It’s been a year since Wei Ying last stepped foot inside a wrestling ring.
A year since he last heard a packed arena chanting his name.
A year since Wen Chao botched a move so spectacularly that Wei Ying was left slumped in the middle of the ring with his leg bent at a sickeningly unnatural angle.
Wei Ying’s been injured before, of course.
In fact, he’d managed to accrue quite the collection of broken bones and concussions during his time on the independent circuit. But working through a cracked rib or reopening a couple of stitches is a necessary evil when you’re traveling the country performing in bingo halls for maybe a hundred people on a good day. After all, you’ve got no choice but to push through the aches and pains if you want to make rent at the end of the month.
And frankly, that sort of urgency suited Wei Ying just fine. He always had trouble staying in one place for too long and stretching his body to breaking point was a meagre price to pay if it meant being able to meet fans, work with new up-and-comers, and visit places he’d never been to before.
It’s why he resisted signing with a major promotion for so long. He needed the control, or at least the illusion of it, anyway.
Now, Wei Ying’s not an idiot. He’s well aware that had he suffered the same injury in some shitty local rec centre in the middle of bumfuck nowhere it still would have meant a year of his life wasted on surgeries and rehabilitation. But the fact of the matter is this: he gave in, he signed away his soul to the biggest wrestling promotion in the world and only then did he suffer the worst injury of his career.
Given time, he would have come to accept this as just another bump in the rocky road of his life as a professional wrestler. Shit happens, it is what it is, c'est la fucking vie.
The real problem was that he’d been nearing the end of a fantastic best-of-seven series with Lan Zhan.
At first, the company’s creative team were understandably unsure about moving forward with what, on paper, was a relatively basic enemies-to-friends storyline. It’d been done a thousand times before and it’ll be done a thousand times more in the future.
But Wei Ying knew they could pull it off. They had the chemistry, the talent, the charisma. The two of them in an extended programme together was something he’d been dreaming about ever since he first laid eyes on Lan Zhan’s beautiful Asai Moonsault at his initial try-out all those years ago. Back when all they knew about each other was informed by kayfabe performances and second-hand anecdotes from fellow wrestlers.
He’d been in the office every single day pitching ideas with Lan Zhan by his side until they finally caved, the threat of them both being moved back down the card and subsequently derailing any momentum they had gained over the last couple of years if they couldn’t get themselves and the angle over with the audience hanging heavy in the air.
They had been one match away, the two of them drawing at 3-3.
Now that’s some goddamn grade-A cosmic bullshit, for you. Even Jiang Cheng had been unable to find the humour in it.
Naturally, management immediately wove his injury into a storyline.
The week after snapping his leg in what turned out to be not one, but two places, Wei Ying was forced to relinquish the World Championship. He gently laid the belt down in the middle of the ring, mindful of the crutches keeping him up-right, as his heart broke in front of the thousands watching there in the arena and the millions all over the world in front of their televisions.
He told himself he wouldn’t cry, even spent a good half an hour psyching himself up backstage next to a carefully stoic Lan Zhan, but within a few seconds of the audience starting a “Thank you, Wuxian!” chant he’d been sobbing into the microphone. He ended up trending on Twitter for a full day afterwards which, admittedly, was kind of cool. The endless gifs of his tear stained face and red eyes, however, less so.
The week after that a tournament was arranged to see who would be the next World Champion. He was at the hospital when he was informed by the big wigs that they intended to have Wen Chao win it.
“It won’t be clean, don’t worry. He’ll have to cheat,” his boss assured him over a conference call as he sat in his hospital bed a day after his surgery, Yanli perched on the lone visitors chair next to him with A-Ling dozing in her lap as Wen Qing quietly checked his vitals. “Just think of the heat it will generate. First he puts you out of action then takes your title by cheating his way through the tournament. Obviously, when you’re better, we’ll have you win it back. Preferably at Wrestlemania, of course, but we’ll have to see how long you’ll be out of commission for first.”
The kicker was they weren’t asking permission. Hell, even letting him know their plans was a courtesy they rarely offered to anyone else forced onto the shelf by injury. Wei Ying had no say, no choice, and his suggestion of having Lan Zhan win it died on his tongue before it could even leave his lips.
And so began the long, agonizing road to recovery.
It was tough. Wrestling was his life, the one thing that got him out of bed in the morning, and knowing that practically every important person in his life was performing each week all over the country as if nothing had changed was a bitter pill to swallow.
Staying with his jiejie helped alleviate some of the pain.
He’d help with little A-Ling while her peacock of a husband was on tour with the rest of their friends and family, and she in turn made sure he kept up his with physiotherapy and that he was eating enough. It was the most time they’d spent together since they were kids and though the absence of wrestling in his life was like a lost limb, it was nice. And after a couple of months, he could even watch the live Monday night show with her without feeling like total shit. So, you know, progress.
Wen Qing and Wen Ning were similarly a godsend. His surgery and recovery couldn’t have gone smoother thanks to their combined efforts. He’ll especially never be able to repay Wen Ning for working out of the Performance Centre as his personal physio instead of going on tour with everyone else. Having to deal with Wei Ying’s constant complaining as well as all the trainees injuring themselves after attempting tricky moves they’re not yet experienced enough to do seems like hell as far as he’s concerned.
So, yeah, a year spent mourning, then rebuilding.
A year that somehow felt like both a decade and a long weekend at the same time.
A year waiting for this moment.
They’d managed to keep his return almost entirely a secret by flying him in at the very last minute and sticking him in a hotel a few streets away from the rest of the roster. Sunglasses, face-mask and his hair crammed underneath a baseball cap were an absolute must if he needed to go out, but luckily for him Jiang Cheng had been on hand at the behest of their bosses to pick up anything he needed, which meant he was free to binge watch his dramas and nap to his heart’s content without having to worry about trivialities like feeding himself.
Lan Zhan knew he was returning soon. He just didn’t know it’d be tonight.
Keeping him in the dark hadn’t been Wei Ying’s choice, either.
He’s mentally gone through the script perhaps a thousand times by now. Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan, who have been sporadically tag-teaming ever since Wei Ying’s injury and, remarkably, won the tag-team titles a couple of weeks ago, were set to beat Wen Chao and Wen Zhuliu in a quick five minute match. After, while they’re celebrating retaining the titles, Wen Xu sneak attacks them from behind with a steel chair and it quickly devolves into a three-on-two post-match beat down.
And that’s when Wei Ying makes the save.
Wei Ying’s practically buzzing out of his skin as he stands in Gorilla awaiting his cue when a heavy hand comes down on his shoulder.
“Nervous?” Mingjue asks. He’s in his usual gear of black trunks and a long sleeveless leather jacket that reaches his calves, his hair already damp from where he always dumps a bottle of water over his head before a match.
Nie Mingjue was the only other active roster member let in on the closely guarded secret of Wei Ying’s long awaited return. Not even Jin Zixuan knew despite Yanli keeping him otherwise updated on Wei Ying’s progress. They needed someone to be a place holder in the script and Mingjue was the obvious choice. Mingjue had been in various feuds with the Wens over the years and him being pencilled in to make the save wouldn’t arouse suspicion from their colleagues and, as a fan favourite, if there happened be any leaks to the dirt sheets, his involvement would get people tuning in and engaging on social media. It was the perfect rouse.
“Excited,” Wei Ying corrects as he bounces up and down on the balls of his feet.
Mingjue laughs loudly with his head thrown back. “I bet,” he agrees. “You look good, kid,” he compliments, gently chucking him under the chin.
Wei Ying preens under the attention. He’s bulked up over the last year, arms and thighs thicker than they’ve ever been. He knows how small the extra muscle makes his waist look and he can’t deny he hasn’t been enjoying the appreciative once-overs he seems to get wherever he goes nowadays.
“Thanks,” he replies. “Not much to do other than hit the gym, you know? Thought about changing up my look a bit, as well, but why fix something that isn’t broken,” he adds, gesturing to his usual boots, jeans and tank-top ensemble.
“Only you could get away with looking like you’ve just walked in from off the street and still be the face of the company.”
“Aiya, I wouldn’t go that far,” he deflects with a dismissive flap of his hand.
“I’ve seen the amount of merchandise you shift,” Mingjue points out. “And how long your lines are at the meet-and-greets.”
“Eh, what can I say, kids love me,” he says with a shrug. “We all know who the real money maker is,” he adds, gesturing to the small screen in front of them as the camera zooms in on Lan Zhan as he executes a perfect Figure Four Leg Lock and submits Wen Chao in the middle of the ring.
Mingjue gives a huff of amusement. “Pretty sells,” he agrees. “Kind of sickening he can back it up with the talent, too, huh?” He adds, unable to keep the fondness out of his voice.
Wei Ying’s about to reply when a woman in a head set rushes up to them, her hair falling wildly from her bun and clipboard barely holding onto a multitude of timesheets. Mingjue gives his shoulder one last friendly squeeze. “I won’t say break a leg because, well, you know,” he says, grin wide, and Wei Ying rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah. Go bother Xichen,” Wei Ying says, shooing him away.
“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Mingjue crows loudly.
“Ready?” She asks once Mingjue’s left and all Wei Ying can manage is a stilted nod. She holds up one finger, two, three, then points towards the curtain as his music finally, finally hits and he gets to hear those familiar guitars that make the hair on his arms stand on end and his blood sing for the first time in far too long.
He bursts through the curtain and sprints down the ramp, the faces of the audience on either side nothing but a blur.
A crescendo of cheers moves around the arena like a tsunami.
“Is that— Could it be? It is!” One of the commentators shouts from his spot behind the commentary desk.
“He’s back! Wei Wuxian is back!” The other adds as he jumps out of his seat in excitement.
He slides into the ring, catches the chair in Wen Xu’s grasp before it can make contact with Lan Zhan’s back for the second time and roughly pulls it away from him. He throws it down onto the mat, kicks Wen Xu once in the stomach so he doubles over, then grabs him into a headlock and DDTs him onto the chair.
The crowd eat it up. Every man, woman and child from the front row to the cheap seats hidden away in the shadows at the top of the venue are on their feet screaming his name.
Lan Zhan looks up at him from where he’s sprawled on the mat, his mouth slightly open in surprise as his eyes flit across his bare arms. Wei Ying would never do anything as crass as flex on national television, but he certainly considers it.
“Miss me?” He asks over the noise and holds out his hand.
It’s actually been a couple of months since he last saw Lan Zhan in the flesh.
At the beginning of his rehab, Lan Zhan would visit him as often as he could, bringing with him everything from pastries to books to make sure his recovery was as less mind numbingly boring as possible, but the touring schedule of a professional wrestler is intense at the best of times, and when they hit the European leg, there was no time for anything more than a few text messages before bed every night. He’d gone from seeing him in-person every day to through a laptop screen once or twice a week and then, eventually, not at all.
God, he’s missed him.
Lan Zhan is a beautiful man, but inside of the squared circle he’s otherworldly. His skin glistens with sweat under the lights, the wayward strands of dark hair plastered to his shoulders and chest like ink stains against otherwise porcelain perfection.
Getting back in the ring with him, whether that happened to be standing across from him or by his side, was what got him through those lonely, painful nights with only his darkest thoughts and aching limbs for company.
They’re interrupted by Jiang Cheng spearing Wen Zhuliu before he can reach them.
“Save the reunion for later,” he snaps, kicking Wen Zhuliu until he reaches the edge of the ring and unceremoniously rolls out onto the floor.
Lan Zhan finally grasps his hand and Wei Ying pulls him to his feet. They stumble into each other.
“Easy there,” Wei Ying says, steadying him by grabbing onto his elbows.
“Wei Wuxian,” he manages, too much of a consummate professional to accidentally slip up and call him by his shoot name like Wei Ying often does, before his eyes flick over Wei Ying’s shoulder.
They both duck under the Wen brothers’ strikes with practiced ease then, with a nod to each other, simultaneously clothesline them over the top rope.
The three men scramble up the ramp, Wen Zhuliu and Wen Xu pulling a limping Wen Chao along behind them as he spits and screeches in anger, the World Championship held tightly against his chest. Wei Ying doesn’t particularly like Wen Chao but he has to give it to him, he makes a fantastic cowardly heel.
With his heart pounding loudly in his ears, Wei Ying snatches the microphone being offered to him by a member of the ring crew. “Wen Chao,” he growls, stalking up and down the length of the ring like a caged tiger until he comes to a stop and points at the three men huddled together at the top of the entrance way. “Next month, at Wrestlemania, I’m taking back what I never goddamn lost!” He throws the microphone onto the floor and the audience erupts.
He grabs the tag-team belts from the referee, holding out one to Jiang Cheng, then, with a teasing bow, the other to Lan Zhan.
“Can’t believe you’re tag-team champions with Jiang Cheng,” he complains light-heartedly as he hands it over, lips pursed in a pout. “I’ve been desperate to tag with you since developmental.”
“Well screw me, I guess,” Jiang Cheng gripes, throwing the belt over one shoulder.
“Aw, come on, we’ve been champions, what, five times already? It’s time I sow my wild oats.”
Jiang Cheng pulls a face. “Gross. Never say that again.”
“When you’ve won the title back,” Lan Zhan begins. “It would be an honour to tag with you.”
“You owe me a seventh match before that,” Wei Ying points out.
“Ugh,” Jiang Cheng complains, rolling out of the ring. He doesn’t go far, just to the bottom of the ramp, and waits for them there, his foot tapping against the floor impatiently.
Wei Ying sits on the middle rope, pushing it down with his weight, and puts the top one over his shoulder to widen the gap in the middle. “After you,” he says with a cheeky wink.
“Shameless,” Lan Zhan chides fondly as he elegantly steps through the space made for him.
After jumping down himself, Wei Ying scoops up Lan Zhan’s entrance robe from the steel steps and drapes it over his shoulders. Lan Zhan inclines his head slightly in thanks, lips twitching in the barest hint of a smile.
Wei Ying high fives the kids leaning over the barriers, throwing up peace signs and finger hearts for all the phones pointed his way. At the top of the ramp, Wei Ying stands between Jiang Cheng and Lan Zhan and holds both of their hands up.
When they get backstage, the entire roster’s waiting for them and Nie Huaisang wastes no time in launching himself into Wei Ying’s arms. Behind him, Jin Zixuan is holding up his own phone, dutifully recording Wei Ying’s return for Yanli back at home.
“I can’t believe you didn’t even say hello!” Nie Huaisang complains loudly.
“Wasn’t really my choice,” he admits. “We had to keep it on the super down-low. I only got to the venue, like, half an hour before they needed me. They had me all masked up and everything.”
“Hmm, you’re forgiven then, I suppose,” Nie Huisang allows, bopping him on the head with one of the oversized fans he uses in his entrance.
Mingjue hauls him off Wei Ying by the scruff of his neck. “Jesus Christ, let him breathe,” he scolds, Xichen tittering delicately into his hand next to them.
Hugs and pats to his back continue to rain down on him until Lan Zhan, once again, is the only one left standing in front of him. As he always should be.
“Wei Ying,” he says, his eyes soft and mouth parted slightly in wonder.
“Careful,” Wei Ying warns gently. “They’re filming a backstage special on my return for the network.”
“I do not care,” Lan Zhan admits frankly and pulls him into his arms.
Wei Ying clutches desperately at the back of Lan Zhan’s robe, fisting the soft, shimmery fabric like he’s holding onto a cliff ledge. One of Lan Zhan’s hands finds its way into his hair, keeping Wei Ying’s face pushed into the juncture between his shoulder and neck.
“You knew I was coming back soon,” Wei Ying points out, his lips brushing against Lan Zhan’s skin, the hint of salt making Wei Ying’s parched mouth water.
“Hn,” Lan Zhan agrees. “But not tonight. And even so, knowing and seeing are two very different things.”
Wei Ying muffles a whine into Lan Zhan’s shoulder. “People never believe me when I tell them you’re sappy.”
“Good. I have a reputation to uphold.”
Wei Ying snorts unattractively and finally pulls back. He knows that the deep red staining the tips of Lan Zhan’s ears is mirrored on the apples of his cheeks but is unable to find it within himself to care.
“You know, when I said save the reunion for later, I meant somewhere far away from me,” Jiang Cheng complains.
Wei Ying childishly pokes his tongue out at him. “You’re just jealous.”
Jian Cheng huffs and crosses his arms, nose stuck up snootily in the air. “As if.”
Wei Ying always thought wrestling was his one true love.
Then he met Lan Zhan.