Wei Wuxian is walking straight into hell. A deliciously-scented, three-story hell.
“I’m here with the Jiang family,” he says to the hostess at the restaurant’s front entrance. He’s half-hoping—more than half, if he’s really being honest—that her response will be something along the lines of a chagrined Oops, sorry sir, I’m afraid that the word fairies must have came in the night and stolen your reservation right off the page, because I’m not seeing anything written here! Condolences!
As always, life is cruel.
“The Jiang family is on the third floor, room 325,” the hostess replies, flipping the reservation book closed. Her practiced white smile gleams brightly above the pressed lines of her uniform. “Would you like me to guide you there?”
“Ah, that’s fine,” Wei Wuxian says, trying not to grimace. “I know the way.”
He dips his head and steps away, swallowing back the stone-heavy sigh that threatens to rise up from his throat.
For every year since Wei Wuxian first came to live with his adoptive family, the Jiangs have had their twice-annual extended family dinners at the same swanky, three-story restaurant in Yunmeng. It’s one of those establishments with big private dining rooms for large parties on the upper floors, and wide, starkly-lit halls that twist and turn endlessly, labyrinthine and smelling faintly like cigarette smoke. It’s luxurious, without a doubt—but as a child, he used to imagine himself turning away from the stairs to the private rooms instead; of sliding through the packed general dining area on the first floor; of sitting down at one of those plate-stacked, chair-edged little tables between laughing faces; of having his bowl filled by others’ chopsticks and soaking in the sound and warmth.
Turning his stare from the general entrance, Wei Wuxian forgoes the tiny glass elevator and begins the slow trek up the marble staircase, dragging his feet as he does.
The sounds of his sneakered steps echo in the stairwell.
On the third floor, he passes waiter after maroon-uniformed waiter, each hurrying off to their respective roomful of customers. Someone has ordered a cart of crispy Beijing roast duck with its accompanying soft white buns and sliced scallions; the server pushes the cart through the entrance of one of the dining rooms, and the wine-red crescendo of family and clinking glasses and laughter floods into the hallway, only half-dampened by the closing of the door.
Wei Wuxian passes by without pausing. Unfortunately for him, no amount of stalling will make room 325 magically disappear from the building.
Standing before the polished wooden doors with one hand on the metal bar, Wei Wuxian takes three seconds to indulge the same fantasy he has whenever he’s standing in front of this room—the beautiful escape fantasy where he turns on his heels at the room entrance, takes a running start, launches himself headfirst through the balcony at the end of the hallway, and does a somersault before landing perfectly inside the bright and lively KFC located across the street. Perfection.
Then, he steels himself and pushes the door open.
“Wei Wuxian,” says Yu-ayi from where she’s perched, ankles crossed properly, on the squeaking leather couch. “You’re late.”
Wei Wuxian smiles in the politest way possible and spares a sweeping glance around the room, eyeing the empty table and the mass of relatives still sitting off to the side, nursing cups of jasmine tea.
“Hello, Yu-ayi.” He does not receive a greeting in return—not that he was expecting one in the first place. “I don’t think I’m too late? The appetizers haven’t even been brought in yet.”
It’s been years since Wei Wuxian shot past Yu-ayi’s height during his teenage growth spurt, but that has never really mattered—her aura is the size of the Dongfang Mingzhu, and it’s like he’s eight again, clammy and mute as she scolds him for running, eyes snapping with fire. “Who are you to say if you’re late or not? A-Cheng and A-Li got here fifteen minutes before you.”
And then, when he doesn’t say anything in reply; “Well? What are you dawdling for, you dull child? Go and greet your elders.”
Wei Wuxian goes obediently, plunging headfirst into the fray.
“It’s so wonderful to see you again, Chen-ayi. Girlfriend? Ah, no, I’m not really looking for anyone right now—”
Thirty minutes have passed since the whole family has sat down to eat at the table, and Wei Wuxian has not had more than two bites of chilled tofu.
This is not due to any lack of appetite on his part. He’s pretty much starving, since he’d skipped lunch earlier during the day to finish writing up a project, and the sights and sounds and smells in front of him are conjuring up unimaginable growls from his stomach.
(His only consolation is that Jiang Cheng’s great-uncle-removed-three-or-four-times is louder and more talkative than a sports commentator, so he’s sure that almost nobody is hearing his vicious body-gurgles.)
No, hunger is not the problem. Yu-ayi is.
Because the gods are smiling ever-so-benevolently down on him, Yu-ayi is seated directly across the massive table from him. She has also taken it upon herself to skewer him with a burning glare every time his hand inches forward to try to grab some food.
Ungrateful boy, her eyes say, I know you’re not going to stop the zhuanpan while second cousin Liwen is trying to get the shrimp puffs. Don’t you dare.
Wei Wuxian slowly draws his hand back to hide it behind his rice bowl.
“Hey, Jiang Cheng,” he whispers to the right, feeling his stomach protest its emptiness. “Can you help me get some food?”
“Get it yourself,” Jiang Cheng replies shortly, not even bothering to lift his head from his bowl of noodles. “You have hands.”
Wei Wuxian turns away from Jiang Cheng’s open-mouthed chewing and tries his other side.
“Jiejie,” he wheedles, “I’m so hungry. I can’t reach the beef, my arms are too short! Can you pass me some?”
Jiang Yanli, shining icon of love that she is and decidedly not filled with youngest-sibling aggression, replies immediately. “Of course, A-Xian,” she says kindly, and puts one hand on the glass zhuanpan to turn it.
Wei Wuxian’s stomach groans again. The spiced beef shank approaches on a rolling arc, moving closer and closer, and it’s almost within reach—
“A-Li,” Yu-ayi barks from across the table, “What are you doing? Are you a waitress here? Are you his hands? Wei Wuxian is no cripple—let him serve himself.”
The spiced beef shank stops in its tracks, and Wei Wuxian takes this opportunity to let out a mental scream of despair.
Jiang Yanli hesitates. “But A-Xian—”
Yu-ayi puts her chopsticks down. “Don’t talk back during meals!”
Jiang-shushu takes this chance to raise his head from his meal and interrupt the conversation, deflection deft with years upon years of practice. The mounting tension breaks. “Ah, A-Li, work is going well, isn’t it? Why don’t you tell your aunt about your recent promotion?”
Sorry, Jiang Yanli mouths as she turns away to start chatting with the older relatives. One small hand pats Wei Wuxian’s leg in a soft apology.
His fallback plan overturned, and still implicitly forbidden from stopping the zhuanpan while it’s turning or from turning it himself, Wei Wuxian decides he will just have to leave it up to fate.
He spends the next ten minutes trying—and failing—to snatch food off the plates as they whiz by.
“What are you doing,” hisses Jiang Cheng as Wei Wuxian jabs at the corn cakes, misses again, and nearly knocks the decorative orchids and carved cucumber slices off the neighboring dish. “You’re going to make a mess, and my mom is gonna yell at you!”
Wei Wuxian adjusts his grip on his chopsticks and makes another vain plunge for the next plate in line, only to lose his stolen crab leg to the forces of gravity. “Damn it! And, yeah, but she’s going to yell at me anyway, so what does it matter? I’m starving. Let me eat in peace!”
“You’re so fucking...ugh. Whatever.” Jiang Cheng rolls his eyes and turns away, but five minutes later he shoves a pork chop onto Wei Wuxian’s plate when Yu-ayi is looking away.
“Aw, A-Cheng,” Wei Wuxian coos.
Jiang Cheng buries his head deeper into his bowl, cheeks slightly red. “Shut up and eat.”
As with all family dinners, the topic of conversation eventually circles around to prying into the personal lives of each of the young people sitting at the table. The cousins and Jiang Cheng are grilled on their school and dating lives, respectively; Jiang Yanli is interrogated on her recent engagement to Jin Zixuan, and the aunties around the table click their tongues at how he couldn’t take time off work to join Jiang Yanli for the family event.
Of course he couldn’t , Wei Wuxian snorts in his head. Then, in a rare moment of Jin-related positive emotion; Good for him. I wouldn’t want to come either.
It is then that one of the Jiang uncles turns to Wei Wuxian. “You, child! You studied abroad for a while, did you not? My son is starting university in three years, I want to know your opinion on the schools in America—”
Yu-ayi coughs loudly.
Wei Wuxian’s shoulders tense.
The uncle’s head swivels around. “What’s that, Ziyuan?”
“I think,” Yu-ayi says, not even looking in Wei Wuxian’s direction, “that his opinion might not help you very much.”
The uncle frowns. “Why not? He was there for at least a year.”
“Of course he was. But how much time did that boy actually spend learning? Knowing how he is, I would think he spent most of that year going to parties and ignoring his work!”
Wei Wuxian crumples his cloth napkin under the table.
“Partying—surely not! I’ve heard that his grades were the highest of any student in his graduating class—”
“Then you don’t understand how uncontrollable this boy is. Wei Wuxian is—”
The subject of the conversation finally stands up, pushing back from the table’s edge. “‘I’m so sorry to cut you off,” Wei Wuxian says, addressing his silverware. “I have to use the restroom. Please excuse me.”
Jiang Cheng hisses under his breath, trying to pull him back into his chair. “Wei Wuxian! You can’t just interrupt someone and leave in the middle of a conversation!”
“Watch me,” Wei Wuxian shoots back under his breath, and leaves.
Finally out in the empty hall, Wei Wuxian blows out the massive, gusty breath that he’s been holding back since he stepped foot in the building. His shoulders drop down from where they had risen up to defend his ears. Once again, he represses the urge to sprint away from the restaurant; he only gives himself one second to glance longingly in the direction of the balcony before he turns to the other side of the hallway.
Somehow, in his brain-dead, drained state, Wei Wuxian still manages to make it to the bathroom. He stumbles to one of the sinks and bends down to splash cold water over his cheeks.
When the door bangs open behind him, slamming against the wall with a distinct sound of frustration, Wei Wuxian is still hunched over the sink, eyes shut tightly and face halfway under the alarmingly heavy deluge gushing from the tap. He doesn’t even bother to lift his dripping face from the sink basin.
“Go back, Jiang Cheng,” he says tiredly, one hand groping about for a paper towel from the stack on the counter. “I’ll just stay here. They won’t care anyway.”
Jiang Cheng doesn’t say anything.
“I’m not hungry anymore either,” Wei Wuxian continues. “ You know what, Jiang Cheng? I’ve decided that I don’t actually need to eat dinner. Who needs winter melon soup when bathroom tap water has such a deliciously sulfurous depth of flavor? Ugh—I can’t see anything, where are those damn towels—”
A paper towel is shoved into Wei Wuxian’s hand.
“I do not think drinking that water is advisable,” says a voice that is definitely not Jiang Cheng’s.
Wei Wuxian jerks up, nearly banging his head on the faucet in the process, and hurries to pull off the wet paper towel that has plastered itself to his cheeks. “Oh! I’m so sorry, I thought you were my brother!”
Golden eyes blink back. Abruptly, Wei Wuxian becomes self-conscious of his undoubtedly disheveled appearance; he feels several stray droplets track down his neck and creep into the collar of his shirt.
The stranger’s handsome face is calm. “There is no need to apologize,” he replies. “It was an honest mistake.”
Then he just stands there.
“Um.” Wei Wuxian finishes patting his cheeks dry and slides a step to the side, glancing at the row of empty sinks next to him. “Am I in your way? Did you want to use this sink..?”
Neither of them move.
“You gonna,” Wei Wuxian clears his throat a bit, shuffling his feet again. “You gonna use the restroom?”
“I do not need to.”
A beat of silence, as Wei Wuxian and the stranger stand awkwardly side by side at the sinks, not-exactly looking at each other through their reflections—then, the door reopens to admit two other people, both of whom make a direct beeline for the urinals.
As the other restaurant patrons take care of their business at their respective stations, Wei Wuxian and the stranger continue to dawdle at the sinks, avoiding eye contact and doing their best to pretend they aren’t hearing the ambient sounds of people doing whatever they usually do in a bathroom.
Wei Wuxian pulls out his phone and fiddles with the screen protector. There’s a massive, cobwebby crack creeping down from the top of the screen—he should really get a replacement sometime soon.
The stranger looks into the mirror and half-heartedly fixes his hair. Not that a head that looks so perfect really needs fixing, thinks Wei Wuxian distractedly.
Within the minute, the other men are exiting the bathroom, and neither the stranger nor Wei Wuxian have made any move to leave. The weird, uncomfortably-charged silence has reached unbearable heights, and Wei Wuxian breaks.
“So you just like hanging out in bathrooms?”
The stranger’s face twitches. He lifts his chin. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“Hm! Fair enough. But you don’t know! What if I actually live here?”
A long pause. The stranger visibly controls his expression. “...In a restaurant bathroom?”
“Yeah, they dump my full course meals in the left-most sink basin and I sleep on the baby-changing table. I’m kidding, of course I don’t. Did you just believe me for a second?”
“Anything is possible,” the stranger replies. “I do not make it a habit to be mistrustful.”
“Ha, you’re funny! Well, the truth sounds a little pathetic, but whatever, you’re a complete stranger and I don’t have much to lose, so.” Wei Wuxian shrugs his shoulders. “I’m hiding from my family! You know how family dinners get.”
“Ah,” says the stranger after a pause.
Wei Wuxian frowns, more out of teasing than actual offense. “I just heard your voice change a bit. Are you judging me? Hey, I don’t know how your family works, but I’ll have you know that hiding in bathrooms is a time-honored tradition—”
“No, you misunderstand. I was not looking down on you.” The stranger clears his throat, looking oddly amused. “Actually...I believe we are in the same situation.”
Wei Wuxian gasps. “You’re kidding! You’re hiding from a family dinner too?”
The stranger’s eyes shift away. “I would not call it hiding, but. Yes.”
“Wow, we should start a club! The Family-Dodging Bathroom-Dwellers Association.” Wei Wuxian laughs, feeling his cheeks rise, and notes the way the stranger’s eyes seem to warm. “Hey, you know what? If we’re gonna make this club happen, we need to know each other’s names. I’m Wei Ying!”
The stranger nods back. “I am Lan Wa—”
Wei Wuxian tips his head to the side, urging him on.
The other man’s ears go pink, just the slightest bit. “Ahem. You may call me Lan Zhan.”
“Ok! Lan Zhan, it’s nice to meet you!”
Lan Zhan graces him with the tiniest, cutest smile ever smiled, and Wei Wuxian’s heart nearly beats straight out of his chest. “It is nice to meet you, Wei Ying.”
“Right! Uh, well, what drama’s got you stuck in a place like this? If your family is anything like mine, it must be pretty interesting.”
Instantly, Lan Zhan’s happy little look disappears—and the warm glow that had been spreading through Wei Wuxian’s entire body follows straight behind. He regrets ever opening his mouth.
“That,” Lan Zhan says stiffly, “is a very private question.”
“You’re totally right,” Wei Wuxian’s words tumble out of his mouth in a rush as he hurries to apologize. He’s not sure why he feels this frantic in the first place. They only just met. “I’m sorry, that was pretty personal. I shouldn’t have asked. It’s my bad. I’m really sorry—I’ll tell you my weird family drama to make up for it!”
“No need,” Lan Wangji says, shifting the crisp lines of his sleeve back to check his watch and exposing the finely carved bones of his wrist—Wow, that’s attractive, says the Stupid Horny section of Wei Wuxian’s lizard brain that isn’t worrying about how the rest of that attractive body is about to vacate the premises. “I should return now. My uncle will be wondering where I am.”
“Ah, well.” Wei Wuxian falters. “Okay. You should, yeah, you should go do that. Bye, then.”
Lan Zhan gives him one long wordless look, then turns to go.
As Lan Zhan crosses the threshold of the bathroom entrance, Wei Wuxian gathers one last bit of courage from somewhere in the depths of his soul. “Give it fifteen minutes!” he calls after Lan Zhan, half jokingly and half not. “I bet I’ll be seeing you back in here again!”
As Lan Zhan turns away, Wei Wuxian thinks he sees the hint of a smile on his face—then the door swings shut, and he is left standing alone next to the stalls.
“There you are,” Yu-ayi says when Wei Wuxian slips back into their private room and lowers himself into his seat. “What were you doing that took so long?”
Wei Wuxian folds his hands under his thighs, feeling his eye twitch. “I was in the bathroom, Yu-ayi.”
“The bathroom,” she says flatly. “Or wasting your time walking around instead of respecting all the hard work that we put into organizing these gatherings—”
“A-Xian,” Jiang Fengmian interjects, strained grin not quite reaching his eyes. “Yu-popo was just asking about your work!”
“Yes,” Yu-ayi adds, eyes narrowed and knife-sharp. “Go ahead, boy. Why don’t you explain to my mother why you never finished your business degree, wasted all the money we put into your schooling, and ran off to join that useless tech start-up instead?”
Wei Wuxian ignores the pitying looks from his siblings and sinks down a little further in his chair.
Ah, family coming together for a shared meal and quality time.
What could be better than this?
When Wei Wuxian returns to the bathroom for a second time, his entire body now stiff with tension, he isn’t exactly expecting Lan Zhan to be there again, especially since they parted so awkwardly.
But there he is, standing straight-spined next to the air freshener on the counter.
The sight of him, tall and glorious against the line of urinals, makes Wei Wuxian’s heart throb strangely. He lifts his head to manage a genuine smile. “Fancy meeting you again. Is my shitty bathroom company really better than your family’s?”
His voice comes out more brittle than intended.
Lan Zhan had been wearing an expression approaching amusement, but now it slips into concern. He steps forward. “Wei Ying, is something wrong?”
Even the tingling in his chest at the sound of his name on Lan Zhan’s lips isn’t quite enough to lift Wei Wuxian’s spirits. He shakes himself and tries to put on a more lively expression. “It’s nothing! My family is—a lot to deal with, I guess.”
He avoids eye contact and busies himself with scrubbing his hands with soap, even though they’re already as clean as they could possibly get.
Lan Zhan’s response comes when he’s rinsing off the last of the suds. “Would you like to talk about it?”
For a long moment, the bathroom is silent. Wei Wuxian leans against the counter and pulls at a paper towel, tugging at it idly with his fingers. When he’s shredded about a third of the sheet, he takes a long, deep breath.
“When I was younger, it was—well, it wasn’t that much better, but I was a kid, you know? I could get away with a little bit more. I used to get up in the middle of the meal if I was too antsy and play in the big curtains next to the windows, and the only scolding I’d get is when all the adults would tell me, ‘Wei Ying, come out, you’ll get bitten by the mosquitoes hiding in there, and then we’ll have to put up with your whining later.’”
Lan Zhan hums.
“And then sometimes, if Jiang Cheng—that’s my brother—if Jiang Cheng and I got really bored, our jiejie would tell us that we could go to the ‘aquarium’, and then she’d bring us all the way to the water tanks where all the seafood is and we’d run around and look at all the fish and clams and crabs. Stuff like that.”
Lan Zhan nods along in silence. After a pause, he says, “My older brother used to do the same thing with me.”
“Yeah? I guess all kids are like that, but I wouldn’t have pegged you for that type! But I can see it in my head.” Wei Wuxian huffs a breath out, lips twitching up once before his smile fades.
“Now, though, I don’t get scolded for jumping in the curtains, or running around the water tanks. All they do is tell me that I’m a waste of their money, and that every decision I’ve made is the wrong one, and that I’m wasting my own life. And I can’t go off and play to escape it anymore. So. Bathroom breaks. Hah.”
Lan Zhan lets Wei Wuxian’s words hang in the air for a moment.
Wei Wuxian looks down, already regretting dumping all his problems on a virtual stranger—but then Lan Zhan starts speaking in measured tones.
“My own family members,” he says delicately, “are very...rigid in their beliefs, at times. I find that many of the values I hold do not quite align with family values, and this is the source of much tension between my uncle and I. We had a disagreement recently, and it has not yet been resolved. But we both came to this dinner because it is family tradition, and because we both wanted to see my brother.”
Lan Zhan does not mention parents, and Wei Wuxian, of all people, knows not to ask about it.
“That’s hard,” Wei Wuxian says softly. “I’m sorry. If it’s any consolation, I kind of know how it feels. Even if it’s not exactly the same.”
“Yes. But there is nothing to be done.” Lan Zhan looks down. “I suppose our only option is to weather the storm.”
One of the sink taps hasn’t been closed all the way; the faucet drips sporadically, and for a moment the only sound in the bathroom is the soft plink plink plink of water on porcelain, as Wei Wuxian and Lan Zhan contemplate the long night stretching out before them.
Wei Wuxian’s mouth moves before his brain can catch up. “Well, you know, storms are better weathered with company.”
In his peripheral vision, he sees Lan Zhan’s head turn.
He blurts out more before the other man can even say anything. “I mean, if you have nothing better to do while sitting at your table, give me your number! We can commiserate over text. It might be more convenient than—y’know. You’re my bathroom buddy now, but a pair of random guys, meeting in a place like this. People might—think things—”
Now, the expression on Lan Zhan’s face could best be described as unreadable, and Wei Wuxian cringes more with each additional word out of his own mouth. “Uh, never mind, just ignore me—”
He’s just about to flee in embarrassment when he’s interrupted by Lan Zhan thrusting his hand out, palm up.
Wei Wuxian stares back, fight-or-flight reflex temporarily forgotten. “...You wanna high five?”
“Give me your phone. I will enter my number.”
Wei Wuxian blinks in shock. He can’t believe this is actually happening. “What, really? I—okay, I got that more easily than expected.”
Lan Zhan looks away. “I trust you will not misuse my information.” When Wei Wuxian hands his phone over, their fingers brush. Lan Zhan’s hands are warm.
Lan Zhan enters his contact information with deft fingers, and then hits a button and pulls his own phone out from his pocket, showing Wei Wuxian the call notification on his lockscreen. “Now I have yours as well.”
“You—you sure do.” Wei Wuxian says, face feeling hot. “Um, wow. Maybe you can save me as your dinnertime emergency contact. We can plot escape routes together.”
Unfortunately, they can’t hide forever. Even through the hot and flustered little bubble that has encased his brain, Lan-Zhan-number-containing phone burning a hole in his back pocket, Wei Wuxian is aware that he has to return to the table or risk Yu-ayi really ripping him a new one.
He lets Lan Zhan know as much, and lets himself believe that the expression on Lan Zhan’s face is something like disappointment.
“I’ll see you around, then, Lan Zhan? Good luck with your family, I guess.”
“Mn. Good luck with yours as well, Wei Ying.”
“Ha!” Wei Wuxian feels himself sag at the reminder. “Yeah, I’ll really need it. May the heavens help me.”
As Wei Wuxian takes his second, reluctant exit through the entrance of the bathroom, he misses how Lan Zhan follows his slumped, retreating back with considering eyes.
When Wei Wuxian returns to the table again, Jiang Cheng turns to him, brows furrowed.
“Hey,” he says as Wei Wuxian takes a sip of hot tea to ward off the ache in his still-mostly-empty stomach, “What the fuck are you doing?”
Wei Wuxian stares down at his clean plate, distracted by thoughts of golden eyes. “Hm? What?”
“You were gone for at least ten minutes. Are you actually using the bathroom?”
“Uhhhhh,” Wei Wuxian scrambles. “Yeah! I’ve been drinking a lot of tea, so, you know, my high metabolism just couldn’t handle it! Like a—like a souvenir shot glass, my bladder. Fills easily.”
Jiang Cheng is silent for a long minute. Then, just as Wei Wuxian is taking a hasty sip from his now-tepid tea; “It doesn’t...burn, does it?”
The tea goes up Wei Wuxian’s nose.
“What,” he wheezes, trying to cough as quietly as possible, “are you talking about? What? What burns?”
Jiang Cheng bristles, looking equal parts uncomfortable and defensive. “It’s a symptom of infection! You’ve gone to pee, like, twice in half an hour and you’ve only had one cup of tea. Isn’t that a bad sign?”
“I already told you, I drank a lot of tea—”
Jiang Cheng, bless his heart, really does look concerned. It would be touching if he weren’t talking about Wei Wuxian’s hypothetical UTI at a family dinner within hearing range of all their oldest and most nosy relatives. “That’s bullshit! I know you’ve only had one cup, you haven’t refilled it at all—”
“I—No, Jiang Cheng, I don’t have an infection, oh my god! I’m..”
Wei Wuxian takes a split second to consider his next words. There really is no good way to say, dearest brother of mine, I just had a public restroom meet-cute with someone who really feels like my soulmate, so I’ve been faking bathroom breaks both to meet him in the stalls and also to abandon you to the tender mercies of this unbearable gathering, because I can’t stand being in the same room as your mother for more than fifteen minutes at a time!
“It’s whatever,” Wei Wuxian amends. “I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“Yeah, right. Don’t come complaining to me when you end up needing a doctor’s visit.” Jiang Cheng says, and turns his attention back to his dinner.
By the time the umpteenth wave of entrees is being served to the table, Wei Wuxian has fallen into distracting himself from his hunger by letting his eyes unfocus into empty space.
He’s in the middle of making Jiang-shushu’s head turn into a pink-black blob when his butt vibrates.
He retrieves his phone from his back pocket to check the screen.
Lan Zhan (Bathroom Buddy.)
I am offering an escape route now. Tell your family that I am from your workplace.
Incoming call from: Lan Zhan (Bathroom Buddy.)
Jiang Yanli glances over at the lit-up screen. “A-Xian, what’s that?”
“It’s a call from work!” Wei Wuxian says, recovering from his rabbit-hearted shock just quickly enough to plaster a dismayed look onto his face.
His voice catches the attention of the others around him, and Wei Wuxian directs his wide and guileless stare straight at Yu-ayi. “I’m so sorry, they’re saying I have to go in right away. It’s an emergency.”
Yu-ayi shoots him a blistering scowl. “What sort of excuse is this? This is a family dinner! Where is your respect, Wei Wuxian?”
“If you won’t believe me, then surely you can believe my colleague.” Wei Wuxian answers the call and hits speaker mode on his phone, barely managing to hold back the quivering delight in his voice. “Listen, this is Lan Zhan—Lan Zhan, you’re on speaker to my family—we work together, he can vouch for me!”
“My apologies to everyone present,” says Lan Zhan, blaring out confidently from the speaker of Wei Wuxian’s phone. Wei Wuxian tries not to swoon. “I would not be calling if it were not important. His presence is needed immediately.”
Even distorted over the call, his voice sounds deep and trustworthy. That is the voice of someone who would never interrupt an important event without reason—or, the voice of someone who you’d totally trust to bail you out of an awkward family dinner.
For once, Yu-ayi has nothing to say back; and within the next five minutes, Wei Wuxian is meeting Lan Zhan in the lobby of the restaurant, alight with happiness.
“My knight in shining armor!” he cheers, bounding forward. “I can’t believe you actually did that! I didn’t think you could lie! And you you really did save me, I could feel myself shriveling in there, I was like a little dehydrated bean sprout being trampled under the massive boots of awkward and faintly-barbed conversation—”
Lan Zhan gives him a proud little look, and steps a hair closer. Wei Wuxian’s heart goes supernova in his chest.
“You were so sneaky! I like that.” Then, before he can lose his nerve, he blurts out in one breath, “Say, Lan Zhan, are you still hungry?”
Lan Zhan tilts his head, thinking.
“I finished half of my meal, but I do not need to eat much. Why do you ask?”
Wei Wuxian wilts, just the tiniest bit. “Oh. I’m starving, my—uh. Uh, Yu-ayi was glaring at me the whole time and I couldn’t get any food for myself, didn’t even manage to stay until the fruit came out at the end. I was just wondering if you would want to get a freedom-celebration meal with me, but. Since you’re fine, never mind! Pretend I didn’t ask!”
“Oh.” This time, Wei Wuxian is almost certainly sure Lan Zhan’s ears have turned red. “I am not completely full yet. I can eat more.”
“Indeed. I...would not mind spending more time with you.”
“Perfect!” Wei Wuxian’s smile breaks across his face like dawn. “It’s a date.”
Lan Zhan’s ears flame up even further, but he doesn’t move away when Wei Wuxian moves forward and loops their arms together to tow him out of the entrance—in fact, if anything, he scooches in closer. Wow, those biceps are big.
“Where would you like to go?” Lan Zhan’s voice rumbles against his ear.
The night is cold and dark, and Wei Wuxian’s stomach is growling, and he knows that his great dinner escape has launched a cold war of epic proportions between him and Yu-ayi—but for now, Lan Zhan’s side is warm against his own, his heart is beating bright and alive, and the KFC across the street is glowing like a beacon.
Wei Wuxian grins.
“I have a place in mind. Let's go!”