The pride of a young man drove Ming Shu to quibble with Xiao Yu'an for a while, but spending Xiao Yu'an's money wasn't as much of a struggle as spending the Ming family's money.
Xiao Yu'an wanted to support him. He wanted Ming Shu to live freely, easily. Ming Shu struggled to cope with that for a while, but soon accepted it. When the school year began, he moved into the dorms on campus. Originally, he'd wanted to continue working at the convenience store while attending college. But there were a rich array of activities to fill up his time on campus, and he wasn't short on money—
So he ultimately quit his job at the convenience store too.
Ever since he half-jokingly brought up the matter of being a 'kept boy', he hadn't mentioned his pursuit of Xiao Yu'an again. He went home to Xiao Yu'an's apartment every weekend with a bag of dirty laundry, and he would return to his dorms with all his stuff on Sunday nights. One of his roommates, named Yang Jing, originally thought Ming Shu was a local.
Ming Shu had had to explain, "I live with my ge."
"Then, your ge does your laundry when you bring all your dirty clothes home?" Yang Jing asked, awed. "He dotes on you that much? No, wait, it's not your ge's wife who does your laundry, is it?"
Ming Shu instantly wanted to blurt out—
I'm my ge's wife!
But he couldn't say that, so he curtly answered, "We have a washing machine at home. I do my own laundry."
He did, in fact, do his own laundry. The balcony at home was large, and the washing machine came with a dryer anyway. It was more convenient than washing his clothes at the dorms.
The first semester passed in the blink of an eye. Winter break approached. Since he could rely on Xiao Yu'an's money, Ming Shu didn't go back to work. As long as Xiao Yu'an wasn't away on a mission, Ming Shu could spend two days with him every week.
But their relationship stagnated. No progress was made.
Xiao Yu'an was still playing the role of his guardian, his parent. He was paying Ming Shu's tuition and living expenses. When Ming Shu wanted to buy new winter clothes, those were paid for by Xiao Yu'an as well. Ming Shu didn't end up spending much of the money he'd saved by working over the summer. At most, he used it to buy some useless trinkets for the apartment once in a while.
No one treated Ming Shu better than Xiao Yu'an. But Xiao Yu'an was only willing to be his guardian. Not his boyfriend.
There was nothing Ming Shu could do about that.
Pursuing someone and being pursued. Dumping someone and being dumped. These were all extremely common occurrences on any college campus. A guy in Ming Shu's dorm building had recently been dumped by his high school girlfriend. He was fuming with bitterness and dragged all the other guys out to a buffet, where he could really vent and eat his feelings.
In truth, Ming Shu was a little envious of guys like that. At least those guys could vent. Ming Shu, on the other hand, could only bottle it all up. He could only play the part of Xiao Yu'an's didi, even while his heart and lungs burned up with desire. Even when all he wanted was to fling himself into Xiao Yu'an's bed.
To get home from the university, Ming Shu had to take the campus bus for a few kilometers, then transfer onto a city bus. He sat by the window, lost in thought. The cold air from outside blasted down on him, nearly freezing his face in place.
That year, it had gotten especially cold, especially early. It wasn't even the last month of the lunar calendar yet, and street shops were already selling wintersweet blooms at the side of the road.
Ming Shu's romantic notions surged up within him again. He bought a few sprigs of wintersweet with his pocket money and stuck them in a vase after getting home. Then he set out again to buy some groceries, so that Xiao Yu'an could cook once he got back from work.
Ming Shu spent every Friday like that. He rushed home like his life depended on it, threw his dirty laundry into the washer, cleaned up around the apartment, bought the ingredients for the dishes he wanted to eat, and counted down the minutes to Xiao Yu'an's return.
He'd been particularly busy that week. He and the counter-terrorism majors were training together. They'd just run a grueling set of drills that day, which left him sleepy and hungry. The sky darkened early in the evening in those winter months. All Ming Shu wanted was to shower, then eat, then sleep.
But after taking a hot shower, he found he wanted to crash right away, without even eating.
There was only one bed at the apartment. Over the summer, Ming Shu had slept on the couch. Last year, he'd managed to squeeze in next to Xiao Yu'an a few times, but now Xiao Yu'an wouldn't let him squeeze onto the bed.
In September, after returning from basic training, Ming Shu had found a new bed in the living room, next to the couch. It was only a small bed, but it instantly made their previously neat and tidy living room look much more cluttered.
Ming Shu hadn't known whether he was happy or mad.
But it was, at least, a sign that he could treat this place as his permanent home.
For fear of angering Xiao Yu'an, Ming Shu usually didn't climb onto the bed in the bedroom. But his warm shower left him feeling a little lazy and a little bold. Before he even finished putting on his pajamas, he flung himself onto Xiao Yu'an's bed.
The little bed in the living room was nowhere near as comfortable as this one. And the little bed in the living room didn't carry Xiao Yu'an's scent.
Ming Shu just lay there. He didn't even move, except to bury his face in the pillow and greedily inhale that familiar scent.
He hadn't climbed into that bed with any funny ideas or ulterior motives. He'd just meant to lie there for a while. That would have been enough. Before Xiao Yu'an got home, he would have to get up and smooth out the sheets, tidying up the bed again.
But once Ming Shu actually lay down, he couldn't help himself.
His face was half-buried in Xiao Yu'an's pillow. His skin was still warm, flushed from the hot shower he'd just taken. His hands traveled down. His eyes slid shut. And his breathing gradually quickened.
The other guys majoring in criminal investigation, like Ming Shu, were all hot-blooded young men. At night, they all fought to get some privacy in the dormitory bathrooms. That week, physical training with counter-terrorism had wiped them all out. They crashed into bed and slept as soon as they got back to their rooms. No one had any energy left to think about 'relieving' themselves.
Ming Shu had been pent up for a long while already.
He couldn't control himself. He didn't even realize what he was doing.
Then he really, truly lost control. There were no tissues on the nightstand, and for a long moment, Ming Shu could only bathe in the afterglow with his eyes half-open, half-shut. His hair, freshly washed, was damp with sweat again.
His hands were also wet.
His legs, too.
A few minutes later, as though dragged back down to earth, Ming Shu suddenly sat bolt upright in bed. He stared at the messy, stained bedsheets and finally realized what he'd done.
It was already dark out. Xiao Yu'an would be home soon.
Ming Shu's heart pounded wildly in his chest. In less than ten minutes, he would definitely hear the sound of a key turning in the lock of the front door.
"Fuck!" he swore darkly, glaring down at himself. "What kind of animal are you? Fucker!"
He couldn't let Xiao Yu'an see these bedsheets, no matter what. Even looking at them himself left Ming Shu burning up with shame. It was such an intense sensation that his eyes started to burn with the threat of tears.
When Xiao Yu'an opened the door, he instantly smelled the scent of laundry detergent in the air. It was strong. Too strong.
The washing machine was on the balcony. If someone were doing a normal load of laundry, the scent shouldn't have been so intense.
After swapping his shoes for slippers, he went out to the balcony to have a look. It was freezing cold outside, and Ming Shu was, shockingly, hanging up a set of freshly washed sheets while only half-dressed.
"Ge, you're back!" Ming Shu exclaimed.
He was panicking. He was really, seriously panicking. In a fit of horror and desperation, he had ripped all the sheets and covers off Xiao Yu'an's bed. He'd stuffed them into the washing machine and poured in way too much detergent. Then, halfway through the cycle, he'd realized it would be way too suspicious to wash only Xiao Yu'an's bedding. So he'd grabbed his own sheets from the living room and brought them out to the balcony too.
In his panic, he'd completely forgotten that he was only wearing a pair of pajama pants. His upper body was completely bare, though he didn't feel the cold. He'd been running around so frantically that he'd actually worked up a sweat.
Xiao Yu'an instantly realized something was wrong. He stepped back to make room at the balcony door and said, "Come in, put your clothes on."
Ming Shu looked down and uttered, "Ah!"
He hastily rushed inside to get himself properly dressed.
Xiao Yu'an stepped out onto the balcony. The washer was still spinning. A mound of suds had bubbled out, spilling over onto the ground. Some of the sheets were already hanging up to dry, while Ming Shu's own bedding still sat in a basin.
After taking a minute to get dressed, Ming Shu paused in the bedroom and deeply sniffed the air a few times. He couldn't detect any lingering traces of the scent of his… activities.
To be on the safe side, he'd placed the fragrant wintersweet blooms in Xiao Yu'an's room earlier. He was immensely pleased by his own foresight. It was a good thing he'd bought those flowers earlier that evening.
After taking those deep breaths, Ming Shu returned to the living room and put on a brave face. He confidently explained, "Ge, the weather is really good today, so I washed our sheets!"
That obviously forced sort of confidence confirmed Xiao Yu'an's suspicious. Something was definitely wrong today.
Ming Shu was pretty good at doing chores around the house. Every weekend, he did his own laundry. But he never washed the bedding. He probably thought the sheets were too big, too much of a hassle to wash and dry. Ming Shu must have had some other reason for washing both sets of sheets that day.
Xiao Yu'an glanced out at the balcony again. Ming Shu's sheets were still in a basin, waiting to be washed. The sheets from the bedroom had been washed first.
Then the problem was with the sheets in the bedroom. Everything else was a distraction.
Ming Shu's eyes were shifty, and the tips of his ears were red.
Panic was still gripping his heart. He didn't know if he could get away with this. If Xiao Yu'an asked him about it later, he would just play dumb. He would stick to his guns and deny everything. The scent of wintersweet had permeated the bedroom, anyway. Even if Xiao Yu'an had some stroke of brilliance and realized the truth, he wouldn't be able to unearth any evidence.
"Ge, aren't you going to cook?" Ming Shu asked as he returned to the balcony. The washer was already beeping, ready to take a new load. "I bought chicken wings. You can fry them up for me, okay?"
Xiao Yu'an didn't question him right away. He only nodded and said, "Sure."
Ming Shu breathed a sigh of relief. While he put another load into the washing machine, he even started to hum.
It seemed, to him, that the storm had passed.
He was in the clear.
But after the laundry was done, and after he'd eaten his fill at dinner, Ming Shu was called into the bedroom to make the bed.
When he was little, he'd loved getting the comforters back into their covers. Whenever his gege called for him to help, he would sprint into the room. His gege would give him one corner of the covers with the comforter tucked inside, then another. Once they had all four corners pinched in place, Ming Shu would excitedly shake and shake the bedding until the comforter settled in place. He would always be reluctant to stop even when his gege told him to.
Back then, shaking the comforter into place had reminded him of the waves of the ocean. Ming Shu had longed to see the ocean. That was where his gege's other grandpa lived. Ming Shu had heard lots and lots of stories about the sea, and he'd always wanted to run into the water and feel the waves kiss his feet.
But he couldn't go to the ocean. Not back then. So he could only enjoy the waves of the comforters.
Now, however, being called into the bedroom filled him with an apprehensive sort of dread.
Ming Shu kept getting the feeling that Xiao Yu'an had already guessed at what 'activities' he'd gotten up to in there. He kept worrying that Xiao Yu'an was now calling him into the bedroom to berate him.
Xiao Yu'an had indeed guessed the truth.
For the past half a year or so, they'd lived together with an invisible line between them. Their relationship had continued as before, like they were an ordinary pair of brothers.
But that line wasn't always firmly respected, because they weren't an ordinary pair of brothers. Ming Shu wanted to be Xiao Yu'an's boyfriend, and he wasn't all talk.
And Xiao Yu'an wasn't as unaffected as he appeared.
What did he think of Ming Shu? Was Ming Shu his type?
This was a kid Xiao Yu'an had personally 'molded' according to his own values and beliefs. He knew all of Ming Shu's most outstanding points, and he knew all of Ming Shu's flaws as well.
If Xiao Yu'an absolutely had to like someone, there was no one in the world who would be better than Ming Shu.
No one else was so thoroughly compatible with him and his way of living. And if Xiao Yu'an acted as someone's lover, he wouldn't be able to 'mold' them in the same way.
Ming Shu was the only one he wouldn't need to 'mold' at all.
In some ways, to Xiao Yu'an, Ming Shu was perfect.
Ming Shu's little flaws were all things Xiao Yu'an could tolerate. In fact, it was the existence of those flaws that made Ming Shu's excellence shine.
But had Xiao Yu'an 'molded' Ming Shu for the sake of turning him into the ideal partner?
They weren't related by blood, but that wasn't the only hurdle Xiao Yu'an had to be concerned about. He'd watched Ming Shu grow up. For him, that was a much more difficult hurdle to overcome.
But he couldn't deny it.
He was drawn to Ming Shu.
Ming Shu, who unwaveringly followed in his footsteps, had a youthful vitality that was like the morning sun, or a blazing inferno.
When those eyes fell upon him, Xiao Yu'an couldn't help but look back.
Ming Shu was his type to start with, and now they were living together. Coexisting, day in and day out. How could Xiao Yu'an not feel the attraction? The allure?
He was no longer just Ming Shu's gege.
His care and affection for this didi of his had become more and more complex.
Now, with the realization of what Ming Shu had done in his bed, Xiao Yu'an should have gotten angry or annoyed. But he wasn't. He couldn't work up any anger or irritation.
He'd called Ming Shu in just to confirm the facts.
But what good would confirming those facts do?
It was exceedingly rare for Xiao Yu'an to encounter a problem to which he had no answer. But that night, before he spoke, he really couldn't explain his own actions. He had no answer for why he didn't just let this go.
"You didn't wash the sheets and covers because the weather was nice, did you?" Xiao Yu'an met Ming Shu's gaze, just in time to see Ming Shu's eyes widen. "Even if the weather was nice, the sun has already set."