The butterfly effect, in which the world is interconnected by strings of seemingly irrelevant events, lies on the delicate balance of decisions and indecisions. The fluttering of a butterfly’s wings a week earlier could have stopped the hurricane that bent trees in half and ripped the fish-scale shingles from their roofs.
A train moves along a single track while the world runs on a forever diverging timeline, a single beginning and an uncountable number of endings, like a string winding and twisting around itself until you don’t know where it starts or where it ends.
And like a tangled mess of strings, the more you try to fix it, the more unfixable it becomes.
The card has a glossy shine, and Sehun frowns a little as he wipes a thumb over the gold letters.
SM Entertainment Seoul Auditions
He contemplates trashing it. But, then again, how many people are willing to chase him down for nearly thirty minutes just to have him consider auditioning?
Come audition for us. I have high hopes for you.
He spins the card between his thumb and middle finger a few times and pockets it.
It takes him three auditions to make it, running through his playlist of the only songs he has decent choreographies to. The judges’ scrutinizing glares make his mouth dry, and he nearly misses the first beat blasting through the speakers.
His heart is still pumping to the beat of Usher’s Yeah, eyes blinking away the sweat racing down his face, when there’s a moment of dead silence after his last dance. The judges lean against each other, whispering, and Sehun feels incredibly lonely standing in the center of the stage.
There is no congratulations when he enters the company. The gleaming tiles and white walls are clean but Sehun feels cold. He’s assigned a number and his schedule and is sent off with nothing more than a I’ll see you here tomorrow.
He stands amid the mass of moving bodies, watching each one walk to their next destination or maybe nowhere at all, just aimlessly wondering feet following nothing but the lining between the tiles. Sehun looks down at his feet, sees the peeling rubber from how worn the shoes are, and wonders how far they’ll take him.
He starts recognizing a few people he sees more often than not. Some of them smile at him when they pass by and Sehun sometimes waves back a second too late. Dance class has broken his limbs and given him new ones. Practice makes the days longer, seconds stretching into minutes and minutes into hours. He loses track of the time and starts counting by weeks and soon months are rushing by like bullets.
He finishes the days in exhaustion, ankles threatening to snap beneath his leaden bones. He takes the bus home every other day, and today the windows are dotted with raindrops that are soaking into his hair and dampening his backpack. He vaguely worries about the state of his homework but he focuses more on the cramp in his thighs from one too many hours spent in front of the mirror, rehearsing the same moves over and over again until his body is numb.
He comes home to the smell of baked potatoes and the warmth of his mother’s smile.
“How was your day today?” she asks when Sehun’s digging into his bowl of rice.
“Just fine,” he answers automatically like he always does, the true meaning lost due to overuse. He shoves another spoonful of rice and potatoes into his mouth, chews, and swallows.
The cycle repeats.
The first time he hears the name EXO is also the first time he hears the name Lu Han. It’s a pretty name, prettier than EXO, that’s a little too foreign for his tongue but it sounds just right when the boy introduces himself.
“Hi! I’m Lu Han,” he says, one hand extended formally and Sehun feels a little out of place in his sweatpants and black wifebeaters sticky with moisture.
He takes the hand, sweaty skin sliding against a soft palm, curls his fingers and shakes. “I’m Sehun,” he offers, smiling a little hesitatingly.
But Lu Han’s smile is like cranking up the light to five million watts, and Sehun is tempted to count each pearly whites like how he counts the stars at night.
They’re an awkward group of twelve, diving headfirst into fame they don’t understand. Chanyeol handles everything behind the shield of his moniker, Happy Virus, and Tao’s bruises from his wushu practice show beneath the slips of his collar. Wu Fan manages the best he can with Joonmyun by his side, both too unprepared and yet all too eager to rush into the spotlight as the rest of them.
“Just one more week,” Lu Han says when they’re practicing MAMA for the fifth time that day. They have their stage cloths on just so they can get comfortable; it’s like learning how to move with new skins and bones, molding themselves into bodies that are Lay, not Yixing, Kai, not Jongin.
“Yeah,” Sehun says, water dripping down his chin in his hurry to drink. “How are you feeling?”
“Honestly? I’m not sure.” Lu Han shrugs as he takes the water bottle when Sehun offers. “I’m really happy, yeah, but it’s still a bit unreal to me.”
“It hasn’t hit me yet either,” Sehun agrees. He watches the way Lu Han smoothes out the wrinkles at the ends of his sleeves, pale fingers pressing against bone-white fabric, and wants to know what it feels like for him to smooth out the wrinkles around Sehun’s knuckles.
The thought scares him, and he ignores it in favor of drowning himself in the beats vibrating through the floorboards, and carving the rhythm into his bones.
He watches as Lu Han sings until his throat is raw from too much stress, nervously shifting from foot to foot with a hoodie draped over one arm and a thermos full of tea cupped between his hands. The recording studio is empty except for the two of them, and Lu Han has the most lines next to Jongdae who isn’t recording until tomorrow.
“You did really well, hyung,” Sehun says, trying to smile as reassuringly as he can when Lu Han stumbles out of the recording room, eyelids heavy with sleep and lips curled down in dissatisfaction.
Lu Han thanks him by letting his hand linger a beat longer than usual when he reaches for his hoodie, cold fingers pressing against the warmth of Sehun’s forearm, and his eyes are tired but his soft smile is enough for Sehun to wrap an arm around his shoulder as they walk back to their dorms.
It’s one of their rare days off in between the hectic schedule they’re so used to. Sehun finds himself on the couch with Jongin sitting on the floor, leaning against his legs, flickering through channels just for something to do.
“You look thoroughly bored,” someone says and Sehun doesn’t have to guess that it’s Lu Han who comes into the room and promptly throws himself on the couch next to Sehun.
“Kyungsoo and Joonmyun went out to buy us some food,” Jongin explains, settling on a channel with swimming. Lu Han hums noncommittally, instead finding some form of mild amusement in playing with Sehun’s fingers.
Sehun gives him a questioning look, and Lu Han merely smiles at him, eyes as bright as the first day they met. He looks down at their joined hands, feels the way Lu Han is unconsciously stroking his thumb along the soft skin of Sehun’s palm.
Jongin changes channels again, and Lu Han’s attention jumps to the screen when a soccer match starts but his hand never leaves Sehun’s, fingers slotted into the empty spaces like how Lu Han had spilled himself into all those lonely hours Sehun spent trying to pass the time with his reflection as his only companion.
Love sneaks up on him like the moon after the sun when the day melts into night. Sehun never thought about it because there’s never enough time in the day to think about love, falling in love, wanting to love. All he knows is how to be loved and the company pounds into him all the little details about fanservice and visual, makes him wear the maknae position like a nametag just to be recognized.
Lu Han attracts people effortlessly with how easy it is to be around him and Sehun is no better than anyone else at staring whenever Lu Han talks, eyes wide and shining as he stares promisingly into cameras.
Sehun looks at Lu Han and thinks how perfectly his arms would fit around Lu Han’s waists. Sehun looks at Lu Han and wants to trace every crease around the corners of Lu Han’s eyes whenever he laughs.
Sehun looks at Lu Han and sees a thousand reasons to fall in love. But that means thousands of reasons for others to fall in love with Lu Han too, and Sehun wants to be the cliff that waves beat against but can never break down.
Instead, he feels like a pebble lost in the sea of affections, both headed towards the shore for a single touch but they can never stay.
He can never stay.
Sehun is very annoyed and tons more embarrassed when Jongin comes up to him one day and says, “So you like Lu Han,” instead of the usual, “Come with me to get food.”
“What are you –”
“You’re not very good at hiding it,” Jongin says, rolling his eyes. “You stare at him with the most lovesick expression I’ve ever seen; it’s like the high school cliché I never wanted to experience.”
Sehun grumbles into his pillow and returns his attention to his Galaxy in favor of ignoring Jongin’s snickers.
“So what are you going to do about it?” Jongin continues to be annoying as he climbs onto Sehun’s bed, stubbornly digging his elbows into Sehun’s ribs.
“I dunno, my God, leave me alone,” Sehun whines, nearly smashing his cell phone into Jongin’s face in his attempt to shove him off the bed.
Jongin dodges his hands. “Here’s something: confess.”
Sehun pauses in the middle of wrapping his hands around Jongin’s throat (he wasn’t really going to choke him but a little bit of threat would be nice) and stares at him, two parts shocked and one part horrified at even the thought.
“I can’t do that,” he says, moving away from Jongin and sitting on the edge of the bed. “I can’t risk that.”
“What, your friendship?” Jongin asks, “Your heart?”
“Don’t be so dramatic, princess,” Jongin scoffs. “The worst case scenario is that he rejects you. And you move on. You always move on.”
There’s a something bitter in Jongin’s voice, and Sehun barely has time to wonder about it as Jongin continues.
“But, hey, plot twist; Lu Han might like you back. Have you ever thought about that, dumbass?”
For all the gallons of annoyance that seems to make up two-thirds of Jongin’s entire existence, he tries his hardest, and Sehun can see he’s trying to make the best of the situation.
“Take some risks,” Jongin says, “Lu Han might be worth those risks.”
It’s not so much the risks, Sehun thinks, as it is the fears; the fear of rejection, the fear of having his heart broken into so many pieces they get lost in the spaces between his ribs and he’ll never be whole again.
But then he thinks about Lu Han’s thin wrists that Sehun loves so much to wrap his fingers around, feel the faint beating of a beautiful heart beneath his palms, walk together in step and be in love, truly in love.
He looks up and sees Jongin looking at him expectantly, and Sehun knows. He knows the decision is written clearly across his face, in the way he swallows back his heart that has jumped to his throat and how his hands fist into the bedsheets.
He nods shakily and the smile Jongin gives him is bittersweet.
Sehun feels like the seconds are passing by like a ticking time bomb. He looks at Lu Han, who’s staying behind to practice his vocals while dancing, and wonders if this is the right time, the right setting, the right choice.
The music stops and Lu Han looks satisfied with his performance, still humming a little as he unplugs his ipod from the jack and starts gathering his things. Sehun takes a small step forward and his heart is nearly leaping out of his mouth as Lu Han approaches.
They walk in silence back to their dorm, and Sehun tentatively reaches out and laces their hands together. Lu Han turns to him, smiling warmly instead of questioning him, and he swings their arms. Sehun wonders if it would be different knowing Lu Han loved him back like this.
They’re reaching the dorm and there are five steps before Lu Han goes inside, and gone is Sehun’s chance. Logic and feelings are waging an internal war, and Sehun grips Lu Han’s hand tighter.
Losing Lu Han, losing this; this connection that is soul-bounding, one in a million chances of meeting someone like him in Sehun’s life, and the gamble he’s willing to make that might ruin everything.
Risking the group, risking their career, risking him.
Lu Han might be worth those risks.
“Hyung,” Sehun says just as Lu Han’s punching in the first few digits to unlock the door. He pauses, turns to Sehun and waits with patient eyes. “Hyung, I –”
Time grinds to a screeching halt; bullet time. Sehun can see every infinitesimal flicker of Lu Han’s hair in the slowing breeze, the way dust under the streetlamps seem to freeze in the air, cars rushing past them in a blur of colors yet Sehun can read each license plate clearly.
His heart beats once and the sound echoes down the street and suddenly everything’s swinging into motion again, Lu Han’s eyes blinking rapidly and dust falling down on their shoulders.
“I –I like you. A lot. For a long time, I’ve always liked you.”
He had a short script planned out in his head, an entire monologue explaining how Lu Han’s eyes are like star catchers and even the entire universe cannot compare to the beauty of his smile. But it seems so useless now because how can he describe the way his heart beats a new rhythm whenever Lu Han walks into the room.
Lu Han’s shocked expression shatters Sehun’s weak hope, and in that moment he wants to take back those past five seconds, rewind the clock and start all over.
But then soft lips on his cheeks cause his brain to short circuit. Arms are wrapped around his chest, fingertips pressing against his back, and he feels like the air was stolen out of his lung. A hand reaches down for his, squeezing impossibly tight, but Sehun welcomes the numbness as he looks down at Lu Han, hardly daring to believe.
“I like you too,” Lu Han whispers, lips brushing against his ear, “so much.” He leans back and Sehun falls in love all over again with the sparkling confidence in Lu Han’s eyes and the boldness in his smile.
They’re careless the first few weeks, barely straying a few feet away from each other. Jongin smiles at Sehun when he sees them walking in for breakfast, shoulders brushing, and Sehun wants to erase all the tallies of death threats he’s made at Jongin ever since they met.
They fumble into love the same way they stumbled into fame: unsure but eager, consequences heavy in their minds after every step. It’s touch-and-go, hidden smiles Sehun reserves just for Lu Han, fleeting touches they pass off easily as fanservice.
When Lu Han cooks on rare occasions and everyone wants a break from take-outs, Sehun finally gets a chance to wrap his arms around his waist, pressing his chest against Lu Han’s back as he watches quietly. In that moment, feeling Lu Han – warm, soft, real – in his arms, Sehun thinks this is the happiest he’s ever been.
But it’s all too soon when Lu Han twists around, plants a kiss on Sehun’s cheeks, and says that dinner’s ready. Lu Han moves away but Sehun can still smell the scent of his shampoo and hear the steady rhythm of his breathing.
Time is nothing but a blur on stage, seconds lost in the fast choreography of their song. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the rush of performing, and Sehun thinks he can get high on it, breathing heavily as he looks out at the crowd of adoring fans.
But time slows down to a crawl whenever he’s in bed, Lu Han spread out beneath him, all pale limbs and warm skin and nervous heartbeats.
He counts the seconds down on Lu Han’s spine, feeling the ridges beneath the tips of his fingers, and measures out the minutes with each drawn-out kiss. Lu Han presses against him desperately, lips bitten red and swollen, and Sehun thinks he can see galaxies in Lu Han’s eyes, desperation and want shining like stardust.
Sehun handles him like something to be treasured, more precious than pearls, trailing soft kisses down Lu Han’s thighs, fingers settled in the spaces between his ribs. Lu Han touches him too, thin fingers sliding around his neck and into his hair, nails scratching lightly against his scalp, and Sehun welcomes it all.
He trails his fingers lower, lower, and lower still, until Lu Han’s gasping into his neck when Sehun scissors him open with two fingers slick with lube. Legs lock around his waist and pull him closer, more and please harshly whispered into his ear, and Sehun can feel the way Lu Han’s entire body trembles underneath him.
When he pushes in, slowly like they have all the time in the world, Lu Han leaves red trails on Sehun’s shoulder blades like a brand. One second and two heartbeats later, Sehun’s leaning down and swallowing the breathless moan Lu Han feeds down his throat. Lu Han’s hips lift up and Sehun gets the message, hands feeling the sharp hipbones as he gets a good grip, and pulls out just as slowly as he’d pushed in just to hear Lu Han’s stuttered gasp.
The rhythm they set is languid and lazy. Sehun takes his time to memorize every twitch of Lu Han’s limbs when he moves just right, and imprints on the back of his eyelids the way Lu Han’s lips fall open with every stolen breath.
Thumbs brush against his collarbones and Sehun looks down, bangs heavy with sweat, to see Lu Han looking at him, eyes so trusting and loving.
I love you echoes in Sehun’s head but all he can do is gasp, pressing his lips against Lu Han’s neck. He can feel the pulse against the soft skin there, the way Lu Han breathes in shakily.
“Faster,” Lu Han says, voice barely above a whisper. “Faster, Sehun, please, I’m –”
Sehun listens and follows, fingers digging bruises into soft skin as he picks up his pace, slamming into Lu Han like the world is going to end, and the only things separating them are hot breaths shared between bruised lips.
Lu Han arches off the bed, his gasps quickening and turning sharper, lighter. Sehun pulls away completely and watches as Lu Han falls apart beneath him, eyes wide open as Lu Han comes on their stomachs. Lu Han’s arms loosen from where he was clinging onto Sehun like an anchor, mouth slack as he exhales soundlessly, expression one of contentment and bliss.
Sehun pulls out hurriedly, gasping as he comes over Lu Han’s thighs. Time freezes as Sehun appreciates how wrecked Lu Han is, skin red from Sehun’s lips and fingers, wet locks of hair curled around his neck where it’s shiny with sweat.
He leans down and presses a soft kiss to the corner of Lu Han’s lips. This is oddly the most intimate thing next to their naked bodies pressing together until there’s no space left for air. Lu Han tilts his head, kissing him slowly as they wind down, Sehun’s arms giving out a little from where they’re holding him up.
“I love you,” Lu Han whispers, voice like a wisp of autumn’s wind. The words repeat themselves in Sehun’s head like a mantra, but when he opens his mouth, his throat tightens. He chokes the words back and hopes that Lu Han can see the answer in the way Sehun tightens his arms around his waist and never lets go.
It goes well, until it doesn’t.
It’s the small things; carefully held centimeters between them during fan meetings, only small reprieves they allow themselves during bathroom breaks where it’s rushed touches and forced smiles, stress tearing them in half until they stitch themselves together with not enough strings or dedication.
Sehun thinks they’re just tired.
What Lu Han thinks, though, he doesn’t know. Lu Han’s face is like an open book, all conspicuous expressions and palpable emotions, but Sehun feels like he’s getting towards the last chapter without any answers, all loose ends left untied.
“Do you love me?” Lu Han asked him one night when all the others have retired to their rooms. His eyes are hard like diamonds, the stars shrouded behind a veil of hesitation and doubt.
“Of course,” Sehun says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but Lu Han’s lips thin and tighten in the corners like he doesn’t quite believe him.
So much is lost somewhere between Sehun’s brain and his mouth when Lu Han climbs onto his lap and kisses him hard like a punch in the gut. Thin fingers tangle themselves in his hair and tug with a desperation Sehun only recognizes when someone’s trying to grasp onto something they’re afraid of losing too soon.
Sehun remembers their debut stage, how empty it felt without their other half they’ve been practicing with ten times a day, five days a week, for a comeback that will only be half as grand as they imagined.
He sees Baekhyun dancing in the front during his solo and every time he blinks, he sees Lu Han instead, hat crooked and vest too bulky for his small body.
And in that moment, surrounded by five other people who share the same dream, he feels truly, irrevocably lonely.
“You and Lu Han,” Kyungsoo starts slowly, “seem very happy.”
Sehun looks up, confused. “Uhm?”
“Together,” Kyungsoo adds. “You two seem happy together.”
It takes a moment for the words to sink in, and when they do Sehun is caught between feeling horrified and embarrassed. “I –I –it’s, uhm, we’re just –”
We’re just friends, we’re not like that, we’re not together.
“Jongin isn’t very good with secrets, especially ones he’s not obligated to keep,” Kyungsoo explains before Sehun becomes a stuttering mess.
“He only told me because I’m not the kind of person to spread this around.”
This, Sehun can believe. Kyungsoo, Sehun can trust. But others knowing, getting too careless –he hasn’t even considered.
“Just be careful, okay?” Kyungsoo smiles his ‘hyung’ smile, and it’s more sad than comforting. “Don’t do something you’ll regret.”
“Yeah,” Sehun says lamely. Kyungsoo gives him another pointed look before cheerily asking him if he’s hungry.
Sehun nods absentmindedly because he’s elsewhere right now, thinking of Lu Han and consequences and everything in between.
Sehun feels Lu Han’s stare when he signs another album, fingers cramping from gripping the thick pen for too long.
Sehun had switched seats with Suho when Lu Han settled his hand on Sehun’s knees casually, fingers tapping out the beat to the Wolf playing in the background. But Sehun’s blood spiked, neck prickling from the paranoia of someone finding out even though there’s a table cloth long enough to brush against the floor in front of them.
There was too little space between them when Lu Han leaned over to whisper something into his ear, and usually this was fine. Sehun is fine with this, the teasing and the touches, playful acts thrown out there for the favor of the fans.
Except he wasn’t fine, and the paranoia built until Sehun was almost flinching away whenever Lu Han’s arm brushed against his.
“You okay?” Chanyeol asks, eyes playfully curious but Sehun can see worry in the way Chanyeol’s lips doesn’t push into his cheeks when he smiles.
“I’m fine,” Sehun answers. The look on Chanyeol’s face tells Sehun he doesn’t believe him, but Chanyeol is good at reading people and right now he can read the please let’s not talk about this on Sehun’s face.
“Alright,” he says cheerfully, bumping shoulders with Sehun. There’s a scatter of screams from the crowd, and Chanyeol smiles back enthusiastically. He’s always been better at fanservice than most of them.
Sehun looks over and sees Lu Han facing Jongin, notes the way he laughs with his mouth wide open, and simply hopes he’s doing the right thing.
Management breaks out the wine on the night of their first win, cheap, breakable martini glasses making their rounds through the crowd of SM idols.
Sehun watches with a sort of drunken excitement even though he’s only had two sips of vodka; the taste of victory is sweeter than the stinging alcohol washing itself down his throat.
Someone tumbles into his arms and he finds Lu Han, pink-faced, by his side, his smile lopsided and eyes brighter than usual. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispers, fingers trailing dangerously close to Sehun’s jean zippers.
Sehun hurriedly pushes him off before grabbing his wrists and pulls him through the mass of bodies. The club SM privately booked is tragically far from their dorm and Sehun doesn’t even have his license on him let alone have a car to drive.
“Let’s steal Joonmyun’s,” Lu Han says, hiccupping as he half bumps, half falls into Sehun’s side. “I’ll drive.”
Sehun immediately votes ‘no’ on the plan when he flags down a taxi. Lu Han’s mumbling incoherently by the time they get to their dorm, and Sehun experiences firsthand how light Lu Han is when he carries him up the stairs.
Sehun tries to set him gently on the couch but Lu Han just sort of collapses on the cushions, arms slack across his chest and legs dangling awkwardly off the end. The AC is turned off and the air is too stale.
“I’ll get you some water, hyung,” Sehun says as he hurriedly tugs off Lu Han’s shirt. Lu Han’s sitting up by the time Sehun’s back with a chilled glass of water, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, brows furrowed.
Lu Han closes his eyes as he takes a long gulp. Sehun can see the dark bags in the harsh light of the ceiling fan. Lu Han opens his eyes, and he looks so tired but it’s not from the mind numbing schedule this time.
There’s a faint ring of red on Lu Han’s ribs where Sehun had bitten and sucked the skin dark pink. It was from some night last week, he can’t remember anymore, doesn’t really care to remember.
He slings one of Lu Han’s arms over his shoulder and manages to get him to the right bed. He shucks off Lu Han’s pants and drags the blanket over his slim legs and pale chest, watches the way Lu Han’s breathing evens out. He’s about to leave when a cold hand grips his wrist.
“Stay,” Lu Han croaks out, eyes still closed but Sehun doubt it would’ve made any difference in the darkness of room.
He stays until Lu Han’s fingers loosen, arm falling a little off the side of the bed. Sehun gently moves it so it’s settled over Lu Han’s stomach.
He lingers by Lu Han’s side a little longer, counts the number of times Lu Han breathes in, and leaves on the tenth exhale.
The next morning saw three hangovers; Chanyeol’s being the worst with Jongin following right after. Lu Han’s the only one quiet about it, eyes bloodshot as he downs two ibuprofen pills with cold water from the refrigerator.
He doesn’t seem to remember all that much of what happened that night, and Sehun’s a little more than grateful for it. It isn’t until he’s washing the dishes after losing their daily rock-paper-scissor-shoots does Lu Han confront him.
“You left,” he says almost conversationally. Sehun scrubs extra hard at a piece of dried noodle stuck to the lip of the bowl. “You left when I asked you to stay.”
“The others were coming back,” Sehun says. “I couldn’t stay or they’d get the wrong idea.”
“What if they do? What’s so bad about them finding out?” Lu Han’s voice is sharp, and Sehun clinks the spoons together a little louder than necessary so that the others wouldn’t hear. “Is that what this is, a wrong idea?”
“No, that’s not –”
“What are you so afraid of?”
Sehun pauses, hands gripping the sponge so hard he feels a bit of it tearing off where his nails dig in. “I…” he opens his mouth and then he closes it. He finally looks at Lu Han for the first time since he entered the kitchen, and he looks so tired.
Tired of waiting, Sehun realizes, when Lu Han turns around with a sigh and exits without looking back or saying goodnight.
Sehun stands there, hands still dipped in the soapy water. What are you so afraid of? Lu Han’s words echo in his head until he slams the kitchen lights shut but it doesn’t shut out the guilt weighing him down.
Sehun scrambles off his bed when the door opens. The only people who open the door to his room without knocking are Lu Han and –
“It’s just me, calm the fuck down,” Jongin laughs as he kicks the door closed behind him. He’s holding a can of Pepsi in one hand and his iPhone in the other, the earbuds dangling over his shoulder. He always set his volume on ‘deafening’, as Kyungsoo puts it, and Sehun can hear the faint rap of Two Moons.
“I know that,” Sehun says as he collapses back on his bed. He grabs a pillow and shoves it over his face, ignoring the fact he can hardly breathe.
“What’s the matter, princess?” He feels the bed dip as Jongin sits on the side.
“You – it’s nothing,” Sehun adds hurriedly, curling up on his side as he hugs the pillow to his chest.
“Doesn’t sound like nothing,” Jongin says.
He doesn’t prompt, doesn’t push, just waits until Sehun lets out a breath, the warmth seeping into the fabric of his pillow.
“Don’t you ever wish, sometimes, that you can go back and fix everything that’s ever gone wrong?” Sehun rolls over on his back and sees
Jongin looking at him with a guarded expression. “Don’t you ever regret something so much you wished it never happened?”
“I do,” Jongin replies after a heartbeat. “I always do.”
Sehun sees it, the slightest glimpse of bitterness in Jongin’s eyes, and he asks, “How long?”
Jongin’s laugh is bitter too. “How long what? Loved Lu Han? Regretted telling you to go after him except of being selfish and taking everything for myself?”
Sehun counts back on all the times Jongin threw him a smile when he and Lu Han linked hands beneath the kitchen table while they crowded around for dinner. He wonders why he never saw the longing, the regret.
“I’m sorry,” he says. The timing and the words are all wrong but Jongin smiles a little, genuinely, before grabbing another pillow and slamming it onto Sehun’s face.
“Little brat,” he laughs. “What the hell are you apologizing for, spoiled maknae?”
“But you –”
“You’d be surprised how easy it is to forgive when it comes to your best friend,” Jongin says. Sehun looks at him miserably. On the list of shittiest things he’s ever done to Jongin, this must be the worst.
“Wouldn’t it be better for you to forget?” he asks tentatively. Jongin watches him curiously.
“Yeah, that would be nice.”
Lu Han shoves him on the bed one night, lips desperate as he begins pushing Sehun’s shirt over his stomach, nails etching angry trails of red on pale skin.
Sehun’s tired, muscles sore from three hours of dancing, but he relaxes against the mattress, fingers rubbing against the warm skin of Lu Han’s neck. “Slow down,” he says, chuckling when Lu Han nips at his jaw. There’s a soft whine, and then Lu Han’s pulling back, hands already settling on Sehun’s crotch.
“I don’t want to,” Lu Han says, breathless as he scrambles to unbutton and zip open Sehun’s jeans. Hands slide under the elastic waistband, and Sehun sucks in a sharp breath when he feels cold fingers wrap around his erection. He helps Lu Han remove his jeans and underwear completely, complaining about the fact that Lu Han’s still fully clothed.
Lu Han chuckles darkly before leaning down and kissing Sehun hard, teeth unforgiving as he bites down on Sehun’s bottom lip. He moves lower, pressing kisses across Sehun’s soft stomach, hands mapping out the sharpness of his hipbones.
Lu Han’s lips are heavenly to kiss but they’re absolutely sinful wrapped around Sehun’ cock, pink lips stretched wide as he sinks his head lower. His tongue swirls around the head, and Sehun grips at the bed sheets for something to hold on to.
“Fuck,” he gasps, shifting up on his elbows to watch the way Lu Han licks a filthy strip from base to tip, his eyes bright behind mussed bangs as he rubs soothing circles on the inside of Sehun’s thighs.
He crawls up, knees settling next to Sehun’s waist, lips wet as he kisses Sehun desperately. He whispers fuck me, the sound getting lost in Sehun’s mouth.
From there it’s sharp teeth and blunt nails; Lu Han seats himself so far down on Sehun’s cock it has Sehun gasping, back arching off the bed. The pace Lu Han sets is furious, as if he’s trying to fuck the breath out of Sehun’s lungs. Sehun wants to tell him to slow down again because the heat is unbearable, but then Lu Han braces his arms next to Sehun’s head, hot breath ghosting over his jaw.
“Look at me,” Lu Han says, more commanding than usual. Sehun looks at him, taking in flushed cheeks and bruised lips. He looks at him and sees how calculating Lu Han’s eyes are, the flutter of his eyelids as if he’s trying to gauge how much of himself Sehun’s really showing and how much he’s offering out of obligation.
It hurts, so Sehun grips Lu Han’s waists a little harder and drives up into him with more force than necessary but he doesn’t pay any mind to the sharp slapping of skin, just focuses on the curses spilling out of Lu Han’s mouth as he comes white hot over their stomachs.
“Do you love me?” Lu Han asks when Sehun has his chest pressed to Lu Han’s back, and this feels a little like déjà vu except it isn’t. It’s Lu Han asking him the question he can never answer properly without choking on his heart, and he instinctively wraps his arms a little tighter around Lu Han’s chest.
“Of course,” he says against Lu Han’s neck. The shoulder underneath his chin stiffens and relaxes but Lu Han doesn’t move, doesn’t shift over to look Sehun in the eyes. He simply sighs, and that’s when Sehun knows it isn’t enough.
Everything, Sehun figures, has an expiration date. He and Lu Han aren’t any different. Soon, he realizes, EXO will just be another root in the history of everything. Even stars die out.
Stars like the shimmering light in Lu Han’s eyes whenever he looks at Sehun from across the room. The way he seems to overlook Sehun, like Lu Han can see right through him with how thin he feels, is something he’s almost used to. So he looks pointedly away, eyes drifting to his sneakers as he gets into formation behind Jongin. Their instructor snaps at him to pay attention.
“Hey,” Jongin says to him later, snapping his fingers an inch away from Sehun’s nose. “Focus. You’re messy today. Stop looking at Lu Han all the time or something.”
Sehun wants to laugh. He does. “Whatever you say, hyung.”
He doesn’t look at Lu Han at all for the rest of practice. Joonmyun pulls him aside to ask if he’s not getting sleep after Sehun forgets the same move for the fourth time.
Lu Han is the first to leave the room when practice is over. Jongin looks between Sehun and the door. “Are you guys –?”
“We’re fine,” Sehun says forcefully. He smiles to make it more convincing. Jongin doesn’t look convinced. “I’m going to stay behind to work on my moves.”
“Do you want me to help you?”
“No,” Sehun says, turning his back to Jongin. He waits until he hears the door close to move. He walks towards the mirror, fingers shaking slightly as he traces the reflection of the dark circles beneath his eyes.
“I’m fine,” he says to himself. His reflection stares at him, doubt and worry painted all over his face. “I’m going to be fine,” he says firmly.
He sees drops of water on the mirror but when he tries to wipe them away, he feels nothing but the smooth surface. He looks up, his vision swimming, and realizes they’re tears, his tears, hot and wet on his cheeks.
Their fourth album drops and so does Sehun’s and Lu Han’s relationship.
Sehun had seen it coming, the tears and wears in what they called romance. It’s almost television perfect, he thinks. It’s not overly dramatized – Lu Han isn’t throwing plates aimed at Sehun’s face and he isn’t pounding tearfully against his chest. No, instead Lu Han leaves crescent shaped scars on his shoulder when Lu Han pushes him against the wall, his eyes cold, starless.
“Why are you so paranoid?” he asks. “Why can’t you look at me in public? Why can’t you even say you love me to my face?”
I can’t say it, I can only show it. Why can’t you see it? I’m screaming ‘I love you’ whenever I hold your hand underneath our bed sheets, Sehun wants to argue but Lu Han’s already backing away. Sehun can almost hear the cheering from the audience when Lu Han swings a jacket over his shoulder and heads towards the exit. He almost expects Lu Han to pause by the open door and turn around, say the final line in the script that will tear Sehun’s heart apart before walking out of his life.
Instead, Lu Han says nothing, and silence hurts more than words Sehun comes to realize. He can see it, the cinematic ending as Lu Han walks out into the night, the screen fading to black.
In this story, Sehun is the villain, and villains never win.
It’s their final stage, and Sehun sees a Hunhan board waving erratically in the crowd, the letters painted obnoxious yellow and pink, flashing lights to top it all off. Sehun and Lu Han might have died metaphorically, figuratively, not literally, but “Hunhan” still lives on.
A part of Sehun is glad; it serves as a replacement for all the fabricated moments he can never experience. The caricature of something that’s too much to be friendship but it’s just that. They’ve perfected the art of acting like they care.
Another part of him pines for the days when he could hold Lu Han’s hands and not have to hear a crescendo in screams to know it was the right thing to do. But that was years ago, and now the others have learned not to question whenever Lu Han leaves the room when Sehun walks in. Jongin fixes him with a stare that’s a mix of pity and regret. Sehun thinks it’s mainly regret.
Sehun sees Chanyeol first, his hair back to a curly mop of orange-red like how it was when they debuted. He still towers half a head above everyone else, grin still a mile wide as he waves cheerfully.
“I’m almost sick of seeing your face, what with your new drama coming out,” Sehun jokes. Chanyeol elbows him in the ribs and soon has him in a headlock, and nothing really changed all these years.
“How’s modeling? I heard you had to get another IV drip because they were flying you from Korean to Japan like twice a day,” Chanyeol asks, worried.
Sehun waves a dismissive hand. “It’s nothing. That was like, what, the first time in three years? Sales are peaking and fewer models are in demand this year. I’m one of the few available for flexible scheduling.”
It’s been four years since Sehun had seen Chanyeol face-to-face. It’s only been a few hours since he’s last seen Jongin; the two of them are now choreographers under SM, Sehun only part-time when he’s taking a break from modeling. It’s EXO’s first reunion in five years, the first time they’ll meet as one after so many years of separation. Sehun isn’t sure what to expect.
Baekhyun arrives next, hair midnight black for his next comeback. Wu Fan and Yixing are flying in from China just for today, and Minseok and Jongdae announce they are preparing a duet together. Sehun tries to catch up with everyone, chatting with Zitao about his newest film in China.
“You haven’t changed much,” Zitao says, smile soft.
Sehun shrugs. “I’m happy with where I am right now, I guess. I don’t want to change anything.”
Zitao says, “I’m glad,” and clinks his wine glass against Sehun’s.
Jongin shows up in a loose tank and sweatpants, nothing like the clean pressed suit Wu Fan’s wearing, and gives everyone sweaty hugs, laughing loudly when Kyungsoo tries to push him away in mock disgust. He spots Sehun across the room and promptly drags him aside.
“Lu Han’s coming,” is the first thing he says.
“I know that,” Sehun says. He doesn’t need reminding.
“Alright. Just –yeah,” Jongin rubs the back of his neck. “Try not to drown everyone in the awkward.”
Sehun barks out a laugh. “No promises,” he says and drags Jongin back into the crowd.
Lu Han arrives with a loose white button-down and black slacks, hair dyed platinum blond. His face is clean of makeup, and Sehun can see deeper lines along the corner of his mouth. He looks older, more mature, but his smile is still the same when Minseok goes in and sweeps him into a hug. His laugh hasn’t changed either. His eyes –
His eyes fall on Sehun from across the room, and there’s a moment when they flicker, a brief moment of light, and then Lu Han’s looking away, smile falling an inch short as he returns Minseok’s hug and claps Zitao on the shoulder.
Sehun makes his rounds, bumping shoulders with Jongdae and shaking Wu Fan’s hand because, well, it’s Wu Fan. Chanyeol grabs him right as everyone’s leaving, hesitant steps towards the exit because they don’t know how long it’ll be before they’re together again.
“Hey, you should swing by sometimes. Baekhyun’s singing an OST for the drama and he’s like on set every other day, his face is so annoying,” he adds loudly just as Baekhyun walks past. Seven seconds later and Chanyeol’s half bent over, arm clutching his stomach where Baekhyun landed a hard punch with too-sharp knuckles.
“If it means I get to see you in this state more frequently, then yes,” Sehun smiles wider than usual. Chanyeol mutters assholes underneath his breath and leaves after exchanging numbers.
Jongin gets to him next. “I’ll see your ass next week anyway,” he smirks. Then his face turns serious, and he’s looking between Sehun and something behind him and then leaving with a pointed look.
Sehun doesn’t need to guess who it is when he turns around.
“It’s been a while,” Lu Han says when they’re sitting down at a vacant table, two wine glasses, half empty, between them. Everyone’s left at this point. Sehun calls it perfect timing.
“Yeah,” he says, fingers nervously dancing along the rim of his glass. “I, uh, ordered your new single. Rumor is you’re going to create a Korean version of your album Goodnight, Goodbye.”
Lu Han shakes his head. “Don’t know who started that one. Not true, unfortunately, I honestly don’t have the time.” He glances down to where his hands rest on the table, fingers interlocked. “How are things? Life treating you well?”
Sehun laughs. “Life’s fine. Things are fine too. It’s getting kind of rushed now with Spring Fashion Week but, you know, nothing I’ve never done before.”
Lu Han hums, leaning back a little as he sips his wine. There’s a beat of silence. Sehun suddenly really wants to go home.
“Have you… have you found anyone? Lately? I mean –” Lu Han stutters, flustered hands waving nervously in the air. “Have you been with anyone?”
Sehun blinks. He thinks about that one fling with a fellow model, long black hair and rosy cheeks, delicate wrists that Sehun had felt beneath his fingers. Her eyes were his favorite, round and twinkling, like stars. He forgot her name.
“No, no one,” he says.
“Oh,” Lu Han pauses. “Well, I’m going to be engaged.”
Sehun’s hand freezes where it’s bringing his wine glass to his lips.
“I’m going to propose to her next week. I’m positive she’ll say yes, I mean, we’ve been together for so long,” Lu Han laughs, a soft little ha escaping from his lips.
“I think I want this. I do want this,” he adds more firmly. “I’m over thirty, and I thought I’d have a family to take care of at this point, you know?”
Sehun nods weakly.
“She’s nice. From a nice family, her parents like me. She used to be a dancer, ten years of ballet, all that good stuff. Beautiful girl, I love her.”
“I’m happy for you,” Sehun says. He never knew smiling would be this painful. “Really. She sounds wonderful.”
Lu Han gives him a little smile, and Sehun wonders if he’d imagined the brief glance of sorrow in his eyes. “She is,” he agrees and extends a hand. “I’ve missed you. I’m glad you’re doing well.”
Sehun takes his hand, memories rushing back as their palms slide together, and shakes firmly. Lu Han walks around him, towards the exit, but right before he steps out, he pauses and turns around.
“She reminds me of you,” he says, looking almost as if he was frightened to say it. He stands there, eyes locked with Sehun, before the door slams shut, and Sehun’s alone.
“Like me, huh?” he mutters. His eyes sting but he blames it on the alcohol. He pulls out his cell phone and holds down five for speed dial.
“Sehun?” Jongin’s voice sounds gurgled. He’s probably brushing his teeth.
“Uh, yeah. Can you pick me up?” Sehun looks at his watch. It’s one in the morning.
“Sure. Give me a sec… oh hey, did Lu Han leave?”
“Yeah, we’re done. Talking, I mean. We’re done talking.”
There’s an awkward pause. Sehun can almost see Jongin raising an eyebrow at him through the phone. There’s clinking in the background and then, “You’re not drunk are you?”
“Not even close,” Sehun says. “Just, come pick me up please.”
“Alright, calm down, princess. I’m coming.” With a soft chuckle, Jongin hangs up.
Sehun looks around and realizes that the staff has started cleaning up. He finds a vacant seat and sits down, sighing as he waits for the long minutes to pass by.
He looks up and sees the two wine glasses left on the table in the middle of the room. He sees an outline of Lu Han sitting across from him, blurred lips and shaking fingers.