Ye Zun is in the middle of practice when he gets the call. He almost misses his landing when his earbuds cut off his playlist to notify him about an incoming call. But as the reigning silver medallist in figure skating for men, he can’t afford to do something as pedestrian as flub a landing. After all, the only reason he’s not the reigning champion is that Shen Wei stubbornly refuses to let anyone else place first.
In the end, his Salchow wouldn’t have gotten full marks by any judges watching, but Ye Zun doesn’t care. Not when his brother is calling. Shen Wei never calls during practice unless it’s important.
“To what do I owe the honour?” he drawls as he starts skating for the end of the rink. “Aren’t you supposed to be at practice right now? Don’t tell me you tripped and fell again, gege.”
“No, I am perfectly all right, didi.” Shen Wei’s voice is almost deafened out by something in the background. It almost sounds like a tannoy, but the words are too distant to make out clearly. There’s definitely a lot of people walking and talking wherever Shen Wei is, almost like they’re determined to be as noisy as possible.
Ye Zun frowns. He grabs his blade-protectors and slips them on before heading for the bench with his stuff on it. “Where are you?”
“Nowhere,” Shen Wei lies.
Ye Zun pauses, halfway to sitting down.
Now, Ye Zun is no stranger to Shen Wei lying. He’s been beside Shen Wei since they were born. But Shen Wei is usually better at it than this. He doesn’t get flustered easily. He can fake it, but Ye Zun can always tell the difference between when Shen Wei is trying to get out of a subject and when something actually has him flustered. And this? This is definitely the latter.
Ye Zun is surprised. The season is over; has been for a while. Everyone in the skating community is gearing up for the next round of competitions to start. All the articles circulating are speculative – what everyone is planning for the next season, which records might be broken, and especially what Shen Wei, everyone’s darling, is up to. Oh, how they’re all hungering to find out what The Shen Wei is planning next. The last article about Shen Wei was posted the week before, and there had been nothing in it to make Shen Wei so much as blink. So unless something has happened since Ye Zun started practising a few hours ago, the last time he saw Shen Wei flustered was...shit, months ago now. And Ye Zun has no interest in relieving the aftermath of that particular encounter.
“Really, gege?” Ye Zun says as he pulls up his social media. Maybe if he went snooping, he could figure out what had Shen Wei all aflutter. “At least try to lie better.”
He finds an answer quickly enough. A video, where both Shen Wei’s name and official account are tagged – not the original video, that seems to be gone already judging by the remaining text in the post – where the bane of Ye Zun’s existence is skating Shen Wei’s programme from last year.
“You’re kidding me,” he says before Shen Wei can speak. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
At the other end of the line, Shen Wei has gone suspiciously quiet.
Ye Zun finds himself watching the video almost in a haze. The entire video is almost 5 minutes long, but it doesn’t take him that long to realise that the upstart is, by some sheer fucking miracle, actually doing Shen Wei’s programme justice. If he’d fucking skated like that before he dropped off the earth...
He shakes his head firmly and closes out of the video. No, he’s not following that line of thought. That way lies madness, and Ye Zun is mad enough already, thank you very much.
“Gege,” he grabs his practice towel and starts dabbing off most of the sweat, “where are you? And before you lie again, it sounds like you’re in public, possibly near some kind of terminal, and I swear if you’re going after that twink -”
Shen Wei sighs. “Didi, I am sorry.”
Ye Zun almost throws the towel away. “Gege!” He throws up his hands. “You can’t be serious!”
“You know I have been having issues these past few months,” Shen Wei says, and Ye Zun knows trouble is coming just from the sound of his voice. He sounds serious. Ye Zun hates it when Shen Wei gets serious. “I saw the video earlier today, and I do not know how many times I watched it through. I...”
Ye Zun finds that he’s started strangling his practice towel. He wrings it a couple more times for good measure. Better that than his own neck – at least, for now. That might change depending on what Shen Wei says next.
“He told me to seek him out,” Shen Wei says. The tannoy sounds again in the background. This time, Ye Zun can almost makes out a placename. “At the banquet and again, today, with this video. Didi, I had to.”
“Fucking hell, gege!”
Shen Wei doesn’t like it when he swears, but well, tough luck. Shen Wei isn’t next to him, telling him to wash his mouth with soap. And besides, it’s all Shen Wei’s fault that he’s swearing in the first place!
“What about the competitions, huh, gege? Or are you planning on practising there? Surely even the middle of fucking nowhere or wherever that twink lives has a rink.”
Shen Wei hesitates just long enough that Ye Zun knows what whatever he’s gearing himself up to say is something that Ye Zun won’t like one bit.
“I will not be competing this year, didi,” Shen Wei says, and Ye Zun is glad for the bench under him, or he thinks he would have fallen flat on his face. “If Zhao Yunlan will have me, I hope to be his coach for the upcoming season.”
The world ceases to exist for a minute. Ye Zun is a little tempted to rub at his ear to make sure it’s still working right, but he’d probably just dislodge the earbud in the process, and he’s not crawling around on his hands and knees looking for it if it falls out. His afternoon is already turning out horrible enough as it is.
“You’ll have to run that one by me again, gege,” Ye Zun says, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “Because it sounded like you’d gone insane and said you were taking this year off.”
“I am taking this year off, didi,” Shen Wei says, the absolute bastard. “I am in Zhao Yunlan’s hometown, hoping he will allow me the honour of coaching him to the podium this season.”
Wait. Hold the fucking phone.
“You want to WHAT?!?”
“All the world to see Zhao Yunlan as I see him,” Shen Wei says with far too much confidence for Ye Zun’s comfort. “He is a brilliant skater. He should shine brightly. Everyone should know his name. I will see that happen.”
“Gege,” Ye Zun says, only just forcing down the need to laugh hysterical, “you’ve actually gone mad.”
“No,” Shen Wei says. “I am thinking clearly for the first time in months. This is where I belong, didi. I will see this through.”
Ye Zun buries his head in his hands. If his face wasn’t the literal face of his brand, he would be clawing at it frantically by now, he just knows it. Throughout his life, there is only one thing that never fails to get his nerves: his brother’s goddamn stubbornness.
“I am sorry I cannot be there to see you through the preparations for next season -” Shen Wei begins, but Ye Zun cuts him off.
“Oh, please, gege. I am not twelve anymore.” Ye Zun grabs his water bottle and unscrews the cork to take a few swigs of it. “I can look after myself, both on and off the ice.”
There’s a pause before Shen Wei speaks again. “I know that, didi,” he says, voice so soft that Ye Zun almost doesn’t hear it. “But this is the first time we will not be on the same rink for the coming season, even if I will not be performing.”
Ye Zun pauses, still in the process of putting the cork back on the bottle. During the year Shen Wei was injured, he still insisted on coming to Ye Zun’s practices. He would sit on the sidelines and cheer Ye Zun on or fret if something went wrong. This really will be the first time they haven’t been in each other’s spaces almost 24/7 since they were, well, born. He swallows.
“I am a grown-ass adult,” Ye Zun hears himself say. “I can manage.”
There’s another sigh, so soft that Ye Zun almost thinks he might have imagined it. “Should Zhao Yunlan accept my offer, I am certain he would not mind if you came to visit.”
“Oh, hell no,” is practically torn from his throat. “There is no way I’m being around the two of you for any significant amount of time.”
“I do not know what you mean,” Shen Wei lies, like the liar he is.
“Oh, please,” Ye Zun scoffs. “The sexual tension is so potent it could choke a grown man. In fact, I rather wish it would. Then I definitely wouldn’t have to witness it.”
He has seen more than enough of what those two are like when alcohol is fuelling them. He doesn’t need to see an adrenaline-fuelled encore.
“Didi!” Shen Wei says, sounding scandalised indeed.
“No, you’re right,” Ye Zun says. “I have to stay alive to beat you and the twink in the coming season. Don’t think I’m going to go easy on you just because you’re not competing, gege.”
“I would never dream of such a thing,” Shen Wei says, and dammit if the asshole doesn’t sound fond.
“Well, good,” he says, “because I’m going to crush that twink like an ant under my skate.”
Shen Wei hums. “I think you are not giving Zhao Yunlan enough credit. I believe he will surprise you.”
Ye Zun scoffs as he shoves the towel and bottle back into his bag. “Give me that speech after you’ve gotten him to take you on as a coach, gege. It’s all empty promises until then.”
“I have a good feeling he will take me on,” Shen Wei says, being annoying and mysterious again.
“Yeah, yeah,” Ye Zun waves a hand, “whatever, gege. Call me when you’ve talked to the twink or something.”
“He has a name, you know,” Shen Wei admonishes him.
“And I’ll use it when he’s earned it,” Ye Zun says before hanging up. He grabs his phone and flips through his playlists until he finds the one that he wants.
When he pushes back onto the ice, it’s to the roaring of his fighting playlist. Zhao Yunlan had every potential to be a dark horse in their previous competitions. If he manages to get rid of whatever has been holding him back and allows himself to flourish under Shen Wei’s coaching – since no one in their right mind would turn down an offer to be coached by Shen Wei – then Zhao Yunlan has the potential to become an actual contender for first place.
That’s fine. If it’s competition that Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei want, then Ye Zun is more than happy to provide it. Ye Zun is not about to let himself be beaten without a fight. That gold belongs to him, and he’s not going to stop until he proves it.