Word Count: 11,500
Prompt: Dépaysement: disorientation, the feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country. When nothing is really wrong, but you just don’t feel right. Something is missing. Something important. Something you don’t know you are looking for before you’ll find it.
Warning/s: Brief mentions of violence and oppression, side parings including sekai and kailu plus mentions of some others
“The only true borders lie between day and night,
between life and death, between hope and loss.”
― Erin Hunter
Sehun’s family lives in a gray house on top of the big hill, near the forest at the outskirts of the town. It’s close enough to the school so that Sehun is allowed to walk there without his mother by his side but also so far from downtown that you can see the Border clearly from bedrooms on the second floor.
The Border – or the Wall, as some people call it – is an artificial force field surrounding the whole country. It starts hundreds of meters underground, going so high up to the sky that no airplane could cross it. You can go neither over nor under, there’s no way around. The only crossing points are at military bases, and they are guarded around the clock. The Border is the perfect shield to keep the intruders out, or as Sehun would later realize, the perfect cage to keep the citizens inside.
Ever since Sehun turned nine and was finally old enough to be allowed to stroll the neighborhood alone, he has spent most of his hours after school mapping the nearby forest and its secrets. The forest is huge, it stretches all the way to the Border and maybe even to the bigger town nearby, the boy isn’t so sure about that. There are plenty of fields, big rocks and fallen tree trunks in the woods, but Sehun’s favorite place is a small clearing, just a fifteen-minute-walk away from his home. The space is shadowed with big oak trees, but a few rays of sun manage to pass through the branches and light the soft forest floor. It’s a tranquil place, split in half by the Wall, allowing a clear view to the other side.
Sehun has always been a curious boy, and even though curiosity killed the cat, the threat doesn’t stop the boy from wanting to know more about the wonders beyond the Wall. And because looming around the Border in public was suspicious, like his father phrases it, the secluded field is a perfect place for observing.
Sehun spends many days after his ninth birthday leaning into a fallen tree trunk and watching the leaves quiver in the wind, wondering if the cool breeze would feel the same on his skin at the other side too.
You aren’t supposed to interact with people on the other side, and that’s what Sehun tells Jongin when they first meet. The black haired boy was standing a few meters and a translucent wall away from Sehun, smiling enthusiastically and ignoring the other’s words.
“I’m Jongin,” the boy says and extends his hand politely, only to awkwardly drop it a few seconds later.
Jongin’s the first outsider Sehun has ever seen and, despite being overthrown with curiosity, he’s a bit scared. If standing next to the Border for too long was wrong, then talking with someone across it would be very wrong and Sehun didn’t want to get in trouble.
“It’s okay,” Jongin senses the other’s hesitance and offers a reassuring smile, “I’m also from that side. You can talk to me.”
Sehun weighs the situation for a moment. “Then why are you there?” He finally opens up his mouth and asks quietly. The boy’s still not convinced that it’s okay to talk with the stranger, but he’s dying to know more.
Jongin’s eyes light up at the question. “Dad and I moved here three months ago, but before that we lived at Hyesan. Have you ever been there?”
Sehun shakes his head, he has never been outside the town. Joonmyun once visited his grandmother at the big city an hour-long train ride to the south, but Sehun’s grandparents live just a few houses down the street.
“That’s too bad. You could have told my friends that I moved here. I don’t think they know my new address yet because they haven’t been writing me,” Jongin says with a slight frown. “I miss them a lot. No one here wants to play with me.”
Sehun doesn’t like the sad look on the boy’s face. “I would want to play with you if I were on that side too,” he tries to cheer the other one up.
It seems to work because Jongin flashes him a bright grin, eyes crescents and rows of crooked teeth showing. Sehun can feel his own mouth tug into a small smile too.
“What’s your name?”
“Nice to meet you, Sehun.”
The clearing becomes their shared secret. Nearly every day after school, the boys would meet up and sit there, talking and doing homework until they were both late from dinner.
Sehun learns that Jongin too is nine years old and that he lives near a big lake, twenty minutes away from the Border. He had found the field and Sehun by accident when he tried to peek through the Wall and see his old hometown. Jongin’s a bit taller and older than Sehun and demands that the younger calls him hyung.
Sehun has never had a friend like Jongin before, the boy is loud and speaks his mind without hesitation, like he’s not scared that someone hears him. He’s nothing like Joonmyun or even Chanyeol who are always wary about their words and actions, scared of doing something wrong. Jongin’s real and warm, and it keeps drawing Sehun closer to him every time they see each other. He’s like fire and it’s equally mesmerizing and terrifying.
When they meet after school, Jongin usually finishes his homework first and helps Sehun with his afterwards. Sehun tries to help the elder too sometimes, but he can’t read the strange marks on Jongin’s books. Jongin says that the marks are called Han characters and he promises to one day teach Sehun how to read them.
Sometimes during weekends, when the air is still warm after the sun has set, the boys sneak out and meet at the Border after dark. They lie close to the Wall, wrapped in blankets, and share their secrets in the feeble beams of flashlights. During one of those nights, Jongin shows Sehun the picture of his mother he always carries along. She’s a beautiful woman with happy eyes and a wavy black hair. Sehun asks where she is now when Jongin carefully folds the photo back to his pocket. Gone, the boy answers curtly, and Sehun doesn’t push him for more.
In the span of the first couple of years in their friendship, the boys develop a strong bond. They know almost everything there is to know about each other and spend time together nearly every day. Even after Jongin adjusts to the language and settles down in his new home country, he doesn’t stop coming to their clearing.
During that time, Sehun thought they were inseparable.
“Do you ever wish you were on this side instead,” Jongin asks one afternoon when they are lying on the forest floor and watching the clouds glide through the Wall from one side to another. He’s wearing bright red shorts and a white t-shirt. Sehun’s in his usual grey clothes which are slowly dampening from the sweat the warm day is drawing out.
“Not really,” Sehun admits and massages his hands that are still sore from packing things at the factory all day.
It’s the summer break from school and now since Sehun’s turned thirteen, instead of playing videogames with his friends and hanging out with Jongin all day, he has to take part in providing the consumer goods for the community. It’s not too bad though, Joonmyun and Chanyeol work at the same production line and they were assigned to the packing section which is far better than assembling.
But Sehun’s still a bit envious that Jongin can just spend all day at home reading comics and watching movies if he feels like it.
“Why would I?”
Jongin looks at him for a while, contemplating if he should answer the question or not. “Our teacher says that people on that side are oppressed. That we are better off here.”
Sehun’s confused. He doesn’t feel oppressed. Maybe he has to work during summers but surely that doesn’t count, does it? Sehun had seen videos about oppression and dictatorship at school and they were always dated before the big war and the Wall. The people there were miserable and died in starvation and from diseases. Sehun has never had to go to bed feeling hungry.
“Well, has your teacher ever been on this side?” Sehun asks and Jongin shakes his head. “Then how can he know what it’s like living here? He must be mistaken.”
Jongin shrugs and stares at the clouds again. “Don’t you think it’s strange that you have laws even on how to dress in public?”
Sehun fiddles his dress shirt sleeves self-consciously. “It’s just different here.”
Jongin loves to dance. When Sehun’s fourteen they spend almost the entire spring talking about music and practicing new choreographies. Jongin dances like he was born to do it, and Sehun watches mesmerized as his body moves like it’s boneless and made from the highest quality of silk.
Jongin wants his every move to be perfect and refuses to stop until he’s refined every stretch and pull of his limbs until they are smooth and flawless. He constantly asks Sehun to point out his mistakes and Sehun tries his very best, but he can’t see any faults in the elder’s movements. For Sehun, everything in Jongin is perfect, and every step he takes is more breathtaking than the last.
And when the boy’s finally satisfied with his movements, his smile is warm like the sun, and something flips in Sehun’s chest. It took him years to finally realize that it was his heart.
Out of an old habit, Sehun tries to fix his bangs only to quickly remember that they aren’t there anymore. He scrunches his nose and runs his hands through his now short hair. Jongin laughs, not even trying to hide his amusement.
“It’s just that you look very cute,” the boy answers with a chuckle. Sehun’s eyes widen and he licks his lips, hoping that Jongin can’t see the slight crimson on his face in the dim moonlight. “The shorter cut suits you. You look older. Cooler.”
“I’ve always looked cool,” Sehun huffs, seemingly annoyed, but his heart is beating too fast when Jongin smiles and looks at him like that, and soon enough they are both grinning like idiots.
Sehun thinks that he can see stars in Jongin’s dark copper eyes.
Sehun likes it when Jongin laughs too loud and how he’s always honest with his words. He likes the way Jongin’s eyes brighten when he’s excited and how he can talk for hours about things that he loves. Sehun likes Jongin’s lips, warm smiles and his dark skin.
Sehun likes Jongin and wonders why it’s so wrong.
“Sorry I’m late.” Jongin sits down on opposite side of the Wall and flicks his light brown hair. His cheeks are flushed and he’s breathing unsteadily, and Sehun guesses that he ran the whole way from his house. “We were hanging out downtown and I forgot to check the time.”
Sehun doesn’t even try to keep the scowl out of his face. “Maybe I should be glad that you bothered to come at all.” To be completely honest he was a bit scared that the boy wouldn’t show up. Not that he would ever admit it.
“Oh, yeah about that,” Jongin says, a goofy smile spreading on his face and ears turning slightly pink as he explains the reason behind his absence the day earlier. “I went to the movies with Luhan. It was kind of a last minute thing. Sorry.” Despite his words, there isn’t any trace of regret in Jongin’s eyes.
Sehun unintentionally grimaces.
Of course it’s because of Luhan, it’s always about Luhan. He’s the only thing Jongin talks about these days. How Luhan took him to explore abandoned buildings, how Luhan stole a bottle of soju from his father’s stash just to share it with Jongin, and how Luhan knows how to sneak into R-rated movies without paying. Luhan, Luhan, Lu Han. Sehun’s sick of hearing that name.
“So he still doesn’t have people his age to hang out with?” he asks and tries to appear nonchalant. “Though, I guess it’s nice that he still finds time to see you from all his university studies.”
“He’s not that old. Luhan only just turned nineteen and he’s not starting university until next fall,” Jongin states with a small pout. Sehun hates the way the older gets defensive every time he points out the immense age difference the two boys have.
“Well he’s still four years older,” Sehun shrugs, “and you aren’t even in high school yet.”
“Why do you dislike Luhan so much? You haven’t even met him.”
“I don’t have to meet someone to dislike them,” Sehun mumbles and avoids looking at Jongin who’s giving him his best sad puppy imitation. “Besides, I do not dislike Luhan. I just don’t like you spending so much time with him, that’s all.”
“Why? Are you scared that I’ll start hanging out with Luhan more and more and forget about you?” There’s a teasing glint in Jongin’s eyes and Sehun gapes at him, shocked. “Are you jealous?”
“What? I am not!”
“Don’t be jealous, Sehunnie,” Jongin coos and laughs, enjoying the situation a bit too much for Sehun’s liking. “No one can replace you.”
“I’m not jealous!” Sehun snaps and tries to hide his face that’s heating up embarrassingly.
“Whatever you say.”
Sehun wants to smack the stupid grin from Jongin’s face but, because physical contact is impossible in their situation, he’s forced to just sit there and glare at the boy.
A few months later they are lying down and enjoying the warm breeze of early summer. It’s Saturday and neither of the boys have anything planned for the day. Sehun loves these rare moments. They’ve both been busy with final exams and other duties and it has been hard for them to find time to just sit and relax together.
“You know,” Jongin turns on his side on the tall grass and faces Sehun. His slightly too long bangs fall on his face. “Luhan wants to meet you.”
“What?” Sehun’s sure he misheard.
“Yeah. He’s been dying to come here in person.”
“You told him about me?” Sehun asks in disbelief. He feels betrayed; he had never told about Jongin or the clearing to anyone, not even Joonmyun – not even his own mother who asks where the boy heads every day after school. It has always been their secret, just the two of them, and now Jongin has shared it with someone. With Luhan of all people.
“Of course, I tell him everything,” the boy answers without realizing the hurt in the other’s eyes. Sehun feels like someone kicked him in the stomach.
“So, what do you say?” Jongin asks after Sehun doesn’t say anything for a while.
“No,” Sehun replies, shaking his head prominently. He has no desire to actually meet Luhan. He doesn’t want to be just another cool thing Jongin can show the elder. Like an exotic animal in a zoo.
“Come on, Sehun. He won’t ever believe me if you don’t show up,” Jongin wails and his lips curve into a small pout.
They both know that Sehun has never been good at saying no to Jongin.
Despite his age, Luhan looks surprisingly young and his face is almost childlike round. His hair is wavy and obnoxiously blonde, and even though it seems carelessly wind tousled, Sehun guesses the boy spent a lot of time styling it. Similarly to Jongin, Luhan’s wearing a white tank top and denim shorts, and the exposed skin has a weak bronze glow in the sun. The elder’s plump lips are set into a small smile, and for a moment Sehun feels lost in the big almond shaped eyes. He has never seen anyone with lashes as long as Luhan’s.
Life is unfair, Sehun decides.
“I’m so excited to finally meet you!” the boy says with a slight accent. Jongin told Sehun that Luhan’s mother was originally from his side too, so the boy was taught the language ever since he was little. Sehun’s yet to decide if it’s a good thing or not. “Jongin talks about you a lot.”
Sehun just nods awkwardly, not sure what to say. His focus drifts from Luhan to the two boys’ intertwined fingers. They sit there holding hands like it’s the most natural thing in the world, like they do it all the time, and Sehun feels an uncomfortable twist in his stomach.
He has never seen boys hold hands. Boys and girls, yes. Even two girls but never two boys. Sehun remembers one time in first grade when he tried to hold Joonmyun’s hand when they were walking home from school. The elder had just swiped his hand away like it had burned him and told him that it’s not something boys can do. That it’s dangerous. Wrong.
But when he looks at Jongin and Luhan sitting close together, fingers curling around the other’s, Sehun fails to see what’s so horribly wrong with it. Maybe it’s normal on the other side. Maybe there it isn’t uncommon or forbidden.
And maybe he wants to hold Jongin’s hand too.
After that day, Luhan usually comes with Jongin every time he meets Sehun. Luhan infiltrates himself into their daily lives and conversations easily, and soon enough, Sehun has to admit his defeat. He tried to hate Luhan, Sehun really did, but it wasn’t as easy as he initially thought.
Luhan often helps Sehun with his math homework, even when Jongin’s whining about being bored. He always includes Sehun in their conversations and doesn’t let Jongin tease him too much. When Luhan tries to tell a joke, he often fails to deliver the punchline from laughing so hard, but it doesn’t matter because the look on his face is enough to get the other two crying from laughter.
Luhan makes an effort to be Sehun’s friend and not just someone Jongin dragged with him.
Eventually Sehun realizes that he doesn’t really mind Luhan’s company. He enjoys listening to the elder read short novels and poems aloud or just talk about his daily life. But still every time Sehun notices Luhan’s hand on Jongin’s thigh or the subtle but intimate glances the two of them share, he can’t help feeling like someone’s stabbing him straight into the heart.
Even though the boy tries to tell himself that he’s just jealous about the attention his friend is giving to Luhan, deep down Sehun knows it’s about so much more than just that.
The sun’s still shining bright when Sehun makes his way into the familiar clearing. His last history class was cancelled and the boy got out of school ahead of time. He had declined Joonmyun’s and Chanyeol’s invitation to go to the local arcade and decided to head to the Wall early and surprise Luhan and Jongin instead. Most days, the two boys were the first ones sitting by the Border and waiting for Sehun to arrive and finish his homework.
But when he comes to the edge of the small field, Sehun realizes he isn’t the first one there. There are two figures sitting in the tall grass near the Wall, and even though Sehun quickly recognizes them, the usual greeting dies on his lips and he’s glued to the spot, unable to move a muscle as he watches the scene unfold before him.
Luhan is sitting on Jongin’s lap and straddling him to the ground, hands roaming under the younger one’s shirt. Jongin’s balancing himself with one arm and running his fingers in Luhan’s honey blonde hair with the other. Jongin shudders as Luhan’s lips press on his bare shoulder and suck a bruise under the collar of his shirt. Sehun can’t tear his eyes away when the two boys lock their lips together, emitting almost lewd noises and shaky breaths and bringing their bodies as close to each other as humanly possible.
“Jongin,” Luhan moans when the younger moves to kiss his jawline and sinks his fingers into the soft skin of Luhan’s hips. The blonde’s eyes are closed and back slightly arched. Even from the distance, Sehun can see the tiny droplets of sweat that glister on his forehead and the way the boy’s chest falls and rises rapidly. Luhan’s hair is a mess, lips red and raw, and when he finally opens his eyes, they are dark and fixed straight into Sehun’s.
For a short while, neither of them move, blink or breathe. There’s something so intense in Luhan’s eyes, Sehun feels the goosebumps running through his skin and mouth going dry. He wants to scream but there’s no air left in his lungs.
Sehun finally snaps out of his trance when Luhan’s eyes flutter shut and he lets out another low moan. The noise is husky and almost animalistic, so full of need and want that it makes Sehun’s blood boil and a familiar warmth build up in his stomach. His cheeks are flaring up and fingers trembling.
Before Sehun even registers what’s happening, he’s running away from the clearing, tripping on fallen branches and rocks. He doesn’t stop until he reaches the edge of the forest, breath hitching and head spinning. His heart is beating like crazy and it’s not all from the running.
Sehun tries to forget everything he saw that day. Every noise, touch and soft whimper he witnessed, but he can’t. And the shame of it is drowning him.
Because every time he closes his eyes, Sehun sees Luhan’s lips hovering on Jongin’s neck.
Sehun’s sixteen when he wakes up to soiled underwear and a familiar name ghosting on his lips.
Neither of them ever mention what happened that day, and when Luhan acts like nothing out of the ordinary occurred the last time they saw each other, Sehun’s almost sure he imagined the whole thing. But even though the air of awkwardness around them dissolves after a few days, things never quite go back to normal again.
Sehun finds himself hypersensitive for the touches Luhan and Jongin share. He picks up even the most subtle brushes of shoulders when the two of them sit close together, fingers running tenderly on the small of Jongin’s back and hushed whispers in Luhan’s ears. It’s slowly driving Sehun insane as he can’t stop wondering how it would feel like if it was him that Jongin leaned on when he’s tired, or if it were his thighs the boy was tracing sloppy circles in. Sehun can’t help his eyes lingering on their laced fingers and shy kisses for a few seconds too long, not anymore.
And it doesn’t take long for someone to notice.
Luhan’s voice is soft and steady as he translates the poems for Sehun. Jongin’s eyes have been closed for a while already and his breathing is even and soothing in the late evening air. Sehun traces Jongin’s features with his eyes as the boy sleeps soundly on his side, facing the Wall. Jongin’s face looks younger like this, almost innocent. It’s a nice change from the usual cheeky smirks and teasing winks, Sehun thinks.
“Sehun-ah,” Luhan whispers and Sehun realizes he was lost in his thoughts again. Luhan looks like he’s having trouble finding words. He opens his mouth and closes it again after a second or two, looking down on the book he’s holding. Every second that passes makes Sehun’s chest feel heavier and heavier because somehow he can feel where the conversation is drifting to.
Then Luhan finally looks up, eyes meeting with Sehun’s. “You love Jongin.”
It’s not a question but Luhan is waiting for an answer that Sehun can’t give him. Because, of course, he loves Jongin, Sehun has loved his best friend almost longer than he can remember. From the first time he saw the boy laying on the ground, golden skin glowing under the sun and wild laugh echoing from the trees around them. And even when he knows his love will never be returned, Sehun continues loving Jongin. Even when Jongin loves someone else, Sehun doesn’t stop.
But what good would telling the truth do? Everything that love has ever brought Sehun is pain. So he lies.
Sehun shakes his head and gets up from the ground. His hands are trembling a bit so he clenches them into fists. “No,” he denies even though he knows that Luhan won’t believe it. “I don’t.”
“Sehun, it’s okay,” Luhan gets up too and takes a step closer to the Wall. Sehun takes two back.
“No it’s not,” Sehun says and he can’t fight the few tears that are falling on his cheeks. “A man cannot love another man. It’s not right. It’s not safe. Not in here.” Luhan looks at him with sad eyes but Sehun knows better. Luhan couldn’t understand, he never could. He can hold Jongin’s hand without being afraid of the consequences when people see them. He can have a crush on his friend in first-grade without crying himself to sleep every night, wondering why he’s so wrong and different. He doesn’t have to be scared about being who he is. Luhan and Jongin could never understand.
Sehun leaves and there’s a million things Luhan wants to say but none of them would do any good.
Sehun chooses not to go to the clearing the next day. Instead, for the following five days, he spends his time looking out of his bedroom window and staring at the Border as it rises high up to the sky.
Sehun thinks about what Luhan tells to Jongin, if he explains why Sehun isn’t there to meet them. And no matter how much he wants to trust Luhan, believe that he would never do such a thing, during the darkest hours of nights, Sehun’s terrified that Luhan tells Jongin the truth.
In the course of those five days, Sehun’s miserable and lonely but he fights the urge to run to the two boys waiting for him at the field. Because if Luhan doesn’t spill his secrets, Sehun’s scared that his own actions and words will.
But Luhan’s good at pretending, Sehun notices once again when he finally dares to go back to the clearing. Luhan acts like he doesn’t notice the way Sehun looks at Jongin or how the boy avoids his eyes. He makes it so easy for Sehun to pretend too. Even during the occasional moments when they are left alone, the topic is never brought up again.
It’s like nothing has changed but when Luhan smiles at Sehun, it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
“And then the whole warehouse exploded but the man jumped off the roof just in time,” Jongin describes animatedly and Luhan laughs at the stupid gestures he makes with his hands to demonstrate the explosion. The two of them were at movies the night before and now Jongin is convinced that The Last Bandit is the best action film ever made. “It was amazing.”
“Yeah,” Luhan agrees and turns his focus to Sehun sitting on the other side of the Wall. “You should go to see it too!”
Sehun’s about to remind the older boy that they probably won’t show the movie at his hometown but Jongin beats him to it. “It’s a foreign movie, Luhan. They don’t show them there.” Jongin rolls his eyes and snorts like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Lately, Sehun couldn’t help noticing the tone Jongin talks about his former home country, the way he looks down on it and pities the people living there. And Sehun can’t help wondering if the boy looks down on him too. Jongin’s always criticizing his clothes, school and job, even his hair color and cut. He makes Sehun feel like he’s in some way inferior.
And when Sehun looks at Luhan sitting next to Jongin, he can sometimes see it too.
There are people like Luhan and Jongin, people with bright smiles and colorful clothes, and then there are people like him: grey inside and out, painfully ordinary in every possible way.
Just after they celebrate Sehun’s seventeenth birthday, things begin to change. It starts out slow, Luhan skipping a few days from here and there, but eventually he only comes to the Border once or twice a week.
“He’s just busy with school,” Jongin shrugs it off when Sehun asks, and as much as he wants to believe it’s true, Sehun can’t ignore the missing touches and looks between the two boys when Luhan actually shows up.
And then comes the day when Sehun realizes he hasn’t seen Luhan in weeks and somehow it makes him uneasy. Jongin says nothing, as if there’s nothing strange meeting with just the two of them and the third boy was never there to begin with.
“Where’s Luhan?” Sehun finally asks and teases his lower lip nervously.
“Hmm?” Jongin stretches his sore limbs absentmindedly as he slowly sits up, his body stiff from lying down for so long. There’s not even a hint of recognition on his face when he looks at Sehun.
“Luhan,” Sehun continues impatiently. “I haven’t seen him for a while.”
Jongin gives him a small smile and shakes his head a bit. “Don’t worry about it,” he sighs and spreads himself on the moist grass once again.
The words ring in Sehun’s ears and he’s not sure what to think of them. Jongin quickly fills the silence with his stories about his new classmate, Zitao, and what they did last night. And when his eyes light up and lips tug into a wide grin talking about the other boy, Sehun sees a deeper meaning behind Jongin’s answer.
It’s when Jongin goes on and on about his new friend, not even once asking anything about Sehun’s day, that Sehun realizes just how much he misses Luhan.
“Sorry, but I’ve been busy lately,” Jongin answers when Sehun asks him where he has been the last few weeks. Sehun has barely seen his best friend. “I just don’t have the time to come here every day.”
Sehun tries not to take it too personally, he really understands that Jongin has a life outside the two of them, but the emptiness greeting him from the other side of the Wall, day after day, feels like a rejection every time.
It’s a warm Saturday morning when Sehun makes his way into the Border only to find someone already there, waiting for him. Jongin visits the place once a week at most – if he’s not too busy – and Sehun’s already used to it. He still goes to the clearing every day, even when he knows there will be no one there. Sehun likes the peace and quiet, and there’s still a small part inside him hoping that maybe Jongin would stop by and surprise him.
But the person sitting on the other side and tugging the weeds nervously isn’t Jongin. It’s Luhan.
It has been months since Sehun last saw him, and Luhan’s hair color has changed again, this time from dark brown into platinum blonde. His hair is longer too, the light strands now framing his face and shining in the sun like a halo. The man’s face is still the same, and Sehun can see a shy smile forming on it as he takes the last two steps to the Wall.
“Hi,” Luhan greets him brightly, their eyes meeting.
Luhan doesn’t explain why he came and Sehun doesn’t ask. They engage in an easy conversation, complaining about schoolwork and describing the new books they have been reading. For the hours they spend together on the field, neither of them mention Jongin, and after a while Sehun doesn’t even remember that someone is missing from the picture.
“Sehun,” Luhan turns around just when he’s about to leave, an unreadable look on his face and a hand nervously fiddling with his hair. “I kind of missed you during these couple of months, and I would like to come here more often. If it’s okay with you, of course.”
Luhan’s eyes are so sincere when they look at Sehun’s that the latter can feel a slight blush creeping on his face. “Yeah, sure,” he answers looking downwards in attempt to hide himself, almost missing the warm smile on Luhan’s face. “I would like that.”
Sehun doesn’t mind that Jongin comes to meet him so rarely anymore because Luhan’s there almost every day. Since the first time Sehun found the man sitting on the clearing, Luhan had only skipped a handful of times; only lousy weather or last-minute revising before an exam could keep him away. But even then, Luhan looked almost guilty the next time they met, apologizing constantly and staying extra long to try to make it up.
Sehun wants to tell him that it’s okay, that Luhan doesn’t have to come every day, but eventually he decides against it. Because as selfish as it is, Sehun likes seeing the elder so frequently.
Everything’s so easy and comfortable with Luhan. The conversation is effortless and there’s something new to talk about every day. Sehun likes the way Luhan’s eyes crinkle when he laughs and how his accent thickens when he’s excited or sleepy. Sehun loves to tease the older because he knows just what to say to make Luhan turn scarlet and stagger in his words. And even when he’s being whiny and moody, Luhan doesn’t mind, he just rolls his eyes and tries to cheer Sehun up.
But what Sehun likes the most about Luhan, besides his soft voice and the complete lack of face control, is that he doesn’t make Sehun feel like a burden or an obligation. Luhan wants to know more about his life, wants to see him, and it feels nice.
Sometimes Sehun wishes that Jongin wouldn’t show up just so he could spend more time with Luhan, but then he feels bad for doing so. Jongin’s his best friend, has been for the last nine years. Sehun loves Jongin, that much has always been clear, and he knows Jongin cares about him too. Even if things have changed in the past months and years.
But Luhan’s important too, Sehun thinks when he watches the man lie on the forest floor, pointing at different clouds and the abstract shapes they are forming. The view is serene, the tall grass drawing light shadows on Luhan’s face, lips relaxed into an easy smile and hair mixing with the few flowers growing around his head. The sky reflects from the man’s dark brown orbs, and Sehun follows the clouds flowing past each other calmly.
Luhan’s an important friend too, but it’s different.
With Luhan, everything’s different.
Jongin’s like a wildfire, untamed and deadly, yet breathtakingly beautiful. Appearing from nowhere, consuming everything on its way, and then disappearing, leaving only burns and destruction behind.
Luhan’s more like a small bonfire, bringing steady and comfortable warmth without going overboard. Never burning the ones around it, never leaving them cold and alone.
But the biggest difference between the two of them is that the other needs to be fed to keep alive, while the other just takes what it wants.
“How long has it been already?” Jongin asks and takes a gulp from the bottle in his hands. It’s getting late and the lanterns beside the boys bring more light to the field than the setting sun. “Ten years?”
Sehun takes a careful sip of his own drink and grimaces at the bitter taste. “Yeah, almost.”
“That’s a long time.”
There’s a faint smile on both of their faces as they cradle the bottles of beer in their hands. It was Jongin’s idea, and why not, Sehun had thought. It’s a celebration after all. His nineteenth birthday, their ten years. The setting’s almost nostalgic, the dark clearing and two boys, sharing their secrets in the moonlight.
“To a new decade,” Jongin lifts his drink into a toast and Sehun follows shortly after.
“A new decade.”
It’s the beginning of a new era, yet it feels more like the end of one.
They sit in silence for a while and just enjoy the scene around them, Jongin looking at the stars that are starting to come out after a long day, and Sehun looking at Jongin. When Sehun sees the warm light dancing on his smooth skin and his chapped lips pulled into an honest and easy smile, he sees the same young boy he once fell in love with. Even in all these years, Jongin hasn’t lost the honesty and warmth he had in him, and for Sehun, that’s all that matters.
“Yifan’s leaving. He says he wants to travel and see the world,” Jongin breaks the silence, still staring at the sky. “He asked me to go with him, says he loves me.” The longer he talks, the quieter his voice gets until it’s just a whisper in the dark. “I’m not sure I even know what love is.”
Sehun doesn’t know what to say so he stays quiet. Jongin closes his eyes for a moment and sighs. There are dark circles around his eyes and Sehun wonders if he’s sleeping during the nights. If Jongin’s having the nightmares again, kicking and tossing in his bed until either the boy’s father or his own screams of his mother’s name wake him up.
But then Jongin looks at Sehun with a familiar smile and a glint in his eyes, all uncertainty and tiredness gone.
“Have you ever had sex, Sehun?”
Jongin chuckles when Sehun quickly shakes his head, face hidden behind dark bangs, and the tips of his ears burning. “You should try it. It’s the most amazing feeling in the world. Being so close with someone and sharing every part of your body with them. The sensation of having someone’s lips on you, sucking you until you can’t even breathe anymore and you’re filled with galaxies worth of emotions all at once,” he tells with a dreamy smile, eyes casted into something far away.
While the other boy speaks, Sehun’s mind wanders into something he witnessed years ago. Frail lips running along flushed skin, hands roaming around and leaving goosebumps as they go and shaky moans filling the air. He ponders if that’s what Jongin’s thinking about too.
“Maybe that’s love of sorts.”
Luhan’s deep in thought and trying to finish up his essay, pen gliding on the paper and stopping only when the man doesn’t quite find the right words. Sehun has his homework open too but he can’t find the will to focus on it when there’s a million things running around in his mind.
“Hyung, can I ask you something?” he asks and keeps his eyes on the shapes he’s doodling on the corner of his textbook.
There’s a small pause when Sehun tries to find the right way to phrase his question, but eventually he decides to just go for it. “Did Jongin and you ever do it?” Sehun asks and he can’t help his voice crashing a bit at the end so he coughs and tries again. “Have sex, I mean.” He finally looks at Luhan and wishes that his face isn’t as red as it feels like.
There’s a look of surprise on the elder’s face and he moves his gaze towards the essay again. “I– we... Wh–why are you asking?”
“I don’t know,” Sehun shrugs, trying to appear uninterested even though his stomach feels heavy. “Just curious.”
Luhan swallows hard and Sehun watches his Adam’s apple move up and down nervously. “Yes,” the man answers, cheeks burning red and fingers busy pulling grass from the ground. He still refuses to look at Sehun. “We did.”
The answer – no matter how unsurprising it was – laces knots in Sehun’s stomach and he isn’t sure how he feels about it. There’s still one question weighing the boy’s mind but he doesn’t have the courage to ask it, and soon enough the moment’s gone and Luhan’s back to finishing his homework and chatting halfheartedly about his new classes.
The next few nights Sehun falls asleep dreaming of Luhan’s lips on his neck.
Sehun had lived most of his life happily, not really thinking about the politics of his home country and the restrictions and requirements they brought him. He had never seen the place as the cruel and ruthless as Jongin and some others made it to be. Yes, there was poverty and sometimes even hunger, but wasn’t that the case everywhere? Maybe they had some outdated and strange laws and habits but it wasn’t anything extreme. The country wasn’t one of the most liberal or advanced ones, but according what Sehun had learned in his social studies class, neither were the others on the continent.
All in all, Sehun had never thought about the country as bad or rotten. Not before his mother passed away.
It’s still early summer when she gets sick. It’s just the flu, but as the days go by, Mrs. Oh gets worse and worse. When it has been two weeks and there isn’t any improvement on her condition, they contact the local hospital and a doctor is sent in to check on her.
It’s not the flu, the Doctor informs them after the examination. There’s an infection in Mrs. Oh’s lungs, has been for quite awhile from the looks of it. There isn’t much the Doctor can do unless they check her into the hospital where she can be monitored and treated around the clock, but their family’s health insurance was cut off three years ago. It’s just too expensive.
“Isn’t there anything you can do?” Sooyeon asks as the both children hold their mother’s fragile hands on their own. There are dried tears on her cheeks and exhaustion written all over her face.
“I can prescribe some painkillers and simple antibiotics to help her body fight against the infection,” the Doctor says with a careful smile. “There’s still hope.” Sehun wants to believe, but he can’t ignore the emptiness in the man’s eyes.
During the next week the handful of antibiotics and pain medicine run out, and eventually, so does their mother.
Sehun finds his way to Luhan and the Wall even through his tears. He feels like a part of him died along his mother and Sehun needs to feel whole again. He needs Luhan. So after Mr. Oh breaks down sobbing in the middle of their kitchen, Sehun does the only thing he can think of and heads to the Border.
There’s nothing Luhan can say to make it better, to stop the violent sobs or wipe away the tears on the boy’s cheeks, so he doesn’t say anything. He just sits there and wishes that it’s enough. And for Sehun, it somehow is, and the shaking slowly dies as the hours pass, until he finally falls asleep on the cool grass.
Much later Sehun wakes up to the bright rays of the rising sun, and the first thing he feels is the pain. Not the ache caused by the awkward position he slept in, not the coldness of the ground, but the loss. It’s suffocating and Sehun knows it will never really go away, not from words said or tears shed. There won’t be a morning in his life when he’s not missing his mother’s gentle touch and comforting words. And Sehun’s not sure if he wants to live through mornings like that.
A soft sigh and quiet mumbling tear Sehun away from his thoughts. He opens his eyes, and much to his surprise, sees that he isn’t alone. Luhan’s sleeping on his stomach, hand curled under his head and face tilted towards the Border. His chest is rising and falling in soothing pace and the man is mumbling something incoherent in his sleep. Luhan’s face is so close to Sehun and the Wall that the latter can count even the tiniest of his lashes.
Luhan had stayed, he stayed the whole night.
It’s the first time Sehun thinks he might love Luhan, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so wrong anymore.
When they bury her, it’s the very first time Sehun wears his dress shirt his mother bought him to wear in special occasions. The first time isn’t a wedding nor his college graduation ceremony but a funeral.
And Sehun feels like that says something about the country they live in.
Eventually life goes on and the tears stop. The pain doesn’t disappear but becomes something you can live with. Every day Sehun finds it easier to smile and laugh and Luhan has taken it as his mission to cheer the boy up every chance he gets. And even though things will never be the same, they all try their hardest to get a grip of the life they once had.
“Sehun-ah,” Luhan calls him, waking Sehun from his thoughts. “Have you seen Jongin in a while?”
It’s an unusual question. They rarely talk about Jongin and avoid the subject whenever it’s possible. But what really catches Sehun’s attention isn’t the boy’s name but the actual question behind it.
No, he hasn’t seen Jongin in a while. For months actually, Sehun quickly realizes, the summer was about to end but he hadn’t seen his so-called best friend even once. Sehun shakes his head slowly, trying to wrap his head around the issue. “Not since,” he begins when a sudden thought hits him. Not since his mother got sick. So much has changed in Sehun’s life and Jongin has no idea. “Not since our graduation.”
Luhan looks taken aback but even if he’s curious, he doesn’t ask. It’s something Sehun appreciates, the elder never pries or pushes but when you’re ready to talk, he’s always there to listen.
“Anyway, I overheard some people talking,” Luhan continues and looks at his hands resting on his lap. “He’s moving away. Going to a university on the other side of the country.” The man doesn’t look up until he’s done talking and his eyes are filled with something Sehun can’t quite put into words. Something like worry, sadness or longing.
Sehun’s not sure how he should take the news. If he should be sad about his friend leaving, angry because Jongin didn’t tell him personally or just disappointed that they had drifted apart enough to allow all this to happen.
“I thought you should know because…” Luhan’s voice is unusually heavy and strained as he fights to find the right words. He doesn’t finish his sentence but the message is clear.
Because of their history. Because it’s Jongin. Because Sehun loves him. Loved him.
“Yeah,” Sehun says to fill the awkward silence. Yeah.
Sehun’s not too surprised when he sees Jongin waiting for him by the Border a few days later. He’s not lying down in the grass like usual but standing and leaning into one of the bigger trees nearby. Jongin’s wearing a navy blue blazer on his white button down and a pair of dark slacks. It’s the first time Sehun sees him in something so stiff and formal. The whole setting has a feel of change, and Sehun knows that the visit won’t be a long one.
“Hey,” Jongin greets him and steps closer to the Wall. Despite the strange occasion and everything that’s happened during the last few months – few years, Jongin’s smile hasn’t changed a bit.
“Long time no see.” There’s no bitterness behind the words and the awkward tension between the boys who once knew each other inside and out eases a bit.
It’s strange, Sehun thinks, how two people can change so little yet enough to grow apart like they had. He doesn’t recall when the air between them became this heavy. Has the conversation always been so careful and difficult? For the first time Sehun can really see the Wall separating them, and he wonders what has happened.
“I’m leaving later today,” Jongin says. He looks at Sehun but if he was expecting to see hurt or shock, he doesn’t find them.
“I know,” Sehun says with a small smile. “Luhan told me.”
This clearly surprises the older one but he doesn’t ask any questions. “That’s good,” Jongin sighs and Sehun’s not sure if he means the fact that Luhan still visits the clearing or that Sehun already knows why he’s leaving.
“He comes pretty often,” Sehun goes on. He wants to let Jongin know he’s not alone, that he’s not sad or lonely. Sehun doesn’t want the boy to feel guilty about leaving and living his life. “He still talks about football and sucks at telling jokes. Reads to me when I ask him to.”
“Well, he has always had a soft spot for you,” Jongin teases and for a short moment, it feels like they are twelve again, just two best friends without any real responsibilities or problems. But then the moment’s gone and Jongin’s serious again when he talks. “I hope you are happy.”
They both know the weight behind those words, what he really means with them, and Sehun ponders if Jongin always knew after all. Somehow the thought doesn’t scare him anymore and he answers with a wide smile and words full of certainty.
Sehun still loves Jongin, probably always will, but not the same way as before. He’ll miss Jongin that’s for sure, but at the same time he feels light. It’s a conclusion of sorts. Not necessarily a happy one, but when Sehun watches Jongin walk away for the last time, he isn’t sad either.
And when Luhan arrives a few hours later, asking if he’s okay, Sehun looks at Luhan, really looks at him. The always so expressive brown eyes filled with worry and care, a tad too long black hair slightly windswept because the man probably jogged the last few hundred meters there, brows and lips frowned in concern and the fair skin almost sparkling in the warm day.
Sehun looks at Luhan and he knows that he’ll be okay. Because while he’s been looking at Jongin for almost his whole life, he never realized it was Luhan he was looking for.
When Sehun’s nineteen, he falls in love for the second time in his life.
The warm days speed past them and soon enough the leaves start to lose their hue and Sehun watches them fly through the air when Jongin, as well as Joonmyun and some of his other friends, start their University courses. If he had begun his studies too, Sehun thinks he would have chosen literature as his major. It’s not one of the most practical or wisest choices out there, but unlike math or science, poetry and prose were something he understood and enjoyed. Sehun could spend hours trying to read the subtle hints left by the author and interpret the meanings behind the choice of words. He loves to just lie back and listen to Luhan translate foreign poems, getting lost in the soft voice and the beautiful words.
But none of that matters anymore, Sehun knows it. He doesn’t start the classes with his friends this fall and probably never will. They simply can’t afford it, not anymore. Despite being one of the slightly wealthier families in the neighborhood, the income of only one person just isn’t enough. It can barely fund the studies for one child, let alone two.
Sooyeon wants to become a doctor, Sehun wants to read books. It wasn’t a difficult decision for their father.
So when Joonmyun and Chanyeol move to the bigger city an hour away and start building the rest of their lives, Sehun starts his job at the assembly line of the local electronics factory. The work’s far from fulfilling and the pay isn’t tremendous, but it’s something to keep his mind occupied during the early hours of the day.
One afternoon when Sehun’s walking home and trying to release the tension that build up in his neck during the long workday, an Officer wearing the traditional military uniform hands him a flier. “A young man like you would suit the work,” the man says before going to the next person.
Sehun pockets the paper and doesn’t think about the Officer or the flier twice before discovering it from his laundry a few days later.
Do something that matters, he reads the big letters printed on the top of the page. And maybe it’s the want to do something with his life or the phrase Be the change you want to see in the world he once read from somewhere, but Sehun finds himself thinking about the officer’s words a lot during the next few weeks.
When Sehun tells about his plans to Luhan, the other one isn’t thrilled.
“You want to join the military? But why?” he asks, looking both curious and worried. “Isn’t that dangerous?”
The weather’s already getting colder and the first snow is just around the corner. Luhan’s wearing a thick jacket and his cheeks and nose have a rosy tint in them. Sehun admires how Luhan’s breath frosts slightly into his long lashes, dying them white.
Sehun sighs and follows the warm air rising up in a white cloud. “Military controls the Border gates. Maybe I could get out once in awhile,” he then shrugs, eyes still focused on the sky above.
It’s not the only reason Sehun wants to join the military, but he doesn’t think Luhan would understand how he can’t just sit and watch as his life flows by without heading anywhere.