Even from thousands of feet up in the air, Costa Rica looks beautiful.
The clouds gradually thin to give way to a lengthy shoreline, where the waves seem to shy away from land. Damn. Wei Ying had an inkling that Costa Rica was one of the more forest-populated countries in the world—he doesn’t live his life by Wikipedia, unlike some people, so he didn’t bother to check—but it’s as if the ocean never ends, just changes colour from a calm deep blue to vast green.
Stretching out into the sea from one side of the peninsula, is their destination. Cloud Recesses—all polished steel and pale, closer to a gigantic mausoleum than a shatterdome, the base of the Gusu Lan Sect sticks out like an artificial limb. The stark contrast only serves to remind Wei Ying of their true purpose here.
Still, it’d be nice to imagine they were here on a holiday instead.
"Shame you’ll be too busy training to enjoy the sights, then."
Wei Ying didn’t realise he spoke aloud, and throws a glare at the older boy sitting in front of him. "Shame you’ll be too busy getting your ass be—hey! Jiang Cheng—!" he whines, torso forced down horizontally by his brother.
"What he means is that we’re very grateful for the trip on your private jet, Zixuan-xiong," Jiang Cheng deadpans, tone so polite it borders on plastic. Wei Ying has to hold back a snort. Not even Jiang Cheng can resist letting his sarcasm drip into the words private jet.
As it is, Jin Zixuan doesn’t catch it, and merely expels a breath of indifference before he goes back to his phone, no doubt chatting with their sister. Honestly, what does she see in him? It had taken Wei Ying everything not to gag at the unconcealed love-sickness that painted Jin Zixuan’s face when he went to fetch them from Lotus Pier, only to be informed that Jiang Yanli had left for California a day ago. Wei Ying’s brain helpfully supplied the description kicked puppy, setting off a bodily shiver.
"Hey," Jiang Cheng warns from the seat next to him, "you better not be thinking about skipping training here, too."
He wasn’t, but Wei Ying gives his brother his signature shit-eating grin anyway. "Come now, live a bit, won’t you, A-Cheng? The world might end before you know it."
"That’s why we’re here to stop it ending, dumbass."
Jin Zixuan gives them the stink eye, but the Yunmeng brothers could care less. It’s an unspoken thing they have between them. Wei Ying copes with the age-old trauma of his parents’ death with tasteless humour; Jiang Cheng accommodates him. Plus, Wei Ying justifies it by claiming that it will make letting go of the RABIT easier once they reach sixteen and are finally allowed to drift.
In the beginning, Jiang Cheng’s mother had been less than welcoming towards Wei Ying, especially with the awkward history of her husband’s infatuation towards the child’s mother. It had been a thorn in the family’s side, and there were more than a few attempts on Wei Ying’s part to run away from the household. However, when brother and sister started stepping up for him too, even though Wei Ying never took up the surname, Madam Yu no longer had much say in the matter.
Thus began a blossoming brotherhood between Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying. They might have had a rocky start, mostly owing to Jiang Fengmian forcing his son to give up his puppies due to Wei Ying’s severe cynophobia. However, a spur-of-the-moment spar and an offhand comment about their drift compatibility from Jiang Yanli later, the two boys quickly bonded over their enthusiasm to save the world from the evil kaiju. Ever since, they have been attached at the hip.
The jet lands seamlessly. Wei Ying doesn’t even realise that they have touched down until he’s broken out of his daydream by a dull elbow on his arm and Jiang Cheng’s declaration of "we’re here." Wordlessly, they grab their carry-ons and leave for the dock, where they’re greeted by a man with the posture of a military soldier and the goatee of an Ancient Chinese philosopher.
Wei Ying eyes the suspicious length of the goatee, wondering if it’s a clip-on. "Do you think he gets that thing stuck in his helmet?"
Jiang Cheng half-snorts, half-hisses. "Watch your mouth! That’s Lan Qiren."
Lan Qiren, one of the few surviving first-generation pilots of the Jaeger programme. He had previously paired with Wen Ruohan, gathering a total kill of eight kaijus to date—five in North America, three in Central. Aside from the pilots’ prowess, Blue Inferno quickly became the gold standard among the Mark-I Jaegers. Thanks to their performance, sponsorship for the Jaeger programme swam in from all sectors; in a year, Wen Ruohan and Lan Qiren practically reached celebrity status. However, shortly after their last kill, the two men had a fallout, leading them to quit piloting and venture into training and administration. Now, Wen Ruohan manages the headquarters in California, while Lan Qiren has set up a shatterdome to shape promising recruits. Still, the close proximity of their bases have resulted in rumours about where Cloud Recesses really gets its funding from.
"Marshal Lan," Jin Zixuan greets.
Lan Qiren nods. "Zixuan. You’ve grown up well. How are your siblings doing?"
"We just celebrated A-Yu’s seventh birthday," Jin Zixuan replies, smiling. His doting persona when it comes to his youngest sibling, though they only share half their blood, is no news to anyone. "A-Su is arriving in the following week. She’s making a short detour to California," he adds, carefully leaving out any direct mention of the Wen Sect.
If Lan Qiren notices the glossover, he doesn’t show it. "I see. What of Meng Yao?"
Jin Zixuan falters. "He’s… helping father out," he says, eyes lowering for the first time.
Lan Qiren’s face visibly darkens. "Hmph. Still pursuing that foolish idea of his, I see." He looks like he wants to say more, but probably thinks it too inappropriate to badmouth one’s father in front of his son, even if that father is the good-for-nothing playboy billionaire, Jin Guangshan. It’s still a wonder how the infamously useless Jin Sect Leader managed to acquire a woman like Madam Jin, whose joint kills with Madam Yu in Purple Lightning were only second to Blue Inferno. With how Madam Jin holds the reins, people have speculated who exactly the trophy wife in the marriage is.
The topic of Jin Guangshan piques Wei Ying’s interest, but when he shoots Jiang Cheng a questioning look, he’s met with a frown. You don’t know? Jiang Cheng mouths, to which Wei Ying flashes a sheepish smile. The former rolls his eyes. Tell you later.
"Jiang Cheng," Lan Qiren greets, to which Jiang Cheng salutes. Then his gaze sweeps over to Wei Ying, and his eyebrows come together in an almost-glare. "Wei Ying."
Wei Ying gulps. "Marshal Lan." No doubt Madam Yu’s complaints about his behaviour have reached the other side of the world. After the first wave of defeated kaiju at the hands of the Jaegers, Lan Qiren’s relationship with Madam Yu and Madam Jin extended beyond mere alliance. The unlikely friendship came to happen after the Wen-Lan fallout. Honestly, Wei Ying has never seen a scarier set of afternoon tea buddies.
A fair hand reaches up to twirl the end of the goatee, and Wei Ying’s eye twitches with the effort not to giggle. "I trust you’ll be on your best behaviour here. After all, it is the end of the world at stake."
"Oh, absolutely," Wei Ying lies through his teeth. "No messing around from me, Sir!" Next to him, Jiang Cheng’s cough sounds oddly like a mangled utterance of bullshit. Even Jin Zixuan looks back in disbelief.
However, before Lan Qiren can lay out another warning, a new voice joins them from afar. "Uncle."
The source of the voice is walking towards them, tall and handsome and shielded from the afternoon rays by a black umbrella. He looks to be Jin Zixuan’s age, with eyes as dark as they are warm. Wei Ying’s pretty sure he’s seen him on TV.
"Xichen," Lan Qiren acknowledges, and a light bulb goes off in Wei Ying’s head.
That’s right—this is Lan Xichen, who made his Jaeger debut when he was just sixteen, taking down not one but two kaijus that appeared on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. He was one of the first Mark-II Jaeger pilots, commanding Morning Tempest with Nie Mingjue before the latter was forced to return to Indonesia following his father’s death. After his partner left, Lan Xichen had refused to drift with anyone else, though there have been rumours about his potential comeback now that his younger brother, Lan Wangji, has come of age.
Unlike Lan Xichen, Wei Ying has not seen Lan Wangji around, though he imagines the boy cannot be that much different. Probably just as tall, fair and handsome, with long, dark hair looking like it belongs in a shampoo commercial, tied up in some way with a white ribbon. Looking more closely, Wei Ying notices matching rolling clouds printed on both uncle and nephew’s ribbons. Perhaps a family heirloom? He makes a mental note to ask Jiang Cheng about it later on.
Lan Xichen is all types of cordial. Where Lan Qiren wears a perpetual frown on his face, the kindness in Lan Xichen’s eyes is reflected in the raised corners of his lips. There is no edge to his voice, all smooth and honeyed. He greets Jin Zixuan first. "Hello, Zixuan. It’s been a while."
"Xichen-xiong, glad to see you in good health," Jin Zixuan replies. Wei Ying notes the way his back straightens, as if trying to make up for the one-inch difference in their height. He clears his throat to disguise a snort, not sure why Jin Zixuan even bothers—just standing within the immediate vicinity of Lan Xichen, it becomes apparent that the younger boys lack experience in comparison. Although Lan Xichen still has a few years until he enters his twenties, he carries the aura of a full-fledged adult, even more so than some of the actual adults Wei Ying has met.
Lan Xichen brings them into and around the shatterdome. First and foremost, of course, is the main body where all the Jaegers are kept and maintained on a daily basis. Even though some are missing a head or limbs, they still look intimidating, as if scrutinising their human creators and asking, are you fit to pilot me?
Wei Ying grins as he watches Jiang Cheng try to contain his excitement at the sight of the machines. "Holy shit, that’s Morning Tempest! And Blue Inferno, I can’t believe I’m seeing a functional Mark-I Jaeger with my own eyes…"
"It’s the only one standing after the generation got decommissioned," Lan Qiren pipes up from the front. He follows Jiang Cheng’s line of sight, lips quirking as he gazes upon his old Jaeger with a proud fondness.
However, the longer Jiang Cheng looks, the more he notices something amiss. "Marshal, apologies if this sounds presumptuous, but… Blue Inferno looks… different."
Lan Qiren nods. "We have decided to stop deploying it for combat and use it for training instead. This means that our mechanics are allowed to test upgrades on it and make adjustments as they see fit. You have a good eye."
Jiang Cheng makes a little sound of acknowledgement, but Wei Ying can practically see him vibrate at the praise. Although at the time it seemed that there could be no better weapon for humanity than Blue Inferno, during its creation the designers were much too focused on tensile strength and power. No one wanted to risk getting pierced after all, so it was natural that sturdiness took priority. Speed only got factored in during the make of Mark-II Jaegers, which explains why Morning Tempest moves with much greater agility than its predecessors.
...Or at least, that’s what Jiang Cheng told Wei Ying. The latter has never been as invested in the history of Jaeger designs as much as he is interested in getting in one. Having said that, Wei Ying can’t help but notice that a few of the giant robots on the other side of the hall are much smaller and slimmer than the usual Jaegers, with sharper edges all around in contrast to the others’ bulkier, more quadrilateral forms. "Jiang Cheng, what are those?"
Jiang Cheng was so absorbed in admiring Blue Inferno, memorising its new intricate details that he doesn’t even hear Wei Ying next to him, much less the mini tractor heading towards them. Wei Ying has to physically pull him out of harm’s way, and although he isn’t fluent in Spanish, he’s pretty sure that whatever the driver just shouted at them is anything but polite. Having snapped out of it, Jiang Cheng barely gets a stumbled apology out before the vehicle disappears behind the nearest Jaeger’s foot. He groans. "That was embarrassing."
Wei Ying pats his shoulder sympathetically. In an attempt to distract his brother, he tries again. "Eh, Jiang Cheng, aren’t those the new Mark-III Jaegers?" he says, pointing towards the other side of the dome.
"What? Where?!" When he catches on however, he throws Wei Ying an exasperated look. "Are you blind? Those are obviously Berserkers!"
Wei Ying frowns. "Berserkers?"
Jiang Cheng stares at him long and hard, as if waiting for his brother to crack a joke. When it becomes apparent that there is no sarcasm behind Wei Ying’s ignorance, he sighs. Wei Ying briefly notes how easily Jiang Cheng swings from enthused puppy to tired old soul who doesn’t get paid enough to babysit his brother (re: Wei Ying). "You really don’t pay attention to anything, do you? We even helped mom with the shipments last week! Berserkers are one of Jin Sect’s projects. They’re smaller because they’re meant to be driven by a single pilot."
Wei Ying oohs. He only meant to ask a simple question, but the topic gets him thinking. "Isn’t that kind of counterintuitive? Why sacrifice size and strength against something as big as the kaiju? Just to save training resources? Any thoughts, future bro-in-law?"
The last question was directed at Jin Zixuan with a sneer, but he blushes anyway. Wei Ying immediately regrets it, grimacing. The Jin Sect heir clears his throat before answering, "Unfortunately, I’m not sure what Father is thinking, either."
He leaves it at that.
Upon reaching the dorms, Jin Zixuan splits off from the group, having already familiarised himself with the place from past visits. On the other hand, Lan Xichen guides Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying down a brightly lit corridor to their allocated room. There’s a plate on the door with four names carved on it: Jiang Cheng, Wei Ying, Wen Ning and Nie Huaisang.
Lan Xichen knocks twice, and the door swings open not a minute later. Coming into view is a boy who appears to be Wei Ying and Jiang Cheng’s age, though around a head shorter. Gold tinges his metallic eyes, face pretty but unassuming. His voice matches his appearance; just as soft, just as easy-going. "Xichen-xiong! What brings you here?"
"Good afternoon, A-Sang. How are you settling in?"
Wei Ying’s eyes flit across the nameplate on the door. This boy here must be Nie Huaisang then. He answers Lan Xichen with a mournful sigh. "Xichen-xiong, my brother has been barraging me daily with threats about disturbing you. Could you please convince him that I’m not causing any trouble here?"
Brother, Wei Ying thinks, so this is Nie Mingjue’s little brother, in which case… He peeks at Lan Xichen in his periphery. Wistfulness clouds the Lan Sect heir’s eyes for just a moment before they clear to match a light-hearted chuckle. "I’ll make sure to tell Mingjue that you’re behaving," Lan Xichen replies, before Nie Huaisang’s ensuing grin prompts him to add, "for now."
"Xichen-xiong!" Nie Huaisang cries.
"Now, now, A-Sang," Lan Xichen coddles, "why don’t I leave you to make acquaintances with your new roommates?" Then turning to the newcomers, he supplies, "If you experience any trouble, don’t hesitate to come to me for help."
With that, Lan Xichen excuses himself.
The afternoon is spent getting to know one another in between complaints about the heat and stinging dryness that takes over Costa Rica this time of year. When Wei Ying makes an offhand remark about visiting the beaches, he’s scandalised to learn that the recruits are only allowed to leave the premises for leisure activities once a month. What kind of rule is that!
Nie Huaisang shakes his head hopelessly. "Marshal is strict with training."
Wei Ying groans, slumping back on his mattress, the movement making the whole bed creak. The game of rock-paper-scissors with Jiang Cheng to get top bunk was a close one. "Man, back in Lotus Pier, we got to go out all weekend, what kind of life is this…"
"I heard! But brother insisted on sending me here, even though our bases are so close to each other…" Nie Huaisang sniffles.
Wei Ying thinks about how the Unclean Realm in Indonesia is just a few hours away by plane from Lotus Pier in the Philippines. Maybe it’s because Cloud Recesses has the most advanced training facilities, or perhaps Lan Qiren has already made a pact with Madam Yu to whoop Wei Ying’s ass into shape.
Not that he needed ass-shaping training to begin with, thank you very much.
As for Nie Huaisang, it’s little wonder how he ended up here, since his own brother was copilots with Lan Xichen. Many have pondered the true extent of their relationship; while Wei Ying has never cared much for that kind of gossip, he can’t deny that his curiosity has been stirred, especially considering Lan Xichen’s earlier behaviour. It’s not at all unusual for copilots to become unusually close—drifting was designed to highlight the potential bond between two people by way of the neural bridge, after all.
That’s beside the point though—point is, people have talked.
Most insisted that Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue were just good friends; others have speculated that the seeds of romance were planted in between their training years. A smaller portion argued that it went beyond the scope of friendship or romance and brought up the possibility of a ghost drift. An even stronger type of drift—one that allowed two pilots to adopt each other’s feelings, thoughts and sometimes traits even after disconnecting from the bridge. The conspiracy theory arose from Morning Tempest’s prime years when Nie Mingjue’s temper reportedly took a turn for the better, with increasing whispers about how verbal communication apparently ceased between the two pilots. Instead, they mostly communicated through gestures and looks.
...At least, that’s what Jiang Cheng said. Honestly, ghost drifting sounds like someone just took the concept of soulmates and tried to rationalise it the best they can. It was an entertaining thought when Jiang Cheng told him about it, but in the end Wei Ying waved it off. If soulmates really existed, wouldn’t that make the pain of separation even more painful? Not to mention, Wei Ying really can’t imagine the reverse happening—Lan Xichen getting angry in the typical brusque fashion of the Nie Sect leaders? Scary? yes. Probable, if it were even possible? Absolutely not.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop Wei Ying bringing it up to Jiang Yanli that evening during their video call, when Nie Huaisang decides to go out for a stroll and leaves the room to the brothers. As for their fourth roommate, this cryptic Wen Ning figure has yet to appear.
"Ghost drifting? Isn’t that a myth?" Jiang Yanli asks.
Wei Ying nods. "Of sorts."
"Hm, it’s a nice concept, not entirely unrealistic, but sharing traits from a mere neural bridge is…"
Wei Ying honestly wants to ask about Lan Xichen and Nie Mingjue, but doesn’t know how to word it without coming across as a huge busybody, on his first day nonetheless. Before he can elaborate on it however, Jiang Cheng makes an appearance fresh out of the shower. He nudges into the screen of Wei Ying’s laptop, hair wet and flattened from the weight of his towel. "Hey, jiejie, how’s Nightless City treating you?"
"Hi, A-Cheng! It’s only been a day, so who can say? Meng Yao will be arriving next week to help out, and there’s a really nice girl here, Wen Qing. Her brother will also be training at—"
At his sister’s words, Jiang Cheng shoves Wei Ying out of the way. The resulting crash has Jiang Yanli yelping and scolding the youngest of the three, but Jiang Cheng only holds the screen in his hands, eyes bright with disbelief. "Wen Qing? You met the Wen Qing?"
A groan sounds from the floor, followed by a gruff, "Who’s that?"
Jiang Cheng turns to glare down at Wei Ying, as if he wasn’t the one who put him in that position. "Only the best mathematician of our generation! She helped program the code for the Mark-II Jaegers when she was just eighteen."
Wei Ying pulls himself back up into the screen. "So in short, you want to marry her."
Another sigh from Jiang Yanli.
"I hope you two remember that you’re supposed to be fighting kaiju, not each other," she lectures them when they break away and settle on one chair, each taking up half the space with one buttcheek. Although Jiang Yanli’s tone could hardly be called chiding, the two brothers still yield; one pouting, one frowning.
However, it doesn’t take long for them to start bickering again over whatever topic they can find. The conversation slash argument goes on until the sun starts to set and Nie Huaisang returns from his walk, his portable electric fan keeping the breeze on his face. "Is that your sister?" he asks, and making his way to stand behind the two brothers, waves at the screen. "Hi, I’m Huaisang!"
Jiang Yanli waves back. "Hi, I’m Yanli! Please take care of my idiot brothers for me!"
"Hey!" Jiang Cheng and Wei Ying whine in unison.
"Oh, I got ice-cream, by the way. I don’t know what kind you guys like so…"
The glare the two boys sport transform into shameless grins as they cheer and thank their new friend. Jiang Yanli only sighs in exasperated fondness as she watches them dig into the plastic bag with the various ice-cream flavours, both settling for passionfruit sorbet on a stick. "Do they not sell wasabi ice cream here?" Wei Ying asks through a mouthful of sweetened ice.
Nie Huaisang blinks, unsure if he’s heard right. "Wasabi… what?"
They leave the call on for a little longer, Nie Huaisang and Jiang Yanli exchanging formalities. At some point it turns into them eagerly chatting away about the coding for the new upcoming batch of Mark-III Jaegers, most of it lost on Wei Ying who can only offer the occasional expression of awe when he hears faster and more weapons among the sea of technical terms. By the time he finishes his third ice-cream stick, whatever curiosities he harbored towards ghost drifting are long forgotten.
That night in bed, Wei Ying is eight again.
The window is open, the breeze bringing with it only slight relief from the heat. The chirping of crickets mingles into a disconcerting harmony with the light snores from the other occupants of the room who are miraculously unaffected by jet lag. But all of it fall on Wei Ying’s ears as nothing but mere static.
Wei Ying is eight, and he remembers the last scene he saw of his parents.
Whether he stares at the ceiling or succumbs to the darkness behind his eyelids, Wei Ying pictures that day all too vividly. They were on vacation in New Zealand, the summer heat licking their sunscreen-lathered skin as they strolled along the shore. The beach was crowded, and Wei Ying remembers thinking how very, very bright it was. He pointed at the shallow waves that caught the light in between tides; admired the span of the never-ending horizon. All around him were smiles, the laughter of the surrounding children his age adding to the vibrancy.
Then the kaiju came, its shadow draping over a frozen Wei Ying like a black tsunami. It took the lives of his parents; stole the light from his.
Until now, the shadow never went away.
Wei Ying is all too ready to get into a Jaeger, but he would be lying if he said that the main driving force behind it all wasn’t fear. He remembers feeling helpless, like a tiny speck of dust in the presence of a terrible monster whose only instinct was to take and take and destroy. He isn’t the type to be motivated by revenge and whatnot. If he could, he’d gladly sit back and live his remaining days inland, ready to flee at a moment’s notice.
Unfortunately, life is rarely that obliging.
Not liking where his thoughts are taking him, Wei Ying sighs. There’s a slim chance that he will actually drift off into sleep anytime soon, so he creeps down the bunk bed as quietly as possible, keeping an eye on Jiang Cheng who remains as dead as a log. At the very least, his brother’s sleeping mask and earplugs seem to be doing their job. Grabbing his spare key, Wei Ying then leaves for… well, wherever.
After twenty minutes of aimlessly wandering about the shatterdome, Wei Ying finds himself in one of the side bays. Although the main Jaeger bay never rests, always having a few of the personnel on the lookout during night shifts, surveillance in the side bays is much more lax. The one he stumbles upon just so happens to be under construction. Rather than full-body Jaegers, spare limbs and gigantic swords are scattered across the floor. In contrast to the main bay, this place seems… sad.
Wei Ying makes himself at home on one of the mechanical hands lying around, cautious not to drop the beer cans he smuggled out of the kitchen’s minifridge. There’s a short echo in the air as he pulls back the tab, the tear of metal followed by a sizzle. It’s generic alcohol, nothing special, but he still appreciates the fizz that tickles his tongue before leaving a tangy aftertaste.
Light filters in through the high windows, spilling over Wei Ying hauntingly. From where he sits, the moon is only half-visible, but she indulges him with her company anyway. He smiles. Absorbed in the repose of the silent conversation, he doesn’t notice the other presence in the bay until it makes itself known.
"It is past curfew."
Wei Ying bites his tongue in favour of screaming bloody murder. He barely manages to keep his drink from slipping as he turns around to glare at the intruder. "Who—"
When the man steps out of the shadows, Wei Ying forgets to breathe.
No, not a man, but a boy—possibly around Wei Ying’s age, he can’t be sure. Although his face is stern, the soft edges have yet to be weathered by age. Moonlight pools in those golden eyes that scrutinises Wei Ying like he’s committed felony, flitting every so often towards the beer cans.
Shit, is this guy security? Can’t be! He’s way too young! And unfairly beautiful…
Pushing that last thought out of his mind—time and place, he scolds himself—Wei Ying musters up his sweetest possible grin and holds out the unopened can of beer. "How about I give you one, and then you can pretend you never saw anything?"
Everything about this new person is neat and pristine—from the high bun that doesn’t let a single strand stray out of place, to the white tracksuit that he somehow manages to make look expensive. So it doesn’t come as a surprise when Mr. Orderly says, "Unauthorised underage drinking is forbidden within the premises."
Wei Ying has to stifle a groan. Sighing internally, he leaps down from his spot with his two cans, one half-finished and the other unopened. "Alright, alright, I’m leaving now, okay? I’ll throw these on the way out, too!"
But just as Wei Ying’s about to bypass him, the handsome stranger extends a wooden stick to block his exit.
…Did he have that behind his back this whole time?
The eyebrow Wei Ying raises at him implies that he’s waiting for an explanation, to which the other boy provides, "You must report this under the log of offences."
The log of what?!
Training week hasn’t even begun yet!
Wei Ying’s mouth gapes like an unintelligent fish. Partly due to the shock at this turn of events, partly because the stranger’s moonlight-endorsed stare is boring into his soul and damn does he have a gorgeous pair of eyes.
Time and place, Wei Ying.
He feigns a sigh. "Lemme just go back for a while, I think I left something. Hold this, will you?" he says, extending the unopened can. Just as he transfers ownership to the stranger’s free hand, he bolts for the exit.
Wei Ying groans as his chest is met with the force of the stick, throwing him off his bearings. He stumbles backwards, and standing before him all proper with a tacky can of beer in one hand, is the stranger.
Damn, he’s fast. But Wei Ying is resilient, and he makes a few more attempts to escape before it becomes evident that the other boy is not letting up. Hell, he isn’t even breaking a sweat!
At one point, in an effort to sidestep the stranger, Wei Ying ends up falling into a pile of scraps, the sound of metal scraping against metal echoing sharply around the bay. His hand is just mildly wet from spilling a bit of the beer. He grimaces at the stickiness, before it shifts to a look of surprise as the end of a wooden stick comes into sight. Wei Ying’s gaze trails its length, meeting swirling gold on the other end.
"Up." The voice is neither cold nor warm.
Wei Ying smiles. "I’m up," he says as he stands. Then bending down in the guise of dusting himself, he grabs a metal pole from the floor and swings it at an upward angle.
The stranger’s eyes widen as he meets the blow with his own weapon, before his expression schools into a glare. Wei Ying only offers a small smirk before he lays on the pressure and releases a second later, making a run for it.
Alas, life isn’t that simple. Surprise attacks barely deter the stranger, and every time Wei Ying thinks he has a chance of escaping, his view of the exit would be obstructed by a stubborn sweeping movement of white. Half of his brain is yelling at him to drop the damn can while the other half is screaming, INCINERATE THE EVIDENCE!
On his part, Mr. Orderly is doing a swell job of matching Wei Ying’s one-hand attacks. What a sight they must be, flying from one end of the room to the other, leaping over spare Jaeger parts, all the while keeping cheap beers off the floor.
Wei Ying does eventually tire of the handicap, so when he deems the distance between them safe enough, he sets the can down. To his surprise, Mr. Orderly follows suit, before straightening himself back up, now gripping the stick aimed at his opponent with two hands.
As Wei Ying imitates him, both boys now mirroring a fighting stance, a strange sense of excitement fills him.
Maybe because Wei Ying’s circadian rhythm has been thrown off-balance from travelling long-distance, or maybe because it’s been a while since he’s had someone new to spar. Either way, a fresh burst of adrenaline surges through his veins as he propels himself forward, senses zoning in on the flurry of white that rushes towards him.
For the first time that night, they meet each other head-on. It only takes a split second before they cover the distance between them, and as their poles clash at full force, Wei Ying jolts.
The moment lasts as much as it doesn’t. But Wei Ying knows he didn’t imagine it when he catches the light displacing in the stranger’s eyes, mask slipping just the slightest before it’s up again.
The duel carries on, and at some point it takes the shape of a dance as they twirl around each other, weapons meeting with almost perfect timing. Although the pace is anything but easy, Wei Ying keeps a clear mind throughout—almost too clear, as if they’re speaking without words.
For one fleeting moment, Wei Ying can’t help but compare the fluidity of his own movements to all the previous fights he’s been in, before the face of a younger brother comes to mind and he pushes the thought back.
When they’re presumably finished, breaths just a bit heavier, muscles straining with mild ache, Wei Ying is pleasantly surprised to see the most insignificant drop of sweat sliding down the side of the other boy’s face. The longer he stares however, the quicker a frown manifests.
How the hell does this guy still look good while sweating? This is criminal!
Somewhere along the way, Wei Ying’s initial objective of escaping was abandoned, and from the way the stranger turns his back on him, he seems to have given up on his, too.
"Do not forget to dispose of the can," Mr. Orderly says, voice steady despite his still-heaving shoulders that now bear a few stray locks. When he moves to pick up the can he set aside earlier on, Wei Ying notes the obvious tension in his fingers. He watches as the stranger leaves the bay, footsteps heavy until they aren’t, the sound fading until he’s left to shoulder the silence that has suddenly become too overbearing.
Under the peering light of the moon, Wei Ying fixes his gaze on his palm, the skin red and dented from the spar. Confusion mixes in with the remnants of the adrenaline rush, but he doesn’t allow his thoughts to linger. Instead, he replaces the metal pole and dutifully throws out the unfinished can of beer. When he returns to his room, Jiang Cheng and Nie Huaisang are still sleeping like the dead.
After his second shower in the span of a few hours, Wei Ying joins them all too quickly.