“He’s back,” Turan whispered.
“And wearing yet another new suit,” Poisson replied and then, louder, said, “Good morning, Headmaster Lu. The usual?”
“Morning!” came a cheerful and by now very familiar voice that made the corners of Lin Jingheng’s lips twitch despite himself.
It started about two months ago.
Turan barged in wet and dishevelled; the rain had plastered the two ridiculous wisps of hair she kept longer than the rest to her cheeks. It was a proper downpour outside, and the drenched Turan dripped water all over the floor.
“Turan!” Bayer shrieked and ran over with a mop in hand. “I just finished cleaning! At least shake out your umbrella!” He tried to usher her back outside, but Turan grabbed the mop and held it out in front of her like a sword she was ready to impale Bayer on.
“Away, fiend! I’m not going back out there! It’s just water, what’s the problem?”
Liu Yuanzhong passed by with a stack of flyers for some engineering competition that he distributed to the tables and pointedly looked at the muddy footprints Turan was leaving in her wake. She rolled her eyes at him.
“Fine, fine, I’ll clean up.”
Lin Jingheng, who was preparing the till, rolled his eyes. That the café had managed to stay in business for this long despite being operated by such a chaos crew could only be attributed to its exceptional leadership.
“Ah, Commander!” Turan trudged over, apparently determined to make cleaning worthwhile by making the whole floor muddy first. “Maybe we should hire a cleaner, what do you say? We’ve been making a good profit lately, surely it’s no trouble to hire– oof!”
Lin Jingheng threw a dishtowel at her face. “Get on with it. We’ll open in thirty minutes.”
Turan muttered some incomprehensible but definitely vulgar things before starting to wipe the floor. Meanwhile Thomas came out of the kitchen, carrying a large tray of freshly baked goods.
“Done and done! Commander, should I arrange them?”
“No. Let Anakin do it. Last time your ‘arrangement’ was simply throwing them into the display.”
Thomas pouted a bit but handed the tray over to Anakin before retreating back into his kitchen, no doubt to sulk over the Commander’s bad temper.
Like this, café Silver Ten was slowly getting ready for business. It had the great advantage of being the only proper café on Starry Sea Academy’s campus, which meant that them going out of business was about as likely as an attack of intergalactic pirates. Which, so Lin Jingheng hoped, was very unlikely.
At 8AM sharp, Poisson turned the sign from Closed to Open, and immediately two students pushed past him into the warm interior of the café.
The day began.
It was just as stressful as on all other days, with the morning hours being the busiest. Lin Jingheng could barely catch a breath and Turan next to him didn’t fare any better. She did her best to keep her customer-service-face in place as she took one order after the other, smiled, and wished unrested students a successful day.
When looking at the two lines in front of the counter, it was easy to think that the café had some weird gender-division thing going on. One line, namely Turan’s, consisted mostly of males, while the women were queuing up in front of Lin Jingheng. That had probably something to do with the fact that Turan was always a lot friendlier towards male customers, even scribbling her number on the cup when one in particular caught her eye. Meanwhile, Lin Jingheng had to deal with smiling and giggling girls who didn’t seem put off by the fact that he didn’t bother with a smile. Or a friendly attitude. Or even the effort to write down their names correctly.
Poisson had once suggested for Lin Jingheng to exclusively take care of preparing drinks because the commander couldn’t muster up a smile in front of the customers for the life of him. That idea got quicky scrapped, however, because the patrons kept asking for the “charming barista from last time”, which promptly put Lin Jingheng back on counter-duty.
Whatever, the alleged charming barista thought now as he wrote down two characters that may or may not constitute the name of the girl who had just ordered an Eden Special (Turan was responsible for naming all their drinks, and Lin Jingheng had to this day no idea where she got her ideas from). He glanced at the name again, somewhat certain that Red Idiot wasn’t right, but he didn’t have time to think about radicals now.
“Thank you, Commander!” the girl smiled when he handed her the drink. “This looks very good, I really–“
“Next!” Lin Jingheng yelled and turned his back towards her. The queue was far too long to engage in mindless small talk.
Turan, currently engaging in mindless small talk with some objectively attractive guy, grinned at the girl and winked. “Don’t bother with the Commander!”
Yet another stupid thing she was responsible for. At some point, she had started calling him Commander, claiming that, with his temper, he was more suited to leading an intergalactic army than a quaint little café. Somehow, it had stuck.
The Commander turned to the next in line. “Order?”
“And a good morning to you, too!”
Lin Jingheng looked at the customer’s face. There was a man in his queue. It was one of the typical pretty boys normally found in Turan’s line. He wore a brown suit and a bright smile which he accompanied with a friendly twinkle in his eyes. Lin Jingheng found him irritating.
“Order?” he repeated.
“Hmmm…” the young man hummed and looked at the menu. “What would you recommend?”
Lin Jingheng narrowed his eyes. These were the worst kind of customers – the indecisive ones.
“They’re all good,” he said gruffly because the last time he had said “I don’t care for any of this stuff, I exclusively drink black coffee”, Poisson had scolded him for bad advertising.
“Then I’ll take a Rainbow Virus. Extra sugar, please.”
Lin Jingheng narrowed his eyes further. The Rainbow Virus was something Turan and Bayer had concocted on a memorable night, when the two of them had gotten drunk in the café after closing hours. Curiously, it had become somewhat of a staple on the menu. The drink was half milk, half syrup (one squirt of every possible kind), both chocolate and caramel sauce, cream, and a tiny slug of coffee. In Lin Lingheng’s humble opinion, it was simply dreadful. But the customer was always right, something Poisson loved to remind him of.
“Name?” he asked.
The young man beamed. That smile was so wide and honest that it brightened the man’s entire face and even seemed to warm the air around him. The deep frown, permanently etched between Lin Jingheng’s brows, smoothed out ever so slightly.
“Lu Bixing! Bixing as in–“
But Lin Jingheng was already scribbling. If he waited for everyone to spell out their name in detail, he’d go out of business in two days. Then he turned around and started preparing the absolute abomination of a drink.
“My students are constantly going on about this amazing café, so I finally had to take a look for myself. It’s really very nice,” Lu Bixing said. Lin Jingheng grunted.
“I like the décor. A bit…spacey, right? And then you must be the Commander?”
“Mmh.” How were there ten squirts of syrup in this drink? Lin Jingheng shuddered.
“Honestly, at first I couldn’t imagine why everyone would get so excited about a simple café, but now I think I understand.”
“Don’t bother, Mr. Lu! He’ll never get it,” Turan chipped in jovially. “He thinks he’s so smart, but he still doesn’t see why–“
Lin Jingheng saw her salute out of the corner of his eyes, and she returned to her task. He finished the disgusting excuse for a drink and handed it to Lu Bixing.
“Thank you so much! Oh wow, that’s not even close.”
“My name,” Lu Bixing pointed at the scribbled characters. “But I like your version. Avoid punishment. I’m very good at that. My students, less so.” He grinned, again that bright and honest smile that made a part of Lin Jingheng want to smile back. Luckily, that part was easily smothered.
“You’re a teacher?”
Turan gasped. A clattering sound came from the kitchen. Poisson bumped against a chair. “The Commander asked a question,” Bayer said with shock.
Lin Jingheng wanted to fire them all.
“I am! Headmaster, actually. And I appreciate all you do for the academy! Without you and your caffeinated beverages, the dropout rate would probably be a lot higher.” He took a sip of his drink and hummed contently. “Delicious! I might have to come back for another one.”
“Whatever,” Lin Jingheng said, feeling a bit out of it.
“Great! See you around, Commander…” Lu Bixing leaned over the counter and squinted at Lin Jingheng’s chest. “Lin!”
“Yeah.” Lin Jingheng replied and watched the man leave the café with a little bounce to his step. Then Turan snorted, and he snapped out of it.
Ever since then, Headmaster Lu came in every other day and ordered the horrible concoction called Rainbow Virus. How he still had all his teeth and not a severe care of diabetes was beyond Lin Jingheng. Maybe he was immune. He was also immune to Lin Jingheng’s general brusqueness, and no amount of frowning and eye-rolling could deter that bright smile.
“Of course I’ll take the usual!” he said. “I need all the sugar I can get after the morning I’ve had.”
“Oh? What happened?” Turan asked and sauntered over. It was noon, which meant the morning rush had ended while the afternoon one had not yet started.
“Don’t ask,” Lu Bixing sighed dramatically and leaned on the counter, burying his face in his hands. The two had gotten frighteningly close. “I had an inspection in one of my classes because the passing rate is 100% and the committee found it suspicious. They didn’t even consider that the students might just be passionate and diligent!”
“Because they aren’t,” Lin Jingheng said gruffly as he frothed milk. “Students are lazy and annoying.”
Lu Bixing snorted. “That might be true, but I’m extremely good at motivating them.”
“See. That’s easier to believe,” Lin Jingheng muttered and put the drink on the counter. It still said avoid punishment on it, even though Lu Bixing had told him the correct characters of his name after his third visit.
“Lin! Was that a compliment?” Lu Bixing looked at him with fake shock and clutched at his chest.
“No. Just a fact.”
“When did he become so smooth?” Lu Bixing stage whispered to Turan.
“Ever since he met you, Headmaster Lu,” Turan whispered back with a meaningful look.
Lin Jingheng rolled his eyes. He had no clue about what the two of them were on about again and no interest in finding out. A sudden loud crash and some muffled curses from upstairs put a stop to the second-rate theatre.
“Goddamnit, Zhanlu, not again!” Loud stomping and shuffling made everyone look to the ceiling.
“What’s upstairs?” Lu Bixing asked around his straw as he sipped his drink.
“Commander Lin’s flat. And…yupp, from the sound of it, it’s carpet has sustained yet another wine stain. Tragic.”
Just as the words left Turan’s mouth, the door to the staircase burst open and in came a dishevelled Lee Frank who held up a bundle of cream-coloured fur.
“Commander! Zhanlu did it again!”
Turan’s lazy expression turned into a malicious grin when she spotted the scratch marks on Lee’s arm. “Hmm, strange how he only does it when you’re the one on feeding duty, Lee. He’s always tame when I’m there.”
“I told you to not bring the cat into the café, what if a health inspector comes?” Lin Jingheng strode towards Lee and grabbed his unruly cat by the scruff of his neck. Zhanlu, already used to it, only curled his body and meowed happily.
“But I think he hurt himself this time. He probably stepped into a glass shard.” Lee pointed to a wet spot on Zhanlu’s front paw.
Lin Jingheng scrutinised the paw and then rolled his eyes. “It’s just wine. And from the smell of it the good one, too. Damn monster.”
Zhanlu simply started to purr and sounded way to content with himself for Lin Jingheng’s liking. He lifted the cat close to his face and stared into its pale blue eyes. “You’re such a rodent, I should have gotten a dog instead.”
Zhanlu pawed at his face.
“Oh my god.”
When Lin Jingheng turned, he found Lu Bixing staring at him with a similar look in his wide eyes Turan always sported when an exceptionally pretty boy walked into the café.
“That…that is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! The cat, I mean. Well. Mostly.”
“O-kay? You want to hold him?”
Lu Bixing’s eyes, impossibly, widened even more. “May I?”
Lin Jingheng looked around. There were only two students in the café now, and they were both so focussed on their laptops, that they hadn’t even noticed the sudden furry visitor. “Sure. If he lets you.”
There was an almost childish excitement to Lu Bixing as he slowly came over. It was the same kind Lin Jingheng observed whenever the other talked about his research topics and that made him wonder how any of the headmaster’s students could take him seriously. Lu Bixing slowly reached out with a hand to let Zhanlu sniff his fingers. Zhanlu lazily lifted his head and yawned, and Lu Bixing quickly pulled his hand away.
“He doesn’t bite. At least if you name isn’t Lee Frank.”
Lee huffed indignantly.
“My dad has a cat as well. A Persian one. She always bites me, so I’m a bit traumatised,” Lu Bixing said with a slightly awkward laugh, very unlike himself. He still carefully took Zhanlu who then, as if to demonstrate just how well-behaved and harmless of a cat he was, easily curled up in his arms. He even nudged his head against Lu Bixing’s hand to encourage head pats, which made Lu Bixing squeal I delight.
Lin Jingheng tried to not smile because he was very well aware of Turan’s gaze on him and could already hear her stupid comments. Luckily, a group of students picked this moment to loudly bustle into the café.
“Can you take him upstairs?” Lin Jingheng said to Lu Bixing and returned to the counter.
“Take…wait, what? To your flat?”
“No, to my secret underground base. Of course my flat.”
Lu Bixing stared at him and the way Turan snickered told Lin Jingheng that he must have said something noteworthy again. “Is there a problem?”
“No!” Lu Bixing snapped out of his stupor and was back to being cheerful. “No, not at all. I’ll just go into your flat. No problem. Is, uh…Is the door unlocked?”
Lin Jingheng was already busy taking orders, but Turan was as helpful as ever.
“It always is. Help yourself, just don’t look into the fridge, or you might get attacked by mould monsters.”
When Lu Bixing had closed the door behind him to take the sanitary breech called Zhanlu away, Turan turned to Lin Jingheng with a disbelieving look. “Commander. How can someone be so smart and yet so dense?”
“What are you talking about?” Lin Jingheng frowned, misspelling the already misspelled name on the cup even more.
“Ugh…Nothing, nothing.” She turned back to her line and her expression instantly brightened. “Hello, welcome to the Silver Ten, what can I get you? Other than my number I mean?” She winked, making Lin Jingheng wonder if one day they would get shut down for sexual harassment.
When he returned to his flat that evening, he found a note on his kitchen table saying Thank you for trusting me with your cat. Avoid Punishment!
Next to it was a drawing of a cat with heart eyes. Lin Jingheng stared at the note and wondered where the warmth in his chest came from.
The doorbell jingled and Lin Jingheng looked up. The girl who had come in met his gaze and immediately smiled, but it was not the smile Lin Jingheng had been hoping for. It was almost 5PM and Lu Bixing had not come in yet. Hadn’t come in for the past week, actually.
It wasn’t like Lin Jingheng missed him or anything because that would be utterly ridiculous. It was just that he had somewhat gotten used to Lu Bixing’s presence during these past months.
Each time he came in, he had another ridiculous story to share, or he would ask Lin Jingheng to tell one himself (which he of course never did). Sometimes even, instead of taking his coffee-like drink to go, he would stand by the counter and just…be there. Comfortably.
“What?” he snapped and glared at Turan.
“I think not even Headmaster Lu would drink that anymore.”
Lin Jingheng looked down at the drink into which he had steadily poured sugar for the past minute. “Oh.”
“Are you ill? You look a bit grumpy.”
“That’s just my face, Turan, I thought we established that.”
“No, I know what your normal grumpy face looks like. But this is like…advanced grumpiness. You’re actually scowling.”
“Careful that I’m not making you learn advanced floor-sweeping techniques if you don’t stop this.”
Turan raised her hands and turned away. “Alright, alright, the Commander has reached his midlife-crisis, no one talk to him.”
Ten minutes later, Turan grumbled insults as she swiped the floor. Customers came in and left, Lin Jingheng made one drink after the next, the clock continued ticking. Soon the sky outside darkened, and Bayer cheerfully rang the little bell on the counter to announce closing time.
Thomas immediately came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron and slinging his arms around Bayer’s and Turan’s shoulders.
“You still up for the bar night?”
“You bet!” Turan said and slapped his chest. “Been looking forward to it all week. Is your brother coming?”
“Pshh, as if. He’s too busy being responsible or something.”
“Well someone has to take care of the household,” Poisson grumbled and glared at his twin’s back.
“Thomas, we have to find you a girl slash boyfriend. You’re still living with your brother, it’s super awkward. People will…think things.”
“Turan, yikes! Not everyone has your absolutely disgusting mind!”
Lin Jingheng listened to their squabbling with half an ear and absently wiped down the counter. He wondered if anything had happened to Lu Bixing. Maybe he was sick. It suddenly hit him how little he knew about the grand headmaster. Well, he knew a lot about his person (likes, dislikes, favourite research topic, least favourite student), but nothing about his situation. Not where he lived, or if he was on good terms with his parents, or if he had a partner.
Did he have a partner? He probably did. Someone as easy-going and open as Lu Bixing definitely had a significant other, with whom he was probably spending time right now. Which was completely fine.
“-llooooo? Earth to Commander Lin, have you lost access to the communication network?”
“Turan. You’re really begging to get fired today, aren’t you?”
“I just wanted to ask if you want to accompany us to the bar, but one look at your face and the entire bar will flee in terror.”
Lin Jingheng rolled his eyes. “You guys go ahead, I still have to clean up. See you on Monday.”
Turan shrugged. “See you on Monday. And…Commander?”
“If you’re worried about Headmaster Lu, just–“
“Fine, fine! Byee!”
She grabbed Bayer and Thomas and hurried out of the door. The rest of the crew left soon after and Lin Jingheng was left alone in the café. He allowed himself a deep sigh and loosened his tense shoulders.
How bothersome. He had never before felt lonely in his life, and now the absence of a certain presence made him feel slightly unsettled. It was completely irrational and Lin Jingheng despised irrationality. He just wanted his peace of mind back. He shook his head and grabbed a cloth to wipe the display.
The doorbell jingled. Great. Some stupid student who couldn’t read.
“Didn’t you see the sign? We’re closed,” Lin Jingheng said, probably a lot harsher than necessary, but he didn’t care.
“Oh. Oh, sorry, I’ll just…”
Lin Jingheng’s head snapped up so fast that his neck cracked. The person that had come in was halfway out the door again. Lin Jingheng dropped the cloth and jumped over the counter.
Lu Bixing turned around. Lin Jingheng halted, his foot still in the air from the half-step he had taken. Lu Bixing looked absolutely dreadful. He had deep shadows under his eyes and was unhealthily pale even under the warm lights of the café. There was no trace of the smile that usually never left his lips.
“Sorry, Lin, I really didn’t mean to disturb you,” Lu Bixing lifted the corners of his mouth, but it made him only look more miserable. His shoulders were slumped, and his head hung low. “It’s way past closing time, I won’t impose–“
“Nonesense.” Lin Jingheng decisively finished his step and then took some more until he stood in front of Lu Bixing. He reached past him and resolutely pulled the door shut while he tugged Lu Bixing fully inside. The other didn’t muster up any resistance as Lin Jingheng led him to a table in the corner.
“Sit,” he commanded and then returned behind the counter. He had just cleaned up all equipment, but it didn’t really matter anymore because Lu Bixing looked like he was going to fall asleep any second now, holding himself together by sheer power of will alone.
A few minutes later, Lin Jingheng stood in front of the table and looked down at the pile of misery called Lu Bixing.
“Come upstairs. It’s more comfortable. You look like hell.”
Lu Bixing made a breathy laugh. “It’s fine, really. I’m not even sure why I came, I should probably go home and let you get some well-deserved rest.”
“Too late.” Lin Jingheng grabbed Lu Bixing with the hand that wasn’t holding the cup of oversweet cocoa he’d just made and pulled him up from the chair. Lu Bixing gasped and stumbled but wasn’t able to pull out of Lin Jingheng’s grasp.
“How is a barista so strong?” he yelped as he scrambled after Lin Jingheng, who was dragging him upstairs.
“I used to serve in the military.”
Instead of answering, Lin Jingheng pulled Lu Bixing into his flat and then nodded towards his couch. “Sit.”
Lu Bixing complied wordlessly. Lin Jingheng pushed the cup of hot chocolate into his hands and sat down on the chair across from him. He swallowed down all his questions in case Lu Bixing didn’t want to talk but just needed some company. Zhanlu poked his head around the corner to see what all the ruckus was about and immediately jumped on the couch when he realised that the human who had given him so many snacks in the past was visiting.
“You okay?” Lin Jingheng crossed his legs and leaned back. To his greatest shock, Lu Bixing’s eyes started to glisten as he looked up at him.
Had he just massively overstepped? Was this one of those instances of inconsiderateness Turan always talked about. No offence, but you have like, -4 sense of tact, she had said. But what else should he have done? While Lin Jingheng was busy contemplating the perils of human interaction, Lu Bixing continued to stare at him.
“Thank you,” he eventually said quietly and took a sip of cocoa. Those two words mended Lin Jingheng’s frayed nerves, and he relaxed slightly. For a moment, everything was quiet while Lu Bixing drank his cocoa.
“I– I wouldn’t have expected such a luxurious service, maybe I should come over more often at night,” Lu Bixing said, clearly going for a light tone and failing miserably.
“Sure,” Lin Jingheng replied. “Come by whenever.”
Lu Bixing choked, startling Zhanlu and making his cocoa slosh around dangerously. Lin Jingheng jumped up and took the cup out of his shaking hands to deposit it on the table. Then he hovered next to the sofa a bit awkwardly, not really sure if him sitting down next to Lu Bixing would be welcome.
Lu Bixing looked up at him out of wide, glistening eyes, looking more like an insecure student than a cheerful headmaster, and Lin Jingheng sat down.
“Are you okay?” he asked again because he didn’t know what else to ask. This kind of consoling was Anakin’s specialty.
A hint of a smile appeared on Lu Bixing’s lips. “I am now, I think.”
“Good. That’s good, then.” Lin Jingheng said. Zhanlu on the other side of Lu Bixing let out a small meow as if to scold his owner for the horrible job he was doing. He rubbed his head against Lu Bixing’s side to show how it was done correctly. Lin Jingheng glared at him.
“Thanks, Lin. This is nice.”
“You’re really bad at this, huh?” Lu Bixing chuckled and leaned back to stretch out his legs. “Or at least you think you’re bad. Actually, you’re quite good. You already made me feel a lot better.”
Lin Jingheng turned to look at him, wondering if Lu Bixing was making fun of him. But the expression on the other’s face had returned to the usual cheer Lin Jingheng was used to from him, even though there still were still deep shadows under his eyes.
“That cocoa was really good. Just the right amount of sweetness to it, and very chocolate-y.”
“What’s the matter, Lu Bixing?” Lin Jingheng asked because Lu Bixing was clearly putting on a show. The smile slowly trickled off the other’s face like syrup.
“It’s my father,” he said. “He’s in hospital. It doesn’t look too good.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah…He’s not my real father, actually. He adopted me when I was a baby. I still don’t know why. He’s extremely bad with children.” Lu Bixing smiled as if fondly remembering something. “When I was ten, he took me to one of his bars with me. And if you think of a shady underground bar right now, then you’re right on track. When I was sixteen, I missed six months of school because he took me on a tour through Europe. He’s so irresponsible. And he was always nagging, even though he’s terrible at adulting himself.”
“Sounds like a great guy.”
“He really is.”
Lu Bixing sighed and covered his face with his arm. The next words came out muffled. “Old hawk got into a fight. He was stabbed several times, his condition is still critical. He already lost an eye.”
“Getting stabbed isn’t too bad. And medicine is really advanced these days. I’m sure they’ll put him back together.”
Lu Bixing lifted his arm a fraction at looked at Lin Jingheng with a raised eyebrow. “Getting stabbed isn’t too bad?”
“I got stabbed several times and I’m still alive, aren’t I? I’m sure your father will pull through. Don’t worry,” Lin Jingheng said, glad that he could at least use his experience to provide a bit of comfort.
Lu Bixing suddenly sat up and leaned closer, looking at Lin Jingheng from underneath long lashes. “Are you an undercover spy?”
Lin Jingheng instinctively leaned back. “What? No! I told you. I was in the military.”
“You weren’t joking!?” He scooted closer again and Lin Jingheng, who had reached the end of the sofa, had no way to retreat and could only put on his most steely face.
“Why would I be joking about that?”
“True…and you were stabbed?”
“Multiple times.” Lin Jingheng pulled down his collar to expose the long scar that ran up his chest and to his neck. “Stabbed, and worse. And I’m still here. So don’t worry about your father.”
Lu Bixing’s eyes were fixed on Lin Jingheng’s scar and he reached out with a finger, barely stopping himself before making contact. Then he cleared his throat and scooted back.
“This…this is strangely reassuring. Thanks, Lin.”
Lin Jingheng, who had never before said anything others might consider reassuring, didn’t know what to say now, so he simply kept quiet. Luckily, Zhanlu was an experienced giver of comfort and jumped on Lu Bixing’s lap where he started to purr loudly. Lu Bixing smiled and patted his head.
“Do you have family?”
“Who doesn’t?” Lin Jingheng grunted.
“I mean family you’re close with.”
“No. My parents are dead. I have a sister, but we haven’t talked in ages. She heads some company called Freedom Corp.”
“The international conglomerate?”
They fell back into silence, but strangely, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all. Lin Jingheng glanced at Lu Bixing out of the corner of his eyes, only to find the other looking back at him. He quickly averted his gaze again.
“For a military man with the CEO of a mega corp for a sister you’re really unfairly cute,” Lu Bixing said. Lin Jingheng spluttered and forced his ears to retain their normal colour and temperature.
Lu Bixing leaned over and bumped his shoulder against Lin Jingheng’s. “Unfairly cute.”
“Watch me ever give you one of Thomas’ pastries for free again.”
“Aiyo, Commander, don’t be sulky!” Lu Bixing laughed.
Lin Jingheng suddenly thought that his own embarrassment was a very small price to pay for returning the smile to Lu Bixing.
“Speaking of pastries…I bet the old hawk only got himself stabbed so he could get out of his promise.” Lu Bixing said, more to Zhanlu than to Lin Jingheng. As the one with human speech in this room, Lin Jingheng still took it upon himself to respond.
“He said that, once I get my PhD, he’d bake me a cake. I finally got it the other week, but so far he’s always found an excuse. I don’t think he has cooked a single meal in his life, let alone baked a cake. I was really looking forward to watching him fail. Ah, well.”
“I’m sure you’ll get your cake soon.”
“Yeah. That’d be nice.”
“And…come by the café more often. Sugar makes people happy. I’ve heard.”
“Aw, did Commander Lin miss me?”
Lin Jingheng didn’t respond, which was an answer in and of itself.
Thomas Young yawned heartily when he arrived at the café on Monday morning. As the resident baker, his Mondays started especially early since he had to prepare doughs and fillings. But today, he was surprised to find the light in Silver Ten already turned on. The first conclusion his sleep-addled mind came to was Bandits! but that was quickly discarded because surely there were no bandits as stupid as to switch on the lights. Strangely, when he pushed against the door, it turned out to still be locked. Ghosts then, his brain suggested next. But ghosts didn’t need lights. Thomas opened the door and peaked inside.
No one answered. Maybe the Commander had forgotten to turn off the lights. But that was the most improbably theory yet – the Commander didn’t forget things.
“Turan?” Maybe she was playing a prank on him. But Turan would never voluntarily get up early. Thomas groaned and shook his head. All this stupid theorising led him nowhere. He simply chose to accept the bright lights and made his way over to the kitchen.
Where his whole world view got shattered.
Lin Jingheng looked up when he heard the door creak. Thomas Young gaped back at him.
“Morning,” Lin Jingheng said and turned back to the bowl in which he had just added eggs to the butter and sugar mixture. Thomas, rudely, didn’t reply, but Lin Jingheng was too busy weighing out flour to care.
“C-commander, may I ask what you’re doing?”
“I’m baking. I thought it was quite obvious?” He looked up at Thomas with a raised eyebrow.
“I…I mean, yeah. Sure. Very obvious. But, uhm…why are you baking? Because usually that’s my job? I think?”
Lin Jingheng snorted. “Don’t worry, it’s a one time thing. Headmaster Lu got his PhD. I’m making a congratulatory cake.”
Thomas made a noise that sounded a bit like a mouse that was being stepped on. “Okay. Ooookay. I see. Yeah. Makes sense, Commander! Ahahah…”
Lin Jingheng tried not to enjoy his subordinate’s discomfort too much and rather focussed on spreading the batter evenly in the cake pan. When he was satisfied with the result, he put it into the oven and set a timer.
“Oh yeah, it’d be much appreciated if you didn’t tell Turan about this. Or any of the other idiots. They would never let it go.”
Thomas didn’t reply. Lin Jingheng glanced up and saw him standing there with a very guilty expression on his face and his phone in his hands.
“Great,” Lin Jingheng said and grabbed his own phone. “I just hope you didn’t post it into the group – and you did. Of course.”
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Young Young (05:45)
[image of Lin Jingheng measuring out flour]
Look who got up early!
I just woke up and saw this but now I think I’m still asleep
Young Young (05:46)
Should’ve seen my face when I came into the kitchen 😂
Old Young (05:47)
You’re aware that the Commander can read this, no, Thomas?
Young Young (05:48)
The Commander has no problem with it, he’s pretty relaxed! I think he likes baking, right, Commander?
Yeah no definitely still asleep
I do like baking. I think I’m going to fire Thomas and take over his job.
“Commander, no! I mean, sorry! I mean, I thought – but I can delete the image!”
“Forget it. No point. But I’m putting you on bathroom duty. You can tell Turan her punishment for making out with a customer over the counter is over.”
Lin Jingheng marched past a droopy-headed Thomas and started preparing the café. He put down the chairs and swiped the display. Around half an hour later the door burst open and a breathless Turan skittered in.
“Oh my god where is he?”
Lin Jingheng lifted an eyebrow. “Where is who?”
“Ah! Oh. Commander. I thought you were baking?”
“Oh…” Turan looked positively crestfallen. “Did you wear an apron with hearts on it?”
Lin Jingheng narrowed his eyes. “Thomas is going to tell you that you’re off toilet duty. You can just ignore that and continue with your punishment. In fact, since you’re already here, you can start cleaning right now.”
Turan grumbled something about “not worth getting up for” and shuffled in the direction of the toilets. Meanwhile the timer went off and Lin Jingheng went to get his cake from the oven. It looked like a cake, which was already more than he had expected. He had never baked anything before, but at least he was good at following instructions.
“Do you want to decorate it?” Thomas looked over Lin Jingheng’s shoulder.
“I prepared a batch of buttercream and have some left over, you can use it to frost the cake. Maybe pipe some flowers on top.”
“Why, isn’t this enough?”
“It’s perfectly fine as it is! I just think…maybe Headmaster Lu would appreciate some additional sweetness?”
Lin Jingheng considered it for a moment, and then decided that it couldn’t hurt to add some decoration.
It definitely hurt. Everyone who looked at the cake, at least.
“Liars get toilet duty.”
Thomas swallowed. “I think Headmaster Lu will still appreciate it.”
“Of course I won’t give it to him. This was an idiotic idea to begin with. I shouldn’t have had that wine yesterday. Anyway, you can just throw it away. Or give it to Turan or something.” Lin Jingheng wiped his hands on the kitchen towel and left the kitchen. What had possessed him to bake something? Maybe it was good that it didn’t turn out well. Lu Bixing probably would have laughed.
Since it was Monday morning, Lin Jingheng had been prepared for an onslaught. What he had not taken into consideration was that finals week had arrived again, which meant double the students and triple the desperation. The drinks he prepared were either laden with caffeine, sugar, or both, and pastries were sold out two hours after opening. Turan didn’t even have time to distribute her contact info, and Lin Jingheng resorted to assigning the customers numbers instead of writing their names, so long were the queues behind the counter. By 1 PM, the café finally turned a little more peaceful, even though all tables were occupied by students who deemed this the most suitable place to have a mental breakdown at. Anakin handed out free napkins for the teary-eyed and Lee helped out a girl with her computer science studies. Turan gently patted a guy’s back, looking at him like she would much rather be doing different things to him.
Lin Jingheng was just in the process of making himself a coffee when the doorbell announced another customer.
“Headmaster Lu! Haven’t seen you in ages!”
Lin Jingheng’s head snapped up just in time to see Lu Bixing make finger-guns at Turan.
“I’ve been a bit out of it recently, but someone helped me and now I’m back at full energy!” He grinned at Lin Jingheng and Turan made a knowing “Oooh!” that indicated that her dirty mind had arrived at the false conclusion again.
“Hey, Lin, how’s business?” Lu Bixing leaned against the counter and winked.
“Hell. Can’t you just let all the students pass so they don’t come into my café to cry?” Lin Jingheng pointed to a girl whose head was pillowed on a thick book which she soaked with her tears.
“If only life was that easy, right? And I see they already bought up all the sweets.” He looked wistfully at the empty display. “Not considering that their poor professors might be in need of sugar, too.”
“Yes, because the concoction you order each time you come here doesn’t contain enough sugar already.”
“It’s a drink, that means it doesn’t really count.”
Turan looked up from her half-hearted consoling. “But Commander, didn’t you make–“
“I’ll make you your drink!” Lin Jingheng said loudly and glared at Turan, who looked very confused at the sudden animosity directed at her. But she was used to her Commander’s temper, so she just shrugged and turned back to her crying pretty boy.
“Everything alright, Lin?” Lu Bixing asked while Lin Jingheng busied himself with the syrups. “You seem a bit grumpy today.”
“How often do I have to say that this is just how my face looks?”
“You might be able to fool others, but I know you, Lin. You’re not as stone-cold as you think you are.” Lin Jingheng knew that, if he were to look up, he would see that gentle smile on Lu Bixing’s face that was so terribly disconcerting. So he simply didn’t look up and instead added an extra tall mountain of cream to the drink before slathering it in chocolate sauce.
“Here you go. Since you’re going to die of diabetes anyway at some point, I thought there’s no point in holding back.”
“Ah, Lin, what have I done to deserve you?” Lu Bixing exaggeratedly battered his eyelashes at Lin Jingheng and then looked around. “Hey, why don’t you sit down with me for a bit? You look like you could use a break.”
Lin Jingheng scoffed. “I work here, Lu Bixing. I can’t just randomly–“
“I can fill in for you.” Poisson seemingly materialised out of thin air and hovered behind Lin Jingheng, giving him a critical look. “You do seem a bit tired. Just take your thirty-minute break, Commander. It’s not even that busy right now.”
“He’s right, you know?” Turan said and finally stopped her consolation efforts to return to the counter. “You’re the Commander, doesn’t that mean you should be letting us do the dirty work anyway?”
“Has everyone decided to conspire against me today?” Lin Jingheng grumbled. First the cake, now the humans – both inanimate and animate objects had turned on him. He still let himself be nudged over to the last free table in the café by Lu Bixing.
“How’s your father?” he asked when they had sat down.
“I went to see him yesterday. He was asleep the whole time, but the doctors said the worst has passed and that the old hawk will be able to nag me again in a few days.”
“I’m glad to hear that. You’re clearly in need of a good nagging.”
Lin Lu Bixing snorted and Lin Jingheng tried not to feel too satisfied at having made him laugh.
“You two are going to get along so well, I can already tell. I mean…” Lu Bixing coughed. “If you ever want to meet him. Just casually. I don’t mean anything by it, like…you know.” The tips of his ears reddened, and he took a big gulp of his drink. Lin Jingheng stared at him.
“You’ve got…” he pointed to the corner of his own mouth. “Cream.”
“Oh.” Lu Bixing wiped the wrong side.
“No, it’s– here, let me.” Lin Jingheng leaned over the table and wiped his thumb over Lu Bixing’s lip. Then he realised that it might have been a bit too forward and quickly withdrew his hand. “There. It’s gone.”
“Oh.” Lu Bixing touched his tongue to the spot Lin Jingheng had just wiped. “Thanks.”
Lin Jingheng absently heard the snap of a camera and giggling in the background, but he was a bit…distracted. Thomas picked this moment to appear at the table and place a large and extremely ugly cake between them.
“The cake you made, Commander! Before you forget it,” he winked at Lin Jingheng, who’s brain needed a split second to catch up with what was happening.
“Young–“ he growled and was about to stand up to physically fight his good-for-noting employee. He was stopped by a loud gasp.
“You made this? For…for me?”
Lin Jingheng’s face was normally so thick that nothing truly bothered him, but right now, and maybe for the first time ever, he felt embarrassed. Not because the cake had turned out horrible, but because he had made it in the first place.
“I just wanted to try something out. It’s nothing.”
“But you made this. For me.”
Lin Jingheng rolled his eyes in an attempt to look disinterested. “You told me your father couldn’t make you one, so I thought I’d do it instead. It didn’t work out and I didn’t mean to actually give it to you. But apparently certain people,” he glared at Thomas, “are looking to be put on toilet duty for the rest of their lives, or maybe be outright fire-”
“I love it.”
Lin Jingheng paused. He could have sworn he had just heard Lu Bixing say he loved the abomination of a cake Lin Jingheng had made. Thomas slowly turned around and walked as inconspicuously as possible back to the counter.
“Don’t lie. I know it’s bad.” Lin Jingheng leaned back and raised his eyebrow at Lu Bixing, who was fixated on the cake. “Honestly, just throw it away.”
“Are you mad? You made a cake for me and then tell me to throw it away? No one has ever made me a cake before.” Lu Bixing poked it with his spoon as if to test if it was real. “I’m going to eat it all.”
“Please don’t. I don’t have time to drive you to the hospital.”
“But you would?” Lu Bixing grinned and dug his spoon right into the middle of the cake, scooping out a large helping. He eyed it for a second before leaning forward and taking a bite. “Mmh!”
“Is it. Good?”
Lu Bixing dug out another piece and offered his spoon to Lin JIngheng. “You tell me.”
“You made it, you have to try it!”
“Fine…” Lin Jingheng reluctantly leaned in and ate the cake from Lu Bixing’s spoon. He decidedly ignored Turan’s squeal in the background. “It’s cake. Not much else to say.”
Lu Bixing actually looked indignant. “It’s super delicious! Thank you, Lin. This made me really happy.”
Somehow, that was a lot harder to swallow than the cake. He was Lin Jingheng. He didn’t make people happy.
“Oh. Uh…okay. Good.”
Lu Bixing smiled and nodded, and then turned back to the cake. The rest of Lin Jingheng’s forced break was spent staring at the man who was casually shovelling cake into his face, unaware of the confusion he had just caused.
“It’s already 5 PM.”
“I admire your ability to interpret a clock, Turan.” Lin Jingheng said absently as the typed on his calculator, taking care of the left-over accounting.
Turan pouted and leaned on the counter and into Lin Jingheng’s personal space. “I’m just saying. Headmaster Lu probably isn’t coming today yet again.”
“Right, what’s up with that?” Thomas had just brough new pastries and unbiddenly joined the conversation. “He hasn’t been in in three days or so.”
Turan leaned back and gave Thomas a meaningful look. “Exam period is entering the really critical stage now. Look around, there are barely any students. Of course Headmaster Lu is busy as well.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, he told me!”
Lin Jingheng slammed his hand on the counter when he typed the wrong number for the third time. “There might not be customers right now, but there is enough to do. Or am I paying to engage in idle gossip?”
“That would truly be my dream job,” Turan grinned.
“Why are you in contact with Lu Bixing, anyway?” Lin Jingheng asked his calculator. He could basically smell Turan’s grin.
“Oh, I just added him on WeChat since he comes by so often. What, you haven’t Commander?”
Lin Jingheng scoffed. “Why would I?”
“Yeah, I’ve got his WeChat as well,” Thomas said and pulled out his phone. “He sends me pictures of funny mistakes his students made in exams.”
Lin Jingheng glared at his calculator. “Oh? How nice.”
“You get funny pictures? All I get are complaints about how he’s so busy at the moment and really craves a Rainbow Virus. Here,” she held her phone under Thomas’ nose. “He just said that he hasn’t left his office in five hours, the poor guy. Where’s he supposed to get his sugar from?”
“Honestly, he’s the headmaster! Why is he overworking himself?”
“I know someone who’s just like him,” Turan said meaningfully.
“That’s enough now. Thomas, don’t you have something to bake? And Turan, go clean the coffee machine.”
Fifteen minutes later, Lin Jingheng shrugged on his blue coat and opened the door to the café, careful to hide the bag he was carrying.
“Turan, I have to run an errand. Take care of the café.”
Turan looked at him and he had never seen her this delighted which was, quite frankly, scary.
“Alright, Commander! Have fun!”
Lin Jingheng left quickly, so he didn’t see the victorious high-five Turan and Thomas exchanged, which was probably for the best, or he would have fired them for real this time.
The university was very large and in all the time Lin Jingheng had operated the café, he had never actually set foot on the campus. It was a gloomy, rainy day, so there weren’t many students on the grounds for Lin Jingheng to ask for directions to the headmaster’s office.
“Isn’t that the owner of Silver Ten?”
“Oh my god I think you’re right! What’s he doing here?”
Lin Jingheng turned around to the whispering girls. Their eyes widened when they realised they had been caught and they started giggling behind their hands.
“Where’s the headmaster’s office?” he called out, uncaring of the attention his loud voice was drawing to him.
One of the girls cleared her throat and, still grinning, pointed to a large building to the left. “He’s in the engineering department. Third floor, I think, but I’m not sure which room.”
Lin Jingheng nodded and left the excitedly whispering students behind. The corridors of the building were a lot busier than the courtyard and Lin Jingheng had to push his way through some of the especially packed areas. He was very well aware of the fact that he attracted quite a few glances and that not a few amount of students whispered behind his back. He had only attended a very rigorous military school, so this rather uncontrolled student behaviour was new to him. Had he done something like that back in the day, he would have been punished with at least ten laps around the training ground.
Luckily, the third floor was quieter again and seemed to house mostly offices. There was only one door that had a very significant line of students waiting in front of it. Headmaster Lu Bixing, the name plaque read. Of course.
“What are you waiting for?” Lin Jingheng asked the student in the front of the line. He turned and gave Lin Jingheng a once-over, then raised an eyebrow.
Lin Jingheng frowned. “I’m just asking.”
“Don’t ask him, Rickhead’s an idiot,” a girl from further down the line called and threw a pen at her fellow student’s head. “It’s office hours, we all have questions for the headmaster.”
Lin Jingheng made a rough headcount. Fourteen. He definitely didn’t have that much time. Was he did have was a very clear advantage over all these waiting students. He was an adult.
“I’m afraid I need to cut in line,” he said and walked past the student called Rickhead, who was now protesting loudly. “I have an urgent appointment.”
“Hey, aren’t you the guy from Silver Ten? What kind of appointment do you have?” a girl with rainbow-coloured hair asked.
“Oh my god you’re right, Mint! He totally is!”
A buzz of voices emerged at this new bit of information, giving Lin Jingheng the opportunity to enter the room while the students were busy operating the rumour mill. Lu Bixing’s office was spacious and comfortable, with dark wood lining the floor and bookshelves covering the wall. A large, cushioned chair stood in front of the desk and was currently occupied by a girl.
“-don’t need to worry, Huang Jingshu, with what you’ve handed in so far the exam will be no problem for you and-“ Lu Bixing, sitting behind his desk and wearing a kind and calming smile, looked up when the door opened. “I’m sorry, we’re not done ye- Lin?” His eyes widened and his mouth remained open as he stared at Lin Jingheng.
“A word, Headmaster Lu?”
“Don’t worry, I don’t have any further questions, anyway!” the student named Huang Jingshu jumped up and hurried past Lin Jingheng, throwing him a wary glance. “Thank you for the help, Headmaster Lu.”
“That’s literally what I’m here for. Best of luck with your studies!”
The door fell close behind Huang Jingshu and there was a moment of silence.
“What are you doing here?” Lu Bixing said at the same time Lin Jingheng said, “I brought you coffee.”
“I brought you coffee,” Lin Jingheng said again and held up the bag as evidence.
“You brought me coffee. Why?”
Lin Jingheng huffed and placed the cup on the desk in front of Lu Bixing. “You haven’t been in the café for a week. I was afraid you were going to die from sugar withdrawal.”
“It’s much more likely that I die from Lin withdrawal.”
“Did you just say Lin withdrawal?”
“And if I did?”
“You–“ Lin Jingheng pointed at him, but then swallowed the rest of the sentence. Lu Bixing was clearly overworked, tired, and not thinking very clearly. There were dark circles under his eyes again and the corners of his mouth twitched with effort to stay turned upwards. “Alright, both Lin and sugar are here now, so there is no reason for you to die. Drink.”
“Unbelievable,” Lu Bixing muttered, and then something that sounded like “So dense! I can say what I want here!” but it got lost in a mouthful of Rainbow Virus as the headmaster slurped his drink needlessly noisily.
“So how come you’re not coming over anymore?”
Lu Bixing groaned and slumped forward, hitting his head against the table. “It’s not like I don’t want to! I do! A lot! But I’m still headmaster, and it’s exam season, and I have to take care of so much stuff. So much stuff, Lin. And the students are panicking, so I’m taking care of their worries as well.”
“Well, you’re not going to be of much help if you faint from fatigue.”
Lu Bixing grunted against the desk. “How many are still out there?”
A groan. “Fourteen? And my office hours ended at three.”
“That was two hours ago.”
“But you’ll keep going?”
“I have to take care of them.”
“And who takes care of you?”
“I don’t need caretaking.” Lu Bixing raised his head and gave Lin Jingheng a look that was probably supposed to look defiant but was utterly pitiful.
“Fine. Fine.” Lin Jingheng said and nodded. “I’ll do it.”
He marched over to the door.
“What? You’ll to what, Lin? What are you doing?”
“Taking care of you,” Lin Jingheng said before yanking open the door and adopting the voice he had cultivated during his time in the military. “Listen up everyone.”
The students in front of the office immediately quieted down.
“As those of you who possess the ability to read basic characters might have noticed, Headmaster Lu’s office hours ended at three PM.” Lin Jingheng pointed at the schedule posted next to the door. “And those of you who are especially smart, maybe even able to read the time, will know that we have passed five PM now.”
The students all stared at him out of wide eyes.
“So.” Lin Jingheng said and lifted himself up to his full height, regarding them with the look that used to make cadets grovel before him. “I assume you know what that means?”
Silence. Then one student cleared her throat. “It means, uh…”
“SCRAM!” Lin Jingheng yelled. “And don’t make the headmaster work overtime again, or I’ll ban you from Silver Ten.”
That, at last, made the students scramble for their bags and hurry down the corridor, throwing wary glances over their shoulders like they expected Lin Jingheng to run after them. As if he had any need for that. Satisfied, he turned back, only to almost stumble when he found Lu Bixing standing right behind him.
“Necessary is what that was. And now don’t you dare stay here and keep working.”
Lu Bixing shot a wistful glance to his table. “But there is so much left over…”
“Lu Bixing,” Lin Jingheng all but growled, still half in his military mode. Lu Bixing flinched slightly, but the look he gave Lin Jingheng wasn’t one of fear. “You need to rest. You don’t have some biochip installed in your brain that makes sleep obsolete for you.”
“How can you be sure? I’m joking, I’m joking. Well, if the Commander says so, then I guess I have no choice but to obey. And I guess I am a bit tired.” Almost as if to confirm that, he tried and failed to stifle a yawn.
“Damn right,” Lin Jingheng said and got Lu Bixing’s bag from next to his desk and his jacket from the chair. “Go! I will personally make sure you leave this building.”
Lu Bixing sighed in defeat and let himself be pushed out of the office. As they made their way through the corridors, the students pointed at them and talked behind their hands, probably due to the fact that Lin Jingheng was escorting their headmaster with an importance like he was no less than a prime minister. But when they reached the exit, they were greeted with an unpleasant surprise.
“I don’t suppose you have an umbrella to spare for me, grand Commander Lin?” Lu Bixing said wryly as he stared out into the downpour.
“I do not,” Lin Jingheng confirmed. “How far is your house?”
“Oh, not too far. It’s about a twenty minute walk, or I could wait in my office for the rain to stop, or–“
“You could come back with me.”
“I could go back with you. Wait, what?”
“I still have to take care of the café, but you can go upstairs and rest a bit. I’ll drive you home once my shift is over.”
“Oh. Well, if you’re offering like this, then I guess I’ll have to impose!” Lu Bixing grinned.
In the end, they still had to make it through the rain and to the café. Luckily, Lin Jingheng had his coat that could be used as a rain cover as they splashed through the deep puddles that had formed on the pathways. Lu Bixing clung to his arm, and it probably looked very foolish how they half sprinted, half stumbled through the rain while Lin Jingheng held his coat over their heads. They arrived more or less dry and Lin Jingheng ignored all the grins and meaningful glances from his subordinates in favour of immediately ushering Lu Bixing upstairs so he could get his rest.
“Any more plans for tonight, Commander?” Turan grinned when the café closed and she was getting ready to leave.
“No? Nothing at all?”
“Not even something concerning a certain headmaster?”
“Oh. That. Yeah, I’ll drive him home.”
Turan groaned. “Commander! There is a man waiting for you in your flat after a long and hard day of work, and all you think about is how to get him out of it again?”
Lin Jingheng frowned. “He’s resting, not waiting for me.”
“Sure he is,” Turan sighed. “Aiya, Thomas. Looks like I’m losing the bet.”
“Nothing, Commander,” Thomas chirped happily and pushed Turan towards the doors. “I have to get our dear Elizabeth home, she forgot her umbrella again.”
Lin Jingheng waved dismissively at them. He decided to stop the pointless endeavour of trying to understand them, and instead finished up cleaning the café before going upstairs. He briefly paused in front of the door, but everything was quiet behind it. Slowly and quietly he entered. There was nothing out of the ordinary. The flat was empty save for Zhanlu, who lied curled up on the sofa.
“Lu Bixing?” Lin Jingheng called. For a ridiculous second he thought his guest had fled through a window to return to his office, but surely not even Lu Bixing was that crazy.
“Did you scare away the headmaster?” Lin Jingheng asked Zhanlu and poked the cat’s side. Zhanlu opened a single eye and gave Lin Jingheng an accusatory look before glancing in the direction of the bedroom.
“Oh. Makes sense. I did tell him to rest.”
Lin Jingheng had not expected Lu Bixing to choose his bed for that, but when had Lu Bixing ever behaved like Lin Jingheng expected? He carefully pulled the bedroom door open. The room was brightly lit and on top of Lin Jingheng’s orderly made bed lied a curled-up form wearing a brown suit. Lu Bixing had not even bothered to get out of his jacket.
“Silly man,” Lin Jingheng muttered and quietly walked over. Lu Bixing’s head was buried in the pillow and his breathing was slow and even, obviously out cold. Lin Jingheng sighed and reached for a spare blanket to cover Lu Bixing with. He hadn’t meant to sleep tonight, anyway.
Lin Jingheng sat at the kitchen table and read through last month’s finance report. Exam season had led to Silver Ten making a huge profit, and he considered which employee to give how much of a bonus. Around eight, the door to his bedroom creaked open and the dishevelled head of Lu Bixing poked out. When he spotted Lin Jingheng, he sheepishly scratched the back of his head.
“Sorry about that,” he said.
“And a good morning to you, too. Come and have breakfast.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to–“
“I didn’t. There is cereal in the cupboard. Or you wait until the café opens and have a pastry.”
Lu Bixing’s grin looked a bit forced when he came over.
“I don’t know what happened, I just wanted to close my eyes for a second and the next thing I know it’s morning. But I shouldn’t have entered your bedroom, sorry.”
Lin Jingheng put the report down. “Why? I told you to rest. The bedroom is the normal place to do that.”
“You’re not mad?” Li Bixing sat down opposite of him and glanced up from underneath his lashes, making him look almost innocent. Something in Lin Jingheng’s chest stuttered at the sight.
“Why? It’s not like I have any secret government documents hidden under the mattress.”
“But you didn’t get to sleep! You should have woken me up…”
“Don’t worry about it, I’ll just make Poisson take care of the café today. Because contrary to a headmaster, a café owner is free to simply take a day off.”
Of course Lin Jingheng was not going to take a day off, but after preaching the importance of rest to Lu Bixing yesterday, he couldn’t really admit to that.
“And contrary to a headmaster, a café owner can also wear what he wants. You sure you want to show up in front of your students in a creased suit?”
Lu Bixing looked down at himself. “Oh.”
“I can lend you a jacket.”
“You really don’t have to, I already took you bed.”
“I’m not gifting it to you, I’m lending it to you.”
“Alright then,” Lu Bixing grinned, “I take your bed, your clothes, what’s next? Are you going to offer yourself to me?”
“If you need my help, you only need to ask.”
“No, that’s not what – ah, forget it. Alright, I’ll impose a bit more then. I really have no time to go back home before my first lecture starts.”
Lin Jingheng grunted and got up to fetch one of his jackets for Lu Bixing. He briefly contemplated the plain black one, but something directed his hand towards the leather jacket next to it.
“Here.” He threw Lu Bixing the jacket. “And tell Thomas downstairs to give you a pastry, you can’t work on an empty stomach.”
“Yes, Lin-gege,” Lu Bixing said and batted his eyelashes as he shrugged on the jacket. It was slightly too large on him, especially around the shoulders, and made him look even less like a headmaster. Lin Jingheng couldn’t help but smile at the sight.
“Like me in your clothes?” Lu Bixing asked in a strange tone.
“You look small in them.”
“And you like that?”
Lin Jingheng lifted an eyebrow. “I’m literally just stating a fact.”
“Ugh, this is so difficult!” Lu Bixing groaned and trudged over to the door. Lin Jingheng followed, not sure what he did wrong.
“Well, make sure to take a break today.”
“I don’t think my students will come to my office hours ever again, so I should be fine.”
“Good.” Lin Jingheng opened the door for him. “Then I’ll see you in the café.”
Lu Bixing leaned in the exact moment that Lin Jingheng turned his head to look at him. The kiss that had probably been intended to land on the Commander’s cheek ended up on the corner of his mouth instead. Lin Jingheng’s eyes widened in shock and Lu Bixing immediately flinched back.
“Why did you move?”
“What? Why did you kiss me?”
“I just meant to kiss your cheek!”
“Well, you didn’t!”
They stared at each other.
“Are you…mad?” Lu Bixing murmured after a while.
Lin Jingheng let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
“Why would I be mad?” he muttered back.
“So you…aren’t opposed to kissing me?”
“I mean…” Lin Jingheng had never really thought about it before. He wasn’t exactly experienced when it came to…well. Anything concerning romance, really. He had happily resigned himself to the fact that he would never end up having a relationship, so kissing was not something he had even considered before. Least of all kissing Lu Bixing. “I guess?”
“You guess? Wait, Lin, have you kissed someone before?”
Lin Jingheng didn’t know why, but suddenly he was feeling defensive. “No. Why would I? I’m too busy for relationships.”
“Oh my god I just stole your first kiss! And it was such a bad one too!”
“It was bad?”
Lu Bixing groaned. “It really was!”
Lin Jingheng frowned. “Well, sorry about that then.”
“What? No, this isn’t your – ugh! Can we start over?”
“Can I…” Lu Bixing cleared his throat. He looked uncharacteristically bashful. “I mean, since you said you’re not opposed to it…and I actually wanted to kiss you for ages…maybe we could…”
Before he had a chance to finish his stammering, Lin Jingheng leaned in and covered Lu Bixing’s mouth with his own. That was what kissing was supposed to be like, right? Lu Bixing stood stock still for a moment, then Lin Jingheng felt the other’s mouth curl into a smile and a puff of warm air against his lips. It took him a second to realise Lu Bixing was laughing. He pulled back.
“That was,” Lu Bixing chuckled, “not exactly an improvement.”
Lin Jingheng glared at him.
“Let me, alright?”
Slowly, as if to give Lin Jingheng time to pull back, Lu Bixing leaned in. Lin Jingheng didn’t move an inch. Then he felt lips on his own, gentle and soft and…pleasant? Lu Bixing’s arms came up and wrapped around Lin Jingheng’s neck, pulling their bodies closer together. Almost automatically Lin Jingheng’s hands landed on the other’s waist. Then Lu Bixing’s lips moved, coaxing Lin Jingheng into following his lead. Still not quite sure what he was supposed to do, Lin Jingheng did his best to mirror him. Lu Bixing made an appreciative sound and tentatively licked the seam of Lin Jingheng’s lips, then took the resulting gasp as an invitation to deepen the kiss, sliding his tongue against Lin Jingheng’s. This was very pleasant, and Lin Jingheng couldn’t stifle the small moan that escaped him. Lu Bixing saw it as the encouragement it was, and as the kiss grew bolder, Lin Jingheng finally dared to push back. He wasn’t sure for how long they stood there and kissed, but eventually Lu Bixing pulled back, breathing heavily.
“There. That was. More like it.” His eyes were still fixated on Lin Jingheng’s mouth.
“I…” Lin Jingheng was at a loss for words. “It was…”
A wide smile spread over Lu Bixing’s lips, which Lin Jingheng had been fixated on as well.
“Alright, you think about a proper adjective, and I go teach my students. And when I come back, we’ll continue this, alright?”
Lu Bixing gave Lin Jingheng another kiss, this time really on the cheek, and all but skipped out of the door, leaving Lin Jingheng to stare after him in a daze. Zhanlu nudged his leg and meowed.
“Shut up, Zhanlu. I don’t need your input.”
“So what? It was a nice kiss. Of course I enjoyed it.”
🌙⭐Silver Ten Groupchat⭐🌙
Did my eyes deceive me or did Headmaster Lu just come from upstairs?
Young Young (8:12)
He totally did.
And did my eyes deceive me, or did he look especially happy?
He totally did.
AND did my eyes deceive me or were his lips somewhat…y’know.
They totally were.
Old Young (8:16)
You are aware the Commander is reading this?
What business do you have staring at Bixing’s lips?
😲😲😲😲😲 So you DID kiss him?
He kissed me.
FOR HOW LONG
HOW WAS IT
ANSWER ME COMMANDER
ARE YOU IN LOVE NOW
Two minutes later, someone hammered against Lin Jingheng’s door. He ignored it and smiled, thinking about what to do when Lu Bixing came over later.