

Bai Yu preens. After a while he even remembers to let go of Zhu Yilong’s leg.

“There’s more,” Zhu Yilong offers, questioning.

Bai Yu wants everything. “Show me.” 

Zhu Yilong’s eyes grow dark again, heavy-lidded. “Alright,” he says. “There’s a lot you can do from this position. Watch.”

They start from the same stance, Zhu Yilong holding Bai Yu’s head down while he lifts his knee in a slow and gentle version of what would be a rather painful blow if delivered with full intent. Then he pushes Bai Yu’s elbow up, effectively blocking any counterattack and at the same time twists his leg, hooks his foot high on the inside of Bai Yu’s thigh and locks it into position. From there, all it takes is a push of Zhu Yilong’s knee against Bai Yu’s hip to have him doubling over, which allows Zhu Yilong the space to knee him again, this time in the chest. While Bai Yu is still trying to regain his balance, Zhu Yilong drops his grip on Bai Yu’s elbow and instead swings up sharply with his own in a neat uppercut that would’ve left Bai Yu on the floor if there had been any actual force behind it. As it is, it still rocks Bai Yu’s head to the side and back, makes him grunt in surprise.[6]

Zhu Yilong lets go slowly, keeping his hands on Bai Yu until he’s sure he’s steady on his feet. 

“Got it?” he asks, sounding more breathless than is really warranted. 

Not that Bai Yu can blame him. “Again,” he says, reaching out. 

It’s torture. Delicious, unbearable torture and Bai Yu loves every minute of it. They practice the move and a few others for the rest of the morning and afterwards he barely makes it inside his shower before he has himself in hand, coming within a few sloppy pulls just from the sense-memory of Zhu Yilong’s hands tight on his hips, pushing him back to demonstrate why “The block needs to be here, you see, to keep you from using your legs.” Later, he finds there are bruises, faint but unmistakable, where Zhu Yilong’s thumbs had pressed down on to the hipbone. 

That night, Bai Yu brings himself off again, one hand tight around his cock, another tighter still against the bruises, his mouth open, tongue curling around the syllables of Long-ge’s name.

Something’s got to give. And soon. 

And yet, despite having spent several weeks pushing for the very thing, he honestly doesn’t expect it to be Zhu Yilong. 

He also doesn’t expect it to be the case of giving up, rather than in. And yet, when the text comes in the small hours of the night, the message is unmistakable.

No gym tomorrow, it reads. Sorry. Not feeling so great.

Bai Yu almost throws his phone at the wall. Instead, he sets his alarm for the first time in almost two months before tucking it under his pillow, out of sight. He does the same with himself; curling tightly under the covers, arms wrapped around his middle as if trying to hold back the churning feeling of dread. He’s angry and disappointed. 

But more than that, he’s scared. 


***


Zhu Yilong expects to be interrogated in the morning, to have his health and wellbeing fussed over, to be dragged to see a medic as soon as they get on location. 

Instead, he gets a good morning greeting that is so painfully polite it’s bordering on meek. From Bai Yu, it sounds like a foreign language. In his dismay Zhu Yilong takes too long to respond and by the time he manages something in reply, Bai Yu has already turned to stare out of the car window. His back is tense, shoulders drawn up to his ears, and Zhu Yilong wants to reach out and touch, but fears Bai Yu would either lash out or just… shatter. 

It’s like a twisted déjà vu of a few weeks ago and Zhu Yilong… He doesn’t know what to do. 

Things don’t improve over the day. They only have one scene to film together which is just as well as they both fuck it up repeatedly. Shen Wei is supposed to be quietly amused and indulgent, Zhao Yunlan gently teasing. Except Zhu Yilong cannot – for the first time in ages, since the early years of his career really – separate his own feelings from those of his character’s enough to manage anything but a stilted, shallow performance. The fact that Bai Yu is similarly awful is no consolation. 

After over ten takes, each increasingly awful, the Director finally calls a break and beckons both of them over. 

Zhu Yilong feels like a schoolboy being called into the headmaster’s office. To his credit, the Director only listens to his apologies for ten seconds before interrupting. 

“Zhu Laoshi,” he says and then nods at Bai Yu, who has been standing silently by, looking chastened. “Bai Laoshi. Everyone has an off day. Frankly, I am relieved you two are having yours at the same time.” He chuckles a little. Zhu Yilong tries to dredge up an answering smile, but nothing comes. 

“It has been a hard shoot. Tomorrow is a rest day. After that we will reshoot this scene and it will be perfect.” He nods decisively and says a respectful goodbye. 

Zhu Yilong turns to Bai Yu, mouth already open to say… He’s not quite sure what, but it doesn’t matter because his co-star is already walking away. 

Fine then. 

Zhu Yilong heads for his trailer, telling the AD that he’s studying the script in case someone wants him. No one will, he knows. He has nothing but some non-speaking scenes later in the afternoon, which is just as well. 

Zhu Yilong closes the trailer door behind him and sets his script on the table just so, aligning it to the corner at right angles. His movements are precise, jerky, as he looks around, spots a ceramic mug left behind from one tea break or another. Calmly, he picks it up, feeling the weight of it on his palm, almost comforting for the three seconds it’s there, before he draws his arm back and throws the mug against the far wall where it shatters with a loud crack and a shower of shards. 

He hadn’t really expected to feel better afterward so it’s not disappointing when he doesn’t. 

If anything, he feels worse. Zhu Yilong closes his eyes, his head tipping backward as he lets his guard drop just for a moment. There’s no one here to see.

What the hell is Bai Yu playing at? 

No. Zhu Yilong sighs and makes himself go over and kneel down to deal with his mess. It not fair to put all of this on Bai Yu. Not anymore. If it ever was. 

The question he should be asking is what the hell are they playing at? Because Bai Yu may have started it, technically, but Zhu Yilong hadn’t exactly… discouraged him. 

Alright, at first he had thought he was maybe just reading into things too much, seeing things that weren’t there because of his own, inconvenient, feelings. Except Bai Yu’s behaviour had gotten increasingly more obvious, his… flirting – and even now Zhu Yilong’s mind skitters around the word as if afraid to name it – becoming blatant enough to give Zhao Yunlan a run for his money. 

And Zhu Yilong had quickly realised that he could neither ignore it, nor hide his reaction. More to the point, Bai Yu didn’t appear to want him to, seemingly delighting in every crack to Zhu Yilong’s composure, every sweep of his eyes, every unconscious sway of his body toward Bai Yu’s. 

Is that what this was about? Some kind of… game, to see how much Zhu Yilong could take? What would make him snap? Something to amuse Bai Yu, to spice up an otherwise mundane acquaintance with his boring co-star, who—

Zhu Yilong hisses, opening his left hand to find blood welling to the surface from a long gash on his palm. He’d been gripping the mug shards hard enough to give himself a cut. 

Serves him right really, for thinking what he had. The pain is hot and sharp enough to clear his head somewhat. Zhu Yilong gets up, depositing the evidence of his temper into the waste bin, and goes to run a cold tap over his hand. 

Whatever the hell this thing is, it doesn’t feel like a game. If Bai Yu was only in it for entertainment, wouldn’t he have picked someone easier? Wouldn’t he have simply given up after the whole awkward moment with the leg curl machine? Would he have latched on to learning muay Thai with more dedication than Zhu Yilong himself had probably ever shown to the sport? Would he light up every time Zhu Yilong compliments him on getting something right, every time he makes Zhu Yilong laugh? 

Fuck, every time Zhu Yilong walks into a room?

Zhu Yilong shuts off the tap, blood immediately pearling on the gash at the bottom of his thumb. 

If Bai Yu… If he didn’t care, would he react the way he had today?

There is a first aid kid in each trailer and Zhu Yilong rummages it for plasters. He’d just wanted, needed, some space after yesterday’s session. The feel of Bai Yu’s body under his hands, in the cradle of his legs, yielding so easily to every push had played in his mind all day, amplified by the way the man’s gaze had followed him around, heated and… hungry

The thought of just going back this morning, of standing on the still cool mats in the dingy hotel gym with Bai Yu smiling at him, slow and bright, looking at him like he wanted to… Like he…

Zhu Yilong exhales, long shaky. His hand aches. 

It’s nothing compared to the burn of desire low in his belly, the painful thud of his heart. Bai Yu’s pleading, almost desperate ‘show me’ flashes through his mind. 

Maybe it’s time he does. 


***

Bai Yu isn’t one of those people who expects fame to come with automatic benefits. He doesn’t demand the best table at the restaurants, or skip queues, or throw his weight around to bend others to his will.

Tonight, he makes an exception. Tonight, he goes down to the hotel reception and asks for the keys to the gym and when the manager refuses, Bai Yu leans over the counter and puts on his most charming smile while he oh so casually mentions what a boost it would be to the hotel’s reputation and business prospects if he were to leave signed five-star review. After all, surely everyone would want to stay at a place that had provided such impeccable and accommodating service to the stars of the next hit series. It’s not his finest moment, but in the end he gets the keys and right now that feels like worth the price of his self-respect.

He hasn’t seen Zhu Yilong since their disastrous scene earlier in the day. He’d taken the coward’s way out and gotten a car back to the hotel by himself when it became obvious that he was no longer needed and the Director kindly suggested that maybe Bai Laoshi would benefit from an afternoon off. 

Bai Yu had taken his advice and spent the afternoon and the early evening wandering around Shanghai, going into shops without buying anything, sitting in a park, finally eating dinner alone. It hadn’t helped but at least he wasn’t sitting in his hotel room, waiting for Zhu Yilong to knock on his door. 

Or worse, waiting for a knock that wouldn’t come.

So he’d stayed out until it was late before coming back to the hotel, and then, after blackmailing the gym keys from the manager, had only stopped at his room to change into a t-shirt and sweatpants. 

Maybe it’s masochistic of him, but right now tiring himself out at the gym seems like the only way he’ll get some rest today. 

The place is deserted and smelling faintly of cleaning products. Bai Yu flips the lights on and then quickly turns most of them off, leaving only the ones at the far end of the room lit. The area with the gym equipment and the weights remains half in shadows, with enough light to see what he’s doing but not so much as to make him squint in the glare of it. 

He’s never been to the gym at this time of the night, and Bai Yu finds he prefers the natural light of the morning, the way the rising sun slowly warms the mats under their feet, turning the room a sort of golden colour for a short moment, usually just when they are finishing their routine, but still… lingering, sharing space. 

Bai Yu presses his lips tightly together and heads toward the sit-up bench. He came here specifically not to think. 

An hour later, he’s almost achieved it. He’s gone through his usual circuit of gym machines, with a foray onto the exercise bike in the middle. He’d skipped the warmup and stretches and knows he’s going to pay for it tomorrow but right now his body is aching, t-shirt sticking to his skin damply, and his mind is blissfully empty. 

Lying down on the bench press, Bai Yu lets out a long breath, his body slowly unwinding. He feels like he could almost fall asleep here, arms and legs akimbo, knuckles grazing the floor, foot on either side of the bench. The position opens up his chest and hips, the stretch a delicious pull that almost makes him groan out loud. Maybe he should just go back to his room now and try to sleep. 

But the weights are right there, not even set particularly heavy, so Bai Yu forces his arms back up, fingers curling around the bar. He takes a breath and lifts, steady and focused, making sure not to arch his back or to let the bar bounce off his chest, the way Zhu Yilong has shown him.

He does five reps. On the sixth, another pair of hands grabs hold of the bar.

Bai Yu yelps in surprise and almost drops the whole thing on himself if not for Zhu Yilong’s grip easily keeping the weight off. 

“You shouldn’t do this without a spotter,” he says and lifts the weights back onto their holds with a loud clang.

“What the fuck?” Bai Yu tilts his head back to glare. “What are you doing here?”

Zhu Yilong glares right back. “Looking for you,” he says. He’s wearing one of his normal workout outfits, plain black sweatpants, grey t-shirt with a logo Bai Yu doesn’t recognise.

“Oh.” Bai Yu blinks. His heart rate kicks up a notch or three, stomach twisting with nerves. He should’ve seen this coming. Shouldn’t he?

“Where have you been?” Zhu Yilong asks. “I knocked on your door several times.” He sounds… Not angry, precisely. But not exactly calm either. There’s a kind of simmering tension to his expression, a twitch to the corner of his jaw that suggests that he’s grinding his back teeth. 

“Long-ge…” Bai Yu licks his lips. They are both still holding onto the bar, Zhu Yilong’s hands between Bai Yu’s. There’s a plaster at the base of Zhu Yilong’s left thumb, the skin looking pink around it. Bai Yu wants to ask what happened, to take Zhu Yilong’s hand in both of his and soothe away any hurt, to…

He inhales, forcing his eyes back to Zhu Yilong’s face, head tilted back for their upside-down conversation. “I didn’t think you’d want to see me.” It’s hard to project defiance from the position Bai Yu is in, on his back, throat exposed, vulnerable, but he gives it a try. “How’d you know I was here anyway?” 

Zhu Yilong’s grip on the bar tightens momentarily. Bai Yu can tell because from this angle he can see the muscles of Zhu Yilong’s forearms tense, his knucklebones pressing hard against the thin skin covering them, turning it white. Bai Yu swallows. He knows that if he tried right now, he could not lift the weights, not with Zhu Yilong holding them down. Holding him down.

“Asked the reception,” Zhu Yilong says. “I was told Bai Laoshi had… requested the use of the facilities.” 

Bai Yu cringes slightly but doesn’t let himself get distracted. “You could have just sent me a text,” he says. “Why are you here?

Zhu Yilong closes his eyes, a series of expressions flickering over his features too fast for Bai Yu to follow. When he opens his eyes, his gaze is dark and heavy, pinning Bai Yu to the bench as effectively as if he had dropped the weights onto his chest. 

“I’m here because I didn’t want to do this over a text,” Zhu Yilong says. 

“Do what?” Bai Yu asks, voice breaking, even though he thinks he knows the answer, hopes he does anyway and then Zhu Yilong is moving, letting go of the bar only long enough to walk around to Bai Yu’s side of the bench and then he… Then he…

Zhu Yilong throws a leg over Bai Yu, grabs hold of the bar again for balance and straddles him, his weight settling onto Bai Yu’s thighs and hips, warm and solid. 

Bai Yu arches up, a moan escaping his throat unbidden. “Fuck,” he pants. “Long-ge, what…?” 

Zhu Yilong’s hands shift to cover Bai Yu’s on the bar, pressing down just hard enough to keep them in place. 

“You know,” Zhu Yilong says. “Don’t you? Xiao-Bai, you…” His voice is shaking. “You said to show you. This is… This is what you…?” For all he seems to be in control, on top of Bai Yu, pinning him down, Bai Yu can feel the small tremors running through his body, the way his grip loosens as if he’s about to let go and…

Bai Yu can’t have that, can’t have Long-ge thinking they aren’t on the same page finally. He pulls his hands free, dislodging Zhu Yilong’s in the process, as he surges up to cup Zhu Yilong’s face. “Yes,” he says, thumbs brushing over the heated skin of Zhu Yilong’s cheekbones. “This. Please, I…” Zhu Yilong’s mouth is right there, slightly open in surprise and Bai Yu has wanted this for so long, so much, that it’s not even a choice anymore at this point when he leans close and presses a desperate, open-mouthed kiss against Zhu Yilong’s lips, pulse hammering in his ears. 

There’s a frozen moment of a few seconds, where they remain locked in place, Bai Yu’s hands buried in Zhu Yilong’s hair, Zhu Yilong’s hovering in the air beside them. 

Then, like a dam breaking, Zhu Yilong groans, long and low, his tongue pushing into Bai Yu’s mouth, taking possession. His left arm comes around Bai Yu’s waist, pulling them flush against each other from hip to chest, his right hand gripping the back of Bai Yu’s neck, effectively keeping him in place. 

Now it’s Bai Yu’s turn to shake. It’s part disbelief – because deep down he never really believed he could have this for real, that Long-ge would take Bai Yu’s flirting, his provocation, his gestures of friendship and something more still, of… and make it into this – and part just simple lust, because the body Bai Yu has been watching for weeks, the body that has pushed him around, thrown him to the floor, made his do things he never though it could, is right there under Bai Yu’s hands. He doesn’t know where to touch first, fingers scrabbling down Zhu Yilong’s spine, under his shirt, trailing back up. He palms greedily at the muscles at Zhu Yilong’s back, digging in and relishing the low groan it elicits. 

Zhu Yilong wrenches his mouth off, panting harshly. His face is flushed, chest heaving, and the look he rakes over Bai Yu makes him shudder. 

“Xiao Bai.” He swallows, tries again, hands coming to rest on Bai Yu’s hips, thumbs slipping under the loose waistband of his sweatpants. They both jerk at the feeling, hips grinding together sharply. “Xiao Bai… I locked the door.”

The implication of that, the intention, hits him like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus and Bai Yu’s breath hitches brokenly in his chest. “Yes,” he says. He slides his palms around to rest on Zhu Yilong’s stomach, feeling more than hearing the sharp inhale. “I want to.”

“I…” Zhu Yilong kisses him again, long and slow and devastating. “I wasn’t sure. At first. I thought…” He ducks his head, bites the corner of Bai Yu’s jaw, the side of his neck, almost apologetically. “Maybe you were just… joking around.”

“Never!” Bai Yu kisses him, frantic. “Never, never, Long-ge, please, I’m sorry, I...” God, he never meant this, for Zhu Yilong to think… He wraps his arms around him, desperate to make him see. “I want you,” he says. “Not just for this, I… I really like you, I want to… To take you out. After the shoot. I… If we could try? If you’d let me show you how much I…?” 

Zhu Yilong’s smile is blinding. “Yes,” he breathes against Bai Yu’s lips. “Yes.” The kiss that follows is unbearably sweet, Zhu Yilong licking into Bai Yu’s mouth unhurriedly, each sweep of his tongue stroking the fire in Bai Yu’s belly. 

He’s whining almost constantly now, little greedy keening sounds that Zhu Yilong drinks straight from his mouth, his teeth drawing out Bai Yu’s bottom lip seemingly just to hear the broken moan it elicits. They are rocking together, each slow, deliberate grind of hips ratcheting up the desire that’s been building between them for weeks now.

Bai Yu is leaking, knows without looking that there must be a visible wet spot in front of his sweatpants because of the way Zhu Yilong keeps staring down, his mouth open as he breathes in sharp, staccato gasps, like maybe he’s smelling Bai Yu. He flushes at the thought of how wanton he must seem, how obviously he wants this. Yet somehow that only makes everything better.

Zhu Yilong’s hands curl into the hem of Bai Yu’s t-shirt, rucking it up. “Can I?” he asks, and Bai Yu lifts his arms up almost before Zhu Yilong has finished speaking. 

His hands on Bai Yu’s bare skin are scorching. Zhu Yilong circles his waist, fingers dragging up to his ribs, chest, thumbs rubbing over the peaks of his nipples and Bai Yu arches back, crying out. 

Xiao Bai,” Zhu Yilong murmurs. “Let me.” And then his mouth is on him, hot and insistent, tongue laving over Bai Yu’s nipples while he sobs, bent backwards, weight supported almost entirely by Zhu Yilong whose fingers are digging into Bai Yu’s shoulder blades as he keeps him from falling.

Everything goes hazy and golden around the edges. Bai Yu doesn’t know how long he stays like that, writhing under the onslaught of Zhu Yilong’s mouth, but eventually he’s pulled up into another kiss and Zhu Yilong’s hands trail back to his front, palm resting heavy against Bai Yu’s stomach, intention clear. He nods shakily.

Zhu Yilong’s hand slips inside Bai Yu’s waistband, bold now, assured, wrapping around his hard-on tight and perfect. Bai Yu jerks up, or he tries to, but Zhu Yilong’s weight in his lap is keeping him pinned down, unable to do nothing but take it. He moans, helpless and helplessly turned on, mouthing blindly at the sweat salty skin of Zhu Yilong’s neck, pulling the collar of his t-shirt down to reach the hollow of his throat, the sharp just of collarbone. 

Zhu Yilong tugs his trousers down enough to pull Bai Yu’s cock free and the sight of it, hard and already wet at the tip, resting on Zhu Yilong’s hand makes him dizzy with want. 

“You too,” he pants, tracing the shape of Zhu Yilong’s erection through the material of his sweatpants. “Please, I want to see.”  He wants to do more than that. He wants to get down on his knees, get his mouth on Zhu Yilong, feel the stretch of his cock in his mouth, down his throat. He wants to lay himself down like an offering, beg for Zhu Yilong to fuck him, make him see how badly Bai Yu wants it, wants him.

Later, he thinks. Later he will get Long-ge into a hotel room with a bed and hours and hours every night. At least until the end of the shoot. 

He pushes the thought aside, instead dipping his forehead to rest against Zhu Yilong’s, watching as he tugs his own waistband out of the way, pulling his cock out. Bai Yu brings his hand down to trail fingers along its length, catching the drop of precome at the end, unable to resist tasting it, the bitter salt of it flooding his mouth, making it water. 

Fuck,” Zhu Yilong bites out, hips snapping forward, and Bai Yu gasps, undone. For such a common curse word it sounds like filth coming from Zhu Yilong. 

“Yeah,” Bai Yu agrees. “Later.”

He wraps his hand around both their cocks, their fingers tangling. It’s a little dry, a little uncoordinated, and absolutely perfect as they work to find a rhythm, getting used to each other. Bai Yu’s eyes flick between the sight of their hands working in tandem, the delicious friction of their cocks sliding along the cradle of their palms, and Zhu Yilong’s face, the way his teeth are digging into his bottom lip, the sweat gathering at the hollow of his throat. 

He’s too turned on for it to last long, they both are, after weeks of dancing around each other. Bai Yu shudders apart first, unable and unwilling to hold back, not wanting Zhu Yilong to doubt for another second how much he wants this.

“Xiao Bai.” Zhu Yilong captures his mouth, swallows the desperate moans he’s making, and Bai Yu feels the warm wetness spread between them as Zhu Yilong fucks his own release into the loosening grip of Bai Yu’s fist. 

They stay like that for a minute or ten. Bai Yu loses all sense of time, pressing small kisses on Zhu Yilong’s lax mouth, his cheeks and jaw and closed eyelids, everywhere he can reach. He wipes his hand on his sweatpants without so much as a grimace, tucking himself back in and then, when Zhu Yilong makes no move to do it himself, he does the same for him.

“Long-ge,” he says, kissing Zhu Yilong again. “Hey, you with me?”

This time he gets a response, Zhu Yilong’s lips moving slow against his at first but soon the kiss deepens into something desperate and all-consuming. 

“Hey, hey, shhh. I’m here,” Bai Yu whispers between the kisses and when Zhu Yilong’s hold on him tightens to near crushing, he simply relaxes into it. “I’m here,” he repeats. “Long-ge, I’m here.”

It takes a while but eventually Zhu Yilong’s arms loosen, his embrace easing into something less urgent. 

“Yes,” Zhu Yilong says, pulling off just enough to catch Bai Yu’s gaze. “Me too.”