“Are you living here now?”
The person on the round table looked up and yes, he had dared to help himself to a cup of coffee, toasting at him, the liquid steaming and smelling heavenly as if he weren’t the most brazen man in the world.
Lin Xun sighed.
“I do,” Jun Cheng said and the smug smile on his face made him look like a very pleased cat. One that, next to the cream, also got the early bird. He sat at the table with the coffee in front of him, clad in comfy clothes, his legs crossed and the morning papers in the other hand. Lin Xun wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have found fuzzy slippers on his feet.
“Do all Yuan’s have a key to my apartment?”, Lin Xun asked in exasperation. If he would turn around and Jun Ping would sit in front of the TV, he would scream.
Jun Cheng looked up, a frown on his distractingly handsome face, looking like he really had to think about that question.
“I don’t think Jun Dao has one. He doesn’t really care.”
Lin Xun threw his hands up. “What a blessing.”
Jun Cheng just looked at him calmly and now Lin Xun saw the bowl in front of him… was that congee? Where did he have that from?
“Are you agreeing to work for me?”
“Then… hello roommate.” And with these words, he went back to his newspapers as if breaking into Lin Xun’s house was just a minor inconvenience and Lin Xun shouldn’t feel so upset about it.
Lin Xun put his hands on his hips to either start a loud rant or just throw Jun Cheng over his shoulders but wait. He had seen him fight. If he was going to level this up to a physical fight he was not the one with the upper hand.
He lifted a finger and pointed it threateningly at Jun Cheng who didn’t even see it because he was reading the damn paper! He was about to be late to his part-time job if he didn’t go out of the house now.
“We talk when I get back!” He turned around in a huff.
“Have fun at work and remember you wouldn’t have to work at all if you would agree to be my brother!”
Lin Xun wanted to yell screw you, but he had been raised better than that. He acted out is feelings of frustration and anger with being extra loud while he got ready to leave the house. But rustling with his backpack and stomping with his shoes didn’t make him feel better.
How much would the change of the locks cost him, he asked himself as he closed the door behind him and he was tempted to open the door again to slam it shut but he had neighbours and he really had to be going to not be late.
As he stopped his scooter in front of the café he felt his phone vibrating and a feeling of doom overcame him.
“You don’t have a dishwasher?”
Lin Xun frowned at his phone and then sighed: “How did you get my number?” He knew he hadn’t given Jun Cheng or any other Yuan his number.
“Nevermind, I’m ordering a dishwasher now.”
Lin Xun wanted to throw his phone on the ground and he quickly looked up and saw his boss waving at him through the window and typed, while he climbed from his scooter: “DON’T buy a dishwasher!!!!”
He calmed himself down with the thought that Jun Cheng was probably not able to operate a dishwasher anyway. Which produced a nightmare in his mind about his flat being flooded with foam and water and Jun Cheng standing on his couch glaring at the mess as if it wasn’t his fault.
“I’m screwed,” he told the sandwich he was making and sighed. The rush-hour around noon distracted him a bit but at the end of his shift, the worry was back. What would await him when he got home?
Food was the answer.
He stared at the table full of take-out containers. Did Jun Cheng think he was able to eat all of this for one meal? Why did that man have no comprehension about how normal people lived? At least he didn’t order from some fancy place like last time.
“How much do I owe you?”, he asked when his stomach growled. He was hungry. And he had decided that it looked stupid if he would waste the food and would go out to get his own. And he feared what Jun Cheng would do while he was gone. Probably buy the whole building.
He heard a snort behind him. Then, Jun Cheng walked around him to open the fridge to get a pink-coloured energy drink. Lin Xun frowned. There were more bottles in even brighter colours and Lin Xun hadn’t had them in his fridge when he had left for work.
“One Tai bi,” Jun Cheng answered and smiled at him as if he had finally beat Lin Xun’s refusal to take money from him. This time Lin Xun was the one who snorted, and he took his phone to take a picture of the food on the table. With the logo on the containers, he was able to find out how much Jun Cheng had spent.
He had struggled financially long enough to not give a damn about something like pride, but Jun Cheng’s money came with strings attached and he didn’t want them anywhere near him. He didn’t want to be a brother or an adoptive brother or a ward or whatever weird thing the Yuan family had in mind.
“Have you eaten already?”, he asked, but Jun Cheng disdained look told him enough. Jun Cheng had opinions about street food and Lin Xun didn’t fancy another lecture about what too much salt would do to his body.
Moreover, it looked like Jun Cheng was in the middle of work and while Lin Xun stuffed himself full with noodles he observed how Jun Cheng sifted through documents, used a tablet and a laptop simultaneously and at one point made the impression of writing an email that would make the receiver cry. Or his wrinkled-up forehead, his icy but focused eyes and the disapproving tension around his mouth was normal for him when he worked. He was still unfairly handsome and if he ever revealed to also lead an idol K-pop group Lin Xun wouldn’t be surprised.
“Don’t you have to be in the office at some point?”, he asked and put the leftovers in the fridge. He had to rearrange the weird energy-drinks for that. He turned his head, but Jun Cheng didn’t look up nor did he answer.
Lin Xun walked over to him and saw just how much stuff was laying on the couch and the table. Was this Jun Cheng’s command centre now? But Lin Xun refused to give up on his daily TV time just because Jun Cheng had no concept about personal space and that you just don’t occupy the house of someone out of some misplaced wish for brotherhood!
He flopped down on the other end of the couch, where there was still space from Jun Cheng’s interesting system of organizing his papers.
“Since this is my living room, I think you won’t mind me watching some TV.” He didn’t wait for an answer and just started his favourite drama series. He had begun to watch it together with his mum as a distraction from the treatment, something light and easy to follow when the chemotherapy made it hard for her to concentrate.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
Lin Xun had moulded his body in the soft cushions of his couch and the glare Jun Cheng threw towards the TV made him put his feet on the couch table while turning up the volume of the drama to tone out Jun Cheng. He should work instead of criticising a good piece of media.
“How would she know that when she had been in a coma for ten years?”
Lin Xun sighed. Trust Jun Cheng to not get a hint and just complain louder.
“Do you need a reminder that you actually kidnapped me because you thought I was the love child of your father?”
He saw how Jun Cheng frowned. He seemed to have trouble connecting the dots.
“I had proof you could be my brother.”
“How? I told you I look like my father!”
“Pictures can be photoshopped.”
Lin Xun threw his hands up. Jun Cheng was like a dog with a bone about this. He literally was living a drama-life but was the only one who couldn’t see it.
“Just let me watch this in peace,” Lin Xun demanded but then felt something like glee when he thought about the evil-twin-good-twin plot twist they had introduced in the last episode. Jun Cheng was going to hate it and when Jun Cheng crossed the arms in front of his chest and leaned back, work forgotten, Lin Xun knew he had him.
“What are you doing on your important business flights if not watching dramas?”
“I work,” was Jun Cheng’s reply followed by an incredulous: “Wait. Is that his twin?”
“And outside of that? You can’t tell me you don’t watch TV.”
Lin Xun opened his mouth to say “That’s sad” but stopped himself because it really was sad. Now he envisioned a tiny Jun Cheng who hadn’t been allowed to watch cartoons. Were all of Jun Cheng’s quirks the product of childhood trauma?
He startled a bit when Jun Cheng leaned towards him but still got his eyes on the screen as if he wasn’t able to look away from what was unfolding in the drama.
“So the good twin was the evil twin all along because he replaced the good twin five years ago without anyone noticing but the good twin is back now and is the evil twin while the original evil twin isn’t anymore because he got changed by love?”
“Wait, why is it over now?”
Lin Xun saw the credits rolling and took the remote control to switch the TV off. “Because it’s one forty-minute episode and now we have to wait for the next one.”
“When will the next one air?”
Lin Xun stood up to go to the bathroom and smiled when Jun Cheng yelled after him: “Does that mean we only get two episodes per week?”
It wasn’t as good as throwing Jun Cheng out of his house but maybe the next best thing. Which told him enough about his own inability to be consequent and mean. Still, it was a good start to let Jun Cheng stew over the fact that he had to wait for another episode for two more days. Maybe he wanted to watch the drama on a bigger screen and decided to get back to his own flat again? One could dream.
“Isn’t the couch uncomfortable?”, Lin Xun asked, a last check on Jun Cheng before he would go to his own bedroom. The third night since Jun Cheng had made himself home on his couch and it looked like it was comfy, but Lin Xun knew that it wasn’t made for sleeping on it for a longer time. Jun Cheng was already laying down, a soft-looking blanket on his legs and Lin Xun knew it wasn’t one he bought. Was Jun Cheng stealthily adding his stuff into his house?
“You got a toothpaste spot there,” Jun Cheng said instead of answering and Lin Xun looked down and rubbed self-consciously at the spot on his shirt.
“Don’t change the subject. When are you leaving? This isn’t good for your back; I know from experience.”
Jun Cheng just looked at him and then sighed. “You’re really too nice for this world,” he mumbled and went back to highlight some paragraphs on his Tablet. Lin Xun frowned.
“No worries, I will survive this couch.”
Lin Xun wanted to say that he didn’t worry… but he actually did but he was also too tired to argue with Jun Cheng who seemingly had an answer for everything. Without another word he turned around and went into his bedroom.
Jun Cheng was such a contrasting combination of character traits, every time something new came to light about him Lin Xun had to adjust his worldview.
He was an excellent fighter but looked like he would break down if his suit got dirty. He had no idea about the costs of living, no idea how normal people lived, but was as involved in his little brother’s lives as a mama bear. If Lin Xun was honest with himself, he liked how protective and fond Jun Chen was of his brothers, and he really wasn’t bad to look at and…
“Don’t think positive thoughts about him!”, he scolded himself and climbed under his covers. Jun Chen was in his house, was an intruder and needed to go. Lin Xun didn’t want him as a brother nor some kind of faux-employee. Why did Jun Cheng even want him to work for him? To have some emotional pressure on his father? Lin Xun wasn’t going to be used like that.
Lin Xun shuffled through the flat the next day, a bit disorientated because he had dreamed a weird dream and at some point, Jun Cheng had revealed himself as his evil twin and that would have woken everyone up.
The smell of coffee was already wavering through the house and he grunted something like a good morning when he saw Jun Cheng, who again, was sitting prim and proper at the table with the newspapers in front of him. When did he style his hair? Where did he wash up? Was there a mobile home parked two streets over with a shower and his wardrobe? Even his skin glowed as if he had found the time to put on a facemask.
“You should hurry up.”
Lin Xun sat down and stared at Jun Cheng because he had no idea what his words meant.
“I should what?”, he asked, his voice still rough from sleep. It wasn’t good for him to be confronted with a fresh-looking Jun Cheng so early in the morning. His brain wasn’t able to handle the lurch in his stomach at that sight. He yawned and bent his back to curl his upper body around his knees and how late was it anyway?
“It’s Tuesday,” Jun Cheng answered as if he had asked out loud. “Xiao Rong and Jun Peng will be here any minute now.”
Lin Xun wanted to lay his head down on the table, but he needed to concentrate on the nonsense that was coming out of Jun Cheng’s mouth.
“You don’t make sense,” he told him and saw that there was a full cup of coffee in front of him. Was this for him?
“It’s Tuesday,” Jun Cheng repeated as if that would make more sense the second time around. “It’s your study day. You don’t go to any of your part-time jobs on Tuesday because you don’t want to have to catch up too much when you get back to college this fall.”
Lin Xun, who had cradled the mug in his hands stared at Jun Cheng with an open mouth.
“Did you implant a chip in my head?”
Jun Cheng rolled his eyes at him. “People listen when you trade your life story with Yue Rong’s.”
Oh. Lin Xun had forgotten that Jun Cheng had been present when he had talked to Yue Rong about his college plans.
“And why are they coming?”
“To pick you up of course.”
Of course. Lin Xun found himself in the back of a black limo half an hour later and told himself that it had been the element of surprise and that he was a too polite person to just say no when Jun Ping and Yue Rong had suddenly stood in his living room. He wasn’t even fully awake yet.
They led him to the popular part of the library where the little café was located and Lin Xun knew from experience that it was impossible to get a table in that corner, no matter the time. But why did he even doubt the power of the Yuan’s, he thought as Jun Ping and Yue Rong walked purposefully towards a free table. As if it had waited for them.
They sat down and Lin Xun sighed. He gave up. This might as well happen. He took his books out of his backpack but just stared at the word in front of him for some time. He had to get something off his chest before he could start to study.
He raised his head and eyed his juniors.
“Jun Cheng is a bully,” he declared, and they looked at him, confused. They glanced at each other and then Jun Ping snapped with his fingers. “You’re right! He kind of is a bully.” It didn’t sound like it bothered him.
“Since when are you addressing Hyung-nim informal?”, Yue Rong asked and not for the first time Lin Xun thought that Yue Rong’s priorities were all jumbled-up.
“He’s driving my energy bill up; I’m entitled to informal addressing.” Lin Xun went back to his book with a shake of his head.
As he worked steadily through his assignments Jun Ping drew what seemed like sneakers with horns in the middle of a raging fire on his paper and while Yue Rong looked like he typed diligently on his laptop he was on a forum for some fantasy trilogy. This was the weirdest study group he had ever been part of but the spot they were sitting at was nice, the internet connection was steady, and he always had a coffee in front of him.
“We should take a break and eat something.”
Lin Xun looked up and in the expectant faces of Yue Rong and Jun Ping and then at his phone and he gasped in shock when he saw that he had worked for almost four hours without any kind of interruption. Had his juniors really just sat there and made sure he had enough caffeine intact while not uttering a word to disrupt him? They still stared at him as if he were the one calling the shots and he quickly nodded as his stomach growled in anticipation of food.
“What do you mean exactly when you say: “eat something”? Do you mean it in the normal way of people who go to the next food stall or restaurant? Or in a weird rich people way and we will suddenly sit on the rooftop of a four-star hotel while people want me to eat lobster?”
Yue Rong and Jun Ping stared at him.
“I actually know a four-star hotel with a rooftop-restaurant and—”, Jun Ping started but Lin Xun interrupted him quickly. “Nope.” He even shook his head vehemently while he shouldered his bag. “I will show you where you get the best meat buns around here.”
“Were you able to get everything done?”
This time, Jun Cheng was occupying the round table, stacks of papers hovering dangerously close on the edge of it, his laptop on a wooden shelf – again something Jun Cheng wouldn’t have found in Lin Xun’s possession – and Lin Xun eyed the XXL cup of iced americano next to Jun Cheng’s elbow.
“I guess,” he answered and put his bag on the couch. He felt energized and… happy. It had been fun to spend the rest of the day with Jun Ping and Yue Rong. He had almost forgotten how it was to be around fellow students. Especially in their college, no one knew what financial hardship was, so he had lost some of the friends he had made in his first year. He didn’t really care about it now, but it stung a bit when he thought about how they had put him aside so carelessly and easily.
“You could spend your days like this all the time if you would accept our offer,” Jun Cheng said, a bit distracted, his fingers typing away on his keyboard. Lin Xun didn’t even roll his eyes anymore. At least he wasn’t using the word brother this time.
“No, thank you,” he said anyway. Jun Cheng didn’t listen.
He did ask at least once a day if Lin Xun considered the idea of being adopted by the Yuan’s but more and more it lacked any kind of pressure. Lin Xun had the feeling that if he waited this out Jun Cheng would forget about it. Which would also be the time when he would start demanding rent from him. Jun Cheng did buy all the food, yes, but he was sneaky and fast about it and Lin Xun had abandoned his habit of bringing some buns or skewers home because the last ones disappeared as if by magic and Jung Cheng didn’t even blink an eye when he was lying about throwing them away.
Still, Lin Xun kept a list with all the food expenses lest Jun Cheng demanding something for feeding him. Jun Cheng might look like a tame house cat at the moment, but Lin Xun knew that he was not to be trusted.
He threw Jun Cheng one last look, and then decided against vacuuming just to annoy him and, with a big smile, let himself fall on the couch.
This was nice, he thought while he stretched himself. He had started to poke Jun Cheng with his toes while he sat on the couch and the silent warfare had payed-off with Jun Cheng moving to the table. Which meant that Lin Xun couldn’t use the table anymore…they really needed an office…
His eyes strayed towards the door none of them had touched the whole time Jun Cheng had been living here. A stone settled cold and heavy in his stomach and his heart pounded wildly.
His mum's room.
Jun Cheng had never asked what was behind the closed door and Lin Xun was thankful about it. He had kind of ignored that it was even there. The thought too painful. He looked at Jun Cheng, who was still frowning at his work and slowly stood up from the couch. It was bad to abandon the room completely, he thought. Dust would settle on the comforter she had liked so much and the antique nightstand they had bought at a night marked together.
He pressed the door handle and peeked inside the room. Dust particles were dancing in the sunrays and he knew he imagined it, but he was sure to smell her perfume.
He had no idea how long he stood in the doorway but he was woken from his thoughts when he heard Jun Cheng’s feet on the floor and had the sudden urge to close the door, to not let Jun Cheng see his mother’s room. Was it protectiveness? Deep down he knew that Jun Cheng wasn’t like his father, but he still was so persistent about this whole “come into the fold of the family” thing that it felt like a betrayal to his mother to let Jun Cheng see this private part of her. She had been stubborn about her fight with Lao Yuan, hid from him, what if she wanted to stay hidden? Even in death?
Lin Xun startled a bit when Jun Cheng suddenly started to talk.
“The rooms of my mother are untouched to this day,” he said, and Lin Xun couldn’t tell if he frowned because he was angry about it or if he was just in thoughts. “My grandfather can’t let go I guess.”
“I don’t know what I should do with her things either,” Lin Xun said with a tight feeling in his throat. He thought about keeping some of her favourite clothes, but then? He wouldn’t wear them and hanging them up seemed a bit morbid. “I want to remember her…” but he had no idea how. He just knew that he couldn’t touch this room, her stuff. It wasn’t in him to go through them at this point.
“Moving on is a process, too,” Jun Cheng said, and Lin Xun looked at him. He stared inside the room but didn’t seem to see any of it. He had a farewell look on his face, he wasn’t here with his thoughts, not in this house, not even in this country. “In a way, my grandfather won’t let her move on. He keeps her stuff as if she would return to them, ignoring her dead in a way that feels… wrong? She deserves to rest in peace, isn’t that how the saying goes? But forcing her presence back into the house doesn’t feel very peaceful to me.” Jun Cheng’s eyes focused again, and he returned Lin Xun’s startled look. He shrugged and if felt like it was the first time he had been allowed to give his opinion on the matter of his mother’s belongings.
What a pair they made, Lin Xun thought, his heart pounding wildly, the reason completely different from before, and he carefully, slowly closed the door to his mum’s room. He leaned against it and in Jun Cheng’s raised eyebrow laid a question, but he didn’t feel like answering it.
“I’m hungry,” he said, “what about ordering from the restaurant over—”
“I’m ordering food. Do you know what that deep-fried stuff would do to your heart?”
Jun Cheng really was the first person who could make it sound like deep-fried was the word of the devil. Lin Xun chuckled and followed Jun Cheng while drowning out his rant.
Lin Xun walked into his bedroom and flopped down on his bed, immediately laying down on it diagonally. He didn’t care. He would just sleep like this.
“What are you doing?”
Lin Xun thought that a tired groan was answer enough but Jun Cheng had this weird trait of staring at him until it felt like a laser beam was cutting his skin open and with an annoyed sound Lin Xun opened his eyes and looked at Jun Cheng.
“That’s my question.”
“I’m tired. I’m going to sleep, please let me sleep.”
“Stop saying stuff as if it supposed to mean something. I have no idea what you mean.” Lin Xun rolled on his belly with another groan and decided this was the perfect position to just fall into a deep coma. He had no idea why it was so exhausting to tutor a bunch of ten-year-olds but the sessions on Thursdays left him with bone-deep tiredness and a buzz in his head that didn’t leave much room for his own thoughts. He opened one eye, the other squashed into his mattress, as he heard Jun Cheng’s soft footsteps on his floor.
Jun Cheng had never been this far in his bedroom. He mostly moved around the living room, the bathroom and the kitchen. An intruder who was strangely shy about adventuring deeper into Lin Xun’s privacy.
“The drama,” Jun Cheng said and the frown he threw him made Lin Xun feel like he had made a promise and was about to break it.
Drama? Oh… yes. The evil twins. He rolled back on his back and waved aimlessly at Jun Cheng.
“I’m coming. I’m coming.”
Later, as he was snuggled in the corner of his couch, the soft blanket on his legs because he was going to steal the good stuff Jun Cheng was smuggling into his house, he fought against his tiredness. His eyes were almost closed and just the entertainment that was Jun Cheng who commented on everything and was really appalled at some of the writing choices kept him awake.
At one point, Jun Cheng sat at the edge of the couch, his elbows on his thighs, his hands clasped in front of his mouth, a look of utter shock on his face.
Lin Xun had no idea why he was so transfixed on a show that obviously was based on the stuff the Yuan family was clearly up to on a daily basis. Or was Jun Cheng so fascinated because it was like looking in a mirror? At least he learned some interesting Korean curses, he thought with a soft giggle and as someone on the screen admitted of poising someone he drifted off into sleep.
Lin Xun woke up, disorientated. Light from the streetlamp shone into his room and the silence of the world told him it was in the middle of the night. Hadn’t he watched the drama together with Jun Cheng in the living room? He sat up and something soft and warm slid from his shoulders and pooled in his lap.
After he switched the lamp on his nightstand on, he realized it wasn’t a blanket but a cardigan. Woolly, a brownish-mustard colour and definitely not one of his. He owned a lot of cardigans but not this one, but he still slipped it on as he climbed out of bed. It was oversized, but fitting around his shoulders and it had pockets to bury his hands in.
He loved it instantly.
He strained his ears, but the house was silent.
When he sneaked into the living room, he heard Jun Cheng’s breathing on the verge of snoring. He laid on his back, one arm tangled from the couch, the other laid on his chest. He had kicked his blanket off and for a moment Lin Xun could only stare at him. It was the first time he saw Jun Cheng in something else than his business style. But the pyjama he wore looked expensive too. Something bubbled up in Lin Xun, something foreign and a bit frightening, as he looked at Jun Cheng’s peaceful face. Had he really carried him to bed? Had he really bought a cardigan for him? Why was this man still in his home and slept on an uncomfortable couch?
He needed answers, he decided and moved quickly and silently, putting the blanket back on Jun Cheng. He knew that Jun Cheng wouldn’t give them to him, so he planned a different approach.
On the next Tuesday, after their study date, Lin Xun took Jun Ping to the side. “I have a favour to ask,” he said to him and saw how the boys glanced at each other. And then he huffed when Jun Ping as if that was all everyone ever wanted from him, took his phone out of his bag and asked him which money transferring app he preferred.
“I don’t need money,” he said and shoved both along through the corridors of their college. “I just need the code for Jun Cheng’s apartment.”
Maybe Jun Cheng had had a point when he had mocked Lin Xun for bringing an unfamiliar man into his house, Lin Xun thought later when Jun Ping and Yue Rong not only gave him the code but drove him to Jun Cheng’s apartment, too. All three of them really deserved another stranger-danger talk from Jun Cheng.
The apartment looked like he remembered it. A modern interior design, a bit cold, a bit impersonal, as if someone had copied the inside of a luxurious hotel room. Not that Lin Xun had ever been in one, but he had seen ads.
There were clothes in the wardrobe, toiletries in the bathroom and Lin Xun understood that with Jun Cheng travelling so much it was normal that it could feel like he lived out of a suitcase but…
Lin Xun stood in the middle of the living room and frowned. He could never live like this. No photos, no knickknacks, nothing personal and Lin Xun knew that Jun Cheng had personality. More quirks and annoying habits than one should have in his opinion but there was nothing here that reflected that. Lin Xun’s flat was smaller than this apartment by far but at least it felt like home.
Was this what this was all about?
It was night when he walked up the little hill to his house and he felt a mild wind against his face. He breathed the sweet air in for several minutes and he saw that the light in his living room was on. He raised his hand to rub the skin over his heart. It ached.
He knew he was attracted to men. And to Jun Cheng in particular. The moment they had crashed into each other Lin Xun hadn’t been able to let him run off. Something had clenched inside him when he had seen the bruises on his stupidly attractive face. And then he had opened his mouth and he had been afraid and had tried to hide it, had even been afraid of Lin Xun, a total stranger who just had been kind to him.
Crushed on men wasn’t something new to him but he had never felt so attached to someone who had pressed him back into the couch, had threatened him with bodily harm and had kidnapped him because he had felt pressured to fulfil the wishes of his father and grandfather. How did it feel to still crave the approval of a man while trying to fight against it because of guilt and grieve for someone else? Lin Xun was overwhelmed with sadness because of his mum on the best of days and Jun Cheng was still out there trying to prove that he was a good son and grandson without getting crushed by his anger and resentment.
Lin Xun sat down on the top of the stairs and leaned back against the front door of his house.
Was this about revenge? About moving on? About loneliness?
“Whoa!” The door behind him opened suddenly and he fell backwards onto the ground with a painful thud.
“Why are you sitting there?”, Jun Cheng asked, looking down on him as if it was perfectly normal for him to be in Lin Xun’s house as if it was perfectly normal that he wore comfy house-shoes and something that Lin Xun called his casual turtleneck. Lin Xun stared up at him and it wasn’t the fall that left him breathless.
Oh, this was definitely a case of Stockholm Syndrome, he thought with hysteria bubbling up in his throat.
“I’m home,” he declared and rose, his face flushed. His bag slid down his arm and almost made him topple into Jun Cheng, but he was able to sidestep him and quickly got rid of his shoes.
“How as the study session?”, Jun Cheng asked, and Lin Xun stopped in his tracks. Was there suspicion in Jun Cheng’s tone? Did he know Jun Ping and Yue Rong had driven him to his apartment?
“Good,” he said and threw the bag in the direction of the couch. “I’m going to take a shower,” he yelled and didn’t wait for a reply before he closed the bathroom door behind him and locked it.
His hair was dishevelled, his pupils blown wide and he felt like the blush on his cheeks would tell everyone about his state of mind. Which was that he hadn’t suppressed his crush on Jun Cheng as thoroughly as he had thought. Shouldn’t it be enough to have a “we could have been brothers” scare together with a “why are you such an asshole?” to get rid of something like that?
Jun Cheng was filling his home with food and soft blankets. He had a favour for muted colours in grey and blue and picked out the mushrooms from every meal. He had a distinctive wrinkle on his forehead whenever he frowned, that only appeared when he was staring at his laptop screen. He preferred the newspaper in its paper form instead of checking the news online. He acted way older than he was, while he was addicted to daily soaps and Lin Xun knew, even though he hadn’t caught him yet, that he watched the spin-off drama every Wednesday too. He loved his brother’s fiercely while trying to act like he didn’t care, to protect them.
Lin Xun sat down on the toilet seat and sighed. This was going to be a problem… or maybe not. He frowned. Jun Cheng had never made a comment about romantic relationships, had never asked Lin Xun about a love interest and when there was a kissing scene in the drama or some tension, he had only shown mild interest in it. He was much more interested in the declarations of betrayal and treason. Which was – maybe – another sad fact about his life so far.
Lin Xun remembered his first crush on a girl in his class in middle school. They had never kissed, only had shyly held hands until she had broken up with him via a tiny piece of paper. He never had a serious relationship before… how did one even flirt or make his intentions clear? All he had done was studying and then had looked after his mum while working.
He started the shower while he still sat on the toilet seat and let the warm steam fill the little room. If Jun Cheng wanted him as a brother, even an adopted one, he surely had no romantic feelings for him, right?
If he would confess, would Jun Cheng go?
That was… not what he wanted he realized. How long had Jun Cheng been here? Two weeks? Four weeks? Long enough to make it feel like they had lived together a lot longer, long enough for Lin Xun to feel bereft at the thought that Jun Cheng would go. Not only bereft, devasted, he had to admit. But there was a difference. He wanted the Jun Cheng gone that wanted him as a brother, he wanted the Jun Cheng who made his house feel like a home again to stay. The Jun Cheng who made it possible for him to study, who made him less worry about what he could eat after he worked all day. The Jun Cheng who kept his house clean and made him lay down to watch a silly drama. The Jun Cheng who had a cup of coffee ready for him whenever he woke up.
“Oh, this sucks,” he whispered. Did he have to confess? Should he hide his feelings until Jun Cheng would go on his own crushing his heart at the same time? Should he play along with the adopting thing just to be close to Jun Cheng?
He buried his face in his hands while the steam misted the mirror over.
Lin Xun raised one arm to block the sun from shining directly into his eyes and squinted at the selection of meat skewers on the grill. There were glazed ones and fried ones and all of them looked delicious.
“Two of the fried chicken,” he ordered and paid. He bit into the juicy meat as soon as he put his money away and searched for a place in the shadows to get away from the persistent afternoon sun.
One week since he had had the big revelation about his feelings and he still had no idea what to do.
It was Tuesday again and he took a break from whatever Yue Rong and Jun Pin were up to. Something had changed between them and when his foot had been tangled up with their feet under the table, doing some kind of footsie thing he had decided it was time for a break.
Should he go home for good? Maybe he would catch Jun Cheng doing something else than sitting around in tight clothes working. Maybe he would find out if Jun Cheng used his bathroom or vacuumed. Or he would see which cleaning service he was hiring while Lin Xun wasn’t home.
He looked around for a trashcan and then, out of nowhere, he felt breath against his ear.
“Ai!” Lin Xun spun around, his hand raised and jerked back when his arm was held up before it could collide with Jun Cheng’s face. He blinked and blinked at Jun Cheng who had raised an eyebrow at him, clearly unimpressed with his attempt at defending himself and for a moment Lin Xun wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to have a normal heartbeat again.
“What?”, he asked, breathlessly. “What are you doing here?”
Jun Cheng let go of his arm, slowly. “Picking you up.”
“What?”, Lin Xun asked again and then shook his head. He felt like the world had taken a spin and he needed to get his footing back. “Why? Yue Rong and Jun Ping are supposed to drive me home.”
Jun Cheng did look even more unimpressed.
“Did you hit your head? I’m just going to message them you’re heading home with me. Or do you have something else to do?”
“No.” But Lin Xun wasn’t sure if his no shouldn’t have a question mark behind it because the last thing he would have thought of was that Jun Cheng would appear out of nowhere to pick him up.
“Are you here because you flared off my house?”
Jun Cheng snipped him against the forehead.
“Stop talking nonsense and come.”
Lin Xun pouted. “I need a trashcan first.” Jun Cheng’s sudden appearance had caught him completely by surprise and he wasn’t sure if he should climb into a car together with him because you may never know if you were really driving home or if he had a sudden weird inclination and kidnapped you again. If Jun Cheng was bringing him to the Yuan Bank headquarters he was going to jump out of the car and run away. Ha!
And Jun Cheng could have just told him that he was being his ridiculous self because it wasn’t nice to be grabbed by the hand, dragged into the nearest ally, and pressed against the hard wall there.
“What are you doi—"
Jun Cheng put his hand over his mouth and Lin Xun gaped at him in outrage… which would have a better effect if Jun Cheng could see it.
Jun Cheng didn’t even look at him, but he was close. Too close. Almost pressed against Lin Xun with his whole body and it already was a warm day but Lin Xun felt hot flushes rushing through his body. Jun Cheng’s face, his dark eyes, his mouth, his lips, even his damn lashes were too close! Lin Xun was able to hear his blood pumping in his ears and when Jun Cheng slowly put his hand away and stepped back Lin Xun stayed glued to the wall.
“He’s gone. I don’t think he has seen us.”
Lin Xun had trouble registering what Jun Cheng had said and what he meant by it and if the wall decided to just swallow him, he would be eternally grateful for it.
“Who?”, he asked after Jun Cheng just looked at him with a raised eyebrow which told him that he was pressing himself against the wall for far too long now.
“My father,” Jun Cheng said. “We were able to keep it a secret that you’re coming to the study sessions together with Xiao Rong and Jun Ping but apparently he found out now.”
“You kept it a secret?” Lin Xun was baffled. He had thought the idea of Jun Cheng moving into his house was something he had talked to with his father.
“Of course.” Jun Cheng scoffed. “I don’t want you in his clutches.” He walked out of the ally and Lin Xun hurried to follow him. He couldn’t help it, but he needed to find out what exactly was going on here.
“Your father doesn’t know where you live at the moment?”
Jun Cheng frowned at him then he pointed towards his car and opened the passenger side for Lin Xun.
“I’m not even sure he ever knew where I live. He always makes us visit him at his office or his home.”
Lin Xun’s lips formed an oh but he was still confused. It had sounded like Jun Cheng had operated on the orders of his father but now it wasn’t so? What had Jun Cheng meant when he had used phrases like “we want you to” or “work for us”?
“Seatbelt,” Jun Cheng said and with his mind occupied with the current events, Lin Xun fumbled a bit around until he was buckled on.
“But… But… I thought you work with your father?”
“I do, sometimes, yeah but the Korean branch is mostly…”
Jun Cheng brought the car to a halt in front of a red light and looked at him. Lin Xun rubbed his hands over his face in frustration and maybe he should change his major to something technical because he was sure he needed to invent a translator for Jun Cheng.
“What I meant was: I thought you and your father decided together that you would move into my home to convince me to get adopted by him,” he said slowly and while he talked Jun Cheng’s lips formed his words in repetition and reared back with an offended expression on his face when he seemed to have understood what Lin Xun meant.
“We are opponents. Opponents.” He snorted in outrage and started to drive again as the lights turned green. “As if I would just hand you over to him. You’re mine, he’s not getting even a hair strand from you.”
“I am yours?”, Lin Xun asked to be absolutely sure he had heard right. He told his heart to calm itself, but calmness was already out the window.
“Yes,” Jun Cheng confirmed with a sureness in his voice that made Lin Xun blink at him in confusion, bewilderment, and a little bit of awe.
“What do you mean exactly when…”
Jun Cheng’s phone began to ring and as he accepted the call from Jun Ping Lin Xun wanted to tear his hair out.
Did Jun Cheng’s statement have a romantic context? Or was it some kind of ownership feeling, and he just wanted to be ahead of his father? He couldn’t even make Jun Cheng drunk to get a decent answer because he would pass out after one sip of alcohol.
“Help me with the groceries,” Jun Cheng said what felt like just a few seconds later but Lin Xun realized that he had been in his head for so long, he hadn’t realized they were already home.
“Yes,” Jun Cheng said and then looked at him as if he wanted to dare him to say something against it. “I’m going to cook today.”
Which was why Lin Xun balanced three grocery bags over the stairs and into his flat and got ushered out of the kitchen while Jun Cheng put an apron on that still had the folding wrinkles that’s how new it was.
“You can sit down on the table and cut the vegetables. Make yourself useful.”
“It’s my kitchen, that’s useful enough,” Lin Xun complained, “I already ate some meat what do you want to cook anyway?”
“Beef noodle soup,” was Jun Cheng’s short answer before he went back into the kitchen and Lin Xun gaped at the empty air.
“Why do you want to make beef noodle soup? It’s too hot for that!”
“Why do you think I’m going to make it?”, Jun Cheng yelled back. “It’s my first time. I want to have it perfected when it’s cold.”
Changing major, Lin Xun thought as he pulled a bundle of spring onions out of one bag. He was definitely changing majors and then he was going to create a device, so he was able to understand what Jun Cheng was saying to him.
Perfecting beef noodle soup.
With the spring onions in one hand and a knife in the other, he quickly walked into the kitchen.
“What are you doing? Put that knife away!”, Jun Cheng said when he saw him, and Lin Xun took him in. With his perfectly ironed button-down. The slippers on his feet, the apron with the logo of a designer label on it. His tablet stood on the kitchen counter with a recipe open on it, an assortment of ingredients and tools laid next to it. Jun Cheng was clearly prepared. He frowned at Lin Xun and eyed the knife warily and Lin Xun put it quickly on the counter next to the tablet.
“Did I hear that right? You plan to stay here at least until winter?”
“Why?”, Jun Cheng asked back and put a pot on the stove. “If you suggest I should wait until then to make the soup that’s a stupid idea.”
“No. That’s not what I’m suggesting,” Lin Xun said slowly then, as slowly, took Jun Cheng by the shoulders to turn him towards him. Maybe, he thought with a wild pounding heart, maybe the signs had always been there, and he just had been slow to read Jun Cheng’s love language.
“Jun Cheng,” he asked and knew he had to be so bold otherwise this would go on for years. “Jun Cheng, are you in love with me?”
Jun Cheng stared at him. He seemed frozen, but then started to splutter.
“What are you… I’m… what?”
Before Lin Xun could say anything else Jun Cheng brushed off his arms and quickly walked past him and Lin Xun heard how the bathroom door opened and closed. Lin Xun sighed and followed him.
“Are you hiding in the bathroom?”, he asked after he had knocked. Silence answered him.
“You have to come out of there eventually, you know? That room has no window.”
“This was never about me becoming a Yuan, right? Are you that bad at normal flirting?”
Who moved into someone’s home to get close to them? No wonder Jun Cheng loved those dramas so much. It was the same nonsense that was his brain. What happened to ask someone out for dinner?
“I’m not bad at flirting”, Jun Cheng finally said and even though his voice was muffled through the door Lin Xun could hear his offence. Lin Xun wanted to point at his house as a whole, the blankets on the couch, where Jun Cheng slept. The stuff in the kitchen where Jun Cheng wanted to get perfect at making a traditional Taiwanese dish.
“Would you have said something eventually?”, Lin Xun asked. “Or is this some kind of five-year plan?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”, Jun Cheng snapped while tearing the door open. There was a blush high on his cheeks and Lin Xun was enamoured by it. He had no idea Jun Cheng was able to blush.
“I’m not the one being ridiculous,” he said, solemn and calm because he had the feeling that was the best way to deal with an embarrassed Jun Cheng.
After a full minute of Jun Cheng saying nothing else and avoiding eye contact, Lin Xun realized that an embarrassed Jun Cheng also meant silence and he sighed in mock annoyance.
“I’m going to kiss you now,” he said, and Jun Cheng finally looked at him, shocked, mouth open, blushing intensified. Then… as if the real Jun Cheng crawled his way back to the forefront of his mind, he lifted his chin and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Go on,” he said, looking like the textbook spoiled son of a CEO from the dramas he loved so much and Lin Xun had to smile and put that smile on Jun Cheng’s lips as he kissed him. He felt the knot of the apron on Jun Cheng’s back as he put his arms around him, his mouth soft and yielding under his and he felt what had pooled warm and soothing for a long time now in his belly since Jun Cheng had moved into his home.
He pulled Jun Cheng closer and had to smile again because with his personality and behaviour Jun Cheng always seemed taller than he actually was, and Lin Xun hid his smile against Jun Cheng’s temple as he hugged him tightly.
“Took you long enough,” Jun Cheng murmured and maybe, yes, maybe Lin Xun had needed some time to read Jun Cheng’s signs of utter adoration. But, in his defence, Jun Cheng was an extremely difficult code to decipher.
Lin Xun opened the door, slid out of his shoes, and yelled: “I’m home.”
No answer. He put his bag on the floor and peeked over the couch at a sleeping Jun Cheng. He had his tablet on his chest, some documents had fallen to the floor and his mouth was slightly open, breathing peacefully. Slowly, Lin Xun took the tablet and just for one second thought about letting Jun Cheng sleep but quickly disregarded the idea. Instead, he made his way around the couch and laid down on Jun Cheng, burying his face against his shoulder and smiled into the fabric of his button-down when Jun Cheng’s arm came around to lay around his waist, a thumb finding its way under his shirt to caress his skin.
“I’m home,” Lin Xun mumbled again and Jun Cheng mhmed.