Title: Across the Line
Chapter: [8.5 / ?]
Genre: AU (flangst, romance)
Summary: When you're a kid, no one tells you how hard it is to grow up; how easy it is to forget who you are. But if you don't know who you are anymore, how are you supposed to deal with all the lines?
Hate/Love Real/Fake Hero/Enemy Lust/Madness Lost/Found Past/Future
Hate/Love Real/Fake Hero/Enemy Lust/Madness Lost/Found Past/Future
It's a strange new world across the line, but two men are going to have to cross it if they ever hope to find their answers—and each other.
A/N: Second part of chapter eight. It's so long there will be a third too... Of course. lol
CHAPTER EIGHT – PART 2 of 3
“She’s beautiful! She is beautiful.”
Yunho didn’t bother to hide his smile as he watched Seunghyun walking the perimeter of their new court. It had been all ready for them that morning, and the construction workers had moved their trucks and equipment off their property. The grass was a little wrecked at the side from all the heavy vehicles and construction worker boots so there was a lot more dirt around, but as Seunghyun had said, the court itself was beautiful. Just a little earlier, Seunghyun and Yunho had done the honours and hooked up the new tennis net to complete it. Yoochun had been their only audience—Jay was late—but Yoochun had made enough noise for everyone with all of his wolf-whistles and clapping and cheering.
Seunghyun had then beamed and said, “We couldn’t have done it without you!” before clasping Yunho’s hand. They had then posed by the net for a few photos with Yoochun’s camera phone. It had meant to have been with Jay’s camera but he still hadn’t arrived and they had wanted to capture the genuine excitement of the moment.
“Take me doing a star jump,” Seunghyun said to Yoochun, and Yunho backed away out of the shot with an amused smile. It took a few attempts for Yoochun to catch the star jumps at the right moment but the end result was pretty awesome.
“Me too,” Yunho insisted when that was done—he had a few tricks up his sleeve too, and in all the excitement he was itching to do them. When Yoochun’s camera was all lined up, Yunho took a second to concentrate and then flung himself forwards into a one-handed hand stand. At the top, he kicked his legs into a straight line and then let himself fall back as gracefully as he could—which was apparently graceful enough because Seunghyun and Yoochun both cheered.
When he righted himself, Yoochun ran up to him and clapped him on the back. “Fucking ace! Do it again, dude!”
Would that be showing off though? In that moment though, Yunho didn’t really care. It was fun, he could do it, and Yoochun looked ready to self-combust. So what the hell, he did it again and for even longer. He heard Yoochun exclaiming: “Can I instagram this shit?” and Yunho laughed upside-down and said he guessed so.
Afterwards, Yunho fiddled with his tank top to unstick it from his belly. It was another hot day and he hadn’t really thought the material of his shirt through well enough. Airing out his arms was all well and good but he should have brought one of his tanks that breathed a little better. He thought he had, but this one was one of his old ones.
Seunghyun, eyeing his attempt to fan air to his belly and lower back, asked, “Should we maybe wait inside?”
He meant for Jay, who still hadn’t turned up. He was now twenty minutes late. Yunho didn’t particularly have anything too important scheduled for later in the day, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t find the tardiness annoying.
Yunho looked up to find Jay hurrying over to them through the court gate. He must have been running for a while because his hair was a little messy and sticking to the sides of his forehead where he had pushed it out of the way. If he was already sweating that much, Yunho hated to see the state of him after their practice.
In that vein, Yunho assessed the older man’s clothing. His t-shirt looked thin enough but he wasn’t wearing shorts like the rest of them. The olive pants looked loose at the thighs which would give him some room to breathe but they tightened under his knee where they ended in some kind of elastic. They looked a little hot to be in but at least the ends were streamlined.
Seunghyun waved Jay over to them then and held out a racket for him to take. Jay took it along with another breath of air. “I was at my grandmother’s house. I didn’t mean to be late.”
“How is Granny Kim?” Seunghyun asked.
“Same as always. But she did agree to the umpire thing.”
Seunghyun beamed and Yoochun extended his arm in a silent thumbs up.
“So…” Seunghyun said expectantly. “Whaddya think?”
Jay looked at Seunghyun blankly so the other man jerked his head towards the brand-spanking-new court behind them.
Seunghyun threw him an exasperated look. “Jay, please tell me you didn’t just—”
Yoochun let out a laugh and delivered a friendly whack to his friend’s back. Yunho, like Seunghyun, wasn’t quite as amused. Jay had to be kidding—this was his business too and he hadn’t even noticed the new court was finished?
“Sorry,” the slightly frazzled man said as if reading their minds. “I had other things on my mind. But it looks…” He took a long look behind them and then nodded. The racket he’d been holding limply in his hand came to life a little and bounced against his leg. “It looks great.”
“Great? Just great?” Seunghyun asked.
“Come on, dude,” Yoochun laughed, “‘Great’ from Double-J is a high compliment. Especially considering…” Yoochun ended whatever he’d meant to say with a shrug and Seunghyun gave a quick glance to Yunho before smiling a little too brightly at everyone.
Right. Okay. What was that about?
Yunho flipped the racket in his hand once and then twice and then when no one made a move to say anything else, he sighed and asked if they wanted to get started with the practice. Seunghyun and Yoochun agreed wholeheartedly and the latter swung his arm around Jay’s shoulders while they waited for instructions.
“Alright,” Yunho said since, again, it seemed to be up to him. “Who here do you think has the least experience or feels they might need a little more help than the other?”
Jay pointed immediately to Seunghyun. Seunghyun looked at the hand pointed at him and then let out a small chuckle. “Okay yes, it probably is me…” he conceded.
Yunho nodded and gestured for Seunghyun to join him. “Then I’ll help you with the basics and Yoochun can work with Jay.”
Seunghyun followed him over to the newly refurbished court with a basket of balls that he placed at Yunho’s feet. Then he stepped back and looked at Yunho in a way that reminded Yunho of a soldier ready for duty. Yunho tried not to smile. “Okay, so what do you know?”
“I know a lot of things… In theory. I know the point system and the lines and boundaries. The rules. Everything you could read about.”
“Okay. That’s great. And how are you with the…” Yunho considered his words, “physical part of that?”
Not too great, Yunho soon discovered ten minutes into their practice. Yunho had gone through all the movements of the forehand swing with him—which should have been easy since Seunghyun was right-handed—but when Yunho stood in front of the net to hit over an easy ball, Seunghyun wasn’t even close to hitting it. Yunho could see that Seunghyun’s heart was absolutely in the right place; it was just a shame that his coordination wasn’t. Seunghyun kept swinging too wide and too slow and the ball just kept sailing straight past him.
It took a further fifteen minutes for Seunghyun to start getting into the swing of things—so to speak—but eventually he started hitting the ball back. Not always in the centre of his racket which was ideal, and sometimes on the very edge of the racket frame which then sent the ball spiralling out of control, but a hit was a hit and Seunghyun at least relished in that. Yunho didn’t have the heart to remind him that even if he hit the ball with some part of the racquet, it didn’t really equate to victory when the ball still went out. Seunghyun’s confidence seemed to be growing though and that was probably the most important thing.
Yunho sighed inwardly when another ball flew past him and nicked the back fence instead of the base line, but he gave an encouraging smile to Seunghyun and told him, “Your attitude’s great!”
At least Seunghyun never gave up. His frustration was always chased by a smile and then when his odds of hitting the ball properly started to improve, his smile was brighter than the sun. It made Yunho smile too. Sometimes he forgot how much joy could be felt just be overcoming the little things. Yunho had probably looked like that to someone fifteen years ago—optimistic with so much potential. Now—not so much. Changmin was always telling him he rarely smiled on the court. How could he when he constantly felt his opponent getting the upper hand over him no matter what he did? If he tried to smile, anybody would be able to see through it, so why bother to at all?
There was a scuffling of shoes as Seunghyun darted towards him at the net to high-five him for managing to hit every ball Yunho had sent his way. At least if Yunho sucked so bad in his quickly plummeting career, he could come back here and be a coach…
Yunho couldn’t help wishing that he could improve at his own game just like Seunghyun was, instead of just plateauing. He’d learnt the hard way as a kid that Rome wasn’t built in a day—unlike that kid who could apparently do anything on the court—but he’d at least seen the signs of himself improving bit by bit. The bit-by-bits had made him happy and he’d practically marked each one off on a tally board. That tally board was growing dusty now.
Had he really reached his peak already? Was this really all he’d be able to achieve in his career? A few semis and quarters in the lower-ranked tournaments and a few first rounds in the grand slams? He may have been considered the best in Korea right now, but on a global scale? He was a fish half-flapping out of water. He was good but everyone else was better. Taller, bigger, faster—and multi-lingual, not that that mattered so much in the middle of a match per se… But overall it was all so much more than he could reach. And he wasn’t getting better any time soon. This break was a waste. Next week he’d be as bad as he was before he’d even come down here.
So much for positivity. And this was supposed to be The court too. The inspirational one. The one he had watched so often instead of his own because the kid playing on it could do anything.
Yunho watched the deeply etched concentration on Seunghyun’s face as he smacked a ball over the net. The kid who had played right where Seunghyun was standing wasn’t even comparable—even at ten, or however old he’d been then. While Yunho had been missing shots, that kid’s aim had been perfect. His reaction time had been so quick; his serves like a clap of thunder. He’d had style. You could have been standing a hundred metres away and still have known exactly who was playing.
It wasn’t just the power that had marked him, it was the way he’d held his body. He’d done this thing… It had been so long ago but Yunho could still remember it. That thing where you could see he was feeling his serve with his whole body. He’d bounced up. No it hadn’t been a bounce… Nor a jerk. It was a movement that couldn’t really be described at all. Yunho supposed in adult terms he could compare it to a kind of body roll. It only came out when he served. It started at his hips—the quickest, tiniest roll—and then travelled up each vertebrae of his spine until it reached his shoulders, as if some magical burst of electricity had travelled up his body, powering up to fling everything against the ball. It was an intrinsic habit attached to his serve and Yunho had loved to watch it over and over again.
The kid hadn’t appreciated it quite so much, if Yunho’s memory was as accurate as he hoped it was. He remembered a conversation. Yunho’s lesson had run over that day and he’d been able to be there when the kid started his private tuition over on the next court. They’d only been separated by a fence. “I don’t want to be quirky, I want to be good.” His back had been to Yunho that day, but Yunho had heard his frustration. “You are good,” his coach had said. The coach’s voice…the certainty in it…Yunho had been so pleased—or proud—but also so very envious. Yunho’s coach had never sounded so confident with him.
It was funny, Yunho was a professional player now but somehow he still felt like he was eight years old and watching that kid who was always miles ahead of him. Back then Yunho could play all he wanted on that court, try to pretend he was like that other kid, but he’d always end up as himself—lacking. Nothing had ever really changed, even on a bigger court. He was still trying to catch up to everyone else.
Yunho sighed and bent down to pick up another ball. When he had straightened back up, he took a glance across at the other court. Once upon a time it had been him learning the basics over there; now it was Jay. Jay with his fringe pulled back into a tiny ponytail on top of his head. Yunho hit a ball over the Seunghyun and tried to stop his mouth from twisting into a smile.
Honestly, Yoochun and Jay were a little distracting. In between his shots to Seunghyun, Yunho had been taking a few peeks at them all morning. Yoochun was so loud and impossible not to hear, and Jay—well, there was that little tuft of hair sticking up as he ran all over the place that Yunho could not stop watching. Rather than giving off the feeling of a man meaning business, the little ponytail honestly just made Jay look cute. It was perhaps an unfair representation of the man’s ability though—Jay may have wasted their time earlier but he seemed to be making up for it in his practice. He wasn’t too bad a player; he was far more agile than Seunghyun and when his racket connected with the ball, it was pretty spot-on. It was just that everything after that seemed to go wrong. Hitting the ball that well should have given him results but the ball often went out. Jay’s spatial awareness was all wrong.
Yunho looked back to his own student who wasn’t quite faring as well as Jay, and decided it was time for a break. Seunghyun stood with him at the edge of the court and let his weight ease into the new fence. They drank water and watched Yoochun and Jay. There was often more laughing than playing on that court—there was that charm of Yoochun’s that Yunho was growing to recognise more and more—but at the moment, there seemed to be a natural shift back to serious. Yoochun was demonstrating for Jay how to serve the ball up high above his head like the professionals. Yoochun had been a little too optimistic with the idea though; Jay’s coordination was probably his best skill but converting that to an overhead serve was another matter.
Yunho felt himself squirm a little. Watching a beginner trying to serve like an intermediate player was—to be brutally honest—a little painful. Jay threw the ball up over his head—that part was fine—but then when the ball fell back down, he tried to hit it without rotating any of his hips. His torso was like a block of wood. Then when, not to be deterred, Jay tried it one more time, he managed to look even stiffer and missed the ball altogether. It was like asking a tree to bend.
Yunho assumed that Yoochun’s roar of laughter was just his special way of making Jay feel better about it rather than completely discouraging and demoralising him. Only Yoochun. Yunho had a feeling that if he had been the one teaching Jay and there had been a lapse in his professional neutrality, Jay would be throwing his racket at his head. He and Jay had been getting along better these past few weeks, but even so, Yunho doubted he was anywhere near the level of perks that Yoochun and Seunghyun were entitled to.
With his eyes still on the other court, Yunho asked Seunghyun if he wanted to try serving.
“Like that?” Seunghyun jerked his head towards Jay’s woeful attempts. “Over my head? Where I am blinded by the sun and praying to the gods that my own ball doesn’t come down and hit me right in the face before I can hit it away?”
“No way in hell.”
Yunho laughed with him. “Yeh, you probably don’t need to anyway. It’s just a fun match and Yoochun can do all of that for your team.”
“And Jay can’t do them either, so I won’t look too pathetic.”
That was true… Well, Yunho thought as he drank some more water, the exhibition match was only a fun one anyway and a bit of clumsiness would only play in Jay and Seunghyun’s favour…
“You know, Seunghyun…” Yunho stood up from the fence. “As long as you and Jay feel comfortable holding a racket and hitting back a few shots, you’re already perfect. Your attitude is fantastic, as I keep saying, and that’s going to be infectious to watch on the day. You’re already making me smile. In a good way,” he added. Not that Seunghyun would hopefully ever mistake him for the kind of guy who relished in others’ mistakes.
Seunghyun screwed the lid on his bottle and smiled over at Yunho. “Thank you.” He bent to put his water bottle back on the floor and out of harm’s way. “You know,” he said, glancing back over to the adjacent court, “I think by chance we picked a good combination for our teams on D-Day.”
“The teams? As in yourself and Yoochun, and Jay and I?”
The other man nodded. “Because right now these courts are reflecting polar opposites.”
“What? We’re too serious and they’re too…”
“Hyper,” Seunghyun finished for him.
“Right.” Yunho smiled as the two in question proved their point by Yoochun head-butting the ball over to Jay. “Plus I guess two men running around in front of us in short skirts would end up being a little disadvantageous for us.”
“Some things are just too much.”
“Hairy legs ruining an outfit previously associated with lovely things…”
Yunho laughed. He didn’t so much have a problem with that one.
“You will fly, young grasshopper. Fly like an eagle!”
Jay rolled his eyes and yelled over to Yoochun, “Give just me the damn ball.”
“Sure thing, muthafucka!”
Yoochun’s shot went wide and Jay darted after it. The ball was about to hit the ground—it was just out of reach. Jay pushed off and dove down and smacked the racket against the ball inches from the ground. He’d just made it! He could feel the force of the ball reacting to the tight strings of his racket and springing back off. The whole thing thrummed in Jay’s hands and he didn’t even need to watch the ball to know it had landed safely over the net. A rush of satisfaction—pleasure, pride, smugness, relief—hit him and he almost made a fist with his free hand. It wasn’t over yet though; Yoochun hit the ball back over to him but on the complete opposite side of the court to where Jay was. Making that first shot had meant skidding over to the far right side and now Yoochun had him where he wanted him—an impossible distance away from the winning shot.
He was so stupid! Of course he should have already started running to the left side before Yoochun had even had a chance to return the shot. It had been so obvious where Yoochun had been planning the send the ball to next. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book. Not only did it tire players out by making them run far too much, but it was such an easy win. For that alone, Jay wanted to push off with every spare bit of energy he had to make that shot and shove it back in Yoochun’s face. But—
Jay made a half-hearted attempt to reach the ball and then gave up. He had almost forgotten he wasn’t allowed to reach it.
“Eagle crashed…” Yoochun scolded from across the net.
“Eagle had better things to do.”
“Like what?” Yoochun scoffed.
Jay just shrugged. Okay, so he hadn’t been able to come up with a good response. You won some and you lost some—like what he’d had to do all day.
“Let’s try again,” Yoochun suggested. “This time… Eagle will fly—to Mama’s house.”
“And where is Mama’s house?”
“Over here.” Yoochun sent the ball further to Jay’s left and Jay darted off again. He had to make sure ‘Eagle’ didn’t fly too well, but in between his own sabotage and genuine mistakes, he was rather enjoying the eagle experience.
That was until the fifth shot of their rally. Jay went for the ball, just like all the other times, and then when he landed he felt a stiffening. It was just his imagination. He ran for the sixth shot and the tightness found him again. That was definitely his imagination; it had only felt worse because his head was aware of the fear. Phantom pain. He bolted for the seventh shot, missed it, but felt victorious anyway because his leg felt fine. There really wasn’t any pain. He was being an idiot.
“Eagle had a nice time with Mama,” Yoochun called from across the court. “Now Eagle will fly even further.”
“To Papa?” Jay guessed.
“No.” Yoochun shook his head slowly as if facing an expectedly clueless child. “Eagle will fly up North to poop on some polar bears.”
“Will Eagle?” Jay drawled.
“Go, Eagle; go forth and poop!” Yoochun decreed with a flourish of his racket that sent the ball high over Jay’s head. Jay jogged backwards and then sprung up to reach the ball up high and slam it towards Yoochun. Then Yoochun sent it back nice and high again. “Poop! Poop everywhere!”
“Why do I get the feeling”—Jay craned his neck and hit the ball—“that you aren’t taking this seriously?”
“Eagle!” Yoochun barked back. “Young, grasshopper-turned-eagle! This is as serious as the match is allowed to be on Sunday!”
Jay missed the ball and stopped to scratch his back. “I guess that’s true. Well,” Jay tried to put his hand on his hips but it was a little cumbersome with a racket in one hand, “where is eagle flying to next?”
“Paris! To the Moulin Rouge. Ooh la la!”
Jay laughed and ran double the speed to reach the ball—and then a knife stabbed through his leg. He didn’t even have time to breathe—he fell right where he was.
“Shit!” He heard Yoochun running up to the net. “Are you okay?”
He couldn’t respond. His eyes were closed and his breathing ragged. The knife was still there slicing through his thigh and there was very little he could do to stop it. Not to panic would be a good start but he was already there—he’d been there for five minutes already but this time it was very real. He could handle it though. He just had to alter his breathing and be careful of his weight and this could be just a fall.
“All good!” he yelled out and pushed himself up. “Eagle had too much ooh la la.” It came out in a bit of a breathless grunt, but that was okay. He could pretend he’d winded himself. Then he was back on his feet and waiting for Yoochun’s next shot.
His recovery of sorts seemed to convince Yoochun he wasn’t too hurt and that was fine with Jay. But his pride screamed when Yoochun started going a little easier on him after that. No challenges, all easy shots, like he was one of those little kids who came in for coaching after school.
And then he was angry. Furious. Smashing his racket against each ball.
He was one of those little kids—to them. He was supposed to have barely lifted a racket up before. He was supposed to be a lover of the sport because he admired the people who could play it when he was shit-fucking-awful at it himself. That was the real game.
So he hit back all of Yoochun’s boring shots, occasionally missing some, and tried to choke back the anger. It was all so easy—stuff any beginner could do—but some of the shots he missed were genuine. It was getting harder to block out the pain. Even when he wasn’t running after the ball, the knife was still there, ripping through his muscle, centimetre by centimetre. It was agony—but he knew there wasn’t anything much he could do about it.
So he ignored it, like so many times before, and he went through his little act—the one he always put on so well—and Yoochun went back to his eagle jokes.
Another spasm of pain had Jay gripping his racket—hard. He didn’t care. He’d wait the fucking thing out, even though, with every second, he was closer to screaming.
And then it reached the point where it no longer mattered how much weight he put on his leg. Jay had been here before and he knew he had to stop but he just couldn’t. He had to be normal. Mind over fucking matter. He was a fucking eagle. This shit was so easy. It was so easy and—
Jay stopped. Not even bothering to go after Yoochun’s shot.
He couldn’t do it anymore.
“Toilet break time!”
Short syllables, he told himself. And then, Breathe.
“Gonna piss myself.” He tried to swallow. It was getting harder to breathe but Yoochun was nodding at him. Jay grinned and saluted. And turned. The first step was easy, then another spasm came and his leg was on fire and he had to close his eyes.
And then he had reached the office. He yanked the door open and slid it shut. Finally he was alone.
When the next pulse came, he collapsed behind the table and screamed into his arm.
Notes: Ouch. Would this have escaped Yunho’s attention? I don’t think so. What is his reaction?
Yeh. This chapter is so darn long, it has a third part to it. And typically, that is where we find the YunJae loll. Sorry guise, I’ll need a bit more time for that (YunJae need perfection, yo). But in the mean time, to the peeps who have been watching the court symbolism in these chapters, this one is dripping in it. Go for itttt. >D
Man, I could not keep a straight face when Yunho kept telling Seunghyun his attitude was great. Translation: you're really shit at this. XDD (As a recipient of multiple 'participation' awards, I feel Seunghyun's pain. XD)
But speaking of shit, for those who haven’t seen this yet, go wild. Changmin failing at tennis is so on par with Seunghyun’s skillz in this chapter—but funnier. Oh the laughter. XD
The conclusion of this chapter will come as soon as I can make it sparkle lol. Thanks for reading guys!
Current Music: Mylo Xyloto - Coldplay [Yunho]