Previous Entry | Next Entry

fic, 2013/04/04, exo, intermission

  • Apr. 4th, 2013 at 3:27 PM
curledupkitten: (lu han)


Joonmyun sits next to him at the barbecue restaurant. Lu Han is keenly aware of every brush of Joonmyun’s arm against his own, and the way their thighs press together beneath the table.

It’s difficult to want to reach out and touch but know it violates the rules. Lu Han’s an athlete, and he knows the importance of the rules. Yellow cards, red cards, out-of-bounds.

They outlined the rules weeks ago, curled up together in Lu Han’s bed, hands twined together and breath mingling between soft, molten kisses. "I like you," Lu Han said, "but boys aren’t supposed to…"

"I know," Joonmyun replied. "We can’t… do this again." As he said it, he licked at the corner of Lu Han’s mouth and stole the piece of his heart Lu Han had accidentally left there for the taking. "Just this once, let me like you back."

And now they have rules, like Lu Han not being allowed to grab Joonmyun’s hand or slide his fingers up Joonmyun’s thighs.

Joonmyun isn’t allowed to smile at Lu Han like he’s the only person in the room and if they can do that, then they can be friends. They can be close and Lu Han will try not to want anything else and Joonmyun will try too.

They try. It mostly… It mostly works.

If most of January was Lu Han’s chest feeling like it might collapse in on itself every time he and Joonmyun found themselves alone in the apartment Joonmyun shares with Kyungsoo, too much space between them on the sofa as they kept their hands to themselves, then February is the slow wearing down of Lu Han’s nerves as the new season approaches and Joonmyun seems to move further and further away.

He’s here tonight, though, sitting next to Lu Han smelling sweet and wearing way too many jackets for someone in front of a grill.

"Hello, Lu Han, hello? Is anyone home?" Yixing snaps his fingers too close to Lu Han’s face so Lu Han bites him. Yixing screams and Baekhyun gives them an exasperated grimace.

"Am I out with university students or with kindergarteners?"

"Kindergarteners," Lu Han replies shamelessly, putting more space between himself and Joonmyun even as Yixing pulls a face.

Joonmyun laughs. "Then maybe you two should be cutting the meat instead of poor Jongin."

"Jongin seems to be doing all right," Yixing says. "With Chanyeol helping him."

Chanyeol holds the meat up in the tongs and Jongin snips away with the scissors. They make an odd team, and Chanyeol hisses each time a drop of fat sizzles up from the grill and hits his arm, and Jongin pretends not to care but cuts more carefully each time. Lu Han finds it cute.

Baekhyun’s face curves into a doting smile as he watches them. "They’re so precious." He says it just loud enough for Jongin to hear.

"Shut up!" Jongin blushes and scowls. "You’re not that much older than I am."

"Jonginnie," Lu Han says, "are you really going to leave Chanyeol holding that meat so you can scowl at Baekhyun?"

The new semester started two months ago. Lu Han had walked into his first day of advanced business theory and had been surprised to see Baekhyun waving at him from the back of the room.

Now Lu Han is used to Baekhyun’s nasal laughter. Joonmyun is still laughing, too, and Yixing nurses his finger even as he strikes up a conversation with Chanyeol.

Joonmyun’s hand is close enough that Lu Han could lace their fingers together. He remembers how nice Joonmyun’s hand had felt, during that long bus ride out of town to the tea event.

Touchline. Out-of-bounds.

"All right?" Joonmyun whispers, quietly, and Lu Han realizes he’s spaced out again.

"Yup," Lu Han replies, not looking at Joonmyun, before snagging a hot piece of pork belly off the grill and shoving it into his mouth.

"Jinri will never want to date you with those manners," Jongin informs him, pepper sauce on his lower lip.

Joonmyun stiffens, and Lu Han forces a smile. "I’ll work on it before I ask," he says, and Yixing and Baekhyun both give him strange looks. Chanyeol is too busy looking at Jongin, and Lu Han is afraid to look at Joonmyun.

"Are you ever going to ask her out?" Jongin sets down the scissors and picks up his chopsticks. "It feels like you don’t even really want to ask her out."

"I don’t know," Lu Han says. "Eat your meat."

"But, Lu Han—"

"I said I don’t know!" He bites his lower lip. "I don’t know anything."

Lu Han lets Joonmyun drive him home.

The ride is quiet. "You’ve always liked her," Joonmyun says.

Lu Han reaches for Joonmyun’s wrist but drops his hand before it makes contact. "I have." Joonmyun’s profile is lovely in the dim streetlights as they peek in through the window. Lu Han’s heart collapses in on itself. "A long time."

"She would be." He sounds strange. Lu Han hates it. Joonmyun is bashful confidence and occasional sarcasm and rare nervousness and frequent sunshine. Joonmyun is not breath catching before every word like they hurt to push out. "A good match for you. She smiles at you more, now."

"Does she?" Lu Han fiddles with the radio and doesn’t turn it on. "I haven’t noticed."

Lu Han hasn’t noticed much that is not Joonmyun, and it sucks that it can’t be this simple. It sucks that every time he wants to kiss Joonmyun, he remembers all the reasons he shouldn’t.

"She does," Joonmyun says, pulling to a stop in front of Lu Han’s boarding house. "I noticed." He exhales. "Is it silly, that I notice?"

"I don’t know," Lu Han says. "I don’t know anything." He gets out of the car with a murmured thanks and is careful not to watch as Joonmyun drives away.

What Lu Han does know is that he can’t have a boyfriend and play for F.C. Seoul, no matter how good he is.

He can’t play for any big club and have a boyfriend, no matter how ‘progressive’ things are getting in America.

Justin Fashanu, David Testo, Marcus Urban, Thomas Berling--

He can’t take a boyfriend to a championship party and he can’t take a boyfriend to an award ceremony.

He can’t hang a picture of a boyfriend in his locker and smile at it for luck before a game.

Then there is the fact that whenever Lu Han thinks about having a boyfriend… Even if it is Joonmyun, who fits perfectly into Lu Han’s life like he’s always belonged there… He remembers the way everyone had looked at him, back in high school. The way the other guys on the team had hesitated to take showers at the same time Lu Han did, even after his old captain had graduated and the bruises had long since faded.

Lu Han had had to leave Beijing, because the idea of showing up to university tryouts and seeing an old high school teammate had made him sick with fear.

Even if Yixing has reassured him that it isn’t a big deal, Lu Han knows that it is. Lu Han knows he is not supposed to want to kiss Joonmyun every time he peers up at Lu Han through his poofy hair. Joonmyun knows it too, which is why they have rules, and why they follow them.

Lu Han doesn’t want to be ejected from the game before it begins, and Joonmyun, who wants to work with athletes, has just as much to lose.

It’s easier, in the daytime. Jongdae, Baekhyun and Joonmyun are easy to find at the student center, and Lu Han joins them for lunch twice a week.

‘Just friends’ is easier when they aren’t alone. Joonmyun’s mouth and slide of his teeth under Lu Han’s tongue feel more distant when Jongdae’s teasing him about his 2.0 and Baekhyun is teasing Jongdae about his inability to understand the difference between football and hockey.

‘Just friends’ is harder when Yixing folds his hands around Hyoyeon and pulls her into his lap, nuzzling his face into her neck and telling her she’s beautiful in front of all of them. It’s harder when Yifan declares he’s asked out Jessica Jung in front of the whole team and everyone slaps his back and congratulates him.

He catches Joonmyun’s eyes, sometimes, and in them, he sees his own longing reflected in them.

"I don’t want to lose you, but we can’t be this." Lu Han can see Joonmyun’s mouth forming the words when he closes his eyes. He can hear the echo of himself agreeing into the soft skin of Joonmyun’s cheek as he memorizes the way Joonmyun shivers in his arms.

Some kind of jealousy clings to him like spring mud, sticking to his skin and mixing with the sweat and blood of a tough match, and Lu Han doesn’t know how to wash it away.

The first time the older boys let Lu Han play, in the empty lot behind the towering, equally empty apartments at the edge of the city, Lu Han knows this is love.

With sweat clinging to his skin and dirt on his knees and on his cheeks, he passes the ball, stepping into every kick. Adrenaline races through him, and he finally feels like he belongs.

When he goes home that night, his father looks at him appraisingly. "You’re a mess," he says, and Lu Han’s mother takes to his face with a wet cloth, trying to clear away the grime.

"Playing football," Lu Han replies. "With the older boys."

His dad’s expression is speculative, for the first time since he had locked away Lu Han’s dolls and told him they weren’t toys for boys. "Football, huh?"

"Yes," Lu Han says. "I like it a lot." His father’s smile, rarely given, makes him feel warm.

"It’s a good hobby for a boy," he says gruffly, and Lu Han swallows around the bubble of happiness in his throat.

Years after that, the mud in Lu Han’s cleats makes his father’s brows furrow with anger. By then, though, Lu Han has already started looking for acceptance in other places, and finding it in championship trophies and Yi Lin’s comforting arm around his shoulder. In the way his high school captain’s eyes linger on him a bit too long, stirring butterflies in his stomach.

Anywhere but in the coldness of his house and the silence at the dinner table.

Every time Lu Han steps out onto the football field, he remembers that happiness of the first time. It had been the opposite of lonely, and he will not give it up for anything.

"You’re moping."

"No I’m not," Lu Han says. Zitao is holding his vase amusedly. "Put that down or it’ll break."

"You’re definitely moping," Zitao repeats. "And it looks like it’s already broken." He smoothes his hand along the shattered side of the vase. "It must have taken hours to glue this back together."

"Joonmyun put it back together," Lu Han says. "You’d have to ask him."

"Did he?" Zitao laughs. "He adores you." He leans closer to Lu Han, as though he would like to ruffle his hair, but seems to think better of it at the last moment. "Almost as much as you adore him."

"We’re good friends."

"I’m glad," says Zitao, "that you’ve found a person who sees you."

"So am I," Lu Han says. His palms are dry, but he rubs them across his jeans anyway. "Joonmyun is someone I was lucky to meet."

"So why are you moping, frog?" Zitao pokes Lu Han’s nose. "I miss your stupid dislocated jaw laugh."

"Shut up and take out your Korean homework," Lu Han replies, smiling. It’s impossible to dwell on the negatives when Zitao is smiling at him like a mischievous kitten. "Or else ge isn’t going to help you with it."

"Yes you will," Zitao says. "You’ve become terrible at saying no."

He runs into Jinri at the conbini just outside of campus. Her hair is getting longer again, long enough to brush her shoulders, and her smile is still pretty enough to make Lu Han do a double take. "I’m getting snacks for a movie marathon," she says. "Luna and I are taking a class on Spanish film."

"I didn’t know they offered classes like that?" Lu Han grabs a cup of shin ramyun and leans against the counter as Jinri debates between two types of pretzels, finally settling on ones with a light dusting of cheese. "I really like Italian films."

"Wait, really?" Jinri looks far too surprised.

"What’s that face?"

"It’s not a face," Jinri says, laughing and pushing past Lu Han so she can set her choices on the counter. "You just never seemed the type."

"The type for what?" Lu Han runs his thumb along the edge of the styrofoam bowl.

"To watch Italian films." Jinri tosses her hair. "All football, all the time."

"A friend got me into Italian art house films." The cashier checks out Jinri’s snacks, and Lu Han then sets his ramyun on the counter. "I’ve never seen any Spanish ones, though."

Jinri looks at him, considering. "Are you busy tonight?"

Lu Han looks at his ramyun dinner and thinks about his homework. "Not particularly."

"You should come watch with us." She laughs. "If you want, I mean."

A year ago, Lu Han would have jumped for joy at the opportunity. He licks at the corners of his mouth. He should…

"Sure," Lu Han says. He pats his pocket. He has his keys and his wallet and plenty of time.

He follows Jinri to her home. "Don’t mind my mother," Jinri says, when she stops in front of the door. "She’s…nosy. You know how it is. I bet your mother is constantly calling and asking you about who you’re dating and if you’re eating well."

"Hmm," replies Lu Han noncommittally. "I’m sure I won’t mind." He smiles at Jinri, his shoulders tense. His stomach is unnecessarily angry at him.

Jinri opens the door. "Took you long enough," Luna says, standing in the hallway and Lu Han waves, before shoving his hands into his pockets. "Oh! Lu Han!" Luna looks at him with amusement. "I didn’t know you were bringing home strays."

"Hey!" Lu Han says. "I’m here for the flick."

"Sure you are," Luna says.

Jinri’s mom makes a big deal over him, and comes into the living room frequently over the course of the next few hours, to ‘see if everything’s all right.’

"It’s because you’re a boy," Jinri says, rolling her eyes. "She wants to make sure we’re not up to anything inappropriate."

"I really am just here for the movie," Lu Han says. Jinri is sitting next to him on the sofa, close enough that Lu Han can smell her shampoo. It’s not the same brand as Joonmyun uses—it’s sweeter. Lu Han likes it, but not as much as he likes the simple, clean scent—

"How did you become interested in this stuff, anyway?" Luna asks. She’s sitting in an armchair. She’s leaning slightly forward, her dyed blonde hair swinging in front of her and her eyes taking in the space between Lu Han and Jinri like it’s a mystery.

"My…" Lu Han gulps. "My friend, Joonmyun, dragged me to a showing one night and the rest was history."

"Joonmyun?" Luna’s smile gets wider. "The handsome guy in your year? Sings in the choir?"

"That’s him," Lu Han says. He doesn’t… he doesn’t appreciate the way Luna’s interest changes after she hears his name.

"Is he seeing someone right now?" She leans back. "You should introduce us."

"He’s…" Lu Han wants to say yes, but he can’t. He scrubs his hands on his thighs. "He’s not." His skin itches. "I could introduce you."

"You’re not so bad, stray," Luna says, and they all laugh, and Lu Han wants to go home.

When he excuses himself, at the end of the movie, claiming homework, Jinri walks him to the door.

"We should do this again sometime," she says, and her fingers, nails French manicured in the off-season, linger meaningfully on his forearm. Lu Han expects to feel something. He’s supposed to, right? There’s nothing.

"We should."

She smiles, and he leaves with a sinking feeling in his stomach.

It’s a cold walk home, and when he arrives at his hasukjib, he’s surprised to see Joonmyun leaning against his car, toying with his phone. "Joonmyun?"

"Oh!" Joonmyun looks up. "I thought you’d said you’d probably be home tonight. So I came without calling. Sorry."

"How long—"

"Just a few minutes," Joonmyun says quickly. He looks cold, and Lu Han steps closer to him and wraps an arm around his shoulders.

"Let’s go inside." He opens the door and guides Joonmyun inside. "I was at Jinri’s house."

"Oh?" Joonmyun sounds wistful. "Did you… have fun?"

"She and her friend were watching a Spanish indie film for class so I joined them." Lu Han helps Joonmyun take off his windbreaker, hanging it on the back of his desk chair. He’s wearing a heavy sweatshirt underneath. "Jinri’s friend Luna has a bit of a crush on you."

"I don’t think I know her."

"I’m supposed to introduce you." Lu Han sits on the edge of his bed. "What has you looking for me tonight?"

"I haven’t seen you all week," Joonmyun says. "It’s silly, but I missed you."

And there, Lu Han finds it. The quickened pulse, the butterflies. The sweaty palms and the sheer joy that Lu Han had missed all evening but finds now in a simple conversation, both of them on opposite sides of the room, not touching at all. "It’s not that silly," Lu Han says. Because I missed you too.

‘Just friends’ is easier when Lu Han wants Joonmyun less.

"I heard from Luna that you were over at Jinri’s last night?" Yixing asks quietly over kalguksu, nose crinkled as Lu Han adds kimchi to his broth. "Watching movies?"

"Yup," Lu Han says. "Two foxy babes and a foreign film. Are you jealous?"

"Are you… Is this something you’re serious about? Asking Jinri out?"

"It’s about time, don’t you think?" Lu Han laughs. Hollowly. Harshly. "I think her mom kinda likes me."

"But I thought…" Yixing’s red hair falls into his face, and he frowns. "What about Joonmyun?"

Lu Han is back on the roof. He’s petrified of heights. The vice-captain is staring at him like he’s disgusting. "What about him?"

Yixing curls his mouth around his wide metal spoon. "I just thought..." His frown is disapproving. "I guess I was wrong."

"I guess you were," replies Lu Han, pushing his chopsticks through his noodles. "You know it's..."

"I know you've had it rough," Yixing says, careful. So careful, like he thinks Lu Han will snap if he says the wrong thing. Lu Han might. "But isn't it asking for trouble if..."

"I've had a thing for Jinri since first year." Lu Han likes the noodles here. They're thick, and chewy. Better than the ones at the shop closer to his boarding house. "I'm not rushing into something, here." He smiles cheerfully at Yixing. "Are you jealous because my girlfriend is going to be hotter than yours?"

"In your dreams," says Yixing, reaching across the table and grabbing Lu Han's full glass of water since his is empty. "Hyoyeon is hotter than anyone who would deign to date you." He’s still looking at Lu Han strangely. "There's just this..." Trailing off, Yixing studies the wall instead of Lu Han.

"This what?" Lu Han's broth could be spicier. He drops a few more pieces of kimchi into the liquid, stirring it around and watching the streams of red mix into the pale broth. "Did you forget what you wanted to say in the middle of the sentence again?" If he teases, maybe Yixing will let it drop.

"The way you look at him," says Yixing, quickly. "The way he looks at you." Lu Han's stomach twists all up. Like when Joonmyun smiles at him from across the counter in the library and holds his gaze for a moment too long. It’s exactly like that, and Lu Han is just as unsure in the wake of it. "I didn't think you still wanted to ask Jinri out, is all. Sorry."

"You don’t understand." Lu Han shouldn’t have expected him to. "You’ve never…"

You’ve never had someone look at you like you were contagious.

You’ve never had someone want to make you suffer because of something they think they know about you.

You’ve never had the thing you love snatched away from you because of something about yourself you can’t change.

It must show.

"I won’t pretend that I know what it’s like," Yixing says. "The high school stuff. The… the stuff with your dad." He scrunches his nose. "But I know that Joonmyun makes you happy, even if he is a friend-thief. Joonmyun makes you smile. Joonmyun, even as he stole you away, made you open up to me for the first time. For real, I mean." He slurps a spoonful of noodles, to give himself time to think, maybe. "Joonmyun makes you happy. And that’s… that’s not wrong, is it? To be happy?"

"It isn’t that simple." Maybe if football wasn’t on the line. Maybe if Lu Han didn’t have so much to lose. "A lot of people think Sol Campbell’s gay," Lu Han says. Now his broth tastes perfect, but his appetite is nowhere to be found. "With Graeme Souness. That they're seeing each other."

"Yeah," Yixing nods. "They do. And that--"

"They think," Lu Han continues. "Think. They don't know. They don't know, but Campbell still gets gay slurs thrown at him sometimes, when they head to more conservative places for games." Lu Han licks his lips. "And he's... you know."

"He's what?"

"Not Asian," Lu Han says. "He's not Asian." Lu Han’s not blinded enough by his dreams to miss the obvious mountains in his path. It should be based on skill, but there's more than that. "And Joonmyun wants to work with footballers, too, remember?"

"I remember," says Yixing. "Does that mean--"

"It doesn't mean anything," Lu Han says. "It just is. I'm just stating facts. I'm just saying--" Nobody wants a queer on their team. "This is the way it is going to be."

Lu Han can't bear the pity in Yixing's eyes. It makes him angry. Frustrated. It makes him feel like nothing, and that is what Lu Han wants least of all.

"If you kept it a secret--"

"Because that would feel so good," Lu Han says. "Because it would be so nice to call him my friend while you get to introduce your girlfriend." Yixing flinches, and looks out the window. Lu Han follows his gaze. It’s a nice day. A great day to kick the ball around. Practices start next week. Lu Han can't wait. He... needs football, right now. "You wanna play?"

"I'd love to." Yixing digs a crinkled 10000won bill out of his pocket. "Lunch is on me." Lu Han can see the relief in his gaze. Possibly that Lu Han isn’t mad at him. Lu Han doesn’t know. Doesn’t know anything, least of all how to make the empty, sinking feeling inside of him go away.

The thing about football is that it exhausts Lu Han mentally and physically, and at the end of a match, there’s no time to think about anything else.

As he ignores another call from a Beijing number, Lu Han longs for the smell of freshly cut grass and the weight of a football sliding perfectly into his instep.

Lu Han finds thirteen books out of place in the modern fiction section after Chanyeol’s shift. "He’s hopeless with call numbers," he mumbles to himself.

"Who is?" Lu Han does not have to turn around to know it’s Joonmyun. He smiles, continuing to re-file the books.

"Chanyeol, of course." He looks over his shoulder and Joonmyun’s beaming at him. His hair is getting too long. His shirt is horrible. Lu Han thinks he’s beautiful. "What brings you here?"

"A report for the last literature class I’ll ever take," Joonmyun says. "Fourth year is starting off with a ton of work already."

"I’m swamped too," Lu Han says, sliding the last book into place and turning around completely. "And practice starts on Saturday."

"We should have study time," Joonmyun says. "Time where you’re forced to do homework in the science library."

"Minseok has been trying to institute that for two years now and he has yet to succeed." Lu Han pokes Joonmyun’s shoulder. "What makes you think you can talk me into it, shark?"

This is good. This is like before. Lu Han likes this.

"Well," Joonmyun says, fluttering his lashes, "I really have to get good grades this year, and I really hate studying alone."

Lu Han knows he’s being played, but he grimaces anyway, because it’s working. "Ugh, you’re too good at that."

"Goryeo-Dae’s best poker player." Joonmyun grins at him. Lu Han’s pulse quickens.

"So what books are you looking for?"

"Biographies." Joonmyun hands him an index card with neatly organized call numbers. "I’ve already looked a few up."

"Well, let’s start with these, then."

The section of the library the call numbers lead them to is empty. There’s a fine layer of dust on the shelves. Lu Han should make Chanyeol come back here and dust tomorrow.

"You’ve picked a weird obscure topic again, haven’t you?"

"You know me." Joonmyun laughs. "I can’t be satisfied with something easy."

He reaches up and hooks his index finger on the edge of a spine, dragging a book free from the shelf. Then he stands on his tiptoes, reaching for one on a higher shelf, and he stumbles. Lu Han comes up behind him, and catches his waist. "Let me get it."

"I’ve already gotten it," Joonmyun says. His voice is choked. The heat of his waist bleeds into Lu Han’s palms. Joonmyun is warm. He smells sweet.

He turns in Lu Han’s arms, looking up at Lu Han, and that’s Lu Han’s cue to step back. He should drop his arms, and step back.

’Let go, Lu Han,’ his brain says, and his throat is so dry.

Only that’s not what happens.

What happens is light catching in Joonmyun’s eyes, and Joonmyun’s stupid, unwavering smile slipping just enough to break Lu Han’s heart.

Lu Han shoves Joonmyun back into the shelves behind him and kisses him, their mouths fitting together as perfectly as they had before. Lu Han swallows Joonmyun’s gasp, both of his hands fisting in Joonmyun’s fucking stupid fleece plaid shirt. The scent of Joonmyun mingles with the scent of old books, and dust tickles at both of their faces as they taste each other desperately.

Catching the ball right at the sweet spot of his instep. Joonmyun melts into him easy just like that. Lu Han finds himself following instead of leading, Joonmyun pulling him down with a firm grip in his hair and keeping him close. "Stronger than you look," Lu Han laughs into his mouth, and Joonmyun smiles. Lu Han wishes…

"You already knew that," Joonmyun says. "I’ve lugged you around the gym often enough." His knuckles drag down Lu Han’s neck and slide cold just below the collar of his T-shirt. "This is…"

"Breaking the rules," Lu Han finishes. "Red card." Joonmyun’s mouth is pink, lips still so inviting. Lu Han’s hands start to tremble.

"Red card," Joonmyun agrees, smile abandoning his face as his hands fall from Lu Han’s shirt.

"I know that…" Lu Han aligns his palm to the curve of Joonmyun’s jaw, and Joonmyun responds by pulling down at the hem of his own shirt that he’s grasping, "that it’s as hard for you as it is for me."

"I get it," Joonmyun says. "We both know…" His smile is strained. "We both know how it is."

"Even if it’s hard…" Lu Han feels the words stick to the roof of his mouth like peanut butter. "I can’t…" He takes a deep breath, and steps back, away from Joonmyun. Suddenly the library feels cold. Maybe he should start wearing unnecessary jackets and sweaters like Joonmyun.

"I’ll stay," Joonmyun says, shuddering. "Didn’t I promise you I’d stay?"

"It wouldn’t be…" He remembers Li Yin’s voice over the phone. The waver in it as she told him she was planning to get married. "I’m sure you remember him, Lu Han," she’d said. He was the vice-captain of your football team in high school. We reconnected at a business soiree and he swept me off my feet." Lu Han had gripped the phone tightly and tried to keep from retching.

"Wouldn’t be what?"

Some of those missed calls from Beijing might be from her.

"The first time someone’s intended to stay," Lu Han says. "I can be good at pushing people away."

Joonmyun smiles, lips pink and soft and freshly kissed. "You won’t be able to lose me," he says. "Don’t you remember? I’m a shark."

"Right, right," Lu Han says. It would be wonderful, he thinks, if he could just kiss Joonmyun forever, even back here where the dust sifts across their skin and hundreds of autobiographies loom over them. It would be wonderful if Lu Han were brave enough for all of that.

He settles for picking up the books the two of them have dropped and spinning back out toward the aisle.

"Did you guys get lost back there?" Jongin jokes, when they wander to the front, arms full of books.

"I think we’re still lost," Joonmyun says, hardly loud enough for Lu Han to hear.

"Shut your face, Jonginnie," Lu Han says, avoiding Joonmyun’s gaze.

Lost is a good way to put it.

Practices resume, and they are like water in the desert after days of nothing but sand. Lu Han drinks in the pass-plays like a man dying of thirst, and Minseok laughs when they all clear the pitch and Lu Han is still out running, shooting the ball into the empty net past an imaginary defender.

"We have practice tomorrow, Xiao Lu," Yifan yells. "Don’t burn yourself out two weeks after getting back on the pitch."

"I’ll never burn out," Lu Han yells back. "This is the only thing I love!"

"That and goosing Minseok in the shower," Jinki says, as Lu Han picks up the ball and jogs to the sidelines.

"That was once," Lu Han says, "over three years ago. Are we ever going to let that go?"

"No," Jongin and Kibeom say in unison, before they high five.

Lu Han can feel the ache of a good workout in his thighs and laughter bubbling up. He missed this so much and for the first time in weeks the haunting sadness lifts.

Football’s always been good for that.

"Welcome back," Minseok says warmly as Yixing catches him with an arm, dragging him into a sweaty hug.

"It’s good to be back," Lu Han says.

Four calls. Lu Han convinces himself he’s too busy to answer, even when Joonmyun gives him a narrowed look through his eyelashes. "Aren’t you going to answer that?"

"No," Lu Han says, and the girl at the table next to them in the science library gives them a dirty look. "I’m studying."

"Doodling pictures of Didier Drogba with a spear through his head is not studying, Lu Han." Joonmyun nudges Lu Han’s phone closer to him with the tips of his fingers. Joonmyun’s hand is small. "What if it’s important?"

"I’m studying," Lu Han says again. "And so are you."

"Minseok’s been trying to talk you into this for years and now you’re all dedicated?"

"Minseok’s not a shark," Lu Han replies, and pretends not to see the voice mail envelope blinking ominously on his screen.

They win the first game, a home game, against Gyungbuk National. Lu Han scores their first and their third goal, cheeks flushed and breath coming so heavy it hurts, but it feels amazing.

Yifan celebrates their win by pouring his bottle of ice-cold water on Lu Han’s head, the wetness refreshing down his spine even in the brisk spring wind.

Coach Jung starts to cry. Minseok consoles him with firm back pats.

He towels himself off at the bench, choruses of "group dinner!!" heralding the trip toward the locker room. He meets Joonmyun’s eyes when he looks up in the bleachers, and grins.

"Good job, jock," he sees Joonmyun mouth, and Lu Han hums through his shower.

Joonmyun is waiting in the parking lot with his hands in his pockets 15 minutes later, leaning against his car. "You wouldn’t happen to want a ride, would you?"

Lu Han throws an arm around Joonmyun’s shoulders in his exuberance. "Only on the condition that you stay and eat with us."

"Ah, don’t you think—"

"Lu Han!" Jinri yells across the parking lot. "Do you need a ride?" He feels Joonmyun tense, and then force himself to relax. He’s about to do something dumb and self-sacrificing, like telling Lu Han it’s no big deal that he waited outside for fifteen minutes extra in the cold when he can barely tolerate early summer weather without a sweater, and that Lu Han should ride with Jinri because hasn’t he always wanted her attention?

Joonmyun’s face never changes, but Lu Han knows. It’s like Luna asking if Joonmyun is seeing anyone. Lu Han tightens his hold on his friend and waves large with his free arm. "I’m all set, thanks!"

"Don’t you want to go with her? Just football players?"

"If I wanted to go with her I would have."

"I wouldn’t be sad if—"

"If it’s too much trouble to drive me," Lu Han says, "you don’t have to." Maybe Joonmyun is tired of being Lu Han’s chauffeur, or maybe he wants Lu Han to start dating Jinri so the weirdness between them—the unnatural and unforgettable attraction, will fade. Maybe--

"Now who’s the shark?" Joonmyun says softly, separating himself from Lu Han and walking around to the driver’s side. "Get in, jock."

"Are my conditions acceptable?"

"Sure they are." Joonmyun stares straight ahead as Lu Han fumbles with his seatbelt. His muscles are starting to ache, and he can feel the soreness in them as he relaxes into the familiar passenger seat of Joonmyun’s car. The air freshener hanging from the center mirror smells like fruit.

Lu Han’s phone rings, and it’s probably Yixing, asking Lu Han why he isn’t there yet. Joonmyun’s a slow and careful driver who stops for squirrels and does two kilometers per hour under the speed limit ‘just to be sure’. Lu Han has strangely never minded it, though if anyone else had the habit he would tease them mercilessly. It just seems to fit Joonmyun.

Without checking the caller ID, he answers. "Hello?" he says, and from the other end of the line comes a flood of rapid Beijing dialect that leaves Lu Han’s head spinning until he can prod his tired brain into code-switching.

When he does switch, he registers the voice as belonging to Li Yin, and her frantic words mentioning hospitals and surgeries and Lu Han’s dad. "I know you don’t want to, Lu Han, but won’t you come home?"

"I’m already home," Lu Han says.

"Your mom… she needs you, Lu Han."

"I needed her, once." He wonders if his mother is waiting by his father’s bedside. He wonders if she brought flowers to make the drab hospital room cheerier. He wonders if her pale pink lipstick looks gray under the cheap glow of the beige-yellow hospital lights. "I’m in the middle of something."

"Lu Han…"

"I’ll call you later," Lu Han says. "I need to think."

The ominous silence of the car is really filled with all the things Lu Han knows Joonmyun wants to say. Lu Han has always liked that Joonmyun won’t say them unless Lu Han asks him to.

"I’m a horrible person," Lu Han says. "I know I am." He fingers the touchscreen on his phone, pulling up the lunar new year version of Angry Birds and letting the grunts of the tiny cartoon pig-villains echo loudly in the somber vehicle. "I don’t want to go to dinner anymore."

"How about my place, then?" Joonmyun answers, and Lu Han nods.

Kyungsoo isn’t home. His loafers are missing from the entrance way, and Joonmyun murmurs something about vocal lessons as Lu Han slinks off to Joonmyun’s living room and throws himself onto the sofa. Joonmyun sits carefully, cautiously, beside him. Their knees and elbows touch.

"I hate him," Lu Han says. "When I needed his support, he treated me like…" He gulps, and his eyes sting. Inconvenient and unnecessary, because Lu Han doesn’t care. He doesn’t. This doesn’t hurt anymore. "I learned, because of my parents, that I shouldn’t rely on anyone else, because other people always let you down. Even the people who are supposed to love you—" Face bruised, the stinging cut on his face. Knee too swollen to walk, let alone run. "Even those people don’t stick around, and if you want them to, you’ll be disappointed."

"Not all people—"

"I hate him so much and I don’t know if I want to look at him and listen to him just because he has some kind of brain tumor now. Just because he might die without knowing how much I hate him—" Caught are the words he wants to say, and in the bitter syrup of anger they slip back down his throat to land heavy in his belly.

"Can I ask…" Joonmyun wets his lips. "Can I ask what happened?"

Lu Han tells him. Joonmyun listens quietly, his hand coming up to rest on Lu Han’s back between his shoulders the only reassurance he’s there. Lu Han talks about the roof, about the captain, and about Li Yin. About waking up alone in the hospital and about his father coming to visit and about the emptiness of knowing his dreams didn’t mean anything to his disappointed parents.

"You have a lot of people who support your dreams, now," Joonmyun says. "Coach Jung, Yixing, your team, Zitao, Sehun, Jongdae. Me."

"I know that."

"None of us…" Joonmyun is soft-spoken, but sure. "None of us would let you wake up alone."

The warm, fuzzy feeling accompanying the after-effects of anesthesia had been Yixing and Zitao’s laughter. "I know that, too."

He is hyperaware of Joonmyun beside him, steady and even. Joonmyun’s speaking to Lu Han in the same manner as he’d coaxed him through his hardest physical therapy sessions. Lu Han’s heart is heavy with all that he feels but hasn’t said again since they established their rules.

"You should go, Lu Han. To China."

"Why?" Lu Han studies his hands. He has hands like his dad, strong and capable and nothing like his face. Manly. "I don’t want to care."

"But someday, you might." Joonmyun’s hand is warm at the small of his back. "Someday, you might think ‘I wish I’d taken that opportunity’ and you won’t be able to change the past. You never know the last time you’ll be able to say something. It could be tomorrow or two years from now or ten. But you should never… You never know. So you should go."

Joonmyun’s hand rubs small circles and the vitriol turns to acid on Lu Han’s tongue. He looks down at his friend and thinks he probably already has enough regrets to last and last. "What am I supposed to even say?"

"If nothing else," Joonmyun says, "without your parents you wouldn’t be here, and you wouldn’t be you." He smiles. "And you want to know a secret? I quite like you being here, and being you."

It’s exactly what Lu Han needs to hear. "You’re so good at me."

"Good at you?" Joonmyun’s smile is somewhat strained. "I’m not so sure about that."

"You always…" Lu Han blows his bangs out of his face and his shoulders hunch forward. "Yixing truly gets me, you know? He’s my best friend. But you… you know what to say to make me… think." Joonmyun is too far away. Lu Han will not ask him to come closer. "Meeting you was one of the best things that ever happened to me." It hurts to be that honest. He chances a look at Joonmyun, who stares back at him evenly with eyes shinier than usual, and hands white-knuckled.

"This is so hard," Joonmyun says. "Why are you so…" He laughs, sadly. "You’re everything I ever…"

"So are you," Lu Han says. "So are you."

It’s quiet, and Lu Han tries to think about his father, and about giving in and going to see him, but all he can think about is Joonmyun’s soft, somber expression and the broken vase so carefully put back together.

"May I be selfish?" Joonmyun asks, and it surprises Lu Han. Joonmyun’s lips curve down, soft and pink, and Lu Han is incapable of saying anything but yes.

"Do you even know how to be?" he teases.

Joonmyun doesn’t smile. He moves closer to Lu Han. His hand falls from Lu Han’s back. "This is half-time," he says. "Intermission. After this, we have to resume the game."


Lu Han gasps as Joonmyun turns his body so he’s pressing into him, slipping one leg over both of Lu Han’s so that Lu Han is trapped underneath him. His hips push down into Lu Han, and his hands hold lightly to shivering shoulders.

"There are no rules during intermission," Joonmyun continues, and then he moves forward, down, catching Lu Han’s mouth.

Lu Han grabs Joonmyun’s hips to steady himself, because even though he’s sitting he feels like he might stumble and fall. His fingers are trembling, and so are Joonmyun’s. The mouth above his own, pressing down insistently, is perfect and warm. Lu Han parts his lips enough to sneak his tongue out for a taste, and he finds Joonmyun’s lip balm and wind-chapped skin beneath it. Joonmyun shivers and kisses harder, both of their mouths opening more to allow their tongues to meet, gently and softly and full of pent-up frustration.

Lu Han drags Joonmyun closer, and closer still, until all he can smell is Joonmyun’s shampoo and all he can see, through the narrow line of half-closed eyes, is the soft skin of Joonmyun’s cheek and jaw. "I…"

"Just five minutes," Joonmyun says. "Just five minutes of selfishness. Five minutes of recklessness."

Lu Han answers by sliding his hands up under Joonmyun’s shirt. For someone who always feels cold, Joonmyun has hot skin, and it’s smooth under Lu Han’s rough palms, except a thin scar that he can feel along Joonmyun’s chest. Joonmyun whines, gently, when Lu Han runs his thumbs across Joonmyun’s nipples, feeling them pebble under his touch. Joonmyun sucks and licks his way along Lu Han’s jaw and down to his neck, and Lu Han knows there will be red marks there tomorrow. Reminders. He doesn’t care.

Somehow, Joonmyun’s hips start rocking into his own, his burgeoning erection against Lu Han’s. There is too much friction, and not enough at the same time. Lu Han is both scared and desperate, gliding his fingers down Joonmyun’s firm abs and thin line of hair, fingertips grazing the waistband of his jeans. Unfamiliar territory that has his heart jumping and twisting between his ribs.

"Lu Han…"

"What if Kyungsoo comes home?"

Joonmyun groans and pulls back, standing in front of Lu Han and hauling him up by the front of his shirt. Lu Han’s thighs complain but only until he is standing completely. Being dragged back toward Joonmyun’s bedroom.

"We have a few hours," Joonmyun says. "And I don’t mind people on my bed."

Lu Han laughs, with disbelief and some of Joonmyun’s newfound recklessness, and both his heart and his body are betraying his mind, which is telling him loudly that this is something he won’t be able to take back. That if he lets this continue it will not matter how many rules they make or how strictly they attempt to follow them, there will forever be this between them.

Lu Han has only ever wanted football enough to throw everything out the window like this. Now he finds himself wanting Joonmyun so much it hurts, in every way. "A few hours is a lot longer than five minutes," Lu Han says slowly, and it aches. He wishes it were simple. He wishes it were easy. He wishes he weren’t so fucking afraid.

He wishes every move he made toward happiness didn’t shove him back out onto that roof and leave him stranded there, lost and alone.

Joonmyun kisses him again, crawling up the bed and pushing Lu Han down into the pillows that remember Joonmyun’s scent. With Joonmyun above him, eyes dark and serious and pleading, Lu Han can maybe, just this once, let Joonmyun lick and nip the fear away with his intoxicating and steady mouth.

I love you, he thinks, as Joonmyun’s hands work his shirt over his head, and Joonmyun’s lips fall into the dip of his collarbone. I love you so much.

"Me too," Joonmyun says, as though he can read Lu Han’s thoughts. He probably can. He’s always been able to, even when he’d barely known Lu Han at all.

Lu Han slides his hands down the back of Joonmyun’s jeans, cupping his ass and pulling him down into him, hips flush. It’s wrong, he knows it’s wrong, but at the same time, how can it possibly be wrong to want to be closer to Joonmyun, who’d shone down on Lu Han like the spring sun until he’d bloomed?

Justin Fashanu, David Testo, Marcus Urban, Thomas Ber…

The names fade as Joonmyun’s lips reach his navel. "I’m going to…" His fingers rest on the button of Lu Han’s jeans.

Lu Han could, should, say no. He doesn’t.

It might ruin things, but when he wakes up the next morning, sticky and sleepy in Joonmyun’s embrace, Lu Han feels… complete. That, he decides, gazing at the way the light hits Joonmyun’s cheeks and settles into the shadows of his bent arm and tilted head, is the scariest thing of all.

"You didn’t come to dinner last night," Yixing says.

Lu Han flounders. "Sorry, I—"

"Joonmyun called and said there was something going on." Yixing is using his neutral voice, which usually means he’s dying of curiosity but he knows pushing only makes Lu Han clam up. "In Beijing."

"Yeah, there is." Lu Han pulls his sweatshirt over his head and searches in his bag for his practice T-shirt.

Yixing smirks at him and picks it up off the floor, handing it to him. "You’ve been ignoring a lot of calls from Beijing."

Lu Han grabs the shirt and quickly puts it on. Yifan gets bitchy if they’re late. "My father has a brain tumor." He shoves his feet into his cleats and does them up. "I might go see him. Joonmyun thinks I should go see him."

"So do I," Yixing says. "He’s your father, Lu Han."

"My family isn’t much like yours." Lu Han stands up again, bouncing on his toes to get used to his cleats.

"Obviously," Yixing says. His phone beeps. Lu Han sees Hyoyeon’s name. "She’s going to nag me about not eating breakfast."

Joonmyun had done the same thing as Lu Han had rushed out the door this morning. Lu Han had kissed him at the door and Joonmyun had taken a deep breath. "Resumption of play?"

Lu Han had nodded, unable to say ‘yes’ and mean it. "Must be hard, having a minder."

"You and I both know it’s nice," Yixing says. "Jinri missed you at dinner last night."

"Oh," Lu Han says. "Did she?"

Yifan peeks into the locker room. "Move it or lose it," he says.

"Lose what?" Lu Han replies, and Yifan glares at him. "Coming, duizhang, coming."

"By the way," Yixing says, as they fight to be the first out of the door, Lu Han shoving Yixing back as Yixing grabs the back of Lu Han’s shorts to pull him, "you smell like Joonmyun’s shampoo."

Lu Han freezes, and Yixing laughs and slips past him out of the door. It’s just Yixing. Yixing who doesn’t care, he tells himself. But it chills him, deep, and it takes a good half an hour before he can focus on practice instead of the sickening lurch of his stomach.

Three hours later, he spots Jinri, in her own practice uniform, beaming at him from the sidelines. She’s sweating and smiling. One of her knee socks is sliding down. She looks beautiful. Not as beautiful as Joonmyun had, this morning, but Jinri is the right kind of beautiful. Lu Han could put Jinri’s picture in his locker and introduce her to his teammates as his girl. "You want to get lunch, pretty boy?"

"I’d love to," says Lu Han. Strangely, sitting across from Jinri, flirting and sharing ice cream as morning turns to afternoon, feels as wrong as Joonmyun had felt right, and Lu Han wonders if there is something unnatural about him after all.

"Two weeks? With Chanyeol?" Jongin pulls at his hair. "Lu Han, how could you be so cruel?"

"You adore Chanyeol," says Lu Han. "You can’t fool me. I saw you guys playing ping pong in the student center last week and you were laughing at his terrible jokes."

"They weren’t even jokes," Jongin says. "I was laughing at his stupid face." Then he slaps a hand over his mouth. "I mean, I wasn’t hanging out with him."

"Sure," Lu Han says. "Sure you weren’t."

"Still, why are you taking off for two weeks?" He looks down at Lu Han’s knee. "Is there something wrong with your knee?"

"No, no." Lu Han shakes his head for emphasis. "I need to fly back to Beijing. There’s something going on there."

"You never talk about home," Jongin says.

"That’s not my home," is Lu Han’s reply. "My dad is sick."

"I’m sorry to hear that," Jongin says, his face sympathetic and puppy-like in its openness. "I hope everything goes well."

Lu Han shrugs. "Me too, I guess," he says. "Don’t let things fall apart around here without me, Jonginnie."

Jongin scoffs at the idea. "Whatever, hyung." He sighs. "Chanyeol. Two weeks."

Lu Han sees something painfully familiar in Jongin’s smile, and pretends that he doesn’t.

"Have a safe flight," Joonmyun says. His mouth is tiny and pursed, and he won’t look up.

"I will," Lu Han says. "When I get back, I guess… When I get back, we’ll have to…"

"Talk," Joonmyun says. "I know. I agree."


"I think…" Joonmyun’s hands are tight around his coffee cup. "I think you should introduce me to Luna."

"All right," Lu Han says. His coffee has gone cold.

The air in Beijing is already thick and syrupy with the beginnings of summer humidity. Lu Han walks out of the airport in search of a taxi in sweatpants and regrets not wearing shorts. "Lu Han!" he hears, and he spins in place, his bag sliding off his shoulder and to the ground next to him.

"Li Yin?"

"I told you I would pick you up, stupid. Why are you waiting for a taxi?"

"I told you it wasn't necessary to pick me up," replies Lu Han, smiling at her. "I can get myself there."

"You always say that." Her hair has gotten so long. The ends are permed. It looks nice. She's as lovely as ever. "I've learned to ignore you."

"Thanks, then," Lu Han says.

Her smile grows, and she suddenly launches herself into Lu Han's arms. He reaches out on reflex to catch her. She feels the same in his embrace, and it hits him that he missed her. Despite everything, and the bad things he associates with her now, he missed her. "It's been three years, you idiot. Three years since I've seen your vapid face."

"It has, hasn't it?" He hugs her tighter. "Who are you calling vapid?"

"Oh, no one in particular," she says. "Maybe the asshole who ignores my calls and missed my wedding."

"I couldn't make it," Lu Han says.

She pulls back and looks at him evenly. "I know you don't like to come back here, Lu Han. You don't have to lie to me."

"I'm not--"

She gives him a wry, knowing grin. "I was your best friend for a long time. I know when you're closing someone out. I've seen you do it to a lot of other people. Never me, though."

"Sorry," he says. He picks up his bag as she steps back.

"I'm just not sure why I suddenly started counting as one of the enemy."

"It's not you," Lu Han says, then shakes his head. "Let's not, Li Yin. I'm happy to see you. You look great."

"So do you!" She reaches up and fluffs his hair. "This dye job you have is a disaster, though."

"Hair is not at the top of my priority list," Lu Han says. "I'm playing again, you know?"

"I'd hope so," she says. "You need to be, if you're going to get seen. What teams are you hoping to try out for?"

“Well, you know, I...”

"Do you have a girlfriend?" Li Yin asks, not giving time for Lu Han to answer. "You must not, because she would have told you the hair has got to go."

It’s strange. Lu Han feels, standing here in front of Li Yin, that the last year of almost silence has never really happened. But he knows it has, and he knows why. "I don't have a girlfriend." Lu Han follows Li Yin as she starts to walk, away from the taxis and toward the parking lot. "I've got my eye on a terrific girl, though." He blocks all thoughts of Joonmyun from his mind, and thinks about Jinri. "She's captain of the girls’ team. A ball of sunshine."

"You are the most predictable." She shakes her head. "Football all the time."

"I have other interests," Lu Han says. "I feel like I'm constantly saying that."

"Maybe you're trying to convince yourself." Lu Han licks his lips as they stop in front of a new car. "This is me," Li Yin says. "My birthday present from the husband."

Just the mention of him sends Lu Han's already brittle mood crashing. He opens the door. "H-how is he doing?"

"Well," Li Yin says, casting Lu Han a searching gaze. "He's doing well. Promoted at work." Lu Han doesn't look back at her, and she frowns. "Can I ask you--" She sighs. "Never mind."

Lu Han closes the car door and grips his knees. He thinks he knows what she wants to ask, but he doesn't want to answer. "How are they doing?"

"Your parents?" She sighs. "Fine, I guess. Your mother looks tired. Your father is as stern as ever, even if he can't yell like he used to."

"Some things never change."

"I didn't tell them you were coming." Li Yin leans forward before she pulls out of the parking space. Driving at the airport here is always crazy, Lu Han remembers. Even if it's been a long time since he was here, he remembers that. "I wasn't even sure you were coming, really coming, until I saw you standing there, to be honest."

"I know what you mean," Lu Han says. He’d second-guessed himself at the airport. He’d almost thrown his ticket in the trash and walked back out to the airport bus. In the end, he’d pulled himself together and sat in his seat and closed his eyes. "It’ll be okay."

"I'm glad you came," Li Yin says. "I'm really glad." Lu Han looks at her. She has her eyes on the road, but her eyes are kinda shiny. "I think... your parents will be glad, too."

"Maybe," Lu Han says. "Maybe."

He looks up as the hospital comes into view on the horizon, and swallows.

His father is smaller than he remembers, and he frowns, even in his sleep. Li Yin pushes at Lu Han’s back, forcing him to take two steps into the room, and his mother looks up, her gaze falling open in surprise. "Lu Han?" she mouths, and Lu Han nods and does not smile.

He walks further into the room and looks down at the man in the bed. Lu Han hates hospitals, even when he isn't the person in the uncomfortable gown with all the machines hooked up to him. He’d been on a different floor, back when... "Is he going to live?"

"The surgery was a success," his mother says. Her voice is quiet, so as not to wake his father. "He'll be so relieved you've come home, Lu Han--"

"I haven't come home." Lu Han slides his hands into his pockets. "I just came to see... I wanted to make sure he lived. That's all. I'll help out with getting him home and taking care of him, but I'm leaving in two weeks."

"Two weeks?"

"Yes," Lu Han says. He’s numb. For some reason, he’d never expected to see his parents again. When he'd walked away three years ago, he’d figured that would be it. "I booked a hotel room close to the house. I don't want to owe you anything."

"You still have a room at the house," his mother says. "We both hoped you would..."

"Come back with my tail between my legs and run the business? Marry a nice Chinese girl and give up on all those silly dreams and ambitions?"

"It's not--"

"I'm going back to Korea." Li Yin puts her hand on his forearm, and it calms him. "Two weeks, and then I'm leaving again."

"Then why did you even come back?" His mother’s looking at him seriously. He can't fathom her expression. It’s somewhere between disappointment, consternation, and hope.

"Someone important to me told me I might regret it if I didn't. That if something happened to dad and I wasn't here, that years from now I might regret not seeing him one last time." Lu Han runs a hand through his hair. It’s getting long, and the ends are dry. "That person’s usually right, when it comes to me. Always right. So here I am."

"He might not show it," Lu Han's mother says, "but your father loves you." Li Yin squeezes his arm tighter, a reminder that she’s there. It keeps Lu Han from yelling in the room that is already too small and too hot. "He does, Lu Han. So do I."

"No," Lu Han says. "Because if you did, it wouldn't matter if I wanted to play football for a living. It wouldn't matter even if I did like to--" Lu Han chokes on it. "You never would have sat back and did nothing, back then, when..." He takes a deep breath. "But I have people who do love me, now. And it's enough to know I can go home to them."

Lu Han's mother is looking at him, still, and now he can read something like remorse in her expression, but it’s buried beneath hundreds of other things, as complex as any of the economics theories that had evaded Lu Han's understanding no matter how much Sehun tried to help.

"I don't know where we went wrong with you," she says.

Li Yin makes a noise of protest, and Lu Han smiles bitterly. "You tried to make me into something I'm not." Lu Han looks back at his father, gauze wrapped around his head. So very small. "It's stupid of me, but I keep hoping..." That one day he'll be enough that they will regret not accepting him the way he is. He doesn't need their approval anymore, but there’s a small part of him that still craves it, even if he knows he’ll probably never have it. "I need coffee. I'll come back later."

He shrugs free of Li Yin's arm and steps out into the hall. He can hear the two women talking to each other in hushed tones. Li Yin is probably apologizing for him. Making excuses about long flights and maybe stress. Anything but acknowledging that whatever is between Lu Han and his parents is irrevocably broken.

Funny thing is, even after three years and countless friends, some close enough that he counts them as family, he still feels like nothing in front of his mother.

He longs for Joonmyun's steadying presence so much that it claws up in him, an angry animal.

Lu Han should be strong enough to deal with this on his own, anyway. Lu Han should be able to stand on his own two feet, because leaning on other people, even people like Joonmyun, will only make it harder for him later, when he's alone again.

He leans against the wall and breathes.

"This doesn't look like coffee," Li Yin says gently, and Lu Han looks at her.

"I'd just throw it up," Lu Han admits. "I'm so angry. I thought it would be okay, but I'm still so angry."

"She cares, you know. In her own way. She had a future planned out for you. They both did."

"My best friend, Yixing," Lu Han starts, catching his lip in his teeth, "his mother sends him care packages in the mail. Snacks he likes or magazines about his favorite indie musicians. Letters about how she hopes the team is doing well and that his grades are good." Lu Han shakes his head. "His grades aren't good. In fact, they're even worse than mine. He never lies to her, but in the next package she always sends more food. 'To feed your brain' is what she writes, on pale pink paper with flowers around the border. He pins the notes to his bulletin board above his desk."

Li Yin makes a soft noise in the back of her throat. Lu Han snorts.

"She loves him, you see. She wants him to be happy, first and foremost. She wants him to smile, and she doesn't care that he's in love with a girlfriend who doesn't speak the same language as she does or that he fails half of his classes or that he wants to be a songwriter when he graduates, because she knows that's what makes him happy." Lu Han looks at his sneakers. They're too dirty to wear for anything but running now. He should have worn a different pair here, for this. "And I'm... Even though I've never had that, not since I was little, I'm still jealous."

"That's normal," Li Yin says. "To be jealous."

"But I'm also angry," says Lu Han. "That I have to be jealous. That I can't just have someone who loves me in a way that comes without conditions."

It makes him think of Joonmyun, and that just makes him feel even more sick, and more angry, because even though he has Joonmyun, he can't keep him, either.

Li Yin doesn't say anything. She just hugs him. He hugs her back, and he remembers how much he’s always cared about her, even if time has passed and things have changed.

"What am I supposed to say to him?" He imagines his father waking up and looking at him with disdain.

"I don't know," Li Yin says. "Maybe there’s nothing left to say."

"What if there is?"

"Well," she tilts her head and looks back to the room, through the tiny window of the closed hospital door, to the man and woman shut inside, "isn't that why you're here?"

Lu Han doesn't know why he's here. "I think so," he says. "Just in case."

"The friend of yours who made you come," Li Yin says, after a moment of silence. "Is it your football captain girl?"

"No," Lu Han says. "Another friend."

Li Yin looks up at him carefully. "Are you sure you're chasing the right girl, then?"

"Joonmyun isn't a girl." Lu Han crosses his arms. "It's..." He thinks about Li Yin sitting across from her husband at the dinner table. He thinks about Li Yin's now-husband staring down at him with angry eyes, fists bruised and covered with too much of Lu Han's blood. It halts the words. "It isn't important."

And extended silence that still seems so loud.

"Why did you shut me out, Lu Han?"

He looks at her. Really looks at her. There's a sadness there, that he knows is his own fault. He’d been too ashamed when it had happened to say anything. He’d been too hurt by his father's actions and by his own guilt, and by a lot of other things. And when he’d found out that the vice-captain was going to marry Li Yin, it had seemed too late. He hadn't wanted to snatch that happiness from her. He still doesn't.

"You don't want to know the answer to that question," he says. "You don't."

"A part of me thinks I already know," she replies, taking his hand and lacing their fingers together like she used to when they were small. "But I want to be wrong enough that I don't think about it."

"I know how that feels," Lu Han says. "I do."

He fingers his phone and wonders if it would be against the rules to call Joonmyun right now. He would really like to hear his voice.

His mother opens the door. "Your father has woken up." She looks down at Lu Han’s empty hands. He has no coffee.

"I’m coming," Lu Han says, and he gathers himself, straightening his back and shoulders, before he walks back into the hospital room, Li Yin at his heels.

Beijing has changed a lot in three years. It makes sense, considering sometimes, during high school, Lu Han would go to sleep and wake up the next morning to a new building cluttering the rapidly upward-reaching skyline.

He loves this city, even if it’s full of negative associations for him.

Standing in his mother’s kitchen mixing porridge for his father, while his mother carefully changes his father’s bandages, Lu Han relishes the quiet. He’s never really enjoyed quiet, but in this house, quiet means that no one is yelling at him. His father has done nothing but shout at him since he has felt well enough to shout, and Lu Han has borne it all with a sense of resignation.

"Lu Han," his mother says, walking into the kitchen with a sealed plastic bag of clean gauze, "can you run to the pharmacy and pick up your father’s pain medication?"

The pharmacist’s is empty, save for two people. It’s early afternoon on a weekday, so that isn’t so surprising. He passes his mother’s order slip, the one procured from his dad’s surgeon.

"Lu Han?" Lu Han turns. The man standing behind him is familiar, but the name escapes him.


The pharmacist disappears to procure the medication, leaving Lu Han alone with the man. "We went to high school together. I was a first year when you were a third year. On the junior team."

The junior team had been the players who weren’t quite ready for the main team yet. Lu Han had never really gotten to know them, when he was third year. No one had really talked to him, then, afraid that liking boys was contagious. "Oh."

"Yeah," the man says. "I always really admired your play. You were good enough to go professional."

"Still hoping to, actually," Lu Han says vaguely, not trying to encourage this conversation. It makes him nervous. He hopes the pharmacist hurries up.

"I figure you don’t actually want to talk to me, but…"

The pharmacist re-emerges, with Lu Han’s order. Lu Han hands over his credit card quickly. "I need to get home," he says. He doesn’t like being cornered, and he doesn’t know what this guy wants. "And obviously, high school wasn’t the greatest time in my life…"

Understatement. The man gulps and then quickly rushes to get out his words before Lu Han can walk away.

"What I wanted to say is that I’m sorry."


"It probably doesn’t mean much to you now, but I am. Sorry, I mean. Sorry I never thought about what I was doing. With the… you know." The ostracizing. The weird looks in the locker room. The cold shoulder everywhere but where they needed him, on the pitch in the middle of a game.

He doesn’t want this right now.

"You were just a kid," Lu Han says gruffly. "And what were you supposed to think, a boy who looks like me on the team that none of the older kids would touch."

"My brother…" He flushes. "My brother is… he likes…" Lu Han gets it. "It’s hard for him. People are very cruel. I’m sorry that I was a part of doing that to someone else. That’s all."

"I forgive you, then," Lu Han says, tucking the pharmacist’s package into his satchel.

"I think…" and Lu Han still can’t remember his name, but he remembers the way he always hesitated on passes outfield, "I think that even if you… That it shouldn’t matter."

"But it does," Lu Han says. "It matters a lot." He shrugs, and walks past the guy. "It was good to see you, but I’ve got to get these home."

"Right, of course," he says, and then Lu Han is walking fast enough that it becomes a jog, the beating of his heart so loud it drowns out Beijing morning traffic.

He’s been expecting it, but it still manages to surprise him. "Stay," his father says. It’s the first thing he’s said to Lu Han in three days, since they’d fought over something stupid and trivial, like Lu Han’s clothes or haircut.

"My team has an important match next week," Lu Han says. "I’m leaving in two days."

"You have a responsibility to this family—"

"I don’t," Lu Han says. It’s a false calm. "You know what I plan on doing with my life. I don’t want to help companies sell car radios."

"I only have one son, Lu Han. You."

"And I have no intention of running your business." Lu Han sighs. "Don’t you understand that I’m good? I’m really good, dad. I’m good enough to play for a professional team. I hope that after a few years in the minor league, I’ll be good enough to play in the Premier league or La Liga. That’s a big deal."

"It’s a game, Lu Han! It’s a game, and you already have a bad knee." His father sighs. "Plus, if you’re around all of those boys all the time, you might be…" He pauses, his lip curling in disgust, "tempted—"

"Shut up," Lu Han says. "Just shut up." He knows he’s crossed a line when his father’s face purples. "Thank you for proving to me that I was right. That there is nothing to salvage here."

Lu Han pushes his chair back and storms out of the house. His phone and his wallet are in his pocket, and the jacket he’d left draped across the chair in the living room can be replaced.

He waves down a taxi and climbs in the back, shaking with anger and with something else he doesn’t understand. His cell phone, which has been silent for ten days, rings with a call from Seoul.

"Hello?" Lu Han says. His throat strains, and he realizes he’s practically shivering with rage.

"This might be breaking the rules," Joonmyun says clearly, "but I wanted to hear your voice." His gentle cadence calms Lu Han.

"I wanted to hear yours, too," Lu Han says. "And you can get two yellow cards before you get ejected from the match."

"That’s good," Joonmyun says, and then he laughs. It’s the best sound Lu Han knows.

"I’m coming home early."

Joonmyun hums. "Did you learn anything?"

"That I’m still not strong enough to see them and feel nothing."

"Feeling nothing isn’t really a strength, though, is it?" Joonmyun sounds thoughtful.

"Feeling everything hurts too much." Lu Han’s hotel comes into view. "Wouldn’t it be simpler if we could turn it off?"

"Simpler? Sure." Joonmyun makes a tiny noise that explodes like fireworks in Lu Han’s belly. "But maybe not better. For every low, there is a high, somewhere along the line."

Lu Han contemplates how well Joonmyun fits against him. He doesn’t know if that’s a high or a low, because it’s all so hopeless. Lu Han wants, so much, but everything has a cost and this is beyond his ability to afford. "I don’t know anything," he says.

Maybe he came to Beijing for nothing. Maybe he came to Beijing to close this chapter of his life once and for all. He might not have no regrets, but he has fewer of them, and more certainty in his decision not to look back.

His hotel phone rings and rings and rings, and he falls asleep to it like it’s a lullaby.

"I’m glad I could see you again," he says to Li Yin as they hug goodbye at the airport. "That was the best thing to come out of this trip. I hope you’re happy."

"I want you to be happy too." She punches his stomach. "I want you to call more, Lu Han. Don’t be a stranger. We were best friends once, remember?"

"Of course I do," he says. "You can always come visit me, you know. Just you."

"I know." She gives him that shadowed look. He thinks… He thinks she knows. He wonders if she asked her husband, in bed late at night, whether he’d broken Lu Han’s ribs or cut his face. He wonders what her husband had said in reply. "Have a safe flight… home." She gives him a small, lopsided grin. "Good luck on your tryouts. And good luck with your football girl." Hesitation. The pressing together of glossy lips. "Or, you know, whomever you choose to pursue."

Lu Han nods. "Thank you," he says. He squeezes her in a quick hug. "And… I’m sorry."

"I’m sorry, too," she says, and she waves as Lu Han queues to go through security. Lu Han says a silent goodbye to Beijing, and doesn’t look back.

Joonmyun picks him up from the airport. When Lu Han sees him, walking and breathing, which had felt painful and difficult for the past two weeks, suddenly become easier as he slides into a one-armed hug. It reminds Lu Han of being on crutches. Of standing up and favoring his good knee and reaching out for those metal sticks to hold up his weight. Joonmyun is like that. Joonmyun is like crutches, and Lu Han finds the dependence as frightening as it had been last spring.

"Are you all right?" is the only thing Joonmyun asks on the trip to Lu Han’s boarding house.

Lu Han rubs at his knee and answers "yes."

"Lu Han…"

"Can we not talk tonight?" Lu Han studies Joonmyun’s profile. He’s cut his hair shorter, and now Lu Han is even more aware of his high cheekbones and the angle of his jaw. Lu Han’s heart hurts. "I think, for today, I feel defeated enough."

Joonmyun’s eyelids flutter open and shut quickly, but he doesn’t look away from the road. The drive from Incheon has them driving across kilometers of water and mud, on roads that are open enough on a Thursday afternoon. "It can wait," Joonmyun says. "I can wait."

"We lost last weekend’s practice match." Minseok’s hair hangs into his eyes. It makes him look younger. "Don’t leave anymore." He’s stripping without hesitation, leaving his clothes in a heap and moving to turn on one of the shower heads.

Lu Han turns on the one across from it, and marvels at the fact that Minseok doesn’t give him a dirty look for daring to shower at the same time. He never has, but Lu Han is still raw from his trip back to Beijing, and the memories are too close to the surface. That first year guy… He had apologized to Lu Han. Apologized.

Yixing is noisy outside the door. He’ll join them soon.

"You survived the whole season without me last year," Lu Han says.

"Yeah, but we were prepared for it, then. There were huge holes without you, dude. Our offense is all readjusted to make room for you. We need you."

"You shouldn’t need people," Lu Han says. "You should be able to get by without them."

"That’s so gloomy." Minseok gives him a sour look as Lu Han pushes his face under the spray of the shower. "Football is a team sport, Lu Han. The whole point is depending on other people." Unexpectedly, he smacks Lu Han’s ass, and Lu Han yelps and turns around. "Now we’re even."

Lu Han gapes at him, and he laughs again as Yixing walks in, taking one look at Lu Han’s face and bursting into laughter himself. "Your face," Yixing wheezes. "You have no idea how dumb you look when you’re surprised."

"Why are you so mean to me, Zhang Yixing?" Lu Han pouts, letting his somber mood lift as he starts laughing with his friends.

"That’s what teammates do," Yixing says.

"Exactly," Minseok says. "It’s the fine print, right under looking out for you on the pitch and making sure to pass you the ball when you’re open."

"Gosh," Yixing cups his hands under the water spray and then splashes the water in Lu Han’s eyes. "Two weeks in China and you’ve forgotten what a team is?"

Lu Han grins. "Glad I have you guys to remind me."

He and Joonmyun go running at dawn. Lu Han doesn’t know why he still comes running even though Lu Han is well. Lu Han likes it though, because he’d never thought of his morning runs as lonely, but they were. They aren’t now, even the mornings that they don’t share any conversation at all.

Joonmyun, today, looks like he hasn’t ever slept in his life.

"You didn’t have to come."

"I wanted to." Joonmyun’s sweatshirt is too big for him, and he drowns in it as he runs at Lu Han’s side. Lu Han slows his pace enough that Joonmyun doesn’t need to take two strides to his every one. "I’m just busy. I have some practicals soon. Anatomy and physiology."

"Sounds hard." Lu Han huffs. "Nerd."

"You’re a nerd too," Joonmyun says. "You’re just a football nerd. I could never memorize all the stats and things you know by heart. Compared to that, the human body is a piece of cake."

"You know a lot about footie, though."

"I used to play, after all." Joonmyun laughs. "They called me Suho. I was my team’s captain, in high school."

"You must have been good," Lu Han says. "Captain is an important position."

"I was a pretty good all-rounder. Not the best at anything." His words come out strained. He’ll have to stop at the end of this lap around the football pitch. He can only go a few before his cheeks get too pink, like all of his blood is in his face, and his hands start to shake.

"Why don’t you play anymore?" Joonmyun frowns, and Lu Han backtracks. "You don’t have to answer, if you don’t want to."

"I don’t mind, if it’s you," Joonmyun says. "I don’t have the stamina."

"You said that before."

"When I was a third year, there was a car accident." They slow even more, so Joonmyun can speak without struggling. "There was a partial rupture in my aorta." Lu Han lifts both his eyebrows. "The aorta is the largest artery in the body, and mine tore. Not a lot. I was lucky. But enough that I still have lingering heart problems, because some of the tissue died."

"So you couldn’t play football."

"Still can’t," Joonmyun says. "That sort of extended time period of cardio is something I can’t do." He moves his hand up to push his bangs out of his face before he seems to remember he’s cut them off. "I know what it’s like to have something you love to do taken away from you. That’s why I wanted to become a physical therapist for athletes. Because I want the people who can get back on the field to do it."

"I like your hair like that," Lu Han says, stupidly off topic. He always says stupid things in the hopes of making Joonmyun happy. Joonmyun flushes, with more than exertion. "It’s easier to see your halo without all that puff in the way."

"Shut up, Lu Han," Joonmyun says, shoving him, and there’s the smile Lu Han loves again.

"I’m going to run one more lap, and then we can go get breakfast." Joonmyun nods and jogs toward the bleachers as Lu Han speeds up, running his last lap at full steam.

"You didn’t have to slow down for me," Joonmyun says, when Lu Han gets back to the start.

"I wanted to," Lu Han replies. It would be nice, maybe, if he could take Joonmyun’s hand. Nice, but not allowed. "Is that okay with you?"

"Yes," Joonmyun says, and for a moment, the sadness in his eyes makes Lu Han want to take a step back. Then it’s gone, and he’s smiling, and Lu Han can breathe again.

Maybe, Lu Han thinks, for a brief, desperate second, it would be okay—Then that’s gone too, and there’s the shadow of happiness between them as they walk.

"Dinner?" Jinri asks, when Lu Han answers the phone.

"Half an hour?" Lu Han asks, and Jinri makes a noise of agreement.

"Yixing told me you like kalguksu. I know just the place."

"Sounds great," Lu Han says. When he hangs up, he searches for excitement or nervousness or anything, and he comes up empty.

A scout for F.C. Seoul shows up at the fifth game of the season.

Lu Han barely registers his presence in the stands, more focused on giving his all in what is turning out to be a challenging match. The Busan teams always put up a good fight. He bets it’s because their legs never get tired. Lu Han has heard they train in the sand.

At the end of the game, after Jongin puts an amazing kick past their opposing goalie, Lu Han cheers and screams before automatically running toward the bleachers to pick Joonmyun up in a hug. Joonmyun laughs and swats at Lu Han to put him down. His cheeks are pink with pleasure, though. "Stop," he hisses, and Lu Han checks to make sure no one is watching them. No one is, not when Jongin has a shouting Chanyeol in a headlock, Chanyeol screaming about sweaty dongsaengs and the danger his glasses are in.

"They don’t even have lenses," Jongin shouts back, hyped up from his awesome goal. Chanyeol is grinning like a big dumb puppy, anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter. Lu Han could probably sneak a kiss on Joonmyun’s cheek, if he wanted. It’s not worth the risk, no matter how smooth the skin would feel beneath his lips.

He bounds back out to the middle of the field, accepting slaps on the back from Jinki and Yifan. Yifan’s broad hand almost sends him reeling.

Lu Han loves football. The adrenaline is hot and fierce in his veins, mingling with joy and pride and victory.

"Lu Han!" He turns. The scout is approaching him, with a big grin on his face. "That was some game."

"Thank you, sir," Lu Han says. "We’re very proud of our team."

"Your team, it seems, is also very proud of you."

"It was Jongin who scored the winning goal," Lu Han says, licking at his lips and letting his breathing even out.

"We’ll be looking at him next year, certainly," the scout says. "But this year, we’re looking at you."

Lu Han swallows, rubbing his hands on his shorts and bowing carefully. "I’m honored, sir."

"We want to bring you in for tryouts," the scout continues. "At the end of August."

"I…" Lu Han’s head is spinning. "Yes, please, of course." The scout laughs at him. "I mean, yes, I would like that very much. Sir."

"Good, Lu Han. I can’t wait to show you how well you could do in F.C. Seoul."

"It’s… definitely the team I was hoping to play for next year, sir," Lu Han says, honestly, and the scout laughs.

"Well, I think we want you to play for us next year, too." Lu Han looks back to the bleachers, where Joonmyun is waiting, eyes riveted on the scout, and smiles a tiny grin at him. When he looks back, though, the scout is narrowing his eyes. "As long as you don’t have any…" his gaze darts toward Joonmyun, Lu Han’s Joonmyun, in the stands, still smiling stupidly and proudly in Lu Han’s direction, "problematic proclivities."

"Proclivities?" It sounds dirty in the scout’s mouth. It sounds even dirtier in Lu Han’s.

"You know," the coach said. "Drugs, alcohol. Among other things." Joonmyun again. Lu Han gets the unspoken message. Other things.

"The girl I’m seeing is the captain of the women’s team," Lu Han says. "Nothing official yet, of course. I’m playing hard to get." The words hurt to push out, but the scout smiles at him, relieved.

"Well, you know girls, you can’t make it too easy for them."

"Right," Lu Han says, hoping he won’t throw up on the scout’s shoes. The triumph and the joy are gone, replaced by leaden fear and misery. "Of course."

"I knew you’d understand," the scout says. Lu Han smiles back, empty.

"To our Lu Han, who is trying out for F.C. Seoul!" Yifan yells, lifting his beer. Everyone else lifts theirs, too, and Lu Han’s beer sloshes over his fingers as he raises his own glass with shaking hands.

"Congratulations," Joonmyun whispers warmly. All Lu Han can see is the scout’s judging stare. He can’t stop shaking. "What’s wrong?"

"We need to have that talk now," Lu Han says. The smile falls from Joonmyun’s face, and Lu Han’s beer goes down badly, thick as molasses down his esophagus and into his tummy.

"Tonight then," Joonmyun says. He clinks their glasses together. "Until then, enjoy this victory."

The victory is as bitter as the beer with the looming conversation hanging over him.

Joonmyun follows him up into his room, both of them tiptoeing so as not to wake anyone up.

Lu Han sits on the edge of his bed, stretching his legs out. Joonmyun sits on the chair at Lu Han's desk. Their feet touch.

They sit in silence for a few minutes, until Joonmyun breaks it.

"We both know this doesn’t work," Joonmyun says. "The rules and the boundaries and all the things we can and can't do. It doesn't work."

"I know," Lu Han says.

"I look at you across the table and I want to kiss you. You tell me you're going out with Jinri for lunch and I can't eat my own lunch because I'm so..." He sighs. "I'm jealous, Lu Han. I'm jealous, and it feels horrible. I've never... I've never been jealous before." He laughs. "I guess I've never been in love before, either." Lu Han waits. "It doesn't work."

"What... what are we supposed to do?" Lu Han's whole body is tight. The muscle tenses of nervousness, similar to the ones he gets the night before an important match where the teams are too even and he isn't sure if their team will come out the victor.

"Something has to give," Joonmyun says. "Something, somewhere, has to give." Lu Han looks up and stares into Joonmyun's eyes. Joonmyun is staring back, earnest, and Lu Han can see a hundred things in his expression.

There had been a time, in Lu Han's life, when he knew exactly what he wanted most. When that Manchester United jersey was the only thing he would think about in the shower and at night before he closed his eyes. That time had lasted until last year, when Joonmyun, poker shark and maybe the other half of Lu Han's heart, had come into Lu Han's life and molded it in his image like it was a piece of wet clay on the wheel. Now Lu Han closes his eyes and sees Joonmyun, and wakes up and hopes, in that moment between sleep and wakefulness, that Joonmyun will be next to him when he opens them.

The thing about football, though, is that Lu Han has wanted it for so long, and he knows he will never truly be able to let that dream slip from his hands, no matter how much he loves, really loves Joonmyun. And he knows, without a doubt, that he can't have Joonmyun and not shout it from the rooftops. Lu Han has been loved half-heartedly enough throughout his life that he would never be able to do it to someone else. Especially not Joonmyun, who is so perfect and wonderful that he deserves the moon and the stars and songs dedicated to him and to have his picture on someone's desk or hung in someone's locker.

Lu Han... Lu Han can barely accept that he wants another man, let alone give up everything he has worked for because of that want.

"The scout said…" Lu Han shivers. "He looked at you and said…"

"Said what?" Joonmyun kicks Lu Han’s ankle. "Lu Han, what did he say?"

"I asked you," Lu Han says, "to stay."

"I would," Joonmyun says. "I will."

"Now..." Lu Han's hands are shaking. Everything is scary to him, these days. His father would be so disappointed. Is so disappointed. Is. "Now, I'm asking you not to."

"Lu Han?" It cracks. Lu Han usually loves the way Joonmyun says his name, but tonight it shatters him, because he knows that Joonmyun is hurting. He knows it is his fault. There is nothing he can do about it though, because he doesn't... Lu Han wants... He squeezes his eyes shut and remembers the names. Justin Fashanu, David Testo, Marcus Urban, Thomas Berling-- "Are you saying—"

"It’ll hurt less later if we end things here," Lu Han says. "Really end them. I won’t…" He breathes. "I won’t depend on you anymore."

"I want you to depend on me," Joonmyun says. "As much as you hate needing people, I have always liked being needed."

"Ever since I was a little kid, becoming a professional footballer is all I’ve ever wanted." Joonmyun’s eyes cut into him. "It’s… all I’ve ever wanted, Joonmyun. And as much as I want—" You. Us. This. Always. "I will always want that the most."

Joonmyun’s eyes are wet, but he doesn’t cry. Lu Han has never seen Joonmyun cry. He probably never will, because Joonmyun is the strongest person he knows. "Then you need to go for it," Joonmyun says. "You don’t want to look back and regret…" Me. Us. This.

"How are you so wonderful?" Lu Han asks, and Joonmyun laughs, dry but sincere.

"I’m not," Joonmyun says. "If I were…" He shakes his head, smile growing a little larger. He stands.

"You are," Lu Han says. "Joonmyun, you are." He wants to kiss him, to whisper all the things about him that are perfect into his lips, but Joonmyun is gone, down the steps and out the door to his car, and Lu Han’s eyes can only trace the outline of his glued together vase in front of this year’s Premier League calendar, and think about the choices he has made.

"You look like death warmed over," Jongdae says over lunch. "Almost as bad as Joonmyun-hyung. Almost."

Lu Han looks up from his partially eaten sandwich. "Joonmyun?"

"Your head popped up like a meerkat’s when I said his name, oh my goodness." Jongdae takes a bite of an apple. "Did you guys have a fight?"

"Yeah," Lu Han says. "You could say that."

"So apologize for being stupid," Jongdae says. "I know it’s your doing, since Joonmyun-hyung is perfect in all ways."

"It is my fault," Lu Han says. "It isn’t the sort of thing an apology can fix."

"But you guys were like…" Jongdae tilts his head. "Like two halves of a socially unacceptable melon. Or like egg and ramyun." He sets his apple down. "Are you really… Is the difference really irreconcilable?"

Lu Han can still feel the weight of the scout’s eyes on him. Yesterday, F.C. Seoul had sent him a sweatshirt in the mail. Next year, Lu Han will probably be playing league soccer. It’s what he’s waited for.

He hopes Joonmyun has passed his practicals. He hopes Joonmyun’s nights for the past week have been better than his. Not sleepless. Not endless.

"I think it is," Lu Han says.

"That’s too bad," Jongdae says. "You and Joonmyun-hyung… had a lot in common. He was as closed off as you were, you know? Maybe because both of you really had only yourselves to rely on, or something." Lu Han rips the crust off his bread. "You kind of… opened each other up. You don’t find a friend like that every day, you know." Jongdae’s eyes are narrow and knowing, and Lu Han feels naked under his gaze.

"I’m not hungry anymore." He throws his sandwich in the trash, ignoring Jongdae’s protests, and walks out into the sun. It’s a bright day but the light hurts his eyes.

Lu Han gives Luna Joonmyun’s number. "Ask him on a date," Lu Han says. "He’s single."

Jinri rewards him with a smile as Luna beams.

Lu Han feels like so much nothing he can’t believe he’s still breathing.

Lu Han is early for his shift. They don’t open for another hour, but he’s been meaning to check out a couple of books for a project and he won’t have time once students start coming in. It’s midterms, and Lu Han’s procrastinated enough.

The library doors are already unlocked. Lu Han knows he locked them last night. Perhaps Jongin has come in early, too. Their morning practice had been cancelled by Yifan, who apparently has three midterms in three days and has transformed into an actual anime character in his mood swings.

He walks into the front lobby and freezes.

Jongin has Chanyeol pressed against the counter, Chanyeol holding onto the edge of it as Jongin kisses down his neck. There’s no mistaking what they're doing. Lu Han clears his throat even as he grips at the door for balance.

He’s dizzy and angry and all kinds of other things, too. He doesn’t know what to do with all the different feelings that engulf him.

Jongin jumps back like everywhere he and Chanyeol had touched burns. His eyes are wide and nervous, but he relaxes somewhat when he realizes that it’s only Lu Han standing there. Then he tenses again. "Lu Han-hyung, you’re…early. I…"

Chanyeol’s eyes are wide and scared. He’s chewing on his lower lip, watching Lu Han’s reaction carefully.

"What are you…?" Lu Han’s voice is all wobbly. He tries again. "What are you doing?" It comes out sharp and accusing this time, and Chanyeol cringes, reaching forward to clutch at Jongin’s shirt.

Joonmyun had done that, once, when Lu Han had pressed him into the shelves and kissed him until his lips were swollen and as pink as cherry blossoms.

Jongin blinks. "Kissing?"

"Chanyeol is a man," Lu Han says. Too loud. He knows it’s too loud. "Chanyeol’s a man. You can’t." He’s shaking now, because it isn’t fair that Jongin’s fear has receded and been replaced with determination. That Chanyeol doesn’t look confident but that he doesn’t let go.

"I’m right here," Chanyeol says, but Lu Han is bearing down on Jongin.

"I know you don’t like…" Jongin breathes deep and barrels on. "I love Chanyeol, and it’s okay if you don’t accept it. I can’t change it. I don’t want to change it."

Lu Han knows how that feels. He knows the inevitable push of emotions against his ribs and he knows the undeniable quickening of his heartbeat. He knows exactly how it feels, but Jongin can put it into terrifying words that make Lu Han feel inadequate and empty. "Jonginnie."

"Hyung, I love Chanyeol." Honest. Serious. No slip no pause. No hesitation. "If it’s going to be a problem for you, I’ll leave the team—"

"No!" Lu Han’s throat is dry. "You’re misunderstanding—"

"What am I misunderstanding, hyung? You’re looking at me like I’m a criminal. Like there’s something wrong with me. There isn’t."

"The F.C. Scouts are looking at you for next year," Lu Han says. "You can’t…" Throw that away. Jongin can’t put Chanyeol’s picture in his locker, just like Lu Han can’t put Joonmyun’s, and that’s the way things are, no matter how squarely Jongin sets his shoulders.

"I love football," Jongin says. "But I’m not like you, hyung. I can do something else. I can get a job at my dad’s company and I’ll be fine. It won’t be the end, for me."

"You’d be an awesome businessman," Chanyeol says, smiling lopsidedly at Jongin. "And you look great in suits."

"You would choose—" Chanyeol slips his hand into Jongin’s. It looks so easy. Jongin’s hand fits so nicely with Chanyeol’s. "You’ve always wanted to play football."

"When I was a kid," Jongin says, "I knew I liked ballet. When I turned fifteen, I knew I liked boys just as much as I liked girls." He grins. "Now, I just like Chanyeol, even though he’s clumsy and kinda stupid and can’t figure out library call numbers."

"Hey," Chanyeol says, dropping Jongin’s hand to shove him. "Library call numbers are hard."

Jongin laughs and sloppily kisses his cheek. "How do you have better grades than I do?" Lu Han remembers wanting to do the same to Joonmyun at the game, but being too afraid. Jongin turns back to Lu Han. "I can’t change the way I feel. Not for anything."

"Not for anything, huh?" Lu Han nods. He’s still dizzy. There’s nausea now, too, and maybe something too close to guilt for comfort. "I’m not going to tell anyone about this."

"Thank you," Jongin says. "I know it’s hard for you to deal with, because you’ve always been…"

"I’m not homophobic," Lu Han snaps. "I just don’t like jokes about it. I don’t like assumptions." Assumptions that he proves true with every impulse to run his hands down Joonmyun’s back and kiss him until both of them run clean out of air. The way Jongin had kissed Chanyeol.

The way Lu Han will never kiss Joonmyun again.

An hour later, Lu Han is still reeling. "This makes sense to me," Jongin tells him, gesturing between himself and where Chanyeol has disappeared into the art history section. "It’s the only thing that does, strangely enough."

Lu Han remembers a morning two months ago, when he’d woken up with Joonmyun in his arms, soft and naked and still sleeping. He remembers and thinks that had made sense too.

But Lu Han is not sure like Jongin is. Lu Han does not know if he could give up everything like Jongin could. Lu Han has clung to football for sanity for so long that without it he would be an anchorless ship in the sea of life.

And that, he thinks, is that.

It is amazing how you can go from seeing someone every day to not seeing them at all.

Lu Han passes his F.C. Seoul tryouts in August, three weeks before the championship game against Yonsei.

His jersey, which he doesn’t take off even when he gets to campus after the tryout, feels good against his skin. Like he was always meant to wear it. He’s full of exhilaration and flush with triumph.

Normal people probably call their parents. Lu Han only has one person he wants to call, but he doesn’t know if he can.

It probably breaks the new rules. The excruciating ones that are all Lu Han’s fault.

He scrolls through his phone until he finds a number he hasn’t called in four months.

I passed tryouts he types.

Congratulations Joonmyun texts back.

Lu Han considers replies. Thank you or I miss you or I think I’m still in love with you because I can’t dream about anything but your smile.

His phone beeps again. Fight for your dreams, Lu Han.

For a second, there, Lu Han stands on the precipice of crying, but he falls back from it as Yixing slaps him on the back. "Barbecue on me, Xiao Lu."

"You’re not bigger than I am," Lu Han says, gulping back the emotion and swallowing it down.

"Taozi is," Yixing says, as Zitao grabs Lu Han’s wrist and pulls. His spiked bracelets look dangerous enough that Lu Han goes with the pull to avoid getting gouged.

"Barbecue it is," Lu Han says.

He’s happy enough.

But he wishes Joonmyun were here. He wishes he were brave enough to ask him to be.

Lu Han will stand on his own. Lu Han will achieve his dream all by himself. He will have what he’s always wanted.

He will. He can.

He’s made his choice. He’s close enough to be sure it’s the right one. He smoothes his new jersey and steels himself.

"I think it’s about time we made it official, Lu Han." Jinri is sipping on bubble tea. Sehun, on the other side of her, raises both of his eyebrows and excuses himself to the restroom.

"Are you sure you want to date a boy you called pretty, Jinri?" Lu Han teases, when they’re alone, even as his stomach folds over itself in nervousness. He never imagined actually dating Jinri, not even when it was his number two life goal.

"That was just to discourage you last year. It was obvious you were crushing on me."

"If you like me, why were you trying to discourage me?" Lu Han gapes at her.

"It’s because I thought you were boring," Jinri says. "Football, all the time. Now you’re interested in all sorts of stuff."

"I like tea ceremonies and Italian films and pottery and running in the morning before the world wakes up," Lu Han says. Joonmyun’s hands on him, helping him smooth the clay. Joonmyun smiling at him in the dark theater. Joonmyun, out of breath, with his perfectly broken heart. "I like bad Korean dramas with mediocre acting and I absolutely hate poker." Joonmyun, Joonmyun, Joonmyun. "I like working in the library and I hate economics."

"Broaden your horizons, Lu Han."

"That’s the kind of thing that makes you more than a pretty face," Jinri says, taking Lu Han’s hand. Her hand is smaller than Joonmyun’s, but not by much. Lu Han feels an ache in his chest that presses down on his lungs and suffocates him.

"I’m not pretty," Lu Han says. There’s no fight in him.

"All right," Jinri says. "You aren’t, then. Do you want to come to dinner at my parents’ house next week, as my boyfriend?"

Her smile is bright and indulgent. Lu Han remembers when it used to enchant him. Maybe, if he gives it time, it will enchant him again. "Yeah," Lu Han says. "I’d like that a lot."

end of intermission

go to second half