Jumin looks up from the newspaper he's been trying (and failing) to read for the last ten minutes. He wasn't expecting any of the RFA to still be lingering in his apartment after midnight.
He isn't even sure why they needed to be there in the first place. Sometimes Jumin thinks that the other members suggest these meetings just to put him on edge, since he spends the majority of the time checking that Elizabeth the Third hasn't been cat-napped by Seven.
Elizabeth is, thankfully, safely curled up on the chair across from where Jumin sits, but despite the fact that Yoosung and Seven are gone, their video call with V long ended, Zen is still in the room. He has been standing beside the floor-to-ceiling windows since the door last closed, pretending to be checking whether the rain has stopped, and, Jumin suspects, waiting for Jumin to invite him to stay.
Jumin finally gives in. He clears his throat and says, “So, Zen, when are you being kicked out of the hovel you live in?”
Zen turns to face him, frowns at the question as if it's not what he's been expecting. “I'm not being kicked out. The place is flooded. And it's a basement apartment, not a hole in the ground,” he replies as he begins to type out a message on his phone. He’s probably in the RFA chatroom complaining about how long he's been having to wait for Jumin's attention. Or pretending to be. Anything to look disinterested in Jumin's questioning now that it's actually begun.
This is how a lot of their conversations go.
Jumin watches his face closely. Says, “I take it you haven’t actually got anywhere to stay?”
Zen continues typing. He doesn't respond.
“Are you going to answer me?” Jumin folds the paper in his lap.
“I’ve got places to stay. I have options.” Zen looks up for just a fraction of a second, Jumin guesses to suggest that whilst he is listening, he doesn't particularly regard their conversation as being worthy of his full attention.
“Options? You mean like Yoosung’s tiny dorm room?” Jumin continues. “You need my help, just admit it.”
Zen’s stance changes immediately; goes from distracted texting to hackles raised, his shoulders set squarely, his chin raised defiantly, and, honestly, Jumin is pleased to finally get a proper reaction out of him.
Jumin knows Zen thinks his pride is at stake here, can tell he doesn't want to admit he needs help or that his impending homelessness is the main reason he’s even here, at Jumin’s place, after midnight on a Friday night pretending he can't leave until he's certain his new jacket won't get wet, despite the fact it's barely rained in days.
Zen finally pockets his phone. “I don't need anything. Yoosung’s place is just one of my options. And his studio is compact, not tiny.”
“I have two empty bedrooms, you know,” Jumin points out. He gestures towards the corridor that leads towards his master bedroom, as well as the two spares. "Rooms a lot bigger than Yoosung's, and much more appropriately furnished."
“Well, now you’re just bragging."
Jumin rolls his eyes. “Zen, look, if you would like to stay here for a while, I can ask my driver to go and get your bags from your place right now.”
Zen's phone is out of his pocket again. He's probably emailing Yoosung to tell him what Jumin has been saying about his place, not that Yoosung will mind. He knows what Jumin thinks. “I told you, I have options.”
Jumin shrugs. It’s not like he thinks that Zen is lying. Everyone likes Zen. He’s probably had endless offers of a place to stay, Jumin isn’t doubting that. He’s just doubting that any of the offers are a king-size bed in a penthouse apartment.
"Fine,” he says. “Don't accept my offer. But don’t conveniently forget about it the next time you want to slander me.”
“Slander you? Why would I waste my breath?” Zen's fist tightens around his cellphone and Jumin is actually a little worried about it. But he can't stop now, winding up Zen is just so satisfying and if a cellphone falls victim to their battle then so be it. Jumin would buy him a new one, mail it to him with a note from a store pretending it's a freebie. Not that he's done that before. But he could. Maybe he would do it, even. Zen would hate it if he found out, but that would be amusing, at least.
"Oh, so you haven’t been telling assistant Kang about what a cold, heartless asshole I am, living in this big empty place by myself?" He asks, and Zen's scowl suggests he knows what conversation Jumin is referring to.
"Do you let her have any privacy? Reading your assistant’s texts is low even for you."
"It was an accident. She happened to leave her phone on my desk for a moment.” Jumin straightens his tie. He’s not a bad boss, is he? And technically the phone does belong to C&R. “It’s not like I'd be interested enough in anything you and she have to talk about in private to go snooping. And for the record, I’m not by myself. Elizabeth the Third is fantastic company, thank you very much."
Zen just rolls his eyes. “Whatever. Anyway, I don't know why I'm still here, it's not like it's raining now. I should be going,” he says, but the way that he makes no actual attempt to move confirms Jumin’s suspicions that he wants to stay on Yoosung’s floor even less than Jumin thought he would want to. Not that he blames him; they have this in common at least.
"You'll be going?" Jumin raises an eyebrow, tries to hold in the smirk that desperately wants to take over his mouth.
"Yes,” Zen replies, but he still hasn’t moved, and Jumin notices that his stance has relaxed. That and the fact that Zen’s gaze is flickering between the door and the hallway that leads towards the bedrooms.
“Then go.” Jumin gestures towards the exit and waits.
Zen sucks in a breath, and Jumin thinks that maybe he’s going to leave after all, so he adds, "Or stay. It makes little difference to me,” and folds his hands above the newspaper in his lap.
“Well, if you don't care, maybe I will stay,” Zen replies.
Driver Kim returns with his bags in less than thirty minutes.
Zen and Jumin are not friends, but that doesn't mean that Jumin doesn't care. He does, and quite a lot, considering the pained lengths each of them go to to make it very clear that they are each other's last priority.
Zen and Jumin aren't friends. They don't see eye to eye and they clash in a way that seems to half entertain their friends and half cause them despair. They're very different people. That's the way things go, sometimes.
Zen is a narcissist, a dreamer. He isn't practical and he has no head for business and he doesn't see the potential of millions to be made out of feline fragrances, which Jumin just knows is there if the C&R board will just give it a chance.
And it frustrates him because -- well, he can never put his finger on why, exactly. There doesn't need to be a reason. There isn't a reason for everything, some things just are. They just are.
So, whilst he and Zen are by no means close, they are in the RFA and Jumin thinks that, in a way, that might mean more than being friends. So, yeah, Jumin does care about where Zen ends up sleeping and not only because Assistant Kang will probably refuse to do his dry cleaning if Zen ends up getting sick from staying in a damp apartment.
Plus, okay, so maybe Zen’s rant - the one he'd read totally by accident on Assistant Kang’s phone - had hit a nerve slightly.
Nevertheless, Jumin almost regrets goading Zen into staying within less than twenty four hours.
Elizabeth the Third is avoiding him, as if she’s angry that he’s invited somebody else into their home. And someone who hates her, at that. She probably is. He would be, too.
Jumin thinks maybe he was delirious the night before when he made it his mission to talk Zen into taking up his offer of a bed. It’s just that, even though he and Zen don’t exactly see eye to eye on anything other than the importance of male skincare, Jumin likes the challenge, the conflict of his company. It’s hard to resist. And there's a part of him that thinks Zen enjoys his company too, despite the fact he refers to his trust-fund with a sneer every other time they see each other.
Jumin wanders the penthouse calling for Elizabeth until Zen appears wearing a face like thunder, and hisses, “She’s in my bed. In my bed.”
Jumin pushes past him and into the spare room. “How did she get in there?”
“Like I’d know. I think she’s doing it on purpose.” Zen’s eyes narrow. “Or maybe you are. Did you put her in my bed?”
“I would never subject Elizabeth the Third to such terrible company. She must just have been confused," says Jumin.
But she’s in there again the next morning, and the evening after that. She’s definitely avoiding him, Jumin decides, not that he’d admit this to anyone, especially not to Zen.
“I slept in here last month while my room was being decorated,” he lies. “She must be confused. My poor baby.” He makes a show of picking her up and cuddling her to his chest. She wriggles a little; she might be a cat, but she’s Jumin’s cat, and she shares his distaste for public displays of affection.
Zen’s phone is in his hand, poised to capture what Jumin thinks is a beautiful moment. Zen pulls a face afterwards, posts the photo in the RFA chatroom and captions it I feel sick with three unhappy emoji faces.
Jumin saves it and makes it his phone lock-screen wallpaper for the next week. “If you're looking for work, maybe you could become mine and Elizabeth's personal photographer,” he suggests.
“Do you pretend to forget I'm a working actor on purpose?” Zen asks, shoving them both of the door of his room.
“Being open to new business proposals is something you should always consider,” Jumin calls, and even though Zen shuts the door in his face, Jumin is in a better mood than he has been in days when he wakes up the next morning, even despite the fact that Elizabeth is scratching to be allowed into the spare room that Zen is sleeping in by the time his morning coffee is brewed.
Jumin almost starts to get used to Elizabeth’s preference for Zen’s room.
“She’s been in my room again, I have hives, look.” Zen barges into Jumin’s ensuite bathroom a few mornings later, his arm (bare except for a hair-tie on his wrist) held out in front of him as evidence for Elizabeth’s apparent trespassing.
Jumin barely spares it a glance. “There’s nothing there,” he says. There really isn’t, or maybe there is, but Jumin wouldn't admit it, regardless, so there's no point in even looking really. “And I'd prefer it if you referred to Elizabeth the Third by her name.”
Zen sighs, tugs down his sleeve and pulls his hair back into a ponytail. Jumin notices then -- Zen does look tired. Not bad though. “Jumin, she's always in my room, I can tell. My skin is puffy, my eyes are dry, I look terrible and I have an audition later and-”
Jumin cuts in, “Please stop accusing Elizabeth third of ruining your infallible good looks. She has done nothing of the sort and I don't appreciate your baseless accusations.”
“Infallible good looks?” Zen huffs out a breath, a pink glow rising on his cheeks. “Are you trying to wind me up on purpose?”
He wasn't, but now he wants to, if only to cover the fact that he just referred to Zen's handsomeness as infallible. And also because it's an enjoyable way to begin a day.
“I'm trying to get into the shower,” Jumin replies, hand poised to switch on the water. “I have a board meeting in thirty minutes. Anyway, I thought you liked being complimented.” He turns on the shower and fists his hands in the hem of the black cotton t-shirt he sleeps in on cold nights, pausing before he pulls it off over his head. “You want to..?”
Zen’s mouth drops open, a blush rising on his (Jumin notices, for the first time he wants to think, incredibly chiselled) cheeks. “Want to what?!”
“Join me? What do you think?” Jumin raises an eyebrow. This is turning out to the most fun he’s had in the morning in a long time. “Leave me be, I see your face enough on posters at work.”
“Ugh.” Zen’s even redder now. “I’m just glad I don’t see your face at work,” he says, turning to leave the room.
Jumin allows the grin he’s been refusing to allow access to his mouth take over as soon as Zen is out of view. “I'll see you later,” he calls. “And by the way, your eyes do look quite puffy this morning.”
“Jerk,” Zen shouts in return from somewhere down the hall, and Jumin finds that he really doesn’t mind hearing it.
When Jumin returns home it’s almost midnight, but Zen isn’t there and the emptiness strikes Jumin as unusual now, which surprises him. It’s just over a week since the water in Zen’s apartment was turned off so that the leaking pipes could be seen to. Just over a week since Jumin watched Zen pretend he wasn't angling for a place to stay and allowed him to get his way. One week surely isn't long enough to get used to someone else's company, Jumin thinks. Not that he’d know. He's never had a roommate.
He hasn't lived with another human being at all since he moved out of his father’s house. And that's okay - Jumin has always appreciated his own space. But, well, he’s never been fond of actually being alone. It's one of the reasons he works late. It's one of the reasons he agreed to join the RFA.
Jumin thinks that V and Rika could probably always tell this about him, despite his mask. That's why they bought him Elizabeth. He's grateful, really.
So, maybe having one over on Zen wasn’t the only reason he asked him to stay, after all. Maybe he didn’t do it only so that assistant Kang wouldn’t give him grief at work. Maybe it wasn’t even just a way to feed his own self-importance and to give him a readily available source of amusement in the way that Zen bristles when Elizabeth pads past him in the hallway.
Maybe it was something to do with loneliness as well. But, for now at least, amusement and having something to hold over Zen are good enough reasons for Jumin not to dwell on the way his heart sinks a little at the quiet of the penthouse. He pours himself a drink (large measure, on the rocks), tickles underneath Elizabeth’s chin and says, aloud, because that makes it real, “Isn’t it good when Zen isn’t here?”
Elizabeth purrs and Jumin takes that as a yes. He sits at the breakfast bar, loosens his tie and drinks slowly, savouring the burn on his tongue. Elizabeth settles in front of him and Jumin thinks, this is all I need, there isn’t anything missing from this picture.
It's just that he can't seem to stop thinking about Zen, regardless. "He's a ridiculous person," he tells Elizabeth, later. "His face this morning-- his face really was something, he was so irritated. And then he had the audacity to call me a jerk!" He laughs.
He knows people do it, talk to their cats, that it's not an unusual behaviour between owner and pet. It's therapeutic. Plus, it isn’t like he only ever talks about Zen. Just-- well, it’s normal to vent, isn’t it? And it just so happens that Jumin vents about Zen a lot these days.
That’s normal too. Probably.
Jumin doesn’t sleep in, even on weekends. Neither does Zen, apparently, because even though it’s before seven on a Saturday, Jumin is greeted by some bizarrely domesticated version of Zen from an alternate universe who is pouring steaming hot coffee at the breakfast bar when he gets up.
“It’s just brewed,” Zen says as he looks up. He pauses for a moment, head cocked to the side. Finally he asks, “What are you wearing?”
Jumin suddenly wishes that he'd dressed. “Tom Ford.” He avoids eye contact with Zen as much as he can and pulls his robe tighter.
“Yeah, but-- what is it?” Zen is grinning when Jumin finally looks at him. It's too early for this. Jumin is usually prepared for Zen. He enjoys having the upper hand in their conversations, but his head is cloudy and he's half naked and he's finding it hard to keep up.
“It’s a robe. It’s silk.” He accepts a cup of coffee when Zen holds it out and takes a long drink. It burns his tongue, but he ignores the pain.
“It’s--” Zen is still grinning, still enjoying this. “I guess it's just not what I expected you to be wearing,” he decides, and Jumin realises he has something to work with here.
He raises his eyebrows and says, “So you’ve thought about my lounge-wear before. Interesting."
“No, it’s just that Jumin Han and three-piece-suit are pretty much synonymous.” Zen shakes his head, his hair falling around his shoulders, and laughs, his smile wide and genuine. “You look less like you, actually. I like it.”
Jumin takes another drink of coffee. “I take it that isn’t a compliment.”
Zen doesn’t answer his question, instead he just gestures towards his eyes with two fingers and asks his own question. “Do they look better this morning? I bought a new eye mask.”
Zen's eyes look no less and no more puffy than they did earlier in the week. Jumin can never see these flaws and he usually tells himself it's because he doesn't look closely enough, but this isn't strictly true. He's looking now. “They look better,” he answers carefully, nodding.
“Not that I care what you think,” Zen points out quickly as he takes Jumin's mug from his hands and refills it to the top.
“And why not?” Jumin leans against the breakfast bar. “Am I not a connoisseur of what looks good?”
“Well,” Zen replies, “You are always begging me to do more work for you, so I guess you sometimes get it right.”
Jumin rolls his eyes, lets out a scoff. “Begging?”
“That’s how I remember it.” Zen smiles, sips at his own coffee.
Maybe his eyes do look better, or maybe Jumin is just noticing them more than usual in the soft light of dawn. He makes a mental note to stop doing that. “I can’t imagine a universe where I’d beg you for anything,” he replies. “The other way round, maybe.”
Jumin smirks. “It does sound rather natural when you say it…”
“That’s not what I--” Zen flushes as he picks up his coffee and flicks his hair back (somewhat petulantly, Jumin thinks). He sighs loudly. ”I’m going back to bed.”
“Well you do need your beauty sleep.” Jumin says with a smirk, holding out his own cup as Zen stomps past him. "Thank you for the coffee."
Zen doesn’t even turn back. Just calls, “You’re going to have to beg me for it next time,” and steps over Elizabeth, who is lying in the centre of the floor where the sun falls across the room. She’s clever like that.
And Jumin thinks about responding, but he decides that Zen deserves the last word for once, if only because he makes an amazing morning coffee.
Jumin doesn’t have to beg for it next time. There’s a coffee waiting for him on the breakfast bar on Monday morning, and Jumin dithers, waiting for Zen to appear from the shower to say thank you (and maybe tell him his face looks blotchy for good measure).
When Zen doesn’t come out within ten minutes, Jumin then dithers over whether he should leave a note and then over what to write on said note, even though it’s not exactly important. It’s not a three AM email sent out to save their contract with a major new investor. It’s not a proposal due in less than sixty minutes that he’s typing at breakneck speed when he wishes he could be dictating it and letting assistant Kang do this part like usual, except he can't because he’s sent her out to get his dry cleaning and now this is all on him and he wishes Elizabeth were there, not that she can type any faster. Or at all.
But this isn't like that day. And he’s thinking about this, about how he shouldn’t feel nervous and about how Zen isn’t important, not like those other things, and then his phone is ringing and Driver Kim is politely asking if he’s misunderstood his brief because it’s almost eight twenty and they should have left the apartment fifteen minutes ago to avoid the morning traffic.
Jumin doesn't leave the note, forgets the coffee, and is subsequently late for work.
And this isn’t the only time.
Assistant Kang is hovering in the doorway of his office looking concerned and rather pissed off at the same time, three days later.
"Mr Han, if you don't mind me saying, you have been late to work on more than one occasion this week.” She pushes her glasses back up on her nose. “Would you like me to book a new driver for you?"
"Driver Kim is good at his job. He is always early," Jumin says. It isn’t the driver’s fault. The driver who has been outside of his apartment building ten minutes early every day for the last six months. It isn’t his fault.
It’s Zen’s. It’s definitely Zen’s.
Assistant Kang's posture straightens. "Then is there another problem?"
"I've been busy." Jumin waves a hand. He’d blame Zen, but he knows Assistant Kang would just take his words and twist them, that she’d say it was him at fault, really. That he is the one hanging around his kitchen unable to bring himself to leave until Zen appears, just so that he can try to make his new roommate flustered by lying about how terrible his face looks before leaving for the office.
Which is true. But it’s Zen’s fault. Clearly.
"Well, I managed to persuade your nine-o-clock appointment to have a coffee upstairs and take in the view we have across the city from the top floor before your meeting begins. You need to be in the boardroom in five minutes.” Assistant Kang doesn’t look impressed. No wonder she’s flustered.
Jumin makes a mental note not to ask her to look after Elizabeth this week. It’s the least he can do; she really is a good assistant. "Long suffering Jaehee," Seven calls her. “Super hard working,” Yoosung says. Zen usually says she’s “Absolutely, totally, batshit crazy,” for working so closely with Jumin.
Maybe he’s right.
Jumin makes sure he isn't late for work even by a minute for the next week. It's surprisingly easy since Zen has been spending a lot of time out in the evenings and sleeping in late.
He's there in the kitchen the following Monday, though, humming a tune that Jumin can't quite put his finger on. It's probably from one of his musical roles.
He stops humming when he sees Jumin, smiles sweetly and says, “Do you ever get the urge to punch yourself in the face?”
Zen is dressed, his leather jacket speckled with wet spots of rain. He bites into a pastry and Jumin watches crumbs fall to the floor around his feet. Thinks, thank goodness for his cleaning team.
“Because I get the urge to punch you in the face most days, so I just wondered,” he finishes, pastry still in hand.
Jumin raises an eyebrow. “I wish I could stand around trading insults with you all day, but unfortunately I have to go and run my company,” he says.
Zen takes another bite of his breakfast, thinks about this. “Do you, though?”
“Yes?” Jumin picks up his wallet from the coffee table and slips it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket. “What sort of question is that?”
Zen frowns. “I mean, when did you last take a sick day?”
Jumin doesn’t even need to think about this. The answer is never. “I don’t get sick.”
Zen sighs, frustration evident on his face. “Come on, do something unpredictable for once, Jumin, even if it's something as boring as working from home. You’re such a bore, seriously!”
“I am not,” Jumin replies. He's serious and hardworking and proud of it. He's not a bore.
Zen shrugs. “Fine. Enjoy your day at the office, trust-fund kid.”
“You know what--” Jumin takes out his phone, frustrated that Zen doesn’t understand. A warm heat is creeping up under his collar and his tie feels like it’s constricting any air from getting to his lungs. Or any sense from getting to his brain. He types out an email with sharp jabs of his thumbs on the screen. “There you go, all done. Do not call me trust-fund kid again.”
“Let me see…” Zen laughs as he reads the just-sent message over Jumin’s shoulder, wetting Jumin's jacket in the process. “I can’t believe you just cancelled important business plans because I called you boring!”
“I didn’t do it because-- ugh.” Jumin locks his phone, jaw clenched. He’s just lied to Assistant Kang. He’s just cancelled two meetings and one business lunch and why? Because Zen suggested he isn’t an impulsive person. And Zen was right! He isn’t an impulsive person. This isn't like him.
The heat is creeping higher now. Jumin loosens his tie, fumbling with one hand and says, “Actually, I’m starting to feel unlike myself. Maybe I am sick, after all.”
Zen is still laughing at him when Jumin shuts his bedroom door.
Jumin’s mornings are becoming more and more domestic, and less and less like they used to be and it’s weird.
Starting the day with insults might not seem enjoyable, but it just is. With Zen, anyway.
“I’m not sure if those shoes work with your suit,” Zen leans across the breakfast bar, his hair falling into his face as he does. “You look-- stuffy.” He's wearing faded jeans that are tight around his thighs and a brown leather jacket. He knows nothing about business wear. Jumin tells him this.
He lifts up Elizabeth the Third and kisses her head. “She likes what I’m wearing, don’t you, beautiful?”
Zen makes gagging noises and says, “You can ignore me, but I know you’re going to change those shoes before you leave.”
Jumin doesn’t look back up. Says, “No, I’m not,” and continues to shower Elizabeth with affection. “Anyway, why are you up and dressed so early these days?”
“The director keeps calling really early rehearsals.” Zen pulls a face.
Zen looks mildly annoyed. “We've been through this… I'm an actor…”
“I know.” Jumin wasn't even trying to wind Zen up. “I just-- you didn't tell me you had a new role.”
“You didn't ask,” Zen shrugs.
“Well… Congratulations,” Jumin says.
(He changes his shoes three minutes before driver Kim arrives and pretends not to catch Zen’s amused expression as he leaves the apartment.)
Jumin receives a call from Zen a little after ten thirty. Zen doesn't say hello, he just says, "They've gotten wind of it, the media. There's an article about the mystery man who keeps entering your apartment. They think you're some sort of benefactor with a secret live in lover."
Jumin knows. He's read the article, seen the blurred photograph accompanying it. The speculation over his personal life is-- bewildering sometimes. Amusing other times. Mostly it just makes him suspicious of the intentions of almost everyone he meets. It's why he doesn't have friends. He has the RFA, he has Elizabeth and business associates. He has a secret lover who is hiding out at his apartment. Or not.
"Arm-candy is the description I read,” Jumin replies, teasingly. “Do you want me to talk to the press? Leak that it’s you? Get your name out there?"
Zen makes a strangled noise of frustration. "I’m not-- Do you think I just want to be famous? I don’t want-- I want to act. I'm an actor, Jumin."
"So you always say."
The line goes quiet, and Jumin feels an intense pang of guilt. He doesn’t even know why he said that; of course he knows that Zen is an actor, he’s a phenomenal actor. He’s so much more talented than most of the people he shares the stage with. He's so much more talented than doing commercials for C&R. "I didn’t mean that, Zen.”
"I know you didn’t.” Zen sighs. “But, seriously, Jaehee tells me what you say about my acting. You can pretend not to be a fan of my work but I know you were in the audience for my last show on opening night, even if you never told me."
Jumin laughs. He doesn't even mind that Zen is teasing him, he probably deserves it today. “Do I get to have no secrets?”
“You’ve got that secret live in lover, haven’t you?” Zen points out.
Jumin laughs again. Says, “He wishes.”
“In your wildest dreams, Jumin. In your wildest dreams,” Zen replies, and Jumin is still grinning when he answers his next call.
Jumin throws the newspaper away.
After three weeks, Jumin thinks about asking Zen when the work will be finished on his apartment, but he just can't seem to do it.
He thought he would be asking every day, every hour, but now he realises that he's purposefully changing the subject whenever he suspects that they might be about to broach the topic.
He isn't exactly sure why, it's just-- the thought of Zen not being there is a bad one now. As though they're meant to be at each other's beck and call to bicker and tell each other they're ugly and then do an immediate three sixty degree turn and say something outrageously flirtatious just to make the other squirm.
Like that's what people who live together do, which, maybe it is, Jumin thinks. It's not like he has much experience.
Jumin checks his outfit in the wall length mirror of his bedroom and then checks his phone. He is waiting for Assistant Kang to arrive at his apartment for cat-sitting duties; Elizabeth has been sick, and, despite what the vet said that morning, Jumin is still sure that she isn't quite back to her usual self and doesn't want to leave her alone for too long. He had almost cancelled his business dinner, except that it's important and his father would be angry.
He'd contemplated asking Zen to stay in and miss rehearsals when they'd passed each other in the hallway that morning, but it had somehow seemed too much. He doesn't like asking for favours. Zen isn't his employee, not at the moment, and the thought of being somehow indebted to him, even slightly, seems wrong. He relies only on himself. Well, himself and the staff of C&R.
So instead he'd emailed Assistant Kang and instructed her she'd be working late. He hopes she hasn't forgotten, driver Kim is outside already and Jumin wants to have an impressive meal ordered before his business guests arrive.
He picks Elizabeth up and holds her to his chest as he waits, kisses the top of her head and says, “I'm sorry that I have to go out, baby, but don't worry, mean Zen is out, isn't he? He's out a lot in the evenings now isn't he, Elizabeth?”
“She talks back to me.”
Jumin turns around and is faced with the Cheshire Cat grin Seven usually reserves for his most ingenious of plans. Or when he's dressed in drag. These are usually associated, Jumin has noticed. “Elly - she talks back to me.” Seven walks over to them and strokes under Elizabeth's chin. Much to Jumin's annoyance she purrs happily. “It's probably 'cos I talk about cool stuff and not just about how sad I am without Zen's company.”
Jumin ignores his comment. Says, “How did you even get in here?”
Seven shrugs. “I’m a hacker.”
"Yes, of computers.” Jumin shoos away Seven’s hand.
“Computers, penthouse apartments…” Seven smiles. “Anyway, I’m here to cat-sit. Jaehee is running late at the office because you left her a million things to do so I volunteered to take her place.”
“No.” Jumin shakes his head. “No cat abuser is going to look after Elizabeth.”
“Elly likes me,” Seven points out. “I’m like her fun uncle!”
Jumin gets out his phone. “Maybe I’ll just wait for Assistant Kang, she can’t be that much longer.” He hadn’t left her that much work to do, had he? Seven shrugs. Says, “So I guess you want me to upload my voice recording of you rambling on about missing Zen to the chatroom?”
And Jumin wants to call Seven’s bluff, is certain he didn't mentioning missing his company, but Jumin has called his bluff before and it has never ended well for him. He is a world renowned spy, after all. One with a very varied wardrobe. So, instead of calling his bluff, Jumin allows Elizabeth to leap down from his arms, pats down his suit jacket and says, “I’ll be back by midnight.”
Elizabeth stands outside Zen's room, meowing until Jumin gives in and opens the door. “Please be careful with her, she’s very delicate,” he pleads with Seven, whose grin remains as he nods a promise that he will.
Jumin is even less relaxed during the business dinner than he usually is during these events. He sneaks to the bathroom to check his phone for signs that Elizabeth needs him, and even though there is nothing of the sort, he calls Zen and says, “I’m worried about Elizabeth. What time are you home?”
“You know what I mean.” Jumin doesn't have time for this. “Home-- my home. Where you currently live. With me and Elizabeth.”
Zen lets out a soft chuckle. “Rehearsals have ended but we’re grabbing a drink now. I’ll be about thirty minutes. Why?”
“Seven’s at the penthouse.”
Zen laughs so loudly that Jumin has to move the phone away from his ear, but he texts Jumin a five second video clip of him pushing Seven out of the apartment door less than fifteen minutes later.
Jumin has never been so happy to receive a message from Zen. He plays the video repeatedly in the car on the way home, covers his mouth as he laughs and driver Kim glances at him in the rear view mirror with an odd sort of expression.
Jumin tells Zen this when he arrives home. Zen rolls his eyes. “He's probably just never seen you smiling before," he says And he's just teasing, Jumin knows, but Jumin realises he's probably not wrong.
Jumin shrugs. “That's because I know you like the brooding type,” he says, loosening his tie. He throws in a wink, but Zen doesn't even see it. He has his phone out, the chatroom running in the background. Seven's probably uploaded that audio file anyway.
“You're not brooding, you're annoying,” Zen says. “And you owe me a dry Martini.”
Jumin notices the date on his phone and smiles to himself as he tops up his coffee. “Happy anniversary.”
Zen looks up from the sofa where he is sat pouring over his script. “Sorry?”
“It’s a month today since you moved in.” Jumin holds up his phone.
Zen scoffs. “Oh, right. Are you counting up the days so you can charge me for my stay later?”
“No. I just-- I just noticed the date.” He's offended, even if he thinks Zen is joking. Or maybe he isn't. “You know I'm not charging you.”
Zen puts down his script and stretches, his tank top riding up in the process. Sometimes he really reminds Jumin of a cat. Maybe that's why he's becoming so used to his company. “What shall we do to celebrate?”
Jumin reverts his eyes from Zen's bare skin. “We could continue to barely tolerate each other's company like we do most days.”
Zen jabs at his chest. “I barely tolerate your company. You seek mine out! You've come into my room under the pretence of looking for that damn cat four times this week.”
It's been five. And three of them Jumin did think Elizabeth was in there, but he's not going to argue.
“She's very aloof. It's difficult to keep track of her," he replies as he shrugs on his suit jacket. Says, “What about Italian food?”
“You enjoy Italian food, don't you? I know the chef at-- oh, you won't have even heard of it. Just be back here at nine, I'll order the best things on the menu.”
There is a silence, and an awkward one at that. Jumin wonders if he's made a mistake. Zen fiddles with the hair tie on his wrist and says, “Uh, I was joking, Jumin… About celebrating. I have dinner with the cast tonight. Sorry.”
“Oh.” Jumin contemplates putting his entire life savings into funding the invention of a time machine so he can go back to before he just suggested an anniversary dinner with Zen. “Yes, obviously. I was joking too.”
He leaves the apartment in such a flustered rush that he forgets his wallet and spends the day hungry and embarrassed.
He wishes he had been joking, but-- he hadn't. He'd wanted to have dinner with Zen to celebrate a month of him being there in the morning and he's angry at himself for it, because he doesn't even know why. He just knows that he wants Zen to leave almost as little as he'd want Elizabeth to.
Except Zen isn't a cat, he's a man. A man that gets under Jumin's skin by just breathing, and, for all the joking, sometimes Jumin does dream about him.
He wants to see Zen flustered and annoyed, but he also wants to eat the best Italian food in Korea with him. He wants for Zen to be in his kitchen every single morning scowling and telling him he looks stupid. And he wants to know if Zen wants that too, except he doesn't want to ask.
Jumin is just finishing his black truffle risotto when Zen returns home, his cheeks flushed and hair falling around his face. He drapes his brown jacket over the sofa as if it belongs there. “Is that-- wait, did you order from your chef friend just for you?”
Jumin dabs at the corner of his mouth with a napkin, just to be sure Zen has no ammunition for another embarrassing photo. “I do eat,” he says.
“Yes but most people who are dining alone buy convenience store ramen or, I don't know, cook.”
“Do they?” Jumin shrugs. He doesn't see how this is much different. Zen obviously begs to differ, because he rolls his eyes at Jumin’s reply, but he sits at table next to regardless.
“Mind if I join you?” He asks, even though he's already there.
Jumin shakes his head, gestures to Zen to take an empty wine glass from the shelf next to them so he can pour him out a glass of the amazing Pinot Noir he's been steadily working his way through during his meal. Zen obliges. Says, “Not too much, I’m already on my way to drunk.”
“I can tell,” Jumin says.
Zen tilts his head. Asks, “How? Because I’m being nice to you?”
“Because your face is pink.” Jumin picks up his own glass. “Or maybe you're just blushing because of how riveting it is to be sitting so close to me.”
Zen hums in response. “I’d argue with you but I’m being nice, so I will let you have your delusion for tonight.”
“How very kind of you.” Jumin stands up. He wants to stay here and drink with Zen but he's tired and he still feels as though he's committed some major faux-pas of having a guest to stay by knowing it's been a month since they arrived, and mentioning it.
That it means he cares too much, or in the wrong way. In a way that Zen doesn't. “I have some paperwork to do,” he says as he pushes in his chair. “Feel free to finish the bottle.” He doesn't watch for Zen's reaction.
There is a new email in his inbox when he gets into bed after brushing his teeth. It's from Zen, which strikes Jumin as kind of odd since he’s barely twenty feet away, but he opens it anyway, expecting a jibe or a joke or a teasing selfie. Instead there are just two words: “Happy anniversary.”
Jumin can't help but smile.
There is another gossipy article in the tabloids the following day.
“The press are such a disappointment. They no longer believe me to be harbouring a secret lover.” Jumin points out the article to Zen. “I think your landlord spoke to them.”
Zen looks interested, “Why? Am I mentioned by name?”
“Yes. And by profession.”
“Which one?” Zen asks, and he doesn't seem to be joking.
“Actor of course,” Jumin frowns. “What else?”
Zen smiles, relief evident on his face. It really is all he wants, Jumin realises, to be truly recognised for his art and his talent. He wonders exactly how much Zen hated doing the cat commercials for C&R. He wants to thank him properly for doing them one day.
“Do they mention anything else about me?” Zen leans in closer to scan the article, shoulder to shoulder with Jumin as he reads through the piece. His cologne smells familiar, and Jumin wonders if that’s because it’s a C&R fragrance or if it’s just because it’s on Zen.
“Hmm, yes. They've even seen your early work. It seems you have a fan on this editorial team.”
“Well, of course I do.” Zen sits back and grins. “We should invite them to our next party. Or the opening night of my new show!”
“Email Assistant Kang,” Jumin suggests. “I'm sure she’ll send out invitations since she too is your fan.”
“Maybe I will,” Zen replies, and he's in such a great mood that he forgets to call Jumin a jerk before he leaves the apartment.
Jumin is equal amounts glad and disappointed about this.
There’s a party and for once the RFA aren't hosting. Jumin treats it as a business networking event - the way he treats most social occasions. Zen treats it as a way to flirt with half of the city, although, Jumin acknowledges, that is technically a form of networking too.
When driver Kim drops them back at the apartment, Zen's face is flushed and Jumin makes sure to mention it.
“I don't care, I had fun.” Zen reluctantly moves Elizabeth from the sofa so he can sit down.
“Me too. I made some good connections.” Jumin doesn't want to sleep yet. He did have a good night. “Should we have a nightcap?”
A nightcap is usually one drink, but after the first, Zen pours a second and then a third and then they're laughing about Yoosung's latest attempts to gain extra credit at university, and it's nice. It's almost as though they like each other. Like friends, or something
The topic turns to the party guests. “She definitely liked you," Zen grins as he recounts the member of the board of Seoul's planning council Jumin had carefully ignored all night. "She kept pointing you out and calling you Mr Han-dsome Jumin. I thought she was just making a pun at first but she meant it.”
“And why wouldn't she? I'm the man of your dreams after all. Why not her’s too?” Jumin replies.
“Not this again. If I-- If you were right -- if I really did-- if I dreamt about you or whatever…” Zen turns his body, his long legs tucked up beside him as he holds his drink lazily. “If I did, don’t you think you’d already be on your back?”
Jumin chuckles. “Why? Because you’re so irresistible?”
Zen just smiles back at him and says, “Tell me you don’t find me attractive.”
“I don’t find you attractive.” it comes out awkwardly, less teasing and more just-- flat. Alien sounding. A lie.
Zen closes his eyes and grins, his shoulders shaking with silent laughter as he throws his head back against the cushions, his white hair mussed up behind him. His face is still pink. It's nice.
“What?” Jumin thinks he's probably pink too, and it's not from the alcohol, but it's dark in the apartment and Zen's eyes are closed anyway so he might be getting away with it.
“I’ve met a lot of bad actors, but you -- you are the worst.” Zen is still grinning when he opens his eyes. “Seriously.”
“Okay, fine, I admit that, objectively, you’re handsome. You know it, everyone knows it. It doesn’t mean anything,” Jumin says.
“So you don’t feel at all flustered when I do this?” Zen puts down his glass and shifts closer, leans over Jumin on his knees and places one hand on the armrest on Jumin's other side, moving his face in towards Jumin's, watches his face with a small smile of intent. He would only need to move one leg and he'd be straddling Jumin.
Jumin doesn't know why he's thinking about this. But he is, so he replies, “Not like you feel when I do this,” and closes the gap between their faces. Zen's breath is warm against his mouth, his hair tickles at Jumin's cheek, and he doesn't move away so Jumin closes his eyes and presses his lips against Zen's because -- because he's lost his goddamn mind, clearly.
“I feel nothing,” Zen says afterwards, his voice low, eyes closed again. But Zen is a good actor, and Jumin is quite sure that that line was his worst performance yet.
When he kisses him a second time, Zen doesn't even pretend not to enjoy it.
The next evening is awkward. Unpleasant. Jumin feels like he doesn't quite fit into his own skin, has spent the day reading the lines between Zen's old emails and getting no work done.
Zen lingers at his bedroom door in the early evening. “Do you want to… Do you want to order in Italian food?” He asks, and for a moment Jumin can't remember how to join a conversation.
“Why?” He asks, finally.
“I just thought you might want to.” Zen bites at his bottom lip and Jumin thinks about pulling him into his room and seeing what happens next, but he lingers too long.
"Look, do you want to or not?" Zen continues. He looks nervous. It doesn’t suit him.
And Jumin does but he can't seem to vocalise this. It's like his brain won't let his mouth say it. His brain allows him to say, “I'm busy.”
“Right. You-- last night. Did..?” Zen doesn't seem to be enjoying this, and Jumin knows that he isn't enjoying it and it's just-- it's wrong. It's not them. They're not quiet and intense and awkward. They're insults and trying to get gain the upper-hand and almost incredible amounts of blatant, in your face, self confidence.
“Last night was something I'd rather not discuss. Or repeat.” Jumin swallows to force his heart back down in his chest, since it is clearly trying to escape.
“Okay. Me neither,” Zen replies, but he isn't even trying to put on an act this time.
Jumin feels guilty and frustrated all night.
Jumin is sure that Zen is avoiding him and it's three days before he inhabits the same room at the same time as his houseguest again.
“I thought you'd be happy to know that my apartment should be habitable within the next seven days,” Zen says, eyes trained on his coffee, when Jumin walks in.
Jumin opens his mouth. Nothing comes out at first and then so much comes out all in one go. “That's-- are you sure it's fully fixed? It's winter and flood risk is dangerous. What certificates has the landlord acquired?” He rubs his chin. “Maybe I should ask one of the C&R law team to--”
“Don't pretend like you care about my hovel,” Zen cuts in.
Jumin frowns. “I'm not pretending.”
“Oh really?” Zen looks up from his coffee now and his eyes are dark and his face is drawn and he's angry. Or sad. Both, maybe. “Because last I remember you only care about two things: yourself and that cat.”
And Jumin doesn't know where this is coming from, though he has an idea, since he did kiss Zen and then tell him he would never want to do it again, which was such a big lie it's not even funny. Zen obviously doesn't realise this and Jumin can't decide whether he is relieved or disappointed about that. This seems to happen a lot these days. “Okay, yes,” he replies, voice measured. ”I do care about my cat. So what? It’s not like I don’t care about other things. I care about my business.”
This is very clearly the wrong example to use. Even Jumin knows this. But he's already said it.
“Yes. Your business.”
“And I care about-- about the RFA. About the members.” Jumin says, “If I didn’t care, where would you be sleeping?”
“I'm not here because you care. I'm here because you-- because you enjoy indebting people to you with offers of modelling work and places to stay and the use of lawyers they don't need. You just like to throw your wealth around.” Zen crosses his arms.
It stings. “If I liked to do that I would have bought you an apartment. I could have put you up in the Park Hyatt hotel. But I asked you to stay here.” Jumin closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Did you really come round here that night not expecting me to ask you to stay? Isn’t that what you were angling for that night?”
Zen looks away. “Yes, but...”
Zen sighs. "I don’t even know. I don’t know, okay?”
“I asked you to stay because I care about you. And because I care about you, I don't want you returning to an unsafe building. That's all,” Jumin says, fists clinched. Every part of his body is so tense he thinks he might be trembling. He never thought he'd care about Zen's opinion of him, not when they first met. Now he cares -- about Zen and about his opinion and about things being right between them. Or, if they can't be right, then normal at least.
“Okay. Okay-- yeah, I-- I believe you.” Zen pauses. “I feel like I have whiplash from this conversation.”
“I think that’s the first thing we’ve openly agreed on in a long time.” Zen runs his hands over his face and his eyes are closed when his hands move away. His eyelashes flutter against his skin as he takes a breath. “The skin around my eyes is all puffy again so I'm going to bed. Goodnight Jumin."
His face isn't puffy. Or, it is, but it doesn’t matter. Puffy looks good on Zen. Everything looks good on Zen. Jumin swallows down the urge to tell him this.
He unclenches his fists, tiny crescent moons dotted along his palm from where the nails have been digging in. He waits until Zen is nearly at his bedroom door and calls, "Don't dream about me too much,” for good measure. Because the only way to restore normality is to get the last word in and have the last word be goading. That's normal. That's how this is meant to go between them. That's what they need.
And it feels like Zen gets it. That they understand each other a lot more than they'll ever admit aloud, because Zen pauses in the corridor and calls back, "That wouldn't be a dream though, that would be a nightmare, trust-fund jerk.” And his voice isn’t laced with anger or distaste or even exasperation, Jumin notes. It sounds more like affection, soft and barely there, but there nonetheless. Jumin smiles.
Balance restored, Jumin makes a fresh cafetiere of light roast and sits in the dark in the kitchen, Elizabeth the Third asleep in his lap, lying still against his chest until his inbox is empty, every email replied to, and he has no more excuses to be hiding from his own thoughts.
When he goes to bed, he dreams about Zen and it isn't a nightmare at all.
Zen is packing when Jumin knocks on his door. When he opens it, Jumin speaks right away, just to make sure he doesn't allow his brain to stop him from telling the truth again. “I'm sorry about what happened the other night."
“Which one?” Zen asks, and Jumin knows he's referring to the kiss and the subsequent rejection.
“Both,” Jumin replies. It's the truth.
Zen goes back to folding his clothes. Elizabeth appears, sidles around Jumin's legs and leaps onto Zen's bed. “Can you imagine a world in which we don't find each other infuriating?" Zen asks as he lays jackets onto the bed ready to pack them.
Jumin thinks about this for a while. Settles for, "No."
"Me neither. And if it does exist, I wouldn't want to live in it, anyway. It would be too weird.” Zen glances up.
Jumin sighs. "Do you think there's something wrong with me?"
Zen stops packing. "I think there's a lot wrong with you, but for starters I'm offended by your pretentious, rich, asshole attitude, your love for cats and your inability to let loose. But that isn't what you mean, is it?” His smile is sad, not teasing.
Jumin picks Elizabeth up so she is out of Zen's way. "You don't have to go back, you know,” he says.
For a long time, Zen just looks at him. "Yes I do,” he replies, finally.
"Yes, yes, you're probably correct.” Jumin nods. “Just promise me that if you're ever in this position again you'll just come straight over. No-- no stand-off, no pretending I'm the last person on Earth you'd stay with."
Zen pulls a face. “Even if I seemed to share my bed with an evil cat every other night.”
"I guess I'm not the easiest of people to get along with. But neither are you,” Jumin says.
"And that's why we don't get along so well together." Zen smiles.
Jumin smiles back. He's right.
"I've reserved you a seat for opening night of my new show, by the way." Zen goes back to packing. “If you want to come.”
"I'd be proud to be there,” replies Jumin.
Zen looks at him with something akin to fondness, but with more fire. "Good," he says. "Well, this stuff won't pack itself.”
“I don't know why you're bothering to fold any of it, I've seen the way you store your clothes in that hovel,” Jumin says. Adds, for Elizabeth's benefit, “You would hate it there, Elizabeth, not nearly classy enough for you.”
Zen rolls his eyes. "Whatever. Jerk," he mutters, almost as if on cue.
It's become Jumin's favourite thing to hear.
When Zen leaves, things return to normal in the Han household. Jumin spends his mornings talking to Elizabeth as she potters underneath his feet. He brews his own coffee. He isn't late for work, much to driver Kim and Assistant Kang's relief.
It's almost boring.
Zen's show opens to rapturous applause and rave reviews. Jumin watches him from the audience with awe. He hopes Assistant Kang doesn't notice.
Afterwards, he waits patiently for the press, the fans and wannabe groupies to disperse before he approaches Zen. Nods hello and says, “You were the best part of the show.”
Zen says something about just being part of an amazing cast, but he looks pleased.
“Seriously,” Jumin presses. “You’re going to make a lot of money off the back of this, I’m sure.”
“Do you ever think of anything else but money?” Zen asks, a teasing lilt to his voice. Jumin had missed this.
Jumin smiles. "Yes, actually."
Zen looks away first. Mumbles, “I have to go and do some photo ops now," and knocks back the Champagne in the half-filled flute he's holding.
“Come over to mine later if you want,” Jumin says, quickly, before Zen walks away.
“You still have a key, don’t you?” Jumin had never got round to getting that back. He doesn't mind. It's not like he has anyone else to give it to.
Zen nods, slowly. “Yeah, but… Why?”
“If you don’t want to, that’s quite alright. It was only a suggestion."
“You’ve bought me some stupidly overpriced gift haven’t you?” Zen asks. “For surviving my first night of this show.”
Jumin thinks about protesting, but it's difficult because Zen isn't wrong. It's nothing big. Actually, it's quite big, but not expensive. It's the same coffee machine Jumin has in his kitchen. He isn't even sure why he bought it, it's just-- maybe he wanted an excuse to invite Zen back over. Jumin wonders when he'll feel like he doesn't need an excuse for everything he does.
“I knew it.” Zen shakes his head and groans. “Look, I’ll come over on one condition.”
“I don’t want the gift.”
Jumin thinks about this. “Then what do you want?”
“The usual,” Zen replies. “Compliments disguised as insults and insults disguised as compliments. Just like we do best. And maybe a nightcap or two.”
Jumin isn't sure, but he thinks a nightcap might not mean just a drink. Maybe he and Zen aren't friends, but they're something. Defining that doesn't really matter.
And compliments disguised as insults are the most enjoyable type.