wild_terrain: (JaeHo Forever yours)
[personal profile] wild_terrain
Title: Across the Line
Author: wild_terrain
Across the Line - full banner 512x448

Chapter: [4 / ?]
Rating: M
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
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: Beware the mild crack. And look out for some URLs if you wish. =P



∞CHAPTER 4∞


Jay’s week had been a crazy one but it had finally settled down over the weekend. Yoochun only taught lessons in the mornings of weekends and then the court was up for hire. There had been a lot of little smiling faces having a go on the court with their parents and siblings and the joy had been infectious. Business was still a little slow but they only had limited rackets to hand out to people anyway.

It was Monday again, a full week since the thorn in his side had shown up. Jung Yunho had already signed the contract though and didn’t have much reason to come back for a long while so Jay hoped he had gotten through the worst of it. Now he just had to wait for Yoochun. Their tennis coach was late. There was still twenty minutes until his lessons started but he was cutting it close.

Five minutes later, said tennis coach tumbled inside. “Double-J!”

Jay leaned back from his laptop and lifted a hand in a short wave. “YC-P.”

“Is that rhetorical?” the younger man returned with a wink. “No need to be so formal, dude. I don’t need a Pee.”

Jay smiled and shook his head.

“I do need a poo though.”

Jay raised his eyebrows. “TMI, buddy.”

“No really… It’s like Grand Central Station down there.”

“Again, TMI,” Jay scolded and pointed to the bathroom.

“I have fifteen minutes, right?”

Jay tried not to laugh. “You’ll need that long?”

“It’s an eight carriage train.”

“Okay, pretending I didn’t hear that. Though this time, I acknowledge it’s my own fault.” He shook his head and then rested his chin on his hand at the table. He was still lost in a daze, staring out the window when Yoochun joined him again with racket in hand.

“Go get ‘em, tiger,” Jay called out.

“They’re only kids,” he called back.

“Still…” Jay muttered under his breath with a little smirk and then brought his attention back to his laptop.

When Yoochun came back into HQ after his lessons had finished, he didn’t look so good.

“Wow. You okay?” Jay asked the pale-faced man slumped on the couch.

“Not brilliant,” came the reply. “Can you do me a favour, Double-J? I don’t think I can drive, it feels like there is a hip-hop dance-off going on in my bowels. Could you get me some Imodium from the chemist? My wallet’s…somewhere…”

“No,” Jay brushed his words aside and stood up, “You can pay me back later. Go lie down. I won’t be too long.”

“Thank you so much, bro.”

There was a chemist only a five minute drive away and Jay had parked his car and come back down the slope in under fifteen minutes. He stepped back into HQ and placed his wallet and keys on the table. He looked around but he couldn’t see Yoochun on the couch anymore.

He was about to call out for him when he had a noise by Seunghyun’s office. He was in the process of turning his head when a deep, foreign voice called out, “Hello Jay.”

Jay looked to the office and saw a stranger—no, not a stranger, Ricky Lee-Poynter—standing outside the door. He was just standing there, staring him down with his lips raised in a playful smirk.

Jay jumped back a step with a little cry and the packet of Yoochun’s medication clattered to the floor. “Jesus, fuck!” he exclaimed and his hand gripped his chest. His heart was pounding. And then the shock started to dissipate and his vision cleared and…

And he saw it wasn’t really Ricky Lee-Poynter staring him down across the room. It wasn’t even a person—not really. It was a cardboard cut-out. And he knew exactly who had put it there.

“Yoochun!” he yelled, darting around to the end of the table where said man crouched in his hiding place, half hidden under a chair. The younger man broke his silence with a roar of laughter and he fell onto his side as Jay whacked him over and over again with the cushion he had grabbed from the couch.

Finally Yoochun made a grab for the weapon and jumped onto the offending cushion, trapping it between his belly and the floor like a rugby player. At the same time, the door to Seunghyun’s office opened and Seunghyun appeared in the doorway, staring down at them and then at the tall, white human shape blocking his doorway.

“Seriously you guys?” Jay said, gesturing to the smirking cut-out. Seunghyun stepped away from the doorway to get a better look at it and then let out a laugh when he saw who it was.

“Isn’t he beautiful, hyung?” Yoochun asked from the floor.

“Who here is ‘hyung?’” Jay demanded. Yoochun just gazed sweetly at him and Jay tried his hardest not to crack a smile. “Oh, so I’m ‘hyung’ when you’re grovelling and in big trouble, am I?”

“It’s a beauty though, right?” was all Yoochun said. Jay assumed he was talking about the cut-out.

“Are you even sick? Do you even have the runs?”

“Only a little,” he admitted with a slight grimace. “I mostly needed a diversion…”

“This was your plan?” Seunghyun interrupted, addressing the man still on the floor. “A cut-out?”

“Yep. I’m very proud,” came Yoochun’s answer.

“What plan?” Jay asked tiredly, pulling a chair out and dropping into it.

“Well,” Yoochun began as he sat up on the floor, “I’ve heard about the presence of a certain tennis player who you’re not, shall we say, completely fond of around here. So how about a tennis player you are a fan of to balance out the icky mojo?”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” was all Jay could say as his head dropped to his hand and his hand raked through his hair.

Yoochun gazed up at Seunghyun. “Can we keep him?” he pleaded.

“Well, not right in front of my door,” Seunghyun conceded. And then in an afterthought asked, “This isn’t going to be like that taxidermy dog in that Scrubs show is it? You know, the one those two grown men who act like kids dress up and move around their apartment to scare people with?”

“Would that really happen here?” asked Yoochun.

“Yes. You two are exactly like those two.”

“But you can’t dress up a cardboard cut-out, silly,” Yoochun replied.

With a roll of his eyes, Seunghyun said, “Oh, I’m sure you’d find a way.”

“Where on earth did you even get it?” Jay asked, lifting his head up from his hand to gaze at the Ricky cut-out properly—and dare he admit it, a little admiringly.

Yoochun stood up and tapped his nose with a wink. “My little secret.”

“You didn’t steal it, did you?” Jay groaned.

“Of course not!”

“You didn’t pay for it, did you?” Jay groaned even louder.

“Wow, Double-J,” Yoochun laughed. “Which is worse? Stealing it or paying for it?”

Jay just shook his head with a resigned smile.

Yoochun grinned at them both. “He can be our mascot. He can cheer us on from his corner.”

“As long as we keep the lights on,” Seunghyun spoke up with a thoughtful look. “Who knows what JJ will do to it in the dark.”

“Oh my god!” Jay exclaimed as he pushed his chair back and jumped to his feet. “Can you two not!”

“I’m kidding, JJ.” Seunghyun’s soft smile was quite disarming. Jay felt his annoyance peel away. “It’s funny though,” Seunghyun continued, “Just the other day I was wondering what JJ would do if he had a Ricky Lee-Poynter cut-out lying around. It’s almost like I foresaw this.”

Jay turned narrowed eyes onto him. “Is this a confession of involvement?”

Seunghyun looked startled for a moment and then laughed. “No, no! I had nothing to do with this. I’m just saying maybe I should buy a lottery ticket.”

“Well,” Jay said slowly, ignoring Seunghyun’s words and eyeing the cut-out in front of him, “It is a nice photo of him.”

“Only the best for you, Double-J,” Yoochun piped in again.

Jay looked down at him. “Hush.”

“Just saying…” the younger man muttered.

Jay circled the cut-out and then let out a long sigh. “Okay, he’ll be our mascot. Our very, very handsome, attractive—”

“Okay-okay-okay,” the rest of the room chorused.

Jay smiled at them and then lifted Ricky up and placed him to the side of Seunghyun’s office door. He could hear his colleagues snickering behind him as he experimented with different angles but chose to ignore them.

His friends were crazy but he did enjoy the joke. And who could say no to a free Ricky Lee-Poynter cut-out? Besides, it really was one of Jay’s favourite images of him. It was from the shoot Ricky had done for his Adidas endorsement. The sexy but fun smirk and the mostly straight, short brown hair styled simply and off his forehead was very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Or maybe just Jay’s eyes… Whatever. And the blue—azure—Adidas shirt hugged his broad shoulders and toned torso, and the grey pants accentuated his long, spritely legs. And best of all, his hands hung casually beside him, giving the misleading impression that he was just one of the boys hanging out at HQ.

He’ll fit in nicely, Jay decided. Well… he then amended, as long as some little shit doesn’t break in one night and graffiti him. Or worse—Yoochun tries to dress him up in a bra or something.

Jay stood back and then moved across the room to inspect how Ricky looked from the doorway, and then from the entertainment quarter. He could hear Seunghyun and Yoochun giggling again from the opposite wall and yelled out, “Oh shut up!”

*
Yunho flipped the page of the comic book he was reading. He read through all the black and white text and then gazed at the band-aid wrapped around the thumb propping the comic book open. He had hurt himself the day before helping his father mend the cabinet. He had been helping his father with a lot of odd jobs over the week, mostly maintenance. He had oiled stiff locks, un-jammed windows, hung new photo frames up, moved furniture, and bleached mould from the ceiling. There was hardly anything left to do. He supposed he could still climb onto the roof and clean out the gutters later…

He let the comic rest on his chest and stared up at the mould-free ceiling of his bedroom. He was seriously running out of things to do. Even reading through his old comic collection wasn’t as interesting as he’d hoped it would be.

It seriously sucked that none of his close friends were in town to play around with. Changmin was still studying and Junsu was in the city, busy with his part-time job and semi professional soccer team. Yunho’s calendar this month looked dismal. He had been invited out to meet up with some old friends from his school days but he hadn’t seen them in years and they were more of a one-off deal.

There were only so many television dramas he could watch with his mother too. Especially when he was half way through the storyline and very, very lost. He supposed the mindless viewing was relaxing for some but for him it was just a little too boring. He had never really been good at just sitting around, but at the same time, he couldn’t just spend half the day at the gym either.

Relaxing, he decided, was easier said than done.

He couldn’t even lose himself in a healthy session of jerking off. He didn’t feel comfortable at all sharing an intimate moment with his hand under the same roof as his parents—even if their bedroom was several rooms away. How the hell had he managed to do it so often when he’d been a teenager living here? His sheets had practically crusted back then and he still hadn’t been deterred. Puberty had been an exhausting, exhilarating, orgasm-filled blur. How times had changed, huh.

How old had he been when he’d finally been able to move on from his hand? It had taken him a while to lose his virginity (so to speak) despite his expertise in whacking off. Ah, he had been seventeen. It had been with a still-in-the-closet guy from Junsu’s soccer team. He had only experienced proper anal when he was nineteen and on his first year of tour. As a professional player, that was. As a junior he had mostly stuck to blowies.

Okay, why was he even thinking about that! Thinking about sex with guys whilst he was still lying in his childhood bed and unable to touch himself was just dumb. His parents were aware of his preferences but it still felt too awkward to flaunt it. Call him old fashioned but there were just some things his parents didn’t need to see.

He turned his head to look at the time—14:50—and let out a noisy, lengthy groan. He was wasting away in here! Having nothing to do on a holiday, having no goals to work towards aside from relax wasn’t relaxing at all—it was stressful. He was wasting so much time on something that wasn’t working! He needed to play. Only playing with a racket in hand could help him! Not thinking and not strategizing and not playing wasn’t going to do anything but set him back for months.

He rolled over and buried his head in his pillow and thrashed his legs against the mattress.

Okay. He was getting worked up and that wasn’t going to help either. He had to either read the damn comic or get outside.

He peeked at the clock again from behind his pillow. 14:57. The club would be open today, right? (The tennis club, that was. He wished he had enough self restraint to mean a dance club.) He’d been there before on a Wednesday. It would be open. Done.

He jumped up from the bed, grabbed his keys and tried not to step on the comic book sprawled like a fan on the floor on his way out.

*

Yoochun stepped through into the tennis man cave, and before he even had time to close the door, he was met with a deafening yell.

“Happy birthday, Yoochun!”

Yoochun grinned and lifted his hand up high in the air to smack Jay’s awaiting one. “Thanks, Double-J!”

He had been summoned the day before by Seunghyun and Jay and told to come in at least an hour earlier than his scheduled tennis lessons to celebrate his big day. He had honestly just expected some nibbles set up on the table and some soft drinks (maybe a few cold beers set aside for after work), but he found more than that when he looked around the room. Snacks were laid out on the table as he had anticipated, but the couch was also pushed back against the wall and an ipod dock was set up near the television, paused on a playlist specially created for him with a wonderful list of old-school tunes lined up.

He stared at the little ipod screen and then exclaimed, “MC Hammer!”

“Oh yes,” Jay confirmed with a grin. “And your favourite song of all time.”

“Love Shack?!” Yoochun exclaimed.

“There will be shimmying,” Jay replied with a laugh.

“Shimmying!” Yoochun echoed loudly. His loud cheering almost drowned out the sound of Seunghyun’s office door opening, but the flash of movement caught Yoochun’s eye and he spun around to face his other boss. “Say it is so!”

Seunghyun laughed and made his way over to them. “There will be shimmying,” he agreed and then moved to give him a big birthday pat on the back.

“You guys are the best.”

“Well, we may have only been together this past four months, but we know well enough of your love of crazy dancing.”

“Crazy?”

“Spirited,” Jay corrected Seunghyun with a smirk.

“Very spirited.”

“And I won’t be the only one, will I?” Yoochun asked both men.

“It’s your special day.”

“Which means,” Jay said, “that as your thoughtful boss, Seunghyun will be obligated to—I mean willingly—dance with the rest of us.”

“But the volume can’t reach past forty!” Seunghyun quickly interjected.

“Easy,” Jay said and then leaned back to press play on his ipod.

Wonderful ‘90s music burst through the speakers and Yoochun immediately jumped into the centre of the room and started jumping up and down. He heard his colleagues laughing at him but that just spurred him on to jump higher.

Soon the other two joined him in the middle of the freshly cleared space of their man cave and he almost had them crying from laughter at his repertoire.

“Who remembers the SPRINKLER dance move!” he yelled seconds before demonstrating it. Even Seunghyun was crooking his elbow and moving his other hand out horizontally as he watered the grass.

“And the GROCERY SHOPPING,” Jay announced before picking up the invisible items from the shelf and dropping them into his shopping trolley.

“Now FREESTYLE it!” Yoochun instructed and then jumped into some faux breakdancing. Jay was getting into the swing of things too until he looked over at what Seunghyun was doing and then both of his hands flew to cover his mouth. Howling with laughter behind his hands, it only took seconds before Jay had backed up against the couch and lost his balance from the impact, falling spectacularly over sideways onto the floor.

“What?” Seunghyun asked, stopping his dancing and staring in accusation at his business partner still in absolute stitches on the floor.

“Y-You… You…” Jay tried to get out but couldn’t and rolled onto his side for more laughter to come out.

Yoochun grinned too. “I haven’t seen moves like that since I was in primary school,” he told Seunghyun. “Though that would have roughly been the decade this song was out in so you’re either really clever and period acting or just…wonderfully dorky.”

“He looked like Mr Bean dancing!” Jay finally managed to get out from the floor.

“Did not,” a very red-faced Seunghyun defended.

Yoochun grinned at him. “It was amazing. Please don’t ever change.”

“For your birthday I’m buying you a tweed suit,” Jay quipped, pushing himself off the floor.

“I look forward to that,” Seunghyun sighed before indignantly getting back to his terrible dad dance moves. “At least compare me to Yoo Jaesuk.”

After a brilliantly fun twenty minutes of dancing and pigging out on snacks on the table, Yoochun’s favourite song finally made its appearance and as a special show of brotherhood for his birthday, all three men faced each other in a circle and yelled out mangled lyrics to the legendary B-52’s one hit wonder Love Shack in horribly slurred English.

“Love shack! Baby, love shack!”

“Everybody shimmy!”

Seunghyun and Yoochun almost butted heads pulling that command off, much to Jay’s delight, but then Jay almost backed into the couch again and only Seunghyun’s hand shooting out to grab him stopped him from toppling onto it. And then the climax of the song began to build up and everyone was back to yelling out the lyrics to each other.

“BANG, BANG, BANG on the door, baby!”

“Knock a little louder, sugar!”

BANG! BANG! came the loud rapping of knuckles against glass and all three men tried not to yell at the sudden, very real noise interrupting their music. They all turned to look, completely disoriented, in the direction of the club’s door.

Yoochun could have sworn that the plethora of ‘90s music all afternoon had damaged his brain somehow because a very famous tennis player was standing outside their man cave. And not just standing outside, but with his head clearly sticking through the half opened door with his knuckles still resting against the outside glass. This awesome apparition hadn’t just knocked with one hell of a coincidental timing; he had actually knocked deliberately on cue. Their apparition had been watching them for some time and knew the Love Shack well enough to do it.

“He has a sense of humour!” Seunghyun could be heard saying with both awe and laughter in all the mayhem, and Yoochun decided right then that he loved the tennis player with all his heart. And then Jung Yunho stepped properly into the room with a smile. The real Jung Yunho, not an apparition.

“Well fuck me sideways,” Yoochun said, then caught himself. “I mean, hello!”

The tennis player gave him a nod and returned his greeting before Seunghyun sent Jay to turn down the music.

Yoochun could still barely believe it. He had known from Seunghyun that Jung Yunho had been around, but to see him with his own eyes was something else.

The tennis player was slightly taller than he was and, from the looks of things, naturally tan. He was wearing beige shorts and a blue polo shirt and his short hair was brushed off his face. He was both different and the same as the man he had seen on the television. Yoochun didn’t consider himself the type to be susceptible to the whole star struck thing but it was actually a little unbelievable that Jung Yunho was standing there in front of them all with one leg bent in a polite but casual stance. For a moment it was like no one knew what to say. Even Seunghyun looked a little confused, so Yoochun did what he always did in awkward situations—he opened his trap. “Aww, guys!” he cooed. “You got me Jung Yunho for my birthday!”

His joke seemed to snap everyone out of it. Seunghyun scurried over to the tennis player with his arm outstretched in a welcoming gesture and Jay lightly punched Yoochun on the shoulder for being an idiot—but the punch came with a smile.

The oddest thing happened then when Jung Yunho returned his gaze to Yoochun, looking…apologetic? “It’s your birthday…” was all he said to the stunned Yoochun, like interrupting their stupid dancing caused great offence. And then, “Happy birthday.”

“Thank you,” Yoochun said warmly.

“Jung-sshi, this is Park Yoochun, our tennis coach.”

“It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Yoochun returned, accepting the hand shake the other man had offered up. It was hard not to feel just a little bit chuffed.

“I didn’t realise this was a birthday celebration,” Yunho said looking at each of them. “I can come back at a different time.”

“No, no. Don’t worry about it,” Seunghyun assured him and then gestured at his office in an unspoken suggestion.

Yunho nodded hesitantly but then stepped forward.

As Seunghyun led the ridiculously charismatic man into his office, Yoochun couldn’t help but stare after him for every last second until the door slipped shut. What the hell did Jay have against him? He was practically perfect. He had even done a funny double-take at the Ricky Lee-Poynter cut-out lingering in the corner before he’d stepped into Seunghyun’s office. If he judged them, he judged them silently. A gentleman through and through.

Yoochun turned back to his friend who was still standing with his hands behind his back by the ipod dock. “Bang, bang on the door,” Yoochun said. “And he bang bang-ed on the door. Bloody brilliant,” he finished with a shake of his head. Jay just stood with a shrug and Yoochun came a little back to reality again. “Best birthday ever. Now let’s do the SPRINKLER dance again,” he told Jay. “Hit me up, DJ!”

*

Ten minutes later and Yunho was still waiting for the floor to open up and swallow him in—to save him from himself more than anything else. His excuse to even come to the club had been weak as piss to begin with and now it looked even more stupid in light of the birthday celebration he had interrupted for it. He had told Seunghyun that he’d wanted to check in person that the money he had sent over had made it safely into the club’s account. His own account was pretty healthy and fraud would not be fun to deal with, but he wasn’t that paranoid over it. His concern over the transfer had been the only excuse in his head when he had turned up, and nothing better had come to mind in the meantime to save his ass. So here he was in Seunghyun’s office, waiting for said man to load the account up whilst muffled party music continued to seep in through the door.

It didn’t take long then for Seunghyun to confirm everything was in order and then Yunho was awkwardly standing up again, not knowing what to do with himself. He surely wasn’t so pathetic these days that he’d try and get an invite to a random’s party just to save himself from having nothing to do besides pull blades of grass out of the ground.

But when Seunghyun offered him a beer before he left, there was a shameless ‘yes’ from him and he was suddenly surrounded again by ‘90s music, an enthusiastic tennis coach dancing crazily with a former carrot domino master, and a cut-out of Ricky Lee-Poytner smirking at him.

What world had he just walked into?

Seunghyun rummaged through the fridge for his beer and whilst he waited for it, Yunho watched the bizarre dance-off currently occurring between Yoochun and Jay.

“Spirit fingers and ironing!” Jay had called out over the music, wiggling his finger tips above his head with one hand, whilst ironing invisible horizontal lines across his body with his other hand.

“Painting the ceiling and vacuuming,” Yoochun countered, painting long, invisible stripes above his head and darting forward like he was in a fencing match with his other hand.

“What the fuck is that!” Jay laughed.

“Fine! Drinking water and picking things off a sushi train!”

Jay waggled his finger at him with a little smirk and Yoochun threw his hands up in defeat.

“Here,” Seunghyun’s voice came from beside him, and Yunho looked over and accepted the cool can of beer from him. Then Seunghyun raised his voice for the other two guys in the room to hear, “I’m off to pick up the pizza. Thank god we ordered far too much for even Yoochun’s stomach to handle.” Said man beamed at Seunghyun and rubbed his stomach with a grin that was full of pride. Seunghyun chuckled under his breath and then looked back at Yunho. “I’ll probably be fifteen minutes tops. If you’re allowed to eat pizza then please do help us.”

Yunho smiled back at him, still feeling that nagging bit of awkwardness and pierced open his can of beer. He had been to tons of these kinds of group gatherings throughout his career so there really was no need for him to feel so out of place. He couldn’t figure out why he did now and it was almost disheartening that he couldn’t even manage this now. He had had to interact with powerful tennis bosses and world-wide names. He had had to converse with tennis players far more famous than himself and with an English vocabulary that had once been incredibly basic. What was a small birthday party in his home country—and in fact his own town—compared to all of that?

Get a grip, idiot, he scolded himself and dodged the dancing duo to sit on the edge of the couch pushed against the wall.

It didn’t take long for the song to end and for Jay to pass Yoochun a can of soda and retrieve a can of beer for himself. Yoochun accepted his non-alcoholic beverage with a pretend pout and then peered over at Yunho. “Hi again!”

“Hi,” Yunho returned. He resisted the urge to start drumming his fingers against the beer can in the silence that came afterwards.

“So are you a pizza man?”

“Yeh, I guess so,” Yunho replied with a small smile.

“We ordered bulgolgi, and a potato one, and…” His face screwed up in thought and then he spun around to look at Jay.

“Double cheese and pineapple,” the other man filled in.

“Yep,” Yoochun agreed with a big nod and turned to look at Yunho again.

“Cool.” Yunho nodded his head a few times and then took another sip from his beer. “So…”he began, looking up the other man. “What number is this celebrating? If I may ask?”

“Twenty-three,” Yoochun supplied with a smile.

“But he doesn’t look a day over thirty,” Jay cooed. He had gripped his friend’s chin and was squeezing it hard with affection.

“Thanks, hyung!”

“Hyung?”

Yoochun’s eyes went a little wider and he leaned in closer to Jay before saying in a stage whisper, “We have guests.”

Jay snorted into his own beer then and drawled out an, “Oh I see.”

“That’s cool though,” Yunho told Yoochun after a moment. “We’re the same age.”

“Really?” Yoochun asked with a very pleased expression and then dropped himself down onto the couch beside him. “Wait…” he groaned. “Don’t tell me that!”

Yunho mouthed, ‘Wh—’ but then just gave up and stared at the other man in confusion.

“We’re the same age but you’ve already done so much more with your life!” he explained.

“Oh…” Yunho didn’t know what to say for a moment. “Perhaps... But you can’t really look at life like that. You can’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has different goals and different things they are meant to do. If you complete those goals then that is as much of a success as the next person.” He hoped he didn’t sound preachy—sometimes he accidentally did—but he really did mean it.

“Brilliant,” Yoochun grinned, to Yunho’s relief. “I am destined right now to be a partying tennis coach. I’ll drink to that! With my fake beer”—he turned to look at Jay—“because I am a responsible tennis coach.”

“And I’ll drink to that,” was Jay’s response.

Yoochun winked at him, clanged their cans together, and then gestured for Jay to pull up a chair and join them by the couch. Jay glanced behind him and then carefully dragged a chair away from the table. Yoochun turned back to Yunho. “So. How long are you around for?”

“About three more weeks.”

“And you were interested in this old place?”

Yunho felt himself smile. “I was. I am. I grew up here for most of my life so this place means a lot to me. I learnt tennis here as a kid and…” he shook his head a little and smiled further. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without that.”

Yoochun made a long noise that sounded like a mix of envy and appreciation. “That is brilliant,” he declared. “It almost makes me wish I had grown up here too. But I’m from the town over—you know, Seonshim.”

“Ahh.” Yunho nodded.

“And Seunghyun’s a city kid. But Jay,” Yoochun looked up over at him, “You’ve been around here before, right?”

“My grandmother lives here...so I have a bit.”

“Yes!” Yoochun was grinning. “Granny Kim!”

“Granny Kim!” came a loud cheer from the doorway. Yunho hadn’t even seen Seunghyun walking up the steps with their pizza. Jay left his seat to help Seunghyun with the boxes and napkins.

“Granny Kim is a legend,” Yoochun continued to tell Yunho. “A legend at tennis and a legend in general.”

“Mmhmm!” came Seunghyun’s hum of agreement by the table. “Granny Kim is the grand matriarch of this joint.”

“She is our queen and we, her humble servants,” Yoochun said.

Jay was smiling and shaking his head as he opened up the pizza boxes. It was a humble smile, and one clearly filled with affection.

“Jay’s grandmother was a pioneer for the female tennis world here in Korea,” Seunghyun began to explain, passing Yunho and Yoochun a napkin as he spoke. “Not many women were interested or encouraged to play but she put her foot down and said: screw you, I’m doing it anyway.”

“Not quite in those words,” Jay drawled.

Seunghyun chuckled. “Fine. She said: bugger you, good sir, who isn’t actually all that good right now. Pish-posh to your rules! Because although I am a female, I want to play too and therefore I will. Thank you and good day.”

“Pish-posh to rules,” Yoochun agreed. “The f-bomb takes all the fun out of swearing.” With a sly smile he added, “Except for Double-J.”

“Pish-posh you,” Jay called out from the table.

Yunho tried not to smile and brought his beer up to quickly take a sip.

“Serve yourself to pizza, everybody,” Seunghyun then declared before setting up another chair next to Jay’s and sitting down in it with a slice of pizza in a napkin.

Yunho only ended up eating three slices but that on top of the beer was already far too exotic a meal for four o’clock in the afternoon. The taste was great though and the company was quite nice as well. Yoochun was quite the character and it was pretty amusing watching Seunghyun trying to reel him in from time to time. Yunho liked how energetic Yoochun was. It was a nice break from his own pessimism.

Seunghyun was a great to talk to as well. He was well informed and always so polite. Yunho doubted he had an unpleasant bone in his body.

Jay was harder to get a feel of. He didn’t speak a whole lot and if he did, it was to tease Yoochun or make a reference to some private joke with Seunhyun. Perhaps he was one of the naturally quiet types, but Yunho saw flashes of someone holding himself back. Yunho couldn’t blame him because some days he felt like that too, but he did catch himself wishing sometimes that the guy would try a little harder. Yunho was the one out of his comfort zone here, after all, not him.

Yunho didn’t really consider himself as a shy person, but he did struggle sometimes when he had to converse with someone from what he called the Old World. A job was just a job, but because of the limelight and the heightened pressure and scrutiny that limelight brought, he had had to change the way he interacted with people he didn’t know well. He had to be careful of secret reporters or even just people wanting to make money off him by blabbing supposed encounters. Scandals could cost him sponsorship, and until he won more titles, that was money he needed to fund his travels and equipment.

On top of it all, he just… It was hard to connect with people who didn’t quite understand the mental battlefield of his life. It was one of those cases where it was nice that people tried to empathise, but they couldn’t truly understand it until they had been in his shoes and seen what he had seen. For most people it was just too hard to explain, so rather than try, it was easier to just not say much at all and let everyone else do the talking. If people asked him questions, he gave the answers people either wanted or expected to hear.

Yes it is hard work but it is fun.

Yes I have met that player and they are nice.

Yes I have met that player and they are every bit of a cock as the papers suggest.

Yes it can be an extravagant lifestyle but no you can’t marry me.

No I haven’t been with any players that I can tell you about.

No I haven’t met royalty in Britain.


It went on and on and Yunho didn’t really like talking about any of it. He loved his life as a professional player but he’d had many struggles too and those weren’t so interesting or glamorous. He had been quite relieved and thankful that the boys at The Grove Tennis Club hadn’t pressed too hard on the professional player topic yet.

And then it was almost four-thirty and Seunghyun was helping him sneak out of the club before any of their tennis pupils caught sight of him and harassed him. He had meant to ask Seunghyun before he left if he could use their one working court for practice in the mornings, but in the rush of his sudden battle against time, he had completely forgotten to ask. That meant he could come back again tomorrow though with a better reason than bank transfers. Brilliant.

As he made his way back home, he tried not to burp up some of the pizza and beer. Maybe that third slice had been a bad idea… It was hard to regret it though.

*

It was silent all around Jay.

It had been a hectic day, it had been a fun day, and it had been a challenging day. He was glad Yoochun had been so happy with their little birthday shindig, and it had been fun watching the 23 year-old finally getting to enjoy a beer after his classes had finished. Everyone had left now though and the merry atmosphere had slipped away into one Jay wasn’t sure he wanted to feel tonight. He had been feeling quite okay the past few days, but it was always an odd feeling going from noise and hilarity to suddenly nothing.

And then there had been that comment today. The measurement of success. He hoped he hadn’t looked as shaken as he’d felt. It had been a bitter pill to swallow. Even more so coming from someone who just made it feel so much worse.

He had to admit that he didn’t really like himself that much, feeling the way he did lately. The guy had been trying to be nice and if it had been any other situation, Jay would have appreciated it. Being what it was and being who he was, it just made him feel so awful inside instead.

He had ended up coming outside for some fresh air and now he lay on his back on the court. Above him was a sea of black velvet and sparkling stars. When his eyes relaxed their focus long enough, it almost felt like Jay could touch those stars if he was only a little bit closer. His back had relaxed long enough against the hard court that he was more or less floating now too.

One of the things he loved best about living away from the dense city was how dark it was all around him. No light from nearby houses could penetrate the ring of trees around the courts and he had dimmed the lights inside the office to the minimum before he had come outside. It made the stars scattered over his head shine brighter and he could breathe softly at leisure knowing he couldn’t be seen by anyone.

Only the force.

In moments like this, it felt like he could glimpse that higher force that blew wind through the leaves and looked down on him, omnipotent and ethereal. The force that knew everyone inside and out—but especially him. The force that knew his strengths and his vulnerability and knew his path. The force that was guiding him from above with hands that could not be seen or heard but felt.

Things had gone wrong in his life and he had lost his way. He had lost part of himself in the process but he would be alright. He would make a life as Kim Jay and he would discover who that person was. It might still take some more time but he would be okay in the end. The stars seemed to know so.

There was a soft tread of feet but the sound drifted into the breeze rustling all around him.

The thud of something bouncing against hard ground was harder to ignore. The vibration moved through the ground under Jay’s back and something flickered at the back of his mind, some sense that what he was feeling was not good.

A second thud broke through the calm, hurting his ears and accompanied by a very strong tremor. Jay lifted his head up in time to see a flying black object arching down over him. He let out a yelp as the thing missed him by inches. Someone was pegging balls at his head!

He flung himself up in delayed outrage and the onslaught halted. A gasp sounded from over the net and quick footsteps brought a tall shadow into Jay’s vision.

“Do you mind!” The words left Jay before he could catch them, but they seemed to sum everything up quite well so he let their sharpness linger. He was still so flabbergasted, he couldn’t even stand up.

“Geezus!” was the response from the man behind the net. “What are you doing here in the dark?”

Okay, what! Jay was outright annoyed. “What are you doing in the dark?” he countered. “What kind of imbecile practices tennis when he can’t even see the damn court?”

“I didn’t know you’d be lying here!” Yunho shot back. “I was listening to the rhythm, the weight—” he stopped then as if realising he didn’t have to explain himself to a deadweight lump on the ground.

“Right. Okay. You do that then,” Jay huffed and pushed himself up off the ground. He hated anyone disturbing him when he was in a deep reverie, let alone Korea’s National Treasure and his stupidity.

“No. Stay,” the tennis player insisted. He sounded a little perturbed to Jay’s surprise.

“No thank you,” Jay said anyway. A continual thump thump of descending tennis balls near him whilst he reflected on his problems was hardly ideal. Jay couldn’t think of anything more unpleasant. That would be like someone jumping on the couch you were trying to sleep on.

Jay rounded the net and walked over to the mesh door. Before he crossed through it completely though, he stopped himself, turned around, and called out, “Are you seriously going to keep practicing in the dark?”

There was a moment of silence and then, “I…don’t know where the switch is.”

So instead of searching for it, you’ll just play in the dark? With anyone else it would have been endearing but Jay was still miffed over his stolen peace. “Come,” he demanded and walked off the court, not waiting to see if his night intruder was even following him or not.

There were footsteps behind him up the stairs to HQ and Jay stopped by a mini fuse box just inside the doorway. He flipped the cover off and pressed the largest button down. Immediately bright lights flooded the courts in front of them in a blinding white.

Their crazy silent sponsor could pay for the electricity bill.

“Same button on and off,” Jay instructed. “Don’t leave the premises until it is all off.”

“Aren’t you—”

“I’m going home now. Everything is locked and bolted except the main door. You have keys on your person?” Jay gazed across at him enquiringly, stern and to the point. He really didn’t have time for this.

“Yes—”

“Great. Lock this door up when you are done. If you have any trouble, ring one of us.” And by ‘us’ I obviously mean Seunghyun.

“Uh… Okay. Good night.”

“Same to you.” Jay dismissed him with a turn of his back and went to retrieve his bag.

Just when he thought the day wouldn’t get any crazier and this had to happen. He hoped it meant he’d at least sleep well tonight. Maybe he just wasn’t meant to lose himself in self pity tonight over mistakes that had been made in the past. Maybe this was the force snapping him out of it.

It didn’t take long to make sure he had everything before he could finally leave HQ behind. He only stopped long enough on the steps for a glance at the tennis player serving tennis balls endlessly into the opposite square. The bright lights cast a long shadow from Yunho as he moved across the court and Jay wanted to take a photo it was so fitting. He really was like a shadow darting around after him, following him wherever he went no matter how unwelcome he was.

That force he had been focusing on minutes earlier? It had such a terrible sense of humour.

He turned away and made his way up the hill with fervour, all the while pleading silently at the stars, Please let tomorrow be better. Please!

[TBC]


A/N: Sooo right now I want to hug Jay, squish Yunho for the cute, hand Yoochun more beer and dance with him, chill in comfortable silence with Seunghyun, and take a selca with the Ricky Lee-Poynter cut-out. Anyone else? =P

So this is the last chapter in the, what I like to call, ‘laying down the stepping stones’ arc. An arc within an arc loll. I know the story may have seemed a little slow up until here, but I’ve laid down all the little bits I’m going to need to spring off later (all very important). I’m ready for a cool drink now. Bring on proper interaction between the characters next chap and a catalyst for Yunho and Jay! Finally! *fist pump*

Oh and randomly, I know there are lots of non-Korean pop-culture references in these chapters but they are still classics and Seunghyun and Jay have lived overseas for several years too. I’m not so fluent in old Korean pop-culture. I've added URLs though for some fun. ^^;;

Thank you everyone for reading! I’m loving your comments. <3

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