Luhan nuzzles the soft valley of Xiumin's chest in the darkness of their apartment. The only other sound is the whirring o the small electric fan, used in the summer because their buildling lacks air conditioning
"I have an interview with Channel 8 tomorrow. They need a fact-checker, basically, and it would be part time for now, and I'm not the only person interviewing, but - "
"Don't," Luhan mutters, leans up and kisses him. "That's really wonderful, Xiumin, I'm proud of you, I really am."
Xiumin pecks his forehead and runs a hand down his back. "You'll get something, you know, you're probably just overqualified for a lot of positions."
"That must be it, yes."
It's August. Luhan and Xiumin graduated from university together in May. Through busting his ass and working at the school's cafe, Luhan was able to graduate with a relatively small amount of debt owed. Xiumin, however, was not so lucky. But maybe he's luckier, Luhan thinks, because his degree is actually getting him work, even though it took a few months. Luhan spends a lot of time these days hunting everywhere he can for a job and clipping coupons.
Two days after his interview, the news station calls Xiumin and offers him the position. They're both so excited that their neighbors bang on the walls for them to quiet down. Xiumin takes him out to dinner, to somewhere upscale enough that he won't let Luhan look at the prices for fear he'll freak out and not let Xiumin pay.
Their apartment feels vastly empty without Xiumin. Luhan goes to interviews, runs all around town trying to seem as useful and charming as possible, but when he comes home in the afternoon and Xiumin's not there he can't help feeling lonely. He's lost contact with a lot of his college friends over the months, partly because his lack of a decent expendable income makes him reluctant to go out when he can hardly pay for anything, and partly because the stress of job-hunting and making ends meet renders him tired and irritable. Something he loves dearly about Xiumin is that he knows to give Luhan space sometimes but still curls around him at night so Luhan can be drugged asleep by his warmth and scent.
Xiumin comes home a little worn from work every day. He says it’s tedious and long and sometimes they scrap whatever story he was researching so his work becomes useless. But the paychecks are a whole lot better than nothing, and he’s still Xiumin; he still touches Luhan all the time and encourages him that his luck will improve, and most importantly, he makes Luhan believe it.
Things do improve. Luhan gets a job as an assistant at a little French-type place. He has to wear a uniform, white shirt and black tie, and Xiumin coos at him every morning, dodging when Luhan tries to swat him with a newspaper. This job is a lot like the one he had in college, and although it’s been a while since he’s worked, Luhan falls into place pretty quickly. Sometimes he brings home little cakes for Xiumin, who pretends to throw a fit about getting fat but eats them happily anyway. Luhan starts helping him pay off his debt, and after a few months they’ve taken a sizeable chunk out of it. Xiumin celebrates by surprising Luhan with new bedsheets, and later, a replacement for the ratty old couch that Xiumin’s had since high school.
Xiumin himself is making leaps and bounds at work. Impressed with his intelligence and eye for detail, the news channel throws him a human interest story about the new meerkat exhibit at the zoo. It goes well, and they continue to give him short and sweet stories once in a while. It means longer workdays, but it also means a pay increase, and that’s what Xiumin begs Luhan to focus on, even though sometimes he’s coming home when Luhan is already in bed.
“You’ll get used to it,” he says to Luhan across the lunch table one Saturday. “They’ll probably only keep me on stories like this, so that’s not too much work, and my debt is almost gone. Then we can look at moving somewhere, or taking a vacation, you know, doing things we actually want.” He taps his fingers on the table and Luhan slides a hand up to intertwine their digits.
“We’re going to start having a great life together, you know that, right?”
The first time it happens is kind of random. The network's Japan correspondent falls ill, but they're dying to send someone to cover the recent US-Japan trade agreement. Xiumin took Japanese in college and has been following the story on his own with some interest, so he went to Japan for two weeks to properly research and film the story. It's the top piece of news on the night it airs and Luhan watches with a huge smile stuck to his face.
Xiumin does come back, eventually, even though it feels like ages for Luhan. He brings back a bonus though, plus Japanese goodies, and they spend a lot of time in bed for the first few days after his return.
The network is so impressed with Xiumin's story that they have him start working more hours. One night, he tells Luhan that he's doing another story in Japan, and this one will take three weeks.
They webcam as often as possible, even when they're both exhausted from the day. Luhan cries on cam more than once and Xiumin can't do a thing but fight tears himself and try to soothe him.
This time, when Xiumin is back in Korea, the network offers him a hefty raise to become their new Japan correspondent. Luhan is of course overjoyed, because Xiumin is absolutely ecstatic, flailing around their living room and talking about how this will change things for them. He stops when he notices Luhan isn't looking at him.
Luhan stops him before he asks. "I really am happy for you, you know that," he murmurs and doesn't shy away when Xiumin comes to wrap an arm around him. "It's just...do you have to be gone a lot?"
He feels that it's kind of a stupid question but Xiumin doesn't laugh. "Kind of, yeah. More than I'm gone now. But I'll send you presents, you know, and I'll email you every day, write you letters even if you want, and we have webcam. And you know that position has a fair amount of turnover so maybe they'll replace me and I can have a job closer to home."
Late that night, when Luhan is still catching his breath, Xiumin presses his lips to the back of his neck and says in a husky whisper, “you’ll always be the most important thing to me. Don’t you ever think otherwise.”
But sometimes Luhan can’t help it.
Xiumin doesn’t take as many extended trips into Japan as he did before, but now he flies between Japan and Korea more frequently. Sometimes Luhan forgets Xiumin’s schedule and is surprised when he wakes up alone, or comes home to see him lying on the couch when he wasn’t expecting it.
He still gets little gifts in the mail, but not as often, and he isn’t surprised because Xiumin going to Japan isn’t really special anymore. Xiumin tells him when he’ll be on the news, so instead of watching every night, Luhan starts going out with people he works with every so often. He gravitates towards a few – Sehun and Yixing – but they’re all pretty young so hanging out in a large group is fun.
One week, Luhan asks for a few days off and gets his friends to cover whatever shifts still remain, and suggest to Xiumin that he goes to Japan with him.
“I really want to see it, and you must know a lot of interesting places by now, and maybe I could meet some of your friends,” Luhan says tentatively while they wash the dishes. Xiumin dries a glass, muling it over.
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” he replies. “I’d be out of the hotel a lot, and I’m afraid I’d be too wiped to do anything afterward.” He turns to Luhan looking convincingly pouty. “I’m sorry, Lulu, I just – “
“It’s fine,” Luhan reassures him. It really is fine; it had just been an idea, a fluke of Luhan’s, just him wanting to be around Xiumin as much as he used to.
But this trip to Japan is weird, because Xiumin doesn’t answer his phone as much, and doesn’t even suggest they webcam together once. Sometimes Luhan starts worrying about his safety, though he knows it’s silly, and then Xiumin texts him back like everything is normal and Luhan feels even more stupid.
Like everything is normal. Because, it’s not. Xiumin has always been the more forward one in their relationship; he’d asked Luhan out, he’d suggested they move in together, and he always touches Luhan first. Xiumin takes the initiative.
But lately, he hasn’t been, and Luhan can’t help but notice that he doesn’t cling to Luhan’s waist as much. He doesn’t hold Luhan’s hand nonchalantly as often. Xiumin still tends to be all over him in bed, especially when he’s just come home, but Luhan has to shimmy up next to him afterwards to be cuddled, whereas before Xiumin was touching him from the moment he hit the mattress until he dragged himself out of bed. Luhan’s been feeling dumb and over-reactionary a lot lately, but he can’t talk himself out of noticing this, and it hurts.
He doesn’t talk to Sehun or Yixing about it, even though they start to ask him what’s wrong, and is he really that obvious? Luhan scolds himself and pushes away the twinge in his chest when Xiumin doesn’t kiss him goodbye one morning. He’s busy, he’s stressed, and Luhan is just being too clingy and childish.
Xiumin develops a habit of not coming home on the weekends.
“It really doesn’t make sense, not this week, when I have to stay late Friday night and be there early Monday morning.”
Luhan bites his lip and nods over the phone, swaying back in forth in their kitchen and blinking away the burn in the back of his eyes.
“I miss you.”
“I know, I miss you too, a lot. This is more than I thought it would be, I’m sorry.”
If you were sorry, you’d come and spend a day with me, Luhan thinks bitterly.
Between Xiumin’s weekends away, and his slowness with answering his phone, a nagging feeling takes root in Luhan’s mind, spreads slowly, swallows him from the subconscious up. He’s never had a reason to not trust Xiumin, and maybe his loneliness is becoming paranoia but he can’t make the suspicions stop.
The next time he’s lying in Xiumin’s arms he goes for it.
“You know I love you so much, right?”
“I know.” Xiumin squeezes Luhan’s hip like that’s enough to reassure him. Luhan licks his lips and presses on.
“I just…lately, it’s kind of seemed like you don’t want to be around me, like you’d rather be there than come home.” It comes out in a rush and when Xiumin doesn’t respond right away Luhan worries that he might have to repeat himself.
Xiumin finally sighs. “I wish you wouldn’t think that way. You know I’d love to be here more and I wish it’d be feasible for you to come be with me, but it’s just not, we’ve talked about this – ”
Luhan realizes that he’s not going to get a straight answer. “Ok. I just wanted to say something.”
“Go to sleep, babe.” Xiumin kisses his forehead harder than normal and settles in to sleep.
Luhan feels horribly guilty, but he’s sure this is the only way to find out.
It’s the morning after his brief confrontation. Xiumin is pretty deeply asleep, didn’t even roll over when Luhan shimmied out of bed this morning. Luhan’s sitting on the couch and holding Xiumin’s phone. He’s just staring at the home screen, debating whether or not to open Xiumin’s messages. If he doesn’t, he tells himself, he can just put the phone back on their nightstand and pretend that he never meant to snoop in the first place. But he grits his teeth and pushes past the ball of nerves in his stomach and opens the inbox.
The first few numbers have Korean names and Korean messages – Luhan, and some people Xiumin must know from work, since that’s what the messages are about.
The next number on the list has a Japanese name, and all the messages are in Japanese. Luhan can’t read them, and he wouldn’t worry about them because Xiumin must know people in Japan, but they’re full of emoticons on both ends, so Luhan scrolls backwards. He loads earlier messages three times and is starting to feel a little too creepy when a picture pops up on the receiving side of the screen.
Bile rises in his throat and Luhan taps the image with his thumb.
It’s a picture taken in a bathroom mirror. The girl has long black hair swept over one shoulder. It’s not long to cover the swell of her breasts. She’s wearing a pretty little bra and a pair of fitted black shorts. She’s making a peace sign and smiling at the phone in her hand.
Luhan’s palms start to sweat. He stares at the picture and runs a hand over his face. A thousand different emotions batter him and he tries to calm himself down. He copies and pastes a few of the messages into a translator, not knowing what he’s hoping he’ll see.
Xiumin’s messages are all praise, telling her she’s gorgeous and sexy and he can’t wait to get home so he can show her exactly how much she turns him on. Luhan almost gags.
He stands but doesn’t know where he wants to go. Does he go back into the bedroom and put the phone back like nothing happened? Does he just walk out? Wait to confront Xiumin when he wakes up, with evidence this time?
“Lu, have you seen my phone?” He doesn’t have time to shove it between the couch cushions before Xiumin is over his shoulder.
“What the fuck, Luhan – give me that –”
Luhan throws the phone into the kitchen in a sudden burst of rage. “You fucking ass, who is she? Who is that?” He struggles for words and watches Xiumin’s expression go from shock to anger to a forced calm, but he stays silent.
“Tell me!” Luhan’s voice cracks and his vision wavers as his eyes start to water.
Xiumin doesn’t look at him. “She’s a girl I met in Osaka. Her name’s Kasumi.”
“Why is she sending pictures to you? Why’d you tell her you can’t wait to see her again? Why did you say you can’t wait to get home?”
“I live with her!” Xiumin has yelled very rarely in their relationship and almost never at Luhan, so his outburst is startling. “We share an apartment, together, when I’m there, and it’s a hell of a lot nicer than this one, and she doesn’t always beg me to come home…” Xiumin trails off. He looks at Luhan, now, but not in the eyes.
Luhan has to try twice before he can talk. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
Xiumin shakes his head and gestures without meaning. “I don’t know, Luhan, I guess I was waiting for you to stop…”
“Stop missing you?” Luhan needs to sit down but he can’t move. He’s lightheaded and feels like he’s dreaming. “I could never – Xiumin, why would you even think that I’d – ”
“I don’t know.” Xiumin is stone-faced. “I thought you’d start to let me go, Luhan, that’s not why I took the job, but then I met her, and I love living there, and Luhan I just…I guess I hoped that you’d grow away from me. Like I was from you.”
Luhan swallows but he feels his cheeks getting wet. “You coward.”
“I’m sorry. I am. I should have told you.”
“Leave her.” Desperation expands in Luhan’s chest. “Leave her now, ok, tell me you will, and I’ll pretend it didn’t happen, a-and I’ll forgive you and everything, Xiumin, please just –”
But Xiumin is shaking his head slowly. He’s looking at Luhan dead-on now and Luhan could choke on the pity in his eyes. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Luhan breaks, sobs. He’s never felt this hopeless in his life. “Then what do we do?”
Work is shit. Wufan sends Luhan home early because he can’t help looking miserable. Luhan doesn’t want to go home, so he drives around for a while, then pulls over and walks about a park for a while. He works over his immediate future again and again until all the details meld together and he doesn’t want to think about anything anymore. He checks the time, gets in his car and drives home.
Xiumin is almost done packing. Luhan doesn’t say anything to him when he walks past him in the kitchen. He’s thankful that Xiumin moved all his things from the bedroom first, and shuts himself inside.
Luhan bites his lip and cries so hard he shakes. He just wants to do it now and get it over with. He’s not enough of a fool to think that he’ll be able to think straight tomorrow, or next week, or next month even. Financially it won’t be so bad. He can pay the rent by himself if he sacrifices a few nights out every month; he doesn’t imagine wanting to go to bars anytime soon anyway.
He literally feels like a piece of him is gone. One time, for lack of something to do, he and Xiumin had gone to the theater and seen a romantic movie that was supposed to be crap, and had some chiseled blond American actor pouting around his gorgeous condo after his girlfriend dumped him. Luhan had vowed to never be the pathetic; that if Xiumin ever left him he’d just have to beat some sense into him.
Now Luhan remembers that night, and a lot of other, until they’re just images of Xiumin – smiling at him, driving, eating, the way he looked right after they kissed, or on top of Luhan in bed – and Luhan digs his nails into his thighs and shakes and shakes.
“I’m leaving,” Xiumin says dully through the door. Luhan wipes his eyes on his shirt, but doesn’t open the door or say anything. After a few minutes he hears the door click shut.
The emptiness feels like it’s going to make him collapse in on himself. Luhan starts heaving again. When he’s worn himself out, he stumbles into the bathroom and takes a shower because it seems like the only thing there is to do.
It’s only 8:20 at night but Luhan curls up in bed. He aches with exhaustion. He’s not supposed to work tomorrow, so he has nothing to do. Luhan knows he’ll spend tomorrow ridding his apartment of every single thing that reminds him of Xiumin. He shudders when he wonders if he’ll have to move.
Luhan tries to focus on good things. No more stressing over Xiumin’s whereabouts. He can make decisions without consulting someone. Maybe he’ll move closer to work, into Yixing’s building, and they can hang out more.
His overworked mind starts to shut down. Luhan curls up and replays the short list of positives over and over again.
He won’t let himself be a mess. He won’t let Xiumin’s cowardice and lying kill him.
His assertions are weak. But they’re a start.