“Come on, Jongin! A center-forward should be able to make a shot like that!”
Jongin huffs, picking himself up off the grass to go get the ball from where it had rolled, just past the far post of the goal. Minseok’s shout is like a time machine, taking him back to high school soccer practice, back when Minseok was the team's’ star player, the beautiful senior Jongin had admired from afar.
It makes Jongin laugh when he thinks about how much has changed since then. Of course, he still admires Minseok, but it’s from much closer now.
When Minseok had called to invite him out to play, Jongin had finally said yes, partly because he couldn’t make himself turn Minseok down again, and partly because, no matter how much he didn’t want to, he needed to tell Minseok what he’d seen.
One-on-one isn’t really Jongin’s game. He’s not used to playing defense, and Minseok is definitely in better soccer shape than Jongin. It had taken an embarrassingly long time for him to warm up, feet beginning to remember the smack of the ball against the inside of his shoes, eyes tracking the ball as it rolled across the grass.
It’s nice to be outside, though, after all the hours spent in the dance studio, and Jongin has always enjoyed soccer. The burn of air in his lungs as he sprints down field, the satisfying sound the ball makes against his shoe when it hits just right, sailing unstopped into the net of the goal.
Minseok is having fun too, laughing and throwing down some of his best moves so he can leave Jongin in the dust, trying to figure out what just happened. It’s everything Jongin ever wanted when he was fifteen. In fact, it’s everything Jongin ever wanted now too, except there’s something he has to do.
After this play, Jongin decides as he walks back down to midfield, he’ll tell him.
Minseok is sweating just a bit now, hair sticking to his forehead as he leans down to tug at his socks. They’re not knee-high ones, only going part way up his calf, but old habits obviously die hard.
“Ready?” he says, straightening up as Jongin comes closer.
Jongin drops the ball between them. “That depends: are you ready?”
Smiling impishly, Minseok darts forward, trying to steal the ball right from under Jongin’s nose. Jongin, more wise to Minseok’s tricks than he’d been only an hour before, dodges him, kicking the ball right between Minseok’s legs.
It’s a pretty good move, with Minseok left facing the wrong direction and totally clueless about where the ball went, and Jongin uses the opportunity to charge off downfield at breakneck speed.
He’s so intent on the goal, already almost able to feel the pleasure of scoring thrumming through his body, that he doesn’t even hear Minseok until he’s right beside him. Minseok’s foot kicks out right in the middle of Jongin’s stride, knocking the ball just out of reach, and Minseok lets out a shout of triumph. A second later, though, he and Jongin are tumbling to the ground, legs so tangled up that neither of them can do anything except hit the grass hard.
“Ouch,” Minseok says, voice right in Jongin’s ear, and Jongin winces, realizing that Minseok had broken half of Jongin’s fall with his own body.
“Sorry,” Jongin says, still cringing even as he tries to free himself. They really are tangled up, though, and it’s hard for Jongin to get a solid footing on anything.
“It’s fine. My ribs probably aren’t broken.”
Head snapping up, Jongin quickly looks at Minseok to make sure he’s joking and freezes.
Minseok’s root beer candy eyes are too close, dark eyelashes glinting in the field lights. Jongin can feel Minseok’s breath on the skin of his cheeks, inhales and exhales that follow the movement of the chest beneath him, and registers for the first time that Minseok’s hand is fisted into the back of his shirt.
It must have happened during their fall, a last ditch attempt to keep them upright, but now, all Jongin can feel is the press of Minseok’s knuckles into the small of his back. Jongin’s own hands are somewhere on either side of them, pressed flat to the grass in an attempt to push himself up, but his arms refuse to move.
This close, Jongin can see the pink of Minseok’s lips bleeding into the slick red of the inside of his mouth where his lips are slightly parted, can see the faintest trace of stubble on Minseok’s chin.
When Jongin catches himself, forcing his gaze away from Minseok’s mouth, he feels the fist in the back of his shirt tighten, keeping him from moving away. Jongin’s pulse is like thunder in his ears as the breath on his cheeks gets closer, like Minseok is leaning in.
“It’s late,” Jongin says abruptly, using what little air he’s got left in his body. “I should go.”
Finally, Jongin’s arms do what he tells them, pushing him off of Minseok’s chest as Minseok’s hand falls away from his back. Their feet are a little more complicated, but Jongin stumbles away after only a few seconds of untangling.
He hardly even registers that Minseok is still on the ground as he hurriedly says goodbye because, holy shit, for a moment, Jongin had thought Minseok was going to kiss him.
The adrenaline seems to have hit him late, his skin practically vibrating as he begins to the walk home. His heart is beating double-time in his chest, and Jongin puts a hand over it, because it feels like any minute now, it might burst.
Jongin had thought Minseok was going to kiss him, but that couldn’t have been what happened. He was probably just trying to help Jongin up or something. Jongin needs to calm down.
It takes four laps around the block, but eventually, Jongin feels like his heart is going to stay in one piece and his skin has stopped tingling enough for him to go inside.
It’s only when Jongin walks through the front door and sits down to take off his shoes that he realizes he forgot to tell Minseok about Taeyeon.
“So like,” Jongin starts and then stops, staring up at the ceiling of the dance studio from where he’s sprawled on the floor.
He and Taemin have been rehearsing for hours, going over both of their choreographed pieces until Jongin got sick of looking at his own reflection in the mirror. Things are going well, though, and they had both decided they deserved a break.
“So like what?” Taemin makes a half-hearted attempt to throw his water bottle at Jongin, but instead it just rolls across the wood flooring until its path is blocked by Jongin’s arm. “Don’t start sentences without finishing them. Poor people do that.”
“I’m a college student. I am poor.”
Taemin lets out a snort of agreement, but when Jongin doesn’t continue, he kicks out a leg until he can poke Jongin in the side with his shoe. “So like what?”
Jongin rolls over so that his cheek is mashed against the cool, polished wood of the floor, and tries again. “You know how I do all of Sehun’s soccer stuff now?”
“Yeah, you’re Super Soccer Dad Jongin Kim. What about it?”
“Is he a total jerk or something? Does he pick on Sehun?”
“No.” Jongin really doesn’t want to tell Taemin, not after how much he had teased Jongin about Minseok in high school, but he has to tell someone. And Taemin, for all his bad qualities, is actually a pretty good best friend, so…
“Remember how Minseok went away for college with that soccer scholarship?”
With the eye that isn’t blocked by the floor, Jongin can see Taemin sit up, eyes narrowed. “Yeah, so?”
“Well, he’s back now.”
“And?” Jongin closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see the realization dawn on Taemin’s face. “Wait.”
Maybe, if Jongin wishes very hard, the floor will swallow him up so he can stop having this conversation.
“Are you saying you’re a soccer dad and Minseok Kim is the coach?” Taemin asks from above him, and smacks him on the back accusingly. “How could you keep this from me?”
Jongin cringes. “By just… not telling you?”
“I once watched all six hours of the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice because you were in mourning after Minseok agreed to go with someone else to his senior prom. He didn't even turn you down, because you never asked him! It made no sense but I was still there for you!”
“I wasn’t ‘in mourning’,” Jongin sputters, rolling over so he can sit up and defend himself. “I just wanted to relive a great classic with Colin Firth!”
Taemin grabs him by the collar of his sweatshirt, eyes intent. “I earned this, Jongin, by paying years of friendship dues. Now tell me everything.”
The grip Taemin has on his sweatshirt is strong enough that Jongin doesn’t think much of his chances of making a break for it, so he resigns himself to his fate, and tells Taemin everything.
“This is perfect!” Taemin says once Jongin is finished, releasing Jongin’s sweatshirt so he can clap his hands together in glee. “Now you can realize your teenage wet dream of having Minseok make you his wife, and we can stop hearing about how much Baekhyun worships the ground Taeyeon walks on. Everyone goes home happy, just like in Pride and Prejudice!” Taemin frowns. "Only not really, because you might be a Jane, but then Taeyeon would be Mr. Darcy?"
“I can’t,” Jongin sighs, not even bothering to argue with the rest of what Taemin said.
Taemin’s face falls. “You can’t? Why not?”
Flailing with his hands, Jongin tries to explain, “We’re friends! I don’t want to ruin that by telling him his girlfriend is cheating on him.”
Scoffing, Taemin says, “If you really were friends, you’d tell him. And Baekhyun too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Taemin gives him a look that says Jongin knows exactly what he means, and Jongin pulls the cuffs of his sweatshirt over his fingertips to have something to do with his hands. “It’s just… It’s not like it was back in school. I know him better now, and I really, you know…”
“Like him?” Taemin supplies, eyebrows raised.
Jongin ducks his head until his chin is covered by the collar of his sweatshirt. “I don’t want to tell him and then have it be the only thing he can think of when he sees me.” Hearing how that sounds, he quickly adds, “I know that’s really shitty of me to say — “
“It is really shitty,” Taemin agrees. Jongin’s shoulders slump. “Look, I know Minseok has a girlfriend, but from what you’ve said about how you’ve been hanging out, I think he likes you too.”
Jongin opens his mouth to disagree, but Taemin holds up a hand to silence him.
“Bottom line, though: I’d want to know,” he says. “And if I found out one of my friends knew and didn’t tell me…” Taemin lets the sentence hang meaningfully.
Jongin slumps back down onto the floor, a puddle of misery. “Do you think Baekhyun knows?”
“Probably not. Baekhyun’s an asshole, but not that big of an asshole.”
“Yeah.” The look on Baekhyun’s face that night in the grocery store, happiness without a shade of guilt, flashes through Jongin’s mind, and the weight in his stomach sinks even deeper.
“Just sack up and tell him. Both of them. Let the chips fall where they may. ” Taemin flicks him in the ear almost gently before flopping back down onto the floor himself. “Hmmm, chips,” he says thoughtfully to the ceiling. “I’m hungry.”
“What the fuck is up?”
Baekhyun has been answering his phone the same way for as long as Jongin can remember, and he’s so used to it that he doesn’t even flinch at Baekhyun’s nasally voice cutting through the speaker on his phone.
“Hey, Baekhyun. It’s Jongin.”
Jongin doesn’t have to see the eye-roll to know it’s happening when Baekhyun says, “Yeah, I know, I have caller ID. So I repeat, what the fuck is up???”
“Uh.” Jongin wanted to do this in person. It would be better if he did it in person, where he could see Baekhyun’s face and Baekhyun could see his face, and it would have all that in-person-faceness serious conversations are supposed to have, but Jongin had also almost chickened out before he even pressed the call button, so he thinks this might be all his courage can handle. Joonmyun had used his day off to take Sehun to the movies and so Jongin at least has the house to himself.
Just sack up and tell him. Taemin’s advice pops into his mind, and Jongin sucks in a breath and starts talking before he can lose his nerve.
“Taemin, Chanyeol and I were at the store a couple weeks ago and we saw you there.” Jongin can practically hear Baekhyun raising his eyebrows through the phone. “With Taeyeon, I mean.”
“Oh,” Baekhyun says again, but this time in a completely different tone. He sounds some strange mixture of smug and unbelievably happy. “She and I’ve been seeing each other for awhile now, actually, but we haven’t really been telling people because — “
“Did you know — “ Jongin interrupts, unable to listen to Baekhyun sounding so happy any longer. He grits his teeth. “I saw her with Minseok too. At his soccer game. With her parents.”
For literally the first time Jongin can remember, Baekhyun is silent.
“Minseok said that Taeyeon was his girlfriend, and I. I thought you should know.”
There. It was done.
“Oh?” Jongin repeats, confused. Baekhyun doesn’t sound angry or surprised, or any of the other things Jongin had imagined before he called, and it has him caught off-guard.
Baekhyun sighs, a noisy gust of static in Jongin's ear.
“Taeyeon’s parents aren’t my biggest fans. I mean, we both know I’m awesome, but some people don’t know how to appreciate true quality. College dropout, struggling musician with a crappy day job. I get it,” Baekhyun says, his voice light, like none of this bothers him, but Jongin thinks it sounds a little forced. “When they first found out we were dating, they tried to stop it and so Taeyeon asked Minseok to… help.”
Jongin opens his mouth and shuts it again, unable to think of anything to say.
Oblivious to Jongin’s crisis, Baekhyun goes on, “You know, Minseok’s the perfect pretend boyfriend. A little older, a teacher, good with kids. He’s a parent’s wet dream basically. Definitely good enough to get her parents off her back until she has enough saved up to be able to move out of their place and in with me. Then at least they won’t be able to stop her from seeing me.”
“So,” Jongin says at last, still trying to process. “She’s not cheating on either of you?”
“No. Fuck,” Baekhyun says, finally sounding frustrated. “She’s — she’s important, Jongin. I don’t want her to go away just because her parents don’t think I’m good enough. I mean, you’ve known me a long time, and let’s face it: I’m not. Not for her. But she likes me anyway.”
“No, I,” Jongin has to stop and take a breath, because for some reason it suddenly feels like he’s been punched in the chest by a cannonball. “I get it. I just didn’t know. About Minseok helping out.”
“Wait, is this about your puppy love crush on Minseok? Is that still a thing?” Baekhyun's tone of self-deprecation has been replaced a kind of unholy glee that Jongin knows only too well.
He can’t stop his voice from cracking. “O-Of course not!”
“Oh my god it is!” Baekhyun sounds like a shark that smelled blood in the water had a baby with a gleeful child on Christmas morning and its completely horrible. “Remember that time when he lent you his water bottle during soccer practice and you didn’t even drink out of it because you didn’t want your first kiss with Minseok to be an indirect one? God, you were so much fun in high school.”
“It’s not like that. Minseok and I are just friends, like you and me,” Jongin says, scrambling to explain. “And I was doing that friend thing. Where you tell each other stuff. Important stuff. You know.”
Baekhyun snorts obnoxiously. “There’s no way you and Minseok are friends like we’re friends. But as long as we’re doing the friend thing where you tell each other important stuff, you should know that one of the reasons Taeyeon asked Minseok to help this thing is because he’s gay.”
“What?” Jongin presses the phone harder to his ear and blinks his eyes furiously, like that will help him hear better, because obviously, he must be going deaf.
“Yeah, you know how straight guys do things like give each other suck-jays — “
“Ugh,” Jongin says, gagging. “Please don’t call it that.”
“And then say “no homo” after because they’re super straight?” Baekhyun continues as if Jongin had never spoken. “Minseok is totally the opposite of that.”
“What?” Jongin’s knees give out, just like that, and he only misses landing on the coffee table by inches.
“He’s super, homo. Just like you.” Baekhyun sounds entirely too pleased with himself, and there’s a ringing in Jongin’s ears, quiet now, but getting louder with every second.
“Jongin,” Baekhyun says after a few moments, and Jongin realizes he’s just been frozen, breathing loud enough to be heard over the phone line.
“Yeah?” he manages to croak. Slowly, he tries to uncurl his fingers from where they’ve been clenched into a fist in his lap.
“Seriously, thank you.” All the teasing has gone out of Baekhyun’s voice and his sincerity almost makes Jongin want to cry, which is stupid, because Baekhyun is stupid and Jongin should know better than to take him seriously.
“Okay,” Baekhyun says, and the asshole actually has the nerve to sound amused at how unresponsive Jongin is. “Go mouth-breathe like the fucking dude from The Strangers on someone else’s phone line.”
“‘Bye,” Jongin hears himself say automatically, even though Baekhyun never says it back, and drops his phone on the floor.
“There you are,” Joonmyun says, when Jongin finally gets back to the house.
Once he’d managed to get his legs back under himself, Jongin had decided to take a walk, hoping that the dusk air would help clear his head. The streetlights have long since come on and Jongin had begun being able to see his breath as the nightly autumn chill had started to seep its way under his jacket.
Joonmyun is dressed in a button-up under a cardigan tucked into jeans, casual wear for him, but his hair looks like Joonmyun has been running worried fingers through it and his face is relieved. “I tried to call when we got back, but you left your phone here. I was worried.”
Back in school, the three year age difference between Jongin and Joonmyun had seemed much wider, and they had had different sets of friends, different interests. Minseok, closer in age to Joonmyun, had been Joonmyun’s friend first.
“Did you know? That Taeyeon wasn’t really Minseok’s girlfriend. That’s why you were so weird when I first mentioned it.”
Joonmyun bites his lip, and Jongin can tell immediately that he’s guessed right. “I did know but — It wasn’t my secret to tell, Jongin.”
Joonmyun is using his reasonable voice, the one that used to infuriate Jongin when he was younger because it made him feel like Joonmyun was an adult talking down to him. Jongin toes his shoes off roughly, not even bothering to try and hang his coat back on the rack. “Well, someone should have told me instead of letting me look stupid.”
Joonmyun shakes his head, which only makes Jongin angrier. “Minseok would never think you were stupid, Jongin — “
“But he did,” Jongin interrupts, and dimly, he’s glad that Sehun isn’t in the room to see this. “Stupid enough to believe Taeyeon was his girlfriend.”
“Jongin — “ Joonmyun tries to stop him, but Jongin is already gone, shutting himself in his room without another word.
Jongin isn’t optimistic enough to think he can get through the end of the youth soccer season without really talking to Minseok.
For Sehun’s sake, he tries to keep things as normal as possible, picking him up from soccer practices and games with smiles and vague greetings, but avoiding any real conversation. Joonmyun had managed to take the afternoon of Sehun’s last game off so he could be there, but Sehun had looked up at Jongin so hopefully that Jongin had come to the game anyway.
It quickly became obvious that not only was Joonmyun at the top of the team phone tree, but basically all the soccer moms were in love with him. Jongin was so busy laughing at Joonmyun’s red face, torn between flattered and embarrassed, that he barely had a chance to look in Minseok’s direction until after the game. Sehun was there then, so overjoyed at having his dad at one of his games again (“and Uncle Jongin!” Sehun made sure to screech in Jongin’s ear when he leaned down to give Sehun a hug) that he was almost inconsolable. He had run around in circles with a few of his teammates until they were too dizzy to stand, and Jongin had scooped up Sehun before he ended up on the ground.
“I think it’s time to go home,” Joonmyun had said, smiling softly at Sehun and making his excuses to the other parents still gathered around him. Worn out from all the excitement, Sehun was asleep in Jongin’s arms before they even made it to the car.
“Oh shoot,” Joonmyun had said, suddenly stopping in his tracks. “I forgot to say hi to Minseok.”
“I can get Sehun into the car while you go back to talk to him, if you want,” Jongin offered, not completely selfless.
Joonmyun had given him a suspicious look, but agreed, setting back off across the grass. Keeping his back to the soccer field, Jongin had gently placed Sehun in his booster seat and buckled him in. Sehun’s face was slack with sleep, and Jongin had brushed some hair away from his nephew’s face fondly.
“Minseok says hi, by the way,” Joonmyun says later, as the car rolls into the garage.
Jongin makes a vague sort of sound, hurriedly getting out of the car so he doesn’t have to answer. He can feel Joonmyun looking at him like he wants to say something else, but, to Jongin’s relief, he doesn’t.
Jongin ignores Minseok’s phone calls too. He honestly never thought he would live to see the day when he sent one of Minseok’s calls to voicemail, but just the thought of hearing Minseok’s voice gives Jongin that too-much-candy feeling, queasy enough to make him hold his stomach until it passes.
Then, one night after Sehun has gone to bed and before Joonmyun has come home, Minseok shows up at the front door.
It’s cool enough out that Minseok’s breath hangs in a little cloud before disappearing, and he smiles at Jongin through it. “I figured you can’t screen my call if I don’t call and instead just show up at your house.” He holds up a DVD case hopefully. “Movie night?”
Minseok isn’t dressed as formally as he had been at dinner, or in athletic clothes like Jongin is used to seeing him at practice. He’s just wearing jeans and a shirt, but the dark collar of his coat draws Jongin’s eyes to the skin of Minseok’s throat, the jut of his Adam’s apple, the line of his jaw
Jongin’s own throat swallows around the burst of adrenaline that’s flooded him at the unexpected sight of Minseok.
“Um,” Jongin says, licking his lips to try and buy some time. “Tonight? Tonight’s not… good.”
Minseok’s hopeful face falls, and his sigh is a little puff of steam that dissolves between them. “If it’s about what happened the other night while we were playing soccer — “
“Nothing happened,” Jongin cuts him off, because Jongin would know if something really had happened thanks to his brain replaying that moment (the shape of Minseok’s mouth, the way their legs had tangled together, Minseok’s hand fisted in the back of his shirt) whenever his concentration starts to drift. “And that’s not it anyway.”
“Then what?” Minseok practically demands. His small mouth pulled is into a frown as he tries to understand. “If you would just tell me what I did, I’ll try to fix it.”
Jongin is still holding onto the doorknob, the night air flooding into the house through the open door. The grip he has on the knob is starting to hurt, but he’s afraid if he lets go, his hand will start shaking.
“I know,” Jongin forces himself to say, and it’s like even saying the words leaves a bad taste in his mouth. “About you and Taeyeon.”
Jongin thought there might be a moment of catharsis when he finally told Minseok, a release of pressure, something. Instead, it’s like he’s just thrown off all his armor. He feels somehow smaller and more hurt than before.
The cold air bites at his bare feet as the silence gapes between them, and Jongin shivers.
“Oh,” Minseok says at last, almost an exact copy of the one Baekhyun had given him on the phone. He looks relieved, like a great weight has been taken off his shoulders. “Good, then — “
“Was it on purpose?” That unnamed feeling that’s kept Jongin from wanting to even see Minseok’s face for the past few weeks is boiling inside of him, spilling over like a bowl left too long in the microwave, and the words pour out of his mouth before he can stop them. “Taking me to dinner, and playing soccer with me, and — and when you touched my wrist — Did you think I just wouldn’t care that you said you were with someone else?”
Jongin can’t explain the rest of it. That he feels humiliated at not being in on the joke, that Minseok took all of the feelings Jongin had for him and made them seem like nothing. He tries, but it’s like the words are too big, made out of hard shapes that clog his throat.
On the other side of the threshold, Minseok’s eyes have gone wide and Jongin can see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows quickly. “It wasn’t…” He reaches out a hand toward Jongin like it might hold an explanation, but his palm is empty. “I didn’t want to lie to you. I just felt like I needed to keep my promise.”
The fingers of Minseok’s outstretched hand are almost close enough to brush his chest, and Jongin steps back, out of reach. Minseok lets his arm drop back to his side limply.
“Of course,” Jongin says, stomach rolling with familiar nausea. “It’s great that you keep your promises. Taeyeon and Baekhyun are really lucky to have a friend like you.”
Minseok opens his mouth, the fog of his breath shallow and halting, but no words come out. His dark eyes are stark against his ashen face, and even his lips have lost their color.
Jongin’s eyes are stinging, and the lump in his throat is starting to ache. He wants this conversation to be over. His voice sounds like it’s coming from a mile away instead of out of his own mouth when he says, “Um, so, I’m really busy with school and stuff and I… I really don’t want to see you right now.”
“Okay,” Minseok says hollowly, and when Jongin glances up at him, already moving to close the door, there’s a devastated look to Minseok’s face that he doesn’t understand.
The closed front door stops more cold night air from coming into the house, but even when he’s back in his bedroom, curled up under his comforter with all three dogs cuddled around him, Jongin is still freezing.
The next day, Jongin skips his classes, but puts on his baggiest sweatshirt and sweatpants and drags himself to the dance studio, because if he doesn’t show up, he knows Taemin will hunt him down anyway.
Taemin is already stretching when Jongin comes through the door. He looks up from where he’s holding downward-facing dog. “What’s up?”
Jongin shrugs, shucking off his sweatshirt and dropping it in a pile by the wall. Taemin hisses in a breath through his teeth, and Jongin knows the whole thing must be written on his face. “You told him, didn’t you?”
“Can we just,” Jongin swallows, throat sore from how little he slept the night before. “Can we just rehearse?”
Taemin eyes him almost warily. “Sure.”
Jongin can feel Taemin keep watching him as they finish stretching, but he tries to ignore it, and by the time they’ve gotten deep into perfecting the footwork in one of the more complicated sections, he feels a bit more like himself.
“Do I need to kick his ass?” Taemin asks, the next time they stop for a drink of water. “Because I will. I mean, I’ll try. Minseok was pretty buff back in high school, so like — “
Jongin laughs, in spite of himself. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”
He’s not, and he knows that’s obvious to anyone looking at him, but Jongin also knows the only thing that will make him feel better is dancing.
He nods at Taemin. “Again?”
“Yeah.” Taemin walks over to restart the music. “And this time don’t put in so many body rolls. It’s tacky.”
“You like it,” Jongin says. It’s an old argument of theirs, and Jongin is grateful for the familiarity of it. He rolls his hips and grins at Taemin salaciously while Taemin gags.
“No, I really don’t,” Taemin insists, and then the beat drops, and Jongin’s mind goes blissfully blank.
Sehun lingers in the kitchen that day after they finish their after-school snack.
“What’s up?” Jongin says, ruffling Sehun’s hair.
“Do you want to have a tea party with me?”
Jongin’s afternoon plans had mostly involved snuggling up with his dogs and eating a whole box of pop-tarts while marathoning all the episodes of Dance Moms that are saved on the DVR, so it doesn’t seem right to say no to Sehun.
Jongin does his part by filling up the teapot part of the way with water and grabbing some cookies, and by the time he comes in to Sehun’s room, Sehun already has everything else mostly set up. After a lot of begging, Joonmyun had gotten Sehun an actual porcelain tea set for his birthday last spring, and Sehun takes meticulous care of it, the cups and saucers set carefully around the low table in the corner of Sehun’s room.
“Pinku-pinku can sit here,” Sehun says, placing the pink bear on Jongin’s lap after Jongin puts the tea pot down and takes his seat. Sehun gives Pinku-pinku a meaningful look, like they’ve had a talk and Pinku-pinku knows what he’s supposed to do, and Jongin has a feeling he knows why Sehun asked to have a tea party.
Right when they’ve gotten to drinking their “tea”, Joonmyun appears in the doorway. Sehun practically jumps out his chair, only just remembering to set his delicate cup back down on the table.
“Daddy!” Joonmyun scoops Sehun up into his arms as Sehun chatters about his day and pulls at the tie around Joonmyun’s neck until it begins coming undone.
“Do you think you and Uncle Jongin might want to help me with dinner?” Joonmyun asks, once there’s a lull.
“Yes!” Sehun shouts, wriggling with excitement, but when Joonmyun moves to put him down, Sehun frowns. “Welcome home kiss!”
“Of course,” Joonmyun laughs, loudly smacking his lips against Sehun’s forehead. “Don’t forget to clean up your tea set before you come to the kitchen.”
Jongin makes his way over to Joonmyun as Sehun starts cleaning up.
“They let you out early?” Jongin says, and realizes he’s still holding Pinku-pinku when Joonmyun looks at the bear and smiles.
“Yeah, four hours off for good behavior.”
They both watch Sehun in silence for a moment. He’s handling the cups so, so carefully, and humming some song to himself that Jongin doesn’t know as he puts things away.
“You talked to Minseok?” Joonmyun asks, voice low enough that Sehun won’t be able to hear.
Jongin stared at himself in the studio mirrors enough to know what Joonmyun had seen to make him ask that question, but his fingers still tighten around Pinku-pinku involuntarily. “Yeah.”
Sighing, Joonmyun reaches up to undo his tie the rest of the way. “I’m sorry. You were right. You’re my brother and I should have told you.”
“It’s fine,” Jongin says, because what happened isn’t fine, but being angry with Joonmyun won’t change anything. “Minseok should have told me too.”
“It’ll be okay,” Joonmyun says, reaching out to give Jongin’s shoulder a comforting squeeze, and then Sehun is bounding over to take Pinku-pinku out of Jongin’s hands and lead them both to the kitchen.
By the time Jongin’s performance rolls around, he’s so deep into dancing that he’s almost forgotten what happened.
He hasn’t forgotten, because no matter how much he practices, Jongin can’t dance all the time, and there are still those few hours when he lays down to rest and his mind brings up Minseok.
It’s lucky that most nights Jongin is too tired to have trouble falling asleep, or to remember his dreams.
In the end, all that doesn’t even matter, because the performance is perfect.
All the hours of work that he and Taemin have put in together, the years of classes and bruises and pushing themselves past their limits, have finally culminated into the ten minutes they spend on stage that night. The moves he’d practiced so many times pour out of him, suddenly fresh and new, like he’s never done them before, and Jongin knows, right down to the marrow in his bones, that he’ll do anything if it means he can dance for the rest of his life.
Afterwards, one of Jongin’s dance instructors comes up to him with tears in her eyes and tells him that their performance was one of the most honest expressions of the search for individuality that she’s ever seen, which is — Jongin wouldn’t have put it like that, but it’s not far off from what he and Taemin had intended, and the idea that someone got it, understood what they were trying to say, is pure euphoria.
Joonmyun and Sehun bring him flowers (“Big stars get flowers!” Joonmyun had said when Jongin had looked at the bouquet like it might bite him) and a bag of chips to snack on (“Food is better than flowers,” Sehun had said matter-of-factly, reaching up to grasp Jongin’s hand with his smaller one. And then, “Uncle Jongin, will you teach me how to dance like you?”), and Jongin is so happy he feels like a hot air balloon, so full he could burst.
Except… well, the performance is almost perfect
Because there’s a moment, when he and Taemin have finished dancing, beads of sweat sliding down the small of his back as the crowd roars and claps and screams their names, and Jongin looks past the blinding stage lights, out into the audience, and thinks he sees Minseok’s face.
As usual, it only takes four hours for Chanyeol’s birthday party to turn into a complete shitshow. Jongin’s wondered a lot over the years what it is about Chanyeol’s birthday in particular that seems to bring out the worst (or maybe just drunkest) in his friends, and it's probably a combination of things. Taemin, for all his ridiculousness, is actually the best beer pong player Jongin has ever heard of, and can have his opponents downing their ten solo cups of beer in under ten minutes. Baekhyun is always trying (and usually succeeding) to get everyone to do body shots, and once the body shots are done, he starts trying to get people to dance on tables. And thanks to a dare back in sophomore year, they had all found out Krystal could shotgun a beer in less than ten seconds, which means that at least a couple times each party, someone tries to race her and loses.
All of these things, helped along by Chanyeol’s birthday being near the end of the semester, when everyone is in dire need of a way to let off steam, are like a ticking time-bomb of chaos waiting to go off.
Jongin had thankfully avoided being roped into being Taemin’s partner for beer pong at the beginning of the night (Chanyeol, as the birthday boy, had been awarded that honor), and was instead sipping a beer and watching as Baekhyun changed the party playlist to play the shots song on repeat instead.
Amid the noise of the party, Jongin hears someone clear their throat next to him.
Taeyeon is watching Baekhyun too, a bemused look on her face. “He really likes shots, doesn’t he?”
“Always has,” Jongin says, remembering the time Baekhyun had attempted a power hour with Tequila instead of beer. He had been disgustingly hungover for three solid days and still, to this day, says it was worth it.
Taeyeon smiles up at him almost tentatively. “Baekhyun told me what you did. You’re a good friend. He needs good friends.”
Jongin fiddles with his cup, not quite sure what to say to that. “Baekhyun’s um, he’s my friend too, I guess?”
On the other side of the room, Baekhyun is a man in his element, screaming “IF YOU AIN’T DOIN’ SHOTS, GET THE FUCK OUT THE CLUB” to a group of people Jongin has never met before.
Taeyeon laughs. “He also told me about you and Minseok — “
That asshole, Jongin was definitely going to kill him, or put gum in his hair, or —
“Don’t punish him too much. I kind of forced it out of him,” she says apologetically. “And Minseok really did me a favor, he’s a great friend.”
Jongin can feel his hand tense at the mention of Minseok, his jaw tightening. All the relaxation he’d felt only a moment before is suddenly gone.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened with you two but he talked about you some, and I don’t think he would have wanted to hurt you.” Taeyeon looks at him sidelong, like she knows something she’s not saying, and Jongin likes her more than he thought he would, but this really isn’t something he wants to talk about with her.
“Taeyeonnnnn,” Baekhyun suddenly whines, worming his way through the crowd of people to find her. “Come do a body shot with me! Girlfriends are for body shots, and that’s you, girlfriend.”
He grins at her, and she grins back, both of them so happy Jongin can hardly stand to look directly at them.
“That’s my cue,” Taeyeon says to Jongin, before letting herself be dragged off toward the kitchen.
After that, Jongin doesn’t really feel like being at the party. Instead, he grabs his coat and begins to wander toward home. After their parents had moved away to Florida for their retirement, Jongin had been glad Sunyoung and Joonmyun still had a house in the neighborhood he grew up in. It’s only a short commute to Jongin’s college, and most of his friends are still nearby, either with their parents or renting places of their own.
Jongin’s walk home takes him past all the familiar landmarks, the playground where Jongin had beat Taemin at a swing-jumping contest, the best sledding hill for snow days, the ballet studio where Jongin had first started dancing. He’s surprised when he walks by the high school and sees the field lights still on, but as he walks closer, he can see a lone figure dribbling a soccer ball.
Minseok is in long pants and a winter coat, but he can still move pretty quickly, darting to the left of the goal before nutmegging an invisible defender and curving the ball into the far upper right corner.
Jongin smiles when he hears Minseok cheer for himself, imitating a large crowd as he jogs over to retrieve the ball. He goes silent, though, when he turns around and spots Jongin loitering by the sideline.
Soccer fields are big. Jongin remembers having to run suicide after suicide up and down this field during high school practices, the grass never-ending beneath his cleats, and the way he would almost have to squint downfield to get a good look at the opposing teams’ goalie before the start of a game.
Right now, he and Minseok aren’t even standing a full field-length apart, but the distance stretches out between them like stretched bubblegum waiting to snap.
“You came to my dance thing, didn’t you?” Jongin asks, unable to take the silence.
Minseok lets the ball fall out of his hands and back onto the ground. “I wasn’t sure when I’d have the chance to see you dance again.”
Jongin wants to ask Minseok what he thought, why he didn’t come find Jongin after the performance and tell him then, but he already knows why, and asking just to hear Minseok say it seems stupid.
“I took the job,” he says instead. “The one at the dance studio. I’ll only be teaching one class a week until I graduate, but after that, they want me to go full-time.” Jongin had wanted to tell Minseok as soon as he’d taken the job, because Minseok was the one who had really made him feel like it was something he could do, that he might be good at.
“That’s great,” Minseok says, his mouth curving into something resembling a smile for the first time that night. “I’m glad you found something you want to do.”
Minseok’s got a hat on too, Jongin realizes, a dark stocking cap that covers the tips of his ears and presses his hair down against his forehead. Jongin glances around, feeling the cold wind whip through his own hair. “It’s a little cold for soccer.”
“There’s no snow, though.” Minseok shrugs, one foot kicking at the grass. “And I had some things I needed to think about. This helps me clear my head.”
Another one of those silences stretches out between them, several soccer fields long and Jongin is about to give up and leave, when Minseok says, “I didn’t mean to make feel like I was just playing with you, or something.” Jongin’s head snaps up, making him meet Minseok’s eyes without his permission. Minseok looks so contrite that Jongin can’t help but listen to what he has to say. “I wanted to help my friend and have you too. I didn’t think about what it would be like for you. I’m sorry.”
It’s pretty genuine, as far as apologies go, but Jongin still isn’t satisfied.
“It’s just — “ He wrestles with himself for a moment, trying to decide how much to tell. “I’ve liked you for a long time, you know? And when I found out, I felt stupid. Like you thought I was stupid or that I was the kind of person that would…”
Minseok shakes his head, his face full of regret. “When I was with you, I forgot all about pretending to date her. I wanted to date you, and all that stuff I did… just seemed natural.”
For the first time in weeks, Jongin thinks about that night on the soccer field, Minseok’s knuckles pressed to the small of his back, the brush of their chests against each other as they tried to catch their breath, and doesn’t feel like an idiot.
Minseok hadn’t been playing with him. The knowledge is like the weight of a giant textbook being taken off his chest.
Minseok goes on, “I like Taeyeon as a person, but not like that. And her parents?” He blows out an exasperated breath. “Baekhyun is welcome to deal with all that.”
Baekhyun had looked so happy with Taeyeon earlier that night that Jongin thinks he would say the parents were worth it, in the end.
Minseok is smiling at Jongin again, this time a real smile instead of the shadow he’d showed before, and Jongin blinks, feeling his cheeks begin to heat for no reason.
Taking a step closer, so he’s only an arm's length away, Minseok says, “I liked you for a long time too, you know. Maybe not the same way as now, but,” he grins, “I thought you were cute. I remember, you used to wear your hair longer, so that it got in your eyes sometimes, and you’d always try to blow it out of your face. And whenever you were thinking really hard, you’d press your fingertip right here.” The tip of Minseok’s index finger meets the fleshy part of Jongin’s lower lip, and Jongin lets out a tiny gasp at the touch.
“You like me?” Jongin whispers doubtfully, and Minseok lets out an incredulous laugh.
Lifting the finger that had been touching Jongin’s lip, Minseok moves his hand down to cup Jongin’s chin and tilt Jongin’s head down towards him.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time, Jongin,” he whispers, and presses a kiss to Jongin’s stunned mouth.
Jongin’s gasp is louder this time, a puff of warm air between them, before he kisses Minseok back, pulling him close enough that their coats rustle together as they move.
Minseok’s lips are everything Jongin imagined as a teenager, warm and soft, and the hand on Jongin’s jaw holds him in place while Minseok kisses him more thoroughly than Jongin’s ever been kissed in his life. This feeling Jongin’s having, like his skin is made of Pop Rocks, or like he’s just swallowed a roll of Mentos and a liter of soda, must be what people mean when they talk about seeing fireworks.
He hears himself hum contentedly when Minseok scrapes his teeth across the spot on his lower lip that he’d touched earlier, and feels Minseok smile against his mouth. He could definitely get used to this.
Eventually, they have to stop kissing, if only because Jongin realizes they can’t keep kissing for every second of the rest of their lives.
It takes Jongin a few seconds to catch his breath, and Minseok runs his fingers down Jongin’s throat to play with his collar. He’s practically beaming, Jongin realizes, radiating happiness just like Jongin probably is, and Jongin never thought it would feel so incredibly good to know he wasn’t alone in this.
“Come on,” Minseok says, tugging on the strings of Jongin’s coat and making Jongin’s hood shrink up around the back of his neck. “Let’s play some soccer.”
Minseok’s mouth is swollen pink and Jongin bets his looks just as bad. “What, right now?”
Minseok is already walking away, though, toward the ball he’d had with him when Jongin first stepped onto the field.
“What’ll I get if I win?” Jongin calls, and Minseok turns to smirk at him, eyes sparkling wickedly in the field lights.
“Guess you’ll have to find out. That is, if you can win.”
“Famous last words,” Jongin taunts, breaking into a jog so he can catch up to Minseok.
He can’t wait to find out.
The first soccer game of the spring season is just as muddy as the one in the fall. They hadn’t had much snow during the winter, and weather seemed to be trying to make up for it with rain almost every afternoon.
Jongin looks down at the mud on his shoes. Minseok had made him throw out the old pair with the cracked heels when he found out there was a hole in the side of one of them that got Jongin’s sock wet any time it rained, and it seems like a shame to get the new ones dirty.
At least this time, Jongin doesn’t feel so out of place. The soccer moms had accepted him back into the fold easily, though he’d had to field a few questions.
“When will we see Joonmyun again?” one of the women, Zitao’s mother, asks. “Not that we don’t enjoy seeing you too, Jongin dear.”
“It’s okay,” Jongin laughs. “I know I’m… not Joonmyun. But he should be back next season.”
On the field, the kids are practically covered with mud, and pretty gleeful about it, sliding into puddles whenever they have the chance. Sehun’s cleats have so much mud on them that Jongin can’t even see that they’re pink anymore.
The referee blows the final whistle only a few minutes later, and Jongin walks over to Sehun quickly. He’s been a soccer dad for a whole season, and he can tell that unless he steps in, the whole thing is a mud fight waiting to happen.
“Uncle Jongin?” Sehun asks, while Jongin is using the wipes from Joonmyun’s Mary Poppins bag to clean off the worst of the mud from Sehun’s face.
“Is Coach Minseok your boyfriend?”
Jongin glances over at where Minseok is doing the same thing for some of Sehun’s teammates. His hands are filled with dirty wipes and he’s got a smudge of mud on the edge of his jaw, but the kids standing in front of him are looking at Minseok like he hung the moon. Jongin knows the feeling. “Yeah, he is.”
Sehun seems to think on this for a bit. screwing up his face while Jongin scrubs at a stubborn spot on his nose. “Okay,” he says at last. “Can we go get ice cream?”
Jongin laughs, ruffling Sehun’s hair affectionately, even though it's flecked with mud. “Sure.”
“Can Coach Minseok come too?”
Stowing the dirty wipes in the small grocery bag Joonmyun had provided, Jongin rises from his crouch. “Why don’t we ask him?”
The other kids have all found their way to their parents by the time Jongin and Sehun make it over to Minseok, and Minseok holds up the armful of dirty cloths, laughing.
“I’m not sure this is what people mean when they talk about mud wrestling,” he jokes. Jongin holds the plastic bag out and Minseok puts his handfuls of dirty wipes inside.
Sehun tips his head back to look at Minseok. “Do you want to come get ice cream with us?”
“I don’t know,” Minseok says playfully, moving slightly so he’s standing right at Jongin’s side. “I only eat ice cream with chocolate sauce. Do you think they’ll have some there?”
Sehun rolls his eyes. “They have everything, Coach Minseok, so will you come with us? Please~”
Minseok slides his fingertips over the hollow of Jongin’s palm, and Jongin can feel the heat rising to his cheeks, because Minseok is holding hands with him, right there on the soccer field.
“Absolutely,” Minseok says, and Sehun squeals with joy, before taking off across the field toward the minivan.