After they wrap filming for the day, Ayanga shoots Zheng Yunlong a familiar look, and Zheng Yunlong gives him a nod. He crosses through the backstage area, already shrugging off his jacket to hand over. "I'll come by later with some more," Zheng Yunlong says, lowering his voice. "But don't think I won't be stealing some of yours in return."
Ayanga laughs. "How long has it been since you sent out your laundry, Dalong?"
"Why would I when you're around? You always pay for it."
"Cheap," Ayanga mutters with a snort as he folds Zheng Yunlong's jacket over his arm. He always manages to be so composed in public; if Zheng Yunlong hadn't lived with him for years, he might never have guessed Ayanga's secondary sex. Then again, he doesn't have the nose for it.
Zheng Yunlong rolls his eyes. "I'll see you later."
"So, you share clothes often?" Ma Jia says as Ayanga turns to head out to his dressing room.
"Yeah, you know that," Zheng Yunlong says, distracted by the sudden chill on his shoulders. He rubs his arms. It's always so cold backstage—they keep the whole building like ice. "Half of the clothes Gazi borrows were his originally. Where are you going for dinner?"
Ma Jia lifts his eyebrows. "Isn't he going into heat?" he whispers.
"So?" There's nothing weird about it. Zheng Yunlong is a beta, and they lived together for years. Of course Ayanga would rather nest with Zheng Yunlong's clothes than in a sterile pile of hotel linens. If Zheng Yunlong were an omega, he'd probably feel the same way, except that he'd be even more pitiful and beg Ayanga to bring him a bottle of Pocari Sweat, too.
"Doesn't..." Ma Jia pauses. "It doesn't gross you out? That he's gonna..."
"Foot the bill for my laundry?" Zheng Yunlong says, meeting Ma Jia's eyes.
At that, Ma Jia laughs. "Okay, okay, I see how it is." Still, he doesn't sound like he does.
Zheng Yunlong manages to make off with Cai Chengyu's leftovers after dinner and brings them back to his room along with his own to stash in the minibar. Then he changes out of his work clothes and adds them to the heap of dirty laundry he's been collecting, which is large enough that it strains the zipper on his duffle. Zheng Yunlong sits crouched on the floor for a few moments longer, dragging his nails over the textured nylon of the bag. He likes sharing his scent with Ayanga. There's nothing anyone needs to read into it.
After checking the hall for coworkers and cameras, Zheng Yunlong lets himself into Ayanga's suite at the end of the hall; they exchanged room keys at the start of filming. "There you are." Ayanga's voice floats out of the bedroom. He sounds the way he always does at the start of his heat—like a hoarse, grumpy cat. "Can you get me some water?"
"Sure," Zheng Yunlong says, shrugging his bag more securely onto his shoulder before he ducks down to grab a bottle of water from the minibar.
The upside of the heavy suppressants Ayanga takes while he's filming or in a long theater run is that they can shorten a heat into a single night; the downside is the brutal intensity when it hits. When they were in university and Ayanga could take a day or two to rest, it wasn't as bad for him. Now his heats are so difficult that even Zheng Yunlong feels compelled to fuss over him.
Ayanga looks as uncomfortable as he sounds when Zheng Yunlong enters the bedroom, eyes bright and cheeks flushed; he's curled in a pile of sheets and a few pieces of his own clothing, Zheng Yunlong's jacket spread over his pillow. "Took you long enough, Dalong."
Zheng Yunlong drops the duffle bag on Ayanga's bed and hands him the bottle. "You look bad, old man," he says. "I'll arrange them for you."
"You don't have to," Ayanga says, the way he always does.
Zheng Yunlong unzips his bag. "I know."
Secretly, he likes this part—building Ayanga's nest. Helping Ayanga feel safe and secure. He's missed doing this since he moved to Shanghai last year. Zheng Yunlong tucks a hoodie and a pair of pants behind Ayanga's knees, tosses a few sweated-through t-shirts by Ayanga's head, which Ayanga gathers close. It's only when Zheng Yunlong moves to put something behind the small of Ayanga's back that Ayanga seems a little flustered. "I can do it," he says, shifting beneath the sheets.
"It's my socks." Zheng Yunlong reaches into the bag for another handful of them. "You don't want to touch them. Unless you're like my cat now—into the feet smell."
Ayanga covers his face with his hand. "Did you just come here to roast me?"
"Yes," Zheng Yunlong says seriously as he adds to the pile behind Ayanga.
The warmth of Ayanga's body is tangible beneath the sheets. Zheng Yunlong tries not to touch him, but it's inevitable that he will at some point. As Zheng Yunlong bends over Ayanga to tuck the last of the socks in, Zheng Yunlong brushes his hand against Ayanga's hip. Ayanga's whole body flinches. He lets out a pained groan. "I can get it, I'll take care of it."
Zheng Yunlong pulls back to look at Ayanga. There's sweat beaded on Ayanga's brow—he really does look feverish. Zheng Yunlong has seen Ayanga in heat so many times, but never so discomposed. "What's going on?" Zheng Yunlong sits on the bed, shoving the duffle bag aside to make room. "Something with your medication?"
Ayanga shakes his head. "It just came on fast. I don't..." He closes his eyes, rubbing his cheek against Zheng Yunlong's jacket. "Dalong, you're too good to me."
Gently, Zheng Yunlong pats Ayanga's head. Even his hair is warm and damp. "You need to drink some more water. You're sweating it all out."
"That's not what I need," Ayanga says, then immediately reaches up to cover his face again. "Don't tease me, Dalong, please."
"I'm just taking care of you," Zheng Yunlong insists.
The tip of Ayanga's ear is absurdly soft when Zheng Yunlong's thumb brushes against it. He can't resist touching it again as he runs his fingers through Ayanga's hair. Nothing feels strange about this, their closeness. Ayanga's the kind of guy who always takes care of everyone around him, but he asks for little himself; it's nice to have an excuse to return the favor.
"You don't want to take care of me like this," Ayanga says, even as he leans into Zheng Yunlong's touch.
Zheng Yunlong shakes his head. "Who else do you want, then?"
He realizes where he's gone wrong as soon as the words leave his mouth. Involuntarily, his fingers tighten in Ayanga's hair. Ayanga makes a wrenching noise, arching his back, tugging Zheng Yunlong toward him with the movement, dragging Zheng Yunlong across the barrier of soft, fragrant clothes to lean over him. "No one else," Ayanga says. "Why do you make me say it? You know it's you."
"No one else," Zheng Yunlong says, frozen. "What?"
He goes hot all over, thinking about his comments to Ma Jia earlier, thinking about all the people who saw, who have seen them, seen Ayanga shamelessly scenting him while Zheng Yunlong laughed along. How was Zheng Yunlong supposed to know Ayanga meant anything by it? After all this time?
Beneath him, Ayanga is breathing heavily, chest rising to meet Zheng Yunlong's with each inhalation. His eyes close when Zheng Yunlong cups his cheek. "Are you coming in here, or are you getting out?"
In a way, Zheng Yunlong is glad he doesn't have much time to think about it. "I don't want to be so close to my socks," he says as he climbs into the nest, making room for himself beside Ayanga. "I wouldn't have brought them with me if I was planning on, um."
Ayanga pulls Zheng Yunlong close. He's naked beneath the sheets, which Zheng Yunlong has been politely ignoring. "Don't need them now that I have you in here. Dalong, let me—" And then Ayanga's face is tucked neatly beneath Zheng Yunlong's jaw, soaking in his scent.
Zheng Yunlong is still fully dressed, in Ayanga's pants, in Ayanga's overshirt, and the cast t-shirt from a production Zheng Yunlong was in during college. It has holes in both armpits and floats loosely around his smaller figure. One of Ayanga's hands slowly nudges beneath it, his fingers sliding over Zheng Yunlong's ribcage. Zheng Yunlong rubs Ayanga's back. He's never had sex with an omega before. Are they having sex? Ayanga nuzzles Zheng Yunlong's neck, sliding a leg between Zheng Yunlong's, and his dick presses against Zheng Yunlong's thigh.
"What do you want me to do?" Zheng Yunlong's voice comes out embarrassingly breathy.
Ayanga's wet lips brush against Zheng Yunlong's throat. "You could just hold me, while I—"
"I said, what do you want?"
"Whatever Dalong wants."
Zheng Yunlong considers this. His dick has been considering it. "I want to take care of you. Whatever you need. As long as you pay for the laundry."
That gets a laugh out of Ayanga. "What if you're the one who makes it dirty?" he says, low and mischievous.
"Is that a challenge?" Zheng Yunlong says, and rolls Ayanga onto his back.
Ayanga lets out a loud moan. "You can't—" He pushes back off the bed, shaking, into Zheng Yunlong's embrace. "You have to take it out of me."
Abruptly, Zheng Yunlong rewinds the past several minutes in his head. He reaches beneath the sheet and below Ayanga to find the protruding end of a plug. Which Ayanga's just had in him? The whole time? "Gazi." He can't hide the shock in his voice, or the arousal. "I'm not going to take it out." Then Zheng Yunlong pulls back the sheet to take Ayanga in hand.
Zheng Yunlong has never let himself think about what it would be like to touch Ayanga in a way that is even more intimate than they already are. He definitely didn't think about how Ayanga's dick would feel in his hand, hot and silky, so hard the foreskin is already furled beneath the head. With a few strokes, Ayanga is already trembling, keening beautifully in Zheng Yunlong's ear. "Dalong," he gasps, and then he comes all over Zheng Yunlong's t-shirt.
"Ah, now I have to take this off," Zheng Yunlong says, laughing.
Ayanga gives him one of those smiles that lives less in the mouth than in the corners of his eyes. "That's the point, isn't it?"
Zheng Yunlong sits up, kneeling on either side of Ayanga's hips, and wrestles off his overshirt. His t-shirt is a more delicate job, given that he's trying not to get a faceful of Ayanga's jizz—not like this, anyway. "Ugh, where do you want these?"
"Wherever," Ayanga says. "I have you."
Zheng Yunlong takes off his pants very gracelessly so that he can be naked in the middle of his laundry pile. He starts getting anxious around the point when he hits his socks. Here they are, naked in Ayanga's bed, in his nest. This boundary has been etched so firmly in Zheng Yunlong's mind that it's hard to collapse, even now that Zheng Yunlong has—literally—crossed it. "Ge, how long have you..."
Ayanga sighs and draws Zheng Yunlong back down, then arranges them so they're lying on their sides. He brushes Zheng Yunlong's hair back from Zheng Yunlong's face before Zheng Yunlong can do it himself. He's so beautiful that Zheng Yunlong does want to tease him, just for the distraction.
Instead, Zheng Yunlong leans in to place a kiss on Ayanga's forehead, then lets his own cheek rest against Ayanga's. Zheng Yunlong doesn't get the meaning from their mingled scents that Ayanga does, but they share the same language of touch. After a moment, he scoots down so he can mirror Ayanga's earlier position, pressing a kiss to the base of Ayanga's throat, just above Ayanga's scent gland.
Ayanga's breath catches.
"You don't have to say anything more," Zheng Yunlong says. "I'll stop joking, I'll stop messing around." He wraps his arm around Ayanga's waist. "I want to be good to you."
"But I like it when you joke," Ayanga says quietly. Pressed together like this, Ayanga's voice rumbles through Zheng Yunlong's body, too, a comforting hum.
Zheng Yunlong strokes his fingers along Ayanga's spine. "Can I go in you?"
"Haha," Ayanga says, then, "Dalong, please."
Zheng Yunlong has to squeeze his eyes shut for a moment to get control of himself. Desire washes his nervousness away. "Then I will."
When Zheng Yunlong pulls out the plug, Ayanga is so wet that he drips onto the sheets. Ayanga shakes his head when Zheng Yunlong goes to finger him. "Just go in. I don't need it." Well, it's Ayanga's asshole.
Before he can make the joke aloud, Zheng Yunlong kisses Ayanga, who kisses back, delicate and measured, even as Zheng Yunlong pushes inside of him. "Ge," Zheng Yunlong says, helpless and undone as much by one as the other. "I think we did this in the wrong order."
Ayanga says, "Do it in the right order next time, then," and flips Zheng Yunlong onto his back.
In the morning, Zheng Yunlong has to borrow Ayanga's clothes.
"What is this, 'has to'?" Ayanga is watching Zheng Yunlong dress. He's still in bed. "When have you ever turned down the opportunity to take my clothing, Dalong? You even have my permission today."
"Oh, now I have to have your permission?" Zheng Yunlong says lightly.
Ayanga smiles at Zheng Yunlong, not even bothering to entertain the argument, until Zheng Yunlong covers that smile with his own.