Title: Across the Line
Chapter: [8.75 / ?]
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: I'm back! WHOO HOO! I'd do a cartwheel if I had any coordination. Here is the last part of this chapter.
CHAPTER EIGHT – PART 3 of 3
Yunho smiled at a beaming Seunghyun. Seunghyun had just managed to hit every ball back to Yunho—which Yunho admittedly hadn’t expected—and the other man’s joy was rather infectious. If Seunghyun could manage it again, Yunho would truly be impressed.
Still smiling, Yunho slipped a new ball out of his shorts pocket. It felt worn beneath his fingers and a little too fluffy around the edges. He had to remember to get those new balls for the club. The dull bounce these older balls would give would be difficult for any player to master. It wouldn’t be too encouraging for newer players at their 100 Days event. He wanted people to have fun with tennis, no matter how new they were with it, not feel like they were rotten at it because it was so hard to hit a ball right. He wanted people to feel as if—
Yunho’s head snapped to the right. There had been an unpleasant sound from the other court. A sound that didn’t belong.
Yunho frowned when he saw what is was. Jay had fallen—and apparently hard. The man lay crumpled in on himself, his eyes screwed shut, his jaw firmly clenched. Yunho, caught mid-swing, lowered his arm and took a step forward to right himself. Then his instincts kicked in and he was walking over to the fallen man, racket still in hand—but before he could reach him, Jay started to move again. At first only a little, but then with a lengthy exhale, he pushed himself up onto all fours and then tried to stand up. He looked like an injured racehorse struggling for enough momentum to get back up on a broken leg—equal amounts hardworking and pitiful. The look on his face though—it made Yunho stop. He recognized that look. There was a determination in that stare that Yunho had seen many times before from players who had fallen in the middle of a game.
Yunho felt his brow furrow. This was the second time now that Jay had resembled the men around Yunho on tour. First that stare of critical assessment the day they met as if they had been in a locker room before a tournament, and now there was this tenacity of an injured man clinging to his pride, mid-game, unable to give up.
Yunho was starting to lose his mind. It couldn’t be healthy that he was starting to see his tournaments reflected everywhere; even here, his hometown, so far from the world he normally lived in. Did that mean he was growing as a player, or was he still far too ensconced in the game that this break had done nothing to help him function as a normal person again?
A fallen man’s pride was a delicate thing though, tennis player or not, so Yunho waited from a distance as Jay got up by himself. Perhaps all that had been bruised had been his pride, for Jay flashed Yoochun a sheepish grimace and then walked himself back over to the centre of the court without even a limp. Yoochun still looked doubtful for a moment, which Jay seemed to see too and leant forward with impatience until Yoochun started the game again.
Jay did seem fine now, Yunho had to admit. He was moving after all the shots without any obvious limp or telltale shifting of weight. That was Yunho’s cue to get back to his game—which he did, with at least half a mind. He served another shot over to Seunghyun but he didn’t track it, his eyes were still on the other court. This break had been useless because the game was still all Yunho could think about; he just couldn’t stop himself. It was part of his job to see beyond the perfect picture and find all the irregularities, and he couldn’t quite say why, but Jay wasn’t being regular. That was the problem. That was the itch Yunho was so desperate to scratch.
It shouldn’t have mattered. It certainly shouldn’t have been seen as a challenge. Yunho didn’t need to find it; Jay wasn’t an opponent that needed to be read and taken advantage of in a game. Yet even as Yunho was thinking it, even as he sent another ball over to Seunghyun, he found it. It was the right leg. It was his hamstrings or quadriceps. He’d pulled one of them. Definitely. His knee had weakened too. Just a slight tremor of too much weight and not enough relief. He was faltering. He was—
Jay missed his shot.
Or rather, he didn’t try at all. He’d reached his limit even faster than Yunho had anticipated. His retreat after that was fairly textbook—he laughed at himself, asked for a toilet break, and walked off the court once Yoochun have given the go-ahead as if nothing was wrong at all. The grip on his racket had been bone white though. Yoochun didn’t seem to have noticed; he was wandering around, kicking a few balls aside to make room on the court for when Jay came back. Yunho was on Jay’s side of the court though, a consequence of getting Seunghyun to change sides and practice playing with the sun in his eyes, and it was the perfect position to see the look on Jay’s face as he’d turned from Yoochun.
He’d looked devastated. But no, Yunho thought with a deepening frown, it must have just been agony. He was in an extraordinary amount of pain; he was just hiding it really well. Would a medical timeout even be enough for him? It seemed more like—
Yunho blinked and then shook his head a little. If the circumstances weren’t so unfortunate, he would have laughed at himself for slipping so deeply into court mode. During a match, you couldn’t do much for a friend in a medical timeout; it was against the rules. This was The Grove though, there were no rules and he doubted Yoochun and Seunghyun would know what to do. Yunho may have had troubles breaking free from the tennis match mind-set but at least it meant he was prepared for all scenarios.
“Hey Seunghyun,” he called out after lowering his racket. A quick glance showed him that he had Yoochun’s attention too. “I should probably go in there to—” Crap, he had been about to break the gentleman’s code. “—Make a phone call. Is it okay if you and Yoochun practice some stuff for a bit?”
Yunho gently dropped his racket to the ground and then gave both men a smile as he passed them on the way up to the club’s office.
At first he didn’t see much at all but a noise had him looking down. Like a trapped animal cowering out of sight, Jay had curled into himself beside the protection of the table and its many chair legs. His face was buried in his arm out of sight, but the clenched jaw and occasional gasps confirmed everything Yunho has suspected. The last piece of the puzzle was his position—Jay had grabbed a hold of his ankle and had bent his leg back behind him. It was a common stretch for the quadriceps. Jay hadn’t pulled a muscle, he was cramping. That explained the agony. Yunho almost shuddered from empathy. Leg cramps were a high speed journey into hell.
Yunho crouched down beside the poor guy and was about to extend his arm to bring his leg back even further for a better stretch but Jay’s hand did just that before Yunho could touch him. Perhaps it was an instinctual reaction to pain, but Jay seemed to know what he was doing.
A little mystified and with nothing else to do, Yunho slowly sat back and watched. He had to admit that the other man had impressive control over his pain. Yunho had flown in here expecting a hero role and had been reduced to something of an assistant.
Yunho let out a soundless, amused sigh but continued to watch the other man’s progress. Jay looked more focused now than pained; the wave of pain from his leg cramps seemed to be easing a little. The grip around his ankle looked less like he was trying to crush his own bones too. His breathing was still shallow though.
Yunho slowly reached out to touch Jay’s shoulder. “Is it doing better?”
Jay jumped from the touch, quicker than Yunho could finish speaking, and stared at him in shock. Or was it distress?
“Maybe I should massage that area,” Yunho said slowly. “That always helps me with cramps after the stretches.”
Jay continued to stare at him with wide eyes but then he slowly gave a nod of consent. He still seemed a little dazed—from pain or surprise at the company, Yunho didn’t know—but he’d said yes and so Yunho’s hands got to work. The moment he touched Jay’s thigh, he could feel how tight his muscles were. No wonder he’d been cramping. Yunho was hardly a trained physiotherapist, but he’d had this happen to him enough to know where some relief could be found.
Jay’s breathing was loud in the room but then after a moment he was silent—almost silent. Yunho looked up at him and then lowered his gaze. Jay’s hand had been covering his face but Yunho had seen the trembling of his lips. Subtle at first, but then unmistakable.
When the first tear fell Yunho looked away completely. The other man’s pain was private. Yunho loathed the idea of other people seeing him cry too. He kept his eyes on the leg he was massaging and tried not to falter. The muscle was still tight under his fingers but the spasms seemed to have calmed down. He kept rubbing along Jay’s thigh anyway, pretending not to have noticed.
When Jay laughed softly at himself, it was a cue that Yunho was allowed to look again. He gave a tentative peek and saw Jay wiping his face dry. “I can sit through four tattoos but I can’t handle a leg cramp…”
Leg cramps… Jay hadn’t been crying over cramps. He hadn’t even cried during the peak of his pain. It seemed obvious to Yunho, but he returned the older man’s smile. It was the kind thing to do. And really, he hadn’t expected Jay to say anything different. Whatever was really going on, it wasn’t his place to intrude. He was here now though. What was he supposed to say? Normally if a friend started crying in front of him, Yunho would be hugging them close and not letting them go but it didn’t seem right to try that with Jay; his usual ‘stay away’ vibes were still palpable. There was no way Yunho was leaving him alone though. He’d feel like such a dick…
Yunho’s hands dropped from Jay’s thigh and he gave the other man a bigger smile. “Cramps are the worst.” Nice and emphatic; that would do it.
As expected, Jay gave a wry smile.
“Yeh,” Yunho said, “Fricken hurts. It’s like getting smacked in your junk, right? Justifies every swear word in the language. And every man in the nearby vicinity feels your pain—whether it’s cramps or getting hit in the nuts.”
“Are you in pain right now?”
Ah. Smart arse. Yunho felt himself smiling into those knowing eyes. “Deep down.”
The wry smile on Jay’s face widened just a little but otherwise his gaze did not falter. Those eyes always said a lot and Yunho didn’t quite feel like looking away yet. There seemed to be a challenge in those eyes—to leave him alone, maybe? Good luck to that wish. Yunho had never abandoned someone when they were upset and he wasn’t about to start.
He blinked and re-examined Jay’s face. Jay looked composed enough now but his eyes still looked a little red. Yunho pushed himself off the floor and said, “Let me get you a glass of water.” He found a clean glass by the sink and poured some cold water from the fridge. He offered the glass to Jay and the other took it with quiet thanks. As he sat down, Yunho ran a hand through Jay’s hair. That hadn’t been planned… But the other man hadn’t commented on it so Yunho let it go unmentioned.
Getting comfy on the floor, Yunho settled for sticking one leg out in front of him and bent the other to lean against. Neither of them spoke as Jay drank so all there was to listen to was the occasional laugh from outside as Yoochun and Seunghyun continued hitting balls to each other. Hopefully Seunghyun wasn’t hitting them out anymore…
“I knew this would happen...”
Yunho looked up.
“I didn’t want to do it.” Jay looked grim as he gazed into the empty glass.
“The exhibition match?” Yunho guessed.
Jay nodded. “I am prone to cramping. Every damn time…”
Yunho slowly leant his head back against the chair behind him but kept his eyes on Jay. “It’s okay,” Yunho told him. “Don’t even worry about it. If you start cramping again on the day, just stop and walk away. Just like you did now. I’ll cover for you.”
“Hm.” The tight gaze on his glass broke as his head joined Yunho’s on the back of another chair. “It’s a good thing you’re paired with the weakest person then.”
Back to the self-deprecation then, huh? Yunho almost sighed. “We all get cramps, Jay,” he said. “Seriously. One time my calf started cramping like a motherfucker right in the middle of a match. I think it was the first time I even qualified for the US Open. Worst timing ever. It was so painful I was ready to ask someone to shoot my leg off. But that would have given my opponent far too much pleasure so I just kept playing through the pain and… Well, I got completely smashed,” he chuckled, “but it’s all resilience training, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Jay, you’re not weak.” Yunho drew both legs up to get more comfortable. “I’ve been keeping an eye on you, since you’re on my team and all. You aren’t weak at all. In fact…” He leant closer and then grimaced before he could help himself, “You are far more natural at tennis than Seunghyun...”
Jay actually laughed and caught Yunho’s eye. “Seunghyun is not meant for sport.”
“Nope.” Yunho felt awful for saying it, but boy oh boy was it the god’s honest truth.
Jay looked thoughtful. “He is a really smart guy—”
“He is,” Yunho quickly agreed.
“But with hand-eye coordination…”
“He’s a little bit—”
The unexpected frankness had Yunho laughing hard and his head fell back against the chair behind him with a loud, painful thud.
“Sorry…” Jay smiled apologetically as Yunho rubbed at the sore spot.
“No, no. I accept karma…” he sighed.
That word seemed to have an ill effect on the other man. Jay’s smile dimmed a little and Yunho found himself once more facing a man who was trying to put on a brave face. Yunho didn’t know what to say; anything felt like a bad idea right now. Whatever it was, he didn’t want to make it worse.
“Karma gives you a sore head,” Jay said eventually. “And I get cramps.” His smile looked a little twisted again. “I wasn’t even playing hard out there… I was barely moving…”
Yunho hummed with half a shrug. “Maybe you just haven’t used those muscles for a while or you needed to stretch a tiny bit more before we started. Warm muscles are happy muscles.”
There was no response to that and Yunho fought back a sigh. Jay was doing that thing again—when his eyes turned to steel and he clammed up tight. Sometimes Yunho saw it directed at Seunghyun and Yoochun too. It just took a comment. There didn’t seem to be a pattern to it, though there must have been. Yunho just didn’t know him well enough...
Yunho chewed his lip and thought for a moment. When someone shut down, that was usually the end of all conversation. Jay wasn’t making any move to leave though and Yunho could see no sign that he had overstepped his welcome. The other man was clearly angry but it was all focused inward. Yunho knew how that felt, which meant—he made a face at himself—now he really couldn’t leave.
“Give me a sec…” Yunho murmured as he pushed himself up off the floor—not that Jay would have cared much what he did either way. When he was standing, Yunho took a peek at the men practicing tennis outside to see how much time he’d have before their restlessness kicked in. He couldn’t see Seunghyun’s face but he had a hunch it reflected a similar amusement to Yoochun’s as they met each other at the net to exchange a high-five.
There was a tense moment when Yunho thought that was going to be it, that it would be the end of their practice and they’d try and return to the office when Jay so obviously wasn’t ready for company. But then to Yunho’s relief, Yoochun darted backwards, back to the base line to start a new serve. Either they were enjoying themselves far too much to notice the time lapse or they had sensed that something was going on and knew to leave Yunho and Jay be. He hoped it was the latter. Time was always the best medicine. Time and distraction.
Yunho sat himself back down on the floor, this time crossing his legs. “So you’ve been inked, huh?” he asked the other man. Jay had mentioned something like that earlier. At the time Yunho had let it pass without comment, but now he had to admit that he was quite intrigued. He’d never caught even a glimpse of a tattoo on Jay’s body. He apparently hid those as well as his thoughts.
Jay remained still and silent for a long while until Yunho began to doubt whether his question had even registered. Then Jay came back to life and he gave a shrug. “Yeh, I have been. On my feet I have: ‘AD INITIUM’ and on the other: ‘INCEPTUM FINIS’. Basically that means ‘the beginning’ and then ‘the beginning of the end.”
“Right. Okay. Cool.” Yunho nodded as he pictured it. “I like that. It’s like each step you take starts and completes a cycle.”
“It’s a caution.”
“A caution?” Yunho mulled it over. “Oh, like if you walk too quickly, you’ll experience things too fast so you’re not going to appreciate them? Like a fancier ‘stop and smell the roses?’”
Jay put his glass down and drew his legs up. “Poetry has unlimited meanings.”
“But I’m right, right?”
“Poetry is whatever you want it to be.”
He’d said that with a slight smirk. Bastard. Yunho felt himself pouting and reached out to grasp Jay’s arm where it rested over his bent knees. He tugged at it gently but incessantly until the other man was rocking back and forth towards him. Just for fun, Yunho chanted “Tell me! Tell me!” with each pull, but Jay’s reply was always a “No, no”, as he swayed back into his spot.
“Oh-kay,” Yunho dragged out with a grin. “I’ll just pretend I was right. Kind of the same diff anyway. What about the others? You said you had more of them earlier, right? Four was it?”
Jay’s hands moved away from his knees and Yunho thought for a second that Jay was drawing back to elbow him. Instead his hand curled under his shirt and began to lift it up.
Yunho blinked for a moment at the pale skin—at lots of pale skin—until Jay had lifted the shirt entirely over his head and dropped it onto the ground beside him. Then Yunho’s slightly dazed mind took a few things in at once: he saw a dark shadow on Jay’s back, and then higher up where pale skin met a sun-kissed nape he saw the places of Jay’s hair where it had been messed up by his shirt. He also saw strokes of something red near Jay’s pectoral. Then Jay angled himself so Yunho could see all of it. The red marks were a small tattoo that looked like licks of flame curling over Jay’s left pectoral but not quite reaching his nipple. The curves were quite elegant but somehow a little sinister too.
Yunho had been considering more light-hearted quips for whatever tattoos Jay would be showing him, but now he just looked at the curling flames in silence. “Passion…” he thought and then realised he had said it out loud.
Jay raised his eyebrows at him so Yunho elaborated. “Passion. A flame over your heart. That’s passion…” A potentially damaging passion though. A double-edged sword. Yunho couldn’t think why he thought that but it was somehow all in the visual—the angle of the flames perhaps; engulfing as well as inspiring…
Yunho must have been close with his explanation because instead of trying to remain the enigma, Jay just nodded. Then he said, “I was considering scarification for it originally.”
Scarification? Yunho had no idea what that was but anything with ‘scar’ in it couldn’t be pleasant. “What is it?” he asked and then quickly held up his hand, “Or do I not want to know?”
Jay’s lips quirked a little. “How squeamish are you?”
Yunho gave it a quick thought. “Moderate?”
The older man nodded with a growing smile. “Well, scarification is a less superficial way of tattooing yourself. Instead of a needle, they cut the design into you—only a millimetre or so—and then the ink heals into a cool texture. It’s kind of messy though at the time. You bleed. A lot.”
Yunho stared at him for a long moment—the natural thing to do when all words had dried from his mouth—and then he snapped out of it and made a face. “Well. That sounds fun. I have no idea why it isn’t more common.”
Jay’s lips rose into a wider smile—it was quite beautiful considering the topic at hand. “Yeh… Well, something stopped me at the last minute and I just got it done normally.” He flashed Yunho that wry smile of his. “How boring of me.”
Yunho felt his fingers start to dig into his leg. Jay was smiling but Yunho didn’t feel right. He was bewildered and he knew it. Jay was so blasé about his tattoos, eager even, but to Yunho Jay’s explanation had sounded so much like glorified self-harm.
Scarification. Why would you ever want to try that? Yunho’s face must have screamed the question because after a quick chuckle, Jay said, “I have a really high pain tolerance. I guess I just really wanted to feel that one. And…” Jay gave an amused shrug. “I kind of struggle with the ordinary.”
Yes, Yunho remembered the carrot dominoes well. And the late-night meditations on the court. And the laughing at odd moments. “Yes. You’re anything but ordinary,” he said.
It was quite ironic that he’d meant this conversation to be a distraction for Jay and whatever his demons were, but Yunho had ended up being the one distracted.
Yunho relaxed the hand that had been gripping his shorts. “Well, it looks nice regardless of the…method.” He gestured towards Jay’s chest.
“You have balls either way.”
Jay quirked an eyebrow. “It wasn’t about bravery.”
“It is for me.”
Jay gave him another smile. “Uh-oh,” he said. “I better not show you the last one then. That one took more than one session to complete.”
Yunho sighed and put his hands on his hips. “Well, now that you’ve said that, I want to see it!”
Jay laughed at his embellished annoyance and turned his back.
Yunho’s hands flew to Jay’s waist without thinking and gently angled him further towards him for a better look. He left his hands on Jay’s waist as he took in the inked incision that ran under his shoulder blades to his elbows, along part of his spine, and just stared.
It was… Jeez… It was a masterpiece. Yunho didn’t even know where to look first. Jay’s skin looked like a scroll ripped back in curling parchment to reveal what was underneath—not veins or organs but a heap of letters. It looked like if you peeled his skin back, he was made out of pages of a book.
One of his hands lifted from Jay’s waist to slowly touch the inked design. The parchment and ripped scroll looked rough to touch but the older man’s skin was smooth beneath his fingertips—and warm. The whole area was smooth and warm.
Yunho’s thumb gently moved across his back and the other man fidgeted beneath his touch. Yunho paused, a little guilty, and then gazed at the full picture before him. A 3D tattoo of skin peeling back should have been grotesque, but it wasn’t. Not at all. Instead it was just… Stunning. That was the only word Yunho could think of.
He shook his head a little as he mulled it all over. An incision that was gorgeous instead of grotesque… Flames of passion that were engulfing rather than inspiring… Jay seemed to love pushing the boundaries of concepts; melting something into something else until it was simultaneously two impossible things at once.
This was art. An incredible piece of self-expression that Yunho would probably never be able to completely comprehend. Had Jay designed these? Yunho couldn’t even draw stick figures…
Moving his hand down even slower, Yunho traced the lines of ripped parchment down the edge of Jay’s spine and followed its ruined curls. Then he slowly ran his fingers over the exposed letters beneath it. “What does it say? There are English letters but it’s not English.”
“Latin.” Jay’s head turned a little to look at him over his shoulder. “Something like: ‘FABER EST QUISQUE FORTUNAE SUAE’ and then: ‘AUT VIAM INVENIAM AUT FACIAM.’”
“May I ask what that means?”
Jay fidgeted a little more beneath his fingers. “‘Every man is an architect
of his own fortune.’” His head lowered a little. “‘I will find a way or I will make one.’”
Yunho nodded his head slowly as he took in all of Jay’s words and then remembered Jay couldn’t see him. “A powerful choice of words,” he said softly instead. “A great code to live by… And a stunning design. I can see why this would have taken more than one session.” He lifted his fingers from Jay’s back and then realised he was still holding his waist and withdrew that hand too.
“Yeh, it took a while,” Jay explained. “The calculations especially. That tattoo couldn’t touch any of my moles so the calculations had to be perfect.”
Right. His moles… Yunho’s eyes dropped to the small scattering of moles that sat under the tattoo and across the other side of his spine. He’d noticed them before but the tattoo had taken most of his attention. They were a beautiful design of their own. He wanted to touch them and compare them to—
He looked away.
“It’s an incredible design,” he said again. “They all are. The tattoos.”
Yunho moved away and rested his arms on his bent knees while the other man bent forward to pick up his shirt. His eyes rose to the cardboard cut out watching them from across the room with that amused brown stare. It was so lifelike. From far away it could have been him. Would he be smirking though?
Jay’s movement beside him stilled and Yunho glanced at him. His shirt was back on but it had left his hair even more dishevelled. God.
Yunho unclenched his jaw and then stood up and walked past the other man. He paused for a moment by the door and then doubled back and bent down to pick up the empty glass beside Jay’s leg. “Fix up your hair, would you?” He walked over the sink and set the glass down. “Or there will be a new joke for Yoochun’s Ricky Board.”
“Ricky Bo—” Jay turned his head and then seemed to finally notice the white board that now hung from a string around Ricky Lee-Poynter’s cardboard neck like a heavy necklace.
^ CHECK OUT MY BALLSThere was a gasp and then: “Fucking Yoochun…”
The afternoon had cooled down a bit yet somehow Jay could still feel the sweat on his forehead. He’d had a nice reprieve from it all in air conditioned peace when his leg had cramped up, but it had just taken five minutes of idle staring at the court Seunghyun and Yunho had been playing on for his body to start feeling the heat again. He’d played in worse, and he would play in even worse conditions just to feel it all again, if only his leg would cooperate with him. Bargains like that didn’t work though. Well, since his leg insisted on being difficult, he’d take the air con.
Jay felt an arm wrap around his shoulder and he looked over at Seunghyun.
“I can’t wait for the weekend,” the older man said. “She’s going to look so beautiful.”
Jay nodded and then asked, “Are we talking about Yoochun in drag or the court?” He heard his friend chuckle and then his shoulder was being lightly squeezed.
“I love how you do that.” Jay opened his mouth to ask what but Seunghyun added, “Say those lines with such a straight face. So dry. I think I’m looking forward to seeing you most in drag, firing out those quips as if you’re not wearing a short skirt with your dignity on the line.”
“There were a few compliments in there…”
“There were,” Seunghyun agreed with laughter in his voice. “And yes, I did mean the court. I can’t wait to see all the kids running around on her and enjoying themselves. With, of course, the four dodo-heads christening it first with our little match.”
Jay had to nod in agreement at that. “It will be good. Tiring but good. Speaking of tired, I’m tired; why are we having this meeting again?”
“Organisation, my friend,” Seunghyun said and tugged Jay backwards with him until Jay had been escorted to the steps of HQ. To his surprise, Seunghyun blocked the rest of the way up before Jay could be a good boy and step forward himself. “I just wanted to check that you are okay.” Jay let his confused frown speak for him. “I mean before practice ended. Were you talking with Yunho in there?”
“Oh.” At the other man’s name, Jay looked past Seunghyun’s shoulder and found the man leaning against the table as he talked with Yoochun. “Yeh. My leg cramped up so Yunho was helping me massage it and stuff.”
“Are you okay now?” Seunghyun asked in concern.
“Do you need to sit?”
“Standing’s fine. I’m fine in general. Thank you though,” Jay told him. Seunghyun nodded but patted his lower back as he past him.
Jay was a little relieved that Yoochun had all of Yunho’s attention when he came into the room. He had cried in front of the guy; that was something Jay couldn’t forget too easily. He never cried in front of anyone. He didn’t want to make a habit out of it.
Ducking into the closest seat out of Yunho and Yoochun’s view, Jay waited for Seunghyun to sit at the head of the table and start double-checking whatever the hell it was he needed to double-check with them all.
“Yoochun, did your cousin end up agreeing to help us with the—”
“Make-up, yes she did, sirs, yes she did.”
“Make-up?” Jay repeated. “Is that really necessary?” He’d hoped, he’d prayed…
“Of course it is,” Yoochun said right away from his seat beside Yunho. “Don’t be a party-pooper, you old man.”
Jay scrunched his face up at that remark but didn’t say anything more. He knew when a battle was lost.
“We’re all so relieved that this make-up situation has been settled,” Seunghyun said, bringing all their attention back to him. “But to be honest, I was mostly checking if she could still help out with the photography. A few new photos for—“ Seunghyun paused and gave Yunho an odd look “—our website would be great.”
Jay looked over at Yunho too, who had jumped a little in his seat whilst Seunghyun had been talking.
“Photos,” was all he said before jumping out of his seat and darting to his bag. He popped his head up when he saw everyone staring at him and then smiled sheepishly. “Carry on,” he said before rummaging through his bag again.
“Yep, she can do photos too,” Yoochun confirmed for Seunghyun, slowly, as distracted as the rest of them were.
“There we go,” they heard Yunho mutter to himself before he stood back up and let his bag drop to the floor again. “Photos,” he said in explanation and held up an old, rumpled packet of something. It was an old photo sleeve, the kind you were given at the shops when they developed photos from a roll of film. “I found these at my parents’ house,” he said as he headed back to the table and flipped the cover open. “I took them when I was a kid, when I used to play tennis here.” He slipped out a small stack of shiny photographs from the sleeve. “I thought you might like to see them. You can see how the courts used to look thirteen, fourteen years ago. They haven’t changed all that much but…” he shrugged and laid them out on the table in front of Seunghyun.
There was an immediate burst of excited chatter but Jay sat frozen in his seat. The past wasn’t something he liked being reminded of unless he was the one doing the reminiscing. Especially not today. Not after his leg had… And he’d…
Jay took a few breaths, then steeled himself and raised his eyes. Yoochun had scooted over Yunho’s empty chair to get a better look at the photos and Jay supposed he had to do the same.
There was some collective ooh-ing as Yunho pointed out which court was which and Jay felt himself smiling despite himself as he saw the dear old things. In the photos there were so many kids in white darting around like little pigeons and scuffing the surface of the courts. That’s right, there had always been so many kids in white hanging around. Yunho’s coaching back then must have been a group session. Jay wondered if it had been with Coach Yoo. Jay had never had him—only once when he’d been filling in for Coach Lee—but Jay vaguely remembered kids constantly laughing at his jokes in the adjacent court. Jay hadn’t found tennis a laughing matter back then, but now he could appreciate that style of coaching—mostly thanks to Yoochun, the modern-day version.
“You can see that big tree behind Court Two,” Yunho was saying, pointing it out to the others, and Yoochun let out a long ohhh!
Jay leaned a little further over to make the same comparison and then his elbows almost slipped from under him as he saw a familiar figure in the photo.
Yunho, as a kid, hadn’t had the best eye in photography; the subjects in his photos were all framed oddly and sometimes only half in shot, but in that one photo it was clear who the intended focal point was.
The kid had his back to Yunho’s camera, his young and lithe body tilted back in the middle of a serve. The face was in profile and obscured by the cap he wore but Jay knew that body better than anyone else. He hadn’t seen it often from that angle, but Jay had been photographed enough to recognise his own body.
He felt lightheaded. He felt sick. He was in Yunho’s photo. Fucking hell, how was this possible?
Long fingers appeared at the edge of the photo and slid it closer to Jay. Jay looked up at Yunho and saw nothing but eager helpfulness on his face. Always the gentleman; he’d obviously seen Jay trying to look at that one. Jay could have laughed out loud at how hilariously awkward that was. And it was about to get even better because Yunho pushed off from the table and came around Seunghyun to lean by Jay’s side. “That’s him,” he said quietly into Jay’s ear and laid a helpful finger on the figure in question.
Him? Oh. Right.
This time Jay had to bite down hard on his lip to stop himself from throwing his head back in hysterical laughter—emphasis on hysterical. His mind had fallen blank for a second during Yunho’s cryptic commentary but he fucking remembered now. Him, Yunho’s little kiddy crush from the good old days.
Him, as in HIM. Fuck a duck. Yunho’s crush was him. Of course it fucking was. Of course! Because he hadn’t felt awkward enough around Yunho already.
Jay took a moment to close his eyes and all but suck his cheeks in to curb the laughter growing inside. Thank god his face wouldn’t be visible to Yunho as long as he kept standing behind Jay. This was too fucked up.
Jay smoothed his expression into a poker face and glanced over his shoulder at Yunho while he could still hold onto it. Yunho had been looking down at the photo with a soft look, a sentimental smile that seemed to be turning sad, but at Jay’s sudden attention his eyes rose to reciprocate Jay’s gaze. Yunho’s eyes had an innocence to their searching and Jay realised Yunho was waiting for a response. It had been their little secret, Yunho’s old kiddy crush. Now Yunho was sharing this old memory with Jay and the normal thing to do was seem excited by the old photo. If Jay tried to smile now though, he might look like a muppet with all this restrained laughter because Yunho seriously hadn’t managed to put two and two together. The idiom it’s right under your nose came to mind and it was so fantastically, literally true right then that Jay had to stifle a new bout of laughter. Curse his love of the ironic!
To be fair to Yunho though, how could he have put two and two together? He knew nothing about Jay, not really. His face had lost a lot of puppy fat through puberty too. It wasn’t the poor guy’s fault he’d created the biggest joke without even realising it—and right now Jay felt more like the butt of that joke than Yunho. Of course the past was going to come up and bite him on the ass. It had only been a matter of time. You could hardly escape the past when you came to work at a place from your past. Jay had been dancing around that fine line for ages and now that line had wrapped around his ankles and tripped him over.
Realising he still hadn’t given Yunho any kind of response to their little secret, he took a deep breath and smiled politely up at him. “Cool,” he managed to say as if Yunho had shown him his new Gameboy. ‘Cool’ was a very big understatement, but ‘cool’ was all Yunho was going to get right then because behind Jay’s amusement was fear. This little surprise coincidence was now his responsibility and Jay frankly had no clue how to handle it. He needed time to think about what the hell had just happened.
“We should put these photos on the fridge,” Jay heard Seunghyun suggest and he froze in his seat.
“Oh god no,” Yunho replied, his voice somewhere above Jay’s still. “The kid in this photo gave me an inferiority complex.”
So much for their secret and— What?
“Oh no, really?” came Seunhyun’s response. “What did he do?”
Yunho had been leaning against the back of Jay’s chair and the pressure in the wood eased as Yunho started to walk back to his own seat. It only made Jay feel more exposed. At least standing behind Jay, there had been the illusion of Yunho’s protection or support or—something.
To Seunghyun’s question, Yunho shrugged as he slid back into place and then told the other man, “I was sort of joking, but maybe that’s the truth of it. He was so good at tennis but he was kind of cold and he didn’t really hang around nice people.”
“Ahh,” Yoochun nodded from beside Yunho before sighing deeply. “He thought he was too good for everyone. He didn’t bother to speak with ordinary folk. I’ve met a few of those people. Total wankers.”
Jay bristled and sat up—
“Modesty is an admirable feature in people…” Seunghyun agreed.
“Which Yunho has in bucket loads!” Yoochun added, raising his glass of water up to Yunho. Seunghyun mimicked the toast but Jay’s hands were fists under the table.
It took a moment for Yoochun to swallow the rest of his water and then he continued on saying, “Is he still in town? Maybe he will show up at our 100 Days event and you can tell him where to shove it.”
“No,” Yunho replied, and Jay was pleased to see he looked a little uneasy. “It’s not like that. He wasn’t mean to my face or anything, he just didn’t talk to people outside of his group much. I was just the typical kid—wanting to be friends with the cool senior. It was just unfortunate.”
Yoochun raised his eyebrows at that but didn’t say anything more. Jay’s hands relaxed a little under the table.
“And I don’t think he’s around town anymore anyway,” Yunho added. “He moved overseas a long time ago and if he came back, he’s probably working up in the city somewhere. His parents aren’t here anymore either.”
At that Jay’s head shot up again and he stared with wide eyes.
“Though that’s probably a good thing because I’d feel a little awkward around them…”
“Why is that?” Seunghyun asked, ever the good listener.
“I went to his house when I was thirteen or fourteen, just before I moved to the city to train. His parents answered the door and it didn’t really go so good. I just wanted to ask if I could have his contact details because I thought maybe he’d be able to help me with some tennis tips since he was always so good at it, but his parents wouldn’t let me in and basically told me to scram.”
There were some indignant exclamations from around the table but Jay barely heard them above his own heart beat.
Yunho went to his house? He would have still been in Australia but…
Jay tried to keep his breathing even.
He went to his house! He knew his name. He couldn’t have gone to his house without knowing his name. He couldn’t have known his parents didn’t live here anymore either unless he had been asking after them from someone. And recently.
For one horrifying moment, Jay looked up into Yunho’s face and thought he knew. He knew who Jay was and he was making a fool out of him as some kind of revenge. But the moment passed, the heart beat in his ears lessened, and he let himself breathe again. Yunho knew his name—his real name, but he didn’t know it was Jay. Jay still had control over this thing.
“Well, that’s just charming,” Yoochun told Yunho rather emphatically. “Wanting an email is hardly a crime. He and his parents sound like such assholes. If any of them turn up at 100 Days because you’re famous now, you can tell them to scram. No one needs assholes like that around here.”
Jay unclenched his teeth and stared right at Yunho. “If he was such as asshole, if you hated him so much, why did you take a photo of him and keep it for so long?”
Yunho looked over at him and blinked. “I didn’t hate him. I thought he was absolutely incredible. Especially with tennis.”
“But not as a person?” Yoochun chuckled.
Yunho turned to Yoochun and said, “I didn’t know him.”
“Which is the point.”
“Someone has issues.” Jay hadn’t realised he’d said it until Yoochun’s eyes landed on him with a look of confusion. He had more to say and it was out before he could even stop it. “You’re rather passionately talking smack about someone you’ve never met.”
Silence fell around the table and it almost happened in slow motion that Yoochun’s eyes widened and then narrowed as his lips moved to shape his response. “Hello Pot.*”
There was a small gasp from Seunghyun but Jay’s eyes instinctively moved to Yunho’s. There was a trickle of guilt somewhere in him but Jay’s head was still catching up to the moment. He’d been ready to fling some shit at Yoochun but Yoochun was right. Yunho didn’t seem to make the connection though, he just looked uncomfortable, the way people did when an argument sprung up and all they wanted to be was invisible.
Jay lowered his gaze and took a few breaths. He said nothing more to Yoochun but gave him one last look which he hoped conveyed the gist of what he was feeling. They had never fought before, in private or in public, and it was as much of a shock to Jay as it was to everyone else. If this was a tennis match, Jay would have just lost the Advantage, back to Deuce.
He really needed to talk to his grandmother. His was out of his depth again. He needed help; he had to admit it. He needed help.
“Well, never mind,” said Seunghyun. “Your photos don’t need to go on the fridge if you’d rather keep them. Thank you for bringing them in; it was fascinating comparing the old to the new.” Always the diplomat, their Seunghyun.
“Thanks,” Jay echoed, pushing the photo in front of him over to Yunho and then sitting back in his chair, feeling rather meek.
“No problem,” Yunho said.
If only that were true.
*Yoochun’s “Hello Pot” refers to the idiom: “That’s the pot calling the kettle black.” Ie. accusing someone of hypocrisy.
A/N: Well. There we go. Jay really went through the wringer in this one. Can anyone say ‘awwwks!’ There’s a lot happening in this chapter/part under the surface. Frustrating to write but oh so fun. Heh. I hope you enjoyed it.
Annnnd I’m so excited because tomorrow the Australian Open begins! That’s basically non-stop tennis on my TV and hopefully that means my muse will be fed a healthy banquet. Shame Yunho wouldn’t really be on my TV though… A girl can dream. Yep, that’s why I’m writing it, baby. =P
Thank you guys, as always for reading and sharing your thoughts with me! It’s nice to be back again. <3
Current Music: Jungle - Emma Louise [YH POV]