fic, 2013/04/04, exo, ii of ii

  • Apr. 4th, 2013 at 2:57 PM
curledupkitten: (lu han)

second half

"So if one is only in Manchester for a week, what are the must-dos?"

"You should go to a football game," Lu Han says. "I hear the team is pretty good there."

"Do you?" Yixing flicks a piece of tomato at Lu Han’s face. Lu Han looks around quickly to make sure no one’s noticed that Yixing is five. "It’s good to see your ego is still intact even if you can barely talk to your teammates."

"My English is not that bad," Lu Han counters, lips curving into a smile anyway. Yixing is infectious.

"Well, after three years of practice it better not be."

"I speak three languages." Lu Han stabs the sausage on his plate. Yixing still looks baffled at the absence of rice. Lu Han remembers how that feels. "I’m one up on you."

"Duizhang speaks four," Yixing says. "I hear his little third grade English students all say yeah to him all the time instead of yes." Lu Han can imagine Yifan down on his knees with twenty irrepressible third graders piled on top of him, calmly delivering orders that may or may not be followed. "Figures he could command a football team but can’t quite corral third graders."

"No one can corral third graders." Lu Han pushes his fried hashbrowns around on his plate before choosing a more burnt section to take a bite of. "Not even duizhang with his four languages and goalie hands."

"I was insufferable as a third grader." He sounds nostalgic.

"You’re insufferable now."

"Who pleaded with whom to come visit?" Yixing’s eyes are twinkling. He’s dimpling at Lu Han the way he does when he’s about to lord something over him. "You practically begged me to take a week off from work and fly to England to see you."

"I did not plead, pleading is not something I do," Lu Han says grudgingly. "But now I’ve seen you and I remember why I was so eager to escape the country."

"You’re so full of shit." Yixing squirts ketchup all over his food liberally. "You were all ‘I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to visit, Xing. That’s the Xiao Lu version of begging."

"I hope all that ketchup suffocates you and you die," Lu Han says. "I’ll read your eulogy. He was a dick, is what I’ll say. Hyoyeon would cry softly and agree—"

"Speaking of Hyoyeon," Yixing says, now happily eating his breakfast, "she loves that picture of the three of us—you, me, and Zitao, I mean, that we took at the wedding. She got a larger copy of it framed recently for the hallway wall."

"It’s a great photo," Lu Han says. He keeps a copy of it in his bedroom, in his apartment. Yixing looks so happy in it, and Zitao looks so pleased about being in between them in the hug. Hyoyeon, in her Western style wedding dress, had hoisted up her skirts and squatted down to take the picture, scandalizing her mother and making Yixing wolf-whistle at her legs.

That had been a great day. It had also been the last time Lu Han had been in Korea. Has it really been two years? Time seems both slower and faster when Lu Han is so far away from everything that’s happening.

"You’ll have to come visit again when the baby’s born," Yixing says. "Jongdae is already boasting about all the lullabies he’s going to sing when he babysits. The other day, he and Joonmyun stopped by the house to drop off paperwork for the alumni job fair and—" Yixing stops. "Sorry, I forgot we don’t talk about Joonmyun."

"It’s not like that." Lu Han’s appetite is gone. He sets down his fork. "It’s…"

"Complicated. I remember. Seat us at separate tables at the wedding complicated."

Lu Han sighs and throws his napkin in Yixing’s face. "Why do I even like you?"

"Because I’m your best friend, and the only person who understands your deep love of MCM products."

"True," Lu Han admits. "I might, might, have missed you some."

"I know," Yixing says. "I don’t even take the fact that you call once a month as a sign—"

"It’s hard to make the times line up, and I—"

"But you called and begged me to visit you in England," Yixing interrupts. "Which means I rate at least an eight on a scale of one to football, so I forgive you, Xiao Lu."

"I’m not—"

"So, like I said," and Yixing sets down his fork, plate clean in front of him, eggs and potatoes devoured, "if one is only in Manchester for a week, what are the must-dos?"

Lu Han pays for their breakfast as Yixing yawns and then pretends he isn’t, hiding his jetlag behind teasing barbs and tripping Lu Han up as they walk. Lu Han feels nineteen again as they walk, like he’s a second year in university and Yixing is his dumb best friend and both of them aren’t adults with bills and separate lives from each other across the world.

They end up walking around the mall downtown, leaving the indoor section in favor of the outdoor promenade, Yixing marveling at the sheer number of fliers that have made their way from lampposts to the street and how the mannequins in H&M are taller than the ones in Myeongdong.

Yixing prattles on about Minseok and Zitao and Yifan and Minho, and about Jongdae and Baekhyun and even Kyungsoo, who works at the same company as Yixing does, promoting musicians. There are friends he doesn’t mention, and as they get down to the bus terminal, Lu Han has to ask.

"How’s Jongin?"

Yixing tilts his head. "Well," he says, after a measured and careful silence. "He's doing all right."

"You don't sound so sure."

"He's been passed up by F.C. Seoul for next season." Yixing is studying the ground beneath them, toeing at cigarette butts, instead of looking at Lu Han.

"He was a starter last season," Lu Han says. "Passed up? Surely one of the other teams took him. Busan has been in dire need of a new forward player. Or he could go abroad. Shanghai Shenhua FC…"

"No," Yixing says. He's spinning his wedding ring around and around on thin fingers. "No one wants him."

There had been an incident. A teammate had caught Jongin and Chanyeol holding hands in the park and Jongin hadn’t denied anything. Jongin has never been a good liar.

"Oh," Lu Han says. "How is he... taking that?"

"Well as can be expected," Yixing replies. "Chanyeol helps. When we went out to dinner with Yifan and Minseok last week, he seemed resigned. He says he's been expecting it since the coach found out."

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "I can see that. At least he..."

"Has Chanyeol and a job in his father's company waiting for him," Yixing agrees. "At least there's that."

Lu Han is suddenly finding the ground more interesting than before, too. "At least there's that," he echoes. "That's good for him. He'll be okay."

Yixing suddenly stops. It's not a good place to stop, even if the walkway is more than wide enough. There are too many people brushing past them, even in mid-morning, down the busy downtown street. Yixing stands out with his bright red hair and contrite expression. "Lu Han, I wanted to say..."

"Do you have to say it now?" Lu Han knows most people won't understand them. They're not speaking in English, and Lu Han is famous but not that famous. "Can it wait until we get back to my place?"

"No," Yixing says. "I might forget exactly what it is I want to say. You know how forgetful I am."

"I'm pretty sure you play that up for laughs," Lu Han says. "You remembered every play we ever learned in practice and you remember how to strum that noisy out-of-tune guitar of yours, and you remember all the words you made up in that dumb love song to your ex-girlfriend from first year."

"Even so," Yixing hooks an arm around Lu Han's neck and pulls him closer, "I don't want to miss the chance."

"The chance for what?"

He licks at his lips, his tongue darting out to wet them in the cool September wind. "It must have been really hard for you," Yixing says. "Back then."

Lu Han knows, all of a sudden, what Yixing means, and he doesn't want to talk about it. "No." Lu Han starts to walk again, slipping free of Yixing's arm, forcing him to keep moving unless he wants to get lost in a country where the only words of the language he knows are 'hello' and 'I very love you'. "It wasn't hard, because professional football was my dream. Is my dream. And I'm living it."

"Still," Yixing says. "I must have made it harder. Telling you how simple it would be. Telling you to go for it like there weren't any consequences."

"You were just trying to help." Lu Han thinks it must be the weather. It got hot early this year. That's why he's so dizzy. It has nothing to do with the loss that always seems to find its way into Lu Han's chest when someone mentions Joonmyun. And the fact that it never gets hot in Manchester is something he won’t dwell on. "Can we not?"

"I'm sorry, Lu Han," Yixing says. "I just wanted to say that. I really didn't realize."

"How were you supposed to? You're normal. You want normal things." Lu Han closes his mouth and swallows the rest of the words. "And I wanted... I just want football. That's enough for me. I'm happy."

"Are you?" Yixing's arm slides back around his shoulders, a familiar and reassuring weight. "Are you happy, Lu Han, living your dream?"

"I am." Lu Han fingers his touristy Man U shirt and thinks about all the times he’d worn one just like it as a fan. Now he's a player for the team he’s always idolized. It’s his name on the back of the jersey he’s got at home, not Wayne Rooney’s, not Zaha’s.

His dad was wrong, his mom was wrong. Everyone who belittled him or treated him as less or treated him like nothing... all those people don't matter anymore, because Lu Han is vindicated. High school feels like a distant memory, and if Lu Han's knee aches when it rains, it’s a small price to pay for the way it doesn't hurt at all when it shines.

And if Lu Han's bed is cold and his heart feels even colder, he reminds himself that nothing in life comes without a price, and that he’s always done all right on his own. "I am."

He looks at Yixing, and Yixing is looking straight ahead. His mouth, though, is drawn down. "Would you even tell me if you weren't?" He laughs, and Lu Han resists the urge to jab his finger into his best friend’s dimple. "Three steps forward and two steps back."

"That's still one step forward, right?" He laughs too, strained. "I thought you wanted to visit the stadium."

"You would think that would be something you could see," Yixing says. "But the horizon looks pretty clear of that world famous football stadium for that world famous team."

"Can I tell you a secret?" Lu Han pokes Yixing in the side and enjoys the strange love-child of a giggle and a yelp it produces. "The stadium isn't even really in Manchester. Neither is my apartment, for that matter. England’s not like Seoul. The city is just the city, and then everyone lives in the boroughs and villages and stuff, around them."

"It sounds complicated."

"It takes a while to get used to. No kilometer high skyscraper apartments five meters from the mall. And the stadium is outside the city."

"That means I have to get back into the car with you, doesn't it?"

"It does," Lu Han nods. "But better than getting into the car with you."

"Everything is more interesting than driving," Yixing says wistfully. "Concentrating is forever my arch-nemesis."

The unease that had settled over them both lifts, and Lu Han's smile comes readily when he summons it. "Come on then," he says, pointing back toward where he'd parked this morning before breakfast. "If you only have one week in Manchester, we don't have time for you to stand here and space out."

Lu Han began his second season with F.C. Seoul a successful starting player. He ended it with a perfect record, major accolades, and an offer to go and play in the Netherlands.

It was only one season spent in the red and white home game jersey of PSV Eindhoven before he’d been picked up for his record high scoring and fast footwork. Before everything started moving so fast that Lu Han could barely catch his breath as he packed up his life into the same two suitcases as always and switched countries again, this time hoping to stay a while.

Sometimes, most of the time, it feels like a fairytale. Like it had all come too easily after everything had always been so hard.

The first time he’d pulled that Man U jersey over his head, two years after his move to Europe, Lu Han had thought he might cry. Now he wears it most months of the year, in between practices and games and the inexplicable other duties that come with being a professional Premier League football player.

He likes… no, he loves his job. He thinks that if high school Lu Han could see how twenty-six year old Lu Han spends his days, he would walk with his head a little higher in a way that had nothing to do with false bravado.

After all, Lu Han has what he has always, always wanted. And he’s happy.

He gets an email from Jinki two weeks after Yixing has come and gone back again.

Finally had to suck it up and buy one of these the email says, and attached is a picture of a Manchester United jersey. He’s had someone take it from the back, because Lu Han can see it’s his own name across Jinki’s shoulder blades.

did it hurt? did your heart shrivel up and die? Lu Han replies.

He doesn’t get an answer until the following morning, the time difference coming into play. It isn’t words, it’s just another picture. Jinki has used duct tape to write "SUCKS" under the logo on the breast, and he’s flipping off the camera. Lu Han laughs loud enough to wake the neighbors and thinks he might go home when Hyoyeon and Yixing’s baby is born, after all, because there are some things he misses that he’s definitely allowed to miss.

"I would miss you, if you went to Europe."

Lu Han closes his email, and goes out for a run. The streets aren’t empty, but… Lu Han has the uncanny ability to feel alone in a room crowded full of people.

Lu Han’s English has come a long way since he’d started playing with the Dutch. Still, he thinks he’s heard wrong when, after the match, a player from the other team says something strange after congratulating him on the win.

"You’re pretty," he says. He looks different out of his blue uniform. It takes Lu Han a minute to recognize him.

"Excuse me?" replies Lu Han, clearly and succinctly, thinking he must have heard wrong.

"You’re very pretty," the man repeats. His lips curl in a smirk, and he looks Lu Han up and down suggestively. Lu Han has already showered quickly and changed out of his uniform. He’s wearing his sweats. He’d escaped, with a baseball cap pulled down (over hair that’s reached frightening levels of platinum thanks to a stylist with no idea how to deal with Asian hair) through the back players’ exit long after the bigger name players had drawn the reporters after them like puppies.

He’d not expected this guy to be waiting for him. Lu Han’s gut lurches. It’s been ten long healing years but he still goes back to the roof when he’s afraid.

"I’m a man," Lu Han says. "Men aren’t pretty, they’re handsome." Lu Han has a teacher tone that he only has occasion to use with Zitao, but it does well to mask the wobble in his voice.

"Not you," the other guy says. Lu Han is so flustered that he can’t remember his name. Only that he’d worn a jersey with Samsung emblazoned across the chest during the entire second half, and that Lu Han had watched him with careful eyes three years ago on television as he tried to memorize player styles and maybe even before that. One of his socks, during the match, had been lower on his calf than the sock on the other leg. "You’re pretty." His voice is appreciative. Lu Han clutches more tightly at his bag. "Do your teammates tell you how pretty you are?"

"No," Lu Han says. "Because it’s inappropriate. Like you’re being right now."

"I’d like to be more inappropriate," he says, taking a step closer, and Lu Han takes a larger step back, in the direction of his car.

"No, thank you," he says. "I’m not interested." The man is attractive. He has the build of a football player, and nice thighs and hips. He has a famous face, too. But Lu Han is not lying when he says he isn’t interested.

He reassures himself that he’s not thinking about… About other people when he smiles nervously at the man and takes another step back.

The other player seems to realize he’s made Lu Han uncomfortable enough to no longer pass as teasing, and relents. "That’s too bad," he says, before nodding at Lu Han and stalking off in the opposite direction, perhaps toward his own car and his own life.

Lu Han does not realize his hands are shaking until he’s sliding his key into the ignition. He misses, thrice, before the key finally slides home and his car comes buzzing to life around him.

He contemplates the encounter with a clear mind even as his body continues to shake. Is it that obvious, Lu Han thinks, to other people? That at night, he still remembers the cool slide of skin and the soft brush of hair? Is it tattooed on Lu Han’s face, in ink invisible to him, that he’s different? That he is, no matter how much he pretends, never going to be able to completely lock away the part of him that still leaps whenever anyone mentions Joonmyun’s name?

Studying himself in the mirror, Lu Han can’t figure out what other people see that gives him away. He can’t figure out if it’s hiding in the crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes or maybe in the dark of his eyelashes. Somehow, though, Lu Han, no matter how much he tries, can never be safe.

He doesn’t mention it to anyone. Considering, three weeks later, he still has a job, Lu Han assumes the other player never mentions it to anyone either. They both, he knows, have quite a bit to lose.

That night he picks up a girl at a bar while he’s out with his teammates to celebrate their win. She’s Korean, and her name is Yoona. She’s beautiful and funny and silly-impressed with Lu Han’s Korean. She recognizes him by his hair from the team. They make out sloppily on his couch for three hours and then she leaves him her number.

His teammates congratulate him the next morning at practice, thumping him hard on the back in turns and asking if she’s a keeper while Lu Han laces up his cleats.

He must have drunk too much, because when he thinks about what his teammates would be doing right now, if he’d picked up that other player, instead, he finds himself needing to throw up into the sink, all the color drained out of his face when he looks up into the mirror again.

When he’d shown up at his first practice for PSV, his teammates had studied him carefully. Lu Han’s palms had been damp and clammy.

"Are you any good, twink?" one of the players had asked, and Lu Han had summoned up the mask that had gotten him through the hardest years. After fourteen months of stares and hurried showers alone in the locker room and fear any time he found himself up high.

"Yeah," Lu Han had said. Almost no accent, now, after hours of practice. "I’m good." He was as good as any of them. Two years with F.C. Seoul had sharpened him up and stamped out his weaknesses. "Really good."

"He looks like a girl," another player had said.

"In Asia, they all look like girls," the first player had responded. "A whole country of queers."

Lu Han had swallowed down the horrible things he’d wanted to say, and his anger, and smiled. "I’m really fucking good at football," he’d said clearly. "And so is my girlfriend."

Jinri had seen him off at the airport. She’d cried and promised to visit soon. Lu Han had known she wouldn’t be able to get very much time off from work.

She would break up with Lu Han a year later, when it became clearer he wasn’t going to be coming back. Lu Han had let her drift out of his life with something like relief mixed into his sadness.

"Then let’s see you on the pitch, twink," the second player had said. Lu Han had squared his shoulders, and thought, not for the first time, of Joonmyun’s calm voice, telling him to push even harder.

"You got it," he’d said, bouncing to loosen his muscles. "Let me show you how it’s done."

He would make them shut up.

He did.

It’s like déjà-vu.

Lu Han can feel the pain lance up as he crumples, and he can see the horror on his opponent’s face before the throb makes everything blurry.

"It’s his knee!" he hears one of his teammates yell, and Lu Han thinks that’s obvious the way he’s buckled and fallen.

Five years and Lu Han still finds it all hauntingly familiar. The medic comes running and Lu Han grits his teeth. Yixing needs to be telling jokes. He can hear the Chinese national anthem in his head.

"You’ve re-torn your lateral collateral ligament," the medic says grimly, and there’s a rush in Lu Han’s head that’s louder than the medic’s voice and louder than the memory of a softly sung national anthem.

’Is this it?’ Lu Han thinks, as the game stops, adding minutes to injury time as he’s lifted onto the gurney and wheeled off the pitch. ’Have I finally ruined my knee?’

Back in the locker room, he’s immediately wrapped and iced. "You’ll need to go to the hospital after the match," the medic says.

"Right," Lu Han says, through gritted teeth. "I guessed that." He can feel himself blacking out, consciousness slipping from his grip.

All he can do is pray that this isn’t the end.

"Will I be able to play again?" is the first thing he asks, and the doctor, a middle-aged man in his late fifties, smiles.

"Yes, Mr. Lu. You’ll be able to play again. But your knee is never going to be the same again."

"Will I be able to play again professionally?"

"Yes," the doctor says. "After surgery and rehab, you will. But one more severe injury to that knee and you’ll be lucky if you can walk normally again."

"I see." Lu Han stares down at his swollen knee. "It’s always this knee."

"We’re human beings, not machines." The doctor is looking over x-rays. "The body is amazing, and can push itself to amazing limits, but it’s not without weaknesses."

Lu Han’s ribs never strain, even if he’s got scars along them that will never fade. It’s only his knee that gives up, time and time again.

"But I’ll be able to play?"

"You’ll be able to play." The doctor clears his throat. "Is there anyone you’d like to be here when you have your surgery? I know you’re from abroad, so if you’d like me to schedule it next week to give you time for your family to get here—"

"There’s no one," Lu Han says. He knows Yixing would come, but he also knows how expensive that is. He knows how pregnant Hyoyeon is.

And maybe Zitao would come, Sehun trailing behind him like a lost puppy, but Lu Han would never ask. He knows Zitao is busy.

He could call…

"No one?"

"No," Lu Han says. "But don’t worry, I’ll be fine."

The doctor’s brow furrows. "If you insist." He looks down at his chart. "I’m sure your club will be speaking to you about a physical therapist. It seems you’ve worked with a physical therapist before?"

"I have," Lu Han says. "When I was in college."

"Then you know how this process works."

"I do," Lu Han says. "I guess the club will talk to me about that, after the surgery."

"Right.” The doctor shuffles his notes. "I’m going to schedule you for next week anyway," he eventually says. "Just in case you change your mind about calling someone from home. That gives you five days."

"Thank you," Lu Han says, knowing it’s unnecessary. He can, he’s sure of it, take care of himself.

This, he decides, is full circle. He’s right back where he started, and staring out at doing it all again, alone.

"I’m flying out there, then."

"Don’t," Lu Han says. "It’ll be horrible for you. Don’t come."

"Are we back to this? I took you to your last surgery. I should take you to this one." Zitao is using his most stubborn tones.

"You are not driving my car, Zitao. You’ll smoke out the window and I’ll come out of surgery to leopard print carseat covers."

"Please," Zitao says. "I would get the carseat covers before you even went into surgery, frog-ge. God knows what horrible team-themed decorations you have in there now. Yixing told me about the red and gold air fresheners."

"Yixing is a traitor."

"Only when it means making fun of you." Zitao is chuckling.

Lu Han wants to laugh along, but he’s anxious. "I don’t know if I can do this again. I don’t know how I did it before."

"I told you, I can fly out for the surgery."

"Not the surgery," Lu Han says. "The nothingness. The mornings where I can’t go running and the afternoons where I can’t do anything but watch other people kick the ball around. The nights where I think about matches I’ll never get to play and try to figure out what to do with all the extra energy. The feeling…" Worthless. "Just, everything."

Zitao makes an incredulous noise. He’s probably fixing his hair as he speaks to Lu Han. Maybe Lu Han is annoying him. "You’re so melodramatic. I’m going to tell Minseok about this, ge." Lu Han scowls and settles his leg on his ottoman, propping it up to alleviate the pain. "You’ve proven, to both yourself and to everyone else, that you’re more than just football. Go to museums. Study English and go to every place on the continent where a James Bond movie has been shot and send hundreds of pictures to Yifan-ge, all in separate emails, until he swears."

"He never swears."

"Exactly," Zitao says. "So that should keep you busy during your recovery."

"I’m serious, Zitao. The only reason I managed not to lose it last time was because…" Joonmyun. Joonmyun and Italian films and pottery classes and evenings in his apartment talking about nothing and everything.

"Of Joonmyun-hyung, right?" Zitao’s thoughtful ‘hmmm’ has Lu Han closing his eyes to keep himself from counting the dapples in his ceiling paint. "If that’s the only way you got through before maybe you should just have him help you again?"

"Zitao, you know…"

"Think of this as an opportunity for you guys to get over whatever it is you fought about."

"We didn’t fight." Lu Han closes his eyes. "I don’t even know if his number is the same."

"Do you have a pen?" Zitao asks. "I’ll give you his number. Then you won’t have any excuses."

"I’m not—" Sighing, Lu Han adjusts his leg on the ottoman. "Who is the ge here?"

"Clearly it’s me," Zitao says. "Since you’re sitting here asking me how to call the guy who was one of your best friends because of some weird falling out you had that was probably over his choice of favorite teams or something. Whenever I say your name he still smiles, so…"

"He does?" Lu Han runs fingers through his hair. "Do you think he would answer, if I called?"

"Of course he would, ge. It’s Joonmyun-hyung."

"We have several therapists we’ve worked with a lot," the assistant coach says. "Any of them would be good. I’ll get you a list and we can decide—"

"Could I possibly get someone from home?" Lu Han blurts it out without thinking. Once he’s said it, he can’t take it back. "The language barrier, and—"

"You talk well enough with us."

"It’s different, with doctors and medical stuff," Lu Han explains. "And I’ve… got history with someone who knows my condition. Knows my injury personally."

The assistant coach seems to think on it for a moment, before he nods. "If you get him out here, and he has the right accreditations, you can have your own therapist."

"Great," Lu Han says. Now the only thing standing in his way is to actually get him out here. He can hear Zitao’s laughter in his head already as he thinks about the number he’s memorized with how often he’s typed it on his keypad in the past three days. "Great."

Drinking alone at a pub reminds Lu Han of his first year of university. Everything reminds him of something, these days. He must be getting old.

Lu Han might look young, but he’s felt kind of old on the inside for a while now. He’d hobbled to the pub like an old man, that’s for sure. He’s lucky to live so close. He can no longer drive, so he’s been taking taxis to his doctor’s appointments. He’ll take a taxi to and from his surgery, too.

The pub’s empty, and mostly dark. The music’s loud, but not loud enough to stop Lu Han from hearing pieces of conversations and his own thoughts.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Lu Han looks up. It’s the player from before. There had been a game today, he suddenly remembers. Chelsea versus Manchester City. Lu Han had watched part of it as he’d emailed Jongdae. "I’m sorry about… last time."

Lu Han remembers his name now. Remembers the slurs hurled at him from the terraces sometimes that don’t have anything to do with being from a rival team. "I’m not holding a grudge."

"I wasn’t sure," he says, "if you would or not. I don’t know why I was so careless."

"Because it gets tiring, being careful all the time." Lu Han orders another drink. Pretty soon he’ll be drunk enough to pull an Yixing and forget his way to the bathroom. He’s glad he forewent his painkillers tonight. The beer numbs the pain well enough. "Pretending all the time."

"Do you pretend a lot?" It’s empathy in his eyes, not sympathy. They may or may not be pretending about the same things, but they both know what it is to smile and not mean it. Then Lu Han’s tension leaves him.

"More than I ever imagined I’d have to, to make my dreams come true."

"Same." They’re both quiet for a while, before the man speaks. "I really appreciate you not mentioning—"

"I was only eight when Justin Fashanu killed himself." Lu Han drinks deeply from his mug. The man’s wearing a sweatshirt in Chelsea blue, with the hood up obscuring his face. Lu Han would do the same but there’s no point. He’s too recognizable for that. "But I was sixteen when I got a little too close to being too much like Justin Fashanu myself." He shifts in his seat, and winces as it jars his knee.

"I know how that feels." He probably does. "It’s a real shame that the biggest crime I could commit wouldn’t be murder or assault. Hell, that would be just another Tuesday. But if I wanted to have a boyfriend, well, then I’d be out of their favor faster than anything. I’d be watching next season’s starting game from my sofa. Or the hospital, if I was dumb enough to get caught out alone."

"That’s the way it is," Lu Han says. "In Asian football too. In all football."

"Four-thousand footballers in England and Wales." A sip of beer. Eyes staring into the cherry wood counter of the bar like it holds answers. "Not a single one is ‘gay’."

"I’m not gay," Lu Han says.

"I never said you were."

Lu Han’s lips are dry. When he licks them, his tongue comes away with the bitter aftertaste of Guinness. "There was… someone. Once."

"And you chose football."

"I chose football. I will always choose football."

"Me too," the man says, pulling on the white drawstrings of his hood. "Guess that’s why we’re Premier League players."

"Guess it is," replies Lu Han. He’s thinking about the phone call he has to make later, to the man whose voice he hasn’t heard in two years. He still remembers the way it sounds, though, as clear as the referee’s whistle.

The man next to him looks down at his braced leg with sympathy. "You gonna be able to get back on the pitch soon?"

"Maybe," Lu Han says. "It isn’t the first time this knee has been through trouble. It’s not even the second time."

"Oh," he says. "When will you know?"

"I have to work with a…" He searches for the word. "A therapist. To see how much of the damage is temporary and how much is permanent."

"I know a guy…"

"Me too," Lu Han says. He slides his hand into his pocket and fingers his phone again. One more hour, and at least one more beer. "Back in Korea."

"A famous guy?"

"An old friend," Lu Han says, and the word friend aches more than he’d thought it might.

Three. Two. One. Press call.


Lu Han’s heart stops. Quivers in almost stillness. Starts again. "Joonmyun?"

"Is this…" Hesitation. "Lu Han?"

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "It’s me."

"How did you get this number?" It’s not accusing, but it makes Lu Han want to hang up, anyway.

"Zitao gave it to me." Lu Han’s sitting with his back ramrod straight in his plush armchair. "I’m sorry if you didn’t want me to have it."

"I don’t mind." Soft and gentle. Joonmyun uses so much polite Korean that he has a way of letting his voice trail off on his endings when he’s not sure if he should use it or not. Hearing that again makes Lu Han long to bury his hands in Joonmyun’s soft hair. To feel Joonmyun’s tiny hand on the small of his back. "Why did you call, Lu Han?"

When Lu Han scored a goal in a professional match, for the very first time, he could feel the rising tide of emotion washing over him hotter than the rays of the summer sun. Burning him with its radiance.

This is more than that, bigger than that, stronger than that, and Lu Han wants to hide in the shade. Joonmyun has always been so very bright. "I shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have called, I’m sorry—"

"Lu Han, slow down and enunciate."

"What does enunciate mean?" It comes out squeaky, and Lu Han takes a breath, filling his lungs with air like he hasn’t since Joonmyun answered the phone.

Joonmyun laughs. "Jock," he says fondly, and if Lu Han closes his eyes, blocking out his fancy English-style apartment, it could be five years ago, Joonmyun’s fingers skating over the bruised, post-surgery skin of Lu Han’s knee.

"I…" Old Lu Han would walk the entire way to the student center, never once caving to ask for a ride. Old Lu Han would sit alone in the hospital to wait because he’s afraid to ask his friends to come with him. Old Lu Han stood on his own two feet and never needed anyone because he’d never had anyone he was allowed to need. But new Lu Han, the Lu Han whose walls Joonmyun had chipped away to expose his softer, rawer parts, just wants someone to hold his hand and tell him it will be okay. "I…"

"What is it?" Joonmyun is so patient. "Lu Han, this is me."

"It’s you," Lu Han says. "No one can ever be you."

"No one can ever be you, either. Or Zitao. Or Yixing, for that matter. Or anyone. There is only one of each of us." Joonmyun is teasing him. It works. It lets Lu Han laugh, and takes the panic out of him.

"I need you." Lu Han’s dry throat clutches to the words but he forces them up and out.

"What?" Joonmyun’s voice is barely a whisper, now. "Why?"

"There are three famous, respected, highly recommended physical therapists on call with my team."

"You do play for one of the best teams in one of the most popular leagues," Joonmyun says. "What does this have to do with me?"

"I told my assistant coach that I would only have you."

Joonmyun makes a squeaking noise, before he takes a shivering gasp of air. "And what if I won’t come?"

"Then I don’t know what I’ll do," answers Lu Han. "I hadn’t thought that far. I’ve never directly asked someone for a favor before." He chuckles. "I’m new to this whole ‘asking for help when you need it’ thing."

"Why does that not surprise me?" It’s simple to picture Joonmyun’s face, tender and indulgent.

"So if you don’t come, then I’ll figure out what to do about my knee—"

"It’s your knee?"

"Didn’t you know? It was all over Naver and Daum, apparently."

"I try not to look," Joonmyun admits. "Thinking about you is… it’s still hard." He goes quiet. Like he regrets admitting that.

"Me too," Lu Han says. "But only some days."

"Only some days," Joonmyun agrees.

"On the other days, I wonder what you’re eating for breakfast. If you’re helping sucker some other poor patient into pottery—"

"You were never just a patient to me." Joonmyun cuts him off with that, and Lu Han hears sharpness, more fine than a knife’s edge. "I’ll come."

"Really?" If Lu Han hadn’t thought of what he’d do if Joonmyun said no, he’d thought even less of what he would do if Joonmyun said yes. "I have a guest bedroom, and I know you have other patients and—"

"Did you really think I’d say no to your first ever favor?" Joonmyun laughs again. It’s more natural this time. More sincere. "If I did you might never ask anyone for another one again."

"You don’t have to… say yes because you think…"

"Let me rephrase," says Joonmyun. "Do you ever think I’d say no to you?"

And maybe it’s because when Lu Han was small, so small he had yet to disappoint anyone at all, his mother had made sure to keep him under a parasol to protect his skin. But for some reason, Joonmyun’s brightness, even from this far away, is peeling away his skin and leaving him burned.

"You’re amazing," Lu Han says. "I hope someone tells you that every day."

"No one has ever told me that but you," Joonmyun says, and Lu Han thinks that’s the most unfair thing he has ever heard Joonmyun say.

i asked joonmyun to come, so stop worrying.

and???!!! is he coming???? Yixing uses oversized text and html to make it blink.

Lu Han laughs. yeah he emails back, and his hands only shake after he hits send.

Lu Han takes a taxi to Manchester International. It isn’t too long a ride. Through the window, he watches the people out for strolls and then, as they get out of his neighborhood, the roads. Anything to distract him from the nerves that threaten to power-kick their way out his stomach.

When Joonmyun walks out, wheeling his suitcase behind him, in oversized knit that drowns him, Lu Han’s nerves finally succeed, leaving a massive hole in his gut that he’s sure his feelings are falling out of.

Joonmyun grins at him, waving awkwardly and shuffling as always, and Lu Han grins back as he approaches.

"Is it safe for you to be out and about pre-surgery?" is the first thing out of Joonmyun’s mouth. Of course it is.

"Sorry I couldn’t pick you up in my car," Lu Han says, gesturing to his crutches and his knee. "And I would’ve made a sign but I couldn’t hold it, between my bag and the walking aids, and I figured…"

"That the platinum blond would be sign enough?" He’s teasing again, doing that weird little laugh Lu Han hasn’t heard in so long he’d almost forgotten it. "You’re like a human neon right now. You look like Hongdae at midnight." He tilts his head. "It looks good though. Misleadingly angelic."

"You were the only person in a winter sweater getting off the plane," Lu Han says. "You weren’t so hard to spot, either."

"Airplanes are cold." Joonmyun’s hair has gotten longer again. Fluffier. His sideburns are long enough to fuss with, now. "And so far, Manchester is even colder. It’s been a long time since I’ve flown."

"Still," says Lu Han. "It’s July." Granted, July in Manchester is significantly cooler than July in Seoul, but there’s still a sheen of sweat on Lu Han’s skin if he walks too fast.

"I know, I know," Joonmyun says. "Think of me as a reptile, if you must. I don’t create my own body heat."

"But you’re so warm," Lu Han says, then winces. Touchline. Yellow card. "Do you have everything?" His suitcase looks heavy. "Sorry I can’t grab that for you. You must be tired."

"You must be in a lot of pain." Joonmyun smiles. Sunshine. Fuck, Lu Han hadn’t been ready. "Thank you for letting me stay with you."

"Thank you for flying to another continent for me?" Lu Han looks at Joonmyun incredulously. "Where else would you stay, nerd? Do you even speak any English?"

"I speak some," Joonmyun says. "Part of working in the medical profession is being fairly proficient in English."

"Ah, that makes sense." Conversation is so easy. Lu Han relaxes as he hobbles, Joonmyun slowing his pace beside him. "Welcome to England. Is it your first time here?"

"It is," Joonmyun says. "Are you going to show me around?"

"Only if you’ll concede to wait a few weeks."

"I’ve got three months," Joonmyun says, and Lu Han’s heart clenches. "Plenty of time."

Joonmyun, for the next three days, fits into Lu Han’s apartment like he’s always been a part of it, an extra mug finding its way onto the bathroom sink and Lu Han’s dishes suddenly finding themselves organized by size and shape in his cupboards.

"It’s good to see some things haven’t changed," Joonmyun says, as Lu Han prepares ramen for them both, cracking eggs into the hot broth and laughing as Joonmyun watches him add the spice with an expression of intense concentration. "So stubborn. I could have made the ramen. You’re hurt, and you shouldn’t be up on that leg. You have surgery tomorrow."

"You’re my guest," Lu Han says.

"I’d feel more comfortable staying if you’d let me help you," Joonmyun replies, and Lu Han wavers.

"I won’t fall for your tricks anymore, shark." Lu Han looks up at him from the stove and frowns. "This isn’t going to be like intro to pottery."

"You liked that class," Joonmyun says. "And so did I." He stands up from the small table Lu Han keeps in his kitchen, barely big enough for two people, since Lu Han is used to eating alone, and walks up to the stove to stand beside him. He reaches for the chopsticks and Lu Han lets him take them from his fingers. His knee aches awfully, from trying to do too much. "Have a seat."

Lu Han watches as Joonmyun lowers the heat on the stove. His sleeves are pushed up, revealing strong forearms. "Are you happy, Joonmyun?"

"Right now, or in general?" Joonmyun takes a potholder and sets it on the table. Then he returns to the stove and removes the pot from the eye, bringing it over to the table and setting it on top of the potholder.

"In general," Lu Han says.

"I can’t complain," Joonmyun replies. "I have the job I wanted. I work enough to be busy but not enough that I’m swamped. My brother and his wife just had twins, so I can play with them as much as I want and still go home to a quiet house." He laughs. "I have friends, and things to do. I’m happy enough."

"Is all we get in life being ‘happy enough’?" Lu Han asks, and Joonmyun squints at him curiously.

"Aren’t you happy, Lu Han?" Joonmyun makes a sweeping gesture with his arm. "You play for the team you’ve always admired. You live abroad and you have hundreds of girls back home with your picture on their wall. Isn’t this… what you wanted?"

"It is," Lu Han says. He should say more. With more enthusiasm, too, maybe, but his knee hurts and he’s tired. "I thought you didn’t look me up online."

"I make sure you’re alive every once in a while," he counters, and Lu Han laughs.

"I ask Jongdae about you," Lu Han admits, and Joonmyun looks surprised. "Just to make sure you’re doing okay."

"I’m no famous football star," says Joonmyun, "but I’m doing well for myself."

"I’m glad," Lu Han says, before dipping his spoon into the broth. "I’m really glad."

"Are you sure you don’t mind driving?" He’d noticed Joonmyun’s discomfort when they were in the taxi, before. He remembers that Joonmyun doesn’t like taxis.

"I would rather drive than let anyone else drive me," Joonmyun says. "I don’t like to be in vehicles that I’m not controlling."

"Why not?" Lu Han asks, without thinking. Then, when Joonmyun’s hand comes up to press against his chest, he knows. "Because of your accident?"

"Yeah," Joonmyun says. "Because of my accident." His fingers dig into his sweatshirt, and Lu Han resists the urge to reach over and straighten his fingers one by one. "I almost died that day." He sighs. "My dad… his reflexes saved my brother and I. It didn’t save him and my mom, though." Lu Han had suspected that, maybe, Joonmyun was speaking from experience, when he’d mentioned the regret of never saying goodbye, but to hear it is hard.

"I didn’t know," Lu Han says. "About your parents."

"I don’t really like to talk about it." Joonmyun smiles. "And you’re not one to talk about parents."

"So when you aren’t driving, you’re afraid?"

"Is that silly?" Joonmyun laughs, as he starts the engine.

"No," Lu Han says. "I’m afraid of heights."

"Sometimes I forget how much you understand me," Joonmyun says, as he backs the car out of the driveway. He turns his head the wrong way at first, because the steering wheel is on the wrong side. Lu Han had gotten confused at first, too.

"I never forget." Lu Han leans forward and pushes the radio on. "Thank you… thank you for coming."

"You already said that." Joonmyun’s cheeks are pink. "It’s okay, you know. You haven’t asked for too much."

Yes, he has, but Joonmyun is here, anyway. "I’ll probably say it a few more times."

"I don’t mind."

"You brought someone after all," the doctor says, after Joonmyun pats his hand and leaves the room so they can talk. "Family?"

"He…" Lu Han considers. "Yeah, of a sort."

"I’m glad you’ll have someone here when you wake up," the doctor says. "It’s lonely, to wake up from anesthesia with no one there waiting."

"It’s not so bad," Lu Han says. "I’ve done it before."

Waking up with Joonmyun peering down at him, though, eyes wide and tired, settles the panic that ricochets between Lu Han’s ears.

"You feeling okay?" Joonmyun asks, keeping his volume low. One of his hands is on Lu Han’s, and the other presses to Lu Han’s forehead, holding his hair out of his eyes.

"Mmm," Lu Han says, and Joonmyun’s relieved smile, more than the drugs still coursing through his veins, make Lu Han feel like he’s flying. "I missed you."

Joonmyun blinks, owlishly, and then his smile grows wider. His teeth are still uneven along the bottom edges, and still white enough to blind. "I missed you too," he says. "Dramas aren’t the same without you judgmentally commenting on every irrational action the hero and heroine take."

"Is that all I’m good for?" Lu Han whispers, and Joonmyun shakes his head yes, even as his eyes get suspiciously shinier.

"That and drinking," Joonmyun replies. "And maybe you’re good at persistence, too."

"Only sometimes," Lu Han says.

Joonmyun’s hand withdraws. "More than you’d think."

The first week after his surgery, Lu Han is a useless mess. Joonmyun, who is always braver and more adventurous than anyone would guess, pulls up maps to grocers and theaters and museums on his laptop and ventures out into the city on his own with Lu Han’s car keys and solemn promises to be back for dinner.

"Today I went to the Imperial War Museum North," Joonmyun says, when Lu Han forces himself to get out of bed and out into the living room. From there, he can see Joonmyun sitting on the bed in Lu Han’s guest room, because the door is ajar. He’s organizing the booklets he’d picked up into neat piles on a bed he’d probably made as soon as he woke up. Lu Han hasn’t made his bed in a year. He changes the sheets every two weeks but he only bothers to put on the fitted bottom one. "I saw a Russian tank. I wore those headphones that give you a tour in Korean."

"I went there once, when I first got over here." Lu Han leans against the doorway. Joonmyun’s clothes are still in his suitcase, mostly. A few are stacked on his chair, folded. "Did you enjoy yourself?"

"I do like museums," Joonmyun says. "I’ve been dragging Kyungsoo with me to all these art exhibitions lately, in Seoul. I never get to see him anymore, unless I do."

"You guys don’t live together anymore?" Lu Han shakes his hair out of his face. "I didn’t know that."

"No," Joonmyun says. "He works on the other side of the city now. He decided to get a place closer to his job."

"Do you live in that big apartment by yourself?"

"I’m trying to talk Jongdae into moving in," Joonmyun says. "I think he wants to, but his mother wants him to stay at home."

"I guess other people’s mothers actually like their children," Lu Han says, and Joonmyun snorts.

"I also brought home some DVDs, if you’re interested. I took note of which ones you already had, and I’m adding a few to the collection."

"What did you get?" Lu Han asks, and Joonmyun’s smile gains a little mischief at the corners.

"I’ll tell you if you bend your leg for me fifteen times." Lu Han had barely gotten to ten yesterday.

"Fuck, you’re evil," he says, and then, behind that, comes a laugh that neither of them had been expecting.

"I haven’t seen you make that face in quite a long time," Joonmyun says. "You go from beauty to the beast in just a few seconds."

"Fifteen is a lot more than ten."

"It’s a good face," Joonmyun says. "Ugly-cute." He stands, and then walks toward Lu Han. Lu Han watches him, unsure, but he only slips past Lu Han, out into the living room. "You coming?"

"Yeah, I’m coming."

Joonmyun drives them out to the clubhouse the next afternoon, so he can meet with Lu Han’s assistant coach and the team manager.

"So you’re the physical therapist," his assistant coach says. "Lu Han speaks very highly of you."

"That’s because Lu Han likes me," Joonmyun says.

"Lu Han likes everyone," the manager says. "It’s one of his best traits as a player. He gets along with everyone."

Joonmyun cuts eyes at him, and Lu Han carefully doesn’t look back. "Lu Han has always had a lot of friends."

"When he got injured, though, he only wanted you." The manager leans forward. "Why is that?"

Lu Han keeps his face carefully blank. He should have expected this line of questioning. He had thought he’d put a stop to it with the girls in clubs, but…

"I was the physical therapist who worked with Lu Han the last time he was injured." Joonmyun’s words are heavily accented but clear. "I was the assistant."

"But you did all the work." Lu Han quiets when his manager gives him a glare. Lu Han winces and leans back in his seat. It pulls at his thigh. His whole leg aches from the exercises Joonmyun had put him through this morning. "I—" Joonmyun glances at him this time, and Lu Han immediately quiets. The assistant coach smiles.

"I’m familiar with his injury, and he can be…" He casts around for a word. "Stubborn."

"But not with you." Lu Han’s assistant coach seems amused.

"Usually not," Joonmyun says. Lu Han crosses his arms and pouts.

"I like you," the manager says. "You will stay and help get Lu Han back on the field."

"Yes sir," Joonmyun says.

Grabbing Joonmyun’s arm, Lu Han uses him for balance as he guides him to the locker room. "Want to meet a few football heroes, while you’re here?" Lu Han grins. "I mean, you already know the best one, so…"

"You’re so full of yourself." He shoves Lu Han lightly. "Just because you’re popular now…"

"Think of it this way. You knew me first."

"I did," Joonmyun says, slipping an arm around Lu Han’s waist as he starts to limp more obviously. "You should be on your crutches."

"It’s been a few weeks." Lu Han sighs. "It’s definitely time for me to start walking without them."

Practice is in a half an hour, so the locker room is full. His team welcomes him back with too-hard back slaps and whistles. "Have you gotten even blonder?" one player asks, while another snaps back, "You’re one to talk!"

"You’ve been gone almost a month," says a teammate. "I’d started to like your funny techno music."

Joonmyun stands in the midst of it all, flustered and pink and amazed.

"Guys, this is Joonmyun, a friend of mine from Korea," Lu Han says.

Lu Han’s teammates love Joonmyun. Everyone loves Joonmyun, really, but he hadn’t expected the blatant adoration to come so soon. Lu Han likes to think he’d been made of sterner stuff, but the truth is, he’d fallen for Joonmyun’s charms just as quickly.

When they head out, with a promise extracted from them both to bring Lu Han to practice next week by the assistant coach, Joonmyun is still smiley.

"You’ve been making your teammates listen to KPop?" Joonmyun pulls down on the sleeves of his sweatshirt. It’s true August now, getting colder but not that cold, and even looking at Joonmyun in his seasonally inappropriate outfit makes Lu Han want to melt.

"A tiger can’t change its stripes." Lu Han still has his Goryeo University Tigers sweatshirt on the top of his laundry pile. He wears it when he goes running. He can do that along the roads now. It’s strange to be out running in the early morning and see other people running too. Something else that’s different here.

"I suppose not." Joonmyun taps his fingers on the steering wheel. "One of your teammates asked me what I thought of your girlfriend."

"Oh," Lu Han says. Maybe they mean Li Yin, who sends him letters that smell faintly of her perfume because it rubs off as she writes. Or maybe they mean Yoona, who is beautiful and who Lu Han has called twice and likes just fine but doesn’t have the time or energy to date.

"You have a girlfriend?"

"I think, after four weeks, you would know if I did." Joonmyun is still tapping his hands, in no particular beat, on the steering wheel. "There hasn’t been anyone serious since Jinri."

"Really?" Joonmyun tries to hide his surprise behind one of those genial, meaningless smiles he’d perfected long before he met Lu Han, but Lu Han sees through it as easily as Joonmyun sees through his subterfuges. "That’s… that was three years ago."

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "I’m not really looking."

"Why not?"

"You make a lot of sacrifices, to play football." Lu Han fastens his seatbelt as Joonmyun starts the car. "What about you?"

"Luna and I broke up in February," Joonmyun says. "I don’t want to talk about it."

"We don’t have to," Lu Han says thickly, and then he stares out the window and watches the familiar scenery go by.

That night they go out to the Cornerhouse on Oxford Street in central Manchester to watch a new Korean movie that had come out in the flurry of festival season. "I haven’t watched one of these in ages," Joonmyun says. Then, joking: "I hope I still remember Korean."

"We’re speaking Korean right now," Lu Han says. "Eat your popcorn."

"Bossy," Joonmyun says, grabbing a handful anyway. He’s warm against Lu Han’s side. "I’m supposed to be the bossy one."

"I’m older," Lu Han says, as the theater darkens. He can taste the sweetness of the popcorn on his tongue.

"But you’re Xiao Lu," Joonmyun says, elbowing Lu Han just enough to move him closer into Lu Han’s side. He’s trying not to smile. Confused feelings burble up inside Lu Han’s belly and make it harder to eat.

"Who are you calling ‘xiao’?" Joonmyun laughs, and is about to respond when the film starts, with a sequence that reminds Lu Han of 3 Iron, which he and Joonmyun had also watched together one night in third year, two days after Joonmyun had turned in his midterm papers.

The theater is chilly. Lu Han wishes he’d brought a jacket. He glances down at Joonmyun. Sure enough, he has his arms wrapped around himself, frowning even as he stares at the screen, caught up in the movie.

Debating with himself, Lu Han looks around the theater. It’s very dark, and there aren’t a lot of people to see anything he might do. And Joonmyun is cold.

Lu Han only hesitates a few more moments, pondering consequences and what people might think before he throws his arm around Joonmyun’s shoulders and draws him into his side. Joonmyun startles and holds himself stiff. "You look freezing," Lu Han murmurs into his ear, and Joonmyun sighs and relaxes into Lu Han’s embrace.

It’s as torturous as Lu Han had known it would be. Joonmyun still smells like the same shampoo, and he’s soft, and he fits as perfectly as he always has underneath Lu Han’s arm. Tentatively, Joonmyun wraps one of his arms around Lu Han’s waist to pull himself closer. "Warm," he says, into Lu Han’s chest. Lu Han can feel the movement of Joonmyun’s lips through his thin shirt. "How do you stay so warm?"

Lu Han’s heart is beating fast enough that he should be on fire. "I dunno," he says. "Magic, I guess."

"A good kind of magic."

Lu Han doesn’t really see the rest of the movie. There are too many other things to notice, like the patterns that Joonmyun’s fingers unconsciously draw along his side, or the way Joonmyun gives these tiny gasps of fear when the movie is scary and these tiny coos of joy when something romantic happens.

He eventually closes his eyes and recites this month’s Arsenal stats in his head, going player by player, and when he’s done, he moves on to Chelsea. Football is the smell of cut grass and the softness of dirt under his cleats. It’s not Joonmyun fitting against him like he’s supposed to be there.

When the movie’s over, and they pull away from each other, long before the lights go up, Lu Han feels the loss. "Thanks for that," Joonmyun says, awkwardly avoiding Lu Han’s eyes.

"Anytime," Lu Han replies honestly.

Joonmyun smiles the way that hurts. "Really?"

"Really," Lu Han says. "When I said I missed you, I meant it." He stands up, crumpling the empty popcorn bag between his hands.

"I thought that was the anesthesia speaking, not you."

"It was a combination of us both." Lu Han wets his lips. "I… Sometimes I just wanted to hear your voice. If I could just hear your voice, it would be enough."

"I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me, for awhile." Joonmyun stands too, and follows Lu Han out of the theater, out of the building. Out on the street, the evening has dropped the temperature even further down. It still feels warm to air conditioning cooled skin.

Finally, Lu Han speaks again. "When I told you not to stay… It was a different kind of selfishness. It was me wanting more than I could ever have. It was… me being scared that as long as you were around, I would never be able to fulfill my dreams. You made me hazy and confused. You made everything so much less simple."

"And now?"

"Without you, even though everything was more… clear cut, there was a Joonmyun-shaped hole in my life. I tried to fill it with lots of different things, but I never really managed." Lu Han digs in his pockets for his car keys, before he remembers that Joonmyun is carrying them. He shakes his head at himself. "I think I could handle it now, if you could. It’s been years. I’m older, and maybe even wiser."

"I could probably handle it," Joonmyun says, producing the keys and jingling them in Lu Han’s face. "But if you tell me to leave again, Lu Han, I won’t… I won’t ever come back."

"Okay," Lu Han says. Friendship. Touchlines, yellow cards, follow the rules. It will work this time. Lu Han is sure of it. "That’s… yeah. Okay."

Joonmyun’s grin this time is sincere, and rich with joy. It fills in all the cracks in Lu Han’s nerves like glue between bits of ceramic. Sticking Lu Han back together in places he hadn’t even known he was broken.

"Do you think you can get to the car before that knee gives out?"

"I could get to the car five times and back before this knee gives out."

"Stubborn," Joonmyun says. "Stubbornness is good if you want to get back out onto the pitch by the beginning of next season."

"I do," Lu Han says, and he sets his jaw and starts to walk, lighter with Joonmyun present by his side.

They go running on the first of September, in the light rain, at a slow pace down a jogging path alongside Nicolas Road all the way to Longford Park. Tackling the route slowly, with Joonmyun at his side, tiny huffs and puffs as his shorter legs take two steps to Lu Han’s every one.

"I run this way every morning, when I’m playing," Lu Han says. "There’s a park at the end of this road."

"A park?"

"There’s even a goat," Lu Han says. "If you’re nice to me, I might let you meet him."

"I’m nice to everyone." He thumps his chest twice, and Lu Han slows down without asking if he needs to. His knee aches, anyway, so he might as well.

"You would probably be nice to some rando robbing you blind. ’Sir, be careful not to trip! Your shoelace is untied, did you know?’" Lu Han makes his voice purposely higher. It doesn’t sound much like Joonmyun. Joonmyun punches him in the arm.

"Why is there a goat?"

"Why not?" Lu Han replies, and Joonmyun chuckles breathlessly and picks up the pace.

Once they get there, Joonmyun has him do stretching exercises by the athletics track, and then do short sprints back and forth while the midday crowd of elderly joggers watch in amusement at Joonmyun barking orders and Lu Han scurrying to follow them. When Lu Han is sure he’s going to die, he convinces Joonmyun that there really is a goat, and drags him to visit.

As Joonmyun plays with the bunnies, Lu Han tells him about bringing Yixing here, and how one of the animals had started to chew on his shirt. "He screamed and screamed," Lu Han says, digging in his pocket for his phone. "Being an awesome best friend, I took a video instead of trying to help."

"Never change," Joonmyun says, as he stands up and leans into Lu Han so they can both study the phone screen. They’re both sticky with sweat, but Lu Han leans his head on top of Joonmyun’s anyway, letting Joonymyun’s hair tickle his cheek and nose.

If Lu Han were referee, he’d give the move a yellow card, but no one is watching so he lets it slide as Joonmyun slips in just a tad closer. "I can’t see," Joonmyun explains. "The glare from the sun."

They run back even slower than they’d run there, and Lu Han’s leg aches. He‘s also more winded than anticipated, especially when he turns to look at Joonmyun and the afternoon light catches in the reddish strands of his hair, giving it an angelic glow..

"You did well today," Joonmyun says. "This is really nostalgic, isn’t it?" He looks around Lu Han’s neighborhood. "Well, same story different setting."

"Not quite the same," says Lu Han. "It’ll never be quite the same."

"Hmm." Joonmyun rests his hands on his hips and looks up at the sky. "You’re right."

The weeks pass, and they fall into a routine that makes Lu Han feel, for the first time, like this apartment in Manchester might be home. Lu Han and Joonmyun take turns cooking dinner and Joonmyun accompanies him to practices and helps him work out with the ball as carefully as possible. He woos Lu Han’s teammates and somehow woos Lu Han all over again too.

Sometimes he goes out on long walks with his cell phone and comes back when the battery dies, and Lu Han thinks he’s talking to his brother, and maybe to Jongdae, too. He wonders what they talk about. Maybe they talk about Lu Han, sometimes.

"What’s it like, living with Joonmyun?" Yixing asks one Saturday morning, when he calls Lu Han for their monthly powwow. "Is everything still going well?"

"Yeah," he says. But I’m scared again. "Great, even. It’s like he belongs here."

"You don’t sound happy." Yixing is on his third bowl of cereal since the beginning of the call, but he stops eating now, possibly to listen to Lu Han more carefully.

"Well," Lu Han says, wriggling his toes and feeling the stretch in both his good knee and his bad. "In a month, he’s going to leave. And then he won’t belong here anymore. And I’ll be…" Alone again.

"Oh, Lu Han," Yixing says. "You can come visit us in January for New Years’ right?"

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "That’s true!" He tries to keep his voice optimistic. He doesn’t think Yixing buys it, but the best thing about Yixing is that Lu Han never has to tell him to drop something when it gets too close to dangerous territory. "I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts."

It is, maybe, too perfect to wake up in the morning and hear Joonmyun humming the Goryeo-Dae fight song as he rinses two mugs for coffee, his skinny jeans slipping down to ride low on his waist as he reaches up high where Lu Han keeps the coffee beans.

To have Joonmyun teaching him how to play poker in the afternoons and go out with his friends at night. It all falls together into some horrible pattern that feels too nice and presents too many temptations.

A part of Lu Han that has lain sleeping for five long years is waking up.

Halfway through the third month, Joonmyun makes a few phone calls and comes back out of Lu Han’s guest room, which now might as well be Joonmyun’s room, smiling.

"I’m staying for another month," he tells Lu Han, who has just turned on the television to a drama that has been gaining popularity lately. "I had to clear some things at work, but you’re obviously not fully healed."

"It’s taking longer this time." Lu Han sets the remote down beside him. "To heal."

"It’s been injured a lot," Joonmyun says. He sits next to Lu Han. "You’re going to feel it a lot more, this time."

"Do you think…" He shakes his head. "It isn’t important." There are some questions that he doesn’t want to know the answer to, yet. He closes his eyes.

"What are they saying?" Joonmyun asks, and he opens them again. "They’re talking faster than I can understand." His hand is on Lu Han’s thigh. It isn’t the first time, but usually they’re in the midst of therapy, Joonmyun digging his fingers into Lu Han’s good leg to egg him on, or gently massaging the bad one in apology.

This… This isn’t therapy. This is Joonmyun and Lu Han, two friends with vaguely set boundaries and a history of touches that have gone too far. Lu Han knows what the sweat along the curve of Joonmyun’s jaw tastes like and Joonmyun knows what Lu Han looks like when he comes. And Joonmyun’s hand is warm through Lu Han’s jeans.

"The girl, with the blonde hair, she’s… she’s a maid, right? But she’s in love with that guy in the suit. He used to be…" Lu Han’s brow furrows, concentrating on the translation. The words are all jumbled up in his head. "He used to be a driver. But now he’s a member of the family, because he married one of the daughters."

"And?" Joonmyun leans his head on Lu Han’s shoulder, and Lu Han fixes his eyes determinedly on the screen. Sometimes, in football, you come up against a defender that it’s hard not to foul but that doesn’t give you any excuses as far as the officials are concerned. This is like that, and Lu Han has to watch his footwork, and even more importantly, watch his hands.

"And she’s asking him to meet her for lunch outside. Like a date. But it’s inappropriate, because of their social statuses, and he can’t figure out how to tell her that."

"So are they star-crossed lovers?" Joonmyun looks a lot more interested in the story now. Probably because it’s so much like the dramas he adores.

"No," Lu Han says, warming up to it. He usually watches this after Joonmyun goes to bed, indulging in a cup of tea and catching up on match scores and team standings on his laptop. "No, that guy, his first wife was a real lady. Like an aristocrat. And he was nothing, socially, and they ran off and eloped. That’s real star-crossed lover stuff, in my opinion. This is just infatuation."

"So they loved each other, but the society they were in told them that they couldn’t be together?"

"Right," Lu Han says. "Exactly that." He looks down at Joonmyun, and realizes how close he is. His skin is clear, and kind of golden in the dim light from the two lamps Lu Han had turned on at dusk.

"What’s he saying now?" Joonmyun whispers, and his breath tickles Lu Han’s lips. Lu Han, this close, can see each and every one of Joonmyun’s eyelashes.

"I don’t know," Lu Han says. "I’m not listening."

Joonmyun chuckles, strained, and Lu Han could just lean forward a couple of centimeters and their mouths would meet. "I thought you were going to be my human subtitling machine."

"Humans aren’t machines." Lu Han lifts his hand up to cradle Joonmyun’s jaw. The skin is as smooth as ever. Joonmyun leans into the touch, and it’s both a lifetime ago and yesterday that Lu Han had Joonmyun trapped between himself and the shelves in the library, lips parted and eyes giving permission. "They have weaknesses."

"What’s your weakness, Lu Han?" Joonmyun’s hand comes up to sit atop his. It trembles.

"Don’t you know?" Lu Han says. He thinks that it’s obvious. But maybe it isn’t, to Joonmyun. He should keep it that way. He leans backward, dropping his hand down between them. It lands on Joonmyun’s lap, and Joonmyun’s hand falls too.

Joonmyun lets go of his breath, like he’s been holding it. Lu Han had certainly been holding his. "I should go to bed, anyway."

"Yeah, we both should," Lu Han says. He stands, and his legs wobble. It has nothing to do with his knee and everything to do with the unsteady beating of his heart. "I’ll see you in the morning."

"In the morning, then."

Lu Han has trouble falling asleep. Maybe he’s only imagining Joonmyun tossing and turning in the room next to his, but he doesn’t think he is.

"I choose football," Lu Han says to his own reflection the next morning. "I will always choose football."

Joonmyun laughs at something on TV. Lu Han can hear him through the door. His laughter is clear, like bells, and Lu Han can think of a thousand times he’s heard it, but it has never shaken his resolve quite like this. His stomach heaves, and he wipes the toothpaste from the corners of his mouth.

"I will always choose football. That’s why I’m a Premier League player."

September twenty-eighth, Lu Han winds up at Manchester International again, Joonmyun by his side as they wait for an arriving flight from Beijing.

His first glimpse of Li Yin has him waving wildly in her direction, and she smiles. "Lu Han!" She runs up and hugs him, before pulling back and greeting Joonmyun like he’s an old friend. "And you must be Joonmyun."

"Not much Chinese," Lu Han says, and Li Yin smiles. He looks at Joonmyun. "And she doesn’t speak much Korean."

"Just a little," she says, pinching her thumb and first finger and leaving only a small space between them to show her proficiency.

Despite the language barrier, they get along perfectly. Lu Han plays translator for them both, his brain twisting and turning as he tries to figure it all out, even as people around them all speak in English.

"I’m glad you came," Lu Han says, when they get back to his place and Joonmyun excuses himself to go to the restroom.

"I’m glad you actually wanted me to," she replies, kissing his cheek. Joonmyun comes back out as she pulls away. He gives them a strange look before he smiles pleasantly and asks Li Yin, in halting Chinese, where she would like to go for lunch.

Over the next four days, they visit museums and go shopping and eat any number of foods Li Yin calls fattening even as she happily chomps them down. They wander through Chinatown, where Li Yin and Lu Han tell stories of their childhood, Li Yin narrating and Lu Han struggling to turn her winding tales into understandable Korean as Joonmyun patiently laughs at them both.

Li Yin sleeps on the pull-out bed in the living room, refusing both Lu Han and Joonmyun’s offer of their own beds. "No way," she tells Lu Han. "I can’t tell my husband I slept in another man’s bed, even if the other man wasn’t in it."

In the mornings, Lu Han wakes every day to find Li Yin and Joonmyun communicating without words to make breakfast, and he watches them from the hall with a fondness that catches him by surprise.

As far as family goes, he thinks this must be what it feels like to have a real one.

Lu Han shows her the stadium, and she participates in one of Lu Han’s rehab sessions, still pretty good with the football herself, even after all these years. "Lu Han taught me," she says, when Joonmyun gives her a questioning look. Joonmyun nods, studying the football instead of Li Yin, and she smiles at him like she knows what he’s thinking. Lu Han doesn’t.

On the last day of her visit, they go out to a fancy dinner, ordering meat dishes that cost more than all their other meals combined and a bottle of red wine to go with it.

Joonmyun shivers on the way out to the car, so Lu Han has him pop the trunk and produces a sweatshirt to drape over Joonmyun’s navy diner jacket. "I put it in there just in case," Lu Han says. He means it to sound like he put it in there for himself, but really, he put it in there for Joonmyun just last week as it turned quickly to the chilling coolness of fall.

When they get home, Lu Han showers first and then retreats into the kitchen to make tea. Joonmyun’s door is closed. He’d been quiet at dinner, looking back and forth between Li Yin and Lu Han, and smiling strangely at them both.

Lu Han doesn’t understand, so he pushes it aside.

He turns the stove on and fills the kettle before setting it on the eye.

Li Yin clears her throat, and he turns to see her standing in the doorway in a huge fluffy pink bathrobe, looking comfy and warm.

"So I’ve finally met your Joonmyun."

"He’s not my Joonmyun," Lu Han says, looking at the water he put on for tea and frowning at nothing.

"Yes, he is," Li Yin says. "Can’t you tell?"

"It isn’t like that," Lu Han says. "I’m not…"

"I know," Li Yin replies. She moves further into the kitchen as Lu Han’s kettle starts to shriek, shrilly. "But you smile brightest when he laughs. Former best friends notice things like that." He pours the water, and pours a cup for Li Yin, too, plucking two tea bags from the jar he keeps on his counter and opening them both quickly, dropping the bags into the mugs. "I noticed when you mentioned him years ago, when we were visiting your father in the hospital."

Even though it’s only Li Yin, Lu Han still has to sit down. Water sloshes from the mugs onto his hands.

Fear makes him light-headed, and though she’ll never say anything to the press or his coach, every person who knows how Lu Han feels is another person he’s failed to hide it from. "Is it that obvious?"

"I can see why you love him," Li Yin says, sitting down across from him at the tiny kitchen table. It seems all the smaller as she leans across it, catching his eyes and pinning him in place with her stare. "He’s a wonderful person."

"He’s a man," Lu Han says sharply, in reprimand. It’s acid on his tongue. "And I’m afraid... afraid of... heights."

"You never were as a child," Li Yin says, after an extended silence. "Afraid of heights, I mean. We used to do all sorts of reckless things on the roofs of those under-construction buildings, back in middle school. Do you remember climbing in through the windows, and getting our uniforms dirty with cement dust as we crawled along the unfinished brick shelves? That must have been at least twenty-five meters."

"I didn’t learn to fear heights until later." The tea is hot. It scalds his tongue and palate.

"In high school." Li Yin doesn’t move to drink her tea. "I still don’t really know what happened to you, Lu Han. On that roof. I only remember what you looked like when I found you. I knew you’d gone up there, because some of the other students had seen you being pushed up the stairs. They said you looked scared." She shudders. "I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe you to have your headphones in, listening to that awful pop music you like."

"It isn’t awful," Lu Han says. "A lot happened on that roof. I learned real fear. Real failure."

"After that, you never really… your smiles were hollow. Even when you were back on the pitch, the next season, you were hollow." She finally picks up her tea and takes a sip. "But when you talk about Joonmyun, talk to Joonmyun, you’re so…" Pause. Shift. Sigh. "Whole."

"Joonmyun is…" Lu Han considers. "The best thing that ever happened to me."

"Then why are you letting him pack his bags? Why is he leaving in three weeks?" Li Yin reaches across the table and grabs Lu Han’s hand. "I know you’re afraid. Whatever happened on that roof, whatever you hear in locker rooms, whatever your father used to yell at you when you’d come home…" Her thumb rubs circles on the top of his knuckles. "Put all of that aside, and tell me honestly why you’re letting him leave."

"Because I have dreams," Lu Han says. As long as you don’t have any abnormal proclivities. "Because I’m making my dreams come true, and I had to, have to, make a choice."

"What is your dream, Lu Han?"

Lu Han opens his mouth to answer, but it sticks in his chest, and for a moment, he doesn’t know.


"Am I interrupting something?" Joonmyun’s in the doorway now, looking at their hands. He’s wearing one of Lu Han’s sweatshirts, the zippered one that Lu Han had draped over his shoulders earlier when they were coming home from dinner, and his own pajama pants.

"Not at all," Li Yin says, guessing Joonmyun’s question. Lu Han quickly translates for her into Korean. "I was just about to go to bed." She smiles enigmatically at Lu Han, who still feels winded from their conversation. Then she stands from the seat, offering it to Joonmyun wordlessly. "Goodnight," she says in crisp Korean.

Joonmyun does take her seat. "You don’t look so good."

"She gave me a lot to think about," Lu Han says. "As always."

"You can tell me it’s none of my business anymore, if you want," Joonmyun says, "but are you in love with her?"

"I was once," Lu Han says. Now his tea has gone from hot to tepid, skipping the comfortably warm stage. "When I was seventeen."

"Not now, though?"

Lu Han pulls himself together enough to meet Joonmyun’s eyes. "No," he says. "I love her, but that’s not the same thing."

In love, Lu Han thinks, is five years of almost silence that in the end mean nothing because his heart still leaps at the sound of Joonmyun’s voice.

"You say some pretty smart things, for a jock." Joonmyun picks up Lu Han’s mug and Li Yin’s, too, walking them both over to the sink and rinsing them clean. "But we should both go to bed soon, if we’re going to take Li Yin to the airport at six, tomorrow morning.”

"I’m not sleepy." Lu Han could use a walk. A walk alone, to clear his head. But Joonmyun is insistent. "You don’t have to—"

"I’ll tuck you in," Joonmyun says. He grabs Lu Han’s wrist, pulling him up and dragging him to his room with that surprising strength. Lu Han flips the light when Joonmyun can’t find it. "I’ve never been in here. Is your room the new version of your bed? No visitors allowed?"

"No," says Lu Han. "Not really."

Joonmyun looks around the room, and drops Lu Han’s wrist when he spots something on Lu Han’s desk. "You still have that?" High and disbelieving. He walks over to the desk and gingerly picks up Lu Han’s blue vase.

Lu Han steps over to his bed, pushing the bunched up covers out of the way, and then lying down and pulling them up over his shoulders. "It reminds me of you."

"I never thought…" Joonmyun’s eyes shimmer in the almost darkness. He’s still so beautiful. Lu Han thinks about dreams.

"That vase is me," Lu Han says. "The glue… that’s you."

Joonmyun approaches the edge of the bed slowly. He peels Lu Han’s covers back and straightens them, making sure to cover Lu Han’s feet and folding the top of Lu Han’s thin comforter back neatly. "Your comforter is thinner than mine."

"You get cold," Lu Han says helplessly. "Even in the summer." Joonmyun’s hand is in the range of Lu Han’s hand. He could reach out and take it. But Lu Han is afraid of heights. He’s even more afraid of falling from them.

"You’re pretty amazing too," Joonmyun says, kissing Lu Han’s forehead, lips drier than Lu Han remembers from long ago. "I hope someone tells you that every day."

Then he’s gone, and Lu Han closes his eyes. "I chose football," he whispers to no one, and his heart hammers in his chest.

It’s all over the news. Chelsea player caught with another man. Pictures in The Sun, and boycotts already beginning for the exhibition match in Argentina next month.

"Do you know him?" Joonmyun asks, standing quietly behind him as he switches from morning talk show to morning talk show, looking for a reprieve. "That player?"

Two shared beers in a bar and a mutual understanding. "Yeah," Lu Han says. "I know him."

"Did you know he was…" Joonmyun sighs, and Lu Han can’t see him but he knows what his face looks like. That soft, unsure look that only seems to come out when he doesn’t know exactly what to say. It’s rare he makes it, but Lu Han has memorized it anyway. "Well."

The partial smile he had given Lu Han as he‘d tugged on the draw strings of his uniform.

A reminder of the consequences that leaves Lu Han feeling cold. "Yeah," he says. "I did."

"What about his teammates?"

"You can’t be gay and play professional football," Lu Han says. He can imagine the slurs. He looks at the man’s face above his Chelsea jersey, and knows he won’t start for his team next week. "That’s the way it is."

Joonmyun puts his hands on Lu Han’s shoulders, and Lu Han shrugs him off. "I feel sorry for him."

"He chose," Lu Han says, as he gets up and walks toward the bathroom. He wants to take a shower, to maybe wash away all the panic that scales his back like spider vines.

"Is it that easy to choose?"

Lu Han stops, one hand on the doorknob, and turns to look back at Joonmyun. He looks lost, too small in his sweats and barefoot on the carpeted floor of Lu Han’s apartment. Lu Han can imagine him, thirty years from now, with a few more lines on his face and peeks of gray in his hair instead of red, looking at Lu Han just like this. The image flickers, and then disappears.

"No," Lu Han says. "But dreams come with sacrifices."

"Did high school teach you that, Lu Han?" Joonmyun asks, and Lu Han locks himself in the bathroom, and turns the water on as hot as it will go.

"You have to stop wearing the brace," Joonmyun tells him on the way to the clubhouse from the hospital. It was Lu Han’s last visit, and he’d been told the injury had healed nicely.

"My knee doesn’t feel normal," Lu Han says. "So I must not be ready to take it off." He sounds whiny. Minseok would give him that look, if he were here. Joonmyun just frowns.

"That is the new normal," Joonmyun says. "You can’t tear the same muscle so many times and come out unscathed." Joonmyun has his eyes on the road in front of them. He’s driving slowly, as usual. "You’re going to feel it more than you used to."

"I’m too young to be working around the places where my body is giving out."

"You’ll still play as well as you did," Joonmyun says, glancing away briefly to smile at him. "These are the perils of professional athletics." Joonmyun’s smile slips some. "Among other things."

Lu Han slumps in his seat and crosses his arms. "Yeah," he says. "And the next time my knee gets hurt on the pitch, I won’t be getting up from it, right?"

"You will," Joonmyun says. "You will, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to play anymore."

Not able to play anymore. It cuts him to his bones. "What would I even do, if I couldn’t play anymore?" Lu Han tries to picture a life without the thrill of the match. Without the challenge of getting past other skilled players. Without the goal of being striker some day. "I’ve worked my whole life for this."

"Stop being so reckless out there with your defenders and you won’t have to find out." Joonmyun pulls into a parking space. "You’ve given up too much for this to let carelessness take it away from you."

The assistant coach looks over his medical forms and nods.

"We’ll have you back into practice in February," he says. "Double up on your runs and keep up with your exercises." He looks to Joonmyun. "Will that compromise his recovery?"

Joonmyun looks to Lu Han, who quickly translates. Joonmyun smiles, and replies in English.

"No," Joonmyun says. "My suggestion is the same."

"Good," the assistant coach says, pleased. "I had my doubts about your friend here, but he did well by you."

"He always does," Lu Han says, and then they rise to go, having decided beforehand in the locker rooms in favor of an early lunch.

"Lu Han, can I speak to you alone?" Joonmyun nods, not needing translation for that, and steps outside the door, leaving Lu Han and the assistant coach alone in his office. "It’s time to send your friend home."

"You don’t have to pay him anymore," Lu Han says. "And he told his boss he would be here until the end of October."

"This isn’t about paying him," the assistant coach says. "This is about the Chelsea scandal. We don’t need one in our club."

Lu Han feels like a football has just flown into his stomach, knocking all the air out of him in one go. "Sir?" Lu Han grasps for meaning. "It’s not—"

"I don’t care what it is or isn’t." The assistant coach shuffles papers on his desk, and doesn’t look at Lu Han. "But send him home before things get out of hand."

There’s nothing to say to that. Not really. "I—"

"You’re pretty enough that even if you’re just friends, the papers are on a hunt for gossip now. It’s like the lid has been blown off of some huge undercover gay faction of the Premier League, and a pretty boy living, with another pretty boy who flew here from South Korea when he got injured isn’t going to look so good for the team. It doesn’t look so good for you." He coughs. "We like having you on the team, Lu Han. You’re a good player. But we will let you go if we have to. Am I clear?"

"Yes, sir," Lu Han says. Clear as window glass.

"What’s wrong?" Joonmyun asks, when Lu Han walks out of the office. "Are you in trouble for something?"

"I don’t want to talk about it," Lu Han says, and Joonmyun doesn’t push. Joonmyun lets Lu Han have the dreadful quiet he wants all the way back to the apartment, not even bothering to stop at the restaurant they’d eyed on the way to his doctor’s appointment.

"We’ll order take-out," Joonmyun says. "Or I’ll make sandwiches. You don’t look like you’re in the mood for lunch."

"I’m not," Lu Han says. "Not at all."

Lu Han ends up going for a drive and then a walk by himself, ending up at Longford park and finding a quiet place in the gardens to sit alone. He’s spent several afternoons with Joonmyun here, in this park, laughing about nothing or debating the merits of the movie they’d just watched, Joonmyun teasing Lu Han about his opinions with "should I explain the hero’s intentions with football metaphors?" and Lu Han snorting and declaring he knows about all sorts of things now, and maybe he should explain it to Joonmyun in Japanese tea ceremony format.

And Manchester had never really felt like home until Joonmyun had come to live here too, and Lu Han thinks that when Joonmyun gets on that plane again, the belonging will leave with him.

He gets home after dusk, and Joonmyun looks up from the sofa, his reading glasses sliding down his nose, his hair wet from the shower, and his mouth parting into a smile of relief. "I was starting to get worried about you."

"You don’t have to."

"We’ve been over this before." He scoots over, leaving enough space for Lu Han on the couch. Lu Han sits next to him, making sure to leave space between them. Still, Joonmyun’s shampoo wafts over him, and Lu Han wonders if this is how Joonmyun’s heart aches when he runs too fast. "I want to worry about you. You can’t tell me not to."

"I can hope you’ll listen to me one day," Lu Han says. "I’m not… I don’t need anyone take care of me."

"You needed me," Joonmyun says confidently. "A few months ago, you needed me."

"I shouldn’t have," Lu Han says. "It would have been better, for both of us, if I hadn’t."

"What’s wrong, Lu Han?" Joonmyun’s hand goes, like a magnet, to the small of Lu Han’s back.

"You have to leave." He says it in a rush.


"You… I’m better now. You should leave. You have your own life. You shouldn’t be trapped here in mine."

"I’m not trapped in yours. I chose to—"

"You don’t understand," Lu Han says. "I thought I could… I thought we could… but we can’t." Lu Han shakes his hair angrily out of his eyes. "I can’t."

Joonmyun is quiet. He waits, maybe to see if Lu Han will keep speaking,

"So you’re asking me not to stay again?" His voice cracks, and Lu Han cracks along with it. Joonmyun grabs a handful of Lu Han’s shirt in his hand. Lu Han could pull away if he wanted. "Are you, Lu Han?"

Lu Han’s every breath feels like fire, the burn at the end of a match when there’s nothing left but pure adrenaline.

Yes, Lu Han thinks, because that is what he’s asking. He’s asking Joonmyun to stop being everything to him, and to stop smiling at him like that in the mornings and to stop wanting Lu Han as much as Lu Han wants him.

Instead of saying that, he leans forward and kisses him. And it’s funny how five years can pass but Joonmyun’s lips still feel the same beneath his own. His mouth still unfolds beneath Lu Han’s like the lotus blossoms between the tea cups during the tea ceremony, or like the intricate plot of a film noir, every new swipe of Lu Han’s tongue earning a different kind of gasp. It’s funny, Lu Han thinks, that he has never felt more alive than he feels when Joonmyun melts into him, opening his mouth wider and demanding Lu Han does the same.

Lu Han slips his hands into Joonmyun’s hair and tilts his head sideways to crush them more firmly together, and Joonmyun moans, shifting so he’s sitting in Lu Han’s lap. His knees are pressing into Lu Han’s hips and everything is suddenly too hot, too much.

They both feel it, and Lu Han knows, as Joonmyun’s kiss gentles, lessens, that there have been too many chances and too many failures. There is still Lu Han’s choice looming in the space Joonmyun creates as he starts to draw back.

Trembling, Joonmyun pulls away. He presses both of his hands to Lu Han’s cheeks, and kisses his nose. "Red card," Joonmyun says sadly. "Ejected from the match."

"I—" Lu Han knows that he doesn’t want Joonmyun to leave, not really. It would be easier, but it isn’t what he wants. The problem is that Lu Han doesn’t know what he does want. He clings to the fact that football is what he knows. That football is what got him through everything and it will get him through this, too.

"I’ll change my flight," Joonmyun says. "You’re well now, so there is no reason for me to be here." He moves further away from Lu Han, rising from the sofa and retreating back to his room. "Live your dream, Lu Han. And I’ll..."

"What’s your dream, Joonmyun?"

"Unattainable," Joonmyun replies. "So you’d better play hard enough for the both of us." He starts to close the door, putting wood and plaster between them, and soon, distance. "You’ve given up too much for this to let carelessness take it away from you."

Lu Han’s heart gets on a plane to Incheon. Lu Han’s soul gets back on the field, kicking the ball around as winter settles in colder than it has in years before.

"I haven’t heard from you in a while," Jongin says. "I thought you might be afraid to call me, hyung."

"Why would I be afraid to call you, Jonginnie?" Lu Han keeps it light, letting his voice curl teasingly over Jongin’s name.

"Because I know how you are about all the gay stuff, and I know you heard from Yixing that my gay stuff got me kicked off the team."

"You didn’t get kicked off," Lu Han says. "That would have meant you did something wrong. You didn’t."

"Passed over, then," Jongin says. There’s a burst of Chanyeol’s laughter in the background. "Sorry about that. Baekhyun is over and they’re playing video games. They get along too well. It’s noisy."

"I’ve just been busy." Lu Han wrinkles his nose. "That’s why I haven’t called."

"With Joonmyun-hyung, I hear. Did he make you go to a bunch of obscure museums? Did you pretend to be mad about it?"

"He went to the museums by himself, mostly," Lu Han says. "It was fun, but he went home on Friday."

"I thought he was staying until October? That’s what Jongdae said, when I talked to him last weekend."

"Things change." Lu Han isn’t sure why he called Jongin. "He had to leave earlier than expected."

"Why?" Jongin, as much as he cares about people, has never been the best at subtle hedging around unwanted questions. Lu Han supposes that for some people, that is part of his charm.

"We’re not so different, you and I," Lu Han says, after a long pause. "The difference is in what we chose to do about it."

Jongin’s breath hitches. "Oh," he says. Lu Han finds himself shaking, because he had never meant to admit something like that today or any day. Saying it aloud is terrible and real, but much like when he’d told Yixing about… the incident, he feels freer afterwards. Lighter. "Oh."

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "But you were… willing to give it all up. I wasn’t. I’m not."

"Can I… Hyung, can I say something?"

"Sure," Lu Han says. "The worst thing I can do from England is hang up on you."

"What do you mean, hyung? You’re not going to have me re-organize everything Chanyeol’s put in the wrong place in the historical fiction section?"

"The worst that will happen to you is my eternal ire," Lu Han jokes, even though he doesn’t feel like joking. He’s on his back at the edge of the school building roof with the wind in his hair and crushing pain in his ribs. He has someone’s hand over his mouth so he can’t scream for help. "So just say it."

"I think for you, Lu Han-hyung, all you’ve wanted to care about was football for so long that you stopped realizing you could like something else that much. Football was like, I dunno, a safe place for you."

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "A safe place when there weren’t any other safe places."

"But you do have other safe places now. You have us, right? You have other things you love, too, like movies and even tea ceremony exhibitions and who knows what else." Jongin would be shrugging, Lu Han thinks, if Lu Han could see him. "You have more than just football. So now you can choose whether or not you really want that the most out of everything you have. And you can decide what you want to give up for it?"

"Playing football was your dream too," Lu Han says. "We were going for it together."

"You got there!" Jongin says. "I just found another dream along the way. Or, well, the thing I wanted most… It changed. That can happen. It happened to me. I don’t regret not sticking with football. I don’t regret turning down the ultimatum of Chanyeol or F.C. Seoul for another season."

"This is the most I’ve ever heard you talk." Lu Han tries to sound nonchalant but he thinks it comes out choked.

"Because I would have regretted losing Chanyeol more than I regretted losing my spot on the team. Even if he is," and Jongin raises his voice, "loud and really obnoxious right now."

"I think you mean always," Lu Han says, and Jongin laughs. He doesn’t sound like a man who lives every day filled with some kind of regret.

"Maybe I do," says Jongin. "I love him anyway." He chuckles, low and embarrassed. "Do you love Joonmyun-hyung?"


"Try this," Jongin says. "It’s actually the advice that Joonmyun-hyung gave me, back when I was trying to figure all of this out for myself."


"Yeah." Jongin sniffles. "Close your eyes. What’s the first thing you see when you think about the word happiness?"

Lu Han clutches at his phone like it’s a buoy in the ocean. "Oh," he says. "Oh."

The coach looks at him in disbelief. "What?"

"I’m not renewing my contract." Lu Han repeats steadily. He can hear the Manchester wind in his ears.

"Did you get a better offer elsewhere?" The assistant coach looks shell-shocked. Lu Han guesses they don’t hear that from the other end very often from players who love their own franchise.

"No, of course not," Lu Han says. "But I’m retiring."

"You’re twenty-six," the coach says. His steel-gray hair is pushed back from his face, and his eyebrows are gathered in seriousness. "If you retire now, then…"

"I know." Lu Han swallows down his anxiousness and meets both sets of inquisitive eyes. "But I have a lot of things to consider. My knee is not really…" He debates his words. "It won’t ever be as strong as it used to be. One more injury and I’m out for good."

"Then why not play until that injury? You told me once, when you first got here, that it had been your life-long dream to play for Manchester United."

"And now I’ve done it," Lu Han says. "And it was amazing. Everything I had dreamed of."


"It’s strange," Lu Han says, "but I think I have to.... Do something else." When Lu Han closes his eyes, and thinks the word happiness, it’s not this that comes to mind first. It’s home, the one he made for himself in Seoul, and the people he made it with. It’s…

As he shakes their hands and walks out of the clubhouse, he isn’t sure whether he wants to smile or cry.

If Lu Han had been asked, way back in his first year of university, what kind of place Yixing would live in when he was in his mid-twenties, Lu Han would never have guessed it would be this floral.

"What are you going to do with yourself?" Yixing asks, as Lu Han bounces the baby on his lap.

"I’m not sure yet," Lu Han says. "I’ve got enough time and money to figure it out."

"That’s true," Yixing says. "I bought a poster with your face on it from the stationery store last week. I figured it might become limited edition."

"If anyone cares about a player that retired at twenty six." The baby, tiny and wide eyed, gurgles up at Lu Han. She has dimples like Yixing.

Hyoyeon is whistling in the kitchen as she pours pretzels into a bowl. Lu Han can see her, her hair long and blonde still, swaying happily. "I’m still kind of shocked you did that. Was it not what you expected?"

"It was everything I expected," says Lu Han. "And more."


"I never imagined that after I got that… that after I’d experienced it, and lived it… that I would want more. That it wouldn’t be enough." Lu Han looks down at the baby and tickles her stomach. She can’t quite laugh yet, but she gurgles again. A happy gurgle. "Jonginnie told me that dreams can change. That his did." Lu Han chuckles. "There was a time when he came to me for advice instead of the other way around."

"That was his biggest mistake." Lu Han glares, because he can’t sock Yixing with a lapful of baby. "I think he’s right."

"You do?"

"When I was twenty, I wanted to be a songwriter. I still do. But when I was twenty, I would have given anything to be a songwriter. Now, though, there are things I wouldn’t give." He reclaims his daughter. "It’s not that I want being a songwriter less. It’s that I want other things just as much. Maybe more."

"When did everyone grow up without me?"

"Probably while you were wrestling tall football players in the Netherlands," Yixing replies. "Welcome home."

"Thanks," Lu Han says.

Meeting up for drinks with the old gang in Apgujeong is strange. Back when they were in college, they never could have afforded Monkey Beach, but now they’re all grown-ups with grown-up jobs. "Except you," Baekhyun says cheerfully. "You’re unemployed."

"You’re the last person I expected we’d ever get out here," Jongdae says. "I thought you were too cool to hang out with your college buddies."

"Naw," Lu Han says. "I was just too far."

"What brings you back here?" Jongdae asks. "I almost passed out when I saw you had," he air quotes, "retired."

"The old knee," Lu Han says. "It’s had about enough."

"Yixing said it was good enough for you to get back on the pitch, though," Minseok interrupts. "So you could have kept playing?"

"I could have," Lu Han says. "But one more injury to it and I might not be able to run anymore." He smiles, small but genuine. "I didn’t want to take the chance that I’d never play at all again just to play for Man U."

"Who are you, and what have you done with Lu Han?" Minseok asks suspiciously. To Lu Han’s surprise, he throws an arm over his shoulder. "Next thing I know, you’ll be letting people help you bag your groceries at Lotte Mart and watching economics news in the middle of the night with Sehun while the matches are on SBS."

"Now let’s not go overboard," Jongdae says. "Then we would have to start checking for identity theft." He reaches up and flicks a piece of Lu Han’s hair. "Or extensive bleach poisoning."

"I’ve been thinking about letting it go natural," Lu Han says.

"Really." Minseok looks skeptical.

"No," Lu Han says. "But Jongdae believed me, for a second there."

"I did not," Jongdae says. "I never would believe such a—" He stops and smiles large. "Joonmyun-hyung!"

Lu Han turns around slowly. Of course Joonmyun would be here. Lu Han had mentally prepared for it. But nothing could have prepared him for the way Joonmyun refuses to meet Lu Han’s eyes, even as he smiles at him in a way that means nothing at all.

"Lu Han," he says. "Settling back into Korean life all right?"

"I am," Lu Han says.

"How long are you here?"

"I don’t know yet," Lu Han says, and Joonmyun nods. "Hopefully forever." Joonmyun startles, but still doesn’t look at Lu Han.

"Why?" Joonmyun says, and Lu Han doesn’t think he can tell him the answer.

Zitao, who comes in after Joonmyun, immediately comes up and picks Lu Han up in a crushing hug. "Xiao Lu!"

It breaks the tension, and things ease. Joonmyun ends up on the opposite end of the table, and Lu Han, staring at the end of his professional football career, pours himself another drink and lights a cigarette.

Yifan sits down beside him. "I thought you mentioned a job interview tomorrow."

"I’m not Yixing," Lu Han says. "I can handle my liquor."

"Poor Yixing," Yifan says. "It’s like his tolerance has gotten worse since the baby."

"Drinking is fifty percent genetics, fifty percent practice."

Yifan laughs, but Lu Han isn’t really paying attention to him. He’s paying attention to Joonmyun, who leans forward to take Zitao’s cigarette from his mouth and wipe his hair from his forehead like he used to do for Lu Han.

He’s laughing and smiling and he’s bright without even acknowledging that Lu Han is in the room.

He isn’t looking at Lu Han, and Lu Han remembers Joonmyun’s words so clearly. "I won’t come back," he’d said.

Lu Han is here but Joonmyun isn’t looking at him. At all. And it hurts worse than handing in his resignation. It hurts worse than his injury and worse than the recovery.

That’s the clearest indication Lu Han has that his dreams have changed. That what he wants most has changed.

Lu Han could play football again tomorrow, and injure his knee past redemption. But Lu Han is already going through life without his right knee, or his right hand, or the right ventricle of his heart, because Joonmyun is all of those things. Joonmyun is a part of Lu Han, no matter how hard Lu Han tries to push him away. No matter how hard they try to keep distance between them.

And maybe that realization is enough to help Lu Han let go of him. Because Joonmyun seems happy now, without the heavy weight of Lu Han’s problems pushing down on him.

Lu Han would give up running, give up anything, for Joonmyun’s happiness.

He thinks back to red cards, and Joonmyun pulling himself out of the match. Maybe, Lu Han thinks, they both should have been carded, because there’s no way to win the game now, not when it took Lu Han too long to realize he couldn’t play this match one man short, especially if that man is Kim Joonmyun, who took the broken parts of Lu Han and put them back together.

But Joonmyun has his own team. Joonmyun has Jongdae and Baekhyun and Kyungsoo and that brother who graduated top of his class from Sogang. Joonmyun had lost a lot and put himself back together, and maybe for him, Lu Han isn’t a match-losing loss.

And if he isn’t, if he’s not a starter for Joonmyun, Lu Han can be okay with that.

His greatest dream might once have been to play for Manchester United, and to prove that he was more than anyone thought he could be.

But like Jongin had said, dreams can change. People can grow and expand and everything in the world does too. And Lu Han’s greatest dream, now, is to see Joonmyun smile. Even if he’s smiling at someone else.

"Are you okay?" Yifan is sitting next to him stoically. He’s surveying them all with a sort of wistfulness, like he’s on the outside of a bubble of happiness, and Lu Han can empathize with that. He’d heard Yifan and Jessica had broken up recently, after six years together. "You seem… sad."

"I’m thinking about dreams," Lu Han says. "And wishing I still knew how to reach for them."

Lu Han remembers being a child, with his football posters curling at the edges and peeling off the walls, the mantra of that’s what I want most echoing in his head like a steady drum.

And Lu Han remembers the feel of Joonmyun’s hands, slick with clay, sliding across the backs of his own. Joonmyun’s voice in his ear. About the look in Joonmyun’s eyes, when they’d said their last goodbye. He looks at Joonmyun now, sitting next to Jongdae with his hands full of cards, swindling Minseok out of all of his Hi-Chew pieces and laughing into Baekhyun’s shoulder, and his heart breaks.

"It’s never too late?" Yifan’s hands look more fragile now than they used to. Like his fingers might break if he tried to stop a goal instead of help a child hold a crayon.

"My knee will never be as good as it was when I was sixteen ever again," Lu Han says. "Maybe my ability to reach for my dreams is just like that."

Yifan is quiet. Lu Han vaguely wonders why Yifan looks so sad. He grabs the soju from in front of them and pours them both another small glass. They clink their glasses together and drink. The world swims. Lu Han has no match tomorrow. Just an interview he hopes he’s good enough to ace, and an empty bed. He might meet up with Yixing and his family for dinner at a samgyeopsal restaurant, and Jinri for a movie afterwards.

At the end of the day, though, Lu Han will be almost as alone as he started.

Lu Han is back on the roof, and inside, he feels empty.

end of second half


"This is criminal," Minseok says. "Absolutely criminal."

"Don’t make me smack your ass in front of all these impressionable young kids," Lu Han replies, straightening the collar of his Yonsei windbreaker.

"Yonsei, Lu Han?" Minseok shakes his head. "They’re only Goryeo-Dae’s biggest rivals in the college league. You’re a turncoat."

"It’s a good team, and they wanted me," he says, before he looks out at the pitch. His players are running short sprints, back and forth. Two on the end look like they’re about to drop. As a coach trying to round out the starters this season, Lu Han wants to know if they will. "I wasn’t about to put Coach Jung out of a job. And I’m serious about the butt-smacking, don’t think I’m not."

"I thought they might be able to smell that I was a Goryeo Tiger as I was walking over here," Minseok says. "How do you live in eternal danger like this?"

"Minseokie," Lu Han says. "It took me seven years to earn your friendship and now I want you to take it back."

"Yixing will be here in a couple of minutes. He got caught in traffic." Minseok stuffs his hands into his pockets. "I’m still kind of in shock that you went from starting player to university coach in less than six months."

"So am I," Lu Han says. Neither of the two first years on the end have dropped, yet, and Lu Han finally blows his whistle out of mercy. "But actually? I love it."

Lu Han loves being young enough that he can still teach his players things. He loves that he can connect with them in a way older coaches can’t, because the memory of a match on Saturday and an econ exam on Monday is still fresh enough in his head. He loves that they respect him but they aren’t afraid of him. He loves that they ask for his autograph and then play pranks on him sometimes when the team wins.

He likes that no one is watching him now, and that maybe he can finally start working toward a new type of happiness, without worrying about his knee or a terrace full of angry, slur spitting fans, or about whether something about how pretty his face is will keep him from getting picked up next season.

When Yixing arrives, Lu Han releases his players to the showers, and the three of them go out for drinks. Yixing ends up too drunk to go home, so Lu Han laughingly calls Hyoyeon, who clicks her tongue against her teeth and says "well, send him home repentant tomorrow," before she starts laughing too. Lu Han knows she isn’t angry, because Yixing rarely goes out without her, and because she’s still got quite a bit of party animal left inside her, too.

The next morning, Yixing wakes up with a hangover and a dim haze over the usual twinkle in his eye. "I hate you so much," Yixing says. "You know I can’t drink that much. You’re a horrible excuse for a friend."

"You were having so much fun," Lu Han says gleefully, hangover-free himself.

"So were you," Yixing replies, moaning as he rolls over. "Did you call my wife?"

"She laughed at you," Lu Han says. "She’s a keeper."

"I know." Yixing peels himself off the couch. "Lunch?"

Grabbing lunch at Lu Han’s favorite kalguksu place used to be a weekly endeavor, but now it has been a long time since Lu Han has sat at one of the creaky wooden tables and fished a silver spoon out of the box at the edge.

"Do you remember what you told me last night?" Yixing asks, out of the blue, and Lu Han, with a mouthful of noodles, peers up at him through blond bangs.

"No." Lu Han does, actually, but in the light of day, it’s more difficult to approach.

"You told me you were in love with Joonmyun." Yixing casually stirs his broth. "Not that I hadn’t known, but you’ve never said it to me before. We had a moment."

"I was drunk."

"You were," Yixing says. "But you meant it."

Lu Han could deny it, but what’s the point? "I meant it."

"So why haven’t you talked to him? Why do you avoid gatherings you know he’ll be at?"

"It’s for the best," Lu Han says. "I… It’s like when you’re down four goals and there isn’t much time on the clock. You want to end the match with dignity. Not like Deportivo versus Milan."

"Remember Man U’s game against Tottenham, in September 2001?" Yixing stirs his kalguksu. "It was three to nothing."

"I remember," Lu Han says. He’d watched that game more than once, as a kid. Had watched Andy Cole strike that first goal and David Beckham make the last one. "Man U won. Five to three."

"They wouldn’t have won if they’d just thrown in the towel," Yixing says. "Oh, we’re down by three, we’ll never come back from this. Let’s just go home."

"It’s not the same thing."

"Sure it is," Yixing replies. "You came back to Korea at least partially for Kim Joonmyun. You don’t drive all the way to the net and then give away possession of the ball."

"You do when you aren’t..." Lu Han snorts. "He took himself out of the match. Red card."

"All I’m saying is, no matter how much the both of you avoid each other—" Lu Han gives Yixing a shocked look. Joonmyun is avoiding him? "No matter how much you both do that, it’s obvious the match isn’t over." Yixing clinks his spoon against the edge of his bowl. "It’s just gone into overtime."

Lu Han’s father passes away at the dawning of April. Li Yin calls and tells him in a hushed voice, and Lu Han, sweaty from work and exhausted, sits down on the edge of his bed and rubs at his face with tired hands.

"I’ll come," he says.

"Your mother is…" Li Yin sighs. "I’m glad you’ll come. I was pretty sure you wouldn’t."

"I don’t know why I’m saying yes," Lu Han says. "Maybe I’m coming to spite him, since I know he probably wouldn’t want me there."

It is the job of the child, to prepare for the funeral. Lu Han’s mother, Li Yin says, couldn’t manage it through her grief, and Lu Han doesn’t have uncles or aunts to smooth things out.

There’s a lot less trepidation, this time, when Lu Han flies to Beijing. Zitao volunteers to come with him, and this time Lu Han accepts. Zitao is surprised but pleased, and Lu Han is glad of his broad shoulder to lean on in the car they take to the hotel.

Zitao helps Lu Han look through the almanac for an auspicious date. Lu Han insists on creating the white invitations on his own, stamping each one of them personally after he gets the list of contacts from his mother.

"I’m relieved you’re here," she tells him, when he drops by the house to pick up his father’s address books and the list his mother made up of important people to call. The always immaculately kept flowers in front of her house have grown wild, and more weeds fill the beds than tulips. She looks old, Lu Han decides. Old and sad. "I don’t think I could have…"

"I’ll get this one thing right," says Lu Han tightly, wondering why he wants to give her a hug. He hasn’t touched her in many years. He hasn’t even wanted to speak to her in years. But she looks like she needs a hug. Lu Han pushes down his anger and his bitterness and wraps his arms around her for a brief moment. "I’ll take care of everything. Take your time to grieve."

Lu Han orders flowers and calls all the invited guests, employees and family friends and business associates, to precede the arrival of the invitations, methodically and without much thought.

"You’re so calm," Zitao says. "If it were my mother, I…"

"You love your mother," Lu Han says. "This is a completely different situation."

"I know," replies Zitao. "It just makes me sad." Lu Han gathers him into a much easier hug than the one he had given his mother, and Zitao nuzzles his nose into Lu Han’s neck. "You deserve more than this."

"I have more than this," Lu Han says. "It’s just back in Korea, not here." He pulls back. "I’m not sad. I think I’m angry."


"That I never managed to prove myself."

"You already have," Zitao says. "Now just let it go."

"I’m not the best at that," says Lu Han. "But I’ll try."

Lu Han doesn’t sleep. Instead, he stays awake remembering every argument he and his father have ever had. He sits up in his hotel bed and grabs for the brief eulogy he’d included on the funeral invitations, and wonders if he should have been more honest.

The night before the vigil, Lu Han and Li Yin go to the funeral home to finish the final arrangements. "It’s strange," Lu Han says. "I never thought he would actually die. It seemed like some imaginary thing that would never happen. That I would have forever to hope he would accept me the way I am."

Li Yin nods. "I understand."

"Joonmyun told me my time was limited, but I…"

"How is Joonmyun?" Li Yin asks.

Lu Han focuses on stamping the paperwork in front of him. "I think he’s doing well," he says. "We haven’t talked since September. I mean, I’ve seen him, briefly, but…"

"I see," Li Yin says. Lu Han doesn’t think he’s ever heard her sound so disapproving before.

"I know now," Lu Han says. "That I’m in love with Joonmyun. But it’s too late."

"Is it?" Li Yin asks. "Are you going to let it go just like that?"

"Don’t I have to?"

"When did you become a person that gives up?" Li Yin sounds angry. "I thought you were the guy that went for what he wanted, no matter what anyone said. It doesn’t matter if it’s a spot on a team or a spot in someone else’s life, you never were the type that conceded defeat."

"I don’t know," Lu Han says, and Li Yin takes the paperwork from him firmly, walking over to the home director to hand it to him, leaving Lu Han floundering and empty-handed.

At the vigil, Lu Han’s lack of sleep starts to catch up to him. "I’m going to get some air," he tells Zitao, who looks five minutes from a coma. "I’ll be right back."

He had suspected, ever since Li Yin had come in with her husband by her side, that he’d be forced to talk to him. His suspicions are confirmed when he follows Lu Han out, his fancy designer shoes clicking hesitantly on the steps. "Lu Han?"

"What can I do for you?" Lu Han doesn’t mean to sound that aggressive. Maybe he does. Minseok has always told him he’s melodramatic, and even if his rage is justified, this isn’t the time or the place.

"Can I talk to you?"

"I can’t stop you," Lu Han says, wishing he could. The vice captain looks nice in a suit. Not like the sort of guy who would break your ribs because he’d heard a rumor. Maybe he isn’t that sort of guy anymore. Lu Han doesn’t know. Doesn’t want to know.

"I wanted to say…"The vice-captain sighs. "I don’t know what I wanted to say. There’s nothing I can say that would make up for…"

"Do you know how long…" Lu Han’s dry lips pull as he speaks. Chapstick. He needs chapstick. He fumbles for it in the pocket of his black slacks and applies it with a shaking hand. "Do you know how long I’ve been afraid?"


"I can’t go on roller coasters. I can’t even look out the window of high buildings without hearing the wind in my ears and remembering the pain and... how much I wanted to scream but couldn’t."

He looks up to meet the vice-captain’s eyes, and he’s looking at Lu Han in horror. Lu Han wants a cigarette, but he really doesn’t want it to become habit again, even if Zitao’s chain-smoking the entire trip has been testing him.

"I was jealous of you."


"You were talented and you played as a starter as a first year. You were fast and everyone knew you were exceptional. That you were going places. I was the vice captain and the captain liked you best. And your best friend was the girl I…" He laughs. It is brittle. "So when the captain said you were… that you had…" He stops, and the wind in Lu Han’s ears is louder than ever. "It was easy, right? To get angry. To let that be your flaw. And I convinced myself that it was about that, instead of all the other stuff."

"I didn’t hit on him, you know." Lu Han gives in and pulls out a cigarette. He lights it with shaky hands. "He… made a move on me. I rejected him." He takes a drag.

The vice-captain’s face falls, then. Crumples into nothingness. Lu Han wants to feel some kind of satisfaction but he can’t, because they’re at his father’s funeral, and his fear has already cost him so much that this windfall doesn’t even put him close to breaking even in life. "I’m so…"

"I don’t forgive you," says Lu Han.

"I had figured, but I had to…"

"But maybe in a few years, I might." Lu Han takes a drag of the cigarette, and hands it over to the man. "In a few years, the memory will have faded more. In a few years, I might be less afraid of you."

"All right," the vice-captain says, and Lu Han walks away, back inside the funeral home, leaving the cigarette and the vice-captain outside in the mild spring air.

"Sleepy yet?" Zitao asks, and Lu Han smiles and shakes his head no.

"Not yet," he says, and redirects his eyes to his father, lying arms crossed in his white robe, frowning sternly even in death. "I think I’m going to make it."

"Good," Zitao says, and Lu Han looks over to where Li Yin is sitting beside his mother.

"Thank you," she mouths, and Lu Han smiles genuinely. At least he will get another type of closure.

The funeral passes much faster than the days preceding it, and soon enough Lu Han is driving his mother home in her car, Zitao in the backseat, walking her, and some flowers she’d chosen to keep, into the house where he grew up.

She takes a glass cistern out from the cabinet and sets it on the kitchen table, dropping the freshly cut blossoms into it, then taking a small cup of water and filling the base of it. "Will you be okay here?" Lu Han asks, and she doesn’t answer for an excruciatingly long minute.

"I’m going to sell it," his mother says. She pushes the flowers around in the vase. "The house. I can’t live here alone." They don’t look any different when she pulls her hands away. "So take anything of your father’s you still want, okay?"

Lu Han nods, and Zitao pushes him, with a firm hand between his shoulders, deeper into the house. Lu Han’s first instinct is to go into the safety of his room, which still looks like something fit for a seventeen-year-old boy. But his father’s office door is cracked, and Lu Han hasn’t been inside it in over ten years.

"Did your dad do a lot of work at home?"

"He did," Lu Han says, pushing the door open. He walks over to his father’s desk, where half finished business correspondence covers the surface. His father had always had firm, strong handwriting, but his characters look shaky on the yellow notepad. Lu Han feels a distant sort of sad.

He picks up his father’s favorite pen. It is a fountain pen he’d had for as long as Lu Han could remember, and there’s ink dried on the tip. He sets it down when he realizes his tight grip might break it.

Zitao rummages through the stacked boxes at the back of the office, lifting them with ease that would probably make his mother dismayed. She’d always complained about how heavy they all were.

"What’s this?" Zitao has his hands on the edges of a big black box that Lu Han has never seen before. His thumb brushes a label card. "It says ‘Han’."

Lu Han walks over from the desk to Zitao. Zitao moves out of the way, so Lu Han can kneel down in front of it. The box isn’t dusty like the other ones in the back of the office.

He lifts the lid.

"Wow," Zitao says, and Lu Han reaches into the box with quavering hands to pull out the Man U jersey on top. It’s the expensive one, Lu Han thinks vaguely, and when he flips it in his hands, he can see LU HAN in big blocky letters across the back. Underneath the jersey are magazines, newspaper clippings, print-outs. Pictures of Lu Han playing for PSV and for F.C. Seoul. All tucked away in a box at the back of his father’s office. "Looks like he couldn’t give up on you after all."

It’s probably the dust, but Lu Han is suffocating. "Why…"

"You can cry, if you want, frog-ge." Zitao fluffs his hair. "I cry all the time. Plus, I’ve already seen you at your most unattractive."

"Shut up, Zitao." Lu Han fingers the jersey, eyes still combing over the magazines in the box. His chest is tight. His eyes burn. "I’m not going to cry," he says, and he puts the cover back on the box. His father was… "I’m too manly to cry."

Zitao laughs at him, but not loudly, like he’s afraid he’ll disturb the somber atmosphere in the room, or like if he laughs at a high enough volume Lu Han will shatter like so much glass.

He sets the jersey down. He puts the lid back on the box, and then he finds it easier to breathe.

And in the aftermath of standing up and dusting off his knees, he thinks about Joonmyun, and missed opportunities. About vases and about the triumph of winning goals and the misery of staring down at a long match ahead and being one player short.

His father had been second string on his team, after all. Perhaps he had gotten some closure today.

In the taxi back to the hotel, Zitao is quiet. Lu Han is remembering a taxi ride back when he was in university. He looks down at his phone and thinks about making a call.

In the end, though, he slides his phone back in his pocket, and tries to forget a box full of evidence that his dad might have accepted him, even if he had never told him so.

"Thank you so much for coming," Lu Han tells Zitao, and Zitao offers him a crooked, kitty cat smile.

"We’re your family, too," Zitao says. "Don’t you forget it, ge."

Perhaps the truth is that Lu Han, who has always tried his best to be brave, and has always made the tough decisions, is actually a coward.

"When did you become a person that gives up?"

Lu Han doesn’t know. But that isn’t who he wants to be. That isn’t what he wants.

Lu Han disembarks from the airplane with a new sense of purpose.

He’s torn his knee three times and he’s still running. He’s only broken his and Joonmyun’s hearts twice, and those are both still running, too. Lu Han hopes… Lu Han can recall slowing his pace as they jogged around the perimeter of the football field, Joonmyun puffing beside him with pink cheeks and soft smiles. They had run so well together.

He unpacks slowly, giving himself a chance to change his mind, but whatever amorphous, ludicrous idea had developed on the way home has only hardened into diamond now.

He calls Yixing.

"You need what?"

"Joonmyun’s address," Lu Han says. "I need to go visit him. Right now."

Yixing whistles. "Didn’t you just get back from China, like, four hours ago? Don’t you have work tomorrow?"

"Yes, and yes," Lu Han says. "But I still need Joonmyun’s address."

Yixing laughs. "About time," he says, and gives it to Lu Han without any more fuss.

Joonmyun’s apartment complex looks exactly how Lu Han would expect. It’s proper and prim and actually an officetel. There are men in suits walking in and out of the apartments, some with cigarettes catching a last smoke before riding the subway to work, and others on their way out of the building for good, briefcases swinging and ties slightly crooked.

Joonmyun lives on the third floor, and Lu Han finds it easy enough. He has a placard on the front with his name in his own neat handwriting. He knocks.

He knocks again.

No one answers. "Maybe he has work," Lu Han says. "Maybe he can see out of the peephole that it’s you," his brain says back.

He walks back to the subway. His phone blinks. It’s Yixing. "He wasn’t there," Lu Han says. "Or maybe he was. He didn’t answer the door, either way."

"Are you giving up?" Yixing teases. "Already?"

"No," Lu Han says. "Never again."

It’s the first match since he’s been back from China. Yonsei versus Goryeo, of course. It’s early May, and the grass smells sweeter now in the warmer air.

He gives his players a pep talk, trying to channel his inner Coach Jung, and finally one of them pats him on the arm. "I think you’re more nervous than we are, Coach."

"I am," Lu Han says. "I am man enough to admit that."

They all laugh, and the tension in the air evaporates, leaving behind only excitement.

His friends are here for the game today. Jongin and Chanyeol, Jongdae, Baekhyun, Kyungsoo, Zitao, Minseok, Jinki, Yifan… Even Sehun had slithered out of his consulting firm office this morning at ass o’clock and changed out of his suit and tie for the game. Yixing and his baby are here too, decked to the nines in Goryeo gear. "I hope you don’t mind," Yixing says. "But the fact that you work for Yonsei is an abomination and I won’t teach my daughter to like such horrible team colors."

"Understood," Lu Han says gravely, and then giggles as the baby plucks a Yonsei flag out of Jongdae’s hands and starts chewing on it.

"Bad baby!" Yixing says, and Zitao giggles and steals her from his arms.

"Are you excited for the match?" The voice is familiar. Lu Han had eaten breakfast this morning, so he shouldn’t be hallucinating. He turns around slowly, and Joonmyun is standing there, in his gargantuan Goryeo Tigers sweatshirt, looking cold and scared and still so pretty in the early afternoon light.

"We’re going to go to our seats," Yifan says diplomatically, while Jongdae snickers and guides a cooing Zitao and baby after them.

They’re alone now, at the edge of the pitch. Not alone, really, because only a few meters away, the run of the bleachers starts, and players mill about, gossiping among themselves.

"Very excited," Lu Han answers. His eyes peruse every millimeter of Joonmyun’s face, noting all the things that are different, and even more, the things that have stayed the same.

"I thought you didn’t know what you would do, if you weren’t playing professional football."

"I was wrong," says Lu Han. "It wouldn’t be the first time."

"You jocks," Joonmyun says. "Never thinking things all the way through."

"I thought this through." Lu Han adjusts his windbreaker as Joonmyun shivers. He would like to offer it to him, but he’s unsure if he should. "The whole coaching thing."


"None of my players," Lu Han says firmly, "will ever be afraid."

Joonmyun’s eyes go wide, in surprise and something else Lu Han can’t make out. "Is that your dream now?"

"One of them." Lu Han surveys his starting players warming up on the pitch. Out of the corner of his eye, he watches Joonmyun fidget.

"I was at my brother’s house," Joonmyun says.


"When you came to visit. Yixing told me you came to visit."

"I did." Lu Han’s throat is oh-so-dry. "I wasn’t sure if you—"

"I go there sometimes and stay, for a few days. When I’m between patients. I have a very irregular schedule."

"All right," Lu Han says. "I should have called first. I wasn’t sure you would answer, though."

"I would have," Joonmyun says. He pauses. "Maybe this is stupid, but…"

"It probably isn’t," says Lu Han. "I’m the one who says all the stupid things."

"Right." Joonmyun looks up at Lu Han, and now Lu Han knows what that look is. It’s hope. "I’ve been... thinking."

"About what?"

"There are some new alumni classes down at Goryeo.” The words come out in hurry, like he thinks he won’t get to say them all before Lu Han interrupts. Lu Han isn’t planning on interrupting. “They’ve got three levels of pottery." He pushes his hair out of his face, and his fingers linger at his sideburns, playing with them nervously. "I was planning on taking the beginner class, but I don’t...” His tongue flicks out and moistens the corner of his mouth. It’s painfully cute. “I don’t want to go by myself, you see."

Lu Han doesn’t dare to let himself breathe. The thing about red cards, Lu Han knows, is that they don’t mean a player is out for the whole season. The thing about red cards is that, after you get one, getting back on the pitch is a whole new rush.

"So I was wondering if you would do me the favor of going with me? Only if you had the time, of course, and—"

"No," Lu Han says, and Joonmyun’s face falls, the lines of rejection on his face as easy to read as the direction of his first year players’ sloppy pass plays. Lu Han smiles and unzips his windbreaker, sliding it down his arms. He throws it over Joonmyun’s shoulders, and allows his hands to linger, briefly, on the narrow slope of Joonmyun’s shoulders. He feels solid and real under Lu Han’s touch, even as Lu Han regretfully lets his arms fall. "I’m an expert in the making with this pottery stuff. I think we might need to sign up for intermediate, Joonmyun."

And the sadness clears from Joonmyun’s eyes and he shines and shines and Lu Han has never been more in love with Joonmyun than he is in this moment.

"Are you sure?" Joonmyun is not asking about the pottery class. Joonmyun is asking about forever, maybe, and Lu Han reaches out for his dream, seizing that final goal as overtime runs out.

"I’m ready," Lu Han says, and if it is possible, Joonmyun’s smile grows even wider.

"Good luck in the match," Joonmyun says, and Lu Han jogs out on the field to shake hands with the other coach before the start of play. Victory or defeat out here today, between these two teams, Lu Han has already won.

end of match

oh my gosh thank you for reading ;~~;

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