There was absolutely nothing that you couldn’t handle, whether it be a commission dealing with a stray dog that was having too much fun tormenting the citizens of Liyue or Monstadt or having to deal with a group of ruin guards that had been woken up due to a bunch of curious teenagers.
But there was one thing that you couldn’t master at all, no matter how much you tried when you visited the city of Liyue Harbor.
Your eyed the pair of ornamented chopsticks in front of you, nervously flitting back and forth between the sticks, your food, and then finally at Zhongli who was seated beside you. The consultant of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor paid no attention to you, unaware of the predicament you were currently facing. His eyes were closed as he picked up the pair of chopsticks in front of him. You assumed he was admiring the scent of the food in front of him.
Your eyes followed Zhongli’s hand as he placed the chopsticks in them and tried to mimic what he was doing with your own hand. Lacking the control the taller male had over his eating utensil, you watched in defeat as the sticks clumsily slipped out of your fingers and onto the table. You winced and prayed that Zhongli didn’t notice what just happened and hoped that you could just go on your way with staring at the food in front of you until dinner had ended.
Unfortunately, Zhongli noticed what happened.
“Pardon me, I’ve forgotten my manners. Did you need help?” His voice was soothing, nearly melting you on the spot right then and there.
“Yeah, I’m not too familiar with chopsticks. Do you think I can get a fork or spoon so I can eat with that instead?” you asked, laughing nervously.
Zhongli hummed, crossing his arms over his broad chest. His fingers tapped against his arms. “I suppose I could, but you’re in Liyue again as a promise to enjoy the cuisine with me.” His golden eyes met yours, calming yet calculating. “The best way to enjoy Liyuen food is to eat it traditionally with chopsticks.”
You rubbed the back of your neck, pressing your lips together into a tight line and eyeing the chopsticks in front of you. How were you going to get out of this one now?
“I just… I don’t know how to use them. I can’t eat if I don’t know how to use them,” you mumbled. You rolled the chopstick closest to you with your finger and hoped Zhongli would just give in and give you a fork. The jade parcels looked so delicious but you refused to eat them with your bare hands in front of company and at a restaurant nonetheless.
A sigh left Zhongli’s mouth and the rustling of clothes came from beside you and before you knew it Zhongli’s hand found your dominant one and he placed the chopsticks in them. The back of your head was pressed against his chest, feeling his warmth radiate onto you. His arms encased you, almost trapping you in your chair. (In the back of your mind, you wished that he would just hold you like this for the rest of the night.) His hand was warm to the touch, slightly calloused from doing work, you presumed, and you thanked the Archons that Zhongli had taken his gloves off to eat.
You tried listening to the taller male’s instructions on how to hold and use chopsticks, but his words were lost as you focused hard on not having the blood flush to your face and tried to calm your racing heart. The close proximity of his body with yours did not help, and feeling his warm breath against your ear wasn’t doing any good either.
This man was truly going to be the death of you.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) the moment was only brief as his body pulled away from yours and the warmth that he radiated was merely a phantom against you. There was some more shuffling of clothing before Zhongli was back in his seat facing you, eyes gazing into your own. They seemed like they were shining underneath the warm glow of the lit lanterns that surrounded you.
“Did you understand?” he asked, his deep voice soft against the peaceful chatter of the people passing by and the other patrons. You nodded your head despite not hearing a word he said and only catching certain keywords like ‘chopsticks’ and ‘grip’.
When you didn’t lift a hand to try the chopsticks again, Zhongli hummed and picked up his own. You had expected him to continue his meal and leave you to your own devices. It’s fine, you’d just ask for a box to go and eat it later that night in your hotel room.
What you didn’t expect was for Zhongli to pick up a portion of his dish and offer it to you, his hand placed underneath it so that it wouldn’t drip onto your lap. You sat there, stunned at the stunt he was trying to pull. He… he wasn’t being serious now, was he?
“I can feed myself, you know. I’ll do it when I get home, so you don’t have to… you know…” you tried to tell him, but he didn’t listen.
“Why would you do that when you can eat it right now? I’m offering to feed you so you can eat it properly instead of using a fork when you get back to your room.” Zhongli lifted up the food on his chopsticks closer to your lips, not taking anything else for an answer.
You sighed and leaned forward, shyly opening your mouth so Zhongli could place the food inside. Unsurprisingly, the food was delicious. The savory flavor of the meat mixed well with the sweet sauce that was drizzled on top of it. So this was what the cuisine of Liyue tasted like? Your eyes glimmered in delight at the Liyuen flavors, blissfully oblivious to the tender smile growing on Zhongli’s face.
A hand came to rest against the side of your face, thumb brushing a grain of rice from the corner of your mouth. Your eyes widened in shock from his gentle touch and flitted up to meet his own. His gaze on you was tender and warm, heating your body up even more than it already was. His smile grew slightly and you could hear your pulse accelerating.
“Apologies, there was a grain of rice that was left on your face. I couldn’t help myself,” Zhongli said, pulling his hand away from your face, much to your dismay.
Oh man… how were you going to get through dinner now?