The bead of sweat inching down Soonyoung’s cheek makes itself known just as he’s walking to the left side of the court, and he wipes it away with a swipe of his wrist band. He tries to keep his mind blank and his facial expression calm, but inside he’s a storm, railing at himself for missing that last backhand and wincing at the strain that get had put on his lower back. Still, as the applause for the last point died down, he wills himself to stay centered.
The whistle of the wind, the smell of the grass, the sound of the ball’s soft bounces as he prepares to serve.
You can hear a pin drop.
He’s down three break points in what could be the penultimate game of a Wimbledon final, but he’s not going out without a fight. He may be down two sets to one but he’s climbed out of worse spots before.
Soonyoung looks across the net, sees Wonwoo’s eyes, hooded and dark and focused only on him. His mouth is set in a grim line. He’s determined. He wants the win.
He gets it, because he wants it too.
Here we go.
With his left hand, he tosses the ball and drops his shoulder, back curving in a powerfully tight arc, racket twisting in his grip, and, with everything he has, swings.
To Soonyoung, tennis is simple.
You hit a ball into a box, win point after point after point until someone says you had enough points to win the match. Hit ball, get point. Hit ball, get point. Until you get a game. Until you clinch the set. Until you win the match.
Tennis is simple. Winning is simple.
It’s the rules that make it complicated.
Take love, for instance.
The teacher had told them that it had something to do with the French, even though he’d been told that tennis had been an English invention, because an egg looked like a zero and egg in French was spelled l’oeuf which eventually led to each player’s starting position in tennis being love.
It’s kind of a silly thing, if you think about it. Love.
“It’s not like you’ll ever have to use that information, Soonyoung.”
Soonyoung makes a face at the boy he’s been regaling with his musings on the complexities of the sport, tying his shoes. “You don’t know that. What if one day we get interviewed and we have to explain how to play tennis to someone? It’s hard, you know. I tried explaining it to my grandmother before and her eyes just went blank.”
The boy jerks one thin shoulder upward. Soonyoung thinks if he were less careful, he could break. “If you were being interviewed, I don’t think it’ll be because you could explain the origins of tennis terms.”
He crosses his arms, gives Soonyoung a smarmy smile; he rolls his eyes.
Jeon Wonwoo was thin, pale, gangly, annoying, and worst of all, talented. He’s in Soonyoung’s training class level at the tennis academy and when he’s not looking Soonyoung is staring at his legs and thinking that he’d give anything to have them even if sometimes he wants to shove a tennis ball into his mouth. They’re so long and help him get around the court during drills so much better than Soonyoung’s shorter ones.
“Whatever. Let’s go. We’re late for Teacher Park.”
He pushes off the bench, grabs his racket. His parents had shelled out extra for his new equipment that year and had gotten customized little tiger stripes around the handle; Soonyoung can’t stop marveling at them.
“Last one to get to the court has to pick up all the balls after practice,” Wonwoo says all of a sudden, turning to give Soonyoung a massive grin before sprinting out of the changing room and leaving him behind.
“That’s not fair Wonwoo, you can’t just—Wonwoo!” Soonyoung, frustrated, runs after the other boy, little legs pumping up and down to catch up, for naught.
Stupid Wonwoo and his stupid legs, he thinks, as Wonwoo’s laugh echoes in his wake, mocking Soonyoung.
One day, he thinks.
One day, he’ll beat them all.
Tennis.com – News
HEADLINE: Danny Shore wins 2nd Wimbledon title, downs Soonyoung Kwon in 4 tight sets.
NEWS: Soonyoung Kwon to take a month-long break, but will be back for New York.
Third place isn’t bad.
That’s what Soonyoung tells himself in the hopes that the crushing disappointment weighing heavy on his chest alleviates some.
He sinks down onto the curb outside the Seoul Tennis Academy building, where the tournament had been held.
Small margins—almost ridiculously small—but he’ll be better next time.
He has to be.
Soonyoung doesn’t want to look up. “Congratulations.”
He hopes that Wonwoo takes the hint and leaves him alone, but the sudden weight around his shoulders tells him that isn’t the case.
He sneaks a peek. The gold around Wonwoo’s neck glints in the late afternoon sun.
“Ah, playing makes me hungry. I want pizza.”
Soonyoung hunches his shoulders even lower, as if to hide his bronze medal from view. “So get pizza.”
“Yes, but I can’t eat pizza by myself.”
“People in Italy eat pizza by themselves.”
“Yes, but we’re not in Italy, Kwon. And I want to share my dumb pizza with my friend.”
Soonyoung knows what Wonwoo’s trying to do, and a small part of him appreciates it even if he still wants to sulk. “Ask Jeonghan-hyung, then.”
“Kwon,” Wonwoo says on a whine. Soonyoung grunts when Wonwoo presses up fully against his back, almost koala-like, if you could call a fourteen-year-old boy growing like a weed a koala. “I’m trying to help you feel better, you idiot. Can you please let me?”
“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, Wonwoo,” Soonyoung retorts, though something in his chest warms at Wonwoo’s reasoning. “I mean, thanks, but also no thanks.”
“I’m not feeling sorry for you—”
“You literally just said—”
“I said I wanted to make you feel better. That doesn’t mean I feel sorry for you,” Wonwoo interrupts him, which is slightly muffled because he’s saying it into Soonyoung’s nape, where he’s buried his face. Soonyoung shifts uncomfortably; Wonwoo can be really clingy at the weirdest times. “You’ll win next time. There’s always another tournament.”
Soonyoung is quiet for awhile, digesting this. “You sound awfully confident.”
“Of course. You never stay down too long. Remember the interlevel tournament we had last year? You lost your first match and then didn't drop a set for the rest of the week.” Wonwoo wraps his arms around Soonyoung’s shoulders in a loose hug; it’s easy for him with his wingspan. “You respond really well to being knocked down, I’m just saying.”
“That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, Wonwoo,” Soonyoung says after awhile.
“Don’t let people know. They might think I’m getting soft,” Wonwoo scoffs, the touch of mirth in his eyes telling Soonyoung he’s just kidding. “Besides, I’m starving already. Come on.”
“Fine,” Soonyoung finally acquiesces, and Wonwoo’s eyes brighten up. “On one condition.”
Wonwoo rolls his eyes and gets up before looking down at Soonyoung, still sitting on the ground. “You’re never this hard to ask to eat lunch after training. Fine, what is it?”
Soonyoung swallows, and says it all very quickly. “Are you going to Japan?”
Wonwoo barks out a laugh, short and casual. “Is that what’s got you curious, Kwon? When the scout from Japan talked to me?” He bends over and takes Soonyoung’s hand himself, pulls him up off the ground.
“Well, it’s a big deal. It’s a good academy. They’ve had big names on the pro tour like Nishikori and Soeda and—” His fingers tighten around Wonwoo’s.
“They asked if I was interested and if they could talk to my parents about it but I declined right away.”
Soonyoung’s jaw drops, and Wonwoo lets go of him, walking ahead.
“But if they think you’re good enough, Wonwoo, you should go.” Soonyoung, scrambling, catches up. They’re walking in step together now, feet automatically making their way to the nearest Domino’s two blocks away. “What if next time someone from the US or England invites you? They could make you big. You could make it big. You could even go pro.” Soonyoung speaks the last word in a hushed whisper, like saying it any louder would scare the possibility away. Wonwoo gives him a look.
“I’m fine where I am right now,” Wonwoo says after awhile. “I don’t need to make any big decisions for now. My family is here. My life is here.”
Soonyoung purses his lips. He doesn’t understand. “I think I would have taken it.”
“Would you have?” Wonwoo asks; he looks at him from Soonyoung’s left side. “Really?”
“I think so, maybe,” Soonyoung says. “If they tell me that they could help me reach my potential then, yeah, maybe.”
Ever since he was told at the age of seven that he had potential to become a really good player, he’d decided that this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Being told he could become one of the best at something he enjoyed – on really good days, loved – doing… it was a dream. The dream. His dream. And he would do anything to see that dream come true.
Wonwoo shrugs. “I’ll tell them to talk to you next time, then.”
Immediately, Soonyoung scowls. “I told you not to feel sorry for me. I can do things myself. I don’t need you to make things happen for me.” In a suddenly bad mood, he tightens his grip on his backpack and marches forward, except all of a sudden a hand is wrapping around his wrist and he’s tugged backwards.
“That’s not what I meant, Soonyoung,” Wonwoo says, the expression on his face so serious that the hissyfit Soonyoung was about to throw quickly dies in his throat. “I’m sorry. I know you can. You don’t need my help.”
“Don’t act weird, Wonwoo,” Soonyoung tells him with a sigh, eyes cutting away because he can’t keep them on the other’s for too long. It means he’s forgiven.
“Okay,” Wonwoo says, and lets go.
After they’ve scarfed down piping hot slices of pepperoni and cheese, Wonwoo says he’s still hungry.
Soonyoung snorts. “Next time we should have one pizza each, like in Italy.”
“Next time,” Wonwoo says. “We should have one pizza each in Italy.”
Soonyoung rolls his eyes, but laughs anyway. “Maybe one day. You never know.”
Wonwoo meets his eyes, smiles. “You’re right. You never know.”
He flies into Busan three days after the Wimbledon final.
Flying into Gimhae Airport after a short connection in Haneda meant he wouldn’t be able to pass by his parents in Namyangju until at least the start of August but he thinks they’ll understand. They’d always managed to handle things a lot better than he did, including their son’s impulsive nature, which was one of the things that made Kwon Soonyoung (Soonyoung Kwon to the largely Western tennis media) Korea’s best ever tennis player.
Well, one of Korea’s best ever tennis players, anyway.
Even underneath the mask and a worn gray Nike hoodie, the boy at the car dealer’s eyes had widened when he realized he’d been handing the keys to the rental Hyundai Accent to the Soonyoung Kwon, ATP world number 5, holder of one grand slam and recent Wimbledon finalist. Korea had only really gotten interested in tennis when a geeky upstart named Chung Hyeon had beaten Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, but when Soonyoung started rising up the ranks, the country had become almost as obsessed with the sport as they had with ice skating and Yuna Kim. Now he can’t walk around without a mask and a disguise, something he’s not sure whether he’s bothered by or not yet.
Younger him would have loved it for sure.
His grip around the wheel tightens when his maps app tells him he’s just around the corner from the address he’d put in almost an hour ago. His muscles remind him that it’s time for his afternoon run, but he tamps it down, willing himself to relax, telling himself that he’s on break for this time of the year for the first time since he’d decided to turn pro more than a decade ago.
Fiery, skilled, stubborn. That’s what the reports used to say about him when he was just starting out.
It was a long time ago.
Smoothly, he pulls into the parking slot assigned to Wonwoo’s apartment, which he knew would be empty because although Wonwoo had a license, he never felt the need to buy a car for his hometown. Soonyoung doesn’t know if that’s anything close to the real reason.
He turns off the engine and pockets the keys, before grabbing the backpack he’d tossed onto the passenger seat before he left the car rental parking lot.
He looks up, the tiny smile on his face hidden away behind his mask.
Scouting report, East Asian Junior Tennis Championship, R16: Soonyoung Kwon (KOR) def. Bai Yang (CHN) 6-3, 6-4
Kwon expends a lot of energy on court, more than most players. He compensates for his shorter strides with his drive and his enthusiasm and his relentlessness, often tiring out his opponents while confusing them with his mixed bag of slices, drop shots and lobs before blindsiding them with a hammer of a forehand as a finisher. He’s unpredictable as weather, like a hurricane, with the ferocity of a caged tiger.
Scouting report, East Asian Junior Tennis Championship, R16: Wonwoo Jeon (KOR) def. Tommy Ching (TPE)
Watching Jeon play is enjoyable – his natural length gives him a generous serve and a pair of quick hands at the net, less of a throwback and more like a reimagining of the old majestic serve-and-volley specialists. He sprints across the court with the ease of a barely bothered gazelle and despite his forehand posing a laser beam of a problem for opposing players, he rarely looks like he has a hair out of place whenever he plays. A pleasure to behold.
It’s about the sixth tournament that people start to notice.
Their parents have had to field several calls from sponsors and generous benefactors, and the KTA have gotten involved. Soonyoung and Wonwoo and a handful of other peers get sent to regional junior tournaments where they go toe-to-toe with other tennis players and each other. Soonyoung and Wonwoo go through the rest of the competition like a hot knife through butter and end up meeting in finals and semi-finals, trading off wins and losses, getting better and learning with every meeting.
Over the course of a couple of years, they get better. Over the course of a couple of years, they become the best—certainly of their age group, at least. Despite his initial hang-up, Soonyoung leads their junior head to head, something he teases Wonwoo about every chance he gets. Wonwoo takes it in stride, tells him whenever they shake hands over another Kwon victory that he could take back the lead anytime he wanted.
Even though Soonyoung scoffs in his face, there’s a part of him that believes it. Although he plays matches against other people with increasing regularity, no one knows his game the way Wonwoo does, which means he’s constantly having to improve himself every time they play, constantly ensuring that he maintains his winning head to head, constantly making sure that he’s better than he was the last time they played.
Wonwoo betters him every time they play, but that’s something he is never telling him. Soonyoung imagines that the smug grin that would spread across his face would not be worth it.
Grants send them to the boys division of prestigious ITF Grand Slam events, and every tiny sighting of a professional player makes Soonyoung feel simultaneously giddy and grounded, more determined than ever to join the tour. He studies their set-ups, their styles, tries to incorporate what he sees while watching them train on practice courts when he’s not training for his own matches.
Soonyoung makes the decision to turn professional at age 16. He makes the decision that’s already been made for him since he first picked up a racket at age 5.
Wonwoo turns 16 a month after him. He waits for Wonwoo to make the same decision.
He looks the same.
Jet black hair just a little too long and curling at the ends, eyes just a tiny bit uneven behind wire-rimmed glasses, wrists knobby and brittle-looking.
Soonyoung remembers too much all of a sudden. He clears his throat, drags his eyes onto Wonwoo’s face. Placid, poker-faced, unperturbed, despite what’s likely to be a myriad of emotions thrumming underneath.
“Hi,” Wonwoo replies softly in English, before slipping into Korean. “I watched the final.”
“Did you?” It feels good to speak in the language of his upbringing, before all the travelling and international hobnobbing and exposure drilled him into using mostly heavily-accented English and very beginner-level Spanish, among other languages.
Wonwoo moves one shoulder. He’s wearing a loose gray shirt and black pants, and looks like he’d just rolled out of bed. They’re still standing in Wonwoo’s front door. Soonyoung feels like dying. Wonwoo is still annoyingly taller than him.
He moves his mask down, tucking it under his chin, and grips his backpack straps tighter. “What did you think?”
Wonwoo crosses his arms, leans closer. Soonyoung’s forced to tilt his chin higher to continue to look him in the eye, but he’s not stepping back. It’s a game, and Soonyoung’s tired of losing. The corner of Wonwoo’s lips quirk up, ever slightly, and his eyes soften just a fraction.
“You started favoring your left leg after the second-set tiebreak. I don’t think Shore noticed exactly, but you sweat more when you’re trying to show you’re not in pain.”
Soonyoung inhales when Wonwoo lifts a finger and trails a delicate path down the side of his face, over the curve of his cheek, his eyes following the movement of his hand. “Ho-how on earth did you figure that from all the way in Changwon?” He’s whispering, breath starting to shallow. Up close, Wonwoo smells like a forest, dark and deep and so different from the pristine cleanliness of Wimbledon grass. Soonyoung wants to wrap it around himself, wants to smother himself in it.
Wonwoo lowers his head, presses his cheek to Soonyoung’s to whisper in his ear. “I don’t need to be near you to know when you’re in pain, Soonyoung.” He pulls away a little, to look him in the eye. “You know that.”
Soonyoung shudders, closing his eyes before he reaches around to put a hand on Wonwoo’s neck, tugging him closer until their foreheads are pressed together. “Ask me in, Wonwoo. Please.” He’s traveled across continents for almost twenty hours, and now that he’s here all he wants is to forget everything related to tennis and sport and Soonyoung Kwon, forget everything that existed outside of Wonwoo’s apartment.
He’s barely taken another breath when he’s pulled in through the threshold by the front of his shirt and backed up against the door that’s been pushed close behind him. “Wonwoo,” he says, barely, before the other lowers his head to kiss him hungrily. Soonyoung’s backpack slinks to the ground, forgotten, as he shrugs it off and lifts his hands, winding them behind Wonwoo’s neck to pull him closer. His mask flutters to the floor, broken. He makes a noise into Wonwoo’s mouth, tongue sweeping insistently against the other’s when Wonwoo’s hands reach underneath his hoodie to lay flat against his bare skin. He angles his head so that Wonwoo can kiss him better, a challenge that Wonwoo wordlessly acknowledges and accepts.
He pulls away with a whine when Wonwoo’s hands journey lower, pressing their bodies even closer, the friction driving him up the wall with rapidly rising want.
It always strikes Soonyoung how needy he is when he’s deprived himself of something he enjoys for long periods at a time.
“Touch me, please, touch me, touch me, touch me,” he pants against Wonwoo’s cheek, hips starting to move, starting to grind against his.
“Shhh, I have you, I got you,” Wonwoo’s voice is rough and Soonyoung nearly chokes when Wonwoo reaches around and sneaks his hand down the front of his trousers to palm at his cock, fingers fluttering over the length of it. He presses his face into Wonwoo’s neck, overwhelmed, and drags his teeth over his pulse and the acres of pale skin underneath his loose t-shirt, hands clutching at Wonwoo’s shoulders as the other shudders from his actions.
“Want you, Wonwoo,” Soonyoung almost pleads; he tugs Wonwoo towards where he remembers the bedroom to be. “Just fuck me already. Please.”
“So fucking impatient,” Wonwoo says, chuckling. “See if I do.”
Wonwoo’s a tease but the look on his face says it all. He’s missed Soonyoung as much as Soonyoung’s missed him.
They run into each other almost three years after Soonyoung turned pro at a Futures tournament in Morocco. It’s only then that Soonyoung realizes that they haven’t really spoken to each other since then, so focused he’s been on trying to break through the tournament circuit so he can earn actual ranking points.
They catch up over flaky khobz and rghaif in between qualifying matches, Soonyoung the more active participant in the conversation. Wonwoo finished high school before making the decision to turn pro, at his parents’ insistence. Soonyoung regales him with stories over the past years of him going from place to place, trying to earn enough points to get into better tournaments, maybe even get into a few Challengers. He rambles on about lucky shots, endless rain delays, tournament linesmen.
He talks about anything but the listless expression on Wonwoo’s face.
“I know,” Wonwoo says when Soonyoung starts talking about the time he made it to the quarterfinals of a Futures tournament in Gwangju. “I was there.”
Soonyoung almost drops his bread. “You were? How come you didn’t tell me?”
Wonwoo shrugs, before polishing off the rest of his food. “Don’t you have a match in an hour?”
“I do, but—”
“Go and get ready, then,” Wonwoo says. His voice is soft, but when Soonyoung stays still, worrying his bottom lip, he gives him a bracing grin. “I’ll watch the scores. Kick butt, Kwon.”
Wonwoo chuckles. “Don’t worry about me, Soonyoung. Focus on yourself. You… you look happy.”
“Puh.” Soonyoung splutters and crosses his arms, embarrassed all of a sudden. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Just keep on keeping on, Kwon,” Wonwoo tells him. The grin he gives Soonyoung is wry. Soonyoung doesn’t know how to feel about it. “I have a feeling you’ll be where you want to be soon.”
Soonyoung wishes it were that simple.
When Soonyoung wakes up, the first thing he registers is the smell of cooking eggs.
Slowly, he blinks himself awake; everything is still fuzzy and dark, but when he stretches, he feels cotton sheets against his calves. Disoriented still, he reaches out to his left, and whines a little when he feels the spot warm but empty.
Wonwoo’s not there.
He lays against the pillows for a few seconds more, gathering his bearings. His back isn’t in the best shape, but that’s likely due to the nearly whole day of travelling he did as well as other… exertions. Feeling loose and well-fucked, Soonyoung presses his cheek into the pillow, trying to hide the secret pleased smile stretching across his face from no one in particular.
He sits up, putting on the first article of clothing his fingers snag on. It happens to be Wonwoo’s t-shirt.
“How come your shirts are still so much bigger than mine when I’m the one still playing tennis?”
Soonyoung walks out from the room, leans against the counter separating Wonwoo’s tiny kitchen from Wonwoo’s tiny living room. Wonwoo’s not even turning around, and Soonyoung tilts his head, amused, when he notices the crazy bedhead the other’s sporting.
“I’ve always had a good set of shoulders,” Wonwoo says, amused, and Soonyoung agrees. The tank top Wonwoo’s donned show off the width of his back perfectly, and when Soonyoung sees the marks his nails and teeth have made along the stretch of it, he preens just a little.
“Can’t argue with that,” Soonyoung murmurs under his breath. He wiggles onto one of the stools, the cool plastic hitting the tops of the back of his thighs making him scrunch his nose. “What time is it?”
“Nearly midnight. You slept right after.”
Soonyoung shrugs. “I had jetlag. I flew nearly a day, you know. Even first class is not that comfortable.”
“I’m sure there’s a compliment in there somewhere.” With a twist of his wrist, Wonwoo switches off the stove and pours the eggs into the plain white ceramic bowl on the counter next to him. He turns around for the first time since Soonyoung came into the room, glasses on the tip of his nose and hair flying every which way, and offers the bowl to him. In it, the eggs are scrambled and steaming, poured over hot white rice and freshly-cut tomatoes.
Something twists in Soonyoung’s stomach about the domesticity of it all.
“You remembered,” he says instead, trying to keep the quiver out of his voice. He clears his throat and takes the bowl without looking at Wonwoo, starving all of a sudden. “I hope you didn’t expect to share.”
“The last thing we ever shared was a pizza, and that’s when we both realized we had too much appetite to share anything,” Wonwoo reminds him. When Soonyoung lifts his head, Wonwoo’s spooning up cereal on the seat opposite him.
“Cereal at midnight?”
Wonwoo snorts, pointing the spoon at him accusingly. “It was supposed to be my breakfast, before I was so rudely interrupted.” He stares at Soonyoung sardonically.
He shovels rice into his mouth, the pink spreading across his cheeks like wildfire. “Sorry about that,” he mumbles around a full mouth.
“It’s fine. It was a nice surprise,” Wonwoo says, and for a minute or so, only the sound of them chewing companionably fills the air.
“What are you doing having breakfast at two in the afternoon?” Soonyoung says, suddenly realizing the timing.
“It’s my day off,” Wonwoo says, after he swallows his mouthful. “The studio’s closed on Wednesdays.”
“How-how’s that going for you?”
Wonwoo raises an eyebrow. Soonyoung’s stammering. He always stammers when he’s nervous, and Wonwoo knows it. “Good. Okay. People ask me a lot about, you know, when I used to play. Always ask about why I…” He stops, clears his throat. “Why I stopped.”
Soonyoung’s chopsticks clink against the bowl awkwardly as he swallows. He places it, now empty, on the counter between them.
“Still, it means I get a lot of foot traffic in the door,” Wonwoo jests. He picks up Soonyoung’s bowl and places it with his own in the sink. “Everyone lines up for the weird former tennis pro who retired injured all of a sudden.”
“Wonwoo, listen…” Soonyoung has his brow furrowed and he’s starting to think maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. “I’m sorry, maybe I should—”
“No, I should be the one saying sorry,” Wonwoo interrupts. He looks regretful. “I know the last thing you want to talk about is tennis.” He steps closer, and Soonyoung’s legs open to make space for him between them. It’s oddly intimate, with Wonwoo’s hands resting on Soonyoung’s thighs, and Soonyoung sighing and tucking his head into the crook of Wonwoo’s neck. The lights are dim, and there’s nothing but silence and moonlight outside the window.
They couldn’t be farther from Center Court if they tried.
“I’m sorry,” Soonyoung says, lips rubbing against Wonwoo’s bare skin. He presses a kiss, two, against his collarbone, bruised from all his earlier attention. “I’ll be out of your hair soon. If you want me to.”
Wonwoo leans back, stares down at Soonyoung’s face. He grins, just a little, cupping Soonyoung’s cheeks and tracing the curve of his cheek with the pad of his thumb. “I’d forgotten how swollen your face gets every time you wake up.”
Soonyoung glares at him, and he opens his mouth to begin a tirade when Wonwoo swoops down to kiss him firmly, over and over and over. Soonyoung holds onto him, head dizzying with desire again as Wonwoo sneaks hands under his shirt to clutch at his bottom.
“I like the way you look in my shirt,” Wonwoo speaks into Soonyoung’s slack mouth, and Soonyoung whines a little. “Adidas always looked better on you.”
Soonyoung gasps. “This is Adidas? God. The Nike reps are going to kill me if they ever saw me.”
“Well I don’t think anyone’s going to see you in it, and I’m not going to report you for breach of contract.” Soonyoung is honestly impressed by how many unsexy words Wonwoo’s whispering in between sucking languidly on the spot behind Soonyoung’s ear.
He inhales sharply as Wonwoo encircles arms around his waist and lifts him off the stool in a single motion. Holy shit. “But if it’s going to be a problem, we should probably get it off you.”
“Jeon Wonwoo, you—”
“Put that mouth to better use, Kwon.”
And so he does.
They run into each other again in Tsukuba.
“Wonwoo. Hey,” Soonyoung says, tentatively. Just because they don’t see each other doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know how Wonwoo’s been doing.
“Hey yourself,” Wonwoo says quietly. They’re meeting at a small coffee shop near the airbnb Soonyoung rented for the Futures tournament. He’s into the main draw but Wonwoo lost in his last qualifying round.
What they never learned about professional tennis in the four walls of their prestigious polished academy, what no teacher of theirs every told them, was the absolutely exhausting grind of it. To play it back home in the comforts of your local tennis center, that was one thing. To go from country to country, shelling out airfare and extra baggage for equipment to sign up for tournaments that you might not even get to play, to play agonizing grueling matches under the heat of the sun only to fall at the last hurdle before earning those precious professional points, to walk back into tiny, empty two-star hotel rooms to plan how to do it all over again… no one ever warned them.
“Maybe they thought it would scare us away,” Wonwoo quips quietly. He winces as he sits up, his muscles not yet fully recovered from yesterday evening’s final round of qualifications.
“You? Scared? That’s not you,” Soonyoung tries to joke, tries to keep everything light, but he knows it doesn’t work when Wonwoo just looks away, distracted.
“Nadal made it look easy, I guess,” Soonyoung says after awhile, and this catches Wonwoo’s attention. He snorts.
“Maybe someone should have told me I wasn’t going to be the next Nadal. Could have saved me all this effort.”
Soonyoung sits up when he hears the crack in Wonwoo’s voice when he finishes his sentence, eyes widening in alarm. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go, he thinks. “Hey. Wonwoo. There’s always next tournament. You told me that. Remember?”
“Take your own advice, dummy,” Soonyoung says, voice slightly harsher than usual to jolt Wonwoo out of his pity party when he doesn’t reply.
“Dummy?” Wonwoo snorts. He exhales loudly, before giving Soonyoung one brief nod. “You’re right. I did tell you that.”
“Good,” Soonyoung says, nodding firmly. “Just remember why you do this.” He swallows, before looking down into his cup of mocha. “I know it sounds stupid, Wonwoo, but it helps. It helps a lot.”
He raises his head and sees Wonwoo looking at him, something in his eyes turning soft when they meet his. It feels almost impossibly long before he opens his mouth again.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Four months later, in August, Wonwoo isn’t getting better, and he’s starting to talk about quitting.
“I can open up a little studio, right here in Changwon,” he tells Soonyoung one day over the phone. Soonyoung is wrapped up in two layers of too-thin sheets, lying in his hotel room bed with his shades still drawn, not yet willing to get up too face the coach he’d decided to get last month to help him raise his game to the next level. “You know how good I am with a camera. Remember?”
Soonyoung does. He has two pictures that Wonwoo had taken tucked into a secret pocket in his gear bag. The first one was of him celebrating match point after a bullet of a backhand down the line, mouth wide open in a joyous roar, sweat streaming down his face and past the maroon headband he’d taken to donning to mop up the worst of it. It’s one of his favorite pictures, and he keeps it there to remind him about what he does everything for – the dizzying, staggering sensation of victory, of being the best, of the fulfillment of a dream.
(The second is of him and Wonwoo, holding up their tennis rackets and scrunching up their noses at the camera just before training. It’s a silly picture, a picture that had no particularly special moment behind it, but every time Soonyoung thinks about pulling it out and keeping it somewhere else, something stops him.)
“I’m tired, Soonyoung.”
He wants to tell Wonwoo to not give up, to think about the next time, to do better next time, but to say it like this seemed callous.
Don’t give up.
You’re a good tennis player.
Do it for your family, for the country.
You can do it. I know you can.
Because I need you there.
Immediately, he knows that it’s an awful and selfish thing to think. But he can’t help it.
The thing is, he understands. He understands because he’s going through it himself and he’s still not used to it, the staggering, bone-deep exhaustion that accompanied the trudge up the ranks of professional tennis. Every other week he’s in a different city, looking around himself and seeing players ten, fifteen years older than himself. He plays alongside them and against them, terrified that this would be his future – toiling away at non-professional tournaments with the best of his playing years behind him, dreams of a life playing the sport he loves unfulfilled and wasted. He knows that this is what Wonwoo sees too, and he knows that it would be easier to let go now than to wake up at thirty-five and feel like you wasted your life trying to achieve something that you weren’t quite good enough to accomplish.
“I still believe in you, Wonwoo,” is what he says instead.
He hears Wonwoo sigh over the line. He crawls deeper under the covers, shutting everything out except the sound of Wonwoo’s voice from a thousand miles away.
“I’ll give it until the end of the year.”
He’ll take that.
Soonyoung looks up from his spot on Wonwoo’s couch, where he’s scrolling through social media and munching on a piece of toast that he’s helped himself to.
Wonwoo raises an eyebrow at him. “You went jogging?”
“I did. I don’t feel right if I don’t,” Soonyoung says. He sits up and puts his phone down. “I also did yoga in the park at the corner.”
“Yeah. It’s a really sweet spot. Do you go there?”
“Me?” By now, Wonwoo’s sauntered over to the kitchen to put in more toast for himself. He looks over and gestures at Soonyoung, asking if he wanted more, an offer which Soonyoung politely declines. “I don’t think I have.”
After pushing the lever on the toaster down until it clicks, he makes his way back to the living room, two cups in his hand. “Tea?”
Soonyoung narrows his eyes at him. “You don’t drink tea.” He takes the cup and a sip, and his eyes widen. “Especially not decaffeinated tea.”
“Well, maybe I got turned onto good tea-drinking habits by someone,” Wonwoo says in a sing-song voice, and he gives a blushing Soonyoung a warm smile. “It’s good. There’s a grandma with a little shop a few blocks away from the studio who stocks this really good brand, and I always pass by every month to grab a batch for myself.”
“I used to tell you that the caffeine was bad for you,” Soonyoung says in a low voice. He stares unseeing at the wisps of heat escaping the cup. “That it was making you nervous before your matches.”
“Maybe you were right. Or maybe I was just nervous because I didn’t feel right.” Wonwoo sinks down next to him, a sad little smile on his face. “We’re doing a lot of talking about tennis when you said you didn’t want to.”
“I’m sorry.” Soonyoung sighs, before laying his head on Wonwoo’s shoulder. “I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s fine, Soonyoung. We can do whatever you want.”
“But I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Who said you were?” Soonyoung lifts his head to see Wonwoo smiling kindly at him. He doesn’t know how he can do it. “I can handle things, Soonyoung. I chose this.”
Soonyoung feels his bottom lip start to tremble, before he clamps his teeth down on it. “Why do you keep doing that?”
“Keep saying it’s okay when it isn’t.”
Wonwoo purses his lips, before sighing. “Honestly? Because I accept that it’s how things are.”
Soonyoung sighs, before twining his arm through Wonwoo’s. “I keep telling you that you deserve better. When will you listen?” He scrunches up his eyes when he feels a kiss being pressed to his forehead, heart weighing heavy.
“I have what I want. It’s enough for me.”
Minutes pass in silence before Soonyoung speaks again. “Will you take a walk with me before you go into the studio today? To the park, maybe?”
Wonwoo opens his mouth, then closes it, before nodding slowly. “Okay.”
It starts with a breakthrough in America.
“It’s not a title, it’s not even a Challenger,” Wonwoo insists when Soonyoung finally gets him on the phone, but he can tell that the run to the semifinals did him good. He sounds optimistic, even hopeful, and Soonyoung beams a smile no one but himself could see.
Points were good, points were great, points were what mattered and finally, finally Wonwoo had some.
“It’s something, Wonwoo.”
Soonyoung turns away from Jian, his coach from Taiwan, who looks at him strangely. He’s always being told to limit his distractions and keep his eye on the prize. It wouldn’t do to show him that he’s as invested in someone else’s career as much as his own.
Which he isn’t. Really.
“It sure is,” Wonwoo replies softly. “Hey, Soonyoung?”
“For a lot of things, but mostly… for reminding me about why I do this.”
If Wonwoo hears his little sniffle in response to that, well, he doesn’t say anything about it.
The park at the corner of Wonwoo’s apartment complex is tiny, so tiny that Soonyoung and Wonwoo can walk the length of it in five whole minutes, so they decide to sit on one of the benches facing away from the street near the playground.
No one’s around, although plenty have walked past on the sidewalk behind them, and they enjoy the shade of the trees and the distant sound of magpies flitting from branch to branch.
“This is nice.”
Steadily, Wonwoo starts qualifying and making it to the later rounds.
By the end of the year, he and Soonyoung are competing at actual ATP tournaments. Wonwoo even makes a surprising run to the quarterfinals at Chengdu, an actual ATP 250 tournament.
For some reason, Wonwoo feels optimistic enough about his playing chances that he asks for Soonyoung’s recommendations about which tournaments to sign up for since he’s yet to actually have a team of his own. They end up more or less having the same kind of tournament schedule, and take to spending their days off seeing as many sights as they can in the city, which they never really got to do their first few years on the tour.
He sneaks a glance at Wonwoo as they’re taking a walk around Brisbane after breakfast at this little Korean café they found in the area. He’s smiling. They’d had scrambled eggs and tomatoes, Soonyoung’s favorite. He looks happy.
Soonyoung is pleased for Wonwoo, he really is. He gets the same kind of results all around, making it through qualies but crashing out in the first or second round, but it’s alright with him. It’s a steady build up, he reasons to himself. He doesn’t want to be a flash in the pan. He’s twenty years old, and he still has a full career ahead of him. There’s no rush.
Besides, he likes it when Wonwoo smiles like that.
“It is nice.”
It was bound to happen sooner or later.
Their first professional match-up on the pro tour happens in an ATP 500 tournament in Tokyo, their biggest tournament yet.
Eyes are on them because no one expected either of them to win against their seeded opponents in the first round and yet they both do. They progress steadily against opponents ranked higher than them at the same time, round after round, until they meet each other in the quarterfinals.
The Korean press flies into Tokyo in droves. The Korean Tennis Association follow suit, the representatives aflutter with excitement. They were about to have a Korean tennis player in the semifinals of an ATP 500 to face Mikhail Deshanvili, one of the top ten players in the world. It was going to be televised.
(His mom would not stop messaging him article links and telling him how proud she was of him. She also pointed out that he should be getting a haircut soon.)
Soonyoung tries to calm his nerves, tries not to let the occasion get to him, tries not to think about the person on the other side and just focus on his game. It’s harder than he thought it would be but he does his best.
When they get called out into the stadium, it’s to raucous applause. It’s the nicest court he’s ever had to play on and it’s hard not to swivel his head all around to try to take everything in.
He thinks he sees Deshanvili’s coach in one of the boxes and he’s awed. Deshanvili’s coach is there to scout them. He’s there to watch him play and figure out how Deshanvili can beat him. Him.
A huge smile breaks out on Soonyoung’s face, and he whips around, wanting to tell Wonwoo about spotting Deshanvili’s coach when he sees him, serious and poker-faced, on the other side of the umpire’s chair.
Right. Shit. Right.
He’s playing in the big leagues now, he can’t turn around to share stuff with his friend any time a random thought pops into his head. He sees Jian in his box, short and round and staring at him closely.
Over the speaker, they announce that warm-ups were about to begin. Soonyoung grips his lucky racket tightly, exhales.
Time to show that he belongs there.
It’s easier when warm-ups begin. He and Wonwoo have done that against each other hundreds, thousands of times before, so it’s easy for his muscles to relax and slip into autopilot. He clutches his racket and swings it off both wings, the ball hitting the strings sending vibrations up his arms. It’s a feeling he’s gotten used to over the years, but it never gets old. Soonyoung doubts it ever will.
Wonwoo chooses to serve first.
Soonyoung stands a few feet behind the baseline, keeping his eyes trained on the way Wonwoo tosses the ball up in the air, and makes the split second decision to turn towards the center of the court when he sees how Wonwoo shifts his grip right before he swings his racket over his head to serve.
It’s a good guess. He’s able to get a racket on the ball after it hits the middle service line, putting it back into play. He nets the next forehand but at least he isn’t aced. Always make the opponent play another ball, is what they’re taught, and it’s a lesson that’s shaped Soonyoung’s style of play more than anything else.
The match is close, until it’s not, when Soonyoung latches onto an underpowered second serve on break point and rockets a backhand return past Wonwoo to clinch the first break of the set at 4-4.
Methodically, he consolidates the break to love; he doesn’t even think he breathes until the umpire says it out loud, confirms it. 6-4, first set, Kwon.
Soonyoung clenches his fist and whispers to himself. “One more set, come on.” There’s a buzzing in his ears, and he wills himself not to get ahead. Averting his eyes, he avoids looking at Wonwoo during the next change over. He can’t, not when he’s so close.
A misstep in the fourth game gifts the break to Wonwoo, and he races ahead to a 4-1 second set lead before Soonyoung can wrap his brain around it. Soonyoung fumes silently to himself as he changes his arm guards before the start of the next game. He jumps up when play resumes, jogging to his side of the court and steeling his expression, trying not to let anyone else in the court know about the little twinges of pain rocketing up the side of his leg whenever he puts any weight on it.
Which is why he’s surprised when Wonwoo suddenly grimaces and calls for a trainer.
The first thing he feels after confusion is worry, which galls him, because it’s not something he’s supposed to feel, not here, in the quarterfinals of Tokyo, a set up but a break down. He stalks over to Wonwoo’s side of the net, looking up at the umpire and waiting for an answer.
“He says he’s feeling some pains in his stomach. The doctor’s coming out now.”
Soonyoung opens his mouth, stops. He looks up at his box, almost panicking. Jian gives him a stare and gestures sharply towards his seat. Sit down.
Almost blankly, he steps back slowly, makes his way back to his bench and sinks down to wait for the findings. He feels tiny. There’s a murmur rustling through the crowd. Up on the big screen, he sees Wonwoo and the court doctor conversing in what looks like careful, stilted English. He’s pointing at his stomach and rubbing it gingerly.
He leaps to his feet again, not even hiding the wince of pain that crosses his face when he sees Wonwoo slowly putting his racket in his bag and packing towels. One of the ballboys comes forward when Wonwoo gestures at him, and he picks up Wonwoo’s bag for him as Wonwoo is assisted out by the court doctor.
“Wonwoo? Are you okay? Wonwoo?”
He looks up at the umpire, perplexed. “What happen?” he asks in English, hoping that his rudimentary language skills aren’t failing him.
The chair umpire looks at him, passive, almost bored. “Mr. Jeon has retired from the match.”
“Game, set and match. Kwon.”
Soonyoung wraps arms around himself, the thin cardigan flapping in the summer breeze. Although he’s not that cold, he shivers.
“Do I what?” Wonwoo answers. They’re both staring out into nothingness, watching the breeze push the swings and sway the seesaw.
He swallows. “Do you miss it?”
It’s nearly midnight when Soonyoung makes his way to Wonwoo’s hotel room. He had to wait until he was sure that Jian was asleep in his room before he could even manage to sneak out. Luckily, Wonwoo’s hotel was two blocks away from his, an easy ten-minute walk even with the slight limp he had ended up with.
When Wonwoo opens the door, Soonyoung pushes in.
“You mother fu—”
“Shh, pipe down, will you,” Wonwoo hisses. It’s dim inside when he grabs Soonyoung’s wrist and hurriedly pulls him in, trying not to cause a scene. It’s a simple space, small—so small, that when Soonyoung loses balance as a result of Wonwoo’s haphazard handling, he ends up lying face-up on the bed. Wonwoo’s bed.
He sits up hurriedly, determined to let his anger out somehow.
“Did you retire on purpose?”
The expression on Wonwoo’s face is unreadable in the dark, but Soonyoung knows him too well, and the tightening of his mouth explains it all. “You did. Holy shit, I can’t belie—”
“I did no such thing, asshole.”
“I can’t believe you’d do this to me,” Soonyoung seethes. He pushes off the bed and squares up against Wonwoo, despite the other being several inches taller than him. “I can’t believe—you know how much this means—we talked about this!”
“I did not throw the match—”
“Oh bullshit, Wonwoo. Cut the crap.” He drills a finger into Wonwoo’s chest, pressing despite Wonwoo shooting him a warning glare. “You’ve had stomach issues before but it never stopped you from finishing a match. You learned how to deal with it during games, and it makes no sense for you to not do it during the biggest match of your life, so you tell me what gives Wonwoo. You tell me.”
Soonyoung winces a little when he steps on his aching leg, and Wonwoo’s glowering lightens just a little.
“Idiot. Why did you walk all the way here to get pissed off at me on a bad leg when you have a semifinal tomorrow?” Wonwoo sighs, and guides a still pissed off Soonyoung to sit down on the bed.
“Don’t try to mollify me by asking about my injury,” he says, scowling at Wonwoo.
“Just shut up, Soonyoung. Shut up.” Wonwoo doesn’t look okay; he looks worried and harried and for a second, Soonyoung thinks maybe he wasn’t faking it after all.
“I told you not to feel sorry for me, you jerk,” Soonyoung starts, and he’s mortified when he feels the lump in his throat form. He’s not going to cry over this, fuck. “How could you take this win away from me by not letting me get it fair and square?” He screws his eyes shut, the unfairness tightening his stomach so much that he feels like he’s going to curl into himself. “You know how much it means to me, more than anyone.”
He feels hands on his shoulders, bracing themselves on either side of him. He tries to suppress the shivers that trickle down his spine when Wonwoo’s thumbs brush against the side of his neck, feather-light, ignoring how it makes him want to melt and press up against his palms even more.
“I’m sorry, Soonyoung. I’m sorry.”
The betrayal that slams into him is so powerful, it’s almost stunning. He lets out a broken breath, opens his eyes, and sees Wonwoo looking down at him. He looks exhausted, terrified, vulnerable. Soonyoung can’t believe it.
“Why did you do it, Wonwoo? If the people from the ATP found out, you could be in big trouble. They’ll lump you in with the match fixers, and you could get in trouble, you could get banned, and for what? Why would you throw your future away? Why would you do that?”
When Wonwoo doesn’t reply, Soonyoung stands up from the bed and reaches out to shake Wonwoo a little. “Wonwoo, why would you—”
“Dammit, Soonyoung, because I can’t just stand there and win a match when you’re obviously injured and too stubborn to retire,” Wonwoo yells back. He glares at Soonyoung, infuriated. “You know your leg needed treatment—”
“It could have waited until after the match,” Soonyoung interrupts quietly.
“Oh shut the hell up, Kwon. Try telling someone who hasn’t known you since you were a child. You’re the most pigheaded person I know.” Wonwoo shakes free from Soonyoung’s grip, annoyed now. “Leg injuries can ruin careers, you idiot. You can’t just throw everything into one match.”
“Who the hell are you to make decisions for me? It’s my body, it’s my career, you had no right—”
Soonyoung inhales sharply when Wonwoo whirls around and grabs him, eyes flashing. “I know I had no right, but fuck you, I’m not just going to stand by and watch you make stupid decisions that could destroy you!” His voice has taken on a higher pitch, on edge, and he grits his teeth, jaw stubbornly set and ready for a fight. “I care too much about you to let you end up with a lifetime of regret, especially over the thing that matters most to you!”
Wonwoo stops talking and Soonyoung doesn’t know what to say because Wonwoo is looking at him, really looking at him, like he’s the only person in the world, like he wants him. Like he wants him. His eyes are boring into Soonyoung’s, the expression in it terrified that he’s shown too much, that he’s going to have it thrown back in his face.
But not sorry. Never that.
In the midst of the jumble of thoughts running around Soonyoung’s brain is the single overwhelming concept of Wonwoo’s face being so close to his and how badly he wants to pull it closer.
So he does.
When their lips crash together, it’s a punch to the gut that weakens Soonyoung’s knees; Wonwoo’s reaching around and wrapping his arms around him, swinging them until Soonyoung’s propped up against the wall. He can’t think beyond the litany of closer closer more please more that keeps repeating itself in his brain.
Soonyoung drinks his taste in, moaning when Wonwoo mirrors the desperation and adrenaline coursing through his veins in the way his hands keep running up and down his back, his arms, through his hair. He’s kissed a girl or two before, but he’s never kissed or been kissed like this, like he’s drowning and Wonwoo is the air that fills his lungs. It feels both overwhelming and never enough.
“Wonwoo, Wonwoo, wait.” Soonyoung pulls away from Wonwoo, breathless and dizzy. He opens his eyes to see Wonwoo gazing back at him with a dazed expression, and immediately Soonyoung moves back in to kiss him again, greedily relishing in the feel and taste of Wonwoo’s mouth. All his life, he’s been focused on making his dream a reality, he’d forgotten the sensation of just wanting, just wanting someone. It dawns on him that maybe he’s wanted Wonwoo for awhile, and now that he knows, it’s even harder to turn away.
With difficulty, he pulls away again, but presses a last kiss against Wonwoo’s bottom lip. He resists the urge to nibble at it.
“I have to go,” he tells Wonwoo. Wonwoo nestles his head in the crook of Soonyoung’s neck, eyes still closed. “I have some more recovery stuff in the morning for my leg and I have a match.”
Wonwoo’s eyes spring open and he backs away slowly. “Right. Your semifinal.”
Soonyoung nods. He checks his watch and winces. Almost one in the morning. “I should be going now.” He sneaks a look at Wonwoo, who is watching him with hooded eyes. There’s something inside Soonyoung that wants to step closer again, just to feel his hands on him again. It’s a strange feeling, and something he needs to think about. Does this mean he was…? He shakes his head. “I…”
“Soonyoung, don’t think about this. For now, focus on your match,” Wonwoo tells him. He reaches out, as if to touch Soonyoung’s face; he settles on patting him on the shoulder. An awkwardness settles between them, and Soonyoung despises it immediately. “I’m heading out before noon, but good luck. I’ll, uh, I’ll try to catch your match as soon as I land.”
“Thanks. But, when I get back, we should talk okay? About a lot of things.” Soonyoung shuffles to the door, and Wonwoo follows to open it. He stops when Soonyoung all of a sudden whirls around, a fierce expression on his face. He points a finger in Wonwoo’s face. “I don’t agree with what you did but I can understand where it came from. But promise me, Jeon. Promise me you will never do that ever again.” He swallows, sets his mouth in a line. “When I win, I want it to be because I deserved it.”
Wonwoo gives him a small smile, before reaching around him to open the door for him. “Okay, Kwon. I promise. But promise me to be more careful too.”
He closes the door before Soonyoung answers.
Soonyoung doesn’t recover in time for the semifinal and pulls out of the match, citing injury. Deshanvili advances to the final. Soonyoung flies home to Seoul for a few days before he has to fly back out for Shanghai qualifiers.
Wonwoo snorts, flicks one of his fingers. “Do I miss the sneaking around, the secrets, the lying by omission?”
“Shhh, Wonwoo, be quiet—”
“Relax, I did my research, nobody uses this part of the tennis center anymore, I checked.”
Soonyoung still doesn’t feel comfortable but he can’t say no when Wonwoo looks at him like that, when Wonwoo pulls him closer and ducks his head to press a soft kiss against his lips. “Won—”
“I missed you, Kwon,” Wonwoo breathes against his cheek, and Soonyoung’s heart tilts a little, softens a lot. “I can’t believe my new coach made me train all the way in Europe in the off season while you were in America, but I just missed you. Missed this.”
“I tried to Facetime as much as I could but the time difference…” Soonyoung’s sentence ends on a whimper when Wonwoo tugs him closer, reaches underneath his shirt to touch his bare skin. “Gods, Wonwoo, I missed you too.” He drags Wonwoo’s face back to his to kiss him once, twice, over and over until the hunger builds up, a month and a half of separation and lonely nights and relief poured into that one action.
He tastes the salt of sweat and practice under the Brisbane sun, but to him, it tastes perfect, like all his favorite things rolled into one. Tennis, summer, Wonwoo.
“Where did you tell your team you were going?”
Wonwoo chuckles against his skin. “We’ve walked around Brisbane so many times before.”
“I know,” Soonyoung murmurs. His fingers rub up and down Wonwoo’s back, marveling at all the new muscles the off-season training had carved into him. “It makes it easier to bluff when I get back to them later.”
There’s a twinkle in Wonwoo’s eye. “How much later?”
“As much as I need,” Soonyoung confirms. He’s used to their routine by now. Ever since Tokyo last year, they’d taken to planning most of their scheduled tournaments together but in a manner that wasn’t glaringly obvious. Wonwoo hiring a coach right before the end of the season complicated matters for the following year, but they could still make things work.
Besides, they had to make it work. No one could know, or they would both be ruined. As forward-thinking as the sport thought it was, the men’s tour was not actually as forgiving as the women’s or the legends tour. The men’s locker room was a sacred place, and both Soonyoung and Wonwoo knew that there were players on the tour, old and new, that wouldn’t hesitate to express their distaste at the idea of a fellow player who was gay. Let alone two.
Not that they both knew what they were. They were both still trying to figure things out without labels. As of right now, they were just sure of two things: (1) that no one could find out, and (2) they really liked kissing each other.
And other stuff, too.
Wonwoo smirks. “I got the same airbnb as last year. They know we’re friends so no one will raise any eyebrows if you come over. I can just keep the Switch on.”
“You think Mario Kart’s going to drown out the noise you make when you come?” Soonyoung remarks, raising his eyebrow when Wonwoo’s cheeks redden slightly.
“Excuse me, you’re much louder than me. You’d wake up the neighbors if you had any wherewithal whenever you—”
“Okay, point taken,” Soonyoung heads him off. Once they get started on exploits, it could take forever. He goes on tiptoe to press a kiss to his cheek. “I’ll just take a shower here and meet you in ten.”
“Mmm, ‘kay,” Wonwoo says. He draws Soonyoung back for a small peck on the nose, suddenly looking shy and averting his gaze. “I really did miss you.”
Soonyoung’s eyes soften. “I missed you too.”
Soonyoung hums. “I know you didn’t miss that. I meant… do you miss everything else?”
Soonyoung gasps as Wonwoo lifts his hips for easier access, letting out a delicious whine that has Wonwoo picking up his pace and slamming into him quicker. “Fuck, Wonwoo, right there, ah!” He throws his head back, losing himself in the sensation of fullness and wantonness and absolute ecstasy as Wonwoo finally shifts angles and hits the spot.
Post-loss fucks were the best way to recover from bad matches.
Through half-lidded eyes, Soonyoung hooks arms under his knees and pulls; Wonwoo takes the hint and goes for longer, slower thrusts. He leans closer to Soonyoung, swallowing up his desperate little moans with open-mouthed kisses, grinning slightly against the other’s mouth.
“So good, you feel so good around me, Soonyoung…”
“Wonwoo,” Soonyoung whines into the other’s mouth. He’s close, he’s so close, he just needs a little— “Ah, yes, there, right there, ah—”
Wonwoo braces his hands on either side of Soonyoung and bends him over until he’s practically folded in half. He pistons his hips against Soonyoung’s furiously, splitting him apart, fully, relentlessly, until Soonyoung comes, broken little half-whines moaned piteously into the side of Wonwoo’s neck.
“Stay with me just a little longer, Kwon, fuck, just—” Wonwoo rolls them both onto their side and Soonyoung, despite feeling languid and boneless, lets Wonwoo lift up his leg to anchor it around his hip. Soonyoung whimpers softly as Wonwoo enters him again and continues to fuck into him, tipping his head back so that Wonwoo can lave and nip at his chest and nipples.
Soonyoung sighs, almost dreamily, the aggravating three set loss to Gerlish Fender, the Australian journeyman, on clay in Barcelona a distant memory as Wonwoo’s fingers squeezed his generous backside, occasionally dipping in to trace around his entrance. It’s an almost sinful experience, honestly, the sheer wantonness that engulfs him every time he has sex, the way every part of his body becomes a place for Wonwoo to taste, to touch, with every stroke taking him higher, making him feel a high that nearly rivaled a brilliant win every single time. He’s never thought of fingertips being a turn on and here he is, getting hard again as Wonwoo uses his fingers to trace around the area where he and Soonyoung were joined. His breath deepens, the coils of pleasure slowly turning once more.
“Ahhh!” Soonyoung lets out a cry because Wonwoo bites down on a spot just above his left nipple when he comes, and he waits for Wonwoo to finish before he curses him weakly. “Why are you so nibbly when you come, Wonwoo? It hurts, you know. And it’s a bitch to explain to my team. They think I sleep with half the WTA at this point.”
Wonwoo lets out an exhausted little chuckle, before impersonating Seungcheol, Soonyoung’s newly-hired physiotherapist. “Oh, Soonyoung, another hickey? I bet it was that Lydia girl from Belarus huh? She asked me for your number but I told her to ask you herself.” He laughs at his own effort, collapsing against Soonyoung, gangly bones and all.
Soonyoung swats him, before nudging him until Wonwoo rolls them both over and pulls the covers over them. “Shut up, Jeon. You have to arrest this oral fixation.” He lets out a half-hearted growl when Wonwoo starts placing light bites across his chest, not enough to leave a mark but just to tease. “I mean it.” He sighs when Wonwoo shifts to soft little kisses and kittenish licks. He’s exhausted, but his cock is still half-hard from Wonwoo’s last few touches.
“I wonder what the tennis-loving public would say when they see rising Korean tennis star Wonwoo Jeon, known for his stoic expression and reserved personality, being so free with his kisses?” He laughs at the thought, looking down at Wonwoo’s suddenly sullen face. He lifts his hand and runs it through Wonwoo’s hair—it’s shorter than when they last saw each other, which meant that he must have gotten a haircut since Miami.
“It could be worse, you know,” Wonwoo quips. He leans back on his elbow; Soonyoung all of a sudden misses his warmth. “If we were Korean pop stars, variety shows would be making us do aegyo.”
“You’d be terrible at it,” Soonyoung deadpans, before laughing when Wonwoo pokes him in the side. “Hey!”
“You… you’d be great at it, Kwon,” Wonwoo admits. Soonyoung watches the expression on Wonwoo’s face soften as he looks at him. Soonyoung feels even more naked than he already is, if that’s even possible. “Even the tennis media thinks you’re adorable.”
“Well I am,” Soonyoung quips, shrugging, before he rolls over and out of the bed. He tries to dissipate the mood whenever it becomes too serious. He loves this thing he has with Wonwoo, is glad that he can share whatever this is with one of the people he trusts most in the world, but he can’t get too attached. One day, they’ll both have to grow up, get married, have families, and this’ll all just be a youthful experiment, or some kind of coping mechanism for stress. Professional tennis isn’t always fun and games. Most of the time it’s a slog, and only one person wins at the end of the week. For the rest, it’s just about surviving.
Soonyoung wants nothing more than to survive, survive until he gets a chance to shine.
“Where are you going?”
Soonyoung is gathering up the clothing he’d hastily removed as soon as he’d arrived in Wonwoo’s hotel room. “Um, back. I told them I wouldn’t be long, just needed a walk to clear my head.”
“Oh.” Soonyoung hates the tinge of disappointment in Wonwoo’s tone. He’s not supposed to be. “Did you, uh, did you watch my match by any chance?”
“Against Sagrada?” Of course he did. He made it a point to watch all of Wonwoo’s matches unless they were at the same times as his. “I did. Tricky one. I’m sorry.”
“It was close,” Wonwoo says slowly. He sits up, and the sheets pool around his waist. Soonyoung doesn’t want to salivate but he is still nursing half a hard-on. Still, Wonwoo looks somewhat troubled. “I’ve asked Tanaka-san to tape all my matches and give me feedback but he still hasn’t gotten back to me about this one.”
He looks up at Soonyoung and Soonyoung wants to ignore him so badly, wants to leave to escape his scrutiny and affection and the way he lies his head down on his shoulder when he’s sad or confused or just seeking reassurance. It’s the last thing Soonyoung can give him, the last thing Soonyoung can afford to give him.
But against his better judgment he sighs and sinks back onto the bed, still naked, his boxers and jogging pants bunched up in his lap.
“It’s a match-up thing, Wonwoo. Nothing much more to say about it.” He picks at the frayed ends of the covers. “He likes to use the slice and it disrupts your rhythm, especially when you’re in a flow. At the end of the third, when you were serving to take it to tiebreak, he took the ball earlier after your serve, so the returns came quicker than they had the whole match and by the time you adjusted, you were already three match points down.”
“You’re right,” Wonwoo says after digesting Soonyoung’s assessment. “That wasn’t part of his regular game, so it caught me off guard and I just, didn’t adjust.” He nods, before giving Soonyoung a grateful smile. “Thanks.” He looks like he wants to reach out and hold him, but he changes his mind at the last second. “Losing sucks.”
Soonyoung really wishes Wonwoo wouldn’t make things more complicated. It was hard enough keeping things under wraps. When they’d had a Tokyo quarterfinal rematch just a few weeks ago, Soonyoung kept getting distracted trying to serve the match out because the image of Wonwoo bucking up into him from below kept flitting in and out of his brain.
It’s just a physical thing. It’s not going to get in the way of anything, especially not his goals. There’s nothing more important than that.
It’s what he tells himself, anyway.
Soonyoung exhales, suddenly exhausted. “It really does.”
Wonwoo leans back and stretches his legs in front of him. Even a few years after retirement, he still looks physically fit and ready to get back onto the court. Twenty-seven isn’t by any stretch of the imagination old—Federer would fight you on that—but it’s not young. By most metrics today, that age was usually the peak of a tennis player’s career. When his and Soonyoung’s thing started they were barely in their twenties, so young, so cavalier, so sure that they would be able to have everything.
Several years later, one of them’s retired and one of them’s mentally exhausted. Both of them have issues of their own, and issues about each other, and they’re still desperately trying to keep everything between them under wraps.
Still… “Sometimes,” Wonwoo says, finally. He squints at a spot in the distance, his expression indiscernible from behind his sunglasses. “I have no regrets, but I do miss it sometimes. Shua-hyung tells me his new charge is much easier to deal with than me, and so he’s bored most of the time.” He chuckles, looks down.
“It wasn’t sustainable, what I was doing. I burned myself out, and paid the price.” He holds his hands out, before clasping them together. “But the camaraderie, the sportsmanship, the strategy, the adrenaline rush of a good match… I do miss it sometimes.”
“Do you miss the winning?”
Wonwoo looks at Soonyoung then, regarding him closely while Soonyoung stubbornly refuses to look back.
“If I say I don’t, would you believe me?”
Wonwoo makes himself known to the world just as Soonyoung turns 22.
Tennis enthusiasts, those who tried to follow every single match and every single player down to the qualifiers, most likely already knew about both of them, but casuals only followed slams, and they only knew those players who made it to the later stages, none of those early first and second round exits. ATP points were the most important currency for a professional, but to really make it, everyone knew you had to make it at a major to make your mark.
Of the four majors, Soonyoung enjoys the Australian and the US Open the most, since the hard court surface favored his style best, but that didn’t mean there weren’t things he enjoyed about the others too. The French Open happens around his birthday every year, so he’s always getting free cake and fruit from the staff at the clay courts, and Wimbledon is Wimbledon. No explanation needed.
Even if Soonyoung wants nothing more than to get to the second week of a slam, he knows it takes patience and a lot of luck during the draw. Slams didn’t just offer the most ATP points per round reached, it had a best-of-five format that meant a player had to secure three sets to win a match, not just two.
It was a fitness test—even a quick one lasted at least an hour and change. Stamina was crucial, and both Soonyoung and Wonwoo had a hard time dealing with the prospect of four to five hour-long tennis matches all last year, but the work they’d done in the off-season was starting to pay off. Soonyoung reached the 2nd round in the last Australian, and he’d reached a round further in Roland Garros before Richard Solaire, a Frenchman a few years older than him and a recent mainstay in the top ten, dumped him out in four in the 4th round. Soonyoung had been annoyed, but largely philosophical. Small margins, but he’d make them next time. Every match was making him a better player, he could feel it in his bones.
Consistency was key, and he was aiming for long-term goals. He wasn’t here for 15 minutes of fame. This was going to be his life, and he was going to make it.
After the post-match press conference finished and he’d gone through all his recovery procedures, he’d told his team he’d meet them back at the hotel later after grabbing a quick bite. He takes a shower and wanders out into the player’s lounge. There were a couple of people there, giving him nods and pats on the back in commiseration. He smiles and nods at them, pleased that he was starting to get recognized by some names.
“Bad luck there, mate,” Fender says, passing him the smoothie he’d ordered from the fruit bar. “Saw your match. Hard playing a Frenchie at the French, eh?”
“Ah. Is difficult,” Soonyoung manages in his stilted English. Since the tour was such a mix of different nationalities, most players tended to stay among those who spoke the same language as them. Unlike in real life, though, there weren’t many Asians who made it to the top of the game. Tennis wasn’t as big in their neck of the woods as it was in, say, Europe or the Americas. It’s why they all had to get a grasp of rudimentary English, since three out of the four majors used it as its primary language of communication. Even the tournaments hosted in major Asian countries like the Shanghai Masters or the Tokyo and Beijing tournaments needed to address their audiences in both their own language and English, in order to accommodate the mostly Western players who made it far into the tournament, since most of the Asian players were usually out by then.
That’s why Soonyoung making it as far as he has, as consistently has, was a big deal. It mattered. It mattered.
“Yeah, the crowds, they’re notorious for being awful to anyone who doesn’t speak the language. D’you see how they treated Rafa all those years? I played him once here, long time ago, and they were even cheering for me over him. Do I look like I speak French to you?”
Soonyoung spends a comfortable, companionable few minutes joking around with Fender, who isn’t half bad once you got to know him. He’s asked how many times he’s been to the French and he says it’s the first time he’s been able to directly enter since his seeding was high enough.
“Oh man. It’s been a long time since I had that feeling,” Fender muses, shaking his head. He takes a swig from his own protein shake, wincing at the taste a little. “Cherish it, buddy. You got potential. Maybe next time you’ll be kicking my butt.”
Soonyoung gives him a teasing grin. “I look forward.”
Fender lets out a delighted little guffaw, before something behind Soonyoung catches his eye. “Hey Steph,” he says all of a sudden, raising his glass to someone.
Soonyoung turns around and sees Stephanie, one of the player relations personnel from the ATP in charge of the players ranked 51 to 100. Behind her are a couple of people Soonyoung’s never seen before, but judging from their ages and the awed expressions on their faces, he assumes they’re new interns or something. One of them is carrying a small birthday cake and Soonyoung suddenly realizes what day it was. He can’t believe he’s forgotten,
“Sorry about the loss today, Soons,” Steph gives him a sympathetic smile and pats him on the shoulder. For some reason people from the ATP thought he was a fan of the nickname, but he’s not really in a position to dissuade them of the notion. He’ll get used to it, probably. “But from all of us at the ATP, happy birthday!”
A couple of the players in the lounge clap and Soonyoung pinks, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly and giggling a little in embarrassment. He’s touched, he really is. He didn’t think they’d give it to him here, in front of everyone. He didn’t expect players like McAilish, Lidl and Henckle—players he didn’t even think knew his name—coming up to him and shaking his hand and congratulating him for turning 22. He thrills at the attention, at the recognition, and he thinks maybe he’s finally on his way.
He’s giving away tiny squares of the cake when Fender lets out a grunt. “Hey, isn’t that your compatriot on TV? Jeon?”
Soonyoung looks over his shoulder; there’s several screens dedicated to the different courts all over Roland Garros, and the biggest one is in the center of the lounge. A small crowd of players and staff has gathered in front of it, and even from where he’s sitting Soonyoung can hear the murmuring, even though most of it isn’t discernible.
“Remarkable” is a word he hears, though. And remarkable, it is, because Wonwoo’s deep into a fifth set against Jaan Nevel, the current world number six, and at 6-5, he’s up love-thirty on Nevel’s serve.
He stares at the screen and watches wordlessly as Wonwoo sets his feet and prepares to receive Nevel’s next serve. The cake is on the table behind him, forgotten, and a hush comes over the whole room. He and Wonwoo are ranked just below the top fifty, and they’re both still pretty raw, so this kind of match—where the top seeds are threatened—while not unheard of, goes against the general rule. A few of the veterans watch, waiting to see if the newbie can manage to keep his nerve against one of the best in the world, or if the big Swede would gather his bearings and recover.
After a few big serves, it looks like he would. From love-thirty it gets to thirty-all, and Soonyoung can tell Wonwoo’s annoyed with himself behind the poker face he maintains during matches because he’s gripping his racket tighter now. He looks exhausted. The screen cuts to crowd reaction shots, including similar poker faces from Tanaka Shio, a retired Japanese doubles player and Wonwoo’s coach. Soonyoung feels like he can’t even breathe.
An excellent return gives Wonwoo his first match point. Soonyoung huffs out a breath, surprised. Returns weren’t always Wonwoo’s strong points—that was more Soonyoung. Wonwoo had always been a more straightforward player than Soonyoung, who had the tendency to mix in a lot of dinky dropshots and weird slices. It’s why historically he always did really well against Wonwoo, who needed to be able to dictate the pace and momentum of the match.
He always tried to watch Wonwoo’s matches, but there was something different about him this time. Something in the quickness of his step, the set of his jaw. Soonyoung couldn’t put his finger on it.
He waits with baited breath, still as Nevel nets his first serve down match point.
This was it. These were the moments that history would judge them for. Now or never.
The point begins with a loose second serve. Wonwoo gets it back strong but Nevel manages to recover in time and redirects it down the line. It’s a good backhand and Nevel’s best stroke, but the bounce on the clay makes the ball sit up nicely right into Wonwoo’s wingspan for what is already becoming known on the tour as a forehand to be reckoned with.
Soonyoung watches Wonwoo watch the ball, furrow his brow and shift grips; he twists his torso, reaches back and swings with everything he has.
The sound of the ball as it hits the face of Wonwoo’s racket is clean. Chalk flies up where the ball lands on Nevel’s side of the court, right on the line.
Nevel tries; the backhand he hits in response is awkward and lands on the other side three inches wide. He tries to challenge, but it’s in vain. No one watching needed Hawkeye to confirm what everyone already knew. Not the crowd, not the umpire, not the players in the lounge, not Soonyoung.
And certainly not Wonwoo. He’s halfway to the net when the chair umpire makes it official.
Game, set and match. Wonwoo Jeon is into the round of 16 of the French Open.
A huge smile breaks out on Wonwoo’s face after he shakes the chair umpire’s hand and he turns, almost incredulously, at his box. He looks beatific, touched by pure joy. Winning is good, but winning such an important match with something on the line? That kind of winning is the purest form of ecstasy, and something Soonyoung’s only seen from others. As Wonwoo leaves the court, looking almost disoriented by the cheers he’s receiving from the crowd and the mixture of adrenaline and fatigue weighing down his bones, Soonyoung feels something shift inside him, something big and terrible and ugly. Because rather than feeling overjoyed at his friend making it to the second week of a slam for the first time, rather than feeling endeared at the naked brilliant joy on his face, the culmination of all his years of hard work, agony and self-doubt, for the first time, Soonyoung feels the vines of envy curl around his heart, feels the tendrils of them wind and firmly take hold.
He swallows. The frosting tastes like sand in his mouth.
Soonyoung reaches over, pulls the sunglasses away from Wonwoo’s face so that he’s staring him straight in the face. He smiles, a challenge in his eye.
Wonwoo smirks, before plucking his glasses out of Soonyoung’s grip. “So you do still know me.” He puts them on, before standing up. “That’s good to know.”
Soonyoung watches him dust off his pants and tuck his phone in his pocket, before he pulls out his keys and tosses them at Soonyoung. He catches them, barely.
“I’m heading to work now. I’ll be back by seven with dinner.” He regards Soonyoung for a few seconds, pregnant with meaning, before he turns away again. “Have a good day, Kwon.”
Lost in thought, Soonyoung stays on the bench for another hour before heading back.
Soonyoung looks up from his phone, smiles tentatively. “Hi.” He moves to make room for Wonwoo to take the chair across from him instead of next to him. The adorable little pizza place in Montreal they were both in was almost full, but that didn’t detract from its charm at all. As it was a mandatory tournament, plenty of players playing the Rogers Cup that week were also eating there with their teams, so the two of them sharing a table wasn’t something to write home about.
Which just made the whole situation funnier, really.
Wonwoo shoots him a questioning look, which Soonyoung answers with a slight head tilt. “Two o’clock, mine.”
“Ah.” Wonwoo gets it right away. He sneaks a glance to his right and there they are—two sports reporters from Seoul, one from the Seoul Times and the other from Dispatch. Soonyoung didn’t even realize Dispatch reported on sports until Wonwoo reached the round of 16 at consecutive grand slams, but they, and several other periodicals, were present at every major ATP and ITF tournament now, watching his and Wonwoo’s every move and building up the story of their friendship and rivalry.
Though Soonyoung thinks maybe he should be doing better for it to truly be a rivalry.
“Well, this’ll be good, I suppose. The last few Naver headlines had my mother nearly in tears, she thought we were feuding for real. I had to tell her not to listen to Dispatch. Dispatch.” Wonwoo tells him affably. He reaches over, plucks the leftover bread out of Soonyoung’s bread basket. “What’d you have for lunch here?”
“The spaghetti.” Soonyoung doesn’t know if Wonwoo is that dense or he really hasn’t noticed the slowly growing distance between the two of them. Sure, they still managed to sneak off for a round or two every so often after they both get dumped out of tournaments, which thankfully no one from home had gotten wind of, but they were usually quick little trysts, with none of the pillow talks and soft little cheerleading speeches they used to indulge in a few months back.
A part of Soonyoung feels terrible, but a larger part remains reluctant to deal with all the feelings that have taken root inside him. He’d rather stuff them all in a box and not deal with them, maybe wait until both he and Wonwoo outgrow this thing between them and concentrate on their careers like they were meant to do. Or retire. Whichever comes first.
Except Wonwoo has a glow that rivals the sun lately, having won his first ATP title in Gstaad a few weeks ago. Soonyoung had sent him a congratulatory text then from Bastad, where he’d lost in the third round, but hadn’t answered his resulting Facetime call. He’d apologized for it the next day but offered no explanation, because he didn’t really have one.
It makes him ten times more handsome than usual, even if Soonyoung would choke on a tennis ball before he’d admit that to Wonwoo.
Soonyoung startles, realizes with mortification that he’s been staring. “Huh?”
“Is there something on my face? I just took a shower,” Wonwoo asks him. He scrunches his nose and fixes the cap on his head, before hailing the passing waiter and ordering the aglio olio.
“Nothing on your face,” Soonyoung responds hastily. “You look like a douche with your cap backwards like that.”
“My hair’s getting too long for my liking,” Wonwoo replies conversationally, like nothing’s changed between them, like they’re just two fellow tennis players having lunch with nothing between them, not thirty or so ranking places, not a secret homosexual love affair. Nothing.
Soonyoung sips on his orange juice more aggressively than usual. “So get a haircut.”
Wonwoo bows politely when he gets handed his plate, beaming quietly at how good the food looks. Soonyoung tamps down the surge of affection that courses through him.
“I would,” Wonwoo says, through a mouth of pasta. Soonyoung looks back at him balefully. “But I barely have any time.”
“The life of an up-and-coming tennis player,” Soonyoung says wryly. He perches his chin on the ball of his palm, elbow leaning fully on the table.
Wonwoo swallows, waves a hand. “I’ve just been lucky, Kwon.”
“You’ve just gotten better, Won,” Soonyoung replies. He tries to keep every ounce of bitterness out of his voice, but Wonwoo still looks at him, curious.
Wonwoo is looking at him, the expression on his face unreadable. His voice, when he finally speaks, is careful, like he’s afraid that if he says something wrong Soonyoung will spook like a rabbit, right out of the seat. (If Soonyoung’s being honest with himself, he’s not entirely wrong.)
“I believe in you.”
When Jian had seen that Wonwoo had won his maiden title, he told Soonyoung to use it as motivation. For all intents and purposes, he and Wonwoo were on a similar development curve, even if he had been on tour for longer. He shouldn’t be discouraged, but he also shouldn’t wait for titles to just fall into his lap. They’d talked for hours then, discussing little tweaks he could make in his game, little changes in his routine that would end up benefitting him in the long run, until Soonyoung realized that his eyes were starting to droop of their own accord. They’d continued talking the following day, until Soonyoung had felt confident enough in his game and his plans moving forward.
All that confidence crumbles to ash with Wonwoo’s simple declaration.
“If only it were that simple,” Soonyoung says under his breath after awhile.
“It was enough for me,” Wonwoo quietly replies.
Their heads are bent together, and Soonyoung feels antsier than ever. The vines knot and twist in his chest. He thinks he’ll suffocate if he stays there a second longer.
“I suppose that’s the difference between you and I, then.”
Wonwoo puts down his fork, worry causing his brows to furrow. “Soon—”
Soonyoung stands up abruptly, tosses a few bills on the table. “I have to go and practice. Think that’ll cover it. Good luck with the tournament, Wonwoo. I’ll see you around.” He leaves the place, only belatedly remembering that he’d just made a minor scene in front of a reporter from Dispatch. He curses himself, before sighing and shaking his head.
Wonwoo’s mom is never going to leave him alone now.
Soonyoung’s ears prick when he hears Wonwoo’s voice followed by the closing of the front door. He calls out a sleepy little ‘hi’, having just woken up from an early evening nap on Wonwoo’s bed.
“I brought home some chicken. Are you hungry?”
He steps out of Wonwoo’s room and watches him move around the kitchen. He rests his head against the doorframe, endeared. “Not really. I made myself some soup earlier. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No problem. Make yourself at home.” Wonwoo looks over his shoulder, spots him. He raises an eyebrow curiously. “You’re in a shirt of mine again.”
“They’re very comfortable to nap in.” And they smell like you. He doesn’t mention that. He approaches Wonwoo coyly, almost dragging his bare feet behind him. He fidgets with the edges of the shirt he’s wearing, which come up to his upper thighs. “I could take it off if you like?”
Soonyoung doesn’t even wait for Wonwoo’s dumb little nod before he smoothly slips the shirt off the top of his head. He’s naked underneath, and he stretches sinuously to toss the shirt onto the back of a kitchen counter stool. His body is toned and golden from weeks of a British summer, and his cock’s half-hard already, buoyed by the way Wonwoo’s pupils are nearly black with want. For him.
It’s only ever been him.
“I’ve made some decisions.”
Wonwoo hums, quiet. “Have you?”
“I have. I don’t want to talk about tennis anymore,” he murmurs into the heavy stilted air, before he trails fingers up Wonwoo’s arms to wrap firmly around his neck. The feeling of cotton and denim against his bare skin is both fascinating and aggravating. He slowly backs Wonwoo against the nearest wall, halfway between the kitchen and his living room. He’s plunged half in darkness, with not all the lights turned on just yet. Wonwoo’s eyes are hooded and dark behind the frame of his glasses, but he waits patiently for Soonyoung to finish talking, hands lying flat against his sides. “Not while I’m here.”
“Okay. What do you want, then, Soonyoung?” Wonwoo’s looking at him, eyes flickering between his eyes and his mouth.
Soonyoung gives him a soft smile. “I just want to be with you,” he says. He reaches down and encircles one of Wonwoo’s wrists in each hand, settles them around his neck to link them together. Slowly, he lowers himself onto his knees, eyes locking with Wonwoo’s, never breaking.
Wonwoo’s breath hitches when Soonyoung’s nose nuzzles against the skin underneath his belly button; it ends in a rough exhale when the clasp of his jeans is unfastened. Soonyoung makes a little noise of appreciation when Wonwoo’s fingers end up threading through his hair, massaging the back of his head gently, encouragingly, and he makes quick work of the rest of it before taking Wonwoo’s cock in on one smooth motion.
Kwon Soonyoung has never reached higher than Number Five on the ATP World Tour, but if there’s one thing he knows that he’s world class at, it’s giving head.
“Ah,” Wonwoo hisses, knees nearly giving out and making him lean fully back to keep upright. Soonyoung keeps his eyes on his, alternating between his mouth and his hand and determined to wring the most depraved sounds out of Wonwoo’s throat, deep little moans that send shivers down Soonyoung’s spine. He bobs his head up and down his cock, almost achingly slow, knowing that it drives Wonwoo crazy.
Wonwoo’s trying to maintain eye contact but it’s getting harder for him; he keeps throwing his head back when it gets all too much. His fingers are scrabbling, making fists in Soonyoung’s hair, and Soonyoung knows it’s taking everything in Wonwoo’s power not to lose control over himself, not to abandon his senses and just buck his hips relentlessly into Soonyoung’s delicious little mouth. He quite likes that—making Wonwoo walk the razor’s edge. He likes seeing Wonwoo just as lost in him as he very often finds himself lost in Wonwoo.
“Oh fuck, Soonyoung… You look so…”
Debauched. Wrecked. Sexy. Soonyoung feels as much, can see the sheer lust in Wonwoo’s eyes as he takes him all the way in, until his nose is buried in the soft curls of his crotch. He hums around Wonwoo’s cock, breathes through his nose until he pulls off a little, and then does it again, over and over until he can feel Wonwoo’s desperation. A tiny part of Soonyoung revels in it, in the power he can hold over the other when he’s in this position. It never gets old.
A few minutes later, Soonyoung does something complex to the slit of Wonwoo’s cock that he knows Wonwoo likes; two or three strokes later, Soonyoung is swallowing around him and watching Wonwoo slide down onto the floor in a near boneless heap.
He almost giggles at the goofy smile on Wonwoo’s face, and surges forward to kiss him instead. Arms wrap around him, fingers pressing and touching him everywhere, and he opens his mouth to the insistent sweep of Wonwoo’s tongue against his, tipping his head back so that Wonwoo could taste himself like he wanted to. He groans and secures two arms around Wonwoo’s neck as he lets Wonwoo’s hands cup his bottom firmly, needy little whimper swallowed whole when they wander down his front as well.
“Touch me,” he murmurs unintelligibly into Wonwoo’s mouth. “Please, touch me. Here. Now.”
He knows Wonwoo understands when he pulls Soonyoung closer to do just that.
Soonyoung gets a taste of the epic five-setter at the US Open that year. Unfortunately, he doesn’t come out of it as well as Wonwoo did during the French.
He’s darting from one end of his hotel room to the other, throwing things into his suitcase and trying to keep his mind from replaying the game at 5-5 last night because if he stops for even a single second he’s going to remember the excruciatingly easy miss that he made with his forehand at 15-30. It’s a mistake that a junior would make, not a twenty-two year old six years into his professional life.
Zenakis capitalized immediately and broke his serve, and before Soonyoung knew it, the three and a half hours he’d spent on court trying desperately to get one up over his opponent vanished in the blink of an eye. He’d lost. Just like that.
He couldn’t lift his head, too terrified that the cameras would catch the glint of wetness in his eyes. He only managed to get through the presser, the Korean press questions hammering a little too close to home. Jian, normally a fount of information of what Soonyoung absolutely did not get correctly during a match, only patted him on the shoulder and told him to get a good night’s sleep after his recovery procedures.
It sucked. It really sucked. He was playing a good match, and the closer he kept to his opponent, the brighter the light at the end of the tunnel was. He was close. He was so close. Until he wasn’t.
He sinks into the chair by the window, feeling listless and numb. He had a flight to catch in about four hours, but he just doesn’t feel like moving. He’d said he’d meet Jian and Seungcheol in the lobby in half an hour, but he has rackets and wristbands and clothes all over the place waiting to be packed.
“Come in,” when he hears someone knock at the door. He assumes it’s housekeeping coming up a little too early, but when he hears an awkward cough, he looks up and sees someone crowding his door. Someone he’d forgotten shared a hotel with him. Someone he doesn’t exactly want to see.
“What are you doing here? Don’t you have somewhere else to be?” If his tone is a little abrupt, he’s only a little sorry.
“I’m sorry, Soonyoung,” Wonwoo says quietly. He’s clutching a newspaper in his hands and looking sad for him, and Soonyoung just wants to wipe that sorry little pout off his face, god, it’s just making him so irrationally angry. He knows in his head that Wonwoo is there to see how he is but he just wants to be a shitty little gremlin away from view of someone actually doing well with his life and career.
“What are you sorry for? Making it to the round of 16? Congrats, by the way.” He doesn’t sound congratulatory at all; he sounds like an entitled brat acting out, but there’s just too much inside him to maintain a modicum of sensibility, and seeing Wonwoo darken his doorway looking sorry for him… “I guess you figured it out.”
“Soonyoung, it was just one point—”
“It’s always just one point,” Soonyoung growls all of a sudden; he gets to his feet and pulls his racket bag off the table. He stalks over to his suitcase and throws the last of the pile on his bed into it, not even bothering to fold any of it before zipping up his case. “You don’t win based on one point—it’s the whole lot of them put together.”
“It takes time, Soonyoung—”
“Oh don’t give me that crap, Wonwoo. I’ve been around two years longer than you have and—and—it’s not about that.”
Wonwoo comes in, shuts the door behind him. “Did you even see yourself? That was a great match, people like Kara Oliver from the Times are even calling it the best of the tournament—”
“And what will that do for me?” Soonyoung finally explodes. He faces Wonwoo now, eyes bright and flashing. “It won’t get me a trophy. It won’t get me back in the tournament. It certainly won’t help me win any more points. Almost doesn’t cut it Wonwoo. It never has, and it never will.”
Wonwoo opens his mouth, shuts it again. What can he say to that?
“I don’t want to be an almost, Wonwoo. Maybe I’m just…” Oh god, he doesn’t want to say it—the thing that’s been plaguing him the past few months. But it’s there, on the tip of his tongue, and his voice trembles as he says it out loud. “Maybe I’m just not good enough.”
“That’s not true, Soonyoung, and you know it,” Wonwoo says firmly. He guides Soonyoung onto the bed and sits down next to him. “You just need to take it point by point. Remember Teacher Park? That’s what he always taught us.”
“I think we’re a little beyond Teacher Park by now, Won,” Soonyoung murmurs after awhile. He’s tired, so tired, and he hates the feeling of resentment that threatens to suffocate him every time he thinks about how well Wonwoo’s doing. It’s not that it’s Wonwoo—maybe it’s partly because it’s Wonwoo—but Soonyoung just wants too much, too soon. He’s never been the patient type, and professional tennis was a long game that was getting a little bit too long for his liking.
Soonyoung inhales sharply when he gets pulled into a hug. The angle is a little awkward, with his racket bag in between them and a handle digging into the side of his thigh, but he returns it anyway. He doesn’t want to admit to himself that he’s missed Wonwoo during the past few months, but to admit is to acknowledge, and Soonyoung damn well isn’t going to do that, not when he hasn’t even gotten close to any of his professional career goals.
“When you’re ready, I’ll be right here,” Wonwoo tells him softly, and Soonyoung knows that Wonwoo knows. He knows and he gets it and he doesn’t hold it against him.
He scrunches his eyes shut, tucks his head into Wonwoo’s shoulder and inhales the smell of Wonwoo’s shampoo, because he misses it, because he can.
“Even if it takes a long time?”
Soonyoung gets squeezed tighter and tighter and tighter, until it cracks a smile out of him.
“Even if it takes forever.”
“Hmm?” They’re sitting outside on a ratty sofa on Wonwoo’s balcony; Wonwoo is reading a book while drinking tea, and Soonyoung’s scrolling through his phone, scouring news articles while trying not to look at tournament scores.
“Would you let me come to work with you?”
Wonwoo is in the middle of turning the page of his book; he pauses, surprised. “Are you sure? I either do a lot of nothing or too much there.”
Soonyoung thinks about it, and then nods. “I’m sure. I’d like to see you work.”
He feels Wonwoo’s gaze look at him from the side, perplexed but pleased. He feels Wonwoo pat his ankles, feels him squeeze his calves. “Okay. We can leave at eleven. Will you be ready by then?”
Soonyoung steals a glance at his phone, tossed to the side, and deliberately turns away.
“I will be.”
The off-season is good for Soonyoung.
He and Jian make a lot of changes to his fitness routine and focus on him recovering from long points quicker. Soonyoung’s style lent itself to extended rallies and exhausting gameplay, so he, Jian and Seungcheol focused more on making sure he didn’t carry more body mass and muscle than necessary so that he would be quicker, more agile. The result was come the start of the year, Soonyoung feels readier and happier than he has in a long time.
A maiden title also helps.
He’s in his room, staring almost in disbelief at the shiny piece of silverware perched on top of the table next to his racket bag. Holy shit. He can’t even believe it. He’s won a title. He’s won a title.
The tournament in Brisbane has a beautifully designed trophy, all things considered, a thin curvy piece of silver metal that almost looks like a rolled up piece of paper. It looks simple, yet elegant—it shines both bright and dark where the light hits it.
When Seungcheol had excitedly showed him the newspaper articles detailing his victory, Soonyoung couldn’t take his eyes off the way he looked in the pictures taken of him. He looked so young, so relieved, so happy. He was staring at the trophy, almost surprised. He’s never seen anything more beautiful in his life, he remembers thinking, before he raised it over his head and beamed at all the flashing lights and cameras.
That’s what all this is for.
He almost startles when his phone rings. It’s after midnight, so he has no idea who could be calling him. He’d already talked to his parents and some other players he’d gotten close to over the past few months.
“Please tell me you’re still in Brisbane.”
He blinks. “Wonwoo?”
“I’m at the Brisbane airport about to take an Uber. Are you at your usual place? The Prince Hotel?"
Soonyoung almost falls off the bed. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were starting your season at Sydney?"
"I am. Are you at the Prince Hotel?"
"Wonwoo that's—Wonwoo? Are you listening to me?"
"Maybe I should call Seungcheol-hyung—"
"Don’t you call him!” Soonyong closes his eyes, counts to three. “Yes, Wonwoo, I'm here, now will you please tell me what you're doing here."
"Well, I was going to meet my team on Tuesday in Sydney but when I was booking my flight I saw you were a set up on Beauchamps and I just had to fly here instead. Incidentally, a flight was readily available."
Soonyoung is bewildered, to say the least. "You flew to Australia a few days early because I was a set up in the Brisbane final?"
He's not going to be touched. "You're an idiot. What if I lost, then?"
"Then I'd have to stick around the airport for a few hours while waiting for my connecting flight to Sydney." Soonyoung can almost see him shrug. "I'm going to look for an Uber now."
"You are so impulsive, Wonwoo. Where's all your gear? Your clothes? What did you tell Tanaka-san?"
"My gear and luggage are all stuffed in an airport locker, I've never done any other impulsive thing in my life, and all Tanaka-san knows is that I'm meeting him where I'm meeting him when I'm meeting him. He doesn't need to know anything more than that and I think he prefers it that way."
Maybe Soonyoung isn't really ready to see Wonwoo yet and that explains the little frissons of panic swirling around his stomach. It's not that they haven't seen each other since the US Open last year—they have. Soonyoung even beat him in the quarterfinals at Beijing. But they haven't really talked since, much less spent any personal time together, awkward nods and waves whenever they bumped into each other aside.
Every time Soonyoung sees Wonwoo anywhere other than across from him on the tennis court—practicing his serve, at the gym, during ATP promotional shoots—it stokes the low fire kindling in his gut that just misses being with him, that just misses his closeness, his stupid laugh, the way he kissed the spot behind Soonyoung's ear to calm him down. Whenever he gets into these strangely vulnerable moods, Soonyoung stops to steel his resolve and to tell himself firmly to redirect that energy towards his tennis.
And now that he has and he's begun to reap the rewards on fully focusing on just getting better without all the other things—without Wonwoo—he thinks that the right decision must be to turn Wonwoo away firmly and tell him that the thing between them is over, definitely and absolutely, and that they are now just compatriots, colleagues and friends, right? Right?
"Soonyoung? If you don't want to see me, I can just—I know this is really sudden and I'm sorry for springing this on you when I said I could wait. I just, I wanted to congratulate you in person. If that's not okay, I can always just go somewhere else."
Damn him. Damn him, honestly, to the moon and back.
"I'm in Room 1010."
He hears Wonwoo’s low chuckle rumble in his ear, fond. “Of course you are.”
Wonwoo fumbles a little when he opens the door. When he starts talking, he sounds a little sheepish.
"It's nothing much, just a little space. Most of the money I had left from tennis has gone into the equipment, but I managed to have enough saved to buy the whole thing."
The studio shares a low single floor building with a Tous Les Jours and a general merchandising store, among other littler establishments. There's barely any foot traffic in the area, so it's clear that most people are there on an appointment basis. Wonwoo told him on the drive there that the inquiries he gets through his website are sometimes more than he can handle, but his clients are usually very accommodating, taking the empty slots instead of forfeiting the chance to be photographed by Wonwoo.
"Most of them are fans, but I'd like to think I have some people returning because they liked what I did."
The space isn't actually all that little. There's a small reception area with two benches on either side of a desk that looks like it's made of brick and cement. It matches the gray of the walls, which is adorned with various prints. Some of them are studio portraits, intimate black-and-whites that are both quiet and dramatic, but some of them are action shots, and almost all of them are of tennis players, and children at that.
"These are gorgeous, Wonwoo," Soonyoung says under his breath, genuinely impressed. "Are these the kids at the STA?"
Wonwoo comes up behind him, places an arm on Soonyoung's shoulder. "Mmm," he confirms. "I try to go there at least once a year for a tournament, and to see Jeonghan-hyung. He's teaching there now, did you know?"
Soonyoung mutters in the affirmative. Of course he did. Soonyoung used to be obsessed with Jeonghan, one of the boys who trained a level above them and who took both him and Wonwoo under his wing. In retrospect, him being attracted to guys should have been obvious.
The works are quiet and thoughtful when they need to be, intense and gripping when they have to be. A kind of awe fills Soonyoung, awe that Wonwoo’s gotten so much better at this than he expected, that he found something to express himself with outside of a racket and a ball, something so foreign and so out of Soonyoung’s milieu.
"You capture them really well," is all Soonyoung can say. He turns his head a little, and casts his eyes over Wonwoo's profile. He's looking at his work thoughtfully, looking incredibly at peace. It's not a look he's ever seen on Wonwoo, not in all the years he's known him.
When Wonwoo doesn't answer, Soonyoung purses his lips, before going on tiptoe to press a quick kiss to Wonwoo's cheek.
"Show me more."
When a knock sounds about ten minutes later, Soonyoung feels strange, almost nervous.
He berates himself before standing up to go to the door. There's nothing to be nervous about. This is Wonwoo. He just wants to talk. In the ten minutes since he put the phone down on Wonwoo, Soonyoung thinks about the chance of this night ending with them fucking but he shuts that down almost immediately. He's made his decision about ending this stage of their relationship and he's going to tell Wonwoo that. If Wonwoo accepts that, he could stay and chat for a few minutes and then he could go beg the hotel for a place to stay for the night. Besides, he has a flight tomorrow afternoon.
And then Soonyoung opens his door.
Unfortunately, Soonyoung doesn't count on seeing a rain-soaked Wonwoo on the other side of it. It's more unfortunate for Wonwoo than it is for Soonyoung, really, what with Wonwoo being drenched in water and Soonyoung dry and warm, except for the fact that Soonyoung considers Wonwoo with slicked-back hair one of his secret turn-ons. To this day, Wonwoo doesn't understand why Soonyoung likes to shower with him other than for alleged water conservation, but whatever, only God could judge him.
So when Wonwoo, clad only in a light black jacket streaked with water, looks up at the sound of the door opening, his eyes crinkling with delight at seeing Soonyoung on the other side and his hand smoothing back the wet strands of his too long hair, Soonyoung has very little choice than to grab him by the shirtfront and pull him in.
"What are you doing, dripping all over the hotel floor?"
"Hello to you too, Soonyoung. I like the new look," Wonwoo replies, faintly amused at the distress in Soonyoung's tone and the new color of his hair, dyed platinum silver in the off-season. "My flight was fine, nothing like a little Brissie shower to welcome you back to the tennis huh?" He hesitates, just a little, before lifting his hand and brushing the pad of his thumb against the underside of Soonyoung's jaw, just under his chin. "Congratulations. You did so good today."
Soonyoung can't help it; his eyes lower at the simple little touch, the whispered praise. "I was lucky, most of the higher seeds crashed early. Still rusty, maybe." He lifts his eyes, looking at Wonwoo's face thoughtfully. His hands are still twisted around the wet material of Wonwoo's jacket.
"Rust, luck, it doesn't matter. In the end, you won it fair and square," Wonwoo says matter-of-factly. Soonyoung wants to say something but the breath in his chest stutters when he sees the way Wonwoo looks at him, when he sees the way his eyes darken and intensify when they focus on him.
It's strange to think that Wonwoo's the younger of them both whenever he speaks like this, with a maturity that belies his age. He's always seen more in the game, in life, in Soonyoung than the other has, and while it takes Soonyoung a few steps longer to come around, he doesn't rush him, always patiently waiting for Soonyoung to decide what's best for him and just being there, after.
Soonyoung realizes, then, that when he chooses to make his life just about the tennis and removing this part of it, he'll be depriving himself of not just the physical intimacy of being with Wonwoo, but this almost bone-deep connection that he has with him, which isn't just his but also Wonwoo's. He knows that Wonwoo doesn't make many friends and that when they were growing up he mostly tagged around behind Soonyoung; this didn't change when they became professionals on tour. He had a handful of friends, especially among the other Asian tennis players like Adachi Yuto and Wen Junhui, but no one with whom he shared the same kind of wavelength as with Soonyoung.
Privately, during one of those long summer nights spent wrapped around each other, Wonwoo had told Soonyoung that he doesn't necessarily think of himself as bisexual, the way that Soonyoung tends to think of himself, simply because the only person he'd confessed to ever being attracted to was Soonyoung, and that only started when Wonwoo realized how much Soonyoung meant to him. That realization had Soonyoung goggling and then, flustered, going down on Wonwoo to distract him from churning out any more life-defining statements.
They never spoke about it again, and it's not something that Soonyoung takes into account when he’s focused on not letting his inner demons get to him, but thinking about it now and the way Wonwoo told him he'd wait for him to be okay, no matter how long it took... it shames him, humbles him, steadies him.
Soonyoung's hands slowly let go of Wonwoo's jacket, and they end up cupping his face instead. There's an ache in Soonyoung's chest, a yearning that's persistent, quieted only when Wonwoo has his arms wrapped around him just so. His fingers rub at Wonwoo's cheekbones, trail across his cupid's bow; he lets out a quiet little sigh when Wonwoo kisses at them, soft and gentle.
"I'm a bad person to care about, Wonwoo," Soonyoung starts out, trying not to let his voice waver.
Wonwoo makes a tiny noise of dissent; Soonyoung tries not to react to him starting to nip at his fingertips.
"My career is important to me, and today just made me realize how many more milestones I want to reach, how many more goals I want to achieve, and competing with you is hard, because while I'm honestly happy for you, sometimes I feel bad because I want your results and—"
His breath hitches and tears start running down his cheeks. He's never admitted this out loud and never expected ever having to—and having Wonwoo hear it, it's the last thing he wants. But it's weighed heavy on his heart for a long time now, so he unloads it, unburdens himself on the one person in the world he knows is willing to share the weight with him. "And I'm afraid, because even if I know that we say that what we have is just fun and games, it doesn't feel like that, no matter what I tell myself, and I know you feel the same."
Soonyoung starts to really cry now; Wonwoo's just rubbing comforting circles up and down his back, his hands warm and steady and God, Soonyoung's missed him. He's missed him so much. He curls his fingers around his collar, fingers pressing against the warmth of his collarbone.
"And it's not fair to you, for me to feel like this while you've never been anything but supportive, for me to want to be with you but also to feel ugly jealous things when you're able to do what I can't. And after today I thought I could make the decision to end whatever's between us and keep it professional and make my life just about the tennis." He makes a small keening noise when Wonwoo starts pressing kisses all over his cheeks, his jaw, on his mouth. "But I can't because I miss you, and it's easy when I don't have to see you for two months or so but it gets harder to not miss you every time I see you in the locker room and on the practice courts and I just—"
"Soonyoung!" Wonwoo says all of a sudden. He chuckles a little, holds either side of Soonyoung's face with his hands. "Listen to me—listen. Hey." Wonwoo uses his thumbs to brush away the tear paths on Soonyoung's cheeks. "Didn't you ever think that maybe I felt the same too?"
"Huh?" Soonyoung responds, confused. "When?"
"In the early years," Wonwoo says; he shrugs. "I never told you but, I wasn't sure if I really wanted to turn pro because I wasn't winning the matches I was supposed to be winning and it—it was tough. I turned pro and it was more of the same, and the grind was so exhausting, I just wanted to quit. I hated it. I dreaded waking up in the morning. Every time I had to cough up the cash to go from place to place just to end up not even playing, just to end up losing, sacrificing all that for nothing... I felt that I'd made a mistake. I felt that tennis was not for me. But you, you had taken to the tour so well."
Soonyoung's jaw drops. "You were jealous of my results then? But they were barely anything."
"We both know that the first few years on tour are the hardest. Seeing you around during Futures and Challengers when we both expected to go straight into ATP tournaments seeded... kids dreams. But you made it seem so easy. I didn't want to see you at all. It just reminded me of my failures and how I wasn't good enough." He gives Soonyoung a tiny smile. "But you kept insisting that I had what it took, that you believed in me."
"So," Soonyoung says, sniffling. "Are you saying this is my fault?"
"No, idiot," Wonwoo smirks, rolling his eyes. Soonyoung glares at him for the sudden name-calling. "I'm saying that because of what we both do, that feelings like that are normal."
"But they aren't healthy for a—" Soonyoung stops; he'd almost said 'relationship'. God, that would have been the worst thing to ever happen since he hit Novak Djokovic in the posterior with an errant forehand when he was a junior.
Wonwoo chuckles, and shakes his head. "Kwon, we both like to win and we play sports professionally. We're bound to compare our results." He hesitates a little, before plowing forward. "I'd like to propose something, and you can tell me if it's something you'd be willing to do."
Soonyoung bites his lip, but nods a little, allowing Wonwoo to proceed.
"We compete on court, keep our thing off court, like we've always done. Any time we feel bad about each other, about anything, we sit and talk about it instead of letting it fester and get between us. If we want to stop, we decide together. Does that sound good?"
It sounds fair, and simple; Soonyoung knows it's the furthest thing.
But just maybe...
Wonwoo's watching him, waiting. Like he always is, like he always does.
What the hell. Maybe it'll work. Besides, if Wonwoo doesn't get his hands on him right now, Soonyoung might very well explode.
So he says yes against the press of Wonwoo's lips on his as he walks him backward onto his bed, hands hurriedly divesting each other of clothing. He mouths it over and over into Wonwoo's skin as they reacquaint themselves with the lines and curves of each other's bodies, marveling over how different they both feel after half a year apart. Palms wander and roam, making the other gasp and reel from tentative touches that grow bolder with every stroke, that press deeper with every moan.
Wonwoo in particular cannot get enough of Soonyoung's new build, fingers rubbing and stroking sun-kissed shoulders and thighs and calves, lips following in their wake. Slowly, the fire inside Soonyoung builds, every nip and touch stoking the want inside him until he's left panting, desperate for release. He lets out needy little cries, throwing his head back as he watches Wonwoo lave tongue and teeth over his favorite spots on Soonyoung's body, hips thrusting shallowly into the weight of Wonwoo's body hanging over him.
"Wonwoo, please, god..." It's been so long. I need you. "Stop being such a tease."
He gets a rumbly chuckle from Wonwoo in return, and a deep open-mouthed kiss that leaves him breathless. Wonwoo reaches down and strokes his cock firmly, nudging his legs apart so that he can make space for himself. The want in Soonyoung's gut curls around inside him, the anticipation making him cry out in achey whimpers.
Wonwoo silences him with another deep kiss, tongue sweeping away all of his impatience. "Fuck, Soonyoung, you're so hot, nearly died wanting you when I first saw you on TV after the off season. Got off thinking about you like this. Just like this."
Soonyoung shudders from the sensation of Wonwoo's low gravelly tone whispered straight into his ear, chokes on the images that Wonwoo's putting into his head. "Wonwoo, I just need—"
You. I just need you.
He hears Wonwoo rip the condom wrapper with his fingers, the lube packet following suit. Wonwoo still has a hand around him when other fingers press inside him, split him open. When he lowers his head to take him in, Soonyoung forgets himself, forgets everything else but the wet, warm sensation of Wonwoo's mouth surrounding him, coupled with the steady thrusts of his fingers inside him, two first, then three. He cries out, cries until he thinks his voice gives out, eyes shut and his fingers curling around the posts of the headboard.
When Wonwoo reaches up and pries Soonyoung's hands off the headboard so that they could hook securely around his neck, he whispers more things into Soonyoung's ear, things filthy and intimate and for their ears only, things like how beautiful Soonyoung is, how much Wonwoo wants him, how right here is the only place he wants to be. And while most of the time Soonyoung chalks the bed talk up to Wonwoo just feeding Soonyoung's very blatant praise kink, with the gamut of emotions he'd experienced that day, in that moment, Soonyoung genuinely believes him. So when Wonwoo hooks Soonyoung's leg around his waist, condom rolled onto his cock, pushing into Soonyoung until they were pressed together so closely that no one would be able to tell where one ended and one began, Soonyoung nudges his face into the juncture of Wonwoo's neck and speaks into his skin.
I'll do my best, because I don't want to lose you. Please don't lose me too.
Later, when they're underneath the covers, Soonyoung lays his head on Wonwoo's, arms sneaking around his waist to clasp the other to him. Skin to skin, Soonyoung hums happily, presses a pleased little smooch onto Wonwoo's shoulder.
"Do you realize we've been having sex every time we both lost the tournament, and this is the first time we've had sex when someone’s won?" Wonwoo mutters out loud, his eyes already fluttering closed.
There's an odd little twist in Soonyoung's heart because they hadn't celebrated Wonwoo's first title in any way. "Victory sex is better," he says, instead. He squeezes Wonwoo tighter in his arms, keeping his voice light-hearted. "Care for a little bet?"
"If one of us wins a tournament, then he gets to ask for whatever he wants."
He feels rather than hears the soft little laugh Wonwoo makes. "Talk about incentive. You're on, Kwon."
Soonyoung presses another kiss, this time to Wonwoo's nape. He's unusually affectionate tonight, something he chalks up to the offloading of guilt he'd done earlier. "What time's your flight later?"
"'Bout three. Don't worry, 'll be out of your hair by morning, just need to..." Wonwoo trails off with a huge yawn. It fills Soonyoung with so much endearment he can barely breathe. "Night."
"Good night, Wonwoo." He wants to say more, but he knows Wonwoo's already half asleep and wouldn't hear anything.
And what would he say, even? Thank you? Forgive me? I'm sorry? Too much between them and too little things said, Soonyoung thinks, his heart quieter but not at peace. Not yet.
He lifts his head up and catches the glint of the Brisbane trophy, silver bright even in the darkness of the room, uncomplicated and simple, much simpler than the boy in his bed, and the dreams in his heart.
It's not until much later that Soonyoung falls asleep, the pale of dawn already beginning to creep up over the horizon.
When Soonyoung wakes up later, the trophy remains, reliable and unquestionable.
The boy is long gone.
Wonwoo has one appointment today, a little girl accompanied by her mother. Neither the child nor the mother is into tennis, and they only went to Wonwoo for a portrait because of an acquaintance of the mother’s referral.
On busy days, Wonwoo explains, he hires an assistant, a photography major from the local university named Chan, but when he only has one or two appointments on a given day, he handles everything himself.
“It’s the pitfalls of owning a business,” he’d joked earlier to Soonyoung, but even when Soonyoung tries to move, tries to help in any way, Wonwoo asks him nicely but firmly to just sit in the corner. He says it’s because he’s a guest and not an employee but Soonyoung knows he’s just worried about him possibly breaking something expensive like a lightstand. Which, you know Wonwoo, those things are flimsy and do not have stable leg anchors anyway, so there.
So he sits, equal parts sulky and fascinated, and watches Wonwoo work.
It’s so different from watching him move on a tennis court. On court, Wonwoo moved like a whisper, but hit shots like a wrecking ball. When he had time to settle into a rhythm, it was almost impossible to stand in his way. His forehand was potent, and was his best weapon, followed by his serve, which made playing him a constant struggle because once he’d get his toss right he barely had to hit any second serves, and most of his first serves would be unreturnable. He liked playing short points, but when he needed to, he could hang in there with the rest of the grinders, eking out point after point after seemingly endless rallies. He was beautiful to watch, no matter the opponent, even just walking out into the court, clad in his standard Lacoste whites—his former sponsor before he retired—and carrying a royal purple painted racket, specially designed for him by Wilson. When he was in the zone, no one else could touch him.
As a photographer, Wonwoo isn’t as sure-footed as he was on the court. He putters around, making small adjustments, talking in loud voices and keeping the girl marginally entertained while he checks on the brightness of the lights and the kind of flash he wants them to emit. He almost trips on his own equipment (Soonyoung sniffs at him—serves him right, honestly) and Soonyoung’s pretty sure he almost dropped his camera at least three times.
But—and here’s the thing—he looks happy. Happier than in any trophy picture he’s seen with Wonwoo, and he’s seen plenty. There’s a kind of lightness to Wonwoo’s shoulders when he chats with the little girl, his little quips and jokes making her double over, convulsing with laughter before she throws her head back, tugging on one of her ponytails and flash! He captures the moment where her eyes are crinkled in elation, mouth open wide and teeth showing prettily. Even from where he is, even if he didn’t know the quality of work Wonwoo’s capable of from the photos outside, Soonyoung can tell it’s going to be a beautiful portrait.
“You’re very good at what you do.”
Wonwoo looks up. Soonyoung’s watching him pack up his set-up after mother and child left. They’d left about fifteen minutes earlier, with Wonwoo promising to send them digital copies of the photos he’d taken today. Although Wonwoo offered both digital and film photography services, most of his best shots came from actual film work, and he took a lot of both today.
“You think so, huh? You haven’t even seen what the photos will look like from today.”
He stands up, the backdrops already rolled up and the lightbox umbrella lamps set to one side away from clumsy feet (read: Wonwoo’s and Soonyoung’s), and saunters over to where Soonyoung’s still sitting. He bends over, smiles, and presses three soft kisses on Soonyoung’s lips.
When Wonwoo pulls away, there’s a look on his face that makes Soonyoung think that the joy he gets out of what he does here is more than he’s ever gotten playing tennis.
It makes him wonder.
“Is the coast clear?”
Wonwoo nips at a spot on Soonyoung’s shoulder to tease him; Soonyoung pinches his side as a warning.
“I asked you a question, dummy,” Soonyoung grouses, but he reaches up to clutch Wonwoo’s collar to pull him down and kiss him anyway.
Honestly, what they’re doing is pretty reckless, especially for Soonyoung’s standards, but he can’t help it. Watching Wonwoo absolutely trounce someone with a higher seeding than him in the first round of the Australian Open gets Soonyoung hot and bothered, so as soon as Wonwoo is showered and fully recovered, he’s snagging him for “a catch-up dinner” that really just has them sneaking into Wonwoo’s hotel room for a heavy makeout session, maybe some handjobs if they’re quick about it.
Later, when Soonyoung’s tucked against Wonwoo’s side, nose poking into his neck, Wonwoo presses a kiss to his temple. “I like that me playing well has you turned on instead of unhappy now.” He leans back and gives Soonyoung a greasy smirk, complete with wiggling eyebrows.
“Oh god, that’s awful. Never again,” Soonyoung snorts, pushes at him, but he smiles at Wonwoo’s touches, relaxed. Since they were on opposite ends of the draw, Soonyoung would be having his second round tomorrow. Ever since his win in Brisbane, he’s been feeling much more confident about his chances. More than that, he and his team had already gone over his gameplan for his opponent tomorrow and he feels comfortable about his chances of getting through. The win in Brisbane pushed him into the top 25, which meant that he was seeded for a lot of the tournaments moving forward, including the Australian Open.
By this time, Wonwoo was in the top 15, and a good run in the Australian would push him into the top 10. They’d send each other ranking updates over Kakaotalk, teasing each other, but what Soonyoung likes about it is that the overwhelming pressure he’d been feeling, pitting himself against Wonwoo, is nearly gone by now. He chalks it up mostly to the heart-to-heart talk he’d shared with Wonwoo in Brisbane, but also in a newfound faith in his own abilities.
It’s been two weeks but it’s been good. Soonyoung hopes it lasts.
“I’m only returning the favor because you said just seeing me in this hair turned you on so much you flew to Australia three days early just to fuck me.”
“I’d fly anywhere early just to fuck you, Kwon,” Wonwoo says, poker-faced.
If Wonwoo has a new bruise on his forearm because Soonyoung ends up elbowing him off the sofa, well, he’s not going to confess to anything.
“You have to kiss and make it better, Kwon,” Wonwoo whines petulantly. “It hurts.” He’s climbed all over Soonyoung, his too long limbs tangling with his, pushing his arm into Soonyoung’s face for remedy.
“Oh you big baby,” Soonyoung grumbles. He takes Wonwoo’s forearm and presses three firm kisses on the noticeably reddish mark. “There. Three kisses for ‘Get’ ‘Well’ ‘Soon’.” He says the words in English, and it makes Wonwoo chuckle.
“Three kisses, three words. That’s a sweet idea.” He gives Soonyoung three short kisses, and then smiles. “Next time I win, I’ll kiss the trophy three times for you.”
“Oh yeah?” Soonyoung is tickled pink, but he refuses to give Wonwoo the satisfaction of it. “And what’ll it mean?”
Wonwoo pretends to think. “Maybe, ‘suck my dick’?”
Soonyoung rolls his eyes and pretends to push him off again.
“I’m kidding, Soonyoung, god!” Wonwoo blurts out, clutching at Soonyoung’s arms for safety.
“You’re impossible,” Soonyoung tells him, scowling before sticking his tongue out playfully just to show that he’s not upset or anything. “I have to go. I think Jian wants to go over some things before going to bed.”
He stands up, extracting himself from Wonwoo’s appendages and dragging his shirt on. He takes a peek in the mirror, checks to see if he looks decent enough to walk the streets of Melbourne without scandal before opening the door.
“I’ll Kakao when I get back. See you when I see you. Bye!”
Soonyoung pokes his head through the little space in the door, halfway out already. “Yeah?”
“About those three words… you know what they are right?”
“Not suck my dick?”
“No.” Wonwoo shakes his head, almost impishly. It’s adorable. Soonyoung hates it.
“Well, not just that.”
Soonyoung snorts. “Good night, Wonwoo.”
The fond smile that he sees Wonwoo throwing his way just before he closes the door makes his heart warm and his eyes roll.
He’s a little bit of a fool, that one. Good thing he’s cute.
“Now, we really get to work.”
It takes everyone by surprise; everyone, especially Soonyoung.
Seungcheol is digging into a tight muscle in his shoulder, and normally he’d wince, maybe let out a little hyung! at the pressure, but he’s too busy watching the analysis that McEnroe and Carillo have been engaging in about his match.
“Hyung, did you hear that?”
“What they said about me just there! In the analysis of the quarterfinal?”
“Didn’t need to,” Seungcheol grunts, patting the spot on Soonyoung’s back that he’d been throwing all of his weight behind. “I know you’re going to tell me.”
“I’m going to ignore that because I’m in a good mood,” Soonyoung retorts, but he knows Seungcheol knows he’s kidding because Seungcheol lets out his trademark skittish laugh, one that always calms him down when he thinks everything’s falling to pieces. Soonyoung’s grateful to him, because he mellows down the mood between him and Jian when things get a little too intense and the both of them forget to do the basics like eat or sleep. “They think the way I’m playing now has them seeing physics in a new light.”
“That’s new,” Seungcheol murmurs, before pulling Soonyoung up to a sitting position and giving his shoulders one last hard rub. Soonyoung zones out, focused only on the television set in his room and ignoring the pressure until finally, finally, Seungcheol decides he’s done all he can for Soonyoung to be ready for the match tomorrow.
“Thanks, hyung,” Soonyoung says, rolling his shoulders forward and backward until they’re nice and loose. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the lobby for breakfast. Eight, right?”
“Right. Oh hey look, they’re replaying your post-match interview with Courier.” Seungcheol leans against the wall of Soonyoung’s hotel room, laughing as he watches Soonyoung giddily bound up to one of the legends of tennis, racket bag bouncing behind him. “You are so embarrassing, acting like that in front of Jim freaking Courier.”
Soonyoung pinks, only really seeing how silly he’d looked earlier that evening. “Shut up, it’s not every day you make it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.”
“You’re right,” Seungcheol says after awhile. “That was one hell of a match.” He nods once at Soonyoung, before slipping out of his hotel room and leaving him to watch himself. “Good night.”
Soonyoung watches himself on TV, not quite believing that what he’s seeing actually happened.
He didn’t know what had possessed him, but he’d seen the ball like a watermelon today, which has never happened to him before. He’d heard that expression from some of the match write-ups he’d taken to reading every time he was looking up an unfamiliar opponent, but he’d never actually experienced it until today. It’s a weird kind of phenomenon, but it made everything that much easier. He read serves more accurately, made his returns quicker, even managed to win a point on an overhead, which he knows Jian will rejoice over. Every swing of his arm hit the ball hard, every split decision he had to make ended up being the right one, every shot landed in.
It was his day. Leone, his opponent, didn’t stand a chance.
When Soonyoung won on the first match point, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2, the audience roared in appreciation for the near masterclass he’d pulled off and he dropped his racket on the floor, disbelieving. Straight sets. Against a Top 10 opponent. In Rod Laver Arena. He did that. He did that.
He picked up his racket, painted orange and black for his famous tiger nickname, and jogged over to the net to shake Leone’s hand, before going over to the umpire’s chair to do the same thing. He went back to his player’s bench, sinking onto it in sheer disbelief.
He looked up. One of the linesmen was smiling at him kindly. He pointed to the corner near the exit, where a camera crew and former world no. 1 Jim Courier were waiting for him. “Think they’re waiting for you,” he says, Australian accent thick and heavy.
Holy shit. Shit.
“Thank you!” he’d said, before standing up abruptly and pulling all of his belongings onto his back, letting them hang off him like ornaments. He turned around and tried his best to make it to where Courier was waiting for him without tripping like a clumsy oaf. It was hard.
“Well, Soonyoung, congratulations on getting through against Rio Leone. I know he’s an incredibly tough player,” Jim started, before staring him in the eye and tilting the microphone in his direction.
Soonyoung beamed. This was his moment and he wasn’t going to let it slip by.
“Oh, very tough, very very… hard, you know?” Soonyoung flashed his trademark grin and he was delighted to see it suss a little giggle out of Courier. “But I am very happy. Semi-finals of Australian Open is a dream come true.”
He meant it, too. There was a little part of him that was worried that it was all a dream.
“You had your first title a few weeks back, in Brisbane, and now you’re in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, the first South Korean to make it to a semifinal at a Grand Slam. How does it feel?”
He answered a few more questions, gave giddy little reactions when Courier complimented him and his energy, and generally just enjoyed his time in one of the biggest courts in their sport. In the middle of telling a joke and having the crowd laugh with him, he made the ambitious promise to come back here anyway he can.
“So, I notice you have a special guest in your box.”
Soonyoung hunched his shoulders, but looked up anyway. In his box, clad in a bright red tracksuit and a cheeky smile next to Seungcheol, Wonwoo gave him a wave and a thumbs up.
“Ah, Wonwoo’s my friend. He’s supporting me as friend.” He hoped that didn’t sound so defensive. When he’d invited Wonwoo to sit in his box after he lost in the Round of 16, he didn’t expect him to actually take it. When he looked up during a changeover and saw him talking intently to Seungcheol, he almost choked on his water.
Just before match point earlier, he’d looked up and seen Wonwoo put up a fist and mouth ‘fighting’ at him. His chest clutched. It was the first time someone other than a member of his team or his family was in his box, rooting for him. It was a strange feeling, but not in a bad way. Definitely not a bad way.
“You’re very friendly rivals, I see,” Courier said wryly, and Soonyoung chuckled, sheepish.
“Just right now,” he said with a cheeky grin, and Courier, laughing, finally let him go after asking the crowd to give him one final round of applause.
Soonyoung startles when he hears a knock on his door. Turning around and surveying his room in case Seungcheol left something behind, he stands to open the door, only to yelp in surprise.
“Wonwoo? What are you doing here?”
Panicked, he pulls Wonwoo in before checking quickly, left and right, if anyone is out and about the hotel hallway.
“Hey friend,” Wonwoo says, teasing. Soonyoung opens his mouth to give him a piece of his mind about seeing him when he’s still in the competition, but before he can say anything, Wonwoo’s cradled his face in his hands and pressing a soft kiss to his lips. “Congratulations,” he whispers, before kissing him again.
“You think you can just barge in here and have your way with me?” Soonyoung grouses, but the little crease between his eyebrows smooths when Wonwoo starts to rain feather-soft kisses all over his cheeks. “Wonwoo, stop, we can’t—”
“I’m not here for that, silly. I just…” Wonwoo trails off, and Soonyoung watches him blush, just a little. He stares, riveted. He’s never seen Wonwoo so flustered in his life. “I just wanted to tell you, you were amazing today. Just incredible. I’m so happy for you.”
Fuck off, Soonyoung’s not going to cry. “Oh.”
Wonwoo shrugs, before running his hands down Soonyoung’s neck, shoulders, arms. “I know we both agreed no touchy while we’re still in the tournament but I just wondered if… you’d let me sleep here.”
Soonyoung looks at him. “Sleep here?”
“Yeah,” Wonwoo says, and he smiles softly. “Just sleep. I just want to be here. With you.”
Something in Soonyoung’s chest twists, and it leaves him feeling strangely breathless. Still, he gulps, narrows his eyes at the other. “No funny business?”
Wonwoo grins, holds his hands up. “None, whatsoever,” he promises.
Soonyoung blinks several times, before sighing and tossing his head in the direction of the bed. “Fine, fine, fine. I’ll just take a shower and then we have to go to bed now. I swear, Wonwoo, there better not be any—”
“Funny business. I know.” Wonwoo leans over to kiss Soonyoung’s forehead, before pushing him in the direction of the ensuite bathroom. “Now go.”
When Soonyoung steps out of the bathroom, the lights in his room are already dim and the TV is turned off. Wonwoo’s under the covers already, scrolling through his phone; when he sees Soonyoung, he puts his phone aside. Soonyoung rolls his eyes, but dives underneath the blankets anyway.
Wonwoo grimaces when Soonyoung wraps arms around him and presses his cold toes to Wonwoo’s shins. “Seriously, Kwon?”
“You wanted to snuggle,” Soonyoung reminds him, before pressing his face to Wonwoo’s collarbone. Mmm, warm. “Thanks for watching me play.”
“I always watch you play,” Wonwoo reminds him softly. “You mean in person?”
“You know what I mean, dummy,” Soonyoung says. He scrunches his eyes tight, determined not to let anyone see the hearts in his eyes. “I appreciated it. Really.”
“Thank you for inviting me. It was very big of you,” Wonwoo tells Soonyoung. He perches his chin over the crown of Soonyoung’s head. “I hope you win.”
Soonyoung smiles; with their legs tangled just so, his face pressed into Wonwoo’s neck and his deep forest scent surrounding him, Soonyoung feels safer than he’s ever felt in his life. Maybe it’s selfish of him to want to hold Wonwoo, to be held by Wonwoo like this, but no one was around to shame him for wanting what he couldn’t have for real.
There was no one around but him and Wonwoo, Wonwoo and him.
He falls asleep like that, the sound of Wonwoo’s breathing in his ear and their fingers tangled together.
It’s almost perfect.
“Have you ever had a blowjob in a dark room?”
Wonwoo turns to give Soonyoung a look as the other blinks back at him, innocently.
“We are not having sex in my studio dark room.”
“Who said sex? I just said blowjob.”
Wonwoo shakes his head and turns back to his task at hand. “You said you’d behave while I was working.” He prepares the various chemicals and liquids involved in the development process, making sure that the pans are in the proper sequence and order.
Soonyoung strokes his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t remember making any such promise.”
“Well, you better start remembering because I’m going to turn off the light in three… two… one…”
And just before Soonyoung can come up with another quick retort, Wonwoo reaches out and flips the light switch down, submerging them in total darkness.
When Soonyoung wakes up to an empty bed, he thinks nothing much of it. He knows Wonwoo had his flight already booked to go back home, so he’s only slightly disappointed he doesn’t wake up to one last cuddle before he goes.
He jumps into the bathroom for a quick shower, before pulling on an ensemble from his new sponsor, Nike. On his way down, he answers a few more congratulatory texts from random members of his family and some friends, and even sends a shamelessly sentimental sad face to Wonwoo when he gets sent a selfie of him in a car on the way to the airport.
As a result, he’s smiling warmly when he gets to the lobby, looking around before he spots Jian at a table in the corner. He’s still grinning when he walks up to the table, but his smile dies slowly when Jian looks up at him, concern etched on every line of his face.
Jian gestures for him to sit, and Soonyoung does, cautiously. Jian does not look happy. Nerves begin to bloom in his chest. He wonders what the matter is.
“Soonyoung,” he starts, and Soonyoung is already dreading what’s going to come out of his mouth. Jian has been his coach for awhile now, and he can’t ask for a better one. He’s single-minded and focused and obsessed with winning like he is, and no one analyzes and comes up with game plans like him. Unlike Seungcheol, who lets him get away with doing fun things every once in awhile, Jian doesn’t like it when Soonyoung’s distracted, and Soonyoung would resent him if he didn’t see how much Jian cared behind his whole façade, how he stayed up nights to plan so he wouldn’t have to, how his eyes watered when he saw Soonyoung lifting the trophy the first time, knowing how it was all worth it in the end. “I thought we had deal.”
“A deal?” Soonyoung doesn’t know where he’s going with this. He doesn’t want to know. His gut feels like it’s being crumpled up and twisted into knots, and a cold shiver goes down his spine, despite it being January in Melbourne. “What are you talking about?”
“When you ask me to coach Soonyoung, I said yes, with two conditions,” Jian says.
Soonyoung remembers. He was so young and so eager, and he’d asked so many people about who could help him improve his game so he could reach the top. One of the older Korean tennis players named Jinyoung mentioned that he knew someone who used to be coached by a really good teacher from Taiwan, but that player had since retired. He detoured a little on his way home from one of the tournaments he’d just played and convinced Jian that he was worth abandoning his solid comfortable life at home to go on tour with through most of the year by hitting a ball against Jian’s wall for a solid hour, with no let up and no misses.
Jian raises one finger. “One, you give me my own room always.”
And he did. Even if it was a pitiful tiny room no bigger than a few square feet that Soonyoung’s meager prize money could afford, he honored that condition no matter what.
“And two,” Jian says, looking Soonyoung in the eye before raising the second finger. “Is that you will not lie to me.”
Soonyoung’s jaw drops. “I’ve never lied to you, Jian, what are you talking about?”
Jian lowers his voice, leans closer. “If I ask, right now, who the Jeon boy is to you, what answer will you give me?”
Oh fuck. Oh shit. Soonyoung feels all the blood rush out of his face, leaving him pale, his veins feeling like ice.
“Wonwoo is my friend.”
It’s the wrong answer. Jian shakes his head, and it’s clear he’s disappointed. “Friends do not sneak out of hotel room in the morning.”
Fuck Jeon Wonwoo, he’s going to kill him. “He just came by to say congratulations to me and slept on the couch.” He sounds defensive. Of course he does. He has something to be defensive about. Again, fuck Jeon Wonwoo so hard. “I’m not like that, Jian.”
Immediately, Jian slaps him on the arm. “Ow,” Soonyoung says, wincing and clutching his bicep. Good thing it wasn’t his racket arm. “What?”
“Don’t make it be about me. I don’t care who you are with,” Jian tells him sharply, like he’s furious that Soonyoung would even think that he’s even the slightest bit discriminatory. Much later on, Soonyoung would remember being touched by it. “I don’t care. Understand?”
“Understand,” Soonyoung repeats after him, slowly.
Jian shakes his head abruptly, as if annoyed that Soonyoung couldn’t understand his point right away. “Always, since beginning, always I tell you, Soonyoung, don’t keep things from me and don’t get distracted. This, with Wonwoo. It’s distraction.”
“I see it for long time now, the both of you. The way you two look at each other.” Soonyoung falls silent, afraid to hear what will come out of Jian’s mouth next. “This morning, just my confirmation. Don’t lie, Soonyoung. You said you wouldn’t.”
“I-I’m… I’m sorry, Jian,” Soonyoung whispers. He feels like curling into a ball, the tiniest ball, to hide everything of himself that the world could see. He lowers his head, can’t bear to lift it to meet Jian’s eyes. “I won’t lie to you anymore.”
“Soonyoung, I said, I don’t care who you are with, but you know that to win, you cannot get distracted. You must keep clear mind so you can see ball, hit ball, execute plan. No distractions.”
“I know. No distraction.”
“Soonyoung,” Jian says again, and he says it much kinder this time. “The Jeon boy. He is distraction. Not just to your tennis, but to world. People will look at you and will never stop asking you, two boys, two boys, how? Why?”
It’s no one’s business, Soonyoung thinks, frantic, but the words said out loud hit him harder because they’re things Soonyoung has thought about over and over since the beginning. There are so many things Soonyoung wants to do, wants to accomplish. More than being a winner, Soonyoung wants to be remembered—he wants his parents to feel proud when people stop them in the street to ask if they’re the Kwons, he wants little girls and boys growing up wanting to play tennis because they saw him play, he wants for people to feel pride whenever he walks onto the court, to feel happy because he’s representing them and making them proud.
It’s why he and Wonwoo agreed to never let anyone find out. Between the two of them, it’s a wonderful secret, a quiet little thing. Out in the open? It’ll be what will drive them apart. Soonyoung knows it—it’s why the last thing he wants is for anyone to find out. Now that someone has, it’s proving him right.
He should have been stronger and ended things.
“I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m not. But we both put in a lot of work, and it could all go—whoosh—out the window. You know this.”
“You do what you think is right, Soonyoung. Just remember—what you do on and off court, that’s what you will be remembered for. I hope you’re ready.”
He jolts when he feels more than sees Wonwoo take a seat next to him, having unrolled his film rolls and placed it in the proper liquids and whatnot. He’d been jiggling, shaking and twisting the containers every few seconds for the past half hour, so intent and focused on his task at hand Soonyoung could have fallen asleep and Wonwoo wouldn’t have known.
He doesn’t quite understand it. He lets Wonwoo talk about the process without really listening, only giving half-hearted ‘mmm’s when Wonwoo finishes a sentence or two. He does that sometimes. He’d only roused himself from semi-slumber when he sees Wonwoo’s shadowy figure moving towards an area in the back where he hangs the film strips to dry.
Soonyoung relaxes a little when Wonwoo takes his hand, when he intertwines his fingers with his and squeezes tight.
“We can go now.”
Soonyoung sighs. “Let’s stay here awhile. It’s a good thinking space you have here, in the dark.”
“What are you thinking about?”
Soonyoung leans his head against Wonwoo’s shoulder, closes his eyes. It was so long ago, but remembering how guilty Jian had made him feel that day makes him feel like he’s twenty-two and reckless all over again.
“Nothing. Everything. Nothing.”
Wonwoo laughs softly. It sounds like bells clinking against each other. “That’s no answer.”
“There doesn’t always have to be an answer.”
“You’re right,” Wonwoo says after awhile. “Do you want me to talk instead?”
“What do you want me to talk about?”
Soonyoung clutches his hand even tighter. “Whatever you want.”
He loses his semifinal.
He loses because just before he steps out of the tunnel, he catches a glimpse of the monitor that’s displaying the raucous crowd at the Rod Laver Arena and he sees Wonwoo. Wonwoo’s there when he’s supposed to be back home in South Korea, but Soonyoung knows those wire-rimmed glasses and the curling ends of black hair peeking out underneath a backwards pink baseball cap anywhere. He’s sitting next to Seungcheol again, who is conversing with him pleasantly enough. Jian, however, does not look pleased.
Soonyoung seizes up.
Nevel takes advantage and forces him into error after error, forcing him into positions he doesn’t usually find himself in, making mistakes that he doesn’t usually make, causing Soonyoung to go for more and making him throw up fault after fault, free points that a seasoned pro like Nevel would never let go.
He’s three for three on break points, and those are all he needs. He clinches a straight set win in less than 80 minutes, and Soonyoung only glances at Courier as he walks past him and the camera crew on their way to interviewing Nevel about making it to his first Australian Open final.
It stings. Not even the respectful, nearly unanimous applause he gets from the crowd can assuage it.
He’s deep into the winding maze of the Rod Laver Arena hallways when he hears Wonwoo say his name. He looks up. Wonwoo’s there; it seems he’d gotten there ahead of Soonyoung’s team. He’s not surprised. Wonwoo’s always three steps ahead of everyone else.
Wonwoo’s hands are up, palms open, arms outreached. Soonyoung wants nothing more than to sink into them, to drop the gear bag and towels on his shoulders onto the floor and just let himself be guided away from the arena, away from the tennis, away from everyone and everything.
What he does instead is to shake his head once and walk away. There are too many cameras around to even think about doing what he wants.
"Tell me about how this place makes you feel."
Wonwoo pauses to reflect before answering.
"Grounded," Wonwoo says.
Soonyoung waits, because he's clearly not finished yet.
"Happy?" Soonyoung supplies.
Wonwoo waits awhile before he answers. "Not really. More like... Relieved."
"That's an odd choice."
"It's true though."
Soonyoung finds that he doesn't want to know any more than that. "I see. How long does drying your negatives usually take?"
Wonwoo doesn't even blink at his change of topic. "About a day, since we just did a whole roll of black-and-whites. Why? Are you bored already?"
"No," Soonyoung lies, pouting. He'd kick his legs a little if he weren't in such a dark place and worried that he might knock over a pan of acid or something. "Why didn't you just buy a digital camera so that they'd get to see what it'd look like right away?"
"I do have a digital camera, dummy," Wonwoo says; he sniggers when Soonyoung tries to bite him on the shoulder. "I started out with a digital camera, then someone at a convention sold me a Leica for a really good price, and then I just got obsessed with it."
"Aren't you worried that you missed something or didn't get something you wanted to get?"
Wonwoo shrugs. "There's an underrated kind of joy in not knowing whether you obtained the shot that you wanted, and I find that very often you end up with something much better as a result. It's truer, in a sense. It feels more deserved."
If he’s talking about something other than photography, Wonwoo doesn’t say. Soonyoung simply wonders as he excuses himself to get up and check on his drying film strips.
"I cannot believe you talked me into doubles."
Wonwoo beams, before shaking his shoulders and bumping his angular shoulders into Soonyoung's side. "Oh come on, it'll be fun. Besides, if Jian of all people thinks it's a good idea, then it probably is!" He bends over and ties his shoelaces, not even hiding how proud he is of the shiny new sneakers Lacoste had given him as his new sponsor.
Soonyoung still doesn't have any idea why Jian’s response to finding out about him and Wonwoo was to push them into an event together. Maybe it was his way of making people get used to the two of them together? Who knows. He hasn’t played doubles in years—Wonwoo used to joke that he didn’t do doubles because he didn’t play well with others and Soonyoung had tackled him to the ground then because it wasn’t entirely untrue. Soonyoung liked being in control of what he could do on his side of the court, and so to have to depend on someone else to pick up the slack… it’s just not him.
Wonwoo was a decent doubles player, but he only really dabbled in it if someone like Yuto asked him to play. Otherwise, he kept to just entering the singles division in order to preserve his energy in case he made it far.
A lot of players, especially those trying to eke out a living on the tour, often entered both singles and doubles in order to play more and have a bigger chance of going home with some prize money in their pocket. The downside of it, though, is the fatigue and exhaustion that comes along with getting far in both tournaments. As much as Soonyoung appreciates the extra prize money, he’s not going to compromise a possible tournament win for a few extra coin.
So, really, he’s only truly doing this for Jian, because he’d suggested it, because they’re still not completely okay, and because he didn’t want to spend too many weeks without any match play, what with the Indian Wells-Miami swing coming up, his favorite of the calendar.
Still, it had taken Wonwoo being incredibly persuasive during the brief vacation they’d booked in between Australia and some late February tournaments they’d entered together. At a private resort on an island in Thailand with extremely tight non-disclosure agreements and where they’d booked two cabins anyway just to be safe, Wonwoo spent nearly five days apologizing to Soonyoung for not seeing Jian when he snuck out of his room that one day and, later, convincing him to sign up for doubles at Indian Wells.
It’s not just that he wasn’t into doubles—he could do doubles. But doubles at Indian Wells was an event, where people who didn’t usually do doubles did doubles, and the partnerships were often legendary and fun, like when Djokovic and Murray did it that one time, before Murray got knighted and Djokovic became one of the greatest of all time. That time, they were just two kids running around a court, making as many errors as they did winners, having a really good time.
“Who’ve we got in the first round?”
Wonwoo takes out his phone, scrolls down until he sees the right message, shows it to Soonyoung. “Pellers and Lindengard. Easy as pie.”
Soonyoung rolls his eyes. “We’ll be out in half an hour.”
“Hey,” Wonwoo protests, pouting. Soonyoung despises that he wants to kiss it off him. “You have so little faith in me.”
“It’s not us, it’s them,” Soonyoung points out. “They’ve been partners for a few months now!”
“We’ve been partners for much longer than that, Kwon,” Wonwoo says with a straight face, earning him another elbow to the gut. “Ow! What? It’s true!”
“You can’t just keep saying things like that, Wonwoo,” Soonyoung hisses. They’re at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, waiting for their turn to hit the practice courts. All around them, other tennis players are mingling and relaxing, hitting a soccer ball around and enjoying the California sunshine. Ask any player and they’ll tell you how much they look forward to playing at the BNP Paribas Open because of the weather, because of the crowds and because of how all the players can just let loose and have fun, right before an extremely competitive stretch from March to July. “What if someone overhears you?”
Wonwoo shrugs, puts his hat on backwards. Soonyoung hates it. He thinks it makes him look like a right douche. “As far as I know, we’re probably the only two people on the grounds along with Seungcheol-hyung who understand Korean.” He plays with his racket, tosses it up over his head before catching it smoothly in his hand, before turning towards Soonyoung, curious. “What are you afraid of? People are friends with their compatriots. Most of them are like brothers to each other. They’re all very close.”
He’s right. Of course he’s right. Soonyoung’s just overly paranoid after the Jian thing. He has the right to be, doesn’t he? This is his life, his career.
“I… I am afraid, Wonwoo.” He leans back and hugs his legs, wraps arms around them like an anchor.
The expression in Wonwoo’s eyes soften. “I know you are, and I understand it. I’ll do better. I swear.”
“Thank you,” Soonyoung whispers, sincerely. He bows his head a little. “I know you probably feel the same.”
“Well, technically, I do not,” Wonwoo replies. He leans back on the bench and stretches his legs, exhaling out of his mouth. “I mean, I’ll be discreet, for you. But if anyone found out that I was interested in someone of the same sex, so long as that person’s identity wasn’t revealed, I don’t think I would mind too much.”
Soonyoung’s jaw drops open almost comically. “Are you kidding? But Wonwoo! What about the media? What would everyone say?” He’s hugging his racket to himself, as if it could anchor him throughout this conversation with Wonwoo.
“What would they say?” Wonwoo tilts his head a little, squinting up at the sun. “I don’t really care for what the media will say about me, Korean or Western. I don’t care if they’ll think I’m a terrible role model or a modern hero. I just think it shouldn’t matter. There are things more important than the tennis.”
“But it does, Wonwoo,” Soonyoung murmurs, shaking his head. “They won’t remember your results, just that you sleep with other men. It’s sad but true.”
Wonwoo’s eyes narrow, and there’s something about his gaze that sends shivers down Soonyoung’s spine. “If that’s the case, then I’ll just have to make sure that my results will make them remember a hell of a lot more than that.”
Soonyoung swallows. He’s never seen that expression on Wonwoo before—cold, icy and completely unrecognizable. “Wonwoo?”
Wonwoo looks at him, and the frost melts from his face immediately. “I think our court’s free now.” He stands and pulls Soonyoung up with him. “Remember our gameplan.”
“Just stay out of my way and let me hit all the balls,” Wonwoo says, deadpan, dodging before Soonyoung can lob a tennis ball at him.
“Ow! You’re predictable, Kwon! Predictable!”
“You’re a menace to society!” Soonyoung calls out after Wonwoo, who has run ahead of him to snag their half of the practice court. He shakes his head, but he’s laughing now, the anxiety of the earlier conversation evaporating in light of Wonwoo’s antics. He follows Wonwoo onto the court, knowing that playing alongside him instead of against him will likely end up being a disaster.
Predictably, they lose in the first round of doubles, but they have a lot of fun doing it. Soonyoung doesn’t remember ever laughing this much on court for a competitive match. Even Pellers and Lindengard shake their head at them with smiles on their faces, watching as Wonwoo and Soonyoung nearly run into each other every other point. Soonyoung tries to keep them in it with his drop shots and returns, but most points Wonwoo’s giggling so much they end up giving up free points via double faults, and when Soonyoung pretends to hit a ball at Wonwoo, the crowd applauds appreciatively, to which Wonwoo reacts in a faux offended manner. By the end of the match, even the chair umpire tells them how much fun he had.
During changeovers, they see some faces in the crowd, Koreans, who came to watch just because they were both there. After the match, some kids come up to them and ask for autographs.
Soonyoung kneels down and says hello in English to a little girl who looked about five years old, with a ponytail and a white cap. She’s carrying a ball and asking him if he could sign it with a Sharpie, which he does, gladly. “You like tennis?”
Her eyes light up, and Soonyoung feels like a million bucks. “I love tennis,” she says in a breathy sigh. “You’re my favorite.”
“I’m her favorite,” he jokes at Wonwoo. Wonwoo rolls his eyes at him, and Soonyoung jovially turns back to her and engages her in more conversation, missing the way Wonwoo’s eyes soften and stare at him for seconds longer than intended.
He hitches his racket bag onto his shoulder and turns to Wonwoo so that they could walk off-court together.
Instead, he sees Wonwoo talking to a little boy very seriously, answering his question in a low voice before surprising him in the end by gifting him his purple painted racket. The little boy’s eyes bulge out, and he stares at Wonwoo like he was some kind of divine being come down from the heavens. Soonyoung watches Wonwoo give the boy one last hair ruffle, before he stands up and, meeting Soonyoung’s eyes, gives him a beautiful, face-splitting smile, before he cuts his eyes away, suddenly shy.
His heart stutters in his chest. Sometimes he forgets but there are days when he’s reminded of just how gorgeous Wonwoo is as a human being, both inside and out. Today’s one of those days.
If someone told him that his days ahead would be tougher and harder, he’d manage, as long as he had days like today scattered among them. As long as he could turn and see Wonwoo smile and laugh like today every once in awhile, he thinks he’d get through the very worst.
Maybe Wonwoo’s right. Maybe there were things more important than the tennis.
He tucks that thought away. For now.
“I’ll just be a second.”
“I could come with you?”
“No, I just need to run in and grab my prescription. It won’t take more than a few minutes.” Wonwoo gives him a tiny grin before getting out of the car.
When he sees Wonwoo enter into the pharmacy, he lets out a breath he doesn’t realize he’s been holding. He’s been antsy since they’ve left the studio, and being stuck in a car driving Wonwoo around Changwon hasn’t exactly been helping.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to do this for Wonwoo—it’s literally the least he could do, what with Wonwoo housing and feeding and… doing things with him for the past few days. But while he’s driving Wonwoo from store to store to do random errands, he realizes that he’s… kind of bored, really. It’s not Changwon’s fault—it’s a lovely city. Quiet, peaceful, serious. It doesn’t have the junky energy of Hong Kong, the romance of Paris, the refinement of Basel, or the cheeriness of Melbourne, but that doesn’t take away from its own kind of charm.
No, the problem was with Soonyoung.
Or rather, his brain. Because it was his brain that started concocting future scenarios of what it would feel like to just give up on the tennis and run away from it all, the limelight, the recognition, the fame, and just squirrel himself away in Wonwoo’s hometown to live a life helping Wonwoo take pictures. His brain thinks about the possibilities of a new kind of daily routine, not one that started with waking up in a new city every other week, hitting the practice courts and ending with recovery procedures, but one that started with strong cups of tea, quiet drives around neighborhood stores, photography appointments and, on most days, probably, really good sex.
It would be nice at first, good. Then the lack of activity, the lack of action, the lack of doing anything would eat Soonyoung up alive, and then he’d start to resent Wonwoo. It would start with him refusing to get out, then refusing to get out of bed. The sex would stop, the tea would dry up and eventually he wouldn’t be able to stand to look at Wonwoo in the face without thinking of the life he’d given up—the travel, the excitement, the dreams.
It’s a vicious cycle that they always seem to find themselves in, and Soonyoung wants nothing more than to arrest it. It’s just that, with everything he’s been thinking about, everything he’s had to deal with, the realization that maybe he and Wonwoo are starting to shift out of alignment with one another is a slow and heavy blow. It’s clear as day that Wonwoo is content to be home and content to be building this life, and Soonyoung wants that for him. He’s just not sure that it’s what he wants for himself.
It’s not a great feeling. It makes Soonyoung restless, makes him feel like running until all the ants crawling underneath his skin have been shaken off and he can just settle back in to what he’s always had—tennis, tennis, tennis. And Wonwoo, sometimes. He doesn’t need more, doesn’t want more.
These are the lies he tells himself.
He just needs to do something really physical. Like a really intense run, the kind of exercise that makes his body scream for mercy. He’ll tell Wonwoo that as soon as they get back to his apartment. Maybe it will be enough to get rid of the nagging feeling of thinking that whatever he has doesn’t seem to be enough. Maybe it will be enough to be able to leave again.
Like he’s always done.
Months pass and tournaments are played.
Neither Wonwoo nor Soonyoung really get anything major, but both continue to do well. They’re within reach of the top ten, trading off good results with each other. Soonyoung makes the finals at Rome, and they both celebrate by eating one whole pizza each in bed between rounds of lovemaking. Wonwoo wins a title in Lyon, and Soonyoung honors the bet they’d established in Brisbane by riding Wonwoo to finish, clad only in thigh highs and Wonwoo’s Lacoste shirt.
In retrospect, it may have been the bet that triggered, well, everything that came after.
The next Grand Slam after Melbourne is Roland Garros in Paris, and although clay is a surface he’d never minded before, Soonyoung’s out just before the quarterfinals, at the round of 16. He takes it in stride, though, and thinks that it’s better to continue to build like this—slow and steady and deliberate—rather than being a nine-day wonder. He’s been making incredible progress, and he and Jian have been quietly thrilled at how their off-season preparation has paid off for him during the year.
What he doesn’t expect is Wonwoo making it to the finals. The finals.
“Soonyoung, I’m freaking out.”
“Don’t freak out,” Soonyoung advises him, although his voice sounds weak to his own ears. He’s curled up in bed with Wonwoo the night before the final, his arms wrapped around Wonwoo’s shoulders, cradling his head, having snuck in after Tanaka-san and Vernon, Wonwoo’s newly hired physiotherapist, had bid him good night. Since they were both staying in the same hotel, a fact that Jian had raised his eyebrow at but gave no comment to, it was an easy maneuver. Much easier than what they did earlier in the year.
Earlier, he’d watched Wonwoo do more press than he’s used to from the safety of his hotel room. He needn’t have worried, though. Wonwoo’s become a lot more careful since Melbourne, and the analysts and commentators unanimously praised how poised he seemed in front of the rabid English tennis media, in his ridiculous pink backwards cap and the wire-rimmed glasses he liked to don whenever he could get away with it.
Soonyoung smirked then. If this was their idea of rabid, they had no idea what K-netizens were capable of. Wonwoo’s had plenty of practice.
“Wonw—Wonwoo. Look at me,” Soonyoung says firmly. He runs a hand through Wonwoo’s hair, holds Wonwoo by the chin until he tilts his face upward. There’s a helplessness in Wonwoo’s eyes that he doesn’t show to anyone other than Soonyoung, a fact that terrifies and humbles him. He pats Wonwoo’s cheeks, scrunching up his eyes until Wonwoo’s fear dissolves into annoyance.
“Stop, Soonyoung, god, get away.”
“Widdle Nonu, widdle Nonu,” he simpers instead, laughing when Wonwoo breaks out of his grip and turns until he has his back to him. Soonyoung presses closer to him, encircling Wonwoo’s waist with his arms.
“You’re terrible at pep talks,” Wonwoo mutters.
Soonyoung sniffs. “Well, it got your mind off stuff right?” He leans forward until his lips feather a kiss or two against Wonwoo’s nape; he lays his head on its side against it. “What time is your family getting in?”
“Tomorrow morning. They couldn’t get an earlier flight because Bohyuk had to get special military leave and—” Soonyoung often forgets that Wonwoo’s had to deal with his brother having to enlist as an active soldier, and he hugs him tighter. “They’re going straight from the airport. Vernon’s made arrangements for someone to pick them up so I don’t have to worry about anything else.”
“That’s really nice of him. He’s a good addition to your team.”
“He is…” Wonwoo trails off, and Soonyoung almost thinks he’s fallen asleep. He’s about to reach over and turn off the bedside lamp when he gets interrupted. “Soonyoung?”
“I’d… I’d really like it if you were there to watch. In my box, I mean.”
“No pressure, or anything. I just. You know, my mom and dad, they don’t really know my team much—only met Tanaka-san once, Vernon never, but they know you. And they like you. They’d be happy to see you.”
But people would…
“I know you’re worried but it… would mean a lot to me.”
Soonyoung is quiet for awhile, absorbing the sensation of Wonwoo untangling his clasped hands one finger at a time in order to hold his hands instead. “Can I think about it?”
“Okay,” Wonwoo says right away. He squeezes Soonyoung’s hands to comfort. “Let’s sleep now.”
“You’re going to kill it tomorrow. I know it.”
Wonwoo chuckles. He sighs, before turning around and giving Soonyoung three chaste kisses on the lips. “I’ll do my best. Besides, I have an epic thing in mind for you to do in case I do win. Slam wins have to be special, right?”
Soonyoung snorts, pushes his face away. “Pervert. Let’s get some sleep.” He turns off the light and wraps himself around Wonwoo, thinking idly about what kind of outfit one would wear to their secret significant other’s first Grand Slam final.
That night, Soonyoung dreams of playing in Rod Laver Arena. It’s the semifinal, except the stands are empty and the lights are out. He tries to return the shots, but he can’t even tell where they’re coming from, and a rising panic threatens to strangle him when the points keep piling up against him.
Game. Set. Match. You lose, Mr. Kwon.
When Soonyoung wakes up the next day, Wonwoo’s still asleep. It’s about half an hour until he has to start moving, an hour until either Tanaka-san or Vernon come up and knock and tell him to get his butt in gear. Were it any other day, Soonyoung would persuade Wonwoo to share a shower with him, where he’d spend time rubbing shampoo into Wonwoo’s lovely curly head of hair, laughing as the other complains about having to bend over for Soonyoung to be able to reach.
But it’s not any other day. It’s Grand Slam final day.
So instead, Soonyoung slips out of Wonwoo’s bed and out of his room. He sends Wonwoo a good luck text, but locks himself up in his room, ordering food in instead of being tempted to go outside, to the Stade Roland Garros, to Court Philippe Chatrier, where arguably the fourth most important person in his life (after his mother, father and sister, in that order, maybe) is contesting the biggest match of his career.
When Wonwoo comes out of the stadium door, Soonyoung’s heart sinks when the first thing he does is look towards his box. He curses Eurosport for letting him witness Wonwoo’s disappointment in HD.
I’m not strong enough, Wonwoo. I’m sorry. I’m sorry…
It’s tough, but Wonwoo puts up a fight. He moves around the court with purpose, intent on taking control early on by serving short and slicing deep. He’s rewarded with the first set. But it’s his first major final, and it shows in the nerves, in the inability to hold serve, in the way he lets Shore dictate the pace of the match. Before he knows it, it’s the third set and Shore serves it out to love, sealing a two set to one advantage.
Soonyoung wishes he could find some way to point out that Shore’s been weak on the deuce side and that Wonwoo’s low slices and short lobs were doing the damage. He wishes he could wipe the little streak of dirt along Wonwoo’s cheek, lead the crowd into a spirited cheer of his name. He wishes he could just hold his hand, make him believe there’s still a way to win.
But wish is all he can do.
When Wonwoo falls in four, and Soonyoung watches him give his runner-up speech from the stage, noticeably disappointed in more ways than one, he feels like the crummiest partner in the world.
It’s nearly seven by the time they end up in Wonwoo’s apartment, and Soonyoung feels like jumping out of his skin. All the frustration is still pumping through his veins, and he wants nothing more than to find some way to let it all out.
So when Wonwoo shuts the door behind him, Soonyoung wastes no time in dragging him back to his bedroom.
“Soonyoung, wait, the groceries—”
Fuck the groceries, Soonyoung thinks. He grabs the paper bags from Wonwoo’s arms himself and dumps them on the counter. “If any eggs break, bill me,” he says shortly, before he grabs Wonwoo’s hand and pulls him into his room.
When Wonwoo looks to hit the lights, Soonyoung makes a small noise. “No lights.”
“Are you—Soonyoung, are you okay?”
Yes. No. I don’t know. He pushes Wonwoo onto the bed instead of answering, clambering onto him and hurriedly pushing up his sweater so that he can put his mouth on him. He loves dragging tongue and teeth over Wonwoo’s skin, nipping at the pale and lean length of him until Wonwoo’s smart-aleck attitude fades away into a miasma of deep moans and broken sighs that never fails to fan the flames of want inside him. Soonyoung drags his tongue across his chest, latches onto a nipple, nips and worries at it, all while maneuvering to unclasp the catch of Wonwoo’s jeans. He pushes the garment off Wonwoo’s hips with one hand while he palms his cock with the other, needing the fire to build and build until it consumes them both.
“Jesus, Soonyoung, shit,” Wonwoo curses, the relentless train of Soonyoung’s ministrations catching him by surprise. His hands find purchase in Soonyoung’s hair, dragging his face up so Wonwoo can kiss him hard, biting at Soonyoung’s bottom lip until he lets out a whine. He plunders Soonyoung’s mouth, matching the pace at which Soonyoung’s hand moves against him, the lewd, almost obscene sounds of skin against skin, of pants and moans, filling the air.
But Soonyoung wants more. He needs more. He wants Wonwoo’s hands on him, his mouth on him, wants Wonwoo inside of him, fucking him so hard and so deep that he forgets everything except the litany of Wonwoo’s name falling from his lips.
Wonwoo takes the hint; he gathers him close and rolls until Soonyoung is underneath him, and helps him push his shirt and his pants off. He mouths at every inch of skin revealed, strokes every line of muscle, nibbles at every curve. Soonyoung’s aborted little sighs alternate with his high-pitched whimpers, and he clutches at Wonwoo’s shoulders when the other starts to lick fat little stripes up and down his cock.
“Wonwoo, I need… please…”
It’s fascinating how Wonwoo knows exactly what he wants, when he wants it. He sits up and leans against the headboard, pulling Soonyoung into his lap. “Just relax, Soonyoung, relax,” he murmurs into Soonyoung’s cheek. Soonyoung scrunches his eyes closed and braces his palms against Wonwoo’s chest, letting him be guided onto Wonwoo’s fingers, slick with lube. He lets out a tiny little cry, biting his lip when two press into him right away, his hips rotating to adjust.
“Full… Won—ah, I…”
“I have you, Soonyoung, just…” Wonwoo’s palm lies flat against his back, and his fingers start moving inside him faster, helping him to adjust until Soonyoung’s hips are grinding back down, chasing the right angle. When Wonwoo, pumping three fingers inside him, presses deeper and hits the spot that makes him see stars, Soonyoung throws his head back and lets out broken little moans, leaning back on his haunches and giving Wonwoo a view to fuel his fantasies for months.
“Don’t stop, right there, please.”
“Fuck, Kwon, look at you, just look at you.”
Soonyoung whines when Wonwoo’s fingers pull out, but gets the breath knocked out of him when Wonwoo guides his cock into his entrance, his hands braced on either side of Soonyoung’s hips to slam him back down onto him over and over.
“Ah, ah, ah, ah,” Soonyoung whimpers, mouth slack as a mix of adrenaline and sheer want fuels the way Wonwoo’s hips snap against his, the slaps of skin on skin contact growing louder as Soonyoung thrusts down to meet him, almost bouncing on him. It feels vaguely pornographic, what they’re doing, but they’re both much too consumed in each other to care, at this point.
The coiling in his gut twists tighter and tighter, almost unbearable until Wonwoo reaches up and grabs him by the nape to pull him closer, their foreheads almost crashing together. He whispers broken little pleas into Wonwoo’s mouth until Wonwoo reaches between them to touch him, to give him the final push over the edge that he needs, that he craves for.
He comes with a cry, the orgasm crashing through him suddenly and powerfully, cresting through him in waves until he collapses, spent, in Wonwoo’s arms.
Wonwoo forgives Soonyoung. He forgives Soonyoung even before Soonyoung forgives himself.
The rest of the year rolls on. They both make it to the second week at Wimbledon but Wonwoo only lasts until the round of 16 and Soonyoung, the quarterfinals. They’re both doing well enough to be in the race for the Year End Finals, which were being held in Lisbon for the next five years. It’s a big thing for Soonyoung, and he’s excited about finally making it there.
Between the hectic tour schedule and training and new additions to the team (Vernon’s friend Joshua becomes Wonwoo’s new manager when brands all of a sudden notice how good-looking and talented he is), they barely have time to see each other. Facetimes and texts dwindle, scheduled tournaments fail to converge, until one rainy day just before the Rogers Cup (in Toronto this year), Soonyoung realizes that he hasn’t spoken to Wonwoo in nearly a week.
He pulls out his phone, but before he opens his messaging app to compose a new text, an errant thought of ‘maybe it’s for the best’ pops into his head.
Without Wonwoo physically in his life and attending different tournaments, Soonyoung’s won a few more minor titles in Umag and Kitzbuhel. He’s been able to commit more time to the practice courts and even incorporated a few new strokes he’s eager to try out for the American swing. He’s spent more time with Jian and Seungcheol, and he thinks they’re closer than ever as a team. Jian’s finally started to smile at him again.
Maybe there are days when he misses Wonwoo, misses the smell of him, the way he knows exactly what to say to pull him out of a terrible mood. It doesn’t matter—it can’t matter. They both know that their respective careers come first.
Besides, he knows Wonwoo can’t always come flying in anymore to spend nights with him when they’re miles apart. It was different last year, before they were regularly in the latter stages of a tournament, before they were Wonwoo Jeon and Soonyoung Kwon, two of the most successful Korean tennis players in history, semi-finalists and finalists of Grand Slam tournaments. Now, they had to face the reality that they had to grow up and let go of some things. No matter how painful it was.
So instead of Soonyoung messaging Wonwoo, he texts his group chat with Jian and Seungcheol instead. Can we schedule hitting practice with Niklausen? My first round opponent in Toronto is Gulag and I think Niklausen and he have similar styles.
Good idea, Soonyoung, Jian answers. When Seungcheol chimes in to say that he’s finding Niklausen’s coach’s number, Soonyoung puts his phone down and lets them coordinate for themselves.
If he starts fiddling with a Lacoste cap that he finds deep in his luggage, well, he was alone in his hotel room. No one would know.
When Soonyoung comes to, it’s almost midnight, and he’s alone in bed. When he sits up, his stomach reminds him that he’s starving.
Wincing, he swings his legs off the bed and, yawning, pulls on a shirt and boxers that he picks up from the floor before padding out of the room. “Wonwoo?” he calls out sleepily. “Are you here?”
He hears a voice call out from the balcony. “Out here. Dinner’s on the counter, if you want it.”
Soonyoung does. He spots chicken and jjajangmyun and wolfs it down in record time. After gulping down nearly half a liter of water in one breath, he wipes his mouth and sits, assesses how he feels.
He feels, well, a little achey but loose and limber and no longer on edge. It wasn’t exactly the physical exertion he had been planning on engaging in as soon as they’d arrived at Wonwoo’s apartment but it had done the job. For now.
“Do you mind the company?”
Wonwoo looks up at him, and he looks so young now without his glasses, drinking a mug of what Soonyoung’s guessing is tea. He smiles tenderly and it almost brings Soonyoung to his knees. “Not at all. Make yourself at home.”
It’s not a difficult thing to do. Wonwoo’s balcony isn’t big or even that spacious, but there’s a huge sofa with knitted throws on it that are wonderful to snuggle under, and a couple of rattan chairs and tables in case other people need some air. Tiny little clay pots spilling over with various herbs and flowering plants dance along the ledge and across tiny shelves hooked against the ledge wall—a little garden that Wonwoo tends to as best he can. It’s quaint and homey and if you stand and look over the edge, you can see the horizon of skyscrapers downtown, and on clear days, the mountains that loom over all of them beyond that.
Wonwoo lifts the throw next to him so that Soonyoung can dive underneath it, placing it gently on his lap as Soonyoung leans into his side, warm and cozy. It feels nice, it feels good. Soonyoung sighs, wishing that he could keep his thoughts from earlier at bay so that he could enjoy this quiet little moment with his… his…
His Wonwoo, he concludes. That is, after all, who he is to him.
“Mmm?” He’s slept too much to be groggy, but the relative tranquility and solitude under the quiet night sky, as well as his satisfied stomach, has him speaking calmly, almost drowsily. “What is it?”
“Do you want to talk?”
Soonyoung hums. “Maybe, maybe not.”
“Anything bothering you, exactly?”
“No.” Yes. “Maybe.” Definitely.
“Oh.” Wonwoo is quiet. Gently, he sets down the mug in his hands on the table next to his side of the couch. “Is it anything that happened today?”
“Kind of,” Soonyoung admits. He wraps his arms around Wonwoo’s middle, tugging him closer. “Don’t worry about it too much. It’s nothing you did. It’s all me.”
He closes his eyes when he feels Wonwoo run a hand through his hair. “Whatever it is, Kwon, I can take it. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Soonyoung exhales. That’s exactly the opposite of what he’s doing. “Wonwoo… I don’t know what it is that we’re doing here.”
Wonwoo contemplates the statement before giving him an answer. “We’re two adults with our own lives and responsibilities, who choose to come together every once in awhile, with respect and consent.”
“Bullshit, Wonwoo.” Soonyoung clings to him tighter, though. He burrows himself even deeper into Wonwoo’s embrace, even as he pushes out painful little truths that they’ve never talked about because they were both too afraid to confront them. “We’re two ships lost at sea.”
“That’s rather poetic of you.”
“What I mean to say is… we’re in limbo, you and I.”
“There’s no… semblance of order or rules to what we are.”
“Does it matter?”
“What if one day I come over and you’re with someone?”
The look on Wonwoo’s face changes, eyes betraying the vulnerability he’s suddenly feeling. “That’ll never happen,” Wonwoo says under his breath.
Soonyoung shakes his head, before pushing up to face Wonwoo. “Why not, Wonwoo? You’re the best person I’ve ever known.” Dammit, Soonyoung hates how dramatic he gets when emotions run high. “You deserve more than, than me.” He ends with a little stammer and a tremor in his voice. He lowers his head, afraid but also knowing that what he said was true.
“What do you think I’m supposed to be getting, Soonyoung?”
“You should have someone to be here for you when you come home, someone to make you lunch and drop it off at the studio,” Soonyoung starts listing down examples that fall into his brain, little scenarios that he tried imagining occupying himself but failing miserably. “Someone who will water the plants for you when you forget to, who will walk in the park with you and will not be afraid to kiss you in front of everyone.”
“And you think that person isn’t going to be you?”
“Soonyoung, if things did not pan out the way they did, I would not have this life. I would still be doing the same thing as you. I don’t know if I will be happier or sadder than I am now, but it’s not something I want to dwell on.” Soonyoung doesn’t realize that Wonwoo’s taken his hands until he squeezes them tight in his. “Soonyoung.”
“You should know that I could ever be with someone else the way I am with you.”
“You don’t know that, Wonwoo.” In a sense, there’s a part of Soonyoung that wants Wonwoo to get over them, to move on and just live his life and not allow Soonyoung to weasel his way back in every single time he can afford a break. It’s not fair to the both of them, the state that they’re both in, having a relationship like theirs in shadow and secret, hidden from the public eye just because of who they were—are.
Wonwoo tilts Soonyoung’s chin upward, until he’s certain that Soonyoung will not look away again. “I know myself, Soonyoung. I’ve said it before. You’re the only person I’ve ever cared about, in this way, in any way, because of what we’ve been through, our years together.” He tucks an errant strand of hair back behind Soonyoung’s ear. “It will take many years of being with someone, time and body and soul, to even come close to replacing how I’ve come to feel for you. And even then, I doubt it will be enough.” He smiles at Soonyoung. “No one knows me like you do, Kwon. I don’t think anyone ever will.”
The words weigh Soonyoung’s heart down, and he swallows, the lump in his throat making it difficult. “What if one day I stop coming?” What if it gets too hard to keep saying goodbye?
Wonwoo shrugs. “I can’t say I’ve never thought of it. I knew, when I retired, that it would be a risk. But I’m a grown-up, Soonyoung. We’re both grown-ups making grown-up choices. I can deal with anything life throws at me. It’s like tennis, you know.” Wonwoo gives him a cocky smirk, and it reminds Soonyoung so much of him at his absolute peak—a tour de force that no one could stand against—that he’s momentarily staggered. “When you hit a ball at a wall, it will always come right back at you. So what you do—”
“Is just be ready for the next shot,” Soonyoung finishes the parable for him, before giving him a tiny grin. “And swing for the stars every single time.”
“The Seoul Tennis Academy philosophy,” Wonwoo muses, shaking his head. “Going back to your question, I’ll deal with it. Soonyoung, I’m not sitting here at home waiting for you every time you can make the trip back home.”
“I know you’re not,” Soonyoung says, though he bristles a little because that’s exactly what he pictures Wonwoo to be doing.
Wonwoo smirks at him, catching the guilty little glint in his eyes, before letting out a little laugh. “Soonyoung, my life is mine to spend, and mine to share with you when you’re here. Nothing makes me happier than to make space for you whenever you come, but know that if you don’t, that space remains filled with a multitude of other things that bring me joy.”
You’re not the only thing I have going on, is what Soonyoung gets from that, and he’s glad to hear it. Mostly, anyway. “What if I want to be with someone else?”
That question is what drains the mirth out of Wonwoo’s eyes, the joy from his face. He clears his throat, before nodding a little. “I’ve also thought about that. I know… the pressure you must face. From everyone. It must be…” He looks up, into Soonyoung’s eyes. “Hard. Very hard.” He clears his throat. “But I hope that the respect between us, the years, the history… will mean you will tell me before any tabloid does. That’s all I ask.”
It makes Soonyoung’s heart absolutely ache to hear Wonwoo talk like this, to hear him ask Soonyoung for the barest minimum when he’s always been ready to give Soonyoung the world, so he throws his arms around Wonwoo instead of answering, burying his face into Wonwoo’s neck and inhaling his comforting deep scent. I would never, I’m sorry, please forgive me for even thinking it.
“I just think you should have everything. You should have better than me, Jeon Wonwoo.”
“I don’t want better, Kwon. I just want you.”
The sofa squeaks, unhappy with all the weight being carried by its secondhand frame, but neither Soonyoung nor Wonwoo care much, too busy holding each other tight, breathing each other in. “I wouldn’t do that to you, I’m sorry for even asking, I’m sorry,” Soonyoung babbles in strings of sentences that don’t even make sense to him anymore; he just wants to assure Wonwoo that he wouldn’t leave him, not like that, not that way.
“I know, Soonyoung. I know.” Wonwoo tries to shush him, and their murmurs fade away into the quiet of the night. He’s wrapped arms tight around Wonwoo by now, their legs tangling together so much it’s hard to tell who is who.
“Are you feeling better?”
Soonyoung sniffles a little, not ready to be apart from Wonwoo for more than a few centimeters. “A bit,” he concedes. He feels a laugh rumble through Wonwoo, feels it deep in his chest, reverberating underneath his palm.
“That’s good. No more questions for tonight?”
Soonyoung hesitates, just a little, before thinking: What the hell. It could be my last chance. He extricates himself from Wonwoo’s arms, sits back. “Just one.”
“Let’s hear it, before we head back inside and go back to bed, then.”
He takes a deep inhale, and says it all in one breath.
“Why don’t you use your cane anymore?”
He gets the call on the Sunday afternoon before the start of the Cincinnati Masters. He’s waiting for dinner takeout at a burger joint, watching Seungcheol flirt with one of the waitresses old enough to be his mother, amused but distracted. He’s itching to go back already, anxious to discuss adjustments to his plan with Jian before calling his mother for his bi-weekly check-in with her. The cacophonous mix of children screaming and people conversing is so loud and overwhelming that Soonyoung almost misses the sound of his phone ringing.
“Soonyoung? It’s Joshua Hong. Wonwoo’s manager? I got your number from his phone.”
Immediately, Soonyoung can tell something’s off. “Um, okay. Hi.”
“There’s been an accident.”
Soonyoung used to think that the expression of everything fading into the background during a significant life event was bullshit, that it never happened in real life. He’s on court most days, and while he’s playing nothing fades into the background—everything presents itself in sharp relief, always more present, always more real than anything. He’s never experienced the kind of distortion effect that people described in books and movies, until now, when all the noise just gets dialed down and all Soonyoung hears is Joshua’s tinny voice in his ear, unintelligible. He shakes his head, as if to clear his eardrums of the sudden static in them, the one that’s blocking his brain from comprehending what Joshua is saying.
“—he’s in surgery right now—”
Oh god. Oh god oh god oh god oh god. “Surgery?”
“Yes. Before he went in, he asked for you.”
He clutches his mobile phone like a lifeline. Behind him, Seungcheol has their takeout, but he seems to have caught onto Soonyoung’s distress and is rubbing his back to calm him down. “Please text me the address. I’m on my way.”
Soonyoung looks at Seungcheol. “It’s Wonwoo,” he says, a little dazed yet. “I think, I think something’s happened. I’m not sure. I didn’t hear. Hyung, he’s in surgery.”
Seungcheol nods, his mouth a grim line. “Go. I’ll tell Jian. You start on Tuesday anyway, so it’s fine.” He pats him on the shoulder firmly. “It’s going to be okay, Soonyoung. He’s going to be okay.”
He better be. Because I don’t know what I’d do if he isn’t.
For a second, Soonyoung is afraid that he might have crossed a line. When Wonwoo just stares back at him impassively, he wonders, maybe it’s none of his business. How Wonwoo handled his own body was not something that he should meddle in.
But the second passes and Soonyoung thinks, fuck that. It’s definitely his concern if Wonwoo’s being an idiot again and living his life in discomfort just because of some misplaced sense of vanity or pride.
Wonwoo jolts a little, as if surprised. “Hmm?”
Soonyoung lays his head against the back frame of the couch, staring up at Wonwoo. He looks lost now, a far cry from the earnest bravado he’d displayed earlier. “Does it still hurt?”
Wonwoo looks at him then, sad and quiet. “It always hurts, Kwon. I just deal with it.”
“Won’t—doesn’t the cane help though?” He’d seen it in the corner of Wonwoo’s bedroom, next to his closet. It doesn’t look like it’s been used as much as it should be. “It’s supposed to.”
“It’s supposed to, yes,” Wonwoo nods. He reaches out and takes Soonyoung’s hand in both of his, stares at his palm. “I think, maybe, I tried it out at first, a few months ago, just to prove that I was still strong enough, that I could still be strong enough to go without it. And then I just…” He shakes his head. “It’s difficult.”
Soonyoung turns his hand around to grip Wonwoo’s tightly. “I know, Wonwoo, I couldn’t even imagine, but…” He inches closer, licks his lips. “Wonwoo, you have to know that using your cane doesn’t change anything. You’re still the best tennis player Korea’s ever seen. It doesn’t… weaken you. It doesn’t change you. You got it? You ”
“You just called me the best,” Wonwoo says, smiling at Soonyoung, but Soonyoung knows he’s just trying to distract him.
“I will… try.”
Soonyoung purses his lips, but he knows that’s the most he can get out of Wonwoo for now. “Hey,” he whispers, before closing his eyes and leaning forward to press his lips to Wonwoo’s chastely. He pulls away, just a little, before leaning forward again to kiss Wonwoo, over and over and over. The sounds that the soft little smacks make him feel like he’s floating in a dream, and when he finally stops and leans back, the look in Wonwoo’s eyes fills him with emotion.
It gets harder to leave every time.
“Let’s go to bed.”
By the time he gets to the hospital, Wonwoo’s out of surgery.
Soonyoung sits in his room next to the bed, biting his fingernails, waiting for the anaesthesia to wear off and for Wonwoo to wake up. There’s a chemical-like smell mixed with flowers that’s consistent across all hospitals that Soonyoung’s ever had the misfortune of visiting, and he hates it. He absolutely hates it, and hates that Wonwoo’s here, having to suffer through it.
The beep-beep-beep of the machines is driving him slowly up the wall.
Joshua, who was now having dinner with the rest of the team after Soonyoung came in to relieve him, already told him what happened.
Wonwoo had been scheduled to play on a practice court that had just been dried after it rained earlier that afternoon. He slipped on a spot near the back of the court, going down hard on his right side, beating up his shoulder and elbow and causing his hip to fracture in several places.
Thankfully, the ambulance arrived within the next few minutes and Wonwoo and his team managed to make it to the hospital almost immediately. Despite hitting his head, a concussion was ruled out right away, and they decided on the hip repair surgery as soon as they’d heard the diagnosis and gotten the tests back, acutely aware that they needed to find solutions right away. A fractured hip could be devastating for a tennis player, who in large part depended on how well he moved on court for a living.
Soonyoung wrings his own hands, over and over, with worry.
He’s fine. He’s here. He’ll get better. I know it.
He has to.
Soonyoung’s head lifts at the sound of Wonwoo’s groggy, sleep-addled voice. “Wonwoo, it’s me. I’m here.”
The confusion in Wonwoo’s eyes clears. “Soonyoung. Hi. Hello.” He leans back against his pillows, closes his eyes. “I told Shua-hyung to get you.”
“I know,” Soonyoung says. He scoots his chair closer to the bed. There are so many wires and tubes, Soonyoung is afraid he’ll pull one out accidentally. “I’m here. Don’t worry.”
“Can I-can you hold…” Wonwoo trails off, but he’s holding out his hand, the one that has the IV drip coming out of it, and Soonyoung slips his own into it, careful not to jostle anything. Like this, Wonwoo’s hand feels so fragile and so much smaller than his own. “I’ve missed you, Soonyoung.”
Guilt weighs heavy on Soonyoung’s shoulders. “I’m so sorry, Wonwoo. I should have—”
“No, I’m sorry. I could have done more too.”
Soonyoung lays his head in his arms, gives Wonwoo a sad smile. “Why can’t we stop apologizing to each other?”
“We lead difficult lives,” Wonwoo murmurs; he traces circles into Soonyoung’s palm to get him to laugh. “It’s better to apologize many times than never. Besides, I owe you two big wins now, don’t I?”
“You do, indeed,” Soonyoung says, the grin spreading across his face a little wavery. “Will you be paying up soon, or are you welshing?”
“I never welsh on a bet, Kwon,” Wonwoo replies, slightly insulted; it makes Soonyoung give a watery laugh. “Just you wait until I get better from this. You’ll be seeing stars.”
“Oh will I?”
He sounds like Wonwoo usually does, but Soonyoung can’t help but notice how pale he looks, how tired he looks. “Do you want anything? I can call a nurse, or something.”
“Not just yet. Just want to be with you for a few seconds longer. Without everyone else.”
Soonyoung sighs, before pressing a kiss between Wonwoo’s knuckles. “Wonwoo-yah. I’m sorry. I’m so so so sorry.” He lays his head on Wonwoo’s hand, desperately willing for him to be okay.
Wonwoo tilts his head. “For what?” he says, patting Soonyoung’s head and running his fingers through the strands.
What was he sorry for? A number of things, really—flaking out on the French Open final, distancing himself since then, being too worried about how things might look to other people—but mostly… “For being a crummy friend.”
He thinks he sees Wonwoo smile at that, amused. “It’s okay. When you fall in love with an idiot, you have to take the good with the bad.”
Soonyoung inhales sharply, his heart doing a topsy-turvy in his chest. Did he just hear what he thought he heard? “I—what?”
“I’m used to all this by now. I’ve come to accept that this is how things are with you.”
“Hold the fuck up, Wonwoo. I—did you just call me an idiot?” Soonyoung’s face feels like it’s burning, but he can’t take his eyes away from Wonwoo’s, can’t feel anything but the way Wonwoo trails his finger down his cheek before holding his face fondly, lovingly even.
“Also that I loved you, but sure, focus on that.”
Soonyoung’s nose tingles, a telltale sign of tears soon to rise. “You—you—you’re the idiotic one between us!”
Wonwoo laughs, loud and boisterous and happy and Soonyoung can’t help but feel the same, can’t help but smile at the two of them finally voicing out what they meant to each other. It felt both like a long time coming, and something that Soonyoung thought would never ever hear. He’s relieved, he’s happy, he’s in love. Most of all, he’s in love.
They talk for what seems like a very long time, hours passing by quickly. Tanaka-san and Vernon come in, and Soonyoung is there when they discuss the mechanics of pulling out of the tournament. They don’t question Soonyoung’s presence, nor do they bat an eyelash when he offers to stay with Wonwoo until Joshua comes back for his shift with Wonwoo. He tells Jian and Seungcheol the news, and tells them not to wait up for him.
In the middle of the night, nurses come in every half an hour to check on his vitals. His doctor comes in and discusses rehabilitation arrangements with a hospital in Seoul so that he’s much closer to family for the next few weeks. After that conversation, Soonyoung urges Wonwoo to go to sleep, assuring him that they’ll talk some more as soon as he gets home and is settled back in Korea.
Joshua comes in to relieve Soonyoung at around half past four in the morning. Before he goes, though, he makes sure that Joshua is outside before he presses a kiss to Wonwoo’s cheek, and tells him he loves him too.
“Do you still love me?”
Soonyoung watches Wonwoo’s eyes open at the question, watches him look back at him curiously. Moonlight is pouring in through the window in his bedroom, and their legs are tangled together underneath the covers they both share.
Curious how the answer, so sure, so swiftly given, makes Soonyoung’s heart break instead.
“What about you?”
Soonyoung lowers his head. “Yes. I still love you.” He feels Wonwoo draw him closer to press a kiss on his forehead.
Later, when Wonwoo’s fast asleep, Soonyoung looks at him in the light of the moon, and starts to cry. Because it’s true. He loves Wonwoo. He loves Wonwoo.
But not enough to stop. Not enough to stay.
He falls asleep before the tracks of his tears dry up in the cool night air.
That summer, Soonyoung makes the finals of the US Open.
He loses in four sets, but the match is closer than the scoreline suggests. He’d had his chances, had set up a handful of breakpoints, but McAilish was very good at snuffing out opportunities and very good at taking them. He learns a lot through the match, learns a lot about waiting for chances, about unsettling rhythms, about being patient and not letting your emotions get the best of you. There are times when he feels like he’s been around forever but he’s still young and there’s still so much time for him to get even better.
He’s the second best player in the match but it doesn’t even seem to matter, because Wonwoo is in his box, on crutches, next to his mother and his father and his sister. They all wave at him, excited, shouting encouragement alongside the thousands of fans in Arthur Ashe stadium. Soonyoung can’t believe it. His mother has an arm through Wonwoo’s. He can’t believe it.
Later on, during the trophy ceremony, he gives a speech that’s full of wonder and excitement and promises to be back. Everyone in the stadium loves him and his fight, and he thrills to the sensation of thousands of people calling his name. He gets handed the runner-up plate, and looking straight at Wonwoo, gives it three quick kisses before raising it over his head, triumphant.
Soonyoung thinks that the only way his life could get better than this exact moment right here is if he had won the title instead.
One day, he thinks, watching Wonwoo realize what he’d done and give him a wide, beaming smile. But until then, this feels pretty damn good.
Soonyoung wakes up to a heady feeling of desire dulling his senses.
He blinks, trying to register exactly what was happening. Arms are holding him close, and his head’s been tilted back against the pillows, slow open-mouthed kisses being placed along his neck, his shoulders, his chest. “Hmm?” he murmurs, still in a dream-like state of mind. It feels like he’s floating on a bed of clouds, caressed awake by soft, cool breezes.
“Good morning, Soonyoung,” Wonwoo says, voice low and rumbly. It sends shivers up Soonyoung’s spine, and he gasps softly as warm lips latch onto his nipple to lick and suck at it. He closes his eyes, pleasure coursing through him in waves.
“Shhh,” Wonwoo whispers. He moves back up to kiss Soonyoung’s neck, his jaw, the spot behind his ear that always brings him to his knees. Soonyoung whimpers softly, fingers dancing up Wonwoo’s arms to wrap around his neck, bringing him closer. “So beautiful, Soonyoung. Just like this.” Soonyoung lets out a little whine when Wonwoo’s hand reaches down to stroke his cock, already half-hard from all the strokes and touches. His legs fall open, ready, wanting. It’s intoxicating to barely be awake and be halfway to climax already.
“Soonyoung, may I?”
“Mmm-what?” Soonyoung, distracted, bites his lip and thrusts shallowly into the warmth of Wonwoo’s hand. He opens his eyes with difficulty, seeing a vague Wonwoo-shaped person moving above him in the early dawn light. “Do whatever you want.”
Wonwoo chuckles, pressing a kiss to the center of Soonyoung’s chest before leaning down to whisper into his ear. “May I take your picture?”
“Hmm? Picture?” He hears a click, and he sees Wonwoo moving over him in the half-darkness, straddling him and aiming something in his hands in Soonyoung’s direction. Another click. “You’re taking pictures of me?” He lets out a staggered exhale, Wonwoo’s hand finding its way back around his cock to stroke him again lazily, thumb flicking at the slit at the head of it. “Why?”
“Because I want to remember you like this. Feeling like this. Wanting like this. There,” Wonwoo whispers, and Soonyoung hears another click as he bites his lip at Wonwoo’s already slicked-up fingers pressing against his entrance. He thrashes his head back and forth, overwhelmed; his hands reach up to hide his face.
“Why are you covering your face, my love?” Soonyoung reddens at the term of endearment, even as he lets out a choked-up sob at Wonwoo adding a second finger up his ass. He grinds down on Wonwoo’s fingers, hips moving sinuously, arm draped across his eyes.
“I can’t—Wonwoo, it’s so much—”
“Do you trust me, Soonyoung?”
With everything he has. “Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Let go and touch yourself, for me. The pictures I take now, they’ll just be for you and me. Because I need to share with you what I see when I touch you.”
Soonyoung lets out a cry; scrunching up his eyes shut, he lets his hands wander, pinching his own nipples and reaching down to stroke his own cock, all while his hips grind down in sinful circular motions, urging Wonwoo’s fingers to piston inside him faster, deeper. He hears the clicks as he touches himself, hears Wonwoo murmur encouragement and filth in equal measure. Soonyoung doesn’t think he’s ever felt so wanted and so turned on in his life; the wail he lets out when he feels Wonwoo’s wet warm mouth surround him is almost embarrassingly wanton, and he fists his hands in Wonwoo’s hair, near to delirious when Wonwoo lets him fuck his mouth with almost reckless abandon, camera tossed aside to be able to grip Soonyoung’s hip better.
“Want you, want you, want this,” Wonwoo murmurs in between pulling off from Soonyoung’s cock. He’s bobbing his head up and down and god, his tongue, his tongue is moving down and—Soonyoung gasps, the pleasure in his stomach coiling almost painfully as he feels Wonwoo remove his fingers only to push his cheeks apart and start rimming him, long fat licks across and into his perineum.
“Fuck, ah, Wonwoo, Wonwoo—”
He comes, hard and prolonged, his back arching and stiffening from the tremors that shake his body. Wonwoo holds him through the last few waves, arms surrounding Soonyoung as pearl white strings paint the space between them. He holds him close, kissing Soonyoung’s neck and shoulders and hitching one of Soonyoung’s legs over his hip.
“I love you, Soonyoung. I love you.”
Soonyoung can only let out wrecked little sighs as Wonwoo enters him, can only hold him close as Wonwoo snaps his hips against his, fucking him into the mattress and chasing his own finish inside him.
It’s all he can do.
Wonwoo sits out the rest of the season. It’s the best thing for him to do, between rehab and recovery and this brand new revelation of the both of them being in love with each other. Soonyoung goes through the rest of the season missing Wonwoo terribly, but knowing that he’s getting better encourages him to do his best as well.
He does well, so well that he ends up making it to the Year End Finals in Lisbon. It’s exhilarating and exciting. Soonyoung’s had to do so many interviews and digital features, attend so many mixers and gatherings, and it’s easily the most glamorous and most successful he’s ever felt during his career so far. He can barely believe it. Gojlavin, the current world number 2, talked to him about visiting Seoul, and Nevel and Zenakis confessed to being fans of his style of play. He’s absolutely floored. He wished Wonwoo were there.
He regales Wonwoo with stories from the parties, tells him all about the shoots. Wonwoo’s excited for him, like he always has been. Eventually, though, Soonyoung keeps finding he has to cut phone calls short and cancel Facetime dates. At first it was for random guerilla interviews and for ATP press conferences, but eventually his reasons for cancelling grew to extend to invitations to hang out from the other top players, as well as for dinner and drinks with the ATP top brass.
Wonwoo will understand, Soonyoung thinks to himself. If it were him, he’d do the same. I know it.
It’s what he tells himself.
He wins only one round robin match, but it’s fine, because there’s always next time right? And there will be a next time, he promises himself. He’s going to get back here someday, to compete with the best of the best underneath the neon blue lights.
Soonyoung was one of the best eight players of the world. He’d finally arrived.
He doesn’t realize he’s missed Wonwoo’s call until he wakes up the following morning after his last round robin match. He tries to return his call but to no avail.
Soonyoung shrugs. He’ll talk to him later. He has a day trip planned with Deshanvili at an exclusive wine cellar in Porto with excellent views of the Douro, since the Russian had gone out at the round robin stage as well.
It all comes full circle, Soonyoung thinks, as he partakes in a some Port wine with Mikhail (“call me Mika”) while the sun casts long shadows over the river.
“You are good company, Soonyoung,” Mika tells him, before clinking his cup with his.
Soonyoung smiles, bashful. Mika is six feet tall, lean and beautiful. He has a head of perpetually tousled blonde hair and the bluest eyes Soonyoung has ever seen. He’s a little older than him, but he never imposes his seniority when they talk, and they do talk. He asks about Soonyoung’s family, his goals and ambitions, his favorite tournaments and his favorite places to visit in the world. Soonyoung doesn’t hesitate to answer every question, to regale him with his favorite memories and experiences on tour.
“You mention Wonwoo a lot. You two are good friends?”
“Yes,” Soonyoung says, with only a little hesitation. He takes another, longer sip of wine. “He is my closest friend.”
“That is good,” Mika nods. “You need to keep good people close to you, Soonyoung. That is my best advice to you.” He tilts his head, smiling. “I hope I can be a good person to you, Soonyoung.”
Soonyoung has no idea what to say to that, so he just nods and smiles, before asking for more wine.
It’s only much later, when Mika is driving him back to his villa in Lisbon that he realizes that the Russian may have been flirting with him. He stiffens up now, determined not to give Mika the impression that he’s flirting back, which is difficult, considering the sheer amount of port wine he’d ingested. He even gives him a ‘bro hug’ and a handshake when it’s clear that Mika’s leaning towards him to give him two cheek kisses.
“See you around, man,” Soonyoung says, waving goodbye and shooting finger hearts at the other. He sighs and leans back against the door as soon as he’s shut it, closing his eyes and waiting for his world to stop spinning.
“You okay, Soonyoung?”
Soonyoung lifts his head and sees Seungcheol and Hoseok, his new fitness coach, gathered around the kitchen table of their villa, playing cards. He smiles wanly at them. “I’m fine. Is Jian asleep?”
“Yup. His flight’s really early tomorrow. I think he’s excited to take a break this year.”
“He’s not alone,” Soonyoung mutters. He slumps onto the sofa, lays his head on the arm rest. “My world is spinning. Remind me never to drink this stuff ever again.”
Seungcheol laughs, before laying down a set of cards that makes Hoseok cry out incredulously. “You lightweight. Drink against me and Hoseok-hyung here, then we’ll talk.”
“I’m not doing that, since I don’t crave death.” He closes his eyes just for a minute. “What did I miss today?”
“Zenakis is through to the final. The second semifinal is happening right now if you want to watch.”
Soonyoung finds that he’s too woozy to even try. “Pass.”
“Oh, and Wonwoo called.”
“He did?” Shit. He’d been meaning to call him again. He thinks again about the way Mika had kept plying him with wine, and blushes. Shit. “What did he say?”
“I just told him you were with Deshanvili for the day, having food and drinking wine in Porto.”
Shit. “And what did he say about that?”
“Uhhh, nothing? He just said thanks, then put down the phone just as I was asking him if he wanted to leave a message.”
Oh god. Was he going to be in trouble? He doesn’t know. He hopes not, but he probably will be. Fuck. Honestly, he went to the lunch to hang out with Mika as a friend. He had no designs on Mika, never had—sure, he was pretty, but he was also one of the most sexist players in the locker room, frequently letting out politically incorrect language without any care for who could hear him.
The locker room was like that—a private place where the players could feel free to be the truest version of themselves, no matter how good or ugly it could get. Soonyoung’s long grown used to this, an unfortunate by-product of his sport.
He excuses himself and goes up to his room, where he tries to call Wonwoo. He doesn’t pick up, probably because it’s already past midnight in South Korea, so he just leaves a message about how he misses him and how he wishes he were there. Soonyoung winces at how his message sounds, because truth be told, he’s not thought much about Wonwoo since arriving in Lisbon, so to tell him now that he’d wished he were there… it’s not entirely true.
He sends the message anyway, determined to make things right again. After all, he loves Wonwoo.
When they wake up again, much much later, Wonwoo suggests that they have breakfast at a little restaurant run by a nice ahjumma who doesn’t watch a lick of tennis.
They have kimchi bokkeumbap with a bunch of banchan on the side, and it reminds Soonyoung of simpler days, growing up on a farm, raising chickens and collecting the eggs they lay and bringing it to his mother’s kitchen table. He only has this dish when he comes home every once in awhile, because kimchi anywhere else on the globe just doesn’t hit the right way as it does when you’re in the motherland.
Since it’s just the two of them having breakfast, they sit next to each other, even hold hands under the table as they’re waiting for the food to be served. Tiny victories, but victories nonetheless.
After breakfast, they walk slowly back to Wonwoo’s apartment, taking the long way around for digestion. Soonyoung’s heart feels quieter than yesterday, when it was a storm of conflicting emotions, but he’s not yet at peace.
He’s not sure he will ever be.
It’s near to midday when he convinces Wonwoo to lie down in bed with him for awhile. Wonwoo laughs softly when Soonyoung wraps arms and legs around him and nuzzles his nape. “If I’d known all it would take for you to cheer up was a little kimchi fried rice…”
“Shut up,” Soonyoung murmurs, but he kisses the mole on the back of Wonwoo’s neck to assuage him. “Do you have any appointments today?”
“No, but I still have to go in just in case someone decides to drop by.”
Soonyoung considers this before squeezing Wonwoo in his arms rightly. “Stay home.”
“Stay home, here. With me.” He peppers Wonwoo’s exposed shoulder with kisses, reaches under his shirt to start rubbing circles into the skin of his stomach. His breath starts to quicken from Soonyoung’s deft touch, and a truncated little moan escapes him when Soonyoung’s fingers venture upward and trace around his nipples. When he starts drawing lazy little trails with his tongue up Wonwoo’s neck, Wonwoo lets out a barely restrained growl and, turning around in Soonyoung’s arms, meets Soonyoung’s lips in a fierce kiss. He presses Soonyoung into his mattress, ardor buoyed by Soonyoung’s hand making its way down his front to palm and cup at his cock.
“You are so bad for me, Kwon,” Wonwoo whispers under his breath, before lowering his head again to kiss Soonyoung.
You aren’t wrong, Soonyoung can’t help but think, before they both get swept away in what’s becoming a fine way for them to avoid talking.
Wonwoo doesn’t return his calls.
Soonyoung can kind of see where he’s coming from, honestly; apparently, Portuguese tabloids were just as bad as Korean ones, and a couple of pictures of him and Mika on their lunch date had made the rounds. Nothing was implied in the pictures, other than the whole ‘two tennis players vacationing in Porto’ angle. Mika even sent him the article screenshots over Whatsapp, laughing at how red he was in the candid photos, but Wonwoo is a different creature altogether. Wonwoo knows how Soonyoung gets after ingesting enough alcohol, and Wonwoo knows he’s a sucker for a pretty face.
But Soonyoung can’t help but feel hurt that Wonwoo would think he would fool around with someone else when he knew what Wonwoo meant to him. Besides, nothing had happened in Porto, he made sure of it.
So when they both land in Australia, he tries his best to find out where Wonwoo’s staying so that he can ambush him and they can talk—except that Wonwoo’s somehow gained this uncanny ability over the course of the off-season to make sure that he’s never alone. Even when he’s back at his hotel, Wonwoo is always accompanied by Vernon who, aside from being his roommate, has been helping him out with recovering properly from any form of physical exertion. It’s frustrating for Soonyoung, who just wants to see Wonwoo, who just wants to talk to him and touch him and assure himself that he’s okay, that he’s not going to break again. Soonyoung isn’t even able to ask him about how his rehab had gone, so determined is Wonwoo to avoid him at all cost.
Which makes the draw all the more ridiculous.
Wonwoo being drawn in his quarter meant that the two were bound to meet, all things considered, in the round of 16. Ordinarily, if they were drawn in the same quarter at any tournament, they would be teasing each other by now, sending each other ridiculous Kakaotalk stickers and trashtalking each other in a light, friendly manner.
Soonyoung still leads the head-to-head match up, so he takes this as his chance to send Wonwoo another message.
- Another tournament, another opportunity for me to increase my H2H against you.
When Wonwoo doesn’t reply even though he gets the notification that his message has been read, Soonyoung’s temper flares up, and, incensed, he furiously taps away at his phone and sends the message before he overthinks it.
- Nothing happened, you know.
- I thought you trusted me more than that.
- Whatever, Wonwoo.
Soonyoung throws his phone towards the foot of the bed; it clatters to the floor, away from his eyes and reach. Discreetly wiping his eyes on the bed’s thick warm comforter, Soonyoung buries his head under his pillow, intent on keeping the rest of the world—especially Wonwoo—out of his thoughts.
“What are you thinking about, Kwon?”
Wonwoo’s voice, roughened by exertion, scrapes like Velcro over Soonyoung’s skin. They’re lying together, skin to skin, exhausted—Soonyoung doesn’t think he’ll be able to conjure up enough energy for an orgasm for at least a day or two. Wonwoo is tracing strange patterns into Soonyoung’s back, but Soonyoung’s far too gone to care.
“A miracle, then,” Wonwoo quips, which earns him a poke in the stomach. “Ow, stop.”
“You think you’re so funny,” Soonyoung grouses, but he presses closer to Wonwoo anyway, reveling in the slide of his bare skin against his, shivering under every glance of his fingertips off his back. The easy intimacy always gets to him, a luxury that he only gets to indulge in every once in awhile.
He doesn’t want to think about the unfairness of it. It’s not the time for that.
“Maybe you won’t mind if I ask you a question, then.”
“You can try.”
Soonyoung knows the conversation has taken a serious turn when Wonwoo leans back so that he can look Soonyoung in the eye. “You won’t get mad?”
“It depends on the question.” Soonyoung’s afraid, though, of what question Wonwoo’s brain has ended up fixating on. “If I don’t like the question, I reserve the right not to answer.”
“Alright. That’s fair,” Wonwoo says, nodding. He tilts his head, regarding Soonyoung closely. “What about this last match had you scared that you ran all the way back here, to Changwon, South Korea?”
Soonyoung purses his lips, lowers his eyes.
“I don’t know if I can answer this.”
They make it through their draw and meet in the round of 16.
When they’d greeted each other at the start of the match, Soonyoung realizes that it’s the first time they’d spoken in months. So much for people in love, he thinks to himself.
The match had started out fairly even—they’re on serve until the sixth game of the set, when a loose second serve gets sent back to Soonyoung’s feet with interest. It’s the first break point of the match, one that Wonwoo capitalizes on after a fairly shaky forehand from Soonyoung strays wide by inches.
During the change of ends, they don’t even look at each other, even when Soonyoung is so tempted to just swat a towel at him and make him smile.
The rest of the match goes by rather quickly. Wonwoo waits for Soonyoung to go for too much, to go for more acute angles, to place too much spin on his balls so that even he fails to control them. It’s a method that he doesn’t often employ, too focused is he on his and Jian’s strategy that he rarely strays far from it, but when he gets fixated and agitated, like he is now, all his plans go out the window.
Wonwoo knows this about him.
Still, he offers Wonwoo a sincere congratulations when he triumphs over him in straight sets, impressed by his cunning plan to use Soonyoung’s frustrations against him. Wonwoo just offers him a curt nod before giving him a brief handshake, turning away before Soonyoung can say anything.
He turns red, a little humiliated at being so deliberately shut down when he’s trying to be a good sport, but he turns and follows suit anyway, shaking hands with the chair umpire before picking up his racket bag and making his way off court.
Soonyoung goes through the standard post-loss routine—recovery, in case of any injury or strain, shower, press conference, interviews, should any have been scheduled—before he considers himself a free man. Since he and Wonwoo played the afternoon match on Margaret Court Arena, there was still plenty of time for him to look around Melbourne Park for any source of entertainment.
He walks through the semi-crowded Player’s Lounge, saying hi to a couple of guys he’d become good friends with over the past year. He’s leaning against the couch when the television switches from a live match to footage of a live press conference.
“Hey, it’s your mate,” Voig, an up-and-coming player from Austria. “Jeon! Man, he trounced you today.” Voig holds a pair of hands up when Soonyoung gives him a look, raising his eyebrow. “I’m just saying.”
“Yeah, sure.” He turns around, interested in what Wonwoo has to say.
“What are your thoughts about beating your compatriot and good friend Soonyoung Kwon today? You were pretty ruthless earlier.”
Soonyoung bristles. God, I’ll never hear the end of this for awhile.
He watches Wonwoo nod at the question, before leaning back and crossing his arms. Soonyoung is startled at how coldly he regards the question asker, how icy he looks while answering.
That’s not him. That’s not my Wonwoo.
“It is what it is. There is no place for friendship when we are fighting for history.”
It feels like he’s been punched in the gut.
“Oh.” Voig’s eyes are darting everywhere; he’s not sure what to say. Soonyoung understands the sentiment because he feels the same. “I mean, ouch. That’s cold.”
“Tch,” Soonyoung says, trying to sound non-chalant. He waves a hand around, like it’s not a big deal to him. Like his insides don’t feel like they’re being torn apart. “He always likes giving the press these soundbites.” Except he’s never been the type to do that because that’s more Soonyoung’s territory, with Wonwoo being the more solemn and honest of the two of them during these pressers.
He makes up a flimsy excuse to leave because he can’t stand another second of hearing Wonwoo’s voice, of seeing Wonwoo’s face, say such things. The people in the lounge don’t give him too much grief about it, seeing how affected by it he is.
Soonyoung goes down random corridors, not even sure where he’s going, just wanting to get as far away from people as possible. The raw sensation of humiliation feels powerful and overwhelming, and it threatens to fell him where he stands. He pushes on, however, urges himself to continue walking until he finds an exit somewhere. It’s got to be somewhere.
When he looks up, he’s in the hallway outside where the rooms where the press conferences are filmed. Wonwoo’s turn has just ended, and he turns the corner, rubbing his head like it’s aching. When he looks up, Soonyoung is blocking his path.
For a good few seconds, they stare at each other. Confused. Hurt. Sorry. Ashamed. But Soonyoung gathers his bearings first and gives Wonwoo the dirtiest glare he can muster, before he turns around to disappear around the other way.
If Wonwoo calls his name, he doesn’t hear it.
He doesn’t want to.
Wonwoo strokes Soonyoung’s face tenderly. “Will you try?”
He leans into Wonwoo’s touch, closing his eyes. “I’ve been having bad results for awhile now.”
“A final at Wimbledon is not a bad result.”
Soonyoung looks up into Wonwoo’s face, sets his mouth in a straight line. “You know what I mean.”
Wonwoo stops for awhile, considering. “You mean everything before that.”
Soonyoung inhales; it sounds shattered to his own ears. Making the finals at Wimbledon was more of an outlier than it was an expected result. In the past few years, Soonyoung’s found himself increasingly unhappy with how he’s been playing. He gets good results sometimes, which keeps the wolf at bay, but the way he’s been playing, the way he keeps playing—error-riddled and uninspired—has been a matter of concern for quite some time now.
The tennis media haven’t quite caught on yet, haven’t quite sussed out the connection between Soonyoung Kwon’s lackluster matchplay and Wonwoo Jeon’s sudden retirement from the sport, but Soonyoung believes it’ll happen in time, although he himself isn’t entirely aware of the connection either.
“I do,” Soonyoung says, and he’s mortified when he feels his eyes dampen. He has to stop crying, dammit. “I feel like I’ve lost my game, Wonwoo. Sometimes I go out there, strategy in place, and then I just… blank. And then I’m just swinging and swinging and swinging and just hoping the ball lands in.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“But it’s not me, and I hate it. I still want to play, I don’t want to stop, not like this, but I feel like… like I need to get better again. I have to get better again.”
I don’t want to stop playing and fade away… like this.
Like you’re starting to. He feels awful for even thinking it, but he can’t help it.
“You’re already really good, Soonyoung, but if you feel that way, then I support you. If there’s any way I could help…”
Soonyoung bites his lip, before shaking his head a tiny bit. “I feel like people expect me to be you, or to be able to deliver like you did, and I just… I’m not doing that.”
Wonwoo looks aghast. “That’s not true, Soonyoung—”
Soonyoung shakes his head. He doesn’t bother denying it; it’s not something that’s up for discussion, even. “No, I know this. What you did was incredible, something very few people were able to do.”
“And you pushed through when I couldn’t.” Wonwoo has his hands on Soonyoung’s shoulders now, eyes wide, trying to show him conviction. “You stand under no shadow. You stand on your own. That sounds pretty damn courageous to me.”
“I just feel so… stuck, sometimes. Like I’m alone, in limbo.” It’s a strange thing to say, when he has a group of people surrounding him dedicated to his steady improvement. Jian, Seungcheol, Hoseok… they’re always there for him and he can’t ask for anything more. Except sometimes, when he watches people does well and dedicate their wins to their wives, their children, their families… maybe it’s just him getting older, but sometimes when he watches players win and run up to their box to get congratulatory kisses from their significant others, it just makes his heart twinge a little, reminding him that no matter how many trophies he wins, he’ll always come home to an empty apartment. “It’s hard when no one there understands. I’m not making sense, sorry…”
Wonwoo’s eyes soften, and he moves forward to press a soft kiss on Soonyoung’s forehead. “I wish it could be simpler.” He leans his head down against Soonyoung’s, knowing that even if he wanted to be there, Soonyoung did not, and that was that.
“I… I wish it could be simpler too.” But it’s not.
“But I just want you to know…” Wonwoo murmurs, leaning back so he can cradle Soonyoung’s face in his hands, giving him a sentimental smile. “I would not trade what we had together for anything. Not for more grand slams, not for the calendar slam itself. That’s all.” He ducks his head suddenly, shy.
Overcome, Soonyoung embraces Wonwoo then, holding him close, wishing desperately for things to be just like this. Nothing else. No rules, no codes of conduct, no society dictating what is right, no tennis, even. Just the two of them.
“You’re wrong, you know,” Wonwoo says, voice muffled where he’s buried his face in Soonyoung’s shoulder.
“When you say you lost your spark. You haven’t. You just need to be reminded of it.”
“Yeah?” Soonyoung sniffles a little and snuggles closer. “And how do I do that?”
Wonwoo pulls back and gives him a tiny grin. “Maybe all you need to do is go back to the very beginning.”
Wonwoo makes it to the final. And although he’s mad, Soonyoung still finds himself turning on the TV to watch Wonwoo play a masterful three sets and win his first Grand Slam title.
And incredible, it was. He’s never seen Wonwoo play like this—like watching an artist paint, stroke after stroke of genius, until it was all over and all that was left was a masterpiece. Gojlavin, caught off guard and having clearly underestimated the other, could only watch as Wonwoo threw down service ace after service ace during his games, and canny little returns that landed just on the baseline, giving him no chance to retaliate. On and on it went like this, Wonwoo almost breaking at will, taking the game from the Ukrainian’s hands and whisking it away before anyone’s even gotten wind of it, until he’s at three championship points. It was brilliant, it was breathtaking, it honestly gave Soonyoung goosebumps. He’s never seen anyone play like that.
When he sees Wonwoo take the first championship point, the crowd breaks out into cheers, and Wonwoo’s eyes widen just a fraction, before he smiles incredulously up at his box, which is going bonkers, with Vernon climbing onto Joshua’s back and everything. Wonwoo rubs the back of his head before lowering his gaze, suddenly bashful and seemingly overwhelmed. Even through how mad he still is, Soonyoung’s heart clutches just a little.
There he is.
The trophy ceremony is cheerful and animated, partly why the Australian Open gets the “Happy Slam” moniker. When he sees Wonwoo lift up the trophy and kiss it three times swiftly, he almost breaks down and gives in.
Idiot. You can’t call him now. He has a shitload of media to do.
He’s about to send him a ‘congratulations’ over Kakaotalk, his finger hovering over the send button, when he remembers, all of a sudden, the press conference earlier that week, and the look on his face when their eyes met in the corridor.
He erases the message and turns off the television set, turning until he’s facing the wall. He doesn’t even realize he’s fallen asleep until he wakes up the next day with no new messages.
Soonyoung wakes up at night, much later on, and watches Wonwoo sleep for awhile.
He looks so peaceful like this, hair falling over his eyes, brow smooth and unwrinkled. No responsibilities to think about, no thoughts for anything—not for the tennis, not for his studio, not even for Soonyoung, owing nothing to no one except himself. It’s a blissful existence, and one that Wonwoo’s never had, because as long as he’s known him, Wonwoo’s always thinking of something else, always considering other people ahead of himself, except the one time he put himself first.
Soonyoung gathers him close and strokes his hair. “I love you,” he whispers into his temple. “I love you. I love you.”
On the bedside table on the other side of Wonwoo, the bottle of pain relievers is shiny and new.
It all comes to a head at Indian Wells.
Soonyoung’s just lost his fourth round match. It’s a long one, a close one, and it ends late. So late, that the locker room has almost emptied out completely, save for a few fellow late night stragglers. Just as well. He doesn’t want to have his little temper tantrum in front of veteran players anyway.
He waits until they all leave before he hits the showers, intending to take an incredibly long hot one so that he can sulk away from view of everybody. He’d done press and taken his recovery procedures and sent his team back to the hotel right before going into the locker room for that very purpose; he’d even given Tony, the guy in charge of the player facilities, an extra 50 to let him be the one to close the locker room for the night.
So when he hears another set of showers open in a stall a few meters away from his, he just thinks, Great. Now I can’t yell or waste all this water without being judged. Thanks a lot, Tony.
Begrudgingly, he cuts his shower short, wrapping the towel around his waist before stepping out of the stall, hair wet and dripping into his eyes. His bare feet pad along the tiled floor, steam oozing out of the other stalls, recently emptied of players both winners and losers, but it’s clear that the only other person in the locker room is the person showering in the other stall. Soonyoung crosses his arms over his bare chest, feeling like the steam should be coming from the top of his head from how annoyed he is.
Soonyoung lets out a garbled little yell, trying not to have a heart attack as a hand all of a sudden reaches out to pull him into the stall with the shower turned on. A hand is clamped over his mouth and he gets whirled around, back hitting the tiled wall of the enclosure. It’s a little dim, with most of the lights in the locker room being turned off already, but Soonyoung can still make out his would-be assailant in the half-darkness of the stall.
“What the hell, Jeon?” is what Soonyoung yells into the palm of Wonwoo’s hand; he’s furious at being dragged and his heart is still beating rapidly from the surprise and the fear, but he’s suddenly distracted by how Wonwoo’s wet and extremely naked form is pressing against his, and how his own body is responding to it.
Soonyoung can’t take his eyes away from Wonwoo’s, even as he feels the other take his free hand and insert fingers in the space between his towel and his hip. He only lets out a little breath that catches in Wonwoo’s palm as he tugs it free, maneuvering so that he can toss the towel onto the little hook on the other side of him. Wonwoo’s looking at him, and he can’t say his expression is pleasant—it’s probably reflecting the same annoyance and frustration that’s in his eyes. But when he takes Soonyoung’s cock in his hand as well as his own, Soonyoung tilts his head backwards against the tile and pushes forward.
“Yes, fuck, please.”
Their mouths find each other’s under the hot spray of the water, before Wonwoo moves them further away. Tongues tangle, as if in competition, and Soonyoung hisses as he feels Wonwoo nip at his bottom lip over and over. Undaunted, he drags his hands up Wonwoo’s chest to pinch at his nipples, enjoying the way Wonwoo brokenly moans into his mouth. Soonyoung feels hands roam his back before sliding down and groping his butt, gripping and releasing tightly until Soonyoung is certain that bruises will remain.
“Wanna fuck you, fuck, just wanna—”
Soonyoung moves his hips against his and grinds their cocks together, fingers still thumbing over Wonwoo’s chest. “Yes, do it, fuck me. Now,” he moans into Wonwoo’s mouth, before sucking on his tongue.
When Wonwoo gets down on his knees, Soonyoung just turns around and spreads his legs, arms bracing him against the tiled wall. He bites his own arm to muffle his cry when he feels Wonwoo’s tongue press against his entrance, thrusting inside of him insistently and repeatedly until his thighs quiver, weak.
Wonwoo uses the pre-cum dribbling out of Soonyoung to slick his fingers up, pushing a single finger in, then two almost right away. Soonyoung bites his lip, whimpers falling out of him, the sound drowned out by the harsh shower spray. “Do it, just do it, fuck, Wonwoo, now—”
His breath gets caught in his throat when Wonwoo spreads him wide and thrusts into Soonyoung in a single motion. “Okay?” he asks gruffly, and Soonyoung thinks it’s the first semi-caring thought he’s had since they started.
“Fine,” Soonyoung replies, gritting his teeth. “Just move.”
Normally, Wonwoo would chuckle here, or chide Soonyoung about being impatient. Instead, he wordlessly does what Soonyoung asks. He pushes Soonyoung’s head forward to lie against the arm that he has braced on the tiled wall, urging him to bite down on it before pistoning his hips rapidly, almost brutally hard, against Soonyoung. His cock enters Soonyoung hard and deep, over and over, and Soonyoung can’t get enough, grunting and pushing back as Wonwoo drives forward, meeting him thrust for thrust. “Ha,” Soonyoung whimpers, feeling his knees nearly give out when Wonwoo’s hand reaches down to pump him, fast and relentless.
“Don’t stop don’t stop don’t stop,” Soonyoung pants, interspersing little huffs with high-pitched ‘yes’es, eyes wrenched shut to just bask in the feeling of being absolutely wrecked.
“Ahhhh,” he cries out when Wonwoo sinks his teeth into his shoulder, voice rising a little over the heavy hiss of the shower. He reaches climax then, spilling over Wonwoo’s fist and clenching around his cock, still moving inside him. He sinks to the tiled floor, bruised and spent, limp everywhere. Through the shower spray dousing him in lukewarm water, he watches Wonwoo looking down at him, tugging at his cock until he comes with a low, breathy gasp that bounces around the tiled enclosure of the stall.
The minutes that follow are probably the most awkward in Soonyoung’s life. They regain their senses while the water pounds around them, their shallow breathing the only noise they both make. After enough time has passed, Wonwoo reaches out and turns the shower off, facing away so that Soonyoung can grab his towel and run.
Except Soonyoung doesn’t run. They’d just had sex after months of not being intimate, after weeks of prolonged and angry silences between them. It was good, yes, but it was also greedy and reckless and hurtful—he doesn’t think it has ever been that way between them until now, and Soonyoung can’t stand it. He can’t keep doing this, pretending that he doesn’t mind not being okay with Wonwoo when he…
“Is that how we end this?”
Wonwoo doesn’t respond, so Soonyoung stands up and lifts his towel off the rack. There’s a sting creeping up his nose, and he exhales loudly, trying to head off the tears. When he speaks again, his voice doesn’t waver.
“I don’t want it to end this way, but you don’t seem to want it any other way.”
Oh god, oh god. Is this how it feels, to have your heart break? It’s awful. Soonyoung feels like his insides are splintering, tiny little needles digging into his skin. He wraps the towel around himself and, forcing himself to breathe, begins to move the curtain aside.
“So this is my fault now?”
Soonyoung turns his head; Wonwoo’s facing him now, but on his face is the ugliest, most ferocious glare he’s ever seen on Wonwoo. Soonyoung’s taken aback and momentarily terrified—what happened to twist his Wonwoo into a person capable of such disdain, such anger?
“No, Soonyoung, I don’t think you did anything with Deshanvili. That was never the point.”
“Then what was the point?” They’re yelling at each other inside a shower cubicle at Indian Wells. Soonyoung would think it was ridiculous if he wasn’t scared that the future of whatever he had with Wonwoo was hinging on what would be said in this very moment.
“You weren’t there for me!”
Soonyoung’s heart slams into his chest.
The glare in Wonwoo’s eyes blinks away to something more vulnerable in a split second, but the anger reasserts itself. “When I needed you most, when you said you’d be there, you weren’t there for me.”
“It’s not just you not being there during the rehab. It’s that you don’t even know that you’ve fucked up and how.”
“How am I supposed to know, Wonwoo?”
“Maybe if you think beyond yourself for one second you’d be able to see,” Wonwoo snaps back; Soonyoung inhales sharply. “Maybe if you stopped letting your god damn pride get ahead of treating someone you’re supposed to love like a human being, then you would know that all you needed to do was be there, even when it wasn’t easy, even when it looked like I didn’t want you there.”
“Wonwoo, I…” His bottom lip quivers. “You were testing me?”
Wonwoo just continues to glower at him. “I waited, and waited, and waited. Even when you were in Portugal buddying up with Deshanvili, I waited. Even when I lashed out at you in Melbourne, I waited.” His voice breaks a little, and it makes Soonyoung feel even worse. “Even when I was winning the trophy in Australia, I gave you a sign to call me, to make it up to me, to be happy for me. No word from you. Nothing.”
Soonyoung’s tears spill over without him even realizing. “I was happy for you, honest, but—”
“And now, you have the gall to tell me that I was the one who wanted it to end this way?”
He opens his mouth, and finds that nothing comes out. What could he say to that? He knew he’d fucked up. He just didn’t realize how badly. And now, with Wonwoo spelling it out for him in harsh detail, all he can do is say… “Wonwoo, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I—There’s no excuse.”
“You’re right.” Wonwoo shakes his head. He looks unbearably sad now, and disappointed. Soonyoung just feels like shit. “You can’t just keep saying you’re sorry without really, truly meaning it, Soonyoung. It stops mattering.” He walks past Soonyoung then, the anger between them dissipating into this heavy aura of melancholy. “I have to go.”
Soonyoung could have stopped him. He could have wrapped himself around him and begged him not to go. He could have spent the rest of his tomorrows making it up to him. He could have told Wonwoo he still loved him. He could have done so many things. It’s what Wonwoo had wanted from him from day one.
He does nothing. He does nothing, but sit on a bench, paralyzed. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
It’s only when Tony comes back into the locker room that he remembers that he’s not supposed to be there.
In the morning, Soonyoung leaves Wonwoo a note.
He’s going home.
When he enters the room, it’s to the sound of several flashes going off at once.
He takes it in stride, nonplussed. He’s used to this by now, the familiar faces with their tape recorders and their pads filled with scribbles and notes. Tennis journalists came in all shapes and sizes and not everyone was there to make nice with him. They were there for quotes and storylines and would poke and prod until they got something out of him.
And there was definitely something to be talked about.
“Good afternoon,” Soonyoung greets them politely. He bows his head slightly, before taking his seat. The air-conditioning is on full blast and it makes him zip up his jacket even higher. The dark green Nike swoosh sign is stark against the expanse of white that makes up every single part of his outfit, save for the thin trim of green on his wristbands and headband. Wimbledon and its traditions dictate that he wear predominantly white, with color only used sensibly for small accents. Altogether, that, along with the strawberries and cream, queuing for seats, middle Sundays and virgin grass on Center Court for the defending champion, made for a Wimbledon fortnight.
All of the rules and fastidiousness and tradition gave Wimbledon an aura of being the slam that had the most prestige. It’s not remotely true—all the Slams had equal amounts of points if you won them, regardless of whether it was the Australian or Wimbledon. However, Wimbledon meant a lot of things to many people, and Wonwoo was one of them.
Soonyoung sighs internally, but schools his face in a politely interested expression as the reporter from the Times asked him yet another question about Wonwoo Jeon, current holder of both the Australian and the French Open, his rival and former friend—this time it was about how he felt about being the person who had the chance to stop his fellow Korean from holding three slams at once. He pauses a little before delivering yet another standard answer that he hopes doesn’t sound as rehearsed as it actually was.
“I’m just trying to focus on my game and do my best. I believe in myself to make it to the semifinals.”
The reporter knows she’s just been fed bullshit, but another journalist jumps in and asks yet another question about Wonwoo.
“Have you spoken to him lately?”
Soonyoung thinks about the last time they even looked at each other; thankfully, they were on opposite sides of the draw during Roland Garros and he didn’t have to think about seeing him on the same draw days until he unceremoniously loses just before the Round of 16.
He shakes his head, but keeps his face nonchalant. “Not that I recall.”
“Do you think you have what it takes to beat him?”
“I can certainly try.”
“Do you think it’s to your advantage that he recently changed his racket model?”
Soonyoung wants to roll his eyes. “Maybe, maybe not. We will see.”
“How is your country feeling now that they have a player who could potentially do something that no one has done in more than fifty years?”
This one stings just a little, but he swallows gamely before pushing through it. “If it happens, then we should all be congratulating Wonwoo. Making records is the goal of every tennis player.”
After a few more minutes of that, and another round of Korean questions, he’s about to leave when someone from Korean Express raises their hand and asks him in Korean.
“What are your thoughts about Jeon Wonwoo-ssi’s budding romance with American WTA player Jamie Wright?”
Soonyoung feels his heart stutter. “I’m sorry?”
“Wonwoo-ssi has been seen becoming close to the player in the build-up to Wimbledon, even hitting with her for a few sessions last week and ending up in the player’s box together during the match of her friend Amber Flanigan. Your thoughts on it?”
His mouth feels like sandpaper. Did he accidentally ingest something by mistake? “I’ll leave that for you guys,” he points to the pair from Dispatch, “to figure out what’s going on there. It has nothing to do with me. More than anything, I hope they didn’t distract poor Amber from winning her match. I know how you guys get about that.” A part of him wants nothing more than to leave them all in the lurch, the other part of him is aching to know more details. “Now, if there’s nothing else?”
He climbs to his feet and leaves the room as swiftly as he can without looking like he’s trying to escape. He nods at the moderator before leaving, aching to hit the courts and take all his pent up emotion out somehow. When he sees the courts are fully booked, he curses out loud in Korean, before hunching his shoulders and making plans in his head to go to the gym.
Soonyoung turns around, before nodding. “Hey hyung. I’m just thinking about hitting the gym. Do you want to go with me? I don’t want to talk though, so. Just so you know.”
Seungcheol catches up to him and drapes an arm across his shoulders. “Soonyoung, you are a tough man to find.”
“Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be found.” It’s said as a joke, but it’s not completely untrue. They both know it.
“How about we get some iced chocolate? I know you don’t like drinking coffee during tournaments.”
“It makes you too nervous during matches,” Soonyoung says in a small voice. He rubs at his elbow, feeling incredibly sad all of a sudden. “Hyung, I don’t kn—”
Seungcheol seems to sense this, and gives him a hearty pat on the shoulder. “Come on, my treat.”
Well, when he puts it that way, how can Soonyoung say no?
Later, when they’re sitting in a quiet on-site café just overlooking the far end of the practice courts, Soonyoung scratches his chin. “Technically though, since I’m giving you your salary, I’m treating myself.”
“Semantics,” Seungcheol retorts smoothly, the ice of the drink clinking merrily against the glass as he uses his straw to mix everything together. “I know we’re supposed to be having strawberries and what-not, but I’m a little sick of it after three years.”
Three years. Shit, it feels like this cycle of tennis-life-tennis has been going on forever for him.
“So,” Seungcheol continues, and Soonyoung knows he’s not just been led here to partake in iced chocolate beverages with him. Seungcheol wants to talk, and it makes Soonyoung nervous. “I saw your press conference.”
“Ah.” He wonders what he did wrong. “That.”
“You did nothing wrong. You were nearly flawless, even.”
Soonyoung catches on quickly. “Nearly.”
Seungcheol raises an eyebrow, before taking a sip of chocolate. “You seemed to tense up at the last question.”
Immediately, Soonyoung lowers his gaze, trying his hardest to appear neutral in front of Seungcheol. “Did I? I was just surprised is all.”
“What if I tell you I know something about it?”
Soonyoung’s ears can’t help but prick, and he lifts his head so fast his neck cricks. “What?”
“Ha! Got you!” Seungcheol laughs out loud, delighted. “You were interested.”
“I’m not interested. I’m not,” Soonyoung insists, bristling a little. He scowls into his chocolate. “If it means he gets distracted, then that’s good for me. Maybe it’ll stop people from asking me about him all the god damn time.”
Maybe then I won’t have to keep thinking about him.
Seungcheol shrugs. “Do you know that sometimes you talk about loud?”
What? What? “I do not!” Soonyoung splutters out in surprise; he can feel the blood rushing to his face.
He gets a kind smile in return. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I didn’t know.”
“You and Wonwoo?” Seungcheol says, holding up two fingers and bumping them together. “Seeing each other? Dating? Being each other’s significant other? Doing the—”
“Stop!” Soonyoung is horrified at the turn the conversation has taken. He motions for Seungcheol to lower his voice, glowering at him. “There is no significant other-ing happening, hyung.”
“Don’t bother denying it,” Seungcheol says, shrugging. “I can’t believe you don’t think we leave you alone at night because we want to. I mean, when you and Wonwoo started having the same hotel three, four, five tournaments in a row, only an idiot wouldn’t have picked up on it.”
“Yeah, well, that was then,” Soonyoung says softly, sinking into his chair. “Don’t know if you noticed but it’s over now.” He bites his lower lip. “I really messed up, hyung. I messed up so bad. And now, now he won’t even look at me.”
“Have you tried apologizing?”
Seungcheol throws a balled-up napkin at him. It hits Soonyoung on the forehead, making him scrunch his nose at the other. “What was that for?”
“If you’ve screwed up so badly, then why haven’t you been begging for his forgiveness every other day?”
“Because even if I make it up to him, I’ll just screw it up all over again. This isn’t the first time this has happened, hyung,” Soonyoung explains, sighing. He pushes his chocolate away, feeling glum all of a sudden. “Besides, he has that WTA player now…”
“I don’t think that’s anything to worry about.” Seungcheol picks up another paper napkin and starts tearing it to pieces, a habit he has when he’s trying to keep himself occupied. Every piece torn just gives Soonyoung more anxiety. “I’m pretty good friends with his manager. He would have mentioned Wonwoo dating someone for real.” He flicks the last piece of paper at Soonyoung.
“I don’t know hyung,” he sighs. “I just wish people stopped bringing him up. I’m trying to move on but everyone and their uncle keeps asking me how I feel about how well he’s doing, as if they want me to froth at the mouth with jealousy right in front of them. As if my opinion even matters.”
“Clearly he does well enough without me chiming in on whatever new technique he may be employing to get to where he is,” Soonyoung deadpans, crossing his arms and raising a single sarcastic eyebrow.
“And all things considered, you’re doing much better, results-wise,” Seungcheol points out. He leans forward. “So why have you been more miserable than when you were this time last year?”
Soonyoung’s shoulders slump. He knows the answer, even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge it. “Because all everyone wants to talk about is Wonwoo, despite it all?”
“No, dummy,” Seungcheol retorts. “Because you miss him and you feel guilty about how things ended. Now, before you get all indignant on me, I will remind you that I’ve been around since what was likely the start, and you can’t bullshit me.”
Unfortunately, it’s true. Seungcheol knows him too well for him to maneuver his way out of this.
“Let’s say, hypothetically, everything you said is true, and that I do miss him…” Soonyoung fiddles with the zipper on his jacket, trying to forget the way Wonwoo always playfully zipped his jacket all the way up whenever he was trying to get Soonyoung’s attention. “Tell me how to get over it.”
“Easy,” Seungcheol quips, shrugging. “Just beat him.”
“Will you hand me that pile, son?”
Soonyoung looks up, surveys the table. “This one, mom?” He points at the pile near him that she’s gesturing at vaguely.
“Yes,” Soonyoung’s mom answers cheerfully. He’s sitting at the kitchen table with her, meticulously chopping up strips of cabbage for her to douse in saltwater before she starts making them into batches of kimchi.
“When we’re done with this, you can take the batch I’m finishing up to take with you to America.”
“Mom, you don’t need to,” Soonyoung protests gently. “I can buy food there.”
“But you cannot buy my kimchi there,” she concludes, and Soonyoung finds that he cannot argue with that reasoning.
“When you put it that way…”
“I can even give extra for your team!” Mrs. Kwon’s eyes light up, and Soonyoung can’t help but let out a little chuckle at her enthusiasm. “I know that Mr. Jian has gotten a taste for it.”
“That he has,” Soonyoung replies wryly, recalling the last time he brought kimchi to training from back home only for it to disappear much faster than he expected after he left most of it with his head coach.
“Mrs. Choi, she calls me, tells me that Seungcheol is always calling her. How come he has time to call me and you don’t?”
He turns red, shamed. “I know, I’m sorry, I should have dropped by right away after Wimbledon, but I had some business to take care of.”
She gives him a look similar to the looks she used to give him whenever she caught him sneaking extra pieces of sweets out of the refrigerator when he was younger. “Ah. I see. Business,” she says, nodding.
Soonyoung feels like he’s painted himself into a corner. “So, mom, I like the new kitchen.”
“It’s nice, huh? Your father put up the wallpaper last month. Deep purple, like Wonwoo’s racket before.”
Why is it he can never go to a single place without anyone bringing up that name? “Right.”
“Speaking of Wonwoo, how is he doing?”
“He’s okay—I mean.” Shit. Sneak attack. He narrows his eyes at his mother, who blinks back at him innocently, fingers dousing cabbage strips under salty water nonchalantly. “Last I spoke to him, I mean.”
“Ah, I see,” Mrs. Kwon nods sagely. “Soonyoung?”
“You’ve been home, how many days now?”
“Three.” He steadfastly refuses her gaze, focusing hard on tidying up her table with all of the spilled salt and loose cabbage leaves, sweeping them all into the trash can that’s in between them.
She sets aside the giant mixing bowl she’s been using for the past few minutes and dries her hand with a towel, after which she reaches over and stills his hand.
“I’m ready to talk when you are.”
It all explodes after Wimbledon.
A slam is good. Two slams in a row? Great, but not unheard of. Three? Incredibly rare.
The last person who won all four tennis majors in one year was Rod Laver, and the last time he did it, it was 1969. Since then, many had attempted the feat, only to fall at the last hurdle several times over. It’s why in the months following Wonwoo’s four set Wimbledon win, Soonyoung can’t turn around without someone talking about this boy from South Korea who was about to accomplish something no one—not even the men’s tennis greats like Sampras, Agassi, Federer, or Nadal—had ever achieved in their career.
Tennis courts were springing up all over Korea. Wonwoo’s face was plastered all over the country for endorsements, from spring water to electric fans. Rumor was that Samsung was getting him a private jet. These are all things people from home (read: his mother and sister, who seem to think he still gets an inside track on what Wonwoo is or isn’t actually doing) have been sending him. He largely ignores those messages, telling everyone who asked that he’s happy for Wonwoo, but he still has a large part of the season left. There’s still the World Tour Finals in Lisbon, and although he’s close, Soonyoung wants to clinch the berth as soon as he can.
So in theory, he remains focused. There’s still so much to play for, he can’t afford to obsess over whatever Wonwoo is trying to accomplish.
But late at night, alone in his hotel rooms, Soonyoung tosses and turns, wondering how Wonwoo is taking it all in, how he’s gotten to this point, how he’s preparing to do something truly legendary. He wonders how he sleeps now before grand slam finals, if he’s still nervous and needs someone to hold him through the night.
(Maybe he is and maybe he does. Soonyoung doesn’t want to dwell too much on it.)
Most of all, he wonders how he’s able to handle it all, if his leg is feeling better, if he’s okay. He can’t tell anymore, which is galling. He used to be able to read him like a book.
When Wonwoo had beaten him in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, they had been so indifferent towards each other for so long that when they’d given each other a handshake, Wonwoo had stared when Soonyoung had given him a barely there grin and a “congratulations.” Nothing came of it, and Wonwoo continued on towards his historic streak, but Soonyoung feels a little spark of hope after months and months of inertia.
Hope for what, he doesn’t want to think about yet. He’s content to know it’s there, for now.
In reality, Soonyoung feels better like this—all the pressure is off of him and he actually has a good US Open Swing. He gets to the final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal and goes to the semis of Cincinnati, which is perfect for him, because he gets to go to Flushing Meadows relatively early to start preparing for the final grand slam of the year—the US Open Championships.
For undisclosed reasons, Wonwoo had skipped Montreal and Cincinnati, so Soonyoung doesn’t see him around until Jian tells him they have practice scheduled one after the other on Arthur Ashe.
A strange look comes over Soonyoung’s face, and Jian grunts. “Don’t look at me, I don’t do scheduling.” Still, he gives Soonyoung a firm, reassuring clap on the shoulder—a comforting hug, in Jian’s language—before walking away to bark orders at Seungcheol and Hoseok. The only good thing that came out of the very public fallout between Wonwoo and Soonyoung was the uptick in Jian’s moments of showing his softer side.
He sees Vernon and Joshua looming in the tunnel ahead and gives them small waves when they almost bump into him, gives a polite bow when Tanaka greets him cheerfully. When they go past him and he turns his head back, Wonwoo is there, watching him, gear bag over his shoulder, cap turned around on his head. It’s so refreshingly, achingly familiar that it makes his heart clench just a little.
Since it’s still a few days before the tournament actually more private than a usual slam day, it’s only staff, players and teams around, but he can tell people have started to awkwardly hang around longer than necessary to see what happens when the two former friends exchange greetings. He just hopes no cameras are around.
“How’s the court?” God, it’s so awkward. He hates it. He’s in a situation of his own making and he hates it.
Wonwoo shrugs and gives him a tiny nose scrunch. “Humid, as always.”
“New York air, I guess,” he jokes, lifting one shoulder in a shrug.
At this, Wonwoo cracks a little grin. “Same old, same old.”
When seconds pass and they’re still just staring at each other, Soonyoung feels Seungcheol tap his shoulder and gesture at his watch when he looks over at him. “I guess, I mean, I have to go practice now.”
Wonwoo’s eyes widen just a fraction, and he steps a little closer. Surprised, Soonyoung tilts his face up instead of stepping back. “Look,” Wonwoo says, speaking Korean in a low voice. “Soonyoung. I’m sorry about—”
“Don’t, Wonwoo. It’s okay,” Soonyoung replies. “Let’s just keep focused on what we have to do. You have your work cut out for you.”
Wonwoo nods soberly. “I know.”
Soonyoung reaches out, pats him on the shoulder. “Hey. If I don’t win… I’m rooting for you.”
Wonwoo’s eyes soften and it looks like he wants to cry. He moves his body to shield them both from view of anyone before reaching out and trailing a finger down the back of Soonyoung’s hand; it crashes down onto Soonyoung now how much he misses the closeness, the intimacy with Wonwoo, how much of him simply yearns to drag him closer and feel him against him. He swallows. “I, uh, I have to go. Bye.”
“Okay,” Soonyoung replies, feeling a little lightheaded.
“And good luck with the tournament,” Wonwoo says. “Maybe after, we could… talk.”
“Yeah, let’s do that. Okay.”
Wonwoo nods once, before smiling and walking away.
Soonyoung exhales. It’s not much, but it’s something.
He just hopes he doesn’t screw it up this time.
“Here you go.”
Soonyoung takes the cup of tea that his mom gives him. “Thanks, mom.”
She seats herself on the couch behind Soonyoung, glances at what he’s stood up to look at. “We moved the shelf to this spot when we redecorated. I thought your father told you?”
In front of the couch, beside the television that Soonyoung bought for his parents with his first champion’s paycheck, was a shelf that held all his trophies since he’d started playing tennis. There were plenty of medals and trophies from his junior years, and bigger, grander ones from his professional years.
“He didn’t but it’s fine.” Soonyoung stares at it, the cabinet representing the fruit of all his hard work. His pride and joy. “Wow. I’ve been doing this awhile, huh?”
She stands up and approaches the trophy shelf, looking for something. “This one is my favorite, of all your victories.” She points to one on the bottom shelf, near the right corner.
“This one?” Soonyoung bends over to peer at it closely. “That was from when I was six and it’s not even from a tennis tournament—it’s from my pre-school.” He looks up at her, confused.
“Mhmm,” Mrs. Kwon hums, nodding. “That was the day that you brought home a medal for being ‘most happy’ in your class.” She sighs, reminiscing. “You were always such a cheerful boy, Soonyoung.”
Soonyoung’s still a bit lost. “Yes, but it has nothing to do with the rest of my achievements here.”
His mother gives him an indulgent look, before patting him on the head. “It doesn’t matter if it’s from when you were eight or from when you’re twenty-eight, if it’s for tennis or for just being you, Soonyoung. It’s all important to me.”
“Oh.” He’s oddly moved by that. “Thank you for keeping them for me.”
“It’s nothing, son,” she says. She goes back to the couch and he follows suit, still cradling the warm cup in his hands. “That day you came home with that medal, you were so proud of yourself. Other kids, they went home with ‘most likely to succeed’ and ‘most determined’ and ‘most intelligent’, but you told me why you wanted this medal and what you said, I will never forget.”
“What did I say?” He lays his head on her shoulder, comforted and a little emotional.
“You said, mom, if I’m happy, I can make others happy too.”
“I said that?”
“You did,” she said. She pats his hand, amused. “When you started playing tennis, you became so focused and fixated and sometimes I was afraid that you’d lost your joy, but then you started doing well and then for a few years you looked happy again. When I saw you at the US Open final a few years ago, my heart was at ease.”
“I was happy. I am happy.”
“Soonyoung,” Mrs. Kwon says, before shaking her head slowly. “It’s been awhile since you’ve looked like that six-year-old boy running through my door, eager to show me his medal. My most cheerful boy.” She puts her arm through his, squeezes it tight.
He looks back at the cabinet, at all the silverware he’d accumulated over the years. Standing shiny in the middle of it all is the US Open trophy. His US Open trophy.
“Mom, I don’t want you to worry about me.”
“I’m your mother, I’m always worrying about you,” she tells him. “I just want you to be happy.”
I don’t know how to be happy anymore, Soonyoung thinks, before he lays his head in his hands, and starts to cry.
“Honey, we have to stop meeting like this.”
Wonwoo lets out a soft gravelly laugh, like he hasn’t used his voice in awhile. Tentatively, he reaches out and asks for Soonyoung’s hand. Soonyoung takes it gently, still terrified he’ll do something to make things worse. Their fingers link, still getting used to the way they fit around each other again after such a long time.
“This is the last time we’re ever coming here to this establishment,” Wonwoo kids back.
He’s paler than usual, the fluorescent lighting of the hospital casting a sickly white glow over him. On one side, flowers from every company Wonwoo endorsed, some tennis organizations and a handful of Korean broadcasting station lined up his walls, wishing Wonwoo to get well soon. His room perpetually smells like roses, which means Vernon can’t spend too much time in there, due to his allergies.
The universe clearly has a shitty sense of humor. Soonyoung would be laughing if it weren’t so fucking shitty.
He’d gotten to the final when the two highest seeds in his half got knocked out, leaving the draw open for the taking. Normally, he’d be beside himself with joy at getting to another final, but Wonwoo also makes it through the draw unscathed, which means that for Soonyoung to win his first major title, he’d have to beat Wonwoo and, in doing so, crush his country’s hopes and dreams.
No big deal. Just regular pro tennis player stuff.
On the night of the semifinal, Seungcheol slips him a room number at a hotel near theirs after Wonwoo clinches his place in the final, and tells him to be careful.
So he goes to the hotel and knocks. Wonwoo answers the door, and lets him in.
The silence between them weighs heavy, and Soonyoung stands still until Wonwoo gestures for him to slip under the covers with him. They lie together, two feet apart, and Soonyoung is beginning to wonder if this is a bad idea when the bed shifts, dips, and all of a sudden Wonwoo is flush behind him, warm and solid and god, Soonyoung’s body is already reacting to his closeness, missing him deeply.
They don’t talk, not when Wonwoo’s hand slips into his jogging pants to pull and tug at his cock until he spills all over his fingers, not even when Soonyoung turns him over to suck him off. They don’t talk, even when they see each other the next day at the practice courts, and when they meet in the tunnel to play in front of the more than twenty thousand odd people gathered there to see them the day after that.
They only talk when Soonyoung is about to go two sets up on Wonwoo in one of the most important grand slam finals in recent history, and all of a sudden Wonwoo crashes to the ground.
The ball he hits lands an inch within the baseline, but he forfeits the point by throwing his racket to the ground and racing to the other side of the court.
“Wonwoo! Wonwoo! Oh god, Wonwoo…”
The heat beats heavy on his neck, but all he feels is a cold chill run through him when he sees the way Wonwoo’s fallen, sees the way he clutches at his right hip and wails in agony. “Doctor, doctor!” Soonyoung yells, as he drops onto the court next to Wonwoo, reaching out to clutch his hand until the court physician gets to them. He’s pale, so pale under the lights. He’s almost translucent.
“It hurts. It hurts so much…”
“Stay with me, Wonwoo, they’re almost here. Come on. Just breathe.”
Andre Agassi once said that of all the games men and women play, tennis is by far the closest to solitary confinement, and it’s something that Soonyoung’s thought about but never really understood, until those long agonizing moments when everyone felt like a galaxy away from the court. Every single person has a role to play during a tennis match, and when something off-script happens, there’s a moment when everything is up in the air and nobody really knows what to do. Soonyoung himself has no idea; all he is capable of is holding Wonwoo’s hand and wishing fervently for help to arrive as soon as they can.
The lights have always been too bright on Arther Ashe stadium, even in the mid-afternoon sun. This is the only thought running through Soonyoung’s brain as Wonwoo is stretchered off the court into a blinding parade of brightness heading into the tunnel, and one of the most anticipated grand slam finals ends in a retirement due to injury.
Soonyoung Kwon def. Wonwoo Jeon 6-3 5-2 ret.
“Where’s your parents?” Soonyoung asks. Wonwoo’s parents flew in with his own parents yesterday morning, and they’d hardly left Wonwoo’s side since the accident happened. His own parents had to be physically told not to come over, lest Wonwoo become overwhelmed by the amount of people visiting him at the hospital.
Wonwoo shrugs. “I told them to get some dinner and some sleep, and that I wanted alone time. I think they got the message.” He pushes a button and the hospital bed whirs to life, putting him in an upright position. “I saw you on the Today show earlier.”
“Ah, you did?” Soonyoung scratches the back of his head, sheepish. “Did I look okay?”
“You did well, Soonyoung. You looked good. Like a champion,” Wonwoo says softly, and Soonyoung feels like he wants to throw up. “Did I ever tell you congratulations? Congratulations.”
He sighs. “This is not how I wanted things to go, Wonwoo.”
Wonwoo lowers his head. “I know. I… I’m sorry Soonyoung.”
Soonyoung widens his eyes. “What? No, why are you apologizing to me? I should be apologizing to you!”
“What for?” Wonwoo asks, his brows furrowing with confusion. “I’m the one who ruined your first grand slam by not giving you a chance to win it fair and square. You deserve more than a retirement win, Soonyoung.”
“Wonwoo, it should have been you making history. I… I crashed your party. We should be celebrating your victory right now, not mine.” Soonyoung blurts all of this out in almost a single breath. The news articles on his wins were muted, the write-ups and features equally somber. Most of Soonyoung’s most ardent fans on Twitter and Naver were raging about how unfair it was that all the pieces on the final focused more on what Wonwoo lost than what Soonyoung won, but Soonyoung can’t help but side with the majority. Sure, perhaps he felt a little indignant after skimming through the coverage, but every time he feels unfairness bubbling inside him, he remembers the way Wonwoo clutched his hand and the ghostly pallor of his complexion, and he thinks about how much he’s taken from him, how he’s always taking from him.
“Soonyoung, that’s stupid. You won this, fair and square. I’m… I’m sorry I missed your trophy ceremony. I would have been proud to hold the runner up trophy next to you.” Wonwoo lowers his head. “You… kissed the trophy three times. I saw.”
“Yes, well…” Soonyoung trails off, pink in the face all of a sudden. “Old habits.”
“Mhmmm,” Soonyoung bites the inside of his cheek, trying not to smile. “By the way, where’s your WTA girlfriend?”
“My who?” Wonwoo quips, tilting his head curiously. He looks so cute Soonyoung wants to climb all over him.
“The American? You were sitting with her during the match of the other American player… Amber or something or other…”
Wonwoo’s eyes widen. “Do you mean Jamie?” He starts to double over with laughter, making Soonyoung flush with embarrassment.
“Stop laughing, Wonwoo, geez!”
“For your information,” Wonwoo manages to say through his giggles. “Jamie is a friend. Amber is a friend. I’m pretty sure neither of them is my girlfriend.”
“Good to know,” Soonyoung says, pouting. He’s somewhat mollified but being laughed at stings. “You were sitting together in a player’s box and I just thought…”
Wonwoo sighs, before picking up Soonyoung’s hand again, gently shaking their intertwined fingers. “How could you think I was shacking up with someone while I was in bed with you the other night?”
“Well, we weren’t really in bed together inasmuch as we were using each other as mutual masturbation devices,” Soonyoung points out. “It was weird.” It felt good at the time, being close to him, but in retrospect, it was all just a way to avoid talking.
“I guess it was. Weird,” Wonwoo concurs, slowly. “I just… didn’t know what to say, where to start. There’s so much we need to talk about.”
“Wonwoo,” Soonyoung interrupts. He bites his lip, before breathing out and saying the rest. “I need you to know that I’m sorry for what happened and that I promise to be here for you this time. I don’t want to lose you again. I won’t lose you again.”
Wonwoo touches Soonyoung’s cheek, touched. “I’m sorry I got so mad at you. I felt so strange without you. Like a part of me was missing.”
Soonyoung’s vision mists over. “Are you always this sentimental when you’re injured?”
“Only when it’s for you,” Wonwoo jokes, cracking a wide but weak grin at him. “Kwon Soonyoung, grand slam winner.”
“I like the sound of that, Jeon Wonwoo, 3-time grand slam winner.”
They’re smiling at each other when the door opens; Soonyoung drops Wonwoo’s hand but shoots him an apologetic glance before looking at the person in the doorway.
It’s a distinguished-looking woman with deep brown skin and a white coat; her nametag read ‘Conway.’ “How are you doing Mr. Jeon?” she greets Wonwoo, before smiling and nodding at Soonyoung. “I expected one US Open finalist in this room, not two. It’s nice for Mr. Kwon to drop by after he won against you. Congratulations, by the way.”
“He’s rubbing it in,” Wonwoo says, smirking. Soonyoung splutters in indignation.
“I was not, you jerk!”
Wonwoo is laughing, and even Dr. Conway is hiding a smile at Soonyoung’s exclamations. “Calm down, Kwon, it’s okay. Dr. Conway is my orthopedic surgeon.”
“Surgeon?” Soonyoung quiets down after he hears that word. “Are you going to have surgery?”
Wonwoo’s eyes are telling Soonyoung to calm down, so he tries his best; he sinks into the chair next to Wonwoo’s and pipes down.
“Mr. Jeon, I have your x-ray results and some findings here I’d like to discuss with you. Perhaps it’s best to do this in private…”
“No, it’s okay. Soonyoung can stay and listen. I’ll probably be telling him myself anyway,” Wonwoo tells her, looking at Soonyoung to check if it was okay with him to stay. Soonyoung gives a single silent nod in response.
“I see. Very well,” Dr. Conway says. She adjusts her glasses and clears her throat before continuing. “You cut short your rehab in order to prepare for the season this year, and proceeded to mask the pain that resulted from the metal screws in your hip straining with heavy doses of Vicodin instead of rest. Due to the number of matches you played this year, the fracture never really healed and in fact, has widened.” She opens the folder and shows them a dark x-ray sheet, setting down her clipboard to point out an alarmingly long and defined split running down the middle of what Soonyoung thinks is Wonwoo’s hip and upper thigh.
“That’s,” Wonwoo starts, before he stops and clears his throat. Underneath the blankets, he searches for Soonyoung’s hand, and Soonyoung clutches it with both of his, not even thinking about what Dr. Conway would think about this blatant display of comfort between them. “That’s really bad-looking, doctor.”
Dr. Conway sighs. “I’ll forego the lecture this time. Mr. Jeon, I’m afraid that it looks like what happened last Sunday was your hip giving in for the last time.”
Soonyoung inhales as Wonwoo’s hand balls up into a fist in his grip. He feels faint.
“I’m afraid the damage is nearly irreparable.”
Soonyoung sniffles miserably, tucking his head onto his mother’s shoulder.
“There, there, my little chicken,” she coos, as if he were five and tripping over loose patches of dirt again. She strokes his head, soft little pats, until his sniffs fade away into barely-there huffs. “Oh, Soonyoung.”
“I’m sorry, mom. I don’t mean to…”
“Nonsense,” she tuts. She pulls away to look at him, holding his face in her hands, peering closely. “You have done so much in your life, Soonyoung. You’ve brought great joy and hope to our family, to your country.”
Soonyoung feels his lower lip tremble.
“You carry so much guilt and shame inside of you,” she says softly, tentatively. He winces at her words, and she tucks his hair behind his ear, eyebrows knitted together in concern. “Tennis is supposed to bring you joy, not keep you away from it.”
“And I hope you don’t mind my saying this,” she speaks cautiously, carefully. Soonyoung’s breath hitches. “But ever since you and Wonwoo fought, and then he had that accident, you haven’t enjoyed playing—at least, not the way you used to.”
Soonyoung swallows, nervous. “How did you come to that conclusion?”
“A mother’s intuition,” she says, before smiling kindly. “Soonyoung, you know that no matter what happens, that I love you right? That I will always be here for you, whatever you do, and whoever you’re with.”
A wave of emotion crashes inside of him, and he crumbles. “Mom…”
“You don’t have to say it, son. Not until you’re ready.”
He scrunches his eyes shut, exhales heavily. “I don’t want to disappoint anyone, especially you and dad.”
“You could never, ever disappoint us, Soonyoung. Never.” She wraps him up in a tight hug, as he starts to sob once more.
“If people found out that I—that Wonwoo and I—we’ll be ruined. No matter what I do, I’ll only ever be thought about as the—the gay tennis player.” He’s never said it out loud like this before, and his breath hitches several times until it feels like he’s going to hurl his lungs out. “They’ll forget about everything I’ve done, disregard everything I’ll do. They might even say things to you, to dad, to Minkyung.”
“Your father and your sister have had a running bet for awhile now about you and Wonwoo. Don’t ask.”
“They have what?”
“I said don’t ask,” his mother tells him firmly. “But if that is what you are afraid of, I will show you something important.” She eases him off her shoulder gently, pointing towards the shelf. “Do you see your US Open trophy there?”
He sniffles, still woozy from the confession and the acceptance from his family. But not in a bad way. Definitely not in a bad way. He looks at the trophy and nods slowly.
She turns back to him, holds his hands in hers.
“Only a few people in the world, in history, have ever accomplished holding one of these. But remember, Soonyoung: what good is it to be remembered in the next lifetime when you do not live the life you want in yours?”
“Wonwoo, Wonwoo, what are you up to…”
Soonyoung paces in his room, waiting for the text that’ll be the go signal for him to head downstairs. It’s two days before the Shanghai Masters, and Wonwoo’s called a press conference.
Turns out that the Samsung rumor was true and Wonwoo did have access to a private jet. He’d taken advantage of this and flown into Shanghai even though he had no intention of playing, just so he could make arrangements with the ATP personally.
Press conferences are either incredibly dull or fascinating glimpses into the psyche. There are plenty of people who think of them as a chore, and some people who consider them as another kind of court to grandstand on. Wonwoo had never liked going through them, while Soonyoung felt it was just another avenue for people to get to know his personality.
Which is why him flying in just to hold a press conference meant that something major was in the pipeline, and Soonyoung has a feeling it’s nothing good.
When he gets a text from Joshua, he practically flies out of his room and into the service elevator of the hotel, pressing the floor that leads to the roofdeck, which appears to be empty except for one person.
Soonyoung’s heart flips a little at the sight of him. He looks so gaunt, more than when he’d last seen him a few months ago in New York. There’s sweat trickling down the sides of his face, and he’s struggling to get up with his crutches. Soonyoung moves to his side, making little shushing noises and urging him to just sit down again.
“Don’t stand up for me, idiot.”
“And don’t you fuss,” Wonwoo argues back, but he smiles at Soonyoung, squeezing his hand in reassurance before sliding his fingers in the gaps of his. “I’m fine. It’s not as bad as it looks, I swear.”
“How is the rehab going? You are still going, right?”
“Every day,” Wonwoo assuages him, nodding. “My parents would have my head if I didn’t.”
“Good. That’s good. Not the beheading part, the rehab part.” Soonyoung wants nothing more than to lie his head on his shoulder, to reassure himself that Wonwoo’s okay, he’s okay and he’s going to get better. “I’ll come visit soon, right before I have to go to Paris.”
“You don’t have to, Soonyoung, that’s an important stretch of tournaments,” Wonwoo argues, but Soonyoung shakes his head.
“I promised you, didn’t I? Besides,” he reasons, before trying to give Wonwoo a cheeky wink. “I did some research and they say constant hip action is very good for rehabilitation after surgery.”
Wonwoo rolls his eyes, but chuckles. Luckily, his injury hadn’t been so severe that they had to resort to replacement surgery, but it was a very close thing. Dr. Conway oversaw his surgery that inserted more metal nails and screws into his bones. Afterwards, she’d told him that she didn’t want him anywhere close to a tennis court for at least six months, which is why Wonwoo was here to talk to the ATP about the requirements for filing a petition to protect his ranking while he’s injured. At least, this is what Soonyoung knows he will be doing.
He dips his shoulder in order to lean his head against Soonyoung’s.
Soonyoung blinks, confused at the sudden affection. “Wonwoo?”
“I let Tanaka-san go, Soonyoung.”
His stomach twists at Wonwoo’s soft words. “What? What do you mean?”
“Vernon, too. Shua-hyung’s just accompanied me for now, but he’s more or less a free agent for now, except for the special projects he’ll throw my way. If any.”
Soonyoung pulls back, staring hard at Wonwoo. “What are you planning, Wonwoo? I thought you were here to petition for a protected ranking?”
“I was,” Wonwoo says, nodding. “But the more I think about it, the more sure I am.”
“I’m retiring, Soonyoung. Not just for the season,” Wonwoo says slowly, as if trying hard to believe it himself. “I’m retiring for good.”
Funny how Soonyoung both saw this coming and is completely blindsided by it. “Retiring?” he repeats after Wonwoo. “But you’re so young. Wonwoo, you’re… you’ll get better. Six months will pass in a minute, you’ll see, you don’t have to make any decisions right away.”
Wonwoo lowers his head, shaking it. “Soonyoung, I’ve never really explained to you how it felt to go through those wins this year. Yes, they felt good, but I was in agony the whole time. I was pushing myself beyond what I was capable of, pushing myself to the brink of implosion.” He sighs. “The fact of the matter is, Soonyoung, that I damaged myself beyond repair, and nothing I can do now will get me back to the levels of how I used to play. And I can’t go through it again.” He looks up into Soonyoung’s face, eyes pleading with him to understand. “I can’t.”
“But Wonwoo…” Soonyoung says. “Isn’t this your dream?”
The other shakes his head, and gives Soonyoung a sad smile. “This was never my dream, not the way it was yours.”
Soonyoung can’t believe that, refuses to believe it. “You don’t mean that. I’ve seen you, you love to play. You love to compete, to win. All these years…”
“In a way, you aren’t wrong,” Wonwoo says, before adjusting his glasses. “The competition was fun, and when I was good at it, I was good at it. But Soonyoung… when I was lying on that stretched being brought off court, I wasn’t thinking about the opportunity I was throwing away, the record I wouldn’t be able to make, or not being able to play. I was… in a way, I was thinking about how relieved I was that I didn’t have to keep playing, or pretending. And that’s not something you’re supposed to be thinking about when you’re on the brink of history.”
Soonyoung doesn’t realize that wetness has started crawling down his cheeks until it trickles under his shirt. “Pretending?”
Wonwoo smiles sadly, before leaning forward and pressing his forehead against his again. “Pretending that a sport is more important than… than… well. You know.”
His vision is getting blurry with tears. “Please don’t do this, Wonwoo. I don’t want to be any part of the reason why you leave. You’re so talented. You make everyone on tour a better player because you’re so good. Little boys in our country are growing up idolizing you and wanting to play this sport because of you.”
Wonwoo shakes his head, chuckles mirthlessly. “I’ve lived my life for them for so many years now. I just want to make my own choice.” He sits back now, looking at him, and Soonyoung feels he’s disappointed in what he sees. “I hope one day you realize that none of this has anything to do with you. I should have done this before. I would have done this before, with or without you.”
“Guess the calendar slam postponed things for you.”
Wonwoo chuckles. “Something like that.” He shifts, pulling his crutches up and preparing to stand up and use them. Soonyoung is still looking at him, confused and helpless. He was prepared to handle six months without Wonwoo, maybe a year. But the rest of his career, without Wonwoo across from him on the other side of the net? Without Wonwoo at the same place as him for ten out of the twelve months of the year? Without Wonwoo taking showers with him, lavishing kisses on him, loving him into the long hours of the night?
Wonwoo looks around quickly, making sure that no one is around, before he leans forward and cups Soonyoung’s cheek. He smiles at him, and Soonyoung aches with how loving he looks.
“All the wins, the trophies, the prizes… I’d give up all of it for this. Just being with you.”
Soonyoung falls forward into his arms, sobbing, holding him and keeping him upright, even as one of his crutches clatters to the ground. He cries into Wonwoo’s shoulder, cries to avoid saying that he feels the same.
Because he doesn’t.
After Wonwoo has his press conference, he goes home. Soonyoung doesn’t follow him.
He goes back to Changwon.
Wonwoo retires from tennis.
A few years later, he’s still retired. Soonyoung is still playing.
The national depression over Wonwoo’s sudden retirement has eased, because Korea’s football team makes it into the World Cup semifinals. Football fever sweeps the nation, just as quickly as it did tennis. South Korea is as fickle as the weather, Soonyoung thinks sometimes, but not without affection.
Soonyoung goes to Changwon every once in awhile to see Wonwoo, but things aren’t the same. The busy tennis calendar has him only being able to spare two or three days, maximum, which is only enough time for them to have a quick fuck or two before Soonyoung is flying back out to make it to the next tournament. While Soonyoung is playing, they keep in contact, but barely, because it’s a constant reminder that he isn’t there, and Soonyoung would rather not think about it.
Wonwoo says he understands. He wants Soonyoung to keep playing, because it’s what Soonyoung wants. And it is. What Soonyoung wants. He can’t be tied down in just one place for too long—he’d go mad. He can’t let anything detract from his tennis, so he has his new manager Aaron (a friend and recommendation of Joshua’s) plant random dating rumors with random WTA players and even K-Pop stars just to keep Dispatch from sniffing too close.
He thinks it’s necessary. Wonwoo shrugs it off. Soonyoung wishes he were a bit more bothered by it than he’s showing.
Soonyoung muddles about the tour with mediocre showings. He maintains top ten only with his slam showings, and reaches top five when he manages to make it to the finals of Wimbledon against Danny Shore at the age of 27.
He loses, and promptly announces he’s taking a whole month off. While the papers are still crooning over another American victory at Wimbledon, Soonyoung is booking the first flight to South Korea, specifically, Gimhae Airport, the closest entrypoint to Changwon he can manage.
Soonyoung is at Wonwoo’s for another week before the day comes that he has to go.
The morning starts off innocuously enough. Soonyoung wakes up to Wonwoo’s mouth on his neck and his hand on his dick. They make love while the gray outside the window darkens into a rainy Wednesday morning. Since the studio is closed on Wednesdays, Soonyoung suggests to take a walk to the nearby park.
They walk, a foot apart, Soonyoung pulling a mask over his face and a hoodie over his head.
“The US Open is soon,” Soonyoung murmurs. His voice barely carries through the air, but Wonwoo still nods, acknowledging it.
“In about a week.”
“I have to leave soon.” They stop in front of a tree in front of the park.
Wonwoo gives him a somber smile. “You do.”
And suddenly Soonyoung thinks of how unfair it all is, how the sport he adores can be so cruel, to start with love but not actually allow people to. He’s so tired, so tired of hiding, so tired of having to choose, that he thinks about just throwing caution to the wind and… he looks at Wonwoo, looking back at him, wind rustling through his hair. And he just wants him.
I want to kiss him. I want to kiss him now.
So he takes off his mask, goes on tiptoe, and, pulling on Wonwoo’s collar to tug him closer, kisses him, long and deep and slow, in front of the tree.
When he pulls away, he opens his eyes.
The world doesn’t end. Cars drive past, children play, life goes on, and Soonyoung is still in love with Wonwoo.
He exhales, and Wonwoo, flushed, breathless, happy, looks back at him in surprise.
“I’m in love with you, Jeon Wonwoo.”
Much later on, after they’ve raced back to Wonwoo’s apartment and jumped into bed, Soonyoung heaves an almighty, reluctant sigh.
“I don’t want to go, Wonwoo.”
“But you have to,” Wonwoo whispers into the side of his neck. Soonyoung stretches, languid, as Wonwoo trails a hand up and down his bare side, murmuring soft nothings as he reaches down to cup his ass. He angles his head towards Wonwoo, asking another kiss, a demand Wonwoo gives into far too easily, far too eager to curl his tongue around his.
“How could I leave now?”
“You have a grand slam to try to win, Kwon,” Wonwoo says in a low voice. He nips at Soonyoung’s bottom lip. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be here, waiting for you.”
Soonyoung knows. He knows Wonwoo will always be there, putting him first, despite all of his insecurities and his selfishness and his doubts. A surge of love, affection and trust pulses through Soonyoung, and suddenly everything becomes crystal clear to him.
What good is it to be remembered in the next lifetime when you do not live the life you want in yours?
What good indeed, mom.
“Come with me, then.”
“Come with me, to the US Open. As my… you know.”
Wonwoo opens his eyes, suddenly focusing them on Soonyoung. He quirks his eyebrow. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
Soonyoung lowers his gaze, eyes flicking up to look at him through his lashes. “If you’re okay with it, I mean.”
With a noise of elation, Wonwoo swoops his head down to kiss him deep, pressing him harder into the mattress. “I am more than okay with it,” he murmurs against his lips.
One year later, Soonyoung loses the Wimbledon final. Again.
Still, when he takes the runner-up trophy, he smiles up at Wonwoo, who is in his box along with the rest of his team and his family. In front of everyone, he tells Wonwoo that he’s the only other person he wants to share his life with other than tennis. Even from far away, he can tell Wonwoo’s cheeks are red with pleasure.
After his speech, he bows to everyone, and makes his way back to the net where the lawn tennis officials stood lined up, giving way for the champion to make his speech. On the way back, he sees Wonwoo in his box, smiling quietly at him.
Looking back up at him, he gives him a wink, before kissing the trophy three times.
Many years later, Soonyoung wins his third slam at the Australian Open.
He’s still competing, even though by now he’s considered as part of the tour veterans in his early thirties. Wonwoo doesn’t usually go with him for regular tournaments unless he wants to, but he almost always flies out and joins him for slams. He’s in Soonyoung’s box when he wins in four sets over Voig, who gives him a hearty handshake and a congratulations.
During his speech, he jokes that he and Wonwoo are all tied up already. “But who’s counting?” Wonwoo pretends to give him a thumbs down, to the delight of the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
Sometime during the year after Soonyoung asked Wonwoo to sit in his box during the first round of the US Open, they both come out to the general public.
It was a difficult time, at first, especially in their own country. They still get a lot of resistance from the older generation, and Soonyoung sometimes still hears uncomfortable jokes in the locker room, but in general they’ve been embraced and loved a lot by the LGBT community, especially in sports. Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova have sat down with both of them, telling them how proud they were of them.
They talk about their futures now, and it’s not some nebulous wispy set of wishes, but something that they both concretely and positively plan towards. Eventually, they both decide on setting up a tennis academy in Changwon to teach kids how to play tennis, maybe in the near future, after Soonyoung’s contemplated retirement.
Wonwoo meets Soonyoung backstage – they’ve been together for more than a decade now, but they're stronger than ever. Wonwoo jokes about coming out of retirement to one-up Soonyoung, but Soonyoung just kisses him to shut him up. The cameras flash, and it ends up all over the news but Soonyoung doesn’t think of it. He just tucks his head in the crook of Wonwoo’s shoulder, and smiles.