pandeer (pandeer) wrote in taoandlu,
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taoandlu

(day 4) Field of Play [1/2]

Title: Field of Play
Rating: R
Wordcount: 18,656
Warnings: age gap, stripping as a profession
Summary: Lu Han is single and stuck in a career he hates. The highlight of his week is Fridays, when he goes to the strip club after work in time for Tao's show. Perhaps Lu Han needs to reassess some things in his life.
Author's notes: Apologies to the prompter that I didn't get to the desired rating. I intended to but the fic wouldn't cooperate with me and went off in a different direction…



1.




It's been a long week, but all of Lu Han's weeks feel long nowadays. But now, it's Friday night, and he's at his favourite place.


He loosens the knot of his tie and sinks back into the chair. He'd removed his suit jacket when he entered the club, placing it into coat check, but apart from that he's still in his work clothes. Even though he practically lives in a suit, the clothes feel stiff and constricting tonight, particularly against the luxurious and plushness of the chair underneath him. It's surprising how nice the material is, considering the setting.


The waiter brings him the beer he requested, placing a tall pint glass frosted with condensation down carefully on top of a paper coaster. Lu Han thanks him, his manner distracted, as he checks the heavy watch on his wrist.


It's nearly 11pm - the time that he looks forward to all week. Lu Han always works late on Friday nights, declining all offers of dinner and after work drinks with his colleagues at the law firm, so he can time his arrival at the club just before he shows up on stage. Lu Han had stumbled across this place, and him, one fortuitous night months ago. He'd drawn the short straw - had been put in charge of entertaining a particular client, who Lu Han's teammates all disliked. They thought she was brash, overconfident, loud, but Lu Han didn't mind her. So he'd taken her out - and after dinner and probably too many drinks (she'd even managed to get Lu Han to dance, he remembers with a shudder) she had wanted to go to a club.


But not just any club - a strip club. A gay strip club.


And, she'd said, he had to accompany her otherwise she wouldn't be allowed in.


Before that night, the only strip clubs that Lu Han had been to were ones during post work events or bachelor parties, with the strippers all distinctly female. Lu Han had always kept a very tight lid on his sexuality, particularly at work, but that night - when Tao stepped on stage - he forgot all about that.


Fortunately his client either didn't notice how intently he was watching Tao's routine - she seemed to be enjoying the stage rather a lot too - or she was too discreet to mention it.


That was almost two months ago, and Lu Han has returned every Friday night since then. At this time of the night the club is almost full, and up on the stage one of the other dancers is finishing up his routine. He's a tall, lanky kid, with a long torso, round ass, and a perpetually unimpressed face. While he's handsome and a good dancer, he doesn't appeal to Lu Han, although he has many fans scattered around the room, judging by the whistling and hollering as the kid works his pants off his slim hips as he sways in time to the music.


Lu Han sips his beer slowly. He tries not to drink too much while he's here, trying to keep his mind clear so he can enjoy every second of Tao's routine. Not long afterwards the lights on stage dim as unimpressed kid stalks off. He'll wander the crowd in a bit, peddling lap dances. Lu Han places his glass on the table, his palms suddenly sweaty as the beginning notes of Tao's music starts to play.


A voice says over the loudspeaker: "Please welcome to the stage, our romantic leopard of the night - Z.Tao!" The introduction is always the same and Lu Han could recite it if he wanted to, but right now he's leaning forward, anticipation fluttering inside him and making his mouth dry.


Finally the heavy curtains are drawn back and Tao prowls down the catwalk to the stage, hips swinging as he reaches the pole in the middle. Tonight he's clad in a tiny pair of booty shorts - leopard print - showcasing his strong thighs and long legs. He's topless already, a black harness strapped across his toned chest, and his tanned skin shining under the lights.


Lu Han's stomach feels heavy with excitement. Tao performs different routines each week - he has several that he rotates through - and Lu Han knows by the way he's dressed that tonight is a pole night.


Tao is stunning - captivating - hair bleached a dirty blond, the undersides shaved with an undercut. His ears are lined with piercings, the ones in his lower lobes dangling as he moves, and his eyes are fierce, lined with jet black eyeliner. No matter how often Lu Han sees him, his reaction to Tao is always the same: lust, desire, anticipation.


Tao tips his head back, exposing the long line of his neck, licking his lips slowly and sensuously. Lu Han catches the gleam of a piercing as his tongue flicks out. It's the first time that Lu Han has noticed it, and it makes him feel jittery.


Tao knows how to perform, put on a show, and this is why Lu Han returns every Friday to see him. He owns the stage whenever he's on it, and is able to use the pole like it's an extension of himself.


The music goes quiet for a moment as Tao circles the pole with flowing steps, his hips working from side to side as he grinds against the metal before the beat builds, filling the entire room. He leaps up, his hands clasping the pole near the top, using the momentum to swing around it in a graceful arc a couple of times, his movements smooth and assured and seemingly weightless.


The boy who'd been on stage previously stops by Lu Han's table on his circuit through the room. Up close he's younger than Lu Han thought, and also very pretty.


He's also blocking Lu Han's view.


Lu Han is too polite to ask him to move, but the boy notices Lu Han trying to peer around him and he gives him a little smirk that completely transforms his face. "Guess you're not interested in a lap dance from me," he says, giving him a little finger wave as he departs, allowing Lu Han to return his attention back to Tao.


Up on the stage, Tao has flipped himself upside down, one of his legs hooked around the pole and supporting his entire weight. His strength is apparent as his muscles work, and Lu Han admires the cut line of his abs and v line of his hips that are on display as he slowly slides down, his back against the pole. Hands safely on the ground, he kicks his legs free from the pole, bringing them back down to the floor so he can right himself.


He dances against the pole seductively, his gaze hooded as he loses himself in the music, and Lu Han is completely enthralled.


When the last notes of the music fades out, Tao's skin is flushed and his chest is heaving with exertion as he quickly gathers the money that people have thrown on stage. He gives the audience one last sultry look before sauntering off, his ass bouncing as he walks.


Soon, like the other kid, he'll walk around the club selling lapdances. In the weeks that Lu Han has been coming to the club he's yet to purchase one. Partly it's because Tao gets snapped up almost immediately, and Lu Han often watches enviously as he leads other customers off to a private room. But the other reason - Lu Han isn't sure if he can handle being in close quarters with him.


Lu Han is all too aware that he doesn't know Tao personally, but with the way that he projects himself onstage and the way he's effortlessly sexy - he seems to own his body and his sexuality. He's sultry and beautiful, and while Lu Han is charmed, he's also a little intimidated.


Lu Han finishes his beer. The last dregs are warm and flat and he wrinkles his nose. Still, it helps to wet his throat, which had gone dry during Tao's routine. Lu Han checks his watch, thinking that it must be time for him to go home, when unexpectedly someone slips into the chair across from him.


It's Tao.


Lu Han notes that he's still topless, skin glistening with the remnants of sweat from his dancing, before he hastily flicks his eyes back up to Tao's face. He blushes when he realises that Tao has noticed, judging by the hint of amusement on his face.


But his voice when he talks isn't mocking - it's low and soft. "Would you like a private dance?" he asks.


Lu Han stutters out a response, not sure of whether he's saying yes or no. Tao gives him a little pout that's unbearably cute on someone so sexy. "I'm starting to think that you don't like me. You're here every week but you've never requested a dance. Sehun said you were into me but…"


"You've noticed me?" Lu Han asks, surprise overtaking any embarrassment he might have.


"Of course I have," Tao replies, a disbelieving note in his voice. "You're the most attractive guy here - of course I've noticed you."


Lu Han knows that Tao is probably just flirting with him to try and get him to buy a dance, but he says the words with so much sincerity that it makes Lu Han feel squeezy. It's not true anyway. Lu Han knows what he looks like - he knows that other people think that he's beautiful - but he doesn't think that he compares at all to Tao.


He says as much and Tao smiles so prettily at him that he almost twinkles. Just like the other dancer - Tao looks much younger up close and Lu Han wonders if Tao is too young for him to be lusting after. Lu Han's at a stage in his life where he should be looking to settle down and further his career, not be in a club flirting with a stripper. He fidgets self-consciously with his tie and Tao gives him a cheeky little smile.


"That's the other reason I noticed you - you're the only one who comes here dressed in a shirt and tie."


"Oh." Lu Han hopes he hasn't gone bright pink but judging by how hot his face feels, he probably has.


Tao gestures to Lu Han's empty glass. "If you don't want a lapdance, would you like another drink?"


Lu Han isn't sure where his courage comes from, but he finds himself saying, "Only if I can buy you one too."


He's sure that Tao twinkles at him again, and then he's looking around the room, as if he's checking to see if anyone is demanding his attention. And then he sits back and agrees. "That sounds nice."




*




Lu Han can hardly believe it. The guy he's been lusting after for weeks is sitting across from him. Lu Han is flustered, and he knows that he's bumbling over his words as Tao makes conversation, but Tao seems genuinely sweet and interested in him.


"You don't look 29," Tao comments, after Lu Han tentatively gives him an answer to his question.


Lu Han feels much, much older some days. He can see his life stretching out in front of him, and it's always the same - long, boring, unfilling. "Can I ask how old you are?"


Tao looks at him coolly. "You can ask. It doesn't mean I'll tell you." Then he laughs, immediately destroying the effect. "I'm 20."


He's so young, Lu Han thinks. Compared to him, Tao is just a baby. Lu Han can barely remember being 20, which is probably because there was nothing interesting to remember. While his friends travelled and partied, Lu Han mostly spent his evenings at home immersed in his books and loneliness. He studied, he dated a few girls - back then he thought that if he tried hard enough, he could still please his parents.


They talk for a bit longer, until Tao regretfully says, licking his lips clean from the last drops of his drink, "I need to get back to work. Thanks for the drink." He unfurls himself from the chair. "See you next week?" he asks, almost shyly, and Lu Han quickly agrees.


"I'll see you next week." He wouldn't miss it for anything.




*




Lu Han's colleagues are ugly drunks.


It's Friday night again, and Lu Han was highly encouraged to accept one of the regular invitations to after work drinks. He always declines them, claiming that he has work to catch up on, but this week one of the founding partners came to talk to him. He's a nice man, he actually hired Lu Han as a new graduate, and he's been a mentor of sorts through the years.


Lu Han was told that partner selection would be occurring soon, and it was heavily hinted that it was highly likely that he would be offered partner. Lu Han doesn't know if he cares about that, but he respects this man, so he pretends to be excited by the news.


"There's just one thing," Lu Han was told. "This firm - we believe we're a family. And I've noticed that you're not that friendly with your colleagues. I understand wanting to keep a respective distance and I'm not saying you have to be best friends with them - but try a little harder, hmm?"


So here Lu Han is - trying.


The problem is, he has nothing in common with his colleagues. Lu Han is amongst the youngest in his team, so most of the conversation - when it's not about work - centres around what private school their children are going to, which model of car they're going to purchase next, or discussions around the best location for a holiday home.


Most of the time he can ignore it - he just needs to work with them, not be friends - but on nights like these, it's hard to ignore the gulf between them.

Lu Han discreetly checks his watch, hoping that he'll be able to slip away in time to catch Tao's show. No one is paying attention to him, but he mutters anyway, "I'm going to the bathroom."


He's tried enough, he decides.


Instead of the bathroom, he heads out the front door. As soon as he's out in the fresh air his steps quicken and he frantically waves down a cab.


He slips into the club five minutes before 11pm. His usual table is taken, but there's an empty stool by the bar. The view isn't as good from back there, but it'll do. The young kid is on stage again and Lu Han orders a drink while the kid finishes his routine. He's improving each week, his face becoming less and less impassive, but Lu Han can't wait for him to get off the stage.


Lu Han feels himself starting to relax now that he's here. Logically he knows that the club is seedy, it skirts a line that many would disapprove of, but Lu Han finds it the opposite. At least here everyone is open about what they're wanting - what they're looking for. In his normal life Lu Han is surrounded by fakeness, faux politeness, pretentiousness. People who pretend that their motivations aren't debasing. He hates it.


While he remembers to, Lu Han loosens his tie, slipping the entire thing off and stuffing it into his pocket, nodding a thank you when the bartender slides a drink in front of him.


As soon as Tao appears, Lu Han's shit week disappears. His asshole colleagues, the job that he hates, the fight he'd had with his father over the phone the other day. Everything narrows down to Tao and his ridiculously long legs, firm ass, and sultry glances into the audience.


After Tao's routine finishes, Lu Han keeps an eye out above the crowd in the hope of catching Tao when he starts his walk around the floor. Unfortunately someone else grabs Tao's attention, and Lu Han watches as Tao disappears with them into a private room.


The bartender notes his disappointment. "He's a popular one," the bartender comments, taking Lu Han's empty glass. "Another drink?"


"Sure, why not," Lu Han agrees.


An hour later, Lu Han has given up trying to catch Tao's attention and drains the last of his glass. He's probably drunk a bit too much tonight - first the dinner out, and then while he was waiting - it's fortunate that he didn't drive here.


"You weren't going to leave without saying hello, were you?" a soft voice asks from next to him and Lu Han blinks, a little blearily, at Tao. He looks stunning as always. Tonight's shorts are blood red, and he has matching sneakers on but nothing else. Tao's hair is swept up, his fringe off his face, and his eyeliner is a little smudged but still looks good. "Would you like a dance tonight?" Tao's eyes rake up and down Lu Han's body, before he notes with amusement, "I don't think you need another drink."


"Do I really look that drunk?" Lu Han says, and he's proud that he doesn't slur his words, but then he ruins it by hiccuping at the end.


"No," Tao says, giving him a very quick and gentle pat on the knee before moving his hand away. It's the first time Lu Han has been touched by anyone in a long time, and he feels a rush of heat and longing. "But your eyes betray you."


"I think…" Lu Han says slowly. "I would like a dance."


Tao takes his hand and Lu Han stumbles off his stool, following behind blindly. Tao's hand is warm in his, and Lu Han clutches it tightly, like he never wants to let go.


There's a security guard stationed outside the private room, and he sizes up Lu Han as they near. If Lu Han wasn't so drunk he'd feel intimidated - no doubt that's the desired effect. The guard is a big guy, easily a head taller than Tao, who's not short himself, and twice as large, with huge biceps and forearms. He gives Tao a small nod before letting them enter.


The room they go into is relatively small, with three of the walls covered by floor to ceiling drapes. There's not much furniture - a couch and cabinet set against the wall, plus a single chair awkwardly placed in the middle of the floor. It looks comfortable, being well padded but armless, and Tao tells him to take a seat on it as he closes the door.


The room spins a little. Lu Han is probably far too drunk for this. Nevertheless, he digs in his pants pocket and retrieves his wallet, holding out the entire thing to Tao so he can take his fee.


"What are you doing?' Tao asks, a laugh in his voice. "You're just going to give me the whole thing? How much do you have in here anyway?"


Lu Han has hundreds in there, he always withdraws the maximum amount of cash he can on Fridays. He mutters something, waving it at Tao, and the room spins again.


Tao laughs softly, taking his wallet from him, but he doesn't open it. Instead he places it into Lu Han's lap. "You're too drunk for this."


Lu Han can't help but agree. He is too drunk for this. He rubs a hand over his face. "I am. I'd love to see you dance, but, god, I just want you to sit on my lap and talk to me." He realises what he said too late, his hand shooting up to cover his mouth as he curses his lack of filter.


"You want me to sit on your lap and talk to you?" Tao repeats. "I'm taller than you, I'd crush you." Despite his words, he lowers himself onto Lu Han's knees, facing him as he sits astride his thighs. "Like this?"


Although Tao's feet are resting on the ground, keeping his full weight off Lu Han, he's still relatively heavy. But Lu Han welcomes it, the physical proximity. He hadn't realised how much he'd craved this, just the feeling of someone else. Lu Han doesn't know what to do with his hands, and they remain flopping uselessly by his side. Tao drapes his arms over Lu Han's shoulders, and it's casual and natural, like he does this all the time.


"You can touch me," Tao laughs. He seems to be doing that a lot tonight - laughing at Lu Han - but there's an undertone of affection there. At least, Lu Han hopes so. He brings his hands up and rests them on Tao's slim hips, Tao's skin warm even through the material of his shorts.


"Tell me about yourself," Lu Han says. "If that's okay. Or not. Umm. You can talk about anything." He just wants to hear Tao's voice.


Tao peers down at him, surprised. "You were serious about the talking… most guys, when we're in here… they don't…"


"Oh, no, I don't… like that… I mean, shit I do, but… fuck…" Lu Han blusters through his words, not even sure of what he's trying to say. "I just want to hear your voice," he confesses. He wants more actually, but it's a start.


Tao smiles at that, and it's the sweetest thing that Lu Han has seen in years.


Lu Han gets what he's asked for - Tao talks to him. He starts by telling Lu Han more about the strip club, and then veers into a story from that evening about Sehun - the guy on stage before Tao - who ripped his shorts ten minutes before he was due on. Tao describes how they sat there frantically sewing these damn shorts - Tao stitching one end and Sehun the other, almost stabbing one another in their haste while Sehun's intro played on loop outside.


Lu Han laughs at the appropriate parts but he's only barely registering Tao's words, mostly just listening to the soft lilt and drawl of his voice.


After a while, Tao's stories petter out, and he asks Lu Han a question. "Why are you so drunk tonight? You're normally so composed. No tie, even." He's been idly stroking the back of Lu Han's neck as he talks, sending shivers down Lu Han's spine.


Lu Han's drunk because he hates his colleagues and he hates his job and sometimes he hates his life. He doesn't tell Tao that. Instead he says, "It's just been a bad week. But it's better now." He blushes when he realises how cheesy that sounds, although he's being completely sincere. He's lucky that Tao seems to find him amusing rather than creepy.


"Well," Tao says, and Lu Han thinks that he sounds a little regretful, "I should go."


"Oh. Yeah. Of course." Lu Han realises that they've spent far too long in this room - at least 30 minutes - and when Tao gets off his lap, Lu Han grabs his wallet to pay him.


"Ah, you don't have to -- I didn't even give you a dance --" Tao protests when Lu Han pulls out all the money he has.


Lu Han stops him with a stern look. "If you hadn't spent time with me, you would've danced for someone else - right?"


"Yeah…"


Lu Han presses the money into his hand. He doesn't know exactly how much he's giving Tao but it doesn't matter. It's pathetic but he thinks it's money well spent considering it's the nicest evening he's had in ages. "Then you're taking this." Sitting down for the past 30 minutes has sobered Lu Han up considerably, but when he stands all the blood rushes into his legs, making him wince. Tao immediately comes to this side to support him and Lu Han gives in the urge to lean against Tao, feeling his body flush against his - just momentarily - before he pulls himself away. "Thanks. I'm fine. It's just pins and needles."


All the skin contact is making Lu Han heady. He hadn't realised how much he'd craved it - just the plain sensation of being touched, skin on skin. His parents have never been physically affectionate, and haven't hugged him since he graduated, and it's been years and years since Lu Han dated someone. He finds himself regretting pulling away so soon, even though he knows that it wouldn't have been appropriate to have lingered any longer.


Outside the room, Tao turns to him before he wanders off. "See you next week?"


If it's possible, Lu Han is even more hopelessly, helplessly, hooked than before. "Definitely."




*




"Ahhhh shit!" Lu Han swears loudly when he almost drops his keys during his hasty attempt to lock the front door.


He's running late and his hangover isn't helping. He didn't have time (or the stomach) to eat anything, only just managing to swallow a couple of painkillers before sprinting out of his apartment. He hopes they'll kick in soon, preferably before he reaches the park and is surrounded by shouting children.


When he arrives, only a tiny bit late according to his watch, it looks like the match has just started. It doesn't take him long to spot his best friend, Minseok, on the sideline with the other parents. He's all zipped up in a large hooded sweatshirt and already cheering proudly.


It's Minseok's son's first football match. Jongdae is five and tiny, and it takes a while for Lu Han to find him amongst the other children on the field. His cheeks are pink and he's cute in his oversized jersey, the shirt hanging almost down past mid-thigh. He looks like he's having fun.


"Lu," Minseok greets when Lu Han comes to stand next to him. "I can't believe you're late! You're never late for anything."


His friend might be teasing him, but he's correct: Lu Han is always punctual. He can't remember the last time he was delayed for anything, with the exception of today. He blames his hangover, his late night, and the fact that children's sporting matches are held stupidly early on a Saturday morning.


"Remember when we used to play?" Minseok asks as they watch. There's chaos on the field as the children run around, uncaring of which position they're meant to be playing, their limbs barely coordinated.


"Of course," Lu Han replies. He's been friends with Minseok for a long time, since primary school, and once upon a time they were both five and running around a football field like the kids they're currently watching.


"I still don't know why you gave it up," Minseok says. "You were so good."


"You were good too," Lu Han tells him.


Minseok shakes his head, then lets out an encouraging shout as Jongdae tries to tackle another child for the ball. "I never took it as seriously as you did. I always thought that you could play professionally, I was so surprised when I came back and found out that you'd quit."


Minseok went away on exchange in their last year of high school. They didn't see each other for six months, and in that time Lu Han quit football altogether. He didn't tell Minseok until he returned, and by then it was too late for his friend to change his mind.


"I was never good enough for it to be anything other than a hobby. "


Minseok side eyes him, and appears about to argue when Jongdae's team gains possession of the ball, and there's a flurry of activity as eleven five year olds rush towards the goal, Jongdae in the middle of them. They're not skillful but at least they have enthusiasm on their side, and the defending team look confused and unsure of what they're meant to be doing. The child playing centre position shoots, his kick jerky, and the ball wobbles towards the goal but misses by a narrow margin.


All the parents groan.


The children are having so much fun, their faces pink with exertion. Even though they didn't get a goal, Jongdae is beaming, and Minseok gives him a thumbs up as he runs back to his position.


Lu Han has no doubt that Minseok will be on the sidelines for every one of Jongdae's games - just like his mum and dad did. Not like Lu Han's. Lu Han's own parents never once came to watch him play, and it was Minseok's family who ferried him to matches and practice.


Lu Han finds himself tensing at the memory, and forces himself to relax, to stop digging his nails into the palms of his hands.


The whistle blows for half time and Lu Han stops thinking about it.




*




"Thanks Ma," Lu Han says politely as she hands him a cup of tea. "And how have you and dad been?"


His mother insists on seeing him at least once a week, so Lu Han, ever the dutiful son, drops by after Jongdae's football match. He always does his best to time his visits so he can keep them short.


"Oh, you know. We're okay. Getting older every day." She says it casually but Lu Han knows that it's another dig at him, an implied comment about the fact that he hasn't settled down yet. "You? How's work?"


Work is work. Corporate law is boring and he hates it. The more years he spends in it, the more he despises everything about it - his clients, his colleagues, the focus on money and power.


He must have screwed up his face at his mother's question because she asks, "What's wrong? Has something happened at the firm? I thought things were going well there."


"Nothing's happened. I just… it's nothing." There's no point in telling her, so he changes the topic. "I went to Jongdae's first football match this morning. Minseok says hi."


"Ahh. He's such a good boy," Lu Han's mother says with a smile. "So filial and polite. I saw his mother the other day - she was gushing about Jongdae."


Why is it that every comment she makes feels like a slight? Unspoken is the implication that Minseok is a good son - unlike Lu Han - because he's married and has a child.


Nothing that Lu Han has done has ever been good enough - not ever. He quit football, he became a lawyer, he's wasted his youth chasing a validation that will never come.


His mother notices, of course, because she's perceptive in some ways when it comes to Lu Han. "Hannie. What's wrong? You're so grumpy today. Really - is something going on at work?"


Lu Han gives her a fake smile. "No, sorry. It was just an early morning today. Your garden is looking nice," he says, trying to subtly encourage her to talk about something else. It works, and she tells him which vegetables are ready to harvest, and the work she needs to do to put the garden to bed for the winter.


She doesn't seem to notice that Lu Han isn't really listening, that he's just nodding politely as he drinks his tea. It's interesting that, in other ways, she's not perceptive at all when it comes to Lu Han.




*




The following Friday, Lu Han manages to find a suitable excuse to decline the regular invite to after work drinks, and he makes it to the club early enough to get his usual table. He removes his tie and rolls up his shirt sleeves to the elbow before relaxing back into his seat.


Normally Sehun is on at this time but they seem to have switched up the slots because there's a different boy on stage. Like Tao he's tall and tanned - this club seems to have a plethora of incredibly good looking men - but while he's a beautiful fluid dancer, Lu Han just finds himself hoping that Tao still has his regular time slot.


While he's waiting for a drink to be delivered, Sehun slinks over to his table. "Would you like a dance?" he asks. He's dressed in a pair of shorts - not as tiny or as tight as Tao's normally are - and a large tank top that's so long it shows off most of his chest. There's a smear of something glittery on his skin, and it catches the light as he moves, his bare collarbones twinkling each time he moves.


Lu Han shakes his head, declining politely.


Sehun gives him a little pout and Lu Han is starting to revise his earlier perceptions of him being cold. "You must be the one Tao told me about. It's not fair that he gets all the cute customers."


"Tao talked about me?"


Sehun shrugs a slim shoulder. Lu Han realises immediately that they probably talk about all their customers, and that it's not as if he's specifically special. "Yeah… He said you were nice." He gives Lu Han a coy glance. "And that you tipped well."


At that Lu Han blushes, remembering that in his drunken state he'd given Tao all the money he had on him. To be fair, even if he'd been sober, he probably would've still done the same.


"Anyway," Sehun says, hand coming up to toy with strap of his tank top, as if he's going to tug it down. "If you change your mind, or want something a bit different…"


"Thanks," Lu Han tells him quickly to stop him. "I'll let you know." But before Sehun can leave, Lu Han asks, "Wait - is Tao up next?"


At that Sehun gives him a little smirk. "Yeah, he'll be on soon. There's a little surprise coming up. Enjoy."


Lu Han nearly chokes on his drink when the "surprise" is unveiled. It's Tao and the guy who was on stage during Sehun's usual slot - together.


There's not much of a routine - it mostly consists of them grinding up against each other, but the patrons in the club go wild, shouting out encouragement as the pair dance together so closely they're practically one.


It's exaggerated and obviously for show, but they both play their roles well, giving each other such heated glances that even Lu Han can feel the temperature rising from his seat. At one point the new guy runs his hand up Tao's spine and up the back of his neck to grab a fistful of hair, jerking Tao's head back. Tao's entire stance relaxes, goes limp in the other guy's hold, and Lu Han lets out a shaky breath as mental images flash into his mind.


The joint routine ends with an almost kiss, Tao turning his face away just before their lips connect. After a pause to catch their breaths, the other dancer exits the stage, leaving Tao alone.


Lu Han watches Tao's solo routine in a daze, shifting uncomfortably. He doesn't know how to feel. It was hot and erotic but Lu Han also feels -- he feels -- it takes him a long moment before he finds the right description for the unrest in his veins, ultimately deciding that it's envy, not jealousy.


Later, when Tao drops by his table, Lu Han is practically out of his seat before Tao can even get out his question about a lap dance.


Once they're in the private room, Lu Han doesn't let Tao lead him to the chair in the middle, instead going to the small two seater couch that's pushed up against one wall. At Tao's questioning glance, Lu Han says, "Can we just talk again?"


Tao's face splits into a grin. "Really? Sure. Do you want me to sit on your lap again?"


Lu Han goes bright pink, and it's answer enough for Tao, who drapes himself sideways across Lu Han's legs, one arm slung around Lu Han's neck. Lu Han circles his arms around Tao's torso and tries not to hold on too tightly. Tao, like Sehun, is wearing a long tank top tonight but it's so lowcut that if Lu Han looks down he could easily see the firm planes of his chest. He resists the urge.


"Did you like my routine tonight?" Tao asks once he's comfortably settled.


"I did…"


"Did you like the part with Jongin?"


"The other guy? I --" Lu Han stutters, looking away, afraid that Tao will be able to read the emotion on his face. "Yeah. It was really hot."


He can tell Tao is pleased by the compliment. He seems pleased by all compliments and Lu Han wants to shower him with them, wants to stroke his hair and tell him how beautiful he is. But no doubt he hears it all the time.


Just like the previous week, Lu Han encourages Tao to talk about whatever he wants. A few minutes after he starts, Tao settles down further, curling up so he can rest his head on Lu Han's shoulder.


Lu Han's heart flutters a little, and he gently, gently, tightens his hold.




*




This continues on for weeks. Lu Han visits the club on Friday nights, watches Tao's routine, and then Lu Han pays him to sit on his lap and talk to him.


He finds Tao surprisingly open, willing to answer all the questions that Lu Han asks. Even though Lu Han is careful not to ask questions that could be considered too private, Tao doesn't seem to mind giving him personal information. He's probably too candid for his own good and Lu Han wonders if it's due to youth or naivety. Or something else.


During a conversation where Lu Han admits that he's a lawyer, Tao even tells Lu Han why he strips.


"It's for the money, of course," Tao admits freely, and so casually that he's obviously unashamed about it. "I also work in a bar, but I earn more in one night here than in a week at the bar, so…" he shrugs like it's an obvious choice. Tao's saving money to travel - he has a vague outline of where he wants to go first, and a goal of how much money he wants to start with, and then? "I'll just see what happens."


There are times when Tao makes Lu Han feel particularly old and jaded. Tao expresses himself in a way that exposes how he sees the world - full of opportunity despite any limitations. And yet there's something alluring about him that keeps drawing Lu Han back.


At his age, Lu Han was in the middle of his studies, chasing an embossed piece of paper that - these days - he'd like to burn. He finds it surprising that Tao's family seem to support him in his endeavours. Although they don't know he's a stripper, Tao talks highly and lovingly about them, and it's apparent that they have a good relationship.


But it's not just Tao who talks. Lu Han finds himself telling Tao things about himself that he rarely discusses - even things that he normally keeps to himself. Lu Han doesn't know why he finds him so easy to talk to. Maybe it's Tao's sweetness, his earnestness, his lack of judgement. He has a simplicity about him that Lu Han isn't used to. He's simultaneously the most open and intriguing person that Lu Han's met in a long time.


One Friday Lu Han asks Tao about his piercings.


They're something that Lu Han has admired for a while. Personally, he's always wanted to pierce his ears but never went through with it, afraid of what his parents would say and how he would be perceived. Tao doesn't have that concern considering how many he has - six on the left ear and two on the right. He doesn't always wear the full complement, but when he does it's striking - particularly due to his penchant for sparkly gemmed studs or small dangly crosses. Tao allows him to touch them, to run his fingertip down the shell of his ear, and it makes Tao shiver on Lu Han's lap.


Lu Han has to pull away before he succumbs to the urge to find out what else makes Tao tremble like that.


The day after that Lu Han finds himself walking into a piercing parlour, coming out with a stud in his left ear. He tells himself that it's not because Tao told him that he'd look good with one.


"What is that?!" Minseok asks when he next sees him at another one of Jongdae's football games. It's further into the season and getting cold, and Minseok is all bundled up in a bulky coat and thick scarf. "Aren't you a little old to be getting a piercing?"


"No," Lu Han says immediately, touching it self-consciously. It's still new and only half healed. "Why would you say that?" He's embarrassed though because Minseok speaks the blunt truth, as always. He probably is too old for it.


Minseok slings an arm around his shoulder. "I was only joking. It looks good." They watch the kids for a while and then he asks, "Hey, are you free to babysit on Friday night?"


"Umm… how long for?"


"A couple of hours. It's fine if you can't, I can ask someone else - I'm sure work is really busy for you."


"No, it's not that. I could… I just need to leave by 10.30pm."


"Really? Why, you have a date?" Even though Minseok is just teasing, Lu Han can't deny it in time, and Minseok's eyes widen. "Wait - you do! Who with?"


"No, no, it's not like that," Lu Han tries to say, doing his best to dampen the conversation before it goes into territory he's not willing to talk about.


Realisation dawns on Minseok's face. "The earring… Okay, you need to tell me everything."


Fortunately they're interrupted by a flurry of action on field. One of the kids - fortunately not Jongdae - has tripped and is in tears. It's only a temporary reprieve though. They've been friends since they were toddlers, and Lu Han knows that Minseok won't let it go.


And soon enough, once all the kids have been calmed down and the match has resumed, Minseok says sternly, "Right. Spill."


Lu Han starts with, "It's not a date." Just to make things clear, but Minseok eyes him knowing.


"But you've met someone?"
Lu Han hates the fact that he can't lie to his best friend when he's asking him a direct question. "Sort of."


Minseok can somehow read between Lu Han's two words. "You've met someone you like."


"...yes."


Minseok frowns at him, like he's trying to figure out what Lu Han isn't saying. "There's a problem… Are they married?"


"No! God, no!"


Minseok reaches out for Lu Han's hand, before very carefully asking, "Is it a guy?" His grip is strong, and Lu Han can't pull away, even as his heart speeds up.


"Why-- why-- what--" he sputters, hoping that no one around them is eavesdropping on their conversation. Minseok doesn't say anything, just waits, until Lu Han lets out a quiet, "Yes." Lu Han looks down at the grass. "How did you know?" Lu Han has never told him.


Minseok doesn't answer his question directly, instead saying, "Remember the speech you made at my wedding? When you said that you knew I would marry her before the thought had even entered my mind?" Lu Han nods. His best friend was so in love, that he knew 6 months before Minseok proposed that's where they were headed. "The way you knew? That's how I know. I've known for a long time, and it's never made a difference to me."


Lu Han can't cry, not here, not surrounded by parents and children. Minseok squeezes his hand before releasing him.


"Tell me about this guy."


Lu Han doesn't tell Minseok everything, instead giving him the brief version, knowing that the things he doesn't say are the important things: he's a stripper and I pay him to talk to me. Instead he tells Minseok that Tao is handsome, that he's kind, that he likes photography and puppies and has a multitude of piercings.


Minseok interrupts him in the middle of his gushing. "You really like him."


Lu Han has barely admitted it to himself, but now he has to confess it to his best friend. "I really like him. But… it's not going to go anywhere. He's too young for me."


"I think," Minseok tells him, "That you shouldn't worry about things like that. If you like him, and he likes you, then you should give it a chance."


Lu Han smiles and nods, but inside he tastes sadness. He doesn't know if Tao likes him - but even if he did, Lu Han is not good at taking chances. He's good at taking the safe road - the one where he knows the destination. Tao is too much of an unknown.


Suddenly Minseok is shaking his arm, shouting. On field, Jongdae has the ball, running as fast as his little legs can carry him. He kicks, missing, but it doesn't deter him and he tries again. This one connects strongly, sending it flying towards goal and straight into the net past the goalie.


It's the first goal of the game and Jongdae's team erupt into cheers. It takes over a minute before the coach can calm them enough to get them back into position to restart the game.


"That's my son!" Minseok is saying to anyone within earshot. "Did you see that? That's my son!" He claps Lu Han on the back, lit up with happiness and pride. "His first goal! That's my boy!"


The rest of the game is uneventful, and Jongdae's team win from the one goal that he scored. Minseok gives Jongdae a big hug when he comes off the field, his son tiny in his arms, but flushed and happy.


"Did you see my goal, Uncle Han?" Jongdae asks, bouncing on his toes and beaming up at him.


"Yes, and you were great," Lu Han tells him, smiling, ruffling his slightly sweaty hair as Minseok wipes a cloth over Jongdae's face, cleaning off the dirt he'd managed to amass on his cheeks.


"Keep working hard and one day you'll be as good as your Uncle Han was," Minseok tells his son, and Lu Han knows that it's a compliment but there's a familiar ache in his chest that he's been ignoring for a long time.


"You'll be better," Lu Han tells Jongdae, knowing that it's the absolute truth. "You'll be much better."




*



"If you don't like your job, why don't you quit?" Tao asks him one Friday. He's curled up in Lu Han's lap, as per usual, and it's pathetic how quickly this has become the highlight of Lu Han's week, how much he looks forward to these 30 minutes. He hasn't told Tao that much about his work, just that it's boring, but Tao, although young and naive in many ways, is astute enough to hear the words that Lu Han doesn't say.


Lu Han doesn't know how to answer Tao's question, because - oddly enough - he's never considered quitting. What would he do if he did? Go to another firm? It would be much the same, wouldn't it?


"It might be different," Tao argues. "You'd have different colleagues, maybe you'd have different types of cases. You might be happier."


And if he wasn't?


Tao shrugs. "Then you could go somewhere else. Try something else."


It's conversations like these that make Lu Han aware of how much younger Tao is. Tao sees situations like these as easy - if one thing doesn't work, then try something else. He hasn't had enough experience in the real world to know that life doesn't work that way. Sometimes life is a trap - you make a choice and then you're stuck with it, hurtling too fast down a one way street.


Lu Han can feel Tao frowning against his neck. He's tense now, and Lu Han strokes down the curve of his spine to calm him. He's not afraid to touch him anymore, not after weeks of this, but he's still careful about it. He doesn't want Tao to think of him as one of them - those sleazy guys who leer at him and say degrading things to him as he dances. Lu Han might be sleazy in his own way - no doubt their chats could be construed as such - but at least he's not like that. At some point Lu Han stopped thinking of Tao as the incredibly sexy stripper, and as… Tao.


"What would you do if you weren't a lawyer?"


"I don't know." Lu Han went into law to please his parents, even though that was one of their disappointments because his grades weren't good enough for him to go into medicine. "I -- I used to want to play football." Lu Han has never actually voiced this to anyone - not even Minseok. "But that was ages ago. I'm far too old for it now - I haven't played in years."


"Why did you stop? Did you get injured?"


If only Lu Han had an excuse like that. "No. I -- it was just a foolish teenage dream. That's all it was."


Tao pulls away so he can look him in the eye. "There are no dreams that are foolish."


All dreams are foolish, Lu Han thinks, but doesn't say. Especially this one.




*



Lu Han's been reading and rereading the same contract for hours and has only made it a few pages in. One of the other associates drafted it, and it's up to Lu Han to review it to ensure that it's legally valid and enforceable.


It's a dull, boring, job but vitally important. This particular client might be small compared to some of the others they have, but this is a million dollar deal, and Lu Han needs to ensure that all terms are correct. Normally he can do this sort of work with ease. He's not fast at it, but he's accurate, and that's more important than speed.


Today though, even though it's quiet in his office, he can't seem to focus. His mind keeps wandering off the words on the page and towards his conversation with Tao the previous week.


He shakes his head, thinking about the question that Tao asked him. Why don't you just quit?


It might be easy for someone like Tao, but it's not that simple for Lu Han. He has a mortgage, responsibilities, a career to think about. Besides - it's not like it's so bad that he needs to quit. Is it? Admittedly, he has said that he hates it - abet only to himself and Tao - but people do things they hate all the time. It's not like his parents enjoy their jobs. His father doesn't work 18 hours a day, 6 days a week, because he enjoys it. His mother doesn't clean houses for the super rich because she enjoys it. Sometimes you just have to endure, and it'll be worth it in the end. That's what he's always been taught.


Funnily enough, he's never once considered what's waiting for him at the end.


Lu Han gives up, deciding that he needs a break before he can tackle the contract again. He leaves his office, going to the staff room. He bypasses the tea, reaching for the coffee container instead. Even instant coffee, as disgusting as it is, is better than tea. He's never told her, but he's never liked it and only drinks it when he's with his mother.


As he's stirring hot water into the coffee powder, two junior associates from a different team enter the kitchen.


"Hey! Lu Han!" one of them, Chanyeol, says. The other, Yifan, gives him a less exuberant greeting.


Lu Han politely says hello. He knows that Chanyeol will try and strike up a conversation - he's overly friendly, no matter how many times Lu Han tries to shut down his attempts.


And as expected: "How's your day going?" Chanyeol asks brightly. Lu Han thinks that it's almost genuine and is tempted to congratulate him.


"Alright," Lu Han answers shortly. "Reviewing a long contract."


"Fun," Yifan comments dryly, his sarcasm evident. He's a bit more reserved than Chanyeol, and the two seem to roam the office as a pair. They started at the firm around the same time, and everyone seems to love them. But Lu Han has knows their type: tall, handsome, smart, wealthy - and assholes.


He doesn't bother asking how they are, not particularly interested in making small talk. Instead, he extracts himself from the staff room with a muttered, "Should get back to it," and sequesters himself back in his office with his coffee.


With a sigh, Lu Han picks up his favourite red pen and gets back to work.




*




It's Thursday night and Lu Han is at Minseok's place.


While Minseok bathes Jongdae, Lu Han picks up the dirty mugs sitting on the coffee table, taking them through to the kitchen and putting them in the dishwasher. He wipes down the benches, and stows the cereal box still sitting on the table back into the pantry. Lu Han has always known his best friend to be orderly and clean - he's been that way ever since he was a child. Minseok was the type who always put his toys away, or hung up his coat immediately after taking it off. His wife, Junmi, is the exact opposite, and apparently Minseok's bordering on obsessive tidiness has given up the battle.


Lu Han busies himself cleaning a little, returning to the living room and collecting Jongdae's toys and clothes. By the time he's finished he finds Minseok leaning against the doorway, watching him.


"You don't have to do that."


"I don't mind. Is Jongdae asleep?"


"Yeah, he was out like a light."


They settle on the couch and Minseok flicks on the TV. Lu Han's over to watch a football match, but they still have a bit of time before it starts, the screen still playing the pre-game programming. They've been friends for so long that they don't need to talk whenever they're together - they can sit in silence and be comfortable. But after a while, Minseok asks, "How's things going with that guy you like? Have you told him yet?"


"No, not yet." But Lu Han has been thinking about it, about just saying what he actually feels for once in his life. But then there's the part of him that says that his feelings can't possibly be mutual.


All the words that Lu Han has always kept to himself are starting to feel heavy.


"You should," Minseok encourages. "Just tell him."


Lu Han nods. "Yeah." He draws a shaky breath, nervous just from discussing it, finding his palms sweaty. "Maybe I'll say something tomorrow."


"You don't have anything to worry about, you know? He'd be crazy to reject you. You're an amazing person, Lu. Don't forget that."






*




Half time




Lu Han licks his lips nervously as Tao gets settled on his lap. He's going to do it. He's going to tell him.


"I have something to tell you," Tao says to him. He seems nervous and for a moment Lu Han's heart starts ascending in hope. "It's my last shift tonight. I've saved up all I need and… I'm leaving in a couple of weeks." He bites his bottom lip, clearly nervous about Lu Han's reaction.


Lu Han's heart crashes to the ground and shatters.


He plasters a smile on his face. If there's one thing lu Han is good at, it's pretending everything is fine.


"Oh. That's great. Really - that's great!" He covers up his disappointment by asking Tao about his plans, and Tao is so excited - now that he's dropped his news - that he doesn't notice that Lu Han is faking it.


"So where are you going first?" Lu Han asks him. "Have you booked everything? Where are you staying?"


"I dunno! I have a flight to Colombia - I'm going to start in Bogota, stay for a few days, and then figure things out from here." He seems hopelessly underprepared, in the way that only someone who's young and who has all the time in the world can be. All his plans seem vague and he seems to be banking a lot on I'll just see what happens!


How is he not afraid? Nervous? Worried about what he's going to do after his money runs out?


"Well, I can always strip again - right?" Tao laughs when Lu Han asks him that question. "If I get too desperate, all I need to do is scrape up enough for a flight home." He's particularly animated tonight, all wriggly in Lu Han's lap, hands gesturing wildly as he speaks. And then he realises how he's acting. "Sorry. I guess I'm just excited." He calms down, settling into his usual position with his head on Lu Han's shoulder.


Lu Han is going to miss this. He holds Tao tightly and thinks about how much he's going to fucking miss this. And it's probably not just Tao, but also that, for 30 minutes every week, he has someone who's solely focussed on him. Who's only talking to him. Who's listening to him.


It's like having a therapist - the most bewitching, warm, attractive therapist possible, who sits on his lap and strokes his ego.


"Y'know… I feel bad that I've never properly danced for you."


"Don't be. This has been… I've really enjoyed our time together. I'm going to miss it."


"Oh," Tao hums. "When I go -- you could ask one of the others? It depends on what you want. Jongin doesn't talk much, but if you want someone to listen - he's great. Sehun, however, isn't so good at listening but when he gets comfortable with someone you can't shut him up."


Lu Han revises his earlier thoughts. It is Tao. He can't imagine doing this with someone else. He doesn't want to.


He can feel Tao hesitating, his fingers beating out a nervous rhythm on his shoulder. "Can I ask you something?"


"Yeah?"


"Why have you never hit on me? You don't think I'm attractive?"


"I think you're very attractive."


"Then why?"


Because, Lu Han thinks, that if he ever admitted how much he wants Tao, he'd never be able to forget it. Because Lu Han is the master of denying what he wants, he's the master for settling for second best instead. He opens his mouth to give a glib answer, but finds Tao's lips against his instead. They're soft and slightly chapped, the kiss tentative and unsure, but it's enough to make Lu Han forget his control, tilting his head so he can kiss Tao back thoroughly. He kisses him hungrily - mapping out his mouth, wanting to know him, consume him - as he pulls Tao tightly against him, Tao's bare chest hot and firm even through the layers of Lu Han's shirt. Lu Han kisses him until they're both breathless, until he has to pull away, his head reeling.


"Our time must be up," Lu Han finally manages to choke out. Tao pouts but Lu Han nudges him off his lap and to his feet. "It's time to go."


"But…"


"Thank you," Lu Han tells him, pulling out a stack of bills from his wallet. "I hope your trip goes well." He needs to get out of this room, get away from Tao, before he says anything stupid.


"Lu -- "


Lu Han doesn't let him finish, pushing him towards the door, his urgency readily apparent. "Safe travels. Thanks again."


Tao gives him a long look, his eyes half hooded. He seems a little like a lost puppy but Lu Han can't think about why right now - can't allow himself to. Finally, Tao nods, closing his fist around the money Lu Han has given him. "Thanks. Bye."


Lu Han can't help himself - he watches Tao disappear into the club, shoulders back and head held high. The bouncer stationed outside the door of the private room gives him a sympathetic look but doesn't say anything.


Lu Han wipes the sweetness off his mouth, tries to forget that he's ever tasted it, because now he knows for sure that all sugar turns bitter at the end.

part 2
Tags: - round 1 (2015), rating: r
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