He was tired all the time. Tired and hungry and highly focused, every day, with no end in sight.
A small part of him noticed that the long days were taking a toll on him, and he checked in with that part in regular intervals, prodding gingerly at the energy reserves he still had. He made sure he was never running on empty, but he got close a few times.
Phone calls with Bai Yu replenished him, and so did a successfully completed action scene, and laughter between takes, and having to learn fewer lines than usual for the next day. All to varying degrees.
He fell into bed late at night and usually fell asleep right away, and he managed to catch a few minutes on set here and there, but it never quite felt like he was allowed to rest. He was always running, keeping himself going, holding on tightly to his script at all times. Sometimes he just wanted to stop, to catch his breath, to stumble and fall and not get up for a little while.
He felt that Wang Yang would be a soft place to land.
"He's like you," he told Bai Yu in the dark, and he meant: He makes me laugh. He reaches out. Sometimes he looks at me like you do and then I think I want to be good for him. I think he'd be good to me.
"How much like me?" Bai Yu asked carefully. Zhu Yilong could feel all of his attention on himself, even through the phone.
"Enough to remind me of you," he smiled.
"But not enough to replace me," Bai Yu said, sounding smug. There was still a question hidden underneath.
"Nobody could ever replace you," Zhu Yilong said very reasonably. "You're the best I've ever had." In truth, he could barely remember anyone that had come before Bai Yu, so it wasn't really much of a competition anymore. But it still made him smile to say it.
"And don't you forget it," Bai Yu replied, his voice sounding as warm as Zhu Yilong felt.
They stayed silent for a few breaths and then he said, "Besides, I don't think he wants to replace you," letting the unfinished thought dangle between them.
Bai Yu was quiet for another moment.
"I'm asking your permission to think about it," Zhu Yilong said, because it was probably better to clarify. "Nothing will happen if you say no."
"Nothing, huh?" He sounded amused, which made Zhu Yilong laugh, even as he felt himself blushing.
"That's for work," he protested, making Bai Yu laugh too. "We're figuring out the characters."
"Oh please," he said, and Zhu Yilong was so tired, so tired, the laughter made his eyes water. Bai Yu cleared his throat for effect. "You trust him, don't you?" He wasn't saying no, and he didn't ask for more time to think about it, and he didn't want to know why Zhu Yilong was even considering this.
He just asked him if he felt safe, and Zhu Yilong had to blink some of the wetness away. "Yes," he said.
"Okay," Bai Yu said. "Permission granted."
Zhu Yilong was grinning, big and happy, not because Bai Yu would let him, but because he loved Bai Yu so much, he could barely contain it.
"Oh, that felt neat to say. Permission granted," Bai Yu said again, commanding and serious. "Ask me again when you've made your decision," he added in his normal voice.
"Of course," Zhu Yilong said. "Of course."
"I wish I could be there."
"To watch?" Zhu Yilong said, low and teasing, which had the desired effect of making Bai Yu snort.
"To take care of you myself," he said. "Jerk."
"I'd like that," Zhu Yilong said, the tiredness finally catching up with him.
"Might let him watch," Bai Yu muttered, and Zhu Yilong closed his eyes, pulling the covers around him.
"Learn from the best," he mumbled.
He must have hung up at some point, or maybe Bai Yu did. His alarm went off barely four hours later.
That was three weeks ago.
He was more awake when he told Bai Yu he was ready, and he wanted to, and if there was any chance at all that it would make Bai Yu unhappy, in any way, he wouldn't.
Bai Yu nodded through all of it and then made him describe exactly, or at least in passably specific terms, how far he would let Wang Yang go. He had to look Bai Yu in the eyes the whole time and use all the words that still made him blush and finish all his sentences.
It was excruciating and by the end he was half hard and squirming in his chair.
"Can't say you haven't earned it," Bai Yu said finally, crinkles around his eyes.
Zhu Yilong licked his lips.
"Baby," Bai Yu said softly, giving him a long look. "Touch yourself."
For a split second, he hated that Bai Yu was just a moving picture on his phone screen and he couldn't touch him and they never got to spend enough time--
"Close your eyes," Bai Yu said, and so he did. "Just listen to my voice."
He licked his hand clean, after, listening to Bai Yu get himself off. Bai Yu's breath was loud and ragged in his ears, and he could almost feel it ghost over his skin.
"Permission granted," he heard.
He made himself open his eyes, blinking against the light. "I love you," he said, because there was nothing else inside him.
That was two weeks ago.
"--not the station chief," is the first thing Wang Yang hears, still untangling himself from the last few tendrils of a dream. The voice is soft and warm, and there's a hint of a smile in it. "Of course the station chief wouldn't stay the night." There's a pause. "No, not even then, you pervert."
Wang Yang huffs out a laugh, finally opening his eyes. Yilong is sitting up against the headboard, phone at his ear, and he smiles down at Wang Yang when he squints up.
"I'll gladly discuss character backstory with him," Wang Yang says, voice still raspy with sleep. "He sounds on the right track."
"Absolutely not," Yilong says into the phone. He reaches out to brush a lock of hair from Wang Yang's forehead, as if this was something he would normally do in the morning, with the person he's currently talking to. His hand lingers for a moment. "Yes, I'll tell him your ideas." He shakes his head when Wang Yang raises his eyebrows at him. "No, I wasn't shaking my head." A pause. "You're being very rude."
Wang Yang briefly wonders if they are always like this, or if this is something they do for an audience, but it really seems too natural to be an act. "No video?" he asks, nodding at the phone.
"He's half asleep, I don't think he could force his eyes open--" Yilong says, then is apparently interrupted. "It's just the truth-- morning people are not your enemy, Xiao Bai."
Wang Yang snorts. "I remember being able to sleep in," he says, loud enough for Bai Yu to hear. "Then I hit 35."
He can hear a muffled groan, but not the words that follow.
"Go back to sleep," Yilong says gently, which Wang Yang takes as his cue.
The room isn't big enough to get out of earshot, but it's enough to create the illusion of some privacy as he gets dressed in the grey light filtering through the curtains, his back turned to the bed.
It's not quite how he expected this morning after to go. He feels like some lines have been carefully drawn in the sand, hard to explain in words, but easy to see.
He smiles to himself. It's still the beach. It's warm everywhere.
When he turns around, Yilong is just looking at him, phone beside him on the bed. "He wants to talk to you."
"No," Yilong says, laugh lines around his eyes. "He's asleep right now."
"Give him my number," Wang Yang says, buttoning up his shirt. He narrows his eyes at Yilong. "This isn't about Station Chief Chen, is it."
"I honestly can't rule it out."
"Either way," Wang Yang says, grinning at him. "I'll take suggestions."
"I'm going to regret this," Yilong says. He's smiling back, though.
Everything about this Yilong is in stark contrast to the one he sees on set every day, focused and thoughtful and frequently lost to the world. Outwardly frozen, while everything around him moves.
"I don't think you will," Wang Yang says, his hand on the door handle, listening for any sounds outside.
Yilong just ducks his head at that, as if to hide his smile.
Sometimes he thinks Yilong knows exactly the effect he has on people when he does that, but it doesn't make it any less endearing.
He waves at him before he steps outside, and Yilong salutes back, open and bright.
"You didn't tell him about your birthday present, did you," Long-ge says, part of his face cut off by the phone screen. Bai Yu's given up on trying to get him back into frame.
"Not in so many words," he replies, squinting into the camera.
"Not in detail," Long-ge says, clearly looking for reassurance.
He might usually draw this out a little more, but Long-ge is tired and stressed out and Bai Yu is not made of stone. "Of course not," he says gently. "I do need your permission for things as well."
Long-ge makes an indulgently exasperated face at him, which is a combination of facial expressions Bai Yu hasn't seen on a lot of other people. "So you were just generally bragging," Long-ge says.
"I wouldn't call it that," he replies, grinning.
"What would you call it then?"
"We just talked." He adds a little wink, because he might not be made of stone, but he can't make it too easy for Long-ge.
"I will hang up now," Long-ge says, his finger moving vaguely towards the screen.
"No, no, no," Bai Yu laughs, flapping his hands. "I'll tell you."
He remembers exactly how it all started, and when, and where.
He was so in love with Long-ge, endlessly giddy inside. Even late at night in their hotel room, when everything was quiet and gentle and still a bit tentative, he was bursting with happiness. It felt like he was in love for the first time, even as he was getting closer to the big 3-0. In many ways, Long-ge was his first.
And he couldn't tell anyone about it.
He didn't really dwell on it; their days were long and they made good use of the little time they had together. Other people didn't factor into it much.
He sunk down to his knees between Long-ge's legs one night and asked him: what if.
What if I just told everyone what we did last night.
He didn't really mean it, of course. He just wanted to see Long-ge flustered, flushing at the thought, because he knew that deep down Long-ge wanted to be flustered, too. Tipped slightly off balance, so he could let himself fall.
"What if," he said, his arms resting on Long-ge's knees, "I just pretended I was going to tell people. As a fantasy."
He remembers how Long-ge swallowed, staring back at him. "Why would you want to do that?"
"I don't know," he said, even though he kind of did. "To brag?"
"About what we do?" Long-ge asked, and there was warmth in his voice, tempering the embarrassment.
Bai Yu looked at him, his eyes not leaving Long-ge's for a second as he slowly pushed his knees apart. "About what you'd let me do to you."
That was three years ago.
It took some trial and error until they found a version of the fantasy that worked for both of them, and even then Bai Yu didn't reach for it a lot.
He did expand on it over time, figuring out how far he himself was willing to go before trying it out on Long-ge. Staking his claim for an imaginary audience.
"What if someone wanted to touch you," he would murmur into Long-ge's ear. "What if they asked me very, very nicely." He ran his fingers lightly from Long-ge's neck to his collarbone down to his chest. "I might let them touch you here."
Long-ge was shivering and panting and straining towards him, eyes probably squeezed shut under the blindfold. Far gone enough for Bai Yu to gently prod at his limits.
"They could touch you here," he said, sliding his hand down Long-ge's shoulder, to the soft inside of his forearm. His cock was hard and flushed against his stomach, and Bai Yu wrapped his fingers around it. "Not here," he said. "This is mine."
Long-ge squirmed into the touch, making a broken sound, and Bai Yu jerked him off for a while, getting him close again. Then he stopped, taking his hand away to see Long-ge beg, desperate and wordless.
"Here," he said softly, his fingertips on the inside of Long-ge's thigh, barely making contact. His lips brushed against Long-ge's shoulder as he spoke. "I might allow them here."
He carefully dug his teeth in, dragging his fingers further up, and Long-ge started begging with words.
That had been his birthday.
"I thanked him for taking care of you," he tells Long-ge with a soft smile. "Because I'm a nice young man and respect my elders." He can't quite stop the smile from turning into a grin.
"You're a jerk," Long-ge says, but he's a little flustered now.
"I know," Bai Yu says. "I really did, though. I'm glad you're with friends over there." He leaves a little pause. "And making new ones."
The hotel room lighting isn't the best, but that's definitely a blush.
"If you two can find some time in your busy schedules again, and if you agree," Bai Yu says, watching him, "I'll be there next time." Long-ge's head snaps up. "In your ear, anyway."
"Good enough," he smiles. "I'd like that."
Bai Yu tilts his head at him. "Want to make some requests, or should I surprise you?"
Long-ge ducks his head. "Surprise me." He wets his lips. "Tell Wang Yang."
"Oh," Bai Yu says, a slow smile spreading over his face. "Good boy."
"Go away," Long-ge mutters. He's always the most beautiful when he's smiling.
"Go to bed," Bai Yu says softly.
"Okay," Long-ge says.