Hou Dong had spent years traveling outside, fighting bandits and outlaws, being trapped in unfavorable terrain along with his men while a storm was raging outside, encountering beasts in the wilderness, moving forward without enough food or water, entering a town just to be mistaken for criminals and hunted down by the law-enforcing officers.
All these things, he had lived through while calmly facing them. He had considered the circumstances and their own condition and had chosen the best course of action according to his considerations and instincts. Even though it had often looked grim, they had still managed to get out. They had lost some brothers along the way but considering all the types of situations they had had to face, it hadn’t been many.
Now, that he was about to properly meet his in-laws for the first time, this calmness was gone. His heart beat madly and his back and hands were covered in cold sweat. He unwittingly tensed up and squeezed Kanuen’s hand for a bit of comfort.
He felt that Kanuen’s brother had had a good impression of him but he didn’t know if that would be enough. A brother-in-law was good but a mother-in-law and father-in-law were still more important to convince of his good qualities. What if they didn’t like him? What if they thought that he wasn’t good enough for Kanuen?
He had saved their town but the people hadn’t been impressed. If Kanuen’s family had the same attitude, then he might have trouble to score any points in their mind. What then? He could ride and he could fight, he could also make some simple dishes from the beasts he hunted but other than that … What skills did he have to deserve Kanuen?
Kanuen looked up at his lover and smiled. They had known each other for several weeks now and he felt that he had a good grasp on Hou Dong’s mood. But right now, he saw a new side. This nervous … Was Hou Dong really that worried about meeting his family? Well, he should help him out a bit.
The two of them stepped in front of Kanuen’s parents and sister and Hou Dong’s smile froze up. Shit. Were they really doing this? He had lived for so long but he felt that he wasn’t prepared for this in any way. He … He still needed at least a few more days before he could do this!
He gulped, trying to get out a word — at least a greeting! — but when he saw Kanuen’s father and mother look from their son to him and back again and then at their joined hands, the bit of courage he had just tried to scrape up vanished at once.
Kanuen glanced at his lover, almost wanting to laugh. He held back though and turned to his parents. "Mother, father, this is Hou Dong. You’ve probably seen him already and might’ve heard what happened. He found me in the desert and picked me up." He didn’t say more than that, making Hou Dong eye him from the side. Kanuen just smiled, watching his parents’ faces.
The two of them looked at Hou Dong again, nodding their heads. "Oh. So it’s like that. Welcome."
Hou Dong also nodded but he couldn’t help but feel strange inside. Shouldn’t Kanuen tell them that they were lovers? That they intended to marry? Or was this not the right time? But even then, was it alright to only say that one sentence? Shouldn’t they explain a bit more? Or could it be that Kanuen intended to have him do it?
He glanced at his lover but Kanuen’s expression gave nothing away. Hou Dong felt a slight sense of panic rise in him. A different country, with different customs and traditions … Things were bound to be different, weren’t they? If he acted rashly, he might make matters worse. No, it would be better if he kept quiet. He should leave the explaining to Kanuen.
Kanuen watched Hou Dong’s reaction from the corner of his eye and his smile brightened further. Well, he shouldn’t go overboard. "Do we have enough food for Hou Dong’s men?"
His parents nodded but didn’t say more and just looked from their son to his lover and back again once more.
"Well, I guess it’s time to go home then."
His parents gave a relieved nod and stepped outside.
Hou Dong turned to his lover and also grabbed his other hand. "Then … We’ll see each other tomorrow morning?" It wasn’t that late yet but if Kanuen went with them, he would certainly tell them about everything that happened, wouldn’t he? That would probably take a long time. So there was no way he would return anytime soon.
This time, Kanuen really laughed. "What? You don’t want to come with me?"
Hou Dong didn’t know what to say. "Do you … Do you really want me there when you tell them everything? That might be a bit awkward."
Kanuen shook his head. "You might not be able to understand this but in Sou, we do believe that what has happened, has happened. There’s nothing that can change that. And anyway, you did nothing wrong. So what are you afraid of?"
Hou Dong furrowed his brows. "Well, I didn’t bring you back immediately and … I almost caused you to be sold off? I could have handled it better."
Kanuen reached up and brushed his cheek, leaning forward to kiss his lips. "You saved my life in the desert. You brought me back home. You paid back the people that merely regarded me as a possession. Isn’t that good enough? Anyway, they won’t judge you. That isn’t the way it works here. You will probably find it strange when you see but the people in Sou can take these kinds of things."
Hou Dong probably wouldn’t have believed him if he hadn’t seen how calmly the townspeople acted the whole day. Obviously, it was the truth. Whether it was bandits attacking or a group of warriors coming to save them, it didn’t seem different to them than their everyday lives. To him who had visited a lot of places, this was still a strange thing to see. Just what was going on in their heads? How could they face things so calmly? But it seemed normal here.
Kanuen smiled and tugged at his hand, pulling him out of the building. "You’ll understand with time. In Sou, we do believe … in fate if you want to call it that way."
Hou Dong furrowed his brows. There were similar beliefs in their Hua country but that still didn’t mean that people wouldn’t get furious or despair if they happened to get into such a situation. Then again, their beliefs were shallow. From everything that Kanuen had told him so far, things were different in Sou. Their belief was deep. It was rooted in their very being. So maybe that really gave them the strength to confront matters calmly.
While Hou Dong still pondered this matter, the group arrived in front of a house. It had two stories but wasn’t very big. The most eye-catching was the curved roof with dark blue tiles that glinted in the sun. The wooden beams were a vibrant color somewhere between a deep yellow and a bright orange.
Seeing it, Hou Dong had the feeling that this was a very lively place. He had no trouble imagining Kanuen growing up in this place at all. Running around with his brother and sister, their parents chasing after them, scolding them for making trouble … That was probably the kind of life they had had.
Hou Dong couldn’t help but glance at Kanuen at that thought. The two of them wouldn’t have any children so they would never be that pair of parents chasing after them. If they could, he could have imagined it though. Kanuen just gave him the feeling that he had to be very good with children. Well, thinking about it like that the fool chasing after the children probably would’ve been him while Kanuen sat in the background, maybe even laughing at him. Most likely, after he was already worn out from trying to catch the little devils, Kanuen would just call out and they would go back to him willingly. He could imagine that very well.
Hou Dong smiled to himself. It wasn’t just this that he could imagine. Living together, waking up together, preparing the food and eating together, sitting at the table and talking about what had happened in the town and maybe the villages that might be close by … He could imagine all of that. It was easy.
If he had still had any reservations about how we should decide on his future — whether it was better to go and travel and only come here in between like he had returned home to Hua country up until now or whether he should give up traveling with the others and stay with Kanuen —, he obviously had his answer.
This life … He hadn’t wanted it before but now that it was in front of him, he knew that it was the right choice. There was no other way. He wouldn’t be able to just go out and leave Kanuen behind. Not for such a long time. No, it was best to stay at his side.
He squeezed his lover’s hand and gave him a bright smile, hoping that Kanuen would understand from the way he looked at him. Right now, even though the people around were Kanuen’s parents, he didn’t want to say it. This was something that he felt he should only say when they were alone. At least for now. After they had told Kanuen’s parents everything, he might change that opinion. But that would still have to wait.
Kanuen’s father rushed to open the door and then stepped aside, motioning in. "You go in, ah."
Hou Dong watched him wait next to the door and couldn’t help but raise his brows slightly. It seems Kanuen’s father wasn’t any less nervous than him? Well, they probably hadn’t expected this son to bring home a son-in-law for them. And even though Kanuen hadn’t told them yet just what his role was exactly, it was probably obvious from the way they acted with each other.
Hou Dong looked from Kanuen’s father to his mother but she also just waited and then motioned inside as if to encourage them. Hou Dong couldn’t help but feel that it was slightly weird for them not to lead the way but this was another country, after all. He should stop expecting that everything would be the same as in Hua.
He went into the house together with Kanuen and his lover’s parents followed behind. They went into the kitchen Sun Jin had been brought to the day before and sat down at the table.
Hou Dong felt slightly awkward. Now … Nobody else was around anymore so they could start talking about what had happened before, couldn’t they? He trusted that Kanuen knew his family well enough to know how they would react but he still couldn’t help but feel strange thinking about how the journey so far could be laid out in the open. Especially since the mistakes he made had almost made Kanuen have to experience what he had escaped from in the first place. How could that be forgiven so easily?
While Hou Dong still worried about how to apologize and make amends for his past behavior, Kanuen had already gotten comfortable. He sat down next to his lover, brushing his neck with his fingers and giving a smile. "You haven’t eaten any good food for the past few weeks either. You’re probably hungry."
Before Hou Dong could even react, Kanuen’s mother had already handed her daughter over to her husband and run to prepare something. "Just wait a moment! We have something here. The two of you must be starving."
Soon enough, a few bowls with steam wafting from them stood in front of them and Kanuen’s mother sat down on the other side of the table again, looking nervous.
Hou Dong bowed his head, feeling a little better. Kanuen’s family was welcoming but probably just as nervous as him to be suddenly confronted with their son’s new lover. Realizing this made him calm down. Yes, he hadn’t been on his best behavior before but he had still saved Kanuen. In the end, other than a mighty scare, nothing had happened. He had saved him in time. And afterward, he treated him well. They probably wouldn’t condemn him for that. There was no need to be like this. He should just be his usual self and they would certainly like it. After all, Kanuen had also fallen in love with the person he was.
Kanuen picked up his chopsticks and started to eat, giving Hou Dong a deep look. "There’s no reason to hold back. They’re my family so they’re yours as well."
Hou Dong nodded but still looked at Kanuen’s parents and bowed his head. "Thank you for having me."
Kanuen’s parents immediately raised their hands and waved them as if to deny. "No, no, there’s no need to thank us. Since Kanuen brought you, you’re our honored guest."
Hou Dong nodded and couldn’t help but smile. It was good that they had nothing against him coming here. That made things a little easier.
He also picked up his chopsticks and joined Kanuen in eating, wondering just when they would start to talk about what had happened. To his surprise, the conversation never came. Kanuen didn’t start to explain and his parents didn’t ask, just quietly taking care of their daughter and asking them if there was anything they needed.
Hou Dong couldn’t help but feel slightly uneasy. Was this because he as an outsider was there? Or could it be that they really took things in stride to such a degree that they wouldn’t even ask what had happened to their son?
Both of the options worried him. Well, being regarded as an outsider was logical since he had only just arrived. It would take some time for the people of the town to see him in another light. But as for the second option … He felt depressed for Kanuen’s sake.
His lover had gone through a lot and although he had tried to be there for him, that certainly wasn’t the same as being able to talk things through with his family. After all, even though the two of them had gotten to know each other better in the last two weeks, they were still not that familiar with each other. There would inevitably be things his family would understand better. Especially since they shared the same beliefs. In that regard, Hou Dong really was an outsider.
Kanuen and Hou Dong finally put down the chopsticks and Kanuen’s mother rushed to put away the dishes, before she returned, looking from one person to the other until her gaze finally stopped at Kanuen’s face. "Then … I guess he will be staying here? Will you share a room or …?"
Hou Dong tensed up. They still hadn’t made clear what their relationship was but it seems that it was already implied. Was there something in the customs of Sou that he didn’t understand? He really wanted to ask but now certainly wasn’t the moment for that.
Kanuen smiled and reached over, grabbing Hou Dong’s hand. "We’ll stay together."
His mother nodded. "Ah, then I don’t need to prepare another room." She continued to nod to herself, not saying anything else.
Hou Dong couldn’t help but feel that it was slightly strange. He still didn’t dare to ask though and just turned to Kanuen, raising his brows.
His lover got up, tugging at his hand. "How about going up then? I’ll show you the room. We’ve been traveling for so long, you must be tired."
Hou Dong didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t deny that the idea of being able to lie down and rest for a while was very tempting but he was actually more interested in finding out just what was going on in Kanuen’s family. Were they just so nervous because he was around?
Unfortunately, it didn’t seem as if he would have the chance to find out anytime soon. If he asked, that would be strange, and right now, he wasn’t really in a situation where he could calmly observe. Thus he could only nod and get up, following Kanuen. Before they could leave the kitchen, he turned back to Kanuen’s parents, bowing to say his farewell. The two of them once again seemed nervous at being treated like that. Ah, this really wasn’t what he had expected.
Just when Kanuen and Hou Dong wanted to go upstairs, the entrance door opened and Piul returned, mumbling to himself with scrunched up brows. He didn’t seem happy at all.
Kanuen halted, giving a smile. "What? Did somebody dare to bully my brother?"
Piul looked up and then rushed over, hugging Kanuen. "Brother! I’m so happy you’re back."
Kanuen patted his brother with a chuckle. "It’s not what I asked about though. What got you into a bad mood?"
Piul reluctantly let go of his brother and stepped back, his eyes darting to Hou Dong for a moment. "Isn’t it all because of that fool? Saying this and that. He really doesn’t know what’s good for him!"
Hou Dong couldn’t help but laugh. Obviously, that 'fool' was none other than Sun Jin. "I guess I shouldn’t say that but just ignore him. He’s always like that, causing endless trouble."
Piul nodded as if he had expected nothing else. "I thought so. He started just when he came here yesterday. You should have sent somebody else. Who knows if he wouldn’t ruin that plan you prepared?"
Hou Dong nodded and his grasp around Kanuen’s hand tightened. "Well, he’s a good fighter though. And faster than most of the others so I felt that he was very suitable to do this task."
Piul pursed his lips and nodded. "Well, you’ll know him best. Anyway, those bandits are gone and my brother is also back so everything is alright." His expression lit up at the second part and he reached out to grab Kanuen’s hands, only awkwardly stopping when he saw that one of them was held by Hou Dong already. Piul stared for a moment before he cleared his throat. "Well, I guess that’s something I’ll need to get used to."
Hou Dong almost wanted to pull back his hand so that the brothers could have a moment together but Kanuen continued to hold onto him and just grasped his brother’s hand with the other one.
"I hope that that’s something you’ll get used to." He glanced at Hou Dong, giving him a sweet smile.
Piul also couldn’t help but glance at Hou Dong. He knew he was supposed to accept Hou Dong since he was someone his brother had met in the desert after all, but he couldn’t help but wonder. "You …" He narrowed his eyes at Hou Dong and then pulled his brother closer. "My brother and you … How far have you gone?"
Hou Dong’s eyes widened in surprise. Was that really something you just casually asked the person your brother brought home? "That …" He shook his head and then raised one hand in defense. "I didn’t do anything."
Piul’s eyes just narrowed further. "Why? Do you feel he’s not good enough?"
Before Hou Dong had the time to answer the question, Kanuen’s parents already stepped out of the room next door and gave their son a look. "Piul, don’t be rude!" His mother even rushed to his side and wanted to drag him away.
Piul didn’t want to hear any of that. "You might be alright with saying it’s Iana’s will but Kanuen is still my brother. Can’t I at least ask what that guy thinks of him?" He felt that Hou Dong was quite good from looking at him but that didn’t mean that he shouldn’t make sure that his intentions were also good. Just having a pretty face and being able to swing a weapon wasn’t enough to become his brother-in-law.
The face of Kanuen’s mother flushed red. "How can you say something like that?" She turned back to her son and his lover and bowed. "Don’t take offense."
Hou Dong raised his brows. He really couldn’t understand this custom of just believing in whatever fate. This was their son, ah! Shouldn’t they be at least a little worried? Then what about that bandit? If it had been him …
Hou Dong’s expression blanked. Actually, this didn’t make sense. If these people really took everything in stride and had no problem at all with whatever fate threw them because they believed that it was something that their god wanted to happen, then why had Kanuen left? Being fancied by the leader of the bandits should also have been in line with what their god wanted then, wouldn’t it? So why was that different?
He glanced at Kanuen but his lover didn’t notice. Instead, he let go of his brother’s hand and patted his mother’s arm instead. "Don’t worry about it. Piul was just … He just wants to make sure that I’m alright. As a brother, he can certainly do that."
Kanuen’s mother seemed as if she wanted to say something to that but in the end, she nodded. "If you say so. Well, then we shouldn’t delay you any longer." She nodded again and then dragged her husband and other son off, once again leaving Kanuen and Hou Dong alone.
Hou Dong rubbed his neck, giving Kanuen a glance. "Your brother’s attitude is quite a bit different from the rest of your family, isn’t it?"
Kanuen nodded his head. "It is. Piul … He has never really paid much attention to these things. Well, let’s not talk about that any longer. I’ll bring you upstairs." He tugged at Hou Dong’s hand again and the two of them went to the second floor, stepping into the room where Kanuen had previously lived.
Hou Dong was curious about this place but despite that, he couldn’t help but dwell on what had just happened. Somehow … things didn’t seem to be so easy.