Lan Wangji has a secret.
"Ready for me, Lan Zhan?"
Wei Ying stands in one of the sparring fields, the greenery and mist-blue mountains of Gusu as his backdrop. White robes billow in the morning winds, contrasting with his dark hair done in its customary messy ponytail. On his face is a grin, lopsided and handsome, and it never fails to make something jump inside Lan Wangji.
He does not verbalize a response—he seldom has to, with Wei Ying. Wei Ying just seems to know, and judging by the way the curve of his smile twitches even higher, indeed it seems nothing has escaped his notice.
Wei Ying lunges first. No surprise there; this is his test after all. Lan Wangji deflects the first blow, their swords clashing a few times before they find themselves on their first bind.
Wei Ying's core is new yet. Of course, he has worked his way to it, cultivating a golden core with his new body the same way every other cultivation disciple has had to do it. It is only even recently that Wei Ying claimed he has cultivated enough to handle a sword fight, and so it is no surprise that he wavers first, a tell-tale tremble under the weight of Lan Wangji's sword.
Nevertheless, Lan Wangji has his own struggle. He can feel Bichen singing in his hands, touching Suibian where there has long been draught. He was not the only one missing someone in all those long years.
"Ah ah ah, Lan Zhan," taunts Wei Ying. Strands of black hair fall over his expressive eyes, which now even seem to twinkle as they look up at Lan Wangji. "Don't get distracted. We've only just started."
Wei Ying escapes him. He finds his footing, although not immediately, seemingly still needing some time to get used to Lan Wangji's spiritual energy when it is in the offensive.
"This could be harder, I can tell," Wei Ying says across the field, "if Hanguang-jun was not busy ogling his opponent."
"I was not ogling," Lan Wangji immediately denies, but the tips of his ears feel hot anyway.
Wei Ying laughs, rich and carefree, and it rings with the wind like its music was made to be played along with it. He is quick on his feet, preparing for another round, and it is no hardship for Lan Wangji to follow him with his eyes.
Something about Wei Ying: he will not lose to Lan Wangji without a fight. He wants to win, and even now that is no different. He would accept loss but only in a fair fight, one where he made Lan Wangji work for it and maybe doubt, once or twice, if his was going to be a sure win. There is no such thing between them, not really. There could be perhaps a few years or so ago, when Wei Ying was newly returned and his core yet unformed, but Wei Ying with a golden core has always been Lan Wangji's equal. Nevermind that Wei Ying's core now is new; he is the sort of genius, after all, who can close a gap no matter how far ahead the handicap.
The first time they sparred, Lan Wangji was surprised to encounter someone with skills and cultivation as high as his. None of his peers in Cloud Recesses, nor even in the nearby sects with whom they associated, had thus far come close to reaching Lan Wangji. And yet there Wei Ying was, a talkative, rule-breaking boy from Yunmeng Jiang, but one who could deflect Lan Wangji's strikes with one hand, jars of Emperor's Smile in the other.
He took Lan Wangji's breath away.
"You are doing it again, Hanguang-jun!"
Lan Wangji catches himself just in time to deflect an oncoming talisman. The charm breaks against Bichen, turning into golden butterflies that fly up into the blue sky.
"Swords only," he admonishes.
"Eh? Says who?" counters Wei Ying. "I don't think we set those rules, Lan Zhan."
Lan Wangji huffs his disapproval, but lets it go. The other had a point, after all.
"And speaking of things which I am correct about," declares Wei Ying, apparently not yet done, "Hanguang-jun, you really ought to focus. What will your junior fans say? You're lucky they are not here watching this."
Lan Wangji goes for him this time, his swordpoint leading the charge. But Wei Ying just seems delighted by this, peals of his laughter bursting in the air around them. The winds, usually Lan Wangji's allies, even seem to side with him, cradling him in their grasp, taking his voice and bringing it clear and sure to Lan Wangji's greedy ears.
"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan!" cries Wei Ying, saying his name in a sing-song sort of way. "Is this how one defeats the esteemed Hanguang-jun? Just throw him a pretty face? See, this is why I considered just asking Sizhui."
That got Wei Ying a series of blows, Suibian visibly struggling beneath the onslaught.
"What pretty face?" asks Lan Wangji, because he can't help it. "There is only one."
"Hm?" Wei Ying goes on taunting him, even as his breath grows strained and he has to pause between words so he can pant in between. "Oh, Lan Zhan. Only me, you say? Hanguang-jun is such a sweet-talker."
He knows what to say, knows the expressions he has to make. He throws Lan Wangji with looks filled with promise, or at least looks that feel like they do. Whether or not he will put out is always an open question, because Wei Wuxian is anything but predictable, and it seems as though few things delight him more than teasing Lan Wangji.
Lan Wangji loves that about him. But then, Lan Wangji loves everything about him.
Wei Ying turns serious in the next moment, seeming to summon up the spiritual energy necessary to attack Lan Wangji with a particularly complicated sequence that actually gets him to pull up more spiritual energy than he planned for this entire encounter. He pulls up more, and then even more, because Wei Ying is relentless and quick, and he makes it difficult enough for Lan Wangji to clear his mind and indeed focus, lest he find himself on the wrong end of his partner's sword.
Wei Ying grows tired first, and he escapes Lan Wangji again and floats back to the far edge of the field. He catches his breath there, but his eyes do not stray from Lan Wangji—as though he has to watch him, as though he will not risk the very small, truthfully nonexistent possibility that Lan Wangji would attack him when he is not ready.
Lan Wangji loves him like this—when he is serious, focused, wanting to win. True, he loves Wei Ying when his eyes are laughing and his voice light and bright, perhaps even fell in love with him because of those things, but times like this bring their own charm. Something deeper, darker, intimate in a way because Lan Wangji knows few people know Wei Ying this way, simmers there beneath the surface. Lan Wangji finds himself hungry for it, wanting more, and a part of him wonders if that is why he is so keen on Wei Ying growing stronger and cultivating back his golden core. Lan Wangji would love him regardless, core or no core, but there is something about Wei Ying when he has power on him that charges the nerves under Lan Wangji's skin.
All things eventually reach their end, and despite several more attempts, Wei Ying's energy drains from him soon enough. In the end, the battle ends with Suibian on the ground, Bichen just centimeters from Wei Ying's throat.
Wei Ying heaves a great sigh and falls on his knees to the ground.
"Wei Ying did well," Lan Wangji tells him as he sheathes Bichen. "That took longer than I expected."
"Yeah?" Wei Ying says in between pants, looking up at Lan Wangji. "Doing well is not the point though, is it?"
"It is for now," says Lan Wangji. "It is impossible for you to win this first fight."
To Lan Wangji, this is only pointing out the truth. It is impossible with a core so new, but Wei Ying shakes his head at these words all the same.
"Lan Zhan, Lan Zhan. I may be of Gusu now, but never forget I am from Yunmeng Jiang. We strive for the impossible."
It has been years, but when Wei Ying grins like that, it is still as attractive as the first time Lan Wangji saw it.
"Still, do not be careless," says Lan Wangji, keeping his voice even despite the effect of that look. "The impossible is impossible for a reason."
"You," Wei Ying goes on to say, waving a finger up at Lan Wangji. "You're lucky you're pretty."
Lan Wangji does not understand what that has to do with anything, but then his and Wei Ying's logic have always been somewhat different in that regard. He does not have much time to think about it though, because Wei Ying is then crooking that same finger at him, an even look on his face as he gestures for Lan Wangji to come closer.
Lan Wangji has barely settled on one knee before Wei Ying pulls him roughly by the front of his robes. The kiss, when it comes, is unexpected but not unwelcome, and Lan Wangji's mouth at least catches up faster than his brain does. But he fails to stifle his reaction when a tongue slips past his lips, groaning through it as his hands grab at Wei Ying's shoulders, both in surprise as well as to steady himself from the shock.
Oh, but Wei Ying knows how to kiss him. He sucks and nibbles at Lan Wangji's lips, licks into his mouth in a way that has Lan Wangji clutching him tighter, fingers clawing up until they are buried in Wei Ying's hair.
He even knows to prolong the kiss the right amount, and then pull back at just the right time to leave Lan Wangji aching for more.
"You know I hate to lose," Wei Ying tells him after that kiss. "So it's a good thing I find you sexy when you win."
Lan Wangji's ears are red, he knows. "Shameless."
Wei Ying laughs then, breaking character or whatever it is he is going for that nonetheless worked so well on Lan Wangji.
He lets himself be pulled up, lets Lan Wangji dust off the dirt on his knees, smiling and comfortable with being groomed and taken care of by the other.
"Thanks for today, Lan Zhan," he says, eyes back to their bright and playful self.
They pick up Suibian, and then walk together back towards the jingshi. Wei Ying fills the time with his usual chatter, telling Lan Wangji stories that never seem to run out, and which Lan Wangji wishes never do.
He thinks, too, that they will continue doing this and someday, Wei Ying will win against him. Wei Ying now, after all, is only but a dragon yet asleep, a tiger that is still a cub, but soon he will find himself again, for there is no doubt he can work his way back to where he used to be. Lan Wangji can tell that when he does, Wei Ying will be insufferable, will probably gloat, and he will tower over Lan Wangji until Lan Wangji is on his knees.
And Lan Wangji waits in anticipation for that day to come.