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Juniors.

Prodigy Wei dominates the Juniors circuit.

At sixteen years old, the Chinese athlete finishes the year with yet another grand slam win. It is his fifth consecutive win in the juniors’ circuit and it seems unlikely that it will be his last. His younger brother Jiang Cheng of the Yunmeng club, who used to be the hope of their country, lost in the quarter finals against Lan Wangji, Wei Wuxian’s main competition, it seems.

When asked about his plans for the future, a grinning Wei replied, “I plan to have a good time,” and threw an arm around a stoic looking Lan Wangji. 

Experts say that, while Wei’s game is impressive and innovative, the young man lacks the discipline and work ethic that could lead him to the top. Many estimate that while they’re rising to higher ranks together, only Lan will win a professional grand slam. 

________

“Wei Ying!” 

Wei Wuxian freezes, heart pounding in his chest as he finishes pulling on his red t-shirt, then turns around to face Lan Wangji. He grins before he realises his lips are moving.

“Lan Zhan!” He bounds up to him despite the long day of practice pulling at his limbs, the steamy, sweaty smell of the locker room dissipating as he takes in The Cloud Recesses’ player. His long black inky hair is pulled into a perfect top knot, his usual white and blue ensemble looks immaculate even if he clearly just came out of training, as well. There’s perspiration lining his brow, a stark juxtaposition to the pristine white ribbon sitting on his forehead. 

Wei Wuxian has known Lan Wangji for five years and he has yet to see him without his club’s ribbon wrapped around his head. To Wei Wuxian, it seems like a crown; heavy with responsibilities, protocoles and not nearly enough joy. Maybe that’s why he spends so much of his time teasing and annoying Lan Wangji; to ruffle him feels like going against some sort of authority. 

Lan Wangji looks at him like he always does: gaze somber and tainted with irritation. The lines of his mouth are straight, as rigid as the set of his wide shoulders. For the past few months, Wei Wuxian has had to tilt his head slightly in order to look directly at him. Every time he does, something weird and unsettling happens in his belly.

Wei Wuxian doesn’t like it. Not one bit. That’s why he often chases away the strange feeling by poking at Lan Wangji until he calls him ‘ridiculous’ or ‘shameless’ and sweeps away, looking like an avenging demi-god, exasperated beyond belief to be amongst mere mortals. Wei Wuxian often imagines him with long robes, trailing behind him like clouds. It would fit his aesthetic. 

As things stand, Wei Wuxian isn’t sure the world would be ready for Lan Wangji looking even more regal than he already does. He opens his mouth to say something that will for sure aggravate Lan Wangji to the point of leaving but he beats Wei Wuxian to it.

“Congratulations,” he says gravely. Everything Lan Wangji says is touched with graveness. He speaks so little that every word seems to weigh and value more than other people’s words. For Wei Wuxian, who has very little control over his own mouth and the ghastly things that come out of it, tumbling like overeager birds, being on the receiving end of Lan Wangji starting a conversation feels a bit like a prank. Or maybe a miracle.

This particular word, however, shocks him into silence. Lan Wangji stares at him intensely, golden eyes boring down on him. Wei Wuxian feels their weight like the golden weight of victory. 

“Your victory was well deserved,” Lan Wangji adds with a nod. 

Wei Wuxian laughs awkwardly, swallowing the praise with difficulty. There’s a strange fluttery feeling in his chest that makes maintaining eye contact difficult. He better have his physio check that out in the morning. 

“Ayiah, Lan Zhan, New York was like a month ago,” he says with a pout.

“It was twenty days ago. I should have,” he stops then and clears his throat. “I should have congratulated you sooner.”

Wei Wuxian feels a pang of guilt resonate in his chest. Lan Wangji has been nothing if not fair play throughout their entire acquaintance. He’s always found a moment to congratulate Wei Wuxian after every match he won against Lan Wangji and for some reason has always made victory that much sweeter. 

Lately, however, winning against Lan Wangji, stealing victories from under his nose after endless matches that left them both exhausted and weak, started to feel weird. Wei Wuxian loves the game, he loves winning, he loves the weight of the raquette in his hand, loves the cheers of the crowd and loves looking over the tribune and finding his jiejie smiling at him proudly. Tennis is the one thing that made him worthy in the eyes of others, it’s something he found himself being good at, so he kept at it because Jiang Cheng played with him and because Madam Yu left him alone when he was winning. Most of the time. 

Tennis, for Wei Wuxian, isn’t a vocation; it’s a way to survive and feel accomplished. 

It’s not the case for Lan Wangji who comes from a long line of champions. Lan Wangji whose brother is currently number one in the ATP race and who is the golden boy of their generation. Lan Wangji who spends more time on the training court than any other player Wei Wuxian knows. Lan Wangji who, since childhood, was considered the future of Chinese Sports. Lan Wangji who carried raquettes like they were extensions of his arm. 

It started feeling unfair to win against him, no matter how hard he worked at it himself. So, he has been avoiding him lately. Just a little. It’s not like Lan Wangji would miss him anyways. 

“Congratulating your rival. Isn’t that against the rules?” he evades. He busies himself with gathering his long hair in a messy top bun. It’s still damp from the shower and it will be a mess tomorrow but Wei Wuxian would rather deal with unruly hair than the intensely blank expression currently present on Lan Wangji’s face. 

“There are no rules against that,” Lan Wangji counters after a long moment. His voice sounds strange so Wei Wuxian turns back to him. He catches him looking at a stray strand of hair with a frown. When his gaze locks with Wei Wuxian’s again, he flattens his expression back to its usual shield. 

Embarrassed, Wei Wuxian tucks the strand of hair behind his ear and laughs nervously. 

“You would know all about rules, wouldn’t you?” Wei Wuxian drawls and Lan Zhan huffs. Probably in exasperation. It’s hard to tell sometimes; Lan Zhan huffs a lot. He huffs more than he talks. His interviews and press conferences are always fascinating to watch. He makes to leave, turning around but stops when Wei Wuxian grabs his arm. They both freeze, Wei Wuxian’s gut clenches as Lan Wangji tilts his head ever so slightly, his gaze cutting before it travels down to where Wei Wuxian holds him. He looks pointedly until Wei Wuxian lets go. 

“Sorry. I’m too used to having to keep Jiang Cheng from storming off,” he explains with a smile. Judging by the narrow look Lan Wangji gives him, the comparison is not appreciated. “Do you want to go grab dinner?” he asks quickly. 

“I ate at six,” Lan Wangji replies. 

“So? Aren’t you peckish?”

“No.”

“Well. Do you want to come watch a movie with me?”

Lan Wangji looks at him and Wei Wuxian feels like the biggest idiot on the planet. It’s past eight and everyone in the circuit knows that the Lans go to bed at nine every night. No one has ever cut curfew, especially not on the eve of a new tournament. 

“I have to shower,” Lan Wangji steps away and Wei Wuxian watches him, disappointment settling over him like a dark cloud. 

“You are so boring, Lan Zhan!” he calls after him but Lan Wangji doesn’t look back at him, doesn’t even pause as he strides towards the showers. 

Disappointment drizzles over him, now. 

Maybe that’s why he decides to stay. If Lan Zhan wants him gone, then he’ll have to try harder than that. He scrolls through his phone and busies himself answering emails and texts, humming quietly to himself. A shadow falls over him after what feels like mere seconds and Wei Wuxian finds himself staring at a half naked Lan Wangji. Or more accurately his belly button. His mouth drops slowly open as his eyes travel upward. Lan Wangji’s wet hair is pulled to one side, covering one of his shoulders and cascades down to the shadow of his abs.

Oh, Gods . Lan Wangji has developing abs. Wei Wuxian can’t look away. He doesn’t even have the presence of mind to think to look away from his glistening chest. A single droplet travels from his collarbones to one perky brown nipple and Wei Wuxian follows its trail, hypnotized. 

“You are standing in front of my locker,” Lan Wangji informs him and Wei Wuxian jumps about two feet in the air. He forgot Lan Wangji was there. Mortified, he slowly finds Lan Wangji’s eyes and apologies before quickly turning around.

Not before noticing the shower flush on Lan Wangji’s cheeks and the redness of his ears. He stares steadily ahead and tries to quiet his racing mind. Behind him, there is no noise. Lan Wangji hasn’t moved. 

“Go back to your hotel, Wei Wing,” he says quietly, tonelessly.

“We can walk together,” Wei Wuxian offers softly. After all, they’re staying in the same hotel. On the same floor, too. 

“I do not need Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji answers, unbreakable finality marking his words. 

Fair , Wei Wuxian figures. No one needs Wei Ying, least of all Lan Wangji. 

“Good luck, tomorrow,” he says before stepping outside. 

Lan Wangji doesn’t answer. 

A week later, standing on the finalists podium, he holds the Tokyo Tournament cup, face unsmiling but he nods at Wei Wuxian who can’t seem to be able to stop grinning. 



U.S open training court. 

Tension on the courts; how rivalry is turning players into Champions. 

For the first time in modern tennis history, the U.S Open finals will be 100% Chinese. Lan and Wei, at just 19 years old, have eliminated their competition with ease in the last two weeks and are now faced with their first real challenge: each other. It’s Wei’s first Grand Slam final and Wangji’s third. The sparring partners have only played against each other a handful of times since they joined the professional circuit and they’re at a tie; two wins each. 

Rumour has it that tensions are running high and maybe that’s the reason why the finals are already sold out. This is the most anticipated match of the season.

Whatever happens in two days, history will be made.

________

Sweat is dripping down his back in thick trails. He can barely breathe with the sun beating down his back like that. Long tendrils of hair stick to his neck and his jaw. He wipes the side of his face with his red wristband but it’s no use. 

Wei Wuxian has turned into one giant blob of sweat.

His limbs ache but he refuses to stop. He cannot stop. He throws the ball in the air and follows the movement with a swing of his raquette. Ace. Jiang Cheng scowls at him from the other side of the court, feet planted on the service line, arms crossed over his chest, and raquette long gone. 

“Are you done? Like is it over?” he shouts.

In response, Wei Wuxian pulls another ball from his shorts pocket and serves again. 

The net beeps as the ball grazes it. Wei Wuxian screws his eyes shut and swallows down about a thousand curses. He needs to do better. Lan Wangji’s serve is perfect and right now, it’s the only thing standing between Wei Wuxian and his first grand slam win. 

“I’m going home,” Jiang Cheng snarls and Wei Wuxian waves him away, leaning down to pick one of the dozens of balls scattered at his feet. By the time the ball hits the other side of the court, Wei Wuxian is alone. Even his coach knew better than to drag him out of here and left him with Jiang Cheng about an hour ago. 

And, now Wei Wuxian is completely alone, his dark, miserable thoughts threatening to engulf him. He heaves a deep sigh and crouches down with his raquette standing between his legs. He crosses his wrists over the hilt and lets his forehead rest against his damp hands. 

Anxiety, exhaustion and guilt are brewing like a molotov cocktail in his gut. He shouldn’t have done this. He shouldn’t have pushed so far. The final is tomorrow and if he gets blisters, at best it'll be unbearably painful and at worst it might very well ruin all his chances of winning.

He doesn’t know how long he stays like this but at some point he hears someone come up the court. 

“Still here?” he asks, feigning surprise. Every breath he takes sets fire to his lungs. 

You should not be here.”

At the sound of Lan Wangji’s voice, Wei Wuxian jumps to his feet, actually surprised this time.

“Lan Zhan!” Looking at him in his white Nike joggers and his ocean sky blue t-shirt, not a hair out of place, Wei Wuxian is suddenly very aware of how much of a mess he is. 

“You should not exert yourself so much,” Lan Wangji addresses him but looks at a point in the distance. Annoyance flares at the base of Wei Wuxian’s throat.

“Why? Worried about me?” He drawls, swinging his raquette and twirling it.

Lan Wangji cuts him a look so scathing, he feels more sweat drip down his back. 

“I have waited a long time to win this championship, Wei Ying. I will not have my victory tainted by excuses,” he says. 

Wei Wuxian can feel the line of his face harden. “Aren’t you a little arrogant, Lan Wangji?”

“Wei Wuxian.”

It’s all he says and it's probably the harshest Wei Wuxian has ever heard him be. 

He scoffs. “Don’t worry, Nobody expects me to win. No one will ever dare question your victory,” he crosses his arms and takes a step closer. He should look away, keep his distance but he can’t. He’s tired and scared and he feels small. So very small. Fighting with Lan Wangji has always made him feel… seen. 

He wants Lan Wangji to see him. 

Despite that particular desire being a constant in all their interactions, Wei Wuxian is always surprised when Lan Wangji does. He looks at him now and Wei Wuxian feels his shoulders square at the same time as warmth infuses his chest. 

“When you win, it should be with the full knowledge that you did it the right way. That you took care of your body and your mind.”

Surprised again, Wei Wuxian unfolds his arms and feels his face soften.

“That’s the longest I ever heard you speak,” he tries to sound light but his voice comes out rough. 

Lan Wangji huffs and ignores his remark. “You are skilled, Wei Ying. I do not doubt your abilities.”

Somehow, that does the trick.  It’s enough to unravel something inside Wei Wuxian; something that has been eating at him for days and days. Something dark and thorny that has been leaking black poison into his bloodstream. He almost staggers with relief as he breathes easier for the first time in weeks. 

“Lan Zhan,” is all he can say in return.

“I will win tomorrow but I will see you win, too,” he promises in return.

Wei Wuxian swallows against the lump in the back of his throat and nods. Lan Wangji nods back before turning on his heels, back straight as he marches out of the court. 

That Sunday, Lan Wangji does win his first grand slam title. 7-6, 4-6, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5. It’s the longest match of either of their careers. It’s the most exhilarating and thrilling time Wei Wuxian has ever spent on a tour. Before shaking hands over the net, Wei Wuxian bows to Lan Wangji who doesn’t hesitate before bowing back. 

“I will win next time,” he says as they shake hands, mouth close to Lan Wangji’s red ear. 

“We will see,” Lan Wangji replies and it might be a trick of his imagination but Wei Wuxian is pretty sure he can hear a smile in his voice when he says it.

 

Training 

[The Commissioner of Tennis] - hosted by John McEnroe.

 

Come on! You can't be serious! *DING*

Tennis' great rivalries have always been a metaphor for good vs evil. Depending on which player you were rooting for, the other one embodied the enemy. Back in my days, it was me vs Björn Borg, then it was Federer vs Nadal and the tradition continues now with Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian. Even in appearance they couldn’t be more stereotypically different than they are. Wei Wuxian with his red and black attire and his cocky smiles. Lan Wangji and his white uniforms, wearing his ribbon like a symbol of purity and discipline. 

*DING*

I have to say though, I have never met a rivalry quite like this one. In tennis history, when two players clashed, it was because their games were different, a stark and undeniable contrast to each other. And there is no denying that Lan and Wei have different plays. Yet, if I may be so bold, I don't think they're polar opposites. Sure, Lan Wangji is all about precision and finesse while Wei Wuxian plays outside the box, almost raw in his cheerfulness for the game. He was called a prodigy from very early on and the label stuck to him while Lan Wangji’s victories are attributed to a strict regimen of training and rules. 

*DING*

Yet somehow I think the reason why they've been unable to take the advantage on each other (bare in mind that in the past two years they've been winning tournaments against each other, following each other's victories with a personal one) is because they have learned to play a tennis of their own. Which is probably why they play so well when they play doubles together.

They are not as much  rivals as they are complementary. Wei Wuxian has made Lan Wangji more human, more accessible, friendlier in the eyes of the world. While Lan Wangji's stubbornness in defending his "mortal enemy" has given the often ostracised and frowned upon Wei Wuxian approval.

What's the story, you ask? The story, dare i say it, is one of friendship. Rivalry doesn't have to be fraught with tension and disrespect. In fact; it can be two people who have found their match and whose love for the game they play together keeps pushing them to the top.

It's a story of perspective. It's a story of mutual respect.

*DING*

Who will win Roland Garros this year? Last year, at 20 years old, covered in clay after winning it for the first time, Wei Wuxian had dedicated his victory to his family and then he said he'd be here to see Lan Wangji win it next time.

That's the story.

Until next time!

________

 

When he arrives on the training court half an hour before noon, Wei Wuxian is surprised to see that Lan Wangji isn't on the opposite side, already practising his serve. Like his stroke needs anymore perfecting. He looks around the court and finds his statuesque beauty standing stiffly next to a reporter and their crew. Today, his hair is braided down his back in a thick plait, the Lan ribbon laced with the black of his hair.

Stiff is Lan Wangji's general disposition so Wei Wuxian isn't necessarily worried. Still, french reporters have been more than a little insistent in getting a statement out of him, especially since their victories in the semi-finals.

Wei Wuxian drops his bag by his chair and bounds up to them. There's a camera pointed a little too closely at Lan Wangji's face and Wei Wuxian doesn't really like the tense set of his shoulders.

"Pensez-vous que son jeu que certains ont qualifié de volatile et parfois même dangereux est adapté à un sport tel que le vôtre?"

Wei Wuxian rolls his eyes. French people are so fucking arrogant. He wants to point out that his strategy might be volatile sometimes but at least he's winning tournaments. The last time a french person won Roland Garros, people weren't even used to using euros yet.

He swallows that remark and drapes an arm around Lan Wangji shoulders, covering his sudden harsh intake of breath with a laugh of his own.

"Bonjour," he sings obnoxiously to the reporter while waving at the camera. "Est ce que je peux vous l’emprunter pour un moment?” he winks at the camera trying to distract them from Lan Wangji’s increasing anger. Although, at surface level, his expression gives nothing away, Wei Wuxian knows he’s just saved these people from the cutting of their lives. His french is not as good as Lan Wangji’s (he’s better in japanese and korean while Lan Wangji excels at spanish and english, even if he rarely shows them off) but his smile should be enough to placate them. It’s not like it matters anyways, nothing ever satisfies the French, not even the French themselves but he promised his agent he’d behave so he smiles charmingly. Hopefully, winningly. “Nous devons nous entraîner," he grins at the reporter, not bothering to wait for an answer before dragging Lan Wangji away. "Lan-er gege, what would you do without me?" he says, arm still wrapped around his shoulders.

He shakes him off and glares at him. "I had the situation under control."

Wei Wuxian pouts. "Yeah, of course but I love showing off my polyglot abilities," he says with a wink, tongue coming to lick the corner of his mouth.

Lan Wangji huffs. "Boring," he says before striding away. Wei Wuxian watches him go, feeling strangely dejected. He stops by his chair and grabs a bottle of Perrier and takes a drink from it. Wei Wuxian has to tear his eyes away from the scene.

Why is Lan Wangji neck so... long?

He shakes the thought away and busies himself with preparing for today's training. Tomorrow is the final and maybe they shouldn't spar together but it's a tradition neither of them wants to part from. He would have loved to stay in bed however. He can still feel yesterday's long match against Zverev pulling at his limbs. He spent a long moment on the massage table this morning, letting his physio knead out the last of his fatigue but it's not been an easy journey to the finals. Not physically and not mentally.

He takes off his training jacket and pulls his hair up in its usual playing ponytail before jogging, knees high, to his service line.

"I'll take first service," he shouts across the court with a grin that he knows annoys Lan Wangji. The other boy doesn't dignify that with an answer.

Although Wei Wuxian corrects himself, Lan Wangji isn't a boy anymore. Neither is he but it's different for him. He looks older than he used to but he doesn't feel very mature. He wonders if that time will ever come. Lan Wangji, on the other hand... Lan Wangji got taller and broader. He's always so composed and self possessed, he always knows what to say or rather when not to speak, which is, apparently, in eighty-five percent of situations.

His hands are so big.

Wei Wuxian doesn't know where that train of thought is going; he just knows that it's a line he's becoming so familiar with lately, he has VIP access and premium seats.

He serves and on the other side of the court Lan Wangji does the same, easing into the warm ups in perfect sync. The midday heat is harsher than it was yesterday and there are threatening grey clouds  gathering above them. Wei Wuxian sends a quick prayer that rain won't interrupt their match tomorrow.

Their coaches are on the sidelines, watching intently. Amelie ( "Arrête de m’appeler Madame Mauresmo, s'il te plaît!" ) watches Lan Wangji more than she watches him, elbows braced on her thighs, face grave. Lan Qiren stands straight as a ramrod, hands clasped behind his back and eyebrows pulled together as he watches his nephew warm up.

Wei Wuxian is torn between wanting to gain his approval and pulling on his beard.

They play throughout lunch, the rest of the training courts closed and empty so close to the finals. It starts easily enough; they've been sparring partners since they joined the professional circuit. It wasn't even a decision that had to be made. Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang were still in the junior circuit when Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian entered the ATP race for the first time but even if they weren't, Wei Wuxian would have chosen Lan Wangji.

It wouldn't have been a choice at all. He's at his best when he's with Lan Wangji, even when he's losing games.

They play a couple of sets before they decide to break to eat something. Wei Wuxian exchanges a few words with Amélie who seems to be optimistic about his chances tomorrow. She offers a few pointers about his topspin as well as his volley and praises his serve. She leaves soon after and Wei Wuxian sits on the perrier green plastic chairs wiping his face. He doesn't mean to eavesdrop but he and the Lans are basically the only people around. His ears pick up Lan Qiren's words without him intending to.

"It is beneath you to play against the likes of him. Your association with him remains an affront to our ways."

For a moment everything freezes, including Wei Wuxian. He is ice. Everything is cold and unmoving. And then. 

Shame, burning and acidic, surges in Wei Wuxian's chest like a crashing wave. He turns back to his bag and pretends to gather his stuff. His vision is suddenly blurry with angry, pitiful tears and he would rather die than having either of them see them.

Packing everything when his hands are shaking so much and tears keep falling down his face in fat drops isn't an easy feat but if Wei Wuxian's footwork is, as they say, legendary, it's got nothing on his ability to run the fuck away from difficult situation. He doesn't hear the rest of Lan Qiren's words as he strides away but he can feel the weight of Lan Wangji's gaze on his back.

He walks, walks and walks until he's in a taxi and asking in garbled french to be taken away. He doesn't give the person behind the wheel a direction so they end up driving around Paris for forty-five minutes. He zones out, watching the Parisian streets, barely registering anything,  as his thoughts crash against his skull like a flock of baby birds learning how to fly.

Lan Qiren's words resonate in the background, like loud static. No matter how much he tries he can't seem to quiet them. It's not that this is new information for him; he's been aware of Lan Quiren's dislike of him since he visited the Cloud Recesses club for the first time when he was thirteen and had out-played most of the trainees there. He is fully aware that Lan Qiren doesn't want his nephew, the diamond of the tennis world, associated with the likes of him. If Lan Wangji is a diamond, Wei Wuxian is the piece of coal that keeps on burning under Lan Qiren's feet without ever turning to ash. It's not even the first time he's heard him say these things, they - or harsher equivalents - have been said directly to his face.

It's just that Wei Wuxian doesn't disagree with him. He knows exactly to which extent his rebellious reputation has tainted Lan Wangji. More than that, he knows that simply by existing, by playing the game, Wei Wuxian has stolen the life Lan Wangji could have had. 

Lan Wangji is a player that only comes once every few decades. He has accomplished at barely twenty years old what most legends didn't accomplish until their mid-twenties. Lan Wangji should have had a career far surpassing the likes of Serena Williams or Roger Federer.

If only Wei Wuxian hadn't been here.

It's easy to dismiss these thoughts when he's facing Lan Wangji. When it's only them on a court, sweaty and daring and infinite. Or rather, Lan Wangji makes it easy by never letting him get away with anything, by keeping Wei Wuxian on his toes and pushing him to be the best he can be. It’s easy because Lan Wangji has never once made Wei Wuxian feel like he didn’t belong across the court from him. 

It's easy to push aside the reality that simply by being his friend, Lan Wangji faces recrimination and failures. Easy to forget and yet always here, always threatening to swallow him whole.

"Ici, ça ira," he rasps quietly as the driver brings by the arena once again. He pays the fee and tops it off with a big tip for accommodating the weeping passenger and hops out of the car with his bag clutched in his hand. When he gets back to the training court, Lan Wangji is there alone. He jumps to his feet and strives decisively for him.

"Wei Ying," he says, worry lining his features.

"Let's play," Wei Wuxian replies, barely stopping.

"Wei Ying," he hears again but ignores it.

He stretches again before pulling out a raquette from his bag. He takes a long gulp of his water bottle before jogging to the other side of the court. Lan Wangji stares after him for a moment, expression pulled tight over his face but Wei Wuxian is determined to finish this and go back to his hotel and maybe get properly sloshed. Thankfully, they're in Europe and not in the U.S where that would have been illegal. Not that it would have stopped him but it would have brought down on him Jiang Cheng's scorn.

In the back of his mind, he realises that this is exactly the kind of attitude that got him Lan Qiren's disapproval. He also doesn't care all that much right now.

"Yah, Lan Zhan, hurry!" He calls after a moment. He gets a nod in response and Lan Wangji takes position. There's an electric kind of energy pulsing through him. Volatile , he thinks bitterly. He strikes the first serve and it's an ace. One of his fastest serves of the season. He huffs and marches to the other service box. He shoots the ball so strikingly fast and hard that Lan Wangji has to jump away.

"Wei Wuxian!" he shouts, anger and shock surpassing worry in his eyes.

"Play, Lan Wangji!"

He stares at Wei Wuxian for a while, face unreadable. "Not like this," he says after a moment.

Wei Wuxian ignores that and serves again. Maybe it's all the years of training, maybe he realises that it's something Wei Wuxian needs right now, or maybe it's a simple reflex but he parries his serve with a perfect backhand. Fire ignites in Wei Wuxian's chest as he runs to hit the ball back. 

This. This is easy. This is natural. This is why Wei Wuxian can deal with whatever else is thrown at him. This he can do.

So, he does. He plays to the best of his abilities even if this is just training, even if he has a final to win tomorrow. He plays. Aggressively, without restraint, each point scored is both salvation and damnation. He counters every attack, turns every defense into attack, runs and runs and runs until his clay coated sneakers weigh more than he does. It’s graceless and mean and unnecessary. He thinks that if he runs fast enough, strikes hard enough, pushes Lan Wangji beyond his perfect exterior, maybe he’ll stop hurting for a moment. Maybe if he wins this stupid set, he can save face. 

He loses the set. 

"Wei Ying," Lan Wangji calls when he wins 7 to 5.

Wei Wuxian ignores him. There are stupid tears clinging to his lashes again, his jaw is clenched so tight, his teeth hurt and it feels like his entire body is going to shake apart. Or maybe that his world. He marches to his bag, grabbing it and tries to escape without having to say another word.

They are no words. There is nothing. He can't do anything right.

A hand catches his elbow and stops him.

Wei Wuxian is shaking so much that Lan Wangji must feel it too.

"Wei Ying." A plea. Wei Wuxian stares at his hand on his arm but Lan Wangji doesn't let go of him. He looks up, hoping to convey annoyance rather than misery. Lan Wangji takes a step closer. "Wei Ying, it does not matter."

Wei Wuxian laughs; an ugly, grating sound. He feels like his lungs might give up on him any moment, now.

"Let go of me."

"I am sorry, about my Uncle," Lan Wangji says quietly. "We do not share the same sentiments."

Wei Wuxian's jaw works as he tries not to scream. "He's your family,” he says through gritted teeth. “You share everything. Everything you know about life, about tennis, you learned from him."

And that's the crux of it. It doesn't matter what Lan Qiren thinks of him, it doesn't matter what the press says about him; how they speculate about the kind of relationship they have. It doesn't matter that his victories will always be questioned and dissected and belittled. It doesn't matter that his game isn't appreciated.

But if Lan Wangji thinks that Wei Wuxian is beneath him, or if Lan Wangji's principles and integrity are challenged beyond what he can bear... if Wei Wuxian is left alone... he doesn't know what he'll do. Sometimes, he thinks he can only bear the world's wrath because he has Lan Wangji by his side. Then he remembers that he basically dragged Lan Wangji kicking and screaming (or rather, glaring and huffing) into this strange friendship and his own beliefs crumple.

It's easy to forget everything when he's with Lan Wangji but if Lan Wangji doesn't want to be there then there's no point in Wei Wuxian staying either.

"I did not," Lan Wangji says. 

Wei Wuxian's eyes fly to him in confusion. "What?" 

Lan Wangji’s fingers are pressing gently on the bare skin of Wei Wuxian’s arm and, stupidly, he thinks the point of contact is the only thing keeping him from shattering.

Lan Wangji pinches his lips together before saying, "I Learn things from you, too. I am better with you. I am my own person, Wei Ying."

Wei Wuxian is suddenly overwhelmed. He’s a ship lost at sea and a storm is about to swallow him whole. His face crumples, tears fall freely as his legs give out from under him. There, on a random training court in France, Wei Wuxian falls and sobs. Lan Wangji, still holding onto his elbow follows suit, kneeling next to him. He can't see him but Wei Wuxian imagines he must look pretty worried. My Lan Zhan is good at worrying , he thinks as a fresh wave of emotions leaks from his eyes.

"Lan Zhan," he wails, chest heaving. He curls into himself, hides his face into his knees and simply lets the storm do as it wills with him.

He doesn't know how long he stays like that but he knows that Lan Wangji stays by his side, one of his hands still trapped between Wei Wuxian's forearm and his bicep. About a million tears later, Wei Wuxian looks up and stares at him. He looks so young again; eyes innocent and worried, pouty mouth open as if he wants to say something, nose a little red.

Wei Wuxian reaches out slowly before he can think better of it and adjusts his ribbon. Lan Wangji inhales sharply but doesn't move away.

"Gods, I hope there aren't any cameras around," Wei Wuxian says, poking his cheek and then his chin.

"There is no one else," Lan Wangji says with certainty, watching Wei Wuxian’s hand retract from his face.

"Cool. So you're the only witness to my childish and ridiculous antics this time," Wei Wuxian Laments before laying his cheek on the hand still resting on his arm. "I'm sorry," Lan Wangji. Wen Qing is always telling him that gratitude and apologies are the two most important things someone can give to someone else. He thinks he understands that better now. "Thank you, Lan Zhan."

"No need."

Wei Wuxian doesn't answer. He simply closes his eyes and waits for the sun to pierce through the grey clouds. It does eventually and all he has to do to see it is focus on the warmth beneath his cheek.

 

Wimbledon’s Champions’ Dinner

Immovable force meets unstoppable object; A story of an exhausting victory.

Wei Wuxian and Lan Wangji break a new record, this time together: the longest Wimbledon final in history. The Chinese players stayed under the unexpectedly blazing London sun for 5 hours and 22 minutes. The previous record was held by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who in 2019 stayed on the Centre court for 4 hours and 57 minutes. After an agonisingly long fifth set, an exhausted but laughing Wei brandished the only Grand Slam trophy he had yet to win. At 22, he becomes the first Chinese player in history to win all four grand slams in a row. His opponent and long time rival, Lan Wangji has won the tournament for the last three years and didn’t seem disappointed at the loss.

“Wei Ying is a great champion, he deserves this win,” he said during his speech at the end of the match. More words than the public is used to from the player. 

[pictured below: a weeping Wei Wuxian, kissing the Wimbledon trophy while Lan Wangji watches on.]

________

 

“Wei Wuxian,” Wen Qing mumbled from the side of her mouth, still smiling placidly for the cameras. “Stop fidgeting,” she chastised. Wei Wuxian huffs. “You sound like your best friend,” she turns to him slightly, her smile hinting at something teasing. Wei Wuxian would roll his eyes if there weren’t so many reporters and camera flashes around. 

 “Lan Wangji is not my best friend,” he corrects, grinning at a nice Chinese photographer. It’s easy to pick her out in the sea of white people screaming at him. 

“Ha,” Wen Qing smirks as she looks up at him. She looks lovely tonight; her red dress and red lipstick, the perfect contrast to her moonlit beauty. She looks just a little mean with her glittering dark eyes and the teasing slant of her mouth; like an older sister. Which she has been for him in the circuit for the past ten years.

Wei Wuxian is glad that his first Wimbledon win is hers as well.

“I didn’t even have to say his name,” she arches an eyebrow and Wei Wuxian feels like giving her a noogie. That’ll make for interesting pictures, he’s sure. “It’s okay to miss him, you know,” she fakes a pout and this time, he doesn’t bother hiding his eye roll. 

“I do not miss Lan Zhan,” he says, turning back to the cameras. Gods , he usually hates formalities but British formalities are, without a doubt, the worst. He feels like a billion white people are watching him right now, gleefully waiting for him to fuck up. He can’t wait to go back to his hotel room and crash for at least a week. Maybe he can convince Lan Wangji to order too much food and booze and properly celebrate. 

Jiang Cheng and Jiang Yanli are already somewhere inside the venue and Wei Wuxian knows that neither of them is up to stay up for much longer. Jiang Cheng having lost in the semi-finals against Lan Wangji is still a bit sour about the ordeal and Jiang Yanli is six months pregnant. Partying, especially in pompous central London, isn’t really on either of their mind. But they stayed. For him. Because they were his family and because Madame Yu flew back to China in a fit of rage when Jiang Cheng lost. Her abrupt departure dampened everyone’s mood, no matter how much they tried to hide it. 

So winning that match yesterday felt  a bit like vindication and Wei Wuxian suspects that Lan Wangji knows that too. He thinks so at least. When he nodded at him right before Wei Wuxian served the first point of the match, it felt like understanding and encouragement. That’s why it felt even more glorious to win that last point knowing that Lan Wangji fought for it as hard as he did. 

“It’s okay. You’ll see him soon enough,” she says before leading him down the red carpet and exchanging smiles with Herbert, the French player. 

“Lan Zhan is probably already in bed,” he pouts down at Wen Qing whose smile turns mischievous. The expression is gone before he can question it.

Eventually, after too many pictures and cheek stiffening smiles, they enter the venue. Immediately, Wen Qing is swept away by Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, falling on her with chattering praise and accolades. Wei Wuxian doesn’t have time to feel alone because Jiang Yanli is waving at him from one of the tables, smiling as big and as brilliantly as the sun. Sitting next to her, square jaw set and big brows pulled together, Jiang Cheng nods at him. At the sight of his family, the anxious, jittery knot at the pit of his stomach unravels, for the first time this evening.

He makes his way to them and falls into his sister’s awaiting arms. Her belly pokes into Wei Wuxian and it makes him laugh.

“A-Xian,” she says softly as she cups his face with one of her hands. “I’m so proud of you. You did so well, Xianxian,” she smiles up at him, luminous and familiar.  

Wei Wuxian curls into the touch and feels his eyes prickle with tears. Her smile softens further and she gets on her tiptoe to kiss his cheek. “Come. Let’s have some fancy dinner.” she takes his hand and leads him to his seat between her and their brother. Wei Wuxian throws one of his arms around Jiang Cheng’s shoulders. His brother scoffs but doesn’t pull away.

Wei Wuxian is happy. 

Even if Jiang Yanli’s peacock of a husband, Jin Zixuan, is sitting on Yanli’s other side. He nods at Wei Wuxian once and that’s as much congratulation and warmth as he’ll get from him. Fine by Wei Wuxian. The fifth and last occupant of the table, he’s surprised to see, is Lan Xichen. Wei Wuxian blinks and then smiles at him.

“It’s good to see you,” he says once the surprise dissipates. Now that he thinks about it, it’s not so shocking to see him here. Lan Xichen is still a big name in the circuit even if he officially retired last year to become Lan Wangji’s coach. Wei Wuxian can't say he was sad to see the old one being replaced. A bad shoulder injury had cut Lan Xichen's career short and many were worried that he would stay away from the circuit forever but he came back last year, an ever loving presence in Lan Wangji’s life. One that Wei Wuxian is grateful for.

Lan Xichen inclines his head, a small smile dancing on his lips, and Wei Wuxian feels a nostalgic pang. Something like trepidation and fear coating his ribs. It’s strange to succeed Great Men. It’s fucking terrifying, too. 

“Congratulations,” the older man says and Wei Wuxian’s next smile comes more easily, almost bubbling to the surface. 

“Thank you,” he replies, giddy with pride. 

The chair next to Lan Xichen’s is pushed back and Wei Wuxian’s jaw almost drops when he sees Lan Wangji gracefully settling into it. He’s wearing a white suit with a light blue tie and shirt cut to perfection, fitting him like a glove. His hair is pulled into his usual top knot but there’s a delicate silver brooch pinned to the braided bun. His Lan ribbon is in place, accentuating the pretty cut of his eyebrows. 

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian says, a sudden burst of energy travelling through him. He wants to get to his feet, round the table and crouch by his chair and just… stare at him for a while. He almost does it, too, but he remembers where he is, he remembers all the eyes on them and how embarrassed Lan Wangji would be so he stays put. “Lan Zhan,” he says again. “You came?”

“Mn.”

That makes Wei Wuxian smile even more. The lines by Lan Wangji’s mouth look soft tonight.

“I thought you’d be asleep by now,” Wei Wuxian teases.

A bit passes where Lan Wangji looks down. “Special occasion,” he says, bringing his golden gaze back to him.

Wei Wuxian feels warm, warm, warm. He feels warm as dinner is served. He feels warm as his family and friends talk about yesterday’s match and the best points of the tournament. He feels warm as they complain about the London weather. He feels warm as Wen Qing stops by their table and Jiang Cheng offers stuttery, blushing congratulations. He feels warm as he watches Lan Wangji serve tea for his older brother.

He feels warm every time he looks at him and finds Lan Wangji already looking at him. 

It’s not such a terrible affair after all and soon their cars are waiting for them outside. More pictures are taken, the english press is notoriously voracious. Some creepy photographer even dares to follow them up to their cars but Lan Wangji angles his body in a way that prevents any good shots of their families from being taken. 

His hand on the small of Wei Wuxian’s back feels like comfort. 

Yanli and her husband set off together in a cab while Jiang Cheng and Lan Xichen take a car with Wen Qing. 

“Come,” Lan Wangji says, leading him to a parked car. He opens the passenger door for Wei Wuxian who, for some reason, feels his face going hot. 

“Lan zhan ah, Lan Zhan,” he says to distract himself. “Only you would find a Porsche to drive on the other side of the word,” he says once Lan Wangji has joined him on the right side of the car, settling behind the wheel like he was born for it. 

“I doubt that’s true,” Lan Zhan says as he clips his seat belt into place. He then looks pointedly at him until Wei Wuxian does the same. He rolls his eyes with a laugh and buckles his seat belt. 

The traffic is as fluid as to be expected in this part of the city and there are still reporters milling around so the drive is slow. Wei Wuxian looks out of the window, watching city lights and Londonners go about their evening, feeling keenly homesick.

He turns to look at Lan Wangji. Perfect, pristine, pretty Lan Wangji. One of his big hands is wrapped around the steering wheel while the other rests elegantly on the stick. Wei Wuxian notices that his tie is actually shade darker than his shirt. He doesn’t know why he gets stuck on that detail or why his eyes travel up to his neck and settle his on Adam’s apple. 

It’s quiet in the car, too quiet and Wei Wuxian fears he’ll get lost in thoughts he doesn’t really understand. 

They get to a red light and Lan Wangji slowly turns to look at him. His eyes are soft under the clouded moonlight. Soft and kind. 

“Are you tired?” he asks.

Is he? Wei Wuxian isn’t sure. All he knows is that his eyelids feel heavy. So does his heart. 

All he knows is that he doesn’t want to look away from Lan Wangji. 

“Are you?” he counters. His voice scrapes against his throat. He swallows and licks his lips. Lan Wangji’s gaze returns to the road. A moment later the light turns green. Wei Wuxian keeps watching him. 

“I was able to rest today,” he answers. 

Between the press conference, the interviews, the tv studios, the photocalls and the frenzy of becoming the New Big Thing in tennis, Wei Wuxian feels like this day lasted a decade. Or maybe the last decade has finally caught up to him and all the work he put into becoming the New Big Thing is crashing down on him. 

He doesn’t want to think about that though. He’d rather keep looking at Lan Wangji.

“I miss home. I miss Lotus Pier’s lakes. I miss sleeping in. I miss being a kid,” he says, too honest. 

Lan Wangji nods.

“Do you miss Gusu? I miss the Cloud Recesses club. The summer I spent training there is still one of my favourites,” he says, a gentle smile tugging at his lips. 

“Mn,” Lan Wangji replies. “It is too loud.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere.”

“Everywhere?”

Lan Wangji hesitates before saying, “Not with Wei Ying.”

Wei Wuxian’s next breath catches in his lungs and flutters out of his mouth in a long exhale. He feels warm again. He chuckles and pokes Lan Wangji’s arm. “Lan Zhan. I almost got thrown out of the Cloud Recesses because I was too loud,” he reminds him.

“It’s different.”

True , Wei Wuxan thinks. He’s different now. Not by much but he doesn’t feel that weird edge around Lan Wangji anymore. That burning need to ruffle his feathers and poke fun at him until Lan Wangji finally turns to look at him with that deeply disapproving frown and an irritated curl to his mouth. One look from him was… He doesn’t know how to put it into words. He can’t explain it. He just couldn’t get enough of it; that feeling of reward, the thrill of having the Great Lan Wangji, one of the Twin Jades of Gusu, reprimanding him. 

He still likes to do it, though. No matter how grown they are. That will probably never change. No one has ever challenged and picked his interest as much as the man sitting next to him now. 

He reckons they both have changed. Lan Wangji doesn’t look as stiff as he used to. Or maybe Wei Wuxian got better at reading the rigid line of his shoulders, the purse of his lips and the cut of his brows. Or maybe, as he sometimes likes to think, Lan Wangji doesn’t feel the need to be as curt with him as he used to be. 

Whatever it is, he’s grateful for whatever allows these quiet moments to happen between them. Lan Wangji is right; it’s too loud everywhere. Except with him. 

“Will you be in Newport?”

“No.”

“Hambourg then?”

“Mn. You?”

Wei Wuxian nods. “Are you going back home?”

“Mn.” A pause where Wei Wuxian prepares himself to miss him for two weeks. “Only for a few days,” Lan Wangji adds. Another pause where Wei Wuxian allows himself to stare at his Adam’s apple again, at the curve of his lips, the tip of his nose. Lan Wangji’s nose is really cute. “Will you come with me?” 

The words, enunciated carefully, slowly, shock Wei Wuxian into silence. He stares at him, eyes wide and lips parted, unable to form words. 

“We can drop by Yunmeng club and then Lotus Pier and you can add your new trophy to your case,” Lan Wangji continues. 

“You know about the case?” Wei Wuxian asks, surprised again. 

Lan Wangji nods. “I have seen the pictures online,” he explains, a tad stiffly. “Though, you are never in the pictures.”

Wei Wuxian swallows and tamps down on the bitterness coating his tongue. He looks away and crosses his arms. “Madame Yu built the case when Jiang Cheng and I started playing,” he says, words dragging and cutting on their way out. “‘The Champion's case,’ she called it but it was pretty clear who she thought the champion would be. I didn’t care. I just wanted to play with my brother. I just liked being good at something,” he says, smiling ruefly, ancient sadness clinging to his tone anyways. “When I won my first trophy, Li-jiejie insisted on putting it on the case even though I’d rather have kept it in my room. I didn’t need anyone else to see it. I didn’t really care about winning trophies. I just,” he sighs frustrated and looks out of the window.

“You just liked the game,” Lan Wangji supplies.

Wei Wuxian nods. “Madame Yu put up a fuss and tried to put it away but every day, Li-jiejie put it back in its place. She added every trophy to the case,” he finishes with a shake of his head.

“Your sister is good,” Lan Wangji says after a moment.

Wei Wuxian grins. It pulls a bit on the edges but it’s still a real smile this time. “She is.”

They arrive in front of the hotel and Lan Wangji parks easily. He gives the keys to the valet waiting outside and gives her a generous tip. She smiles brightly but Lan Wangji is already inside the hotel. Wei Wuxian offers a quiet good night and follows him in. They nod at the receptionists in unison and head for the elevator. 

Once inside,  Wei Wuxian pulls on his red bow tie and unbounds his hair from the tight high bun it was in. It falls around his face and he sighs, content. 

“You cut your hair,” Lan Wangji comments, voice higher than his usual steady and deep tone. 

Wei Wuxian looks up at him, notices his parted lips and tucks his hair behind his ears. He shrugs. “The heat wave was getting too much for me,” he explains. “Plus, I like the bisexual bob, it suits me,” he adds with a tight lipped smile. It’s too heavy a confession to be delivered so casually but Wei Wuxian has learned that casual is often the only way to be honest. Casual is always easily retractable. He looks at Lan Wangji from the corner of his eyes and stuffs his fisted hands into his slacks. 

“It does,” is all Lan Wangji offers. 

And that’s enough. 

The elevator comes to a stop on the fifth floor and Wei Wuxian makes to exit but Lan Wangji puts a hand on his forearm. “Wei Ying,” he says softly.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Lan Zhan. I have a plane ticket to buy,” he says with a smile. 

Lan Wangji squeezes his forearm once, a mere flex of his fingers but added to the soft look in his eyes, it makes Wei Wuxian’s heart constrict in his chest.

“Until tomorrow, then,” Lan Wangji says as Wei Wuxian steps out of the elevator.

“Sweet dreams, Lan Zhan,” he answers as the doors close. 

 

Injury and seclusion

The White Comet; who can stop Lan Wangji?

After his victory in the Australian open, the 26 year old Chinese player’s road to Roland Garros seems to be a walk in the park. No one seemed to be expecting such a meteoric rise, especially after his rocky course last year. His shocking defeat in the first round of the U.S open had tongues wagging for weeks. Lan had never lost before the quarter-finals in a grand slam since his first participation when he was 18. He seems now to be on a war path, determined to win every tournament that Wei Wuxian won against him in previous years.

The ex-number 1 player has been off the courts for over fifteen months following his knee injury. Rumours of doping have all been cleared but Wei Wuxian’s name is no longer one that people whisper in awe or even respect. 

When asked to comment about the scandal, Lan Wangji has systematically left press conferences. In fact he has refused to attend several of them directly after the events, seemingly uncaring of the 10000$ fee. 

Now, the player seems to be determined to win every tournament he participates in. He has already regained his spot as top  seed player and experts say that if he continues like this, all grand slams will be his this year. 

[pictured below: Lan Wangji holding the Indian Wells trophy, wearing his usual white and blue uniform, a clear contrast to the red wristband he’s been sporting since the beginning of the season]

________

 

“Wei Wing,” a soft voice calls and Wei Wuxian freezes before tuning slowly on the spot. 

Standing on the other end of the cereal aisle is Lan Wangji. His eyes are wide in surprise and the hand holding the gaudy orange plastic basket loosens around the handle. 

“Lan Zhan!” He grins, breathless. For some silly reason, tears spring to his eyes. “Lan Zhan,” he repeats softly as his friend walks down the aisle and comes to stand close. 

“Hello,” he says and there’s a whisper of a smile at the corner of his lips. 

“Oh, Lan Zhan! You’re here! Why are you in Yunmeng?” Wei Wuxian babbles, bringing on his hands to grab Lan Wangji’s. “You look well,” he adds before Lan Wangji can answer. “It’s really good to see you.”

It really is. It’s been about seven months since Lan Zhan’s last visit. With the season in full swing, the assiduous Lan training and Lan Zhan’s constant victories, he hasn’t had time to visit Wei Wuxian in what he jokingly refers to as seclusion.

“I was on my way. To you,” Lan Wangji says gesturing to his basket filled with lotus seed puffs, chocolate and booze. There are also fruits and a couple of mangas peeking from under them and WeiWuxian’s chest constricts at that. He covers it up with a laugh. “I have Emperor’s Smile in my car,” he adds; ears red. 

He is so dear. “Lan Zhan, you spoil us.”

Lan Wangji looks down at this light blue loafers and says nothing. Wei Wuxian takes a moment to take him in. Seven months without seeing him are six months and twenty nine days too long. He’s wearing white linen shorts with a light brown belt and a blue polo. Wei Wuxian has seen him wear shorts more times than he can count and yet, under these circumstances, he feels like averting his eyes at the sight of Lan Wangji’s hairy calves.

He swallows and pushes harder on the smile on his face. “Will you stay for dinner?” he asks.

Lan Wangji looks up, eyes like a golden ocean. “Mn,” he nods and Wei Wuxian squeezes his hand.

“I just have a few more things to get,” he says as he turns back to his cart and starts pushing it. “One thing I didn’t realise about pre-teens is how much they eat. And before you say anything, I know eight years old is not technically ‘pre-teen’ but he’s growing up so fast,” he sighs, a heavy weight in his heart. Next to him, Lan Wangji listens, looking at him patiently. Always so patient, that man. “Say, Lan Zhan, do you remember eating this much?” he asks, gesturing towards his cart full of groceries. They start walking down the aisle, pace slow. Wei Wuxian grabs boxes of cereals without really looking at them; too used to the process by now.

“It is normal for A-Yuan to have a big appetite at his age. He is a growing boy,” Lan Wangji answers. 

Wei Wuxian grins at him. “That’s not what I asked.”

“I followed the diet my Uncle recommended,” he huffs. 

“And you never cheated?” Wei Wuxian taunts, knowing full well the bland diet imposed on the Cloud Recesses players never allowed for any cheat day.

Lan Wangji swallows and looks away. “I quite liked daarsan,” he says.

Wei Wuxian stops in his tracks to stare at him. Lan Wangji’s gaze is soft and open, just a little shy. Wei Wuxian can feel his own smile softening, thinking about lanky, serious, focused, little Lan Zhan secretly eating daarsan in his room while he petted his bunnies. The thought is both heartbreaking and sweet. 

“Jiang Yanli is at home with A-Yuan and A-Ling. She’s an amazing cook, I’ll ask her to make us some daarsan before she leaves.”

Lan Wangji’s ears turn even redder. “It is not necessary.”

Wei Wuxian nudges his shoulder and smiles at him. “I know.” 

Lan Wangji’s answering smile, small as it is, is worth more to Wei Wuxian than any ATP points he could ever win.

If Lan Wangji notices the way Wei Wuxian still limps slightly, he doesn’t say anything. He does fall into his slower pace and does take charge of the trolley. Wei Wuxian is silently grateful for that. 

They finish groceries not long after. They catch up. Wei Wuxian keeps a steady stream of words coming while Lan Wangji listens intently, only occasionally offering input. When they reach the cashier, Wei Wuxian insists on paying for both their groceries but right when he’s about to do so, he gets a call from Yanli that he can’t reject. He’s a father in every way but paper, now; he can’t dismiss calls from his babysitter of the day. Lan Wangji uses the distraction to pay. Wei Wuxian glares at him, tries in vain to give his own card to the dumbfounded cashier but it’s too late, the payment has already passed.

“Ayiah, Lan Zhan!” he scowls as Lan Wangji bags the last of the items. “I’m rich, too, you know? Why can’t I spoil you for once?”

“Next time,” is the quiet reply and that placates Wei Wuxian. It’s quite annoying how easily Lan Wangji does that. Best not to dwell on that, however.

Wei Wuxian leads Lan Wangji to his car, a large Kia SUV that he got when it was decided Yuan would be staying with him on a more permanent basis. Lan Wangji brings the trolley to the trunk and together they load the groceries in the car. 

“Where are you parked?”

“3B,” he answers. “I will follow you.”

Wei Wuxian climbs into the car. Sitting behind the steering wheel he takes a moment to watch him walk to his car, the spring sun hitting his dark hair turning it almost blue. The white of his ribbon threaded in one of the braids. One of his hands is resting on the small of his back, fingers curled loosely. He looks like he belongs to another time, like he stepped out of painting. 

Wei Wuxian missed him so much, his absence burned like ice. 

He blinks tears out of his eyes, shakes his head before turning the key in the ignition.  He waits at the entrance of the parking lot until he sees Lan Wangji’s white car and takes the road. They arrive at Lotus Pier twenty minutes later but instead of going through the main entrance like they’ve had in the past, Wei Wuxian leads them to a back road, skirting lotus ponds and lakes before stopping in front of a secluded pavilion. 

He’s barely out of the car that the front door opens and Yuan comes bounding out. He all but crashes into Wei Wuxian.

“Xian-ge,” he says. “You were so long,” he adds. He’s not pouting; Yuan doesn’t really pout but there’s a slight crease between his eyebrows and his lips are pinched. 

“Sorry. I bumped into an old friend,” Wei Wuxian says just as Lan Wangji gets out of his own car.

“Zhan-ge!” Yuan laughs and runs up to him, hugging the tall man for all he’s worth. Lan Wangji’s face turns achingly soft before wrapping his arms around the kid. 

“Hello,” Yanli waves from the porch, little A-Ling perched on her hip, waving his chubby hands at them too. 

“Jiejie! We have a guest! He’s staying for dinner,” Wei Wuxian shouts, grinning fully.

“Stay!” Jin Ling screeches and Yanli laughs before kissing his cheek. 

They get the groceries inside. Lan Wangji offers the mangas and fruits he bought for Yuan who grins at him like he received a gold medal. 

Jiang Cheng and Wen Qing join them for dinner and it’s too loud and delicious and it feels like a miracle, like a precious moment stolen from the Gods. Wei Wuxian sips on wine, lips on fire from the too spicy noodles his sister and Lan Wangji cooked together. They have desert and daarsan sticks to his palate  which makes all of them laugh. On several occasions, he has to look away from the honey on Lan Wangji’s lips. 

It’s perfect. 

Yuan gushes about Wen Qing’s latest win in Roma and all but bombards Lan Wangji with questions about his last grand slam win. In return Lan Wangji asks updates on the boy’s training, on his school progress and on his violin lessons. Yuan opens up to him like a flower in bloom. The kid praises Jiang Cheng for his win in Monte Carlo and Wei Wuxian almost dies laughing at the blush on his brother’s cheeks. Jiang Yanli helps her son eat while playing diplomatic referee between her brothers, her smile as sweet as ever. 

Later, Yuan goes to his room to finish homework while the rest of Wei Wuxian’s family rejoin their own homes. He is left to clean the dining room and the kitchen alone with Lan Wangji. He can’t say he minds. They work quietly and efficiently together.

At some point, like they always tend to do, Wei Wuxian’s thoughts threaten to bury him alive so he turns to Lan Wangji. 

“Do you still play the piano?” he asks. 

One of the clearest memories he has, is of thirteen years old Lan Wangji sitting at a grand piano, in one of the rooms in the Cloud Recesses, playing a piece of his own composition. Wei Wuxian had watched, sitting cross-legged on top of the piano as his fingers moved across the keys with a grace that was reminiscent of his incredible serve. 

That summer, as he got to know Lan Wangji and played against him on his own turf, was the first time Wei Wuxian thought to himself: Lan Wangji plays tennis like it’s music, like his raquette is an instrument and each well executed point is a note. 

Now, Lan Wangji finishes drying one of the plates before fishing his phone out of his pocket. He looks through it for a moment before music fills the space between them.The melody is tentative at first, the notes  come like a drip, slowly but steady; like the start of a confession. 

Wei Wuxian leans his hip against the sink and looks up at Lan Wangji. Up, always Up. They’ve stopped growing a long time ago but it has never stopped feeling like Wei Wuxian would never be able to reach him. He’s looking down at him with a carefully vulnerable expression. 

“Oh. This is yours,” Wei Wuxian breathes, smiling. 

“Mn.”

The piece is intense, a deep sort of longing inching its way out of every note, dragging the song down before lighter notes join in. They come in like a summer storm, powerful and electric and magical. The crescendo feels like the suspended moment before a kiss, edging closer and closer until the song melts into an achy climax. 

“Oh, Lan Zhan,” he says, almost like a prayer. He has to look away from him, turning back to the dishes. 

“I can turn it off, if you wish,” Lan Wangji suggests quietly and Wei Wuxian wants to cry for some reason.

“No, please. I like it.”

A pause and then Lan Wangji turns back to the sink, as well, and offers a hand to take the next plate.  

Afterwards, Lan Wangji goes back to his car to get the Emperor’s Smile so Wei Wuxian goes to check on Yuan. The boy is fresh out of his shower, buttoning up his cloud patterned pajamas - a gift from Lan Wangji - and reciting something under his breath. 

“Hey,” Wei Wuxian calls softly and the boy turns around with a small smile.

“Hey,” he says as he crawls into bed. Wei Wuxian waits for him to be settled before he goes to sit beside him. There’s a spy novel on his bedside and the new mangas he got from Lan Wangji are on the bed with him.

“How was your day?” he asks like he asks every night before bed. It’s a tradition that sort of happened on its own. 

After he came to live with him, Wen Yuan had difficulty going to sleep. His parents died in a car accident when he was five and afterwards he was sent to live with his cousins; Wen Qing and her brother Wen Ning. For two years they tried to make it work. Unfortunately, both of them being international athletes - Wen Ning being a car racer - meant that the kid was often going from city to city. It was impractical and not an ideal situation to put down rules and habits. It wasn’t a safe environment to raise a kid. 

After the injury and when he could walk again without crutches, Wei Wuxian found himself with a lot of ugly feelings eating at his chest, too much free time and a big empty house. He offered to take care of Yuan while his cousins were travelling the world. It was a win-win situation: the child would get a stable home and Wei Wuxian would have something to keep himself busy. 

The transition wasn’t easy. Wei Wuxian had never taken care of children before, except for the handful of afternoons he spent with Jin Ling, and Wen Yuan didn’t know him, didn’t trust him. Things were particularly difficult at night; the kid couldn’t sleep in his room alone, didn’t like his pillows, prefered to sleep with lights. There was always something. So after four nights of this, Wei Wuxian stopped trying to solve the situation and just sat with him on the bed and talked.

“How was your day?” he asked on A-Yuan’s fifth night with Wei Wuxian. 

Yuan looked at him curiously for a moment before he settled back on his pillow, close but not too close to him. “It was long,” he mumbled. Sleep was pulling at his eyes; Wei Wuxian could see the taut line by his big brown eyes. 

“So was mine,” Wei Wuxian replied conspiratorially. 

“How long?”

“At least ten years long,” he sighed heavily. “I have to get my body in shape again after my surgery and it’s not easy,” he explains.

“Your whole body? I thought it was just your knee,” Yuan asked, touching the brace still covering most of Wei Wuxian’s left leg. 

“Well, I have to start with the knee but my body needs to stay in shape if I want to keep doing what I love.”

“What do you love?” the boys asked and Wei Wuxian tried very hard not to let his current feelings affect his tone when he said, 

“Playing tennis. Winning trophies. Travelling the world with my friends.”

At the time, Wei Wuxian wasn’t sure  how long he would have to stay away from the courts. He didn’t know if what was left of his reputation would allow his career to pick up again. He didn’t know if the life he knew before the scandal could get back on track. He didn’t know if he wanted it to. All he knew was that he wanted to get better again and face those who had tried to ruin him with his chin up. 

“Does it hurt?” and for a moment Wei Wuxian thought he meant something other than his knee.

“Yes,” he answered.

It did. All of it did. The doping rumours. Madame Yu asking him to move out of the main estate; the home he had known for almost two decades. His only home. The weeks of malicious press trying to reduce his career to smithereens. The biased empire chair who had ruined what could have been his very last professional game. The self hatred for having lost his control so completely in front of so many people. The fall. Seeing Lan Wangji’s face from the net go from aggravated to shocked to fearful in a matter of seconds. The sound of his voice screaming Wei Ying as he rushed to his side only to find a withering Wei Wuxian on the floor, moaning and crying in agony. The following week spent in a fog of medication, pain and uncertainty; his siblings’ faces pale with worry. Lan Zhan haunting the halls of the hospital and then having to fly back home on his Uncle’s explicit demand. The surgery and the following weeks of rest which felt very much like a prison. The reeducation, the crutches, the relentless calls, his coach dropping him, his PR team ending their contract with him, the Adidas sponsorship suddenly gone. 

Wei Wuxian’s life up to that point had been nothing but a noisy vortex that threw him in and out of places and then, suddenly, the vortex shut him out before disappearing completely. He was in outer space, all alone and there was nothing but silence and cold. 

Sitting next to A-Yuan, he shook the thoughts away. No need to dwell on that, at the moment. At least he had A-Yuan, even if things were off to a rocky start. He was happy to have him. He survived. The doping scandal was debunked, apologies - as reluctant as they sounded - were issued, and his doctors were confident he would play again. He wasn’t on the rise anymore but he would rise again. 

“It hurts but it’s getting better now and even if my day was long and hard, I was glad to see you at the end of it,” he said, decisively pushing those terrible thoughts away and smiling down at the boy. His cheeks were so big and his eyes were so round. He was adorable

Yuan hesitated for a moment before leaning his head on Wei Wuxian’s shoulder and saying. “I was glad to see you too.”

“How long was your day?” Wei Wuxian asked in return and he waited for an answer that never came. Wen Yuan fell asleep quietly and, for the first time since he had arrived at Lotus Pier, slept the whole night through.

After that night, it became a ritual that neither of them wanted to eradicate. 

“Practice was hard today. I’m working on my slices and I can’t seem to get it right,” A-Yuan says now, frowning. Such a serious, adult look on such a small face; it made Wei Wuxian’s heart ache. 

“It will come,” he soothes.

Yuan nods, playing with the books lying by his knees. “It was good to see everybody. I’m glad Zhan-ge is here,” he says with a brilliant smile. “It’s been awhile since we last saw him. Remember when you took me to one of his matches when he played in Pekin?”

“I do, yeah,” Wei Wuxian plasters a smile on his face, pushing away the memory of that day. He’d never seen Lan Wangji play so aggressively… so volatile. He’d lost the game so easily and watching fucking Tsitsipas lift the trophy felt like a knife to the heart. They had dinner afterwards, the three of them, but Lan Wangji had been quiet and distant and yet so obviously worried about Wei Wuxian. It hadn’t been a particularly good day, even if seeing Lan Wangji’s face always made days better. 

“We should go again, soon,” Yuan says, hopeful.

“You have school,” Wei Wuxian reminds him. “Your Zhan-ge will play in Europe for a while. We can’t just forget about our responsibilities and fly around the globe to follow your favourite player,” he huffs with an eye roll. He waits for A-Yuan to jump in with a “ No! You are my favourite player!” but it doesn’t come. He pouts.

“Finals play during the weekend. We could fly over for the French open,” Yuan grins, all toothy excitement, ignoring Wei Wuxian’s pout completely. 

“You’re so sure he’ll make it to the finals, huh?”

Yuan gives him a look. Wei Wuxian feels sufficiently chastised “We’re talking about Zhan-ge, here!”

Wei wuxian laughs. “Clay isn’t his favourite surface,” he teases. 

“Have you seen him in Barcelona? It’s like he invented clay!” Yuan exclaims, hands flying around in excitement. “We have to go see him win Roland Garros!”

“It would be his fifth. That is kind of a milestone,” Wei Wuxian edges. 

“Absolutely! Come on, Xian-ge! Can we?”

“Hm. We’ll see,” he says leaning over to kiss his forehead. “Don’t stay up too late, alright.”

“Okay. Good night.”

“Night.”

He closes the door behind him and heads to the living room. On the coffee table, two bottles of Emperor’s smile and tea have been set. Lan Wan Wangji is standing by the bookshelf, studying the pictures there. Wei Wuxian comes to stand next to him and follow his line of vision. He smiles.

In front of the unnecessary large volumes of encyclopedia Jiang Fengmian gifted as a housewarming present (someone should introduce him to the internet) stands a double frame. One the left side thirteen year old Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian posing for the camera with their brand new raquettes which Wei Wuxian brought with him as a thank you for allowing him and Jiang Cheng to attend the Cloud Recesses summer training camp. On the right side twenty-three year old Lan Wangji and Wei Wuxian posing with their U.S open double championship trophy.

In the first picture, only Wei Wuxian is grinning, his arm thrown around a stiff looking Lan Wangji. In the second one, while Lan Wangji still isn’t smiling with his lips, he’s leaning closer to Wei Wuxian, a smile tucked in his warm golden eyes. They were so fucking young. So much has happened since the first picture. So much was destroyed since the second one.

There are tears prickling at the corner of his eyes so Wei Wuxian turns away from the shelf and goes to sit on a mat by the table. “The good old days,” he says, voice lacking his usual cheer. 

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji says as he comes to join him.

Wei Wuxian ignores him and occupies himself by serving him tea.

“You will play again,” Lan Wangji says after the silence between them has stretched for too long. His legs are crossed perfectly, his knees on his side of the table but Wei Wuxian likes to sprawl. One of his feet is resting right next to one of Lan Wangji. 

When Wei Wuxian doesn’t answer, Lan Wangji nudges his foot gently with his own. Wei Wuxian’s eyes jump to his.

“You will play again,” Lan Wangji repeats, firmly this time.

Wei Wuxian nods and says the only thing he’s been scared of voicing: “I will but it won’t be the same. My glory days are long behind me.”

“That is not true.”

Wei Wuxian’s mouth flattens. “I’ll be off the courts for another six months at the very least. It’s going to take me months of training to get back in shape and even then…,” he takes a deep breath, trying to tamp down on the escalating anger and bitterness. “Even then, even if I work myself to the bone, there is no guarantee I’ll ever meet you in finals again. None.”

“We play tennis. We have never worked with guarantees,” Lan Wangji counters simply. 

Just as quickly as it mounted, his anger dissipates at those words. He stares at his friend in silence and tries to cling to the spark of hope that was just ignited in him. Lan Wangji reaches for the liquor and pours him a shot before sliding it across the table towards him. In return, Wei Wuxian extends a cup of tea.

“Lan Zhan,” he starts but he can’t make sense of his thoughts, let alone utter them out loud. So he changes the subject. “A-Yuan wants to see you win Roland Garros,” he says after he gulps down his shot. The burn of the alcohol feels like nothing compared to the volcano erupting in his chest. 

Lan Wangji’s cup halts halfway to his mouth before it continues its course. “I would like that.”

Lava trails slowly down Wei Wuxian’s core at the look of hope in Lan Wangji’s eyes.

“Can’t blame the kid for wanting to see you play. I used to rush through press conferences so I wouldn’t miss your matches.”

Lan Wangji’s eyes bore into his, mouth parted slightly, wet with tea.

Wei Wuxian needs another shot.

“Boring,” Lan Wangji says.

“Huh?”

“Without you. The game is boring. No challenge.”

“Then why did you lose all those matches last year,” Wei Wuxian counters, anger once again bubbling inside him. He feels like a fucking fuse these days; the slightest trigger can set him off. Lan Wangji’s nostrils flare but he keeps quiet. “Why?” 

“It was difficult for me to focus,” Lan Wangji snaps. He takes a deep breath before taking a sip of tea. He licks his lower lip and breathes in deeply. Wei Wuxian is transfixed. When Lan Wangji’s gaze returns to him, his eyes are molten gold. “It was even harder to find purpose in a game that had treated you so viciously,” his big hand tightens around the cup of tea.

Wei Wuxian shakes his head, chest feeling too tight. “The game didn’t do anything to me, Lan Zhan. It was all my fault.”

“Ridiculous,” Lan Wangji spits. 

Wei Wuxian laughs bitterly. “I was too cocky. Too proud. Too arrogant and immature. I loved winning and I loved reminding everyone that I was a winner. I humiliated Jin Zixun on the court every single time I could.”

“His lack of skills are not your fault.”

“Mocking him during that press conference was my own doing.”

“It doesn’t justify the rumours he spread! He almost cost you your career!”

Wei Wuxian’s mouth shuts with a clang. He keeps the self pitying words locked inside. 

Lan Wangji reaches over the table for his glass and pours him another shot. “That chair empire. That point. It was yours. The ball was out, I saw it. It was not your fault.”

Wei Wuxian hates this conversation. He swallows the lump in his throat and blinks the tears away. “I let my temper get the best of me. I shouldn’t have let it get to me!”

“You were under a lot of scrutiny and pressure,” Lan Wangji reminds him. 

Wei Wuxian scoffs. “I shouldn’t even have played that stupid tournament. It was just a fucking Master 250. I didn’t need the points, I was already top seed!,” he looks away as he recites the reasons like he’s been doing every night since his surgery. A damning mantra constantly playing in the background of his thoughts. He’s never told anyone. “My physio and my doctor told me my knee was in bad shape and that I should lay low for a while but I didn’t listen. I was too proud, too angry,” too hurt, he doesn’t say. “I wanted to play against you again and prove to everyone that I… belonged there, too.” 

He’s breathing harder than he was moments ago. He’s still so furious about it all, about how easily they got the best of him, how he managed to prove everyone right. He ruined everything and he has no to blame but himself. 

The sound of a spoon rattling on the table makes Wei Wuxian look back at Lan Wangji. His breath catches in his throat when he sees him.

A single tear is trailing down Lan Wangji cheek. Wei Wuxian scoots closer and gingerly wipes it off. “Don’t cry, Lan Zhan.”

Lan Wangji turns his face away and closes his eyes. When he turns back to face him, there’s burning determination in his gaze.

“You will play again. You will win again. You belong.”

Wei Wuxian sighs and leans on him for a moment. “It’s a long road ahead.”

“You have never been afraid of hard work,” Lan Wangji counters and never has a sentence been more comforting or rewarding. The volcano goes back to sleep, leaving Wei Wuxian’s chest warm. 

“It would be incredibly fucking nice to rub it in everyone’s face,” he comments before picking up his glass and downing another shot.

“Mn.”

“It won’t be easy going back to the circuit with a kid. No one knows about Wen Yuan yet and the situation is so complicated. I don’t want him to think that I’m ashamed of him. I love the kid so much.”

“He is very kind and smart,” Lan Wangji concurs.

“High praise from the Gusu Prince,” Wei Wuxian grins.

“He loves you.”

“I’m pretty sure he loves you more,” he counters and delights in the way Lan Wangji’s ears turn red. His eyes are so soft when they peer into Wei Wuxian’s.

“He’s your family. No one has a say in that.”

Wei Wuxian nods. He leans further into Lan Wangji’s side, feeling suddenly exhausted. 

“Long road ahead,” he mumbles.

“Mn.”

“Hey, Lan Zhan. Stay.”

“Mn.”

“Lan Zhan?”

“Hm?”

“Sing for me?”

A pause and then Lan Zhan starts humming the same melody he played on his phone earlier. His deep velvet voice is the last thing Wei Wuxian hears before sleep pulls him under. 

 

 Flowers

The Return Of A Champion: a loss that feels like a victory.

The entirety of Indian Wells arena was in tears today as Wei Wuxian held the silver plate up in the air, his face wet with tears he could not wipe away. After an incredible match of 4 hours and 46 minutes, Lan Wangji scores the winning point, to the disappointment of everyone it seems, even his own. 6-4, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3, a final score that doesn't really translate the incredible marathon that Lan Wangji (1) and Wei Wuxian (114) played today. More surprising than Wei Wuxian rise to the final after an absence of 24 months, was the way he threw his raquette on the ground after the match point and ran across the court to jump over the net and tackle Lan Wangji.

Deemed rivals when they were still children, their complicated relationship remains a mystery to everyone.

"I love this game. I love the thrill of winning but it never seems like I'm losing when I play against Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian said during his final speech, silver plate clutched close to his chest .

[pictured below: a sweaty and crying Wei Wuxian hugging his adversary on the floor of Indian Wells central court]

________

 

There's a knock on his hotel room door as Wei Wuxian towel dries his hair. He runs to open it and his face softens before a grin stretches across his face. In the hallway, wearing a white t-shirt, white linen pants, a blue beanie, and bunny slippers, is Lan Wangji. The beanie and the slippers are not what makes Wei Wuxian tear up, it's the huge bouquet of flowers the other man extends towards him.

"For Wei Ying," he says with a tender smile. Everything about Lan Wangji is tender; from his eyes to his smile to his heart. Everything is warm and kind and good.

Wei Wuxian can barely take it sometimes.Or rather, all the time.     

He blinks the tears away and steps back, gesturing with a sweeping motion of his hand for Lan Wangji to enter. There's an infinitesimal pause in which Lan Wangji seems to... brace himself maybe. Or psych himself up. Then, with a single determined step, he's inside Wei Wuxian's hotel room, all grace and sandalwood and unbreachable beauty.

He looks at Wei Wuxian, gaze gentle and patient, something shy and sweet, before extending the flowers to him once again. Wei Wuxian drops the towel he’s holding and then takes a hold of the bouquet, his hands resting over his around the plastic wrap. The fragrance is heady when he leans down to take a whiff and he allows himself a moment to imagine braiding flowers into Lan Wangji’s hair. For just one imaginary, fleeting moment, they’re in a field of flowers, back home and Lan Wangji, illuminated by the sun, center of Wei Wuxian’s universe, sits still as he threads daisies and roses into his midnight blue hair. 

He quickly chases the thought away and focuses on the bouquet in front of him. His thoughts almost get derailed again when he realises how soft and big Lan Wangji's hands are under his.

"For Wei Ying," he repeats when Wei Wuxian has looked at him for too long without saying a word.

Something flutters up to his throat, gets stuck on his tongue. "I haven't won today," he reminds him gently.

"You won the doubles," Lan Wangji answers. They're still holding the bouquet together.

" We won the doubles. Should I get you flowers too, hm?"

Lan Wangji ducks his head, ears turning pink to Wei Wuxian's utter delight.

When he looks up, his eyes hold more than Wei Wuxian could put into words. "You are back," he says .

"I have been back for a while, now, Lan Zhan," he says. "This was the goal, remember? I will play again, you said it yourself."

"Mn."

"Then why the flowers?"

Lan Wangji's expression turns frustrated and irritated all at once; not unlike the way he used to look at Wei Wuxian when they were young.

"Do you not like them?" he asks with a frown.

Wei Wuxian clutches the bouquet, bringing them closer to his chest and pouting slightly. Lan Wangji's hands fall back to his sides and Wei Wuxian misses their warmth immediately.

"I love them. They're mine," Wei Wuxian says looking at him over the petals.

Lan Wangji nods. He leans down and for a second, Wei Wuxian thinks he’s going to hug him or kiss him. But then, Lan Wangji picks up the towel Wei Wuxian dropped a moment ago. Wei Wuxian exhales harshly, all but burying his face in his flowers. Lan Wangji folds the towel neatly before putting it down on a nearby chair. Wei Wuxian watches him enthralled. This tall beautiful, strange man who has become the only constant in his life. 

"Thank you, Lan Zhan."

A soft look is his only answer. They stare at each other for another electrically warm moment before Wei Wuxian goes to fetch a vase. It's truly incredible the things you can find in a hotel room as long as you pay a small fortune for it. He finds a white one on a table by the entrance and adds a bit of water into it before putting the bouquet in the vase. The arrangement is really pretty and elegant: white tulips and yellow roses and hyacinths, but it is also wild and bursting with life; daisies and violets and lilies of the valley and anemones. Wei Wuxian can't help but think that if Lan Wangji was a bouquet of flowers he would be this one. He takes one last whiff, heart clenching sweetly, before he turns back to his friend. 

He takes hold of his wrist and leads him to the comfortable cream sofa in the room. They sit together; Lan Wangji as loose as Wei Wuxian has ever seen him, leaning slightly back, legs spread a little and head leaning against the wall behind them. Usually, Wei Wuxian likes to sprawl, leaning back and letting his body relax. Tonight he turns sideways to face him and curls into a ball. 

Safer this way. 

They stay quiet for a while and Wei Wuxian feels at home even thousands of miles away from Lotus Pier. 

“How is A-Yuan?” Lan Wangji asks.

“He called me after the press conference,” Wei Wuxian says with a grin. “He’s absolutely gutted to have missed your victory but he said we played a good game.”

Lan Wangji nods. “You did.”

“We did.”

Lan Wangji crosses his legs, the bunny ears of his slippers resting on his knees. Wei Wuxian can’t help but laugh and reach out to play with the fluffy ears. For someone as stoic and deferential as Lan Wangji, he sure could be the cutest person in the world. 

“You did,” he insists and Wei Wuxian looks up, surprised by his serious tone. “You were away from the circuit for twenty-four months, you sustained a painful and complicated injury. Your reputation and your dignity were questioned beyond what was acceptable. Yet, you came back at the top.”

Wei Wuxian buries his nose in his knees and swallows the mountain of feeling currently camping on the back of his tongue. It is incredibly unfair that the only person who has ever truly known Wei Wuxian, the only person who he has ever loved will never return his feelings. If only he did, Wei Wuxian thinks wistfully, they could have been good together. 

Ah, well. This is good, too, he thinks only a little sadly. 

“What do you expect from a prodigy, ey?” he grins cockily, chin resting on his knees now. Deflecting and joking, as always, a preferable option to facing his feelings head on. 

Lan Wangji shakes his head. "I do not like that word."

"Prodigy? Why?"

"Because it belittles all the hard work you have put in. Because it does not give you credit for your strategic play, for how graceful and powerful you are on the court. Because it will never be enough to explain the champion you are."

With each word leaving Lan Wangji's mouth, Wei Wuxian's body unfolds, blooms like a flower under the spring sun. His eyes are wide with shock and maybe that's why the tears he's been fighting for the past twenty minutes fall easily now.

"Lan Zhan," he says, voice raspy. "Lan Zhan."

Lan Wangji looks down at the space between his knees before looking back up to the top of Wei Wuxian's hair. Wei Wuxian’s heart is beating too hard and too fast against his ribs. He's glad Lan Wangji isn't really looking at him otherwise he would do something stupid.

He has never been more tempted to ruin their lifelong friendship than he is now, staring at Lan Wangji chin, then up at his rosy, plush mouth. His lips are parted and they look infinitely soft. Wei Wuxian feels like stealing a kiss would be the most sinful act he'll ever commit and Heaven knows he's familiar with sin.

"You should take care of your mane," Lan Wangji says.

Wei Wuxian clears his throat, grateful for the distraction, and laughs nervously, passing an embarrassed hand through his unruly hair. They're long again, having let them grow during his convalescence. He loves it but it's definitely a lot more work.

He jumps to his feet and silently heads to the bathroom to gather what he needs: dry oil, a few hairbands and a soft brush. He quickly joins Lan Wangji back in the main room and sinks into the couch cushions.

"Are you head-," he starts to ask, brushing his fingers through his still damp hair, but Lan Wangji interrupts him.

"May I?" he asks.

Wei Wuxian's fingers freezes in his hair and he stares at him.  "What?"

Lan Wangji takes the bottle of oil in  his hands and holds it up in answer.

Wei Wuxian's entire world comes to an abrupt stop, his body frozen, shivers running down his frame.

"You want to brush my hair?"

"Mn," Lan Wangji answers, gaze intensely soft. Sometimes Wei Wuxian thinks the world is so cruel because Lan Wangji's eyes have hoarded most of the softness available.

Wei Wuxian scoots closer and pivots until his back is to Lan Wangji. There’s a stretch of time where nothing happens, Wei Wuxian doesn’t know how long it lasts; long enough for his entire soul to vibrate with anticipation, heat and nerves coiled tight at the pit of his stomach. 

Then. An eternity later, he hears the small pump of the oil bottle being used. He takes a deep breath just as Lan Wangji asks, “May I touch you?”

Wei Wuxian chokes on his release of air. He coughs and swallows with difficulty. 

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” a cough. “Yeah, you, uh, you can touch me, ugh, hm, I mean you can touch my hair,” he says rolling his eyes so hard he almost gives himself brain damage. It’s a good thing his scarlet face is hidden from view. And then he has to swallow a whimper as the tip of Lan Wangji’s fingers brush his neck while he gathers Wei Wuxian’s hair. 

He lets out a deep and long breath as Lan Wangji gently works the product into his hair, paying particular attention to the tip. 

“My sister used to do this to me,” he confesses, heart bruised. Lan Wangji scoots closer, one leg bent against the back of the couch. He must have taken off his bunny slippers because Wei Wuxian can feel his toes poking one of his ass cheeks. It makes him giggle.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he shifts until the toes are buried under his butt. Lan Wangji falters in his movements for half a second before carrying on with his task.

He parts Wei Wuxian’s hair, putting half of it over one shoulder before focusing on the other half. He starts with the tip, brushing gently as he gradually works his way to the roots. He apologises every time he brushes through knots but Wei Wuxian can barely feel them, so relaxed and comfortable he is. 

“I have memories of my mother doing this for me,” Lan Wangji says quietly after a while. Wei Wuxian freezes but Lan Wangji doesn’t stop. “She had very small hands, they were gentle and patient. I do not have a lot of memories of her but I do remember this.”

Wei Wuxian swallows and closes his eyes. He clasps his hands together to avoid doing something silly and over the top like pulling him into a hug and never letting him go. 

Lan Wangji hates dramatics, he reminds himself firmly. 

“I don’t remember my mother. Sometimes, the scent of jasmine will make me think of her. I think I dream of her laughter a lot.”

Silence reigns as Lan Wangji finishes one half and starts working on the other one. 

“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if we’d both grown up with parents who loved us and helped us?”

He doesn’t really expect an answer, not because Lan Wangji doesn’t open up easily but rather because it was a rhetorical, maudlin question. So he’s surprised when Lan Wangji says, “Uncle says it is useless to wonder about the past. What is done is done.”

Wei Wuxian scoots back until he’s leaning sideways on Lan Wangji’s bent leg. He scratches his knee. Behind him, Lan Wangji barely pauses his brush strokes. 

“He’s not wrong,” Wei Wuxian finally answers even if his heart feels heavy with regrets and to many aches. 

“I still miss my mother,” Lan Wangji returns and Wei Wuxian nods. He turns his head and kisses Lan Wangji’s knee in, what he hopes is, welcomed comfort. He lips drag over the soft linen for a suspended moment before he pulls back. 

“I miss my mum, too,” he says. 

“We did well.”

They would be proud of us , he doesn’t say but Wei Wuxian knows and agrees. They have come a long way, the both of them. 

Lan Wangji finishes brushing his hair before pulling it into a french braid identical, Wei Wuxian supposes without being able to see it, to the ones Lan Wangji wears during matches. It makes a strange kind of heat pool at the pit of his stomach. 

“Done,” Lan Wangji says when it’s over. 

Wei Wuxian turns around and Lan Wangji takes a long moment to look at him. Someone else might have thought that his gaze was critical, analytical but Wei Wuxian knows better. He sees the softness there.

A wave of wild affection surges through him as his own eyes settle on the pink bow of his mouth. He gets lost in another daydream; a dizzying, ludicrous moment where he allows himself to live in a world where Lan Wangji wants him. Wants him like he does, not platonically, not as team partners, not as childhood friends. But as a man wants another man, flesh to flesh, tongue to lips, teeth to skin, fingers to hair. 

For one moment, he thinks it would be alright to lean over, climb into his lap, wrap his arms around Lan Wangji’s shoulders and kiss him breathless. 

But Lan Wangji clears his throat when the silence has stretches on for too long and Wei Wuxian jumps to his feet and shoves his hands into his black shorts.

“Uh, thank you for the flowers,” he says with a smile that hurts his cheeks. “And the hair,” he says playing with the end tail of his braid. Anything to avoid looking at him. He hears more than sees Lan Wangji getting to his feet. 

“No need to thank me.”

“It’s way past your bedtime. You must be tired after today and knowing you, you probably went and bought that bouquet by yourself. God knows where you found a florist open at this hour but I guess there’s nothing the great Lan Wangji can’t do. Not that I don’t like you, uh I mean, the flowers. I appreciate the trouble, it’s just-,” he’s cut off by a hand grabbing his wrist. 

The single point of contact is setting fire to his entire being.

“No trouble.” Lan Wangji says. 

Wei Wuxian finally looks at him and finds that look in his eyes again. The one he’s been seeing since they were teenagers. One that has grown with them. One that he’s been seeing more and more and lately. A look of such bare affection that it catches in Wei Wuxian’s throat. It feels like a fishing line, hooked on Wei Wuxian’s heart and every time Lan Wangji casts the line, he can’t help but fall prey to the most dangerous ideas.

“I’m always trouble,” Wei Wuxian counters with a feeble smirk. 

“Not Wei Ying. Never.”

Wei Wuxian wants to cry at the sincerity in  his tone.

“Ah, Lan Zhan, you’re always too good to me,” he whispers.  He looks at him for another moment then at his mouth and thinks it’s best he’ll never get to kiss him because it will probably ruin the taste of any other victory for the rest of his life.

What good would trophies be if he got to kiss Lan Wangji whenever he wanted?

Lan Wangji parts his lips as if wanting to say something but then deflates. It’s pretty unusual for someone who either cuts to the chase or doesn’t bother talking at all. Wei Wuxian can’t remember if he’s ever seen him fumble for words and suddenly; he worries that he’s put him in a difficult situation.

His feelings are probably all over his stupid face. Kind, wonderful, beautiful Lan Wangji would never hurt them or him but Wei Wuxian guesses even Lan Wangji would have a hard time letting anyone down gently. 

Wei Wuxian feels suddenly, crushingly small, disappointed and ashamed. He turns around and without another word, leads Lan Wangji to the door.

“Wei Ying. Are you alright?” he asks as Wei Wuxian opens the door.

He plasters a smile on his face and nods. “‘Course!”

“You can tell me anything. If something weighs on you, I would like to help,” Lan Wangji assures in that Lan Wangji way; steady and sure, like the rising sun. 

They’ve often been compared to the moon and the sun. Wei Wuxian’s scorching game and personality a perfect opposite for Lan Wangji's silver confidence and cold quiet. People are wrong. Lan Wangji is the sun; an endless source of warmth, brilliant and beautiful and ever constant. 

Wei Wuxian’s eternal spring. 

“You’re the best, Lan Zhan,” he says and adds nothing else. 

Lan Wangji looks at him for another moment before he nods and steps outside.

“I will see you tomorrow,” he offers like a promise. 

“You will,” Wei Wuxian promises back before closing the door. 

He leans against it and tries to breathe steadily again. He doesn’t know why but he feels like he’s just closed the door on something he’ll never get back. A missed chance, like a match point grazing his raquette but never making it. He tries to shake the feeling but he can’t get Lan Wangji’s look out of his mind. That look of utter affection he seems to only be giving Wei Wuxian. Or the soft, gentle way he took care of him tonight. His eyes land on the flowers and his breath catches by the door.

For Wei Ying. No trouble. Not Wei Ying. Never. I will see you tomorrow.

Promises. 

He spins around and wrenches the door open, ready to run down the corridor and jump on Lan Wangji’s back to keep him still but his sprint is cut very short when he sees Lan Wangji still standing in front of his door.

“Lan Zh-,” he starts but the rest of his name is smushed against its owner’s mouth.  

Wei Wuxian is a frozen frame, unable to move even if he wanted to, arms akimbo and leaning slightly back, held in Lan Wangji’s embrace.

His Lips are soft, oh so very soft and warm against Wei Wuxian’s. He brushes their mouths together like a painter testing a new brush for the first time. Wei Wuxian’s world starts spinning again and he melts into his embrace. He closes his eyes and parts his lips, closing them around Lan Wangji’s bottom one. He pulls back softly before leaning in for a soft peck. 

They break apart and look at each other. Wei Wuxian thinks he’ll never get over the sight of Lan Wangji’s eyelashes fluttering and his blush travelling all the way down to his cheeks. 

“Lan Zhan,” he breathes, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. 

Lan Wangji leans down and deposits a very tender smile on the same corner. 

“This has been tormenting me for the past ten years,” he says gravelly as he pulls back, thumbing at the place he's just kissed. His eyes are dark like velvet. Wei Wuxian wants to sink in him.

He shudders and breathes out slowly. He can still feel Lan Wangji’s lips on his skin. 

“Do that again,” he demands, greedy and needy, pushing to his tip toes. “Lan Zhan, please.”

Lan Wangji’s eyelids fall halfway shut and he swallows harshly. “Does Wei Ying really want me to?”

“I have never wanted anything more in my entire life. Lan Zhan, please, be a good boy and kiss me senseless.”

So, Lan Wangji does. He takes several steps inside, guiding him back and pushing the door closed with his bunny slipper clad foot before pulling Wei Wuxian into a deep kiss. It starts slow, but Wei Wuxian, as much as he wants to savour this, has never been good at slow and tentative. He opens his mouth and softly licks the very center of Lan Wangji’s top lip. He feels Lan Wangji shiver against him before he pulls him closer, backs him against a wall, his big hands gripping Wei Wuxian’s hips and then he nips at Wei Wuxian’s bottom lip until he opens up for him. 

When Lan Wangji licks into his mouth, Wei Wuxian swears he leaves his body for a moment. He moans and wraps his arms tightly around his shoulders, trying desperately to get closer. He buries his fingers in Lan Wangji's hair, pushes the beanie off his head and finds the ribbon’s knot. He pulls on the string until it comes undone. Lan Wangji kisses him deeper in answer. 

They have to pull back to allow Wei Wuxian the chance to catch the ribbon and wrap it around his own wrist. Once it’s done, he grins at Lan Wangji who looks like he wants to devour him. Wei Wuxian is more than happy to be devoured. He pushes to his tiptoes and kisses him again. 

Lan Wangji pulls him in, plasters their frames together, pushing him against and up the wall, mouth sweetly insistent, intently affectionate, dizzyingly demanding. It's so good, so hot, so everything Wei Wuxian thought it would be and more that the rest of the world goes blank. Lan Wangji paints him a new world; one where every brush of his tongue is heaven.

Lan Wangji kisses him like he’s waging a war on the cold that’s been living inside Wei Wuxian’s chest forever. He is spring and Wei Wuxian’s inner ice is thawing under his tongue. 

They kiss for so long that Wei Wuxian actually starts to feel dizzy.

“Wei Ying,” Lan Wangji pants when they part. 

“Don’t go,” he says kissing his cheek.

“I do not wish to go.”

“Good. Stay. Kiss me more. Kiss me always,” Wei Wuxian says, brushing a tender kiss on his lips. And then a biting one because he wants more. He wants so much he burns with it.

“Always?” Lan Wangji asks, tone different now. Unsure. Hopeful. Scared.

Wei Wuxian kisses him again.

“You’re the only always I’ve ever wanted, Lan Zhan. My Lan Zhan,” he admits for the first time out loud. “I like you so much, there aren’t even words for it.”

Lan Wangji smiles and closes his eyes, wrapping his arms more tightly around him. His eyes flutter open and the joy in them looks almost painful; it’s so real and vulnerable, Wei Wuxian wants to protect it with his own life.

“I am not good when it comes to affection or words,” he says and Wei Wuxian makes an affronted noise. Lan Wangji is the best at everything and he is determined to let him know but Lan Wangji shushes him with a soft kiss. Oh . This is a new development Wei Wuxian can definitely get behind. “I love you and I want you. I have always loved you. I want to keep Wei Ying close.”

Tears spring to Wei Wuxian’s eyes. He cups his face in his hands, thumbs brushing over cheekbones and lips. 

“Okay,” he says. “Keep me.”

Lan Wangji pulls him into another breathless kiss. 

 

Press conference

 

When Wei Wuxian slips in at the back of the conference room, Lan Wangji is still answering questions.

"Were you expecting Goffin to make such an incredible comeback?"

"I do not have expectations when it comes to other players. I can only play and do my best," Lan Wangji answers with his legendary spare-no-bullshit tone. Wei Wuxian wants him to rail him.

"Is it true that you and Wei Wuxian don't want to face each other again in finals?" another journalist asks.

"Your sources, whatever they are, are not dependable."

Wei Wuxin can't help it, he laughs. Despite the level of noise in the room, the sound carries to Lan Wangji who looks at him directly. Wei Wuxian waves, his wedding ring glinting. The wedding ring that neither of them have yet worn on tennis courts. Lan Wangji stares at him for a bit before ducking his head, ears turning red. Wei Wuxian is kind of absolutely smitten with him.

"What are your goals for the rest of the season?" A Chinese reporter asks.

"Play tennis," Lan Wangji answers in Chinese which has the reporter in question laughing.

Wei Wuxian grabs a mic from a nearby journalist who quacks but isn't quick enough to prevent him from disappearing into the crowd.

"Lan Wangji?" He calls. "Please, sir! I work for a very important publication," he grins and he can see the way Lan Wangji is trying to suppress a smile. Around Wei Wuxian, people are starting to whisper, clearly recognising him, now.

"What publication?" Lan Wangji asks in Chinese.

"Deez nut-," he starts with a smirk but Lan Wangji cuts him off, voice outraged.

"Wei Ying!"

"My apologies," he clears his throat in an effort to stop laughing. "Anyways, I have a serious question. Are you aware that you're the most beautiful man in the world and that your husband loves you very much?"

The room falls silent, most of the people present not understanding a word he just said and the few who did, keep repeating the word 'husband?" at each other. Not that Wei Wuxian cares. Not that he can ever pay attention to anything other than the tender smile Lan Wangji offers him. He leans close to the microphone and says clearly:

"The sentiment is mutual."

Wei Wuxian nods, affection blooming across every molecule of his body. "That was thrilling. Outstanding, really. 10/10 would fall in love all over again. Gotta go, I'm meeting my husband soon," he tips his black cap off, blows a kiss to his husband and then disappears into the crowd again.

When the door closes behind him, the roar of the crowd dims and he laughs to himself.