Lan Wangji did not usually find customers memorable. They came in, they made small talk about the weather and the menu, and they left. He had approximately six scripts that he could recycle for customer interactions (the good day, the bad day, the oversharer, the sleep deprived, the completely wired, and the frazzled parent) and he rarely needed to deviate.
As a child, Lan Wangji would never have imagined he'd have a job that regularly required him to speak to people. When Lan Xichen had first broached the idea of opening Cake it Easy together, Lan Wangji had assumed his brother would take care of the people side of things while he would be free to focus on his designs, but he was in charge of opening the bakery and he was alone until Lan Xichen joined him for the lunch rush. As long as he had his scripts, he was fine.
On a fateful Wednesday morning, a stranger entered his bakery and threw his scripts out the window.
The stranger was pretty; that was the first thing to put Lan Wangji off his game. He had longish hair, swept into a wild mess by the wind, and the brightest smile that had ever been directed Lan Wangji's way.
Lan Wangji immediately loaded "good day" into his mental word bank. "Good morning."
The man looked him up and down, smile growing impossibly wider. "What would you suggest for a goldfish funeral?"
Lan Wangji's mind went blank. He had never been asked such a thing in the five years since he had opened his tiny bakery. "Pardon?"
The man laughed lightly. "Sorry, I'm Wei Wuxian. I'm a pre-k teacher and we have, or used to have, a class goldfish. To make a long story short, they're not supposed to eat crayon shavings, and we're having a short ceremony first thing this morning."
Lan Wangji really doesn't know how to react. He looked helplessly over at the display case for inspiration. He had a fresh batch of vanilla cupcakes with his signature blue icing. Maybe he could pipe a little yellow fish on top. "How many students?" he asked.
Wei Wuxian blinked at him. "Oh, uh, fifteen."
Lan Wangji pulled the tray of cupcakes from the display and grabbed the pre-made yellow icing he had for customization. He quickly piped a tiny fish on the side of the icing swirl.
Wei Wuxian's eyes grew wide. "Oh, that's perfect! I'll take fifteen of those."
Lan Wangji nodded and kept piping.
"I mean," Wei Wuxian continued, "this is not our first class goldfish. I think this is number five or six this year. This is the first time they've noticed though. Jingyi's hamster died last week and he gave his class the same talk his moms gave him. It was surprisingly effective."
"Children are resilient," Lan Wangji observed.
"True, true," Wei Wuxian said, shrugging. "I just hate to see them sad when ninety nine cents at a Petco can postpone a tough conversation."
"Mn," Lan Wangji said, piping the last fish and turning the box for Wei Wuxian's approval.
"Those are great!" Wei Wuxian beamed at him, practically stealing the breath from his lungs. "I thought I only asked for fifteen though."
"The teacher deserves something sweet too," Lan Wangji said, his ears burning at his boldness. "It's on the house."
Wei Wuxian was caught off guard. His whole face turned red and for the first time, he seemed lost for words. He looked away from Lan Wangji, eyes catching sight of the clock on the wall. "Oh my god, I'm going to be late." He dug through his pockets and pulled out a couple crumpled bills, throwing them on the counter.
Lan Wangji was tempted to take his time with the change, wishing that Wei Wuxian didn't have to leave just yet, but he didn't want to make him late.
"I'm Lan Wangji," he said impulsively, as he handed over the change, fingertips lightly brushing Wei Wuxian's palm. "Lan Zhan."
"Lan Zhan," Wei Wuxian repeated. "You should call me Wei Ying. See you later, Lan Zhan." He ran out the door with a quick wave. The shop felt empty in his wake.
After that, Wei Wuxian found excuses to visit the bakery at least once a week. Lan Wangji found himself looking forward to it. Their bakery had plenty of regulars, but there wasn’t a single other person Lan Wangji was looking for when he heard the bell ring over the door.
Lan Wangji came up with quick designs for a cat wedding, Dr Seuss day, rubber ducky day, pyjama day, and cloud science day. He couldn’t help looking forward to whatever Wei Wuxian would come up with next.
About six weeks after Wei Wuxian first came to the bakery, Lan Xichen stopped him as he was leaving at the end of his shift. “You’ve been...happier lately.”
Lan Wangji’s ears burned. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said stiffly.
“You just seem more relaxed these days. You used to be so tense when I would show up for the lunch rush but it’s like you’re really settling in. I’m proud of you,” Lan Xichen said with a gentle smile.
“I’m...having fun,” Lan Wangji said. “I’ve done some...custom orders.”
“Oh?” Lan Xichen asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Yes,” Lan Wangji said. “It is good to be creative.”
Lan Xichen looked as if he wanted to press but a customer walked in, desperately trying to wrangle four rambunctious children and Lan Wangji used the chaos to escape out the back.
I have a group coming in to decorate cupcakes at 10:00 am. Please bake two dozen extra cupcakes this morning. Decorations are all prepared. See you at 11:30.
Lan Wangji crumpled the note in his fist and sighed. He knew Lan Xichen sometimes took bookings but he usually took care of them himself, either booking them in the afternoon, or coming earlier in the morning to run them himself.
At least he had been thorough. Lan Wangji saw the trays of icing, sprinkles, and other decorations set neatly to the side in the freezer, ready to be placed on tables.
It didn’t make him any less irritated. This wasn’t supposed to be part of his job description. His scripts were best used for one on one interactions. He quickly grew overwhelmed in group settings.
He was in the back putting the cupcakes on a tray when the bell rung. He straightened up, steeling himself for this new experience, and carried the cupcakes into the room.
The first thing he noticed was a veritable crowd of children. They cheered loudly when he appeared. The second thing he noticed was Wei Wuxian, standing at the back and ushering a little boy through the door.
Lan Wangji relaxed instantly. He knew of these kids. He knew their teacher. This wasn’t scary after all.
“Lan Zhan!” Wei Wuxian said, waving enthusiastically. “Kids, say hi to Lan-laoshi.”
“Hi, Lan-laoshi,” they chorused obediently.
“Hello,” Lan Wangji said. “Welcome.” He stood, awkwardly holding onto a tray of cupcakes and wondering what he should do next.
“Where should we sit?” Wei Wuxian asked.
Lan Wangji walked over to two long tables against the southern end of the bakery. “Here,” he said. “We can push these tables together.” He set down the cupcakes on one.
A quiet young man that Lan Wangji hadn’t noticed stepped forward to help him with the tables.
“This is my teaching assistant, Wen Ning,” Wei Wuxian announced, throwing a casual arm around the young man’s shoulders.
Lan Wangji nodded slightly to him.
“I’ve heard so much about you, Lan-gongzi,” Wen Ning said softly.
“Aiya, don’t tell him that,” Wei Wuxian said, clapping his hand over Wen Ning’s mouth.
Lan Wangji’s gaze snapped to Wei Wuxian. Wei Wuxian talked about him with other people.
“It’s nothing bad,” Wei Wuxian hurried to assure him. “He just really enjoys your cupcakes. I had to tell him where they came from.”
“Next time, I will give you seventeen,” Lan Wangji promised.
“No, no, you don’t have to,” Wei Wuxian protested. “We split the last one. It’s fine.”
“Seventeen,” Lan Wangji repeated, nodding firmly.
Wei Wuxian smiled softly at him. “You’re too good, Lan Zhan.”
“Wei-laoshi?” A voice came from approximately waist height. “Is it cupcake time yet?”
“Almost, Jingyi,” Wei Wuxian said, ruffling his hand through the little boy’s hair. “Why don’t you go pick a seat and wait patiently.”
“I hate waiting patiently,” Jingyi pouted.
“All the more reason for you to find your seat,” Wei Wuxian said firmly. “The sooner you’re all sitting down, the sooner we can start.”
Jingyi sighed loudly but raced for the seat at the far end of the table, sliding into it just as another little boy was reaching for it.
“Hey!” the boy shouted. “Wei-Lao—”
“This seat is yours A-Ling,” Wei Wuxian interrupted, pulling out a chair halfway along the side.
“But I wanted to sit on the end,” A-Ling protested.
“You can sit on the end next time. We’ll let Jingyi have that seat today,” Wei Wuxian said, going over to lead A-Ling to his seat.
Lan Wangji watched in amazement as Wei Wuxian wrangled the whole group into seats with a minimum of whining. Once they were all seated, Wei Wuxian looked at Lan Wangji expectantly. It took him a moment, but he remembered he had yet to bring the icing out of the refrigerator.
The kids cheered again when he appeared with the decorations. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do next. Would they need instruction? They were so young, likely not even five yet.
Thankfully Wei Wuxian took over, flitting around and around the table like a hummingbird, making sure the kids didn’t fight over icing colors and that most of the decorations actually went on the cupcakes and not on their hands and faces.
Lan Wangji kept an eye on the door in case any customers showed up, but mostly he watched the children. Most of them loudly demanded Wei Wuxian’s attention, but Lan Wangji felt his eyes drawn to a little boy sitting right next to Jingyi. His cupcake was still bare and he was looking at it with sadness on his face.
Wei Wuxian was carefully guiding a little girl’s hands as she drew a lopsided purple butterfly and Wen Ning was busy trying to keep A-Ling from pouring the icing directly into his mouth, so Lan Wangji walked over and knelt at the boy’s side.
“Hi, Lan-laoshi,” the boy said softly.
“Hello,” Lan Wangji said. “What is your name.”
“I’m A-Yuan,” A-Yuan said, smiling at him. “Can you help me draw a bunny?”
Lan Wangji nodded solemnly. “What color.”
A-Yuan looked thoughtful for a moment. “A white one,” he said. “White bunnies are the prettiest.”
“I think so too,” Lan Wangji said. “Should we put some grass on your cupcake first for the bunny to eat?”
A-Yuan nodded enthusiastically.
Lan Wangji let A-Yuan do most of the work, stepping in to steady his hands and keep him from squeezing the bag too hard. When they were finished, they had a mostly recognizable white rabbit on a smeared green background.
“Well done,” Lan Wangji said, standing up. “Would you like a box to take it home?”
A-Yuan shook his head. “You can have it. Wei-laoshi said we could give them to someone special.”
“Why don’t you save it for your mother or father?” Lan Wangji asked.
A-Yuan’s eyes immediately filled with tears. “I don’t have a mommy or a daddy.”
Lan Wangji felt like he had been punched in the chest. “I would be honored to accept your cupcake,” he said gravely.
A-Yuan smiled through his tears and threw himself at Lan Wangji’s leg, staining his white pants with green icing from his fingers.
“A-Yuan,” Wei Wuxian called, “don’t get Lan-laoshi all dirty.”
“I don’t mind,” Lan Wangji said.
Wei Wuxian thankfully didn’t press the issue. He came over to take a look at their creation. “Wow, A-Yuan, that’s amazing.”
“Lan-laoshi helped,” A-Yuan said, beaming with pride.
Wei Wuxian smiled at Lan Wangji, and Lan Wangji found himself breathless again for a different reason.
The bell rang as a customer entered and Lan Wangji was pulled away. He didn’t manage to return until they were getting ready to go.
“Wen Ning, can you take the children out to the bus?” Wei Wuxian asked. “I’ll settle up with Lan Zhan.”
Wen Ning herded the children out of the bakery as Wei Wuxian headed to the counter. “How much do I owe you?” he asked.
“On the house,” Lan Wangji said.
“What? No,” Wei Wuxian protested. “Lan Xichen said it would be five dollars per child.”
“On the house,” Lan Wangji repeated firmly. “It was...nice.”
“I do have a budget for this sort of thing,” Wei Wuxian said.
“Use it to buy more goldfish,” Lan Wangji said.
“Hmm,” Wei Wuxian replied, looking at him with a strange look on his face. He made no move to leave.
“A-Yuan,” Lan Wangji said. “He is an orphan?”
Wei Wuxian’s eyes grew sad. “Yeah, since he was an infant. He’s in a foster home now. I know they don’t hurt him or anything, but I also don’t think they are very good to him. I’d adopt him myself but I’m not sure I’d be allowed.”
“Hm,” Lan Wangji said, wondering if it would be too much too soon to ask Wei Wuxian to adopt a child with him. Probably it was, but he could start slow and maybe bring it up in a week or two. “Wei Ying, would you like to go on a date with me?”