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



2.


Lu Han reads the last line of the story, closing the book. Jongdae is almost asleep, his blinks slow and heavy, and Minseok leans over to give him a kiss, tucking the covers around his face and wishing him a quiet good night.


"Good night," Lu Han echoes, and then follows Minseok out of Jongdae's room. They go into the kitchen, where Minseok opens the fridge, retrieving a couple of bottles of beer.


They twist the caps off, leaning against the kitchen counter.


"Thanks for coming over," Minseok says. He looks tired, dark bags under his eyes. Lu Han hasn't quite figured out why yet - his friend had texted him at the end of the day asking if he was free for a couple of hours. Lu Han had shown up in the middle of Jongdae's bedtime routine, and Jongdae had demanded that Lu Han read him a bedtime story, pulling on his hand and taking him to the bookshelf to select a book.


In the end, he read Jongdae three stories. Minseok, while a very loving father, is normally more disciplined than that, but tonight he lets it slide.


"Is everything alright?" Lu Han asks. Minseok doesn't respond straight away, taking a few more sips from his bottle.


"I'm getting a divorce."


"Oh. Shit. Seokkie, I --" Lu Han doesn't know what to say. He's never been good at this type of stuff and this is completely unexpected. Lu Han had always assumed that Minseok and Junmi would be together forever.


"She's moved out," Minseok continues, and his face looks haggard in the harsh kitchen lighting.


"I'm so sorry." Lu Han sets his beer down so he can wrap his best friend into a hug. "I'm really, really sorry."


Minseok and Junmi have been together for almost ten years. Lu Han can't imagine how it must feel to accept that things are over. But Minseok seems more resigned than anything, and it's as if the news is affecting Lu Han more than him. Lu Han really thought that they'd be together forever. He'd never seen a couple so well matched before, never known two people to complement one another so well. If they couldn't make it work - what hope is there for anyone else?


"Anyway," Minseok says after a while. "It's okay. We're okay. Sometimes things just don't work out." He sighs heavily, shaking his head. "The hardest thing was telling Jongdae."


"He'll be okay," Lu Han consoles. "He's resilient." Children are - aren't they? Until they grow up and harden, become brittle and breakable.


"Yeah. I keep telling myself that it's better for him in the long run. We don't hate one another - yet - so it's better that we separate now before we get too bitter. That would be the worst - to stay together for him and create a miserable environment." They drink in silence for a while until Minseok checks his watch. "Do you need to leave in a couple of hours?"


While it's a Friday night, Lu Han hasn't been to the club in weeks - not since Tao left. "I don't have to go."


"Not seeing your friend tonight? Did you ever tell him that you like him?"


Lu Han hasn't told Minseok the latest. He's been doing his best not to think about Tao at all. It's just another chapter of his life that's over.


"Not really. It doesn't matter anyway - it was never going to come to anything. He's moved away, so…"


Minseok gives him a look that tells Lu Han he's going to pry everything out of him. Lu Han shrinks a little and tries to stay tight lipped but over the next hour Lu Han finds himself telling Minseok everything.

Minseok, to his credit, doesn't judge him, but he does shake his head exasperatedly. "Well, we're a right pair. I'm getting a divorce and you're in love with a stripper. Could we be any sadder?"


"I never said love!" Even Lu Han winces at the volume of his own voice, and they both listen out to check that he hasn't woken up Jongdae.


When all seems quiet, Minseok says, in a more reasonable volume, "Why didn't you tell him? God, he kissed you - why didn't you say anything?"


Lu Han waves his hand in a hopeless gesture. "What was the point? He was leaving and it probably wouldn't have worked out anyway. I mean - even you and Junmi haven't worked out." Now that he's heard about Minseok's divorce, he feels amply justified. What's the point of even trying if it's not going to work out? Why put yourself through all that heartache? That effort? This is why it's not worth it, you should just do what's expected of you.


Minseok is looking at him like he's a fool. "Just because it hasn't worked out doesn't mean I wouldn't do it again. It's been the best time of my life - we have Jongdae and ten years of wonderful memories. I mean, of course I'm sad that it's over, but I don't regret any of it." His tone turns gentle. "I think it would be worse to regret the things I never had the courage to do - don't you?"


Lu Han can't answer that question because those are the only regrets that he has.




*




"And how have you been, Ma?" Lu Han asks, after he's given her a kiss on the cheek. He hands her a bunch of flowers that he purchased on the way there. They're cheap grocery store flowers. Once upon a time he would've bought her an extravagant bouquet but these days he's smarter.


Because instead of saying thank you, she tsks and says, "I've told you so many times not to spend your money on me." Every time Lu Han disappoints her it still stings, although he should be long used to it by now, no matter how much he tells himself he no longer cares.


He follows her into the kitchen as she fusses around, hunting in the cupboard for a vase. She finally fishes one out, hidden right at the back, one that looks like it may have been a wedding present judging by how dated it looks. He brings her flowers at least once a month. He doesn't know why the vase always migrates its way to the back of the cupboard.


While she gets the vase, Lu Han starts the kettle to make tea.


"Use the new bag of gyokura I bought," she instructs as she's placing the flowers into water. His mother has always been a frugal person, and tea is her one extravagance.


Once the tea has steeped enough, they carefully take their cups through to the living room.


As per usual, his mother asks Lu Han how work is going. Normally he answers with it's fine or something equally unmeaningful but lately he's been thinking a lot. About his conversations with Minseok, with Tao.


"It's awful," he says instead, and it's the most honest thing he's said to her in a long time.


She pauses, her tea cup halfway to her lips. "Awful? I thought it was going well. Didn't you say that you thought you might make partner?"


He had told her that, and it's true. He even feigned enthusiasm about it, even though it feels like it might be a lead weight around his neck, anchoring him there, trapping him forever.


"Yeah, but… I just don't..."


"Don't what? What are you talking about?"


"My job, my career, everything, it's all wrong."


He can see how her forehead creases as she tries to understand what he's saying. "What's happened? You've always liked law? What have you done?"


Why is it that she always assumed that it's something he's done? Suddenly, all the built up resentment, all the bitterness lodged in his throat, comes spewing out. "I haven't done anything! I hate law, I've always hated it!" he blurts, his hands shaking so much he has to put down his cup of tea before it spills.


She's so confused, looking at him like he's someone she doesn't recognise. "Where is this coming from? You've always said that you enjoyed it. I mean - that's what you choose, and -"


Lu Han cuts her off. "I never wanted to go into law, but you…" he cuts himself off, pressing his lips firmly together before he can say anything more that he regrets.


"Me? I didn't tell you to --"


"But you wanted me to. Actually, no, sorry, you wanted me to be a doctor, but I wasn't good enough for that." The weight of her expectations has crushed Lu Han down over the years. He's shouldered it all, done his best to keep up, to be the person she wants him to be. But he's not. He never will be.


His mother carefully sets her cup down on a coaster, before folding her hands in her lap. "The only thing I ever wanted was for you to be successful, to have a better life than I had."


There's no point in even continuing this conversation, Lu Han already knows how it will end. It'll end up with him apologising and promising that he'll try harder.


Lu Han takes a tiny sip of his tea, the liquid hot on his tongue. His mother never drinks it sweetened, and by now Lu Han is used to the bitterness.




*




Lu Han is in the staff kitchen when Yifan enters, for once without Chanyeol. Yifan starts when he find Lu Han spaced out, staring blankly at the instant coffee.


"That stuff is gross," Yifan ventures, and Lu Han acknowledges his presence and his comment with a grunt. It's impolite of him - although he's not friendly, he's rarely impolite - but he's particularly tightly strung today.


Yifan stares at him for a moment. "Have we done something to you?"


Finally Lu Han stops spacing out, looking at him in surprise. "What?"


"Did we - Chanyeol and I - do something to offend you?"


"What?"


"It's pretty obvious that you don't like us, and i'm just trying to figure out why. Because if it was something we did, I'm sorry."


Lu Han can't help but look at him dumbly. "You haven't done anything."


"I know that Chanyeol can be a bit… excessive. But I think if you get to know him, both of us, better, you'll find that --"


"Why do I have to like you?" Lu Han finally snaps. "Am I ruining your perfect track record? Because everyone likes you - don't they? Why wouldn't they? I mean - look at you."


Yifan jerks, like he's been hit. "No, that's not why I'm --"


"I've known guys like you all my life. Forever looking down on me, looking down on everyone," Lu Han tells him, and it comes out colder than he expects. "So excuse me if I'm not interested in getting to know you. Either of you."


Lu Han shoulders past a shocked Yifan back to his office. He slides into his chair, already regretting the way he'd snapped. Normally he's so good at pretending, at telling people what they want to hear. First his mother, now Yifan.


There's a knock on his door, and when Lu Han says, "Come in," Chanyeol enters.


He's literally the last person that Lu Han had expected to see.


"Can I help you?"


"Why are you such a jerk?" It's probably not on purpose but Chanyeol looms over Lu Han's desk and it makes Lu Han feel small.


Lu Han's growth spurt didn't hit until he was in his late teens, later than a lot of the other boys. While his shorter stature back then tended to be an advantage for football, he still remembers hating that feeling of being tiny and slight.


"Excuse me?"


"Yifan told me what you said to him."


"Yeah, and?" Lu Han bristles, unconsciously drawing himself up in his chair.


"Did it ever occur to you that you're not being fair? You're judging us and you don't even know us! What do you mean, guys like us? We've never done anything to you! I've done my best to be friendly because we're around the same age, and everyone says you're really smart and that I could learn a lot from you, but you keep shooting me down. I thought I'd done something wrong, and now I find out it's because you 'know guys like us'? What the hell does that mean?"


"I don't think I need to explain myself to you," is all Lu Han can think to say because Chanyeol seems so offended, and it's not the reaction he expected.


"You're right - you don't. But maybe you need to take a good look at yourself. You seem to think that I'm prejudiced against you or some shit, but maybe you're actually the type of person you hate."




*




"Am I a jerk?"


"Sometimes," Minseok tells him calmly. Then he gives him a nudge. "Are you going to order or not?"


"Oh!" Lu Han turns back to the counter, not realising that the customer ahead of him had moved, and places his order. "I'll pay for his too," he tells the person behind the till, referring to Minseok.


"I tell you you're a jerk, and you pay for my coffee. I should insult you more often," Minseok says once they've moved away to wait.


"Shut up," Lu Han grumbles. "It was a serious question."


"And it was a serious answer. Yes, sometimes you're a jerk. But so am I. We all are. Why are you asking? Is this about Tao?"


Lu Han shakes his head. It's not about Tao - well, it's not just about Tao. Their order is called and they return to the counter to collect their coffees, before making their way out of the cafe. The winter is bitter this year, and they both shiver slightly as the wind blows through their coats.


Minseok takes a long sip and then asks him again. "You didn't answer my question - is this about Tao?"


"Not really. I don't know." Lu Han is starting to wonder if he's been wrong about a lot of things in his life.


"Such good company today," Minseok says sarcastically. "I'm glad I came out on my lunch break to see you." They've been friends for long enough for Lu Han to know there's no sting in his words, but he huddles down into his scarf, hiding his frown.


"Seriously," Lu Han says after a while, unable to let it go. "Am I mean to people?"


Minseok answers his question with one of his own. "Do you think you're mean to people?" It's a habit - answering Lu Han's questions with a question - that has always annoyed Lu Han, and he throws his best friend a sullen glare.


But after a while, he replies, "Sometimes. Sometimes I'm mean."


"Why? What makes you be mean to people?"


It's strange to think back now, but back in high school, Lu Han was popular. He had lots of friends - not just Minseok. He played sport, and he was attractive, and he was smart.


But then Minseok went away and Lu Han quit football, and it made him realise that his popularity lacked substance, was so light and airy that it was able to fly away on the flimsiest of excuses. And perhaps all he was good at was disappointing people. Guys who were no longer interested once he was no longer on their team. Girls who didn't want to be friends once they realised Lu Han could never like them the way they liked him.


They reach Minseok's office building, stopping just outside the doors. "Look, I don't know what's bothering you but we can talk more later if you like? Come over later tonight - after I've put Jongdae to bed."


Lu Han realises that, while he does want to talk more about this, he doesn't want to talk about it with Minseok. Minseok knows too much about him.


"No, it's fine," he tells his friend. "I'm fine. Just overthinking, as per usual. Enjoy the rest of your day."




*




After what feels like such a long absence, Lu Han feels weird walking back into the club, like he's not allowed to be there anymore.


He sits at the same table that he used to occupy, he can still recognise most of the other regular customers, but while everything is the same it all feels different. Sehun is wandering the floor, and when Lu Han spots him, he waves, gesturing him over.


Sehun seems to come over reluctantly. "Hi… do you want a dance?"


"No. I do want to talk to you though." Then, quickly, before he gets the wrong idea, "Not the way I talked to Tao - I just want to ask you a question."


Sehun eyes him, and it's a little wary. He knows, Lu Han thinks. "What do you want to ask?"


"I just want to know how he is."


"He's fine. He's great. He's having a really good time." Sehun shuffles a little awkwardly and then lifts his chin so he's peering down at Lu Han. "Anyway, if you don't want a dance, I should go."


"Wait! Can I -- is there a way I can contact him? Can I have his email address?"


"I don't think that's appropriate," Sehun says coldly and Lu Han thinks that Tao has told him everything.


"Well..." Lu Han gropes around in his mind for a compromise. "Can I give you mine to pass on to him? Can you tell him I asked about him? And that I would really like to stay in touch?"


Sehun's expression doesn't warm up at all, but he gives a little half hearted shrug that Lu Han takes for acceptance. He pulls out his wallet, taking out one of his business cards, along with a $50 note. He holds them both out. "Here's my details."


Sehun gives him a withering glare, like he's the scummiest man he's ever seen, and he plucks out the card, leaving the money behind. "I'm doing this for Tao. You can keep your money - you can't buy everything." He reads the card and then adds scornfully, "Lu Han."




*




Lu Han doesn't hear from Tao.


It was a long shot but the more days that pass with no email, the more Lu Han realises that he'd been hoping more than he'd been willing to admit to himself.




*




"No Ma," Lu Han says into the phone, "I can't make dinner." He does his best to keep his voice even, to not show that dinner with his parents is the very last thing he wants to do. "I'm just really busy at work," he half lies, knowing that it's the only excuse she'll accept.


It's a half lie because his work load is of his own making. Other associates think that he's putting in long hours to show his dedication, but actually it's because he doesn't want to go home.


Finally he manages to hang up the call, going back to his computer. The screen has gone to sleep and he wriggles his mouse to turn it back on.


He has an email.



FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
Subject: Hello







In his haste to open it, Lu Han almost knocks over the files sitting next to his keyboard. He rights them, stacking them up neatly, before he allows himself to turn back to his screen.





FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
Subject: Hello


sehun said you'd been asking about me?


so, hi?


tao







Lu Han quickly types out a response, although now he's not exactly sure of what he wants to say.





FROM: luhan@vlrk.com
RE: Hello


Hi Tao.


Thanks for emailing me… I really wasn't expecting you to.


I guess I just wanted to say hi, and that I hope you're doing well. How's the travels going?


Regards,
Lu Han







As soon as he sends it, he thinks - no, that's not what he wanted to write.


He types a new one and hits send before he can think too hard about it, before he can change his mind.



FROM: luhan@vlrk.com
RE: Hello


Actually, I really wanted to tell you that I miss you. I sincerely hope that you're well. I understand if you don't want anything more to do with me, but I just had to tell you.


Sorry.


Regards,
Lu Han







He manages to respond to a few more queries in his inbox - work related ones this time - when there's a ding notifying him of a new email.





FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
RE: Hello


hi


sorry for delayed response, had no internet access for ages, because i was on a ship in the galapagos.


also i don't know why you're apologising? i was the one who kissed you but i obv read it wrongly. i didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, i was surprised when sehun gave me your email.


travels are going really well. :) i don't know if you know much about the galapagos? i spent some time sailing around the diff islands - it's rly beautiful and all the diff islands are v. distinct. i saw tons of wildlife but my favourite were the tortoises. some of them are 100+ yrs old, pretty incredible. they were really cute, tho old and grumpy and quiet and slow - kind of reminded me of you. :) (jk)


tao









Lu Han reads Tao's email, and lets out a shaky laugh. He flops forward, resting his head on his desk, and draws in a deep breath. He doesn't think he's reading it wrong. Tao doesn't hate him - at least, he doesn't seem to.


He reads the email again - it's so Tao, and he can almost hear him talking - the way his voice goes all pitchy and fast when he gets excited about something, the way he mumbles certain words in that low drawl of his.


Lu Han settles back into his chair and starts typing a response.




*




Lu Han holds the ball in his hands, squeezing it in between his palms.


Once upon a time, this was the only thing he wanted in life.


The ball was purchased on a whim - on his way home from the office. As he was walking to the subway he passed a large sporting store - one that he sees every day. He doesn't know why, but something made him walk inside.


The ball is brand new and pristine, and from where he's holding it near his chest, he can smell the familiar tang of leather. He drops the ball to the grass and sets his foot on top of it to keep it still.


Lu Han is still in his suit and dress shoes - hardly appropriate attire to be playing football - and he ignores the odd looks that joggers send him as they run past.


It's been over ten years since Lu Han last played, and he's not sure if he remembers how. But when he starts he finds that muscle memory kicks in, and he falls into a dribbling drill that he's done many times, with ease.


Later, at home, when he's freshly showered and hair still wet, he flops on his couch and types out an email to Tao on his phone. They've been swapping emails for the past month. Tao has moved on from where he was and is somewhere… Lu Han isn't entirely sure where, but it sounds like he's having fun. He sends Lu Han emails when he can and Lu Han's been keeping track of his movements on Instagram.


Their emails have become increasingly personal - at least, Lu Han's have been. He finds himself typing emails to Tao at odd hours on random subjects, even when he knows that Tao won't have internet for a few days and can't respond promptly.


Over the past few emails they'd been writing about fears - brought on from Tao's descriptions of the huge bugs that he's been seeing.





FROM: luhan@vlrk.co
RE: Hi


It's not silly to be scared of bugs - they're disgusting! I'm scared of heights and that's about as silly.


By the way, you can stop nagging me about it now - I managed to apologise to those colleagues I told you about. I was right: they had been avoiding me, so it took a while to find the right situation where I could speak to them privately.


Maybe you're too young for this but… do you ever think about the things you wish you had done? Once upon a time I gave something up that could've changed my life... and now I don't know why.


(Sorry that this isn't a very chirpy email. You're halfway across the world and I'm still using you as my therapist. I'm sorry. I should wire you some money.)


Regards,
Lu Han







There's something about the distance that makes it easier for Lu Han to be open and frank in a way that he doesn't think he's ever been with anyone before. He sets his phone down and goes to bed. The next morning he has a new email waiting for him.





FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
>RE: Hi


i'm also scared of ghosts :( when i was a kid my older cousins dared me to go thru a haunted house alone. it was rly dark and scary! they didn't stop teasing me about it for ages and ages. :(


i guess everyone has regrets about things they haven't done? my wushu teacher once told me something i've never forgotten: most people wait for opportunity to find them, not realising that if they hold out their hands - it's sitting right there.


i guess what i'm saying is - you can't go back and grab an opportunity once it's lost, but next time you need to close your hand when another one comes by. :)


xoxo tao










FROM: luhan@vlrk.com
RE: Hi


You're quite wise sometimes. Maybe it's the wushu.


Regards,
Lu Han










FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
RE: Hi


maybe


>:) :) :)


xoxo tao









*




Later, Lu Han lies in the darkness of his apartment, unwilling to summon the energy to get up and turn on the light. With three bedrooms and two full size bathrooms, it's ridiculously large for one person. He doesn't even use half of the rooms available - one of the bedrooms is completely empty and he hasn't opened the door to it in over a year. He doesn't even need it for storage space.


He doesn't know why he bought the place, except - at the time - it felt like it was expected of him.


Lu Han is starting to realise that through his entire life, he's done far too many things solely due to other people's expectations.


Lu Han holds his hand up and splays out his fingers. Even in the gloom he can just make out the shape. He closes his hand into a fist and wonders if he's brave enough.




*




"And one more signature…. here!" the agent, immaculate in his pressed suit and whitened teeth, directs as he points to the space on the page. He'd taken great pains to impress upon Lu Han his successful track record and how he consistently manages to get the highest price for his clients, but Lu Han couldn't give a damn about that. He'd selected the man at random.


Lu Han scrawls in another signature and the agent beams at him, gathering up the paperwork before holding out his hand, pumping Lu Han's hand up and down firmly. "That's great, Mr Lu, I'll get the process started asap. This place will be in great demand, I don't foresee any problems."


Lu Han leads the agent out of his apartment, feeling lighter already.




*




Lu Han breaks the news to Minseok during dinner at his friend's place. Jongdae is with Junmi's, and it's just the two of them.


"So… where are you going to live?" Minseok asks, before eyeing him suspiciously. "You're not thinking about moving in with me, right?"


Lu Han laughs at that. "What? Of course not. I'll worry about that later - my place hasn't even sold yet."


Minseok hums thoughtfully. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were having a mid-life crisis."


"It's not like that."


"Uh huh," Minseok says. "That's what you say now - I expect that you'll be buying a ridiculous sports car before long." He gathers their plates and takes them through to the kitchen, where he grabs a tea towel and throws it in Lu Han's directions. "Since you're here you may as well help me with the dishes."




*





FROM: luhan@vlrk.com
Subject: Change of email address


Hi


Change of email - please email me in future at luhan90@gmail.com.


Regards,
Lu Han








FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
RE: Change of email address


is this what i think it means?


xoxo tao








FROM: luhan90@gmail.com
RE: Change of email address


Yes. :)


Regards,
Lu Han







*




Lu Han's mother smooths down the fabric of the couch next to her. He's never noticed before but her hands are worn and weathered, with age spots standing out starkly on the back. There's been silence in the room for five minutes, but Lu Han refuses to say anything further.


"You quit your job?"


"Yes."


"To do what?"


"I don't know."


This is the part that he knows she can't understand - how can he possibly quit without having something else to go to?


"And you're selling your apartment?"


Lu Han nods.


"Well --" she seems at a complete loss. "I don't know what you want me to say? You seem to have made up your mind already, so you obviously don't care about my opinion. I just don't understand what's happened to make you do this?"


Lu Han holds his tea cupped in both hands. He can feel the hot liquid burning through the porcelain, but he still holds on tightly. Lu Han knows that she's disappointed again - he can feel it seeping through her voice and her expression.


"I wanted to play football." It's the first time he's ever said it to her.


"I'm sorry?"


"When I was younger - that's what I wanted to do. Play football professionally. I was good, you never saw me play but I was really good. I could've..." he trails off. I could've been something.


She's looking at him like he's someone else. "Why are you telling me this now?"


"Would you have accepted it? If I'd wanted to pursue it in high school? You wouldn't have - would you?"


"We only ever wanted the best for you," his mother tells him slowly, and she's choosing her words so carefully that it makes Lu Han snap.


"You never wanted what was best for me," Lu Han says, and it comes out more bitter than he intended. "You wanted a perfect son, someone you could point to and say - isn't he wonderful, handsome, and rich? Money and prestige are the only things that ever mattered to you."


"Oh Han," she says as she recoils. "I just wanted you to have security. Yes, of course I wanted you to have money and a stable career. Does that make me the worst mother in the world? Do you know where your father and I came from? What we've had to do to give you the life you have now? When we were your age - we worked so hard. Both of us, working two jobs - just trying to provide for you." For some reason she looks sad, when Lu Han expected more anger in her defensiveness. "You don't know how hard it was for us - trying to keep our house, to buy food, to put you through a good school so that you wouldn't ever have to experience the same thing."


As she keeps talking, Lu Han starts to realise that while he's heard this story a million times, perhaps he's never truly listened to it. "Even with you and football - do you think we never came to see you play because we didn't want to? Do you think I wanted to work nights, that your father worked weekends, just so we could avoid coming to your games? Do you really think that's what we wanted?" Her eyes are downcast and he's never seen her look so defeated. "I just wanted you to have a better life, and I thought I was pushing you in the right direction… but… I must've been wrong for you to hate me so much."


"I don't hate you," is all Lu Han can think to say.


"You act like it," she tells him before standing, picking her cup up off the table. "Are you staying for dinner?"


"No."


"Okay," she says and walks out of the room.




*





FROM: huangzitao@gmail.com
RE: Parents


you're not going to like this, but i think you were a bit mean. :( she's your mother? she rly does want the best for you? i dunno, it sounds like she just wanted you to have everything she didn't have?


or maybe i'm just assuming things because i miss mine. :(


anyway what are your plans for when you finish work? are you going to watch lots of daytime tv? if you need a job, i can put in a good word at the strip club for you. ;)


xoxo tao









*




"I know you don't like flowers," Lu Han says as soon as his mother opens her front door. "But I bought them for you anyway."


She sighs as she accepts them, and she looks old in the dim light of the hallway. "It's not that I don't like them - I'm a gardener, of course I love them, I just don't want you to waste your money on me."


Lu Han actually listens to her for once, doing his best not to jump to conclusions, to stop his immediate defensive response.


"Ma, I buy you flowers because you deserve them. It's not a waste of money to me." He wants to smooth out the frown lines on her forehead but instead he reaches to take the bouquet from her. "I'll get the vase and make tea. Why don't you sit down?"


She hesitates for a moment. "Thank you," she says as she hands them over. Previously, perhaps Lu Han would've picked over those two words, looking for a trace of sarcasm, but today he's trying to be better, softer, kinder. Maybe Lu Han is starting to realise that it's not that his mother thinks that he's not good enough, but that she's not good enough.


"You're welcome."


Lu Han makes tea, the way he's been taught, taking a tray out to the living room where she's waiting. They make idle small talk, skirting over the big topics, the ones that cause tension between them, but they stand in the corner of the room, waiting to be acknowledged. Finally, Lu Han places his cup down on the table.


"I'm sorry about last time," he says carefully. "I shouldn't have been so short, and I'm sorry."


She presses her lips together, and Lu Han resists the urge to fill the silence and just waits. "I'm sorry too. About everything. I just --- I really tried to do what I thought was best for you." She hesitates before she continues, as if she's unsure he wants to hear it, "Do you know what I wanted to be when I was young?"


Lu Han shakes his head.


She smiles but it doesn't reach her eyes. "I wanted to be a doctor." Lu Han would laugh if it wasn't wholly inappropriate. "Hannie, you might not believe this - I was really smart. But I was the oldest of five kids, and a girl, and I needed to work to help my parents support the family." Her mouth twists wryly. "I would've given anything to have been able to stay in school."


Lu Han's mother rarely talks about her youth and her childhood, but Lu Han has never asked either. He barely knows her. Perhaps that's her failing but - maybe - it's also his.


"So I know about giving up your dream for someone else," she continues. "I'm sorry that you felt I wouldn't have supported you." She laughs, but it's bitter. "I didn't want you to end up like me, and yet you are - just in a different way."


Perhaps that's the saddest thing that Lu Han learnt from her and his father: to give up what you love for someone else. To not realise you can fight for a dream, to let the opportunities sitting in your hand fly away. But is that something he can blame her for?


And is it too late to change?




*




After a couple of hours of hard labour, Lu Han wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and surveys his apartment.


Almost everything is packed up, with only a few areas left to do. It's all mostly thanks to Minseok. He was the one who roped in Yixing, a high school friend of theirs, after Lu Han's panicked phone call, and together they descended on Lu Han's apartment with packing tape, as many flat cardboard boxes they could carry, and - in Minseok's case - a tendency to bark orders.


Not that Lu Han is complaining. He needed them - both the supplies, and the orders.


Everything that Lu Han owns is either being thrown out, donated, or being put into storage. It's good having Minseok and Yixing there because they're helping him be ruthless with his belongings and Lu Han is finding that there's really not much he wants to keep.


Once the apartment is empty and clean, he'll hand the keys to his real estate agent and the sale will be finalised.


Lu Han looks around. The apartment is still a bit of a mess but they're making steady work of it. He's lived here for such a long time, and maybe it's weird, but he know that he won't miss it at all.

"So I can really have this?" Yixing asks. He's sitting on the floor, on top of Lu Han's cow skin rug, stroking it gently. The rug is huge - it is, after all, from a cow - and coloured an attractive light caramel.

Lu Han has always hated it. He only purchased it because, when he furnished his apartment, he opened an interior design magazine and basically bought every item that was shown on one of the photo spreads: the leather couches, the mid-century furniture (genuine of course, and not replica), the bar trolley that he's never used because he doesn't like having people over.


"You can have anything in here," Lu Han tells him honestly. "I don't care about any of it."


Yixing grins, flashing his dimple, before carefully rolling the rug up and placing it to one side.


"Did you buy a new place?" Yixing asks as he takes an armful of books off the shelf and hauls them over to the cardboard box that Minseok has just finished taping together. "I can't remember if you told me?"


While Yixing has a casual, laid back demeanor, he's sharper than he appears, although his thinking processes take a different path to most. His questions are always indirect, but Lu Han suspects that it's due to an unusual subtlety.


"I haven't bought a new place," Lu Han confirms. He stops Yixing before he packs the law books. "They can go in the trash pile," he says.


"Then where are you going to live?"


"I don't know," Lu Han tells him honestly, to which Minseok gives a little scoff, even through the strip of packing tape he's attempting to rip with his teeth. "I thought I might do some travelling." Lu Han knows that Minseok is rolling his eyes, and when he looks over - he's correct. "What?"


"Tell him the truth," Minseok says.


"What truth?" Yixing looks between the two of them, confused. "Wait - are you in trouble? Are you going to jail? Wow, out of everyone I know you always seemed the most squeaky clean --" Minseok gives a little noise of protest at this "-- wow, I can't believe it!"


"No, I'm not in trouble!"


"He's going after a ~~~" Minseok singsongs, being interrupted when Lu Han swats him. Traitor. Minseok knows about Lu Han's continuing correspondence with Tao of course. Lu Han has kept him up to date, as well as forcing him to look at the entirety of Tao's Instagram feed. Naturally it had been Minseok who'd given him the final push to do something. "Have you actually told Tao you're coming yet?"


"Who's Tao?" Yixing pipes up, still looking baffled.


Lu Han responds to Minseok first. "Not yet." And then to Yixing, "He's a friend."


Minseok scoffs loudly.


"A good friend," Lu Han amends, shooting Minseok a glare. "Now stop chatting, the truck will be here soon."




*




"I can't believe you're actually doing this," Minseok says, and he sounds almost proud. Then his face goes all serious and Lu Han has seen that expression enough to know that he's going into dad mode. "Are you sure about this?" he says seriously, which is admirable considering he has Jongdae pulling on his hand, demanding attention. They've both noticed that Jongdae has been extra clingy since news of the separation, but Minseok seems to be dealing with it well. Without even breaking eye contact with Lu Han he leans down to heft Jongdae into his arms. "You can still change your mind. I mean - you hate flying, and you hate the sun, and the beach, and --"


Lu Han blows out a breath. "I'm sure." He tries to distract himself by ruffling Jongdae's hair. "I'll miss you. Will you miss me?"


"Buy me a present!" Jongdae shouts in response, before wriggling to be put down.


"I will," Lu Han crouches to Jongdae's eye level once Minseok sets him on the ground. "But only if you're good while I'm away, okay?"


Jongdae blinks at him innocently in a way that only a five year old can. "I'm always good," and both Minseok and Lu Han laugh.


Minseok and Jongdae wait to one side while Lu Han checks in and deposits his luggage. Then they walk him to the security gate, with Lu Han and Minseok holding Jongdae's hand as he skips happily in between them.


"Well, I guess this is where we say goodbye… I didn't think you had it in you, to be honest."


"Hey."


Minseok grins, unashamed. "Make sure you don't wimp out. Send me a message to let me know you've arrived safely."


"Yes, dad," Lu Han tells him, earning a small shove in the shoulder as retribution.


Lu Han said farewell to his parents last night, timing his visit so his father was home for once. His relationship with his mother was still shaky, but he could tell she was trying, and so was he. His father, well - Lu Han thinks that he barely knows the man - had just shook his head at the news and wished him a safe trip, and told him to call his mother occasionally. It was about as good as he could hope for.


"When are you coming back with my present, Uncle Han?" Jongdae pipes up.


"I don't know, kiddo," Lu Han tells him honestly. He has a one way ticket booked. For the first time in his life, he hasn't overplanned this. There's no schedules and no set plans (except for one vague hope). He's just going to see how things go. It's scary and slightly overwhelming, but also: exciting.


There's so many possibilities open to him.


Maybe things will work out, and maybe they won't, but for once in his life he's going to try for something he really, truly, wants.




*




Extra time

Lu Han would kneel down and kiss the ground if it wasn't considered suspicious behaviour and probable grounds for deportation. Instead, he calmly follows the sea of people to claim his luggage, chooses the 'nothing to declare' line - and he's out.

He's hot, he's exhausted - both physically and emotionally, and he's pretty sure he needs about 10 showers to wash off the grime that's settled on his skin - but he also has a bubbling sense of excitement.


As he tugs his suitcase behind him, he cranes his head, trying to see over the crowd of people.


He can just make out a familiar head bobbing above everyone, and Lu Han can barely resist the urge to rudely push everyone in front aside. He quickens his pace, doing his best to weave his way around all the slow walkers, trying to control his impatience.


"Lu Han!" There's a joyful shout and then a body barrelling into him, sweeping him off his feet into a large hug. "I can't believe you came! You survived the flight!" A pause, and then, "I don't think I've ever seen you in casual clothes before!" Tao is firing sentences at him, 10000 words a minute, almost too fast for Lu Han to keep up with, hugging him so tightly that Lu Han can't even get a proper look at him.


"Hey, slow down." Tao finally quiets when Lu Han jabs him gently in the ribs.


"Hello," Lu Han says.


"Hi," Tao beams back, his smile contagious.


They make their way out of the airport, Tao having forcibly taken over Lu Han's suitcase. There's a moment where they briefly argue about which mode of transport to take - Tao seems to think that walking to the nearest public bus will suffice, whereas Lu Han argues for a taxi. Lu Han wins when he reminds Tao how much he hates flying, and he's happy to pay for the convenience of being taken straight to their accommodation.


The flight was truly awful. Lu Han has decided that if he never flies again it'll be too soon, but then he takes a look at Tao's face and he thinks that perhaps it was worth it. Lu Han didn't think that it was possible, but Tao seems to have blossomed in the many months since he last saw him. He looks relaxed and healthy, his face free of makeup, and his increased tan suits him.


Tao chatters about some of the places he's seen and the things he's seen while they're in the taxi, but when they pull up in front of the place he's staying, Lu Han is agast.


"You're staying here?"


Tao doesn't seem to understand the horrified tone in Lu Han's voice. "Yes…?"


Lu Han doesn't know if he should remind Tao that he's a fair bit older than him - Lu Han is almost 30 and there's no way he's staying in a hostel. "I can't stay here."


Tao stubbornly tugs the suitcase after him, heading to the entrance. "Why? It's cheap and clean."


Lu Han grabs for his free hand to bring him to a stop before quickly releasing him. "How many people are you sharing a room with?"


"9 others. Why?"


"That's why," Lu Han says decisively. "Let's grab your stuff and find a hotel."


"I can't afford a hotel." He's so matter of fact about it, unapologetic and unashamed, that it makes Lu Han smile. Some things don't change.


They decide that Lu Han will book into a hotel while Tao stays at the hostel, since Tao refuses to let Lu Han pay for a room for him. It's understandable really - Lu Han is here as Tao's friend and nothing more. He can almost hear Minseok chiding him in his head, but now is hardly the right time.


Thanks to the understanding person behind reception at the hostel, they're given the address to a hotel within walking distance.


"I've never stayed in a place this nice," Tao whispers to Lu Han as he purchases a room for a week. Lu Han doesn't even think the hotel is that nice - he stayed in fancier places on the occasional business trips he's been on - Tao must've really been roughing it.


After having successfully checked in, they go up to the room together. Lu Han unlocks the door with the key card, inserting it into the power slot on the wall that controls the lighting and the air conditioning when they enter. He's in an executive size suite, complete with a king size bed and balcony.


"It's so quiet in here," Tao comments, bouncing on the bed as he sits. "Won't you be lonely?" Then he flops backwards, arms outspread. "This bed is so nice though. Wow." He closes his eyes, sighing happily as he rolls over and snuggles into the covers. When Lu Han tells him that he's going to take a quick shower, he gets a sleepy murmur in response.


When Lu Han reenters the room, towelling his hair and dressed in a bathrobe, he finds that Tao has fallen asleep. He's curled up and looking small in the middle of the large bed. Lu Han pulls on some clean clothing and lies down next to him, an appropriate distance away, but close enough that he can see Tao's eyelashes fluttering as he dreams.


He's lovely, Lu Han thinks.


He's sweet and earnest and just lovely.


Lu Han is only here because of an offhand comment he'd made during one of his emails - about how he was envious of Tao's travels - which had resulted in an invitation to join him (complete with a ton of exclamation marks). Lu Han is sure that Tao would've said the same thing to any of his friends that expressed an interest (Lu Han assumes they're friends, anyway) so he has told himself firmly not to think too much of it.


It's hard though. Away from the confines of the club, Tao is so touchy and affectionate - hooking arms when they walked to the hotel, draping himself over Lu Han's back while he was checking in.


Even though he feels refreshed from the shower, Lu Han's exhausted, but he doesn't want to sleep - if he naps now, he won't sleep when it's dark. Plus, this is nice, actually. The quiet sounds of Tao breathing and the low whisper of the air conditioning in the background. He doesn't realise how much time has passed until Tao murmurs quietly, "I hope you weren't watching me sleep, because that would be weird."


Lu Han starts, sure that guilt is written across his face, but when Tao opens his eyes he gets a smile. "I was only kidding."


"Sorry."


Tao's smile widens. "I was just teasing. You haven't changed at all, I see - you're still far too serious."


"It's the old age," Lu Han jokes. "Maybe I just need someone to remind me to lighten up."


Tao's smile grows even larger. "Perhaps."


They're flirting, right? Lu Han isn't sure. He's never been great at this stuff, but this feels like flirting.


"Hey," Tao says quietly, whispering like it's a secret. "I'm really glad you're here."


"Me too." Lu Han reaches over across the bed, stretching out his hand and Tao meets him halfway, closing his fingers lightly around his own. "I'm really, really glad I'm here."




*




One day, when they're both tired of travelling and being in a different place each month, when they eventually start to yearn for something stable - a pet, a job, somewhere they can just stop - they'll both return home together. By then Lu Han will have learned to be more relaxed, less set in his ways, to laugh more and go with the flow. And Tao will have matured a little, will be able to keep a tighter lid on his impulsiveness, and ease up on his stubbornness.


One day, when they arrive home, Lu Han will introduce Tao to Minseok and Jongdae. He'll even introduce Tao to his parents, who will be a little unsure, but who will at least be polite although not particularly warm.


More scarily - Lu Han will meet Tao's family and friends, who will give him a (gentle) grilling (but a grilling nonetheless) on his intentions towards their beloved Taozi.


But that's all in the future. Right now, all they have is an opportunity, because that's all life is - a series of opportunities - and it's up to them both whether to hold on or let go.
Tags: - round 1 (2015), rating: r
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