After over half a year of hiatus, Xiao Zhan’s schedule was finally picking up again. He had been busier lately, updating his social media accounts every once in awhile, picking up new sponsorships, and so on. On one hand, it meant his career was getting back on track, but it also meant that he didn’t get to spend as much time loitering around Wang Yibo as he had the past few months.
It had been a few weeks since he last got to see Wang Yibo in person, so when Xiao Zhan had a choice to schedule a new Kai Xiao Kan instant dinner sponsorship shoot for Changsha or Beijing, he chose Changsha, knowing that Wang Yibo would be back in town for a few days too.
He thought Wang Yibo might be feeling the same way when, on a rare day off, instead of staying home to play video games or visiting the race track, Wang Yibo followed Xiao Zhan to the set of his commercial shoot.
“You can go back earlier if you want,” Xiao Zhan whispered to him as they were sitting and waiting. Xiao Zhan had already made his rounds greeting the staff working with him today, signed a handful of autographs, and changed into his photoshoot clothes. He’d noticed some of the staff eyeing Wang Yibo, though, as though debating whether they dared to ask him for an autograph as well. “You don’t have to wait for me.”
Xiao Zhan knew how much Wang Yibo hated being bothered—he put up with the fan meetings as part of the job, but didn’t have patience for them on days off. Xiao Zhan could understand Wang Yibo’s desire to keep work separate from his private life of course, but if he was going to follow Xiao Zhan to work, then he also couldn’t blame people for wanting to get his autograph too if they saw the chance.
“It’s fine,” Wang Yibo said, ignoring the eyes on them as he thumbed through his phone. “There’s nothing to do at home anyway.”
Xiao Zhan didn’t bother to point out the stacks of collectible Lego models he’d tripped over while walking through Wang Yibo’s apartment entrance two days ago, piled up because he hadn’t had time to build any of them for the past few months.
“You want to eat out later?” Wang Yibo asked, glancing over at him. “I can make reservations”
“We should use up the groceries at your place first.” Xiao Zhan had given his assistant a list a few days ago of groceries to buy, hoping for a meal or two at home before it was back to constant takeout. Xiao Zhan had cooked for himself the last two nights although Wang Yibo had gotten back so late last night from a delayed flight that he still hadn’t eaten any of it yet.
“You won’t be too tired?” Wang Yibo asked.
“This shouldn’t take that long,” Xiao Zhan said. “Besides, you don’t have anything to do today other than memorizing scripts. You can help me.”
“If you’re not scared,” Wang Yibo said and grinned.
Xiao Zhan rolled his eyes and nudged him with an elbow.
“Xiao-laoshi, this way for makeup,” an assistant called and Xiao Zhan stood, moving to another chair in front of a big mirror.
With nothing to do but turn his head as the makeup artist instructed, Xiao Zhan also began thumbing through his phone. He’d been too busy to keep up with Wang Yibo’s shows and appearances in the last few weeks, and he also hadn’t had a chance to watch My Strange Friend yet, though he was looking forward to seeing a young Wang Yibo in that production.
But when he logged in to Weibo, as it always did once a new episode of anything Wang Yibo was in dropped, he’d made it to trending again. That was right—a new episode of Street Dance of China had aired the night before, Xiao Zhan remembered as he clicked on the tags to see what Wang Yibo was famous for this time.
“Lao Wang,” Xiao Zhan called after he finished watching one of the trending clips.
“Hm?” Wang Yibo grunted from where he was still playing on his cell phone.
“Lao Wang, why are you terrorizing this poor dancer?” Xiao Zhan said, suppressing a snicker as Wang Yibo looked up.
“What poor dancer?” Wang Yibo repeated as Xiao Zhan held out his screen, sighing as he got to his feet to walk over.
The video clip Xiao Zhan had found was of a street battle, it seemed, where one of the dancers on Street Dance of China 3 was waacking and Wang Yibo got right in his face, cupping the back of his neck and following him when he tried to move, ending his engagement with a few waacking moves of his own.
“xiao-Bao?” Wang Yibo said, eyebrows raising. “He was the one who provoked me,” he said. “Didn’t you see how he touched me?”
“He only touched the top of your head a little and you got that close to him?” Xiao Zhan said.
“Ge, that’s what street battle rules are,” Wang Yibo said.
“What kind of rules says you can do that?” Xiao Zhan raised an eyebrow
“If a dancer touches you, you can engage them back. If you can control the situation, you can make them waste the rest of their time,” Wang Yibo said, moving to demonstrate, widening his stance. “Like sometimes, if a dancer sticks their foot into your territory…”
Xiao Zhan cooperatively stuck one foot between Wang Yibo’s feet and Wang Yibo immediately clamped his legs together, catching Xiao Zhan’s ankle between his. “You can catch their leg and they won’t be able to move,” he said.
He moved aside as the makeup artist worked around them as though she couldn’t hear anything Wang Yibo was saying. “I’ll call the hairdresser,” she said.
“Thank you,” Xiao Zhan said politely and turned his attention back to Wang Yibo.
“Or like here, put your hand here.” Wang Yibo gestured for Xiao Zhan to reach over to him.
Xiao Zhan sighed and held out his hand, letting Wang Yibo grab his arm in a lock hold.
“See, then you can’t move anymore,” Wang Yibo said. “I already went easy on him—I could have grabbed him by the arm when he touched me and I didn’t. I let him finish his routine, but you see how much time he was blocked from the judges?” he said.
“Okay, you can let me go now,” Xiao Zhan said.
Wang Yibo smirked. “You think I’ll let you go that easily?”
Xiao Zhan sighed. “You’re such a bully,” he said, smacking Wang Yibo a few times on the elbow with his free hand which only made Wang Yibo tighten his hold. “Who taught you to treat juniors that way?”
“Who’s bullying who?” Wang Yibo looked pointedly at Xiao Zhan’s free hand that was still smacking him. “You’re older than me. Pretty sure xiao-Bao’s older than me too—at least he isn’t younger,” he said but finally loosened his grip on Xiao Zhan. “Anyway, I did it for my team. One less point for them is one more point for us, and he’s the one who came looking for trouble.”
“But grabbing him by the head?” Xiao Zhan said. “Just how many times do you want to trend as domineering CEO on this show?”
“Why are you taking his side?” Wang Yibo said, voice starting to go whiny. “Shouldn’t you be jealous he touched me first?”
Xiao Zhan laughed. “If I was going to get jealous over everyone who touched you, I’d never stop drinking vinegar. Do you even know what your job is?”
“You can drink a little more vinegar,” Wang Yibo said sullenly. “You make me feel dumb when I get jealous.”
“That’s cause you are dumb when you get jealous,” Xiao Zhan said, holding back laughter when Wang Yibo really did start to pout. “Anyway, what is there to be jealous of?” He decided that he’d better smooth Wang Yibo’s fur before he really got upset. “I’m better looking, aren’t I?” He suppressed rolling his eyes when the shameless flirting predictably worked.
Wang Yibo didn’t hold back on the praises. “Definitely. Zhan-ge is the most beautiful person in all of China,” he said. “Deserving of the title Chongqing beauty. Great dancer, super seductive, super talented, the whole package.”
Xiao Zhan laughed. “Enough, Lao Wang,” he said, reaching out to shove Wang Yibo. “The hairdresser’s here. Stop bothering me.”
When Xiao Zhan finally finished filming that afternoon, it had started raining again. The past few days had been equally gloomy in Changsha, making Xiao Zhan want to do nothing but curl up in bed all day and read.
As Xiao Zhan thanked the sponsors and staff, Wang Yibo lingered by the door with an open umbrella ready like he was Xiao Zhan’s assistant.
“Zhanzhan, here, take these.” One of the Kai Xiao Kan staff shoved two full shopping bags at Xiao Zhan loaded full of their instant food containers that Xiao Zhan had been pretending were delicious all afternoon.
“This is too much,” Xiao Zhan protested, making the staff beam from cheek to cheek.
“Not at all, not at all, we hope to work with you more in the future!” he said, patting Xiao Zhan on the arm.
“Then thank you,” Xiao Zhan said with a last bow and headed for the door, ducking under the umbrella Wang Yibo held out for him and quickly walking to their car where Xiao Zhan’s actual assistant was already in the driver’s seat.
“Back to Yibo-laoshi’s place?” the assistant asked.
“Yes, please,” Xiao Zhan said.
“You sure you don’t want to pick up anything on the way back? You’re not too tired to cook?” Wang Yibo asked as he took the two bags of instant dinners from Xiao Zhan and put them down by their feet. “They gave you this much?”
Xiao Zhan shrugged. “These are just instant dinners—you get boxes of Nike for free,” he said, sighing and leaning into Wang Yibo in the dark privacy of the car, looking out at the rain trickling down the windows to the cityscape outside as they began to drive.
“Tired?” Wang Yibo asked as Xiao Zhan comfortably leaned his head onto Wang Yibo’s shoulder.
“A little,” Xiao Zhan said, smiling and tucking one hand into Wang Yibo’s elbow. With the AC of the car and the rain going, it was a little chilly in the car but Wang Yibo was warm and it felt nice. “It’s been too long since I was this busy,” he said with a sigh. “I’m old.”
“Zhan-ge is forever youthful,” Wang Yibo said.
Xiao Zhan laughed. “Are you starting again?”
They fell into a comfortable silence, Wang Yibo with one leg crossed as he browsed his cell phone while Xiao Zhan snuggled into him and shut his eyes.
Xiao Zhan didn’t realize he’d dozed off, waking some time later to Wang Yibo gently shaking him.
“Zhan-ge, we’re back,” he said.
Xiao Zhan sighed, obediently straightening up to find them in the underground parking lot of Wang Yibo’s apartment. “Is it still raining?” he mumbled as he followed Wang Yibo out of the car.
“Yeah, it’s pretty dark out now,” Wang Yibo said. He picked up both bags of instant food containers in one hand, clasping Xiao Zhan’s hand loosely in the other as Xiao Zhan waved goodbye to his assistant and they headed for the elevators.
Wang Yibo, for all that he had entered the entertainment industry since a young age, had remained quite down-to-earth which was one of the things Xiao Zhan liked about him. Both of them came from regular, working class families. Neither was a big spender, thrifty for most things in their daily lives and maybe splurging on occasion for a hobby-related or tech thing that made it worth the price tag. Other than that, both their biggest spendings were due to work when they treated out staff or coworkers.
So it hadn’t come as a surprise to Xiao Zhan that Wang Yibo’s apartment was likewise, not a particularly expensive one or one in a particularly nice area, but just one with tight security which was the one thing Wang Yibo wasn’t willing to compromise on. He had also basically done no decorating at all, and the first time Xiao Zhan had seen it, he’d been horrified that Wang Yibo was living off a mattress on the ground—he had apparently gotten busy and forgot to buy a bedframe and then kept forgetting because it didn’t bother him.
Since they’d gotten together, Xiao Zhan had slowly been adding things to this awful apartment in an attempt to make it look more like a human lived here and thought he’d done a decent job. At least Wang Yibo owned a few lamps now, a bedframe, and a few spare sets of sheets and bedding, although he was still working on making Wang Yibo get a dining table and chairs so they could stop eating off the coffee table in front of his television.
The downside of being in an average-priced apartment, though, was that occasionally they would run into issues like the piece of paper stuck up on the elevator.
“Power outage. Please take the stairs?” Xiao Zhan read out loud and groaned. “You live on the fourteenth floor."
“You’ve been working out,” Wang Yibo answered. “You can climb fourteen flights of stairs,” he said, looking around until they found the emergency stairway. “At least the generators are on,” he said, peering into the dimly lit stairway.
Xiao Zhan grinned. “What? Would you be too scared to walk up the stairs in the dark? Afraid of ghosts in the stairway?”
“Stop exaggerating, I'm not that bad,” Wang Yibo said and then yelped when the stairway door slammed shut behind them.
Xiao Zhan laughed so hard it echoed. “Which little kid was saying they’re not scared?” he teased.
“Shut up,” Wang Yibo said. “Hurry and go. How long do you want to loiter in here?”
Xiao Zhan was still laughing as he let go of Wang Yibo’s hand and started to climb. “Why are you so slow?” he asked when he made it up the second flight of stairs and saw Wang Yibo still several steps behind him. “Don’t tell me you’re tired already, Mr. Born In '97,” he said. “I’m not the one who dances every day.”
“Oh, I’m not slow because I’m tired,” Wang Yibo said, sounding entirely too pleased with himself.
When Xiao Zhan realized the statement was suspicious and looked back at him, he caught Wang Yibo shamelessly ogling somewhere just below Xiao Zhan’s waist.
“Wang Yibo, did you make me go first just to stare at my ass?” Xiao Zhan demanded.
“Of course,” Wang Yibo admitted easily. "It's the only way to distract myself from ghosts."
Xiao Zhan jogged down five steps just to hit Wang Yibo who sprinted down more steps. "I'll make you a ghost!" he threatened.
“Zhan-ge stop!" Wang Yibo laughed. "You really want to chase me all the way back down?"
"Get back here, Wang Yibo!” Xiao Zhan shouted. “How long do you want to spend in here?”
“You go first,” Wang Yibo said though he stopped running down, grinning as he held the instant food bags in front of him as a shield.
“ You go first,” Xiao Zhan said.
“So you can stare at my ass?” Wang Yibo asked.
“As though you have anything to stare at,” Xiao Zhan answered.
“Oh, I don’t have an ass, do I?” Wang Yibo said, challenge in his voice and Xiao Zhan barely had time for a head start sprinting up the stairs before Wang Yibo ran after him
“Just you wait, Zhan-ge!” Wang Yibo shouted.
“Hah, as though you can catch me!” Xiao Zhan said breathlessly and yelled when Wang Yibo lunged for his ankle, quickly retracting his foot and sprinting up more steps.
Xiao Zhan was both breathless from laughing and from the run by the time they half-raced, half-chased each other up the rest of the fourteen flights of stairs. Wang Yibo wasn’t much better, red-faced and wheezing behind him.
“Can you pick an apartment closer to the ground floor next time?” Xiao Zhan panted as Wang Yibo went to unlock his door. “Or pay a little more to get one that has emergency generators for the elevator?”
“You pick the apartment next time then,” Wang Yibo said, taking a few deep breaths to steady his breathing as they walked into the apartment, clicking his tongue when he flipped the switch but the lights didn’t go on. “They’re off in here too.”
“Obviously,” Xiao Zhan said. “Did you think the power would only go out for the elevator?”
“A man can hope,” Wang Yibo said and sprawled onto his couch, tossing the bags of instant food containers on the ground.
“Don’t just leave it there,” Xiao Zhan said but collapsed onto Wang Yibo, getting a soft “oomf” from him and feeling Wang Yibo squirm beneath him until he was in a more comfortable position.
“Well, do you want to stay here tonight or get a hotel room instead?” Wang Yibo asked.
Xiao Zhan felt one stray arm come up to stroke absently down his neck, a little ticklish. “And have to climb all the way back down?” he said. “No way.”
“Then what about delivery?” Wang Yibo asked. Obviously cooking would be impossible now, and Xiao Zhan didn’t want to open Wang Yibo’s refrigerator and risk having everything go bad anyway.
“And force the poor delivery man to run up that many flights of stairs?” Xiao Zhan said and shook his head. “Don’t be cruel," he said, trying to remember what else Wang Yibo had stored in the apartment. Unfortunately, lately, Wang Yibo had been spending maybe a day or two in Changsha a week and unless Xiao Zhan was around, usually didn't cook. "Oh, what did Kai Xiao Kan give me?” He remembered and got up to go to Wang Yibo’s balcony and pulled open the curtains to let in some light even if it was just the traffic from down below and some buildings further in the distance. “Looks like we’re not the only apartment that doesn’t have power,” he commented, looking out at the rainy city.
By the light of Wang Yibo’s phone flashlight, Xiao Zhan sat on the floor and began rummaging through the containers of instant food. “Want to try an instant hotpot?” he asked, shaking one of the containers at Wang Yibo. “They have half-and-half.”
Wang Yibo made a face. “There’s no way instant hotpot actually tastes good no matter what you lied about in your commercial,” he said. “I didn’t even know they made instant hotpot."
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Lao Wang,” Xiao Zhan said though he didn’t deny it. Between the two of them, Wang Yibo would eat just about anything whereas Xiao Zhan was the pickier eater—hence why Xiao Zhan preferred to cook while Wang Yibo was happy surviving off daily takeout. “Hopefully the power hasn’t been off too long. If your hot water boiler cooled down already, we might have to go hungry tonight,” he said, carrying the instant hotpot to the kitchen.
Since Wang Yibo had throat issues, he had one of those Zojirushi constant water boilers so he’d always have hot water available. Xiao Zhan hadn’t refilled it when they left this morning, but it was still about half full and thankfully, it seemed the electricity hadn’t been off for too long because it still felt warm to the touch. He opened up the yuanyang pot and stuck it under the spigot, praying that there would be enough water to fill both sides of the plastic pot.
“Need help?” Wang Yibo called.
“Can you hold the light?” Xiao Zhan asked, grabbing some dish rags to lift the plastic container once it was full.
Wang Yibo hurried over to pick up his phone, grabbing some chopsticks and helping Xiao Zhan bring the container over to the coffee table back in the living room.
“You really need to get a dining table,” Xiao Zhan said as he put the container down and sat cross-legged on the floor next to Wang Yibo.
“Sure, sure, next time,” Wang Yibo answered.
“I mean it.” Xiao Zhan jabbed him with the pair of chopsticks Wang Yibo handed him.
Wang Yibo began stirring things around in the pot. “What exactly is this supposed to be?” he asked, picking up a dried piece of...something. Because of the light, it was even harder to tell what it was supposed to be.
Xiao Zhan shrugged. “Your dinner tonight,” he said. “Be grateful we have something.” He fished up a piece of bean curd—he thought it was bean curd anyway, and tried it. “Not bad,” he said.
“You have no idea what this stuff is even though you shot the commercial for it,” Wang Yibo said.
“You know as well as I do that food on commercials isn’t real,” Xiao Zhan said. “Here, lotus root.” He nudged a piece of lotus root at Wang Yibo which was recognizable only due to the distinct shape.
Wang Yibo shrugged and tasted a spoonful of the broth. “This isn’t that spicy either,” he commented, stirring the mala half of the pot.
Xiao Zhan laughed. “Did your tolerance improve after so many hotpots with Street Dance?” he asked.
“My tolerance improved after taking you to eat so many times,” Wang Yibo answered. “Now I’m the hotpot expert after Director Lu.”
Xiao Zhan nodded up and down. “I’ve trained you well,” he said proudly.
Wang Yibo snorted. “You just want me to take you to more hotpot,” he said. “Here, you can have the egg dumpling,” he said, nudging a piece of something yellow-ish at Xiao Zhan.
Though the dumpling wasn’t anything close to the real thing, it was still sweet that Wang Yibo had given him the biggest piece of food in the instant pot.
With just the sound of the rain in the background beating down on Wang Yibo’s windows, relying on the light of the city and a cell phone to illuminate their lukewarm container of instant hotpot, Xiao Zhan still somehow felt a sense of total contentment.
As they got down to the last of the hotpot, Xiao Zhan pushed the container to Wang Yibo. “I’m done,” he said.
Wang Yibo raised an eyebrow. “You’re full already?”
Xiao Zhan nodded. “I got too chubby these last few months. Gotta lose weight before I start making more appearances again.”
“You don’t need to lose weight. You’re perfect,” Wang Yibo said.
Xiao Zhan rolled his eyes. “Are you going to start now?”
“Anytime, Xiao-laoshi.” Wang Yibo grinned but didn’t hold back, taking the rest of the container and eating large mouthfuls until he’d finished everything else in record time. “Not great, but not the worst,” he decided.
“No, it was pretty bad,” Xiao Zhan said, grinning as he scooted over on the floor to lean his back against the sofa next to Wang Yibo. “Hotpot should never be instant.”
Wang Yibo slung an arm around Xiao Zhan’s shoulders, tugging him closer. “So since the power doesn’t look like it’s coming on anytime soon, want to go to bed now?” he asked, voice going low and a bit suggestive.
Xiao Zhan squirmed. “This blackout isn’t bothering you?”
“Why would it bother me?” Wang Yibo asked. “It’s kind of inconvenient that we can’t shower in the dark and the AC isn’t working although it’s not that hot today.”
“I mean…” Xiao Zhan pulled open Weibo again to the other video he’d found of Wang Yibo today. “...aren’t you scared of the dark?”
A little tinny, “Yibo, don’t be scared!” rang out from his phone, shouted by some fan in the crowd on set Street Dance of china
“What is that from?” Wang Yibo asked, squinting at Xiao Zhan’s phone screen. “I don’t remember that.”
“You don’t remember this?” Xiao Zhan’s grin widened as he pulled up the full clip of the video—a pair dance with a ghost haunting theme.
He felt Wang Yibo’s grip around him tighten as soon as the video came up showing a woman in white sitting in front of an old-fashioned boudoir.
“Oh god, that one. Turn it off,” Wang Yibo said.
“I think it’s pretty interesting,” Xiao Zhan said as the video continued to play.
“It was like watching a horror movie,” Wang Yibo said. “That Su Lianya is really too good at being a ghost. Stop unless you want to sleep with the lights on tonight.”
Xiao Zhan laughed. “You forgot there aren’t any lights tonight. This is my chance,” he said. He felt Wang Yibo move and quickly held the phone out of reach, trying to scramble away even as Wang Yibo grabbed him around the waist.
“Keep playing it? Are you going to keep playing it?” Wang Yibo demanded as he wrestled Xiao Zhan who was laughing and trying to kick Wang Yibo away, holding his phone out of reach.
“You need to overcome your fear of horror movies! I still want to watch horror shows even though I’m dating you,” Xiao Zhan said. “We haven’t watched any since Parasite which wasn’t even a real horror movie—”
“How was that not horrifying?” Wang Yibo demanded. “Are you going to turn it off or not?”
“Are you going to let go of me?” Xiao Zhan answered.
“You first,” Wang Yibo said.
“You first,” Xiao Zhan said, eyes sparkling as he stared at him.
Wang Yibo went heavy on top of him. “Then I’ll just sleep like this,” he said, wrapping his arms around Xiao Zhan like an octopus and shutting his eyes.
Xiao Zhan laughed, shoving his shoulder. “That’s against the rules, I didn’t come into your territory. You’re not allowed to trap me!”
“You absolutely did come into my territory,” Wang Yibo said, opening his eyes and reaching up to cup the back of Xiao Zhan's head, holding him in place. He grinned. “And I’m not letting you go.”