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Hao Mei has to admit that sitting in Professor Lan’s classes makes her feel a little bit like a slob. She isn’t a particularly messy person, nor is she the kind of person who barely had time to brush her teeth before joining a class— not that she’s judging anyone who does that, it’s completely understandable. She tries her best to be presentable for every class, especially Professor Lan’s, because he actually preferred that people had their videos on.

It’s just that everything about the man is so immaculate that Hao Mei feels messy in comparison. Even now, when they had shifted completely to online classes, when most of their professors showed up in casual clothes— or even pyjamas, on some memorable occasions— Professor Lan still dressed up as he had done for their in-person classes. He wears ironed shirts and the occasional cardigan, and the one time he had stood up during a class revealed that he still wore pressed slacks. His hair is always combed immaculately and never falls into his face, and the few times he had needed to put on his spectacles, he had carefully removed them from their case and worn them in that way optometrists advised people to put their spectacles on but no one actually followed— well, no one except Professor Lan, evidently.

It isn’t just his personal appearance either. From what little they could see on screen, his desk is neatly organized, with not even a post-it note out of place. His background too, is a large oak bookshelf which holds books that are carefully positioned— none sticking out, or even leaning to the side the way Hao Mei’s own bookshelf at home had started doing because she hadn’t arranged her books properly and was too lazy to shift them around. On the wall next to the bookshelf is a beautiful painting that looks professionally done, that complements the room tastefully. At the beginning of the semester, Hao Mei and her classmates had tried to figure out who the artist was— mostly because there was a bet on whether or not Professor Lan was old money, and an expensive painting would have certainly made a compelling case— but there had been no way to track them down.

Everything about Professor Lan, from the way he speaks, thoughtful and poignant and never loud— like he was saying I will not raise my voice. If you want to learn, pay attention. It was one hell of a power move, in Hao Mei’s opinion— to the way he dresses, to the way even his gestures have a subtle elegance to them, scream that he is as meticulous as they come. Honestly, Hao Mei is willing to bet that there are people twice Professor Lan’s age who wish they could exude as much casual confidence and put-togetherness as he does. Professor Lan is also the only professor who almost always gets his questions answered and Hao Mei is pretty sure that’s some sort of miracle.

Which is why it comes as such a shock to Hao Mei when someone in booty shorts appears in the background of Professor Lan’s video.

The class is proceeding as it normally does. Professor Lan is giving a lecture on the finer points of traditional Chinese pottery and how it used to stimulate the economy, pausing occasionally to take a sip of his green tea. Professor Lan is one of the nicer professors in that sense— he doesn’t go so far as to allow people to openly eat in his class— though what they do in the privacy of having their videos turned off is their own business— but he’s fine with people drinking tea or coffee or even bubble tea. “You are adults,” he had said when asked. “I do not intend to control your every behaviour. I will only request that you respect my class and not distract others by eating.” Which was, like, incredibly cool of him, and also very much had the vibe of ‘I’m not mad, I’m only disappointed’. Professor Lan was going to be one hell of a tough but fair dad someday.

The class had progressed past the halfway point with no incidents— not even one person accidentally unmuting themselves and allowing their ambient environment noises to interrupt Professor Lan’s lectures until they either figured it out themselves or Professor Lan pointed it out. That all changed, however, when someone walked into Professor Lan’s background.

Hao Mei has to blink and take a few seconds to register that there is a person in Professor Lan’s background, a very tall person dressed in black booty shorts— very tight booty shorts at that— and a bright red tank top— the exact opposite of the neutral, faded colour palette Professor Lan favours— hair pulled up in a messy bun, and one fairly muscular arm absolutely covered in tattoos. The very antithesis of Professor Lan’s entire being. The person walks past Professor Lan, not even looking in the direction of his laptop, and grabs a book from his bookshelf before leaving, not making a single sound in all that time. Professor Lan also makes no acknowledgement of the fact that another person had just walked into his room and grabbed one of his belongings and had left without saying a word. Hao Mei wasn’t sure she hadn’t imagined the person.

She spends a few seconds wondering how to ask about it. ‘did you guys see that too or did I just hallucinate someone wearing booty shorts in the back of prof lan’s video?’ would get her point across, but would also make her seem fairly deranged if she had, in fact, imagined it. She was the kind of person who mostly stayed quiet in group chats, and she didn’t want to call attention to herself this way. Her worries proved to be unfounded when her phone buzzed with a message.

who’s the hottie? The message reads, which… well, that’s not exactly how Hao Mei would have put it— she’d like to think she’s a bit more tactful than that— but it’s not inaccurate.

dude, we agreed it was weird to thirst over the profs, someone replies instantly. Which is followed by also, prof lan’s been here the whole semester, where have you been?

Hao Mei is frankly impressed by the fact that her classmates are able to text without even looking down at their phone screens— she can technically do it, but her resultant texts are always riddled with typos, so she doesn’t usually bother.

not prf lan, the reply comes immediately. the silent one with the great ass who showed up and then disappeared

Hao Mei does wonder how her classmate was able to make a determination of this person’s ass being ‘great’ in the brief seconds they had gotten a glimpse, but then she remembers the shorts and oh yeah, that assessment is understandable.

right? 🥵🥵🥵

guys, do we think prof lan has a roommate?, someone else says.

bold of you to assume it’s just a roommate 😏😏

no wonder he told that guest lecturer he didn’t date. I wouldn’t either if I had THAT waiting for me at home

should we really be discussing prof lan’s personal life? He seems like a super private guy

booo! no fun!

half the college experience is trying to figure out what your fave profs are actually like. finding out if prof lan really has a hot roommate/bedmate would be a good data point for research

I’m not sure you know what data points are, didn’t you fail a stats course last sem?

why would you call me out like that

The influx of messages stops when someone who has unmuted to answer a question that Professor Lan had apparently asked has their phone ping thrice in succession— which, really? Who didn’t set their phone to silent or vibrate these days? Especially during classes!— and he says, “Please exchange messages in your own private time”, which is fair, especially because they’re discussing whether or not Professor Lan is banging the hot person who showed up in his video background, which is definitely inappropriate.

By the time the class gets to the end, there’s about a hundred other things that require their attention, so the topic is naturally buried under the mountain of things that appear to require discussion. It isn’t gone from Hao Mei’s mind though, nor, she would wager, from the minds of the others in her class.

 

It’s over a week later when another incident interrupts Professor Lan’s class. This time, there is no human factor involved. Professor Lan’s class is disrupted— and Hao Mei knows how insane this sounds to all the people who don’t have a class with Professor Lan, only know him from his intimidating stature and even more intimidating resting face, and are consequently terrified of him— by a bunny.

Hao Mei spots the bunny trying to climb the bookshelf— which, really? Bunnies could climb bookshelves? People sure were right when they said college would be a learning experience, huh?— and is filled with overwhelming terror that said bunny might fall and hurt itself. She looks desperately at the videos of her other classmates, hoping one of them would notice and say something, but they do not. Eventually, she just decides to bite the bullet and do it herself, cursing herself as she does so.

“Uh, excuse me, Professor Lan?” she says, unmuting gingerly. He won’t get mad at her for interrupting a lesson right? Not if it’s got something to do with his pet’s safety?

“Yes, Hao Mei,” he answers, his voice showing no hint of displeasure.

“Uh… Professor… there’s… um… there’s a bunny climbing your bookshelf,” she says, feeling her face flush with embarrassment for interrupting the class with such a trivial matter.

Professor Lan looks… well, she can’t see much change in his expression, but he takes a look behind him and his voice is a bit sharper, but not angry when he replies, “Thank you for notifying me. Please excuse me for a minute.”

Then he mutes, and seemingly talks to someone in his home. Hao Mei can see his lips moving and wonders if he is shouting for someone or if his voice is even and placid even now. He walks over to the bookshelf and picks up the bunny, petting it gently, and the sight is so adorable that Hao Mei wants to squeal— not that she would do anything that undignified, of course. Her phone is vibrating rapidly, but she doesn’t check it, not willing to miss even a second of this cute display.

Soon, the “roommate” as they’ve nicknamed the person, quotation marks and all— not knowing their relation to Professor Lan or even their gender— arrives, this time dressed in ripped skinny jeans and a crop top, hair in a half-up half-down style which shows off a reddish-pink dyed underlayer. They make their way over to Professor Lan with a smile so bright it looks like literal sunlight is emanating from that face. Professor Lan hands the bunny over to his roommate/friend/partner, who proceeds to pet the bunny while also wagging a finger in its face, seemingly threatening it. With a quick word to Professor Lan, the bunny and the person are out of the room and Professor Lan is back at his desk.

“Apologies for the interruption,” he says, then continues the class as if nothing has happened. Hao Mei spends the rest of the lesson in a bit of a daze.

At the end of class, she checks her phone, and is immensely gratified to see screencaps of every single frame of Professor Lan, the mystery person, and their(?) bunny, or any combination thereof that had appeared on screen. .

 

When Hao Mei logs in one day, something is clearly wrong. Professor Lan still looks as immaculately put together as always, but there’s something… off about his posture. Hao Mei can’t quite tell what’s wrong, only that something is. His jaw is clenched, which pings on Hao Mei’s radar from recognizing that same jaw clench in her mother over the years.

Within minutes of him beginning to speak, her suspicions are mostly confirmed. Professor Lan’s voice is softer than usual, and his brow furrows slightly, and when he glances at the screen, he almost winces— Professor Lan most likely has a headache. His shoulders are tense too, and everyone seems to pick up on something being wrong, even if they aren’t quite able to figure out what is, because the few people who answer his questions keep their answers soft as well as brief, and no one types their answer out, presumably not wanting to give Professor Lan the added eye strain of having to read their response.

Partway through this class, a pair of hands appear at the bottom of the screen, setting down a steaming cup of what Hao Mei recognizes as the ginger tea her mother drinks whenever she has a migraine. One hand trails over to Professor Lan’s bicep and squeezes— a motion that causes some of the tension to bleed out of Professor Lan’s shoulders— before moving offscreen. Periodically through the rest of the class, Professor Lan takes sips of his tea, and once, he looks at the teacup with almost a half-smile on his face.

Naturally, someone screencaps that and captions it, ‘just a roommate, huh?

Of course, this is followed immediately by such gems as

guess it sucks to be your roommate if you won’t even do that for them

lmao which world do you live in where ppl touch their roommate so intimately

which world do YOU live in where that’s an intimate touch?
but no srsly
just how touch starved are you bro?
wanna come over and cuddle or some shit? like platonically?

okay, first, that’s an intimate touch for PROF LAN who as far as i’ve seen makes every effort to not touch ppl
and also, i love you but you’re the last person in the world i’d wanna cuddle with
no offence
thanks for offering tho

I’m kinda offended, ngl

guys! off topic!

 

The messages went off on a tangent after that, but occasionally kept drifting back to the original topic— was Professor Lan’s roommate just a roommate? The just-a-roommate side made passionate arguments, including but not limited to the fact that Professor Lan’s house seemed nice enough that a roommate situation would help pay for it— which was refuted by the argument that a partner could also be sharing the rent with him, and that they hadn’t really seen enough of his house to make that judgement. There was also the argument that Professor Lan had been quite resolute in telling that one guest lecturer that he didn't date, which seemed more damning, if she was being honest.

The other side also had some very good arguments about how Professor Lan famously avoided physical contact with anyone except for, apparently, the “roommate” and the fact that a literal cup of tea had brought Professor Lan closer to a smile than anything anyone else had ever done in all the years they had known him.

In Hao Mei’s opinion, did it matter who they were to each other? Clearly, whether or not there was romance involved, Professor Lan had someone who cared very much for him, and wasn’t that what was important?

The thing is, Hao Mei is unashamed to admit that Professor Lan is her favourite professor and has been since third semester— before she’d had a single class with him. This was because when she was in her third semester, the university was planning to shut down the cultural club she was part of— specifically a club for diaspora Asians and international Asian students— because of lack of funds for maintenance, which she personally thought was bullshit but couldn’t prove it. The club had sent in petitions, even planned a protest, but none of it had moved the administration in any way. It had looked, for a long time, like the club was going to be shut down, which really, really sucked. The club was just so important to her— there were so many people she had met through the club and so many things they had learnt together.

There were members from all over Asia, and while the original intent of the club was to give international students somewhere to feel a little more at home, it quickly morphed into a let’s-teach-each-other-about-our-cultures club. They’d do this thing at the start of the year where they each chose one film that was a classic in their country— or region, depending on how many representatives of their country there were— and put all of them in a pile, and fish out one and watch it at every meeting. They’d discuss which grocery store had the best ethnic food sections and which ones kept switching up the tofu and the paneer, and the near-universal experience of That Feeling when you just knew someone was about to over-pronounce your name. They even had a potluck where everyone would make their region’s version of a dumpling— including one memorable argument over whether koftas were dumplings or not— and they’d all have a joint meal.

If their club had gotten shut down, they’d probably still hang out with each other, but they would have trouble reaching out to new members. Being a club meant that they could essentially advertise their presence on campus, and other people would know where to find them. They’d also get to book halls for their events and have the occasional rescheduling privilege, which they’d have to give up. They had been preparing to do it too— their club’s president had been looking into other options— when they got the news that their club would not be shut down. They had all rejoiced, but they had no clue where this surprising benevolence came from. They had very much decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and had simply celebrated their good fortune.

It was only a good three months later that someone had revealed that Professor Lan had, apparently, made a proposal to the administration and presented the merits of keeping the club, which offset the cost. To this day, no one is sure exactly what Professor Lan said to them, but whatever it was had changed their minds quickly. This was, incidentally, where the old money theory first came up— her classmate and clubmate Tanvi had suggested that he might have offered to fund the club himself, which was kind of far-fetched, but just believable enough to get people talking. Professor Lan hadn’t even told anyone about it, and the one time someone had tried to thank him for it, he had said “No thanks necessary”.

So yeah, Professor Lan was Hao Mei’s favourite, and she wished nothing but good things for him. So if there was someone who was taking care of him, someone who made him happy, well he deserved that and more.

 

The first time they hear the mystery person’s voice is something of an accident on Professor Lan’s part. It is yet another regular class, when Professor Lan’s door bursts open audibly, which is a change. The other times someone had come in, the door had been opened and shut without so much as an audible click, but this time, they can all hear it.

“Sorry, sorry,” comes a hushed voice. “I just needed my pen, I left it here yesterday.”

Professor Lan looks over, then excuses himself from the class. When he goes to mute though, he accidentally misclicks the icon, so he ends up not actually muting. Every person in the class watches and listens with bated breath— no one daring to point this out because they were all here for the gossip no matter how much they may deny it— as he finds a pen from his desk and holds it out. As the mystery person steps forward to grab it, they can see them wearing dress pants and a crisp white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, their face lighting up as soon as they see the pen.

“Ah, you’re the best, Lan Zhan,” comes the voice, a lot louder now, probably based on the assumption that no one can hear.

“Mn,” Professor Lan replies. “Good luck, Wei Ying.”

The person— Wei Ying— gives Professor Lan another beaming smile and two thumbs up, even with the pen still clutched in one hand before leaving.

Professor Lan turns back to the class and the moment he notices he hadn’t been muted, he closes his eyes for a second, before saying, “I apologize for that.”

The chat fills with variations of ‘that’s okay’ and ‘no worries, professor’, and he nods, before continuing the class.

It isn’t long before Hao Mei’s phone is vibrating again.

omg isn’t it so weird to hear someone call prof lan ‘lan zhan’

did you seriously think ppl in his real life called him professor?

like logically, no, but it just sounds odd when someone calls your prof by their NAME
like that’s ur PROF
they’re supposed to exist in a void where they teach

And yet, here we are, prying into a prof’s personal life
The hipocrisy is stunning lmao

i’d take you much seriously if you hadn’t misspelt hypocrisy

wait, wait, wait
back up
that’s his real name?

it’s on his business card! and on that plaque in front of his office!

I’ve never actually been to his office! don’t judge me!

guys! you’re all missing the point! we have a NAME now!

pls don’t say it

I think we should do some research and find out what’s REALLY going on here

I am literally begging you not to stalk a professor’s loved one

🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺

I’m sure we’ll find one social media account at the least, something about the vibe prof lan’s “roommate” gives off makes me think they’re the type to post thirst traps
(it’s the booty shorts, don’t @ me)

you have literally seen this person for three spans of less than 10 secs each
pls stop making assumptions

yeah actually it’s v disrespectful

but that’s not a no to the stalking tho

And so on and on and on the messages go. Hao Mei sighs and puts her phone aside. She needs to actually pay attention if she wants to keep her grades up in this class, and it’s like, doubly disrespectful to Professor Lan to chat during his class and to make plans to stalk someone from his private life— the private life Professor Lan is so protective of.

Before the end of that day of classes though, she is confronted with the link to a profile and a triumphant ‘found it!

She definitely does not click on it.

 

Okay, so maybe she clicks on it. She’s curious, sue her. There’s a lot of pictures and videos of Wei Ying— who according to some of the videos and judging by the way people refer to him in them definitely goes by him— with various friends, and Hao Mei does mean a lot of friends. The guy seems to be a social butterfly, and his friend groups are so diverse that if all the pictures were put together, they would give Hao Mei whiplash.

There’s pictures and videos of bunnies— bunnies, plural, including the adorable brown one that had been climbing the bookshelf that day. There’s also a snow white bunny that merely observes the other bunnies’ shenanigans and an excitable black one that only ever allows Wei Ying or Professor Lan to play with it— going as far as to bite anyone else who tries. There’s a whole compilation of that happening, with music edited over it and everything.

There are also many, many pictures of Professor Lan, each with a sappy sweet caption, but nothing that explicitly says what their relationship is. Professor Lan himself does not have social media at all, but he seems to be perfectly content posing for these pictures, whether or not Wei Ying is present in them or is the cameraman. There is one picture of him with the bunnies— the white one in his lap, the brown one eating a lettuce leaf that he is feeding it, and the black one perched on his head. It is, officially, the cutest thing Hao Mei has ever seen.

She feels a bit like they’re violating Professor Lan’s privacy by looking at pictures of him in such a casual, intimate setting, pictures that he had not posed for with the intent of having his students find them and mine them for fuel about his personal life, but she also can’t deny that Professor Lan is the only professor whose life seems interesting enough that she actually wants to know anything about it. It makes her feel guilty, but the curiosity— and frankly, the serotonin boost she gets from the pictures— overpowers that guilt.

 

In the end, the answers come from an unexpected source. It’s the end of the semester, and Professor Lan is wrapping up his last class, and he’s got about half an hour to spare, when he asks if any of them have any questions for him. There’s absolute silence for a minute, then about three people unmute at the same time, and have a little round of you go— no, it’s fine, you go first— no, it’s alright until one of them actually begins to talk.

Professor Lan answers every question painstakingly. That’s another reason Hao Mei likes Professor Lan so much. Every professor and every teacher she’s ever had have done their whole spiel about how there are no stupid questions and all questions will be answered, and then sighed and rolled their eyes and dropped some version of ‘weren’t you paying attention?’ when they were asked a question they did deem stupid. Not Professor Lan, though. On multiple occasions, he had been asked questions that pretty much boiled down to ‘I didn’t understand anything you said under this subtopic, please explain it to me all over again’, and he always explains it with the same patience he used with new material.

Hao Mei does, however, get distracted by her phone, which has, unfortunately, become a common occurrence in Professor Lan’s class.

dare one of you to ask about his “roommate”, reads the message.

wtf? that’s so inappropriate

it’s the last class, what does it matter?

oh yeah? then why don’t you ask?

know what, maybe I will

i’d pay to see that

The chat quickly fills with ‘yeah, right’s and roasts, so Hao Mei abandons her phone to listen to the rest of Professor Lan’s answers. This course does have a written examination component for evaluation, so she needs to be revising all of this stuff anyway. She might as well listen to her Professor explain it once again.

Once Professor Lan finishes, whichever brave student had decided to ask him an incredibly intrusive question that will probably justify the intimidating image people have of Professor Lan unmutes and clears his throat.

“Professor…” he starts, then stops. He clears his throat, starts again, “I…” then stops again.

Her phone buzzes violently, probably people roasting the hell out of the guy— Hao Mei wishes she knew his name, it wasn’t the 🥴 it had been set to, that’s for sure— for chickening out at the last minute.

“Yes?” Professor Lan prompts.

“I… that is… Professor…”

“What is it?” Professor Lan asks.

“Professor I was wondering…” he flushes and scratches the back of his neck. “Who’s the artist of that painting on your wall?” he blurts out instead.

Professor Lan blinks.

“I mean, this is a class about art after all,” the flustered student rushes to clarify. “Specifically traditional Chinese art. And that painting looks like traditional Chinese art, but it doesn’t match the specific style of any named artist, so as a class we were just, you know, wondering who the artist was. To… ah… improve our knowledge of traditional Chinese art.”

Professor Lan blinks again, but does not comment on the overuse of the phrase ‘traditional Chinese art’, though Hao Mei can’t fault the guy for babbling under pressure. She herself has that tendency— to over explain things and end up in more trouble than she was to begin with.

“Yes Professor,” another student adds, taking pity on the poor guy now scrambling to mute. “It’s a very beautiful painting, but we haven’t been able to figure out it’s origins.”

Emboldened by this, there’s a chorus of responses in the chat, agreeing to the statement, saying the painting is indeed gorgeous, even if the origins are mysterious.

“Thank you for your compliments,” Professor Lan replies, nodding slightly. “It was not identifiable to you because it was not created by a commercial artist or a historical one.” He then goes on to blow all of their minds by saying, “It was painted by my husband.”

Hao Mei feels herself choke. She sees one unfortunate student who had been taking a sip of coffee actually do a spit take and switch off her video to deal with the situation in private. At least four students’ jaws drop.

Before anyone can say anything further though, Professor Lan simply says, “That is all the time we have today, thank you for your attendance,” which is their cue to leave.

Nobody leaves. They’re all frozen, staring at the screen until Professor Lan ends the meeting himself.

Hao Mei grabs her phone.

HUSBAFJ

*HUSBAD

*HUSBAND

?!!??!?!

DID WE HEAR THAT RIGHT

oh god we were on to something when we were making our hahaha “roommates” jokes

wait, do we know for sure who the husband is?

pls use the two braincells you have
who else could it be

ppl who have husbands don’t act like that with other ppl

you say that with an awful amount of confidence for someone who’s never had a husband

not all of us are lacking in common sense, asshole

guys! we’re getting off topic! prof lan’s been MARRIED all the time we knew him

or he got married sometime secretly and none of us knew!

we didn’t really know him until this sem tho, so I’m not sure we would have noticed

oh my god
oh my god
OH MY GOD

what

guys
GUYS

WHAT

remember prof lan told that guest lecturer he didn’t date?
He meant because he was MARRIED!
OH MY GOD

oh my god we’ve been blind

oh my god we’ve been stalking prof lan’s husband online

do you think he’ll find out and like do something to our grades?
I cannot afford to fail this course

oh shit, thanks now I’m worried about that too

why would you say something like this

relax, I’m sure he won’t even find out, it’s not like you followed him or anything, right?

uh

uh

uh

you FOLLOWED him?

relax! I’m sure it’ll be fine! he prob gets tons of followers daily! he won’t even notice

ur prob right, but i’m still gonna be waiting for the other shoe to drop

As the conversation derails from there, with people assuring each other that there was no way they’d be found out, that it isn’t like Professor Lan’s husband knows any of their names or their accounts, so they probably wouldn’t be figured out, Hao Mei is just so, so glad that she hadn’t followed Professor Lan’s husband or accidentally liked one of his pictures. She had considered it, but she hadn’t done it, and that was what counted.

It also strikes her as particularly hilarious that if they hadn’t collectively chickened out of asking about the painting at the beginning of the semester when they had that bet on whether or not Professor Lan was old money, they might have had their answers from the very beginning. Oh well, she thinks. You live and you learn.

 

 

Bonus:

“Lan Zhan!” Wei Ying cheers from his position on the couch as his husband comes back out into the living room. “Done for the day?”

“Mn.”

“Good, I missed you,” Wei Ying smiles at Lan Zhan, his smile widening as Lan Zhan leans down to kiss his forehead.

“I missed Wei Ying as well,” he says before sitting down next to him, sinking into the couch cushions as Wei Ying moves to rest on his chest.

“By the way, Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying asks, “What have you decided about my proposal?”

Lan Zhan huffs fondly and shakes his head. “No, Wei Ying,” he says. “I will not make one of the questions on the exam ‘Why are so many of you following my husband on Instagram all of a sudden?’”

Wei Ying pouts.