Bingzhi and Alec's wedding is beautiful and perfect and fun, except for the part where both of them are professional meddlers. It's sweet of them to think that everyone in attendance without a plus-one is game for a setup, but Lan Zhan is not in the mood to hear Jerome-from-the-front-office describe his workout routine again. He's taking a well deserved breather while Jerome uses the restroom and says hello to some other friends, and contemplating faking a family emergency to get out of the rest of the evening. Barring that, he will simply have to exercise immense self restraint, and then never enter the school through the main entrance again. He doesn't want to miss the rest of his friends' wedding, though, and the thought of lying, and of lying about his family members' health, sits uncomfortably in him.
He has been politely half-listening to Francine's oft-repeated monologue about homework being useless and a tool of oppression and dreading his set-up's return when someone who is very much not Jerome-from-the-front-office drops into the chair to Lan Zhan's left.
The newcomer is holding a very full glass of red wine in one hand, and has his other cupped around his face, hiding it from the far end of the reception hall. Lan Zhan peers past him and sees a man he vaguely recognizes from Alec's game group looking around the room.
Behind them, Francine says, yet again, "It's not like they don't have enough to do every night with extracurriculars," to her captive audience, and not-Jerome turns around to look around the table. No one else seems to be paying him much attention, but Lan Zhan feels that whatever is happening, it will be better than hearing about Jerome's favorite brand of kettlebells. The newcomer doesn't seem to be paying anyone else much attention, either. He turns to peer in the direction of the searching man, then sighs and takes a huge sip of wine.
"Hello," Lan Zhan says, once the man has finished drinking. "You are hiding?"
He jumps, wine sloshing in his glass, and looks over. "Oh god," he says. "Uh, hi, yeah. Sorry, someone was sitting here, right? I won't stay long."
"Stay as long as you like," Lan Zhan says firmly. The longer he can avoid Jerome without compromising his principles, the better.
The newcomer peers at him carefully at this, then throws his head back and laughs. His glossy ponytail slips off his shoulder to hang down behind him. Lan Zhan's eyes are drawn to his neck, disappearing into his dark button-down. The newcomer finishes laughing, wipes tears out of his eyes, takes another big gulp of wine, and then turns in Jerome-from-the-front-office's seat to look Lan Zhan over. "So, they got you too?"
Lan Zhan just sighs, and the newcomer laughs again.
"It's romantic of them, I guess! They want to give everyone a chance at finding love the way they did, but…"
"If I wished to be set up on a date, I would ask," Lan Zhan says.
"Someone else," the newcomer finishes, nodding. "I would literally ask anyone else before either of them for dating advice."
"I am sure they mean well," Lan Zhan says. He doesn't want to badmouth his friends at their own wedding reception. The stranger is right, though. Their acuity in matters of compatibility has always left much to be desired.
"I wish I had your confidence," the stranger says, taking another quaff of wine. He's already drunk more than half his glass, and his face is steadily turning pinker. "I don't think they knew that I know Zixun from high school, but maybe this is revenge. Maybe Bingzhi's been biding their time since I accidentally ruined their kitchen table, waiting for the moment they can set me up with the guy who negged me every chance he got in eleventh grade." He finishes with a smile and a shrug.
"Bingzhi would not subject you to someone they thought would antagonize you," Lan Zhan says. Of this, he feels certain. Bingzhi is audacious and enjoys practical jokes, but they would never set out to cause harm. Then, the stranger's words register completely. "You are Wei Ying?"
"Oh no," the stranger (Wei Ying?) says. "Which part of my reputation precedes me?"
"The kitchen table," Lan Zhan says. He tries to project the appropriate amount of contrition in his voice.
Wei Ying sighs again, and finally puts his wine glass down. "Look, it really was an accident! I was nineteen! I was making them take buzzfeed quizzes and didn't realize the wood was so soft. And I did offer to pay for it!"
"So I have heard," Lan Zhan says.
"I haven't heard of you, though," Wei Ying says. "Do you know Bingzhi or Alec? Or both?"
"Alec and I used to teach at the same school, before he moved farther south," Lan Zhan says. He considers telling Wei Ying about the countless and artless ways Alec had asked after Lan Zhan's own queerness, their first year teaching together; he had thought Alec was hitting on him, and when Lan Zhan had finally decided to firmly turn him down, Alec had admitted he was simply trying to make a friend. Lan Zhan had met Bingzhi the following week, when he had dinner at the couple's home.
"Nice," Wei Ying says. "What do you teach? You look like you teach history, but maybe art, actually?" He gestures to Lan Zhan's hands, which he has folded in his lap. "You have artist hands. One artist to another?"
"I teach orchestra," Lan Zhan admits. "I also play the piano, and several other instruments."
"A musician!" Wei Ying says, clearly delighted. He hasn't touched his wine in several minutes. "But that means… was I wrong? No fine arts?"
Lan Zhan sighs, smiling despite himself, and realizes all at once that he is having fun. He looks around, taking in his surroundings for the first time since Wei Ying looked at him, and sees that Jerome-from-the-front-office has found a seat at another table. The rest of the occupants of their table are engaged in conversations with one another. When he looks back at Wei Ying, he's so surprised to be the recipient of his attentive, amused expression that it takes him a moment to remember what the question was.
"Not wrong. I also enjoy traditional calligraphy."
"Oh good. I thought for sure—your hands are just so beautiful!" Wei Ying's eyes widen, and his mouth closes with a snap. "I mean, you have such elegant… Oh, god." He squeezes his eyes shut, gropes for his wine glass, takes another huge gulp, then holds the glass against his face. "Sorry," he says.
Lan Zhan knows that one cannot become drunk second-hand, but he feels it. His ears and neck are burning. "There is no need to apologize," he says. "Thank you for your compliments."
"Yeah. Uh, you're welcome," Wei Ying says, still hiding behind his wine glass. "Just give me a minute to recover from that, okay? Okay."
After that, food begins to arrive at the tables, and Lan Zhan finds out that Wei Ying works at the print collective that Bingzhi uses for their reproductions and merchandise. Wei Ying shows his own hands, covered in tiny scars, and talks about different types of wood he works with, and showers Lan Zhan with compliments when he lists all of the instruments he can actually play.
He discovers that Wei Ying met Bingzhi in their third year of university—Wei Ying's first—at the queer artists club, and that they have collaborated together many times since then. It turns out he owns a tote bag with Wei Ying's artwork on it, and the pleasure he feels at that knowledge is disproportionate.
When everyone has eaten enough to last them for three days, and Wei Ying has depleted the table's bowl of dipping chilies by three quarters, he leans back in his chair, stretches, and says, "I can't believe they put me next to Zixun when they're friends with someone so interesting and nice! I'm so glad I came over here to hide."
"I am as well," Lan Zhan says. He feels bolstered by Wei Ying's compliments, couched in teasing as they are. "I am glad to meet you."
"Ugh!" Wei Ying says, turning to hide his face in his hand again. "Lan Zhan! That's not fair."
He doesn't find out what's not fair, because Alec's younger siblings call for everyone's attention, and give a speech, followed by Bingzhi's best friends, Bingzhi's uncle, and Alec's mom, who says that she was supposed to go earlier but couldn't stop crying. Lan Zhan wonders, as he always does at the weddings of his queer friends, how his family will react if he ever gets married. He suspects his Uncle will disapprove of anyone, of any gender; he believes in the righteousness and upstanding conduct of his own family, and finds everyone else in the world lacking. Lan Zhan thinks his brother will cry from happiness if he ever gets married. He cried from happiness when Lan Zhan admitted he'd made a friend at work, and got misty-eyed again when he told Lan Huan he'd met and befriended his new friend's partner, as well.
He turns to watch Wei Ying as Alec's mom concludes her speech, questions about Wei Ying's family crowding his tongue. He wants, he realizes, to never end this conversation. People usually find him informative and helpful, eloquent, but frequently abrasive or standoffish. He is decorative but not engaging. His friends appreciate his directness. People praise his attentiveness.
People do not look at him as Wei Ying does; as if they could be satisfied by his words alone.
Wei Ying claps with everyone else as Alec's mom hands the microphone back to her children. He empties his wine glass for the second time since he sat down as they begin to describe a party game that will be starting shortly, and then he notices Lan Zhan, and his eyes go wide again.
"You can't look at me like that," he says, laughing weakly. "That's not fair, either."
"How am I looking at you?" Lan Zhan cannot see his own face. People tell him frequently that he has a natural poker face—that his emotions don't show, even when he tries to show them.
"I can't—don't ask me that!" Wei Ying turns away from Alec's siblings so he's just facing Lan Zhan, and Lan Zhan mirrors him without thinking. When Wei Ying gestures towards him with both hands, Lan Zhan catches them in his own. His fingers are cold, or maybe Lan Zhan is over-warm.
Wei Ying looks down, flexing his fingers in Lan Zhan's, and then back up at his face. Some of his hair has come loose from his ponytail over the course of the meal. Lan Zhan wants to smooth it back in place, or pull out all of it. He's known this man for less than two hours, but he feels full with the knowledge that he will want to know him for years.
Wei Ying scoots forward in his chair, until his knees are almost touching Lan Zhan's. Lan Zhan can feel the heat of his legs, the toes of their shoes knocking. "What if I'm wrong?" Wei Ying asks, his voice soft. He looks as hopeful as Lan Zhan feels.
"You are not," Lan Zhan says.
He keeps holding Wei Ying's hand through the rest of the reception. Wei Ying drags him over to play the trivia game, which the newlyweds win with absolutely no sportsmanship at all, and then Lan Zhan drags Wei Ying into the vestibule to kiss him, and then back to the table to hand him two large glasses of water. Bingzhi comes over to ask why Wei Ying abandoned his date, sees their joined hands, and laughs so hard they have to sit down for several minutes. When Alec comes to collect them for more dancing, he yells, "Yes!" so loud that half the hall looks their way. Jerome-from-the-front-office comes to say goodbye to Francine and the others from the school at the table, and smirks at Lan Zhan.
After all of this, Wei Ying lifts their joined hands to his mouth and drops a tiny kiss on the back of Lan Zhan's wrist, turns red, and then drags him out to dance.
Halfway through the second song, Wei Ying taps on his shoulder, and he realizes he has disappeared into his own mind momentarily. "What's going on in there?" Wei Ying asks. He doesn't look upset—just genuinely curious. His face is still pinker than it was at the start of the night, but his eyes are clearer than they were an hour ago. Wei Ying taps his shoulder again; just a light tap, with one finger.
"If…" Lan Zhan realizes, once he begins putting the words in order, that it is presumptuous of him. He thinks he's right, though, so he continues, "Alec and Bingzhi are going to be insufferable about us."
Wei Ying laughs, head thrown back, just as he did when Lan Zhan first told him to stay. It feels like that was days ago. It feels like it happened moments ago. He's known Wei Ying for a lifetime or for a minute.
"A small price to pay, I think," Wei Ying says. Lan Zhan doesn't bother pulling him away from everyone else to kiss him, this time.