Actions

Work Header

First Touch

Work Text:

The air in the Domaine de Luchin training complex crackles with a combination of nerves and anticipation as Jongin and the rest of Lille Olympique Sporting Club watch their destiny unfold on the television in the canteen.

 

It’s the UEFA Champions League draw for the group stage of the competition and the first team convened to witness the ceremonial fanfare of presenters swirl lottery balls before fishing one out to read out the name of one of Europe’s elite football clubs. The clubs are seeded in four different pots with Lille in the weakest one, a minnow in a sea of sharks and other better-funded predators, still swimming tenuously in the liminal space of possibility.

 

The murmurs of his teammates and coaching staff mingle into a drone of ambient noise consisting of discussions on the teams they’d want to face or love to avoid, but nothing is loud enough to drown out the deafening buzz of anxiety like radio static blanketing the inside of Jongin’s head.

 

It’s the first time in seven years that Lille has made it to the Champions League group stage and it’s Jongin’s first time ever to even get the chance to play in the tournament he’s been dreaming of since he first heard the heart-stirring strains of the Champions League anthem as a child. Jongin feels robbed of the opportunity to share in the excitement of his teammates and to relish, just for a moment, in the hard-earned fruits of his labor, but the shivering disquiet that bloomed in his chest when he saw a particular name from the list of participating clubs has only expanded throughout his being with a relentlessness that feels like inevitability.

 

Jongin barely hears it when Lille’s name is read aloud and the room erupts into a cacophony of cheers over the shrill clarity of his worst fears being realized: They’ve been drawn into the same group as Chelsea Football Club.

 

There at the threshold of an arduous and uncertain path to sporting glory, Jongin’s teammates are hungry and eager for the chance to seize even just a taste of it. They face the blinding light of the future bright-eyed and unblinking, with the stubborn confidence of young men still convinced of the limitlessness of their own potential, but Jongin can only close his eyes, knows without having to look that what awaits him is an inevitable confrontation with the past he’s tried so hard to leave behind.

 

 

‘Hi, is this Kim Jongin’s number? It’s Sehun.’

 

The message on Jongin’s phone blinks up at him as he’s on a stationary bike and his fingers twitch toward it before he pulls them back. It goes unanswered as Jongin crushes his workout with a singular focus and and dialed-up intensity to which Jongin solely attributes his elevated heart rate.

 

When he bleeds the aggression out of his system, he musters the strength to type out a breezy: ’Sehun! It’s been a while. How’d you get my number?

 

Yeah it’s been way too long. Junmyeon-hyung gave it to me. Hope that’s okay?

 

Jongin frowns at the thought of his agent still being in touch with Sehun. Before he can respond, Sehun’s messages start coming in thick and fast.

 

Anyway you see the draw???

 

What am I saying of course you did lol

 

Tough group right? There’s gonna be a lot of great games’

 

‘Isn’t it crazy that we got each other??’

 

Before Sehun can get another word in, Jongin rushes to send a reply he hopes will put an end to this conversation, ‘Yeah haha let’s both work hard and do our best!!

 

The typing bubble flickers intermittently on his screen. Jongin bites his bottom lip in anticipation.

 

‘Can you believe it’s been almost 10 years since we last played on the same pitch?’

 

‘I can’t wait to see you again.

 

Jongin does not text back.

 

 

A surfeit of hyperactive energy that could be tamed only through physical exertion is what pushes seven-year old Jongin’s parents to enroll him in football lessons to keep him occupied for the summer, but it’s love at first kick that drives Jongin to return to the football pitch, bright and early at 7 a.m. five days a week.

 

It’s actually Sehun’s mom who does the driving while actively listening to a chattering Jongin try and fail to keep the volume down during his sedentary but no less animated reenactment of the newest football trick or goal he saw on the internet, as Sehun dozes fitfully in the passenger seat, his small body curling tightly inward in a futile attempt to shield himself from the pale light of the morning sun.

 

Sehun, six years old, sallow-skinned and scrawny, had been all scowls and yawns the day he and Jongin met. His mother had dragged him out of bed and laced him up his brother’s old football boots before hoisting him into her sedan and dropping him off at the side of the pitch with a kiss on his cheek and the enthusiastic exhortation to “have fun! Make friends!” It was only by pure chance and proximity when their coach told then to pair up to practice passing drills that Jongin and Sehun wound up together. At the end of that first session, the two had become inseparable and their mothers had already worked out a carpool schedule.

 

Today, Sehun’s mom is driving them to a tournament with other kids their age from around the district. Sehun is the quickest and most confident with the ball at his feet, so he’s tasked with spearheading their attack as the center forward. Jongin, through sheer force of enthusiasm rather than any nascent attacking aptitude, plays at left wing.

 

They win all four of their matches that day, with Sehun scoring a total of seven goals (getting a hat trick in the last game) and nutmegging ten kids (two of whom were his own teammates). Jongin gets an assist—which was really a mishit shot at goal—but he’s just happy to kick a ball around with his friends.

 

For all his misgivings on that first day of training, a switch seems to flip in Sehun’s mind at the sight of all these unfamiliar kids in different colored kits and the gunmetal silver trophy with a little boy kicking a football perched on top. A natural born competitor is how their coach describes him after watching Sehun scrap and scrape to recover possession and drive towards the goal.

 

As Sehun lifts the trophy above his hands amidst the grabby hands of his teammates, “Most Valuable Player” medal slung around his neck, Jongin stands to the side. He observes Sehun, whose face is aglow in the gentle caress of a late afternoon sunbeam and in the wide, apple-cheeked smile that tugs the corners of his own mouth upwards, Jongin understands for the first time why they call it the beautiful game.

 

 

It’s Matchday 2 of the Champions League and Lille are hosting Chelsea at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.

 

Lille’s preparations for this match have equipped Jongin with tunnel vision for the next 90 minutes between kick-off and the final whistle and a hunger that is so gnawingly all-consuming that Jongin can’t afford to focus on anything else but beating the odds and getting a good result.

 

Until it’s less than an hour from kick-off and he spots Sehun in the tunnel leading to the pitch. Jongin is initially struck by the unabashed delight that illuminates Sehun’s face at the sight of him. Initially, he disbelieves that he could inspire such unmitigated joy, but Sehun maintains eye contact. Jongin blinks and suddenly Sehun is right in front of him.

 

“It figures that you’d wind up at a club with a dog as its mascot,” Sehun says in lieu of a greeting and Jongin’s breath hitches at the naked, teasing familiarity in his voice.

 

Jongin recovers from his shock the moment the decade’s worth of resentment simmering under his skin leaps to the surface. He tamps down on the knee-jerk response to be petty and unprofessional, refuses to let himself be rattled by the opponent right before a big game, even (or especially) if he is Sehun.

 

“Sehun-ssi! It’s been a while. How have you been?” Jongin says, voice a little too strained to pass off as casual, a little too acerbic to pretend to be interested in Sehun’s response.

 

Sehun scrunches his nose in a way that shouldn’t twist Jongin’s stomach into knots but does anyway. “I’ve been okay. I still can’t believe we’re both here,” Sehun says, smile entirely too tender for Jongin’s comfort. “You look great, Jongin.”

 

Jongin feels his cheeks heat up at the compliment and he can’t believe his well-trained, extremely disciplined body would betray him like this. “You look good too,” Jongin says and he’s not lying: Sehun is a professional athlete at his physical peak. He’s every bit as beautiful as Jongin remembers. “Hey, as much as I wanna catch up, I have to go warm-up. Let’s play hard and pray for no injuries for both sides.”

 

Jongin turns to leave before a gentle tug on his arm stops him. “Do you mean that? That you wanna catch up?” Sehun asks, fingers loosely splayed across the jackhammer pulse fluttering at  Jongin’s wrist. “Because I’d like that a lot. Let’s hang out after the match? Please?”

 

Sehun’s poker face is still impenetrable but Jongin can see the tension in the set of his jaw, the briefest flicker of an expression of unease and trepidation in his eyes. It’s slightly discomfiting to know that nearly-ten-years-a-stranger Sehun still reads like an open book to Jongin. It’s downright terrifying to know that Jongin is still so weak in the face of Sehun’s pleading earnestness.

 

“You make a habit out of hanging out with the enemy?”

 

Sehun snorts. “The enemy? We won’t be ‘enemies’ anymore after the match, right?’

 

“There’s still the return fixture,” Jongin says, aware that he’s splitting hairs.

 

“Come on, it’ll be like old times,” Sehun says, wheedling as the pads of his fingertips dance across the thin skin of Jongin’s inner wrist. “We were never enemies even when we played on different teams. We were best friends.” The grip on his wrist tightens, “We were more than that.”

 

Jongin’s heart is a lead weight in his chest. “Sehun,” he says, weakly attempting to tug free from Sehun’s hold on him, “Let’s play it by ear and see how we feel after kicking the shit out of each other, okay? You might get sick of my face after it’ll be all up in yours for 90 minutes.”

 

“Never,” Sehun says, shaking his head, but his eyes are smiling again. “It’s too good of a view to pass up.”

 

Before his expression can betray him any further, Jongin jerks free from Sehun’s hold and immediately starts walking to the home dressing room.

 

“Do your talking on the pitch, Oh Sehun.”

 

 

Sehun starts off his youth career by playing for Shinhyun Middle School before he’s scouted to join FC Seoul’s academy at 14 years old. Jongin plays for his own middle school, then his high school, trying as hard as he can to keep up with Sehun’s meteoric rise. Jongin has trials with FC Seoul and Incheon United, but nothing comes from them. Sehun stays by his side, an inexhaustible source of comfort and quiet encouragement, reassuring him with the utmost conviction that the two of them will fulfill their footballing dreams one day.

 

The first time Sehun is called up to the South Korea national under-17 team at 15 years old is the first time he kisses Jongin. Feeling invincible, Sehun finds the courage to pull Jongin close and press just a tiny morsel of his overwhelming desire into and against Jongin’s eager mouth.

 

From then, both Sehun’s career and their relationship progress quickly, but Jongin, who is truly happy for Sehun and all his success and is maybe falling in love with him, can’t help but feel stuck, when injuries translate into lost opportunities and an off-day on the field could ruin your chances of ever getting scouted by a professional club.

 

Sehun, who is dominating youth football and is starting to gain recognition in the wider general public, who never gloats and has stayed so humble and grounded, is always there: to train with Jongin, to hold him when he wants it and fuck him when he needs it, to bear witness to the hidden fears and longings in his heart and put him back together when he breaks under the weight of them.

 

Sehun is always there until he isn’t. Until he’s barely 17 and his agent gets a call all the way from London that Chelsea are interested in giving him a trial for a spot in their academy.

 

When he finds out, Jongin’s initial reaction isn’t the vicarious elation he usually feels at news of Sehun’s success. Instead, he feels a twinge of jealousy (because Chelsea has always been his dream club) and a pang of dread (because London is so very far away). It must show on his face, because Sehun takes Jongin’s hands in his.

 

“It’s only for a while that we’ll be apart. I promise we’ll play together again. I’ll wait for you there.”

 

Jongin pulls Sehun into a bone-crushing hug, holds him there for as long as he can before the future can take Sehun away from him.

 

Jongin makes a promise to himself too.

 

(It becomes harder to keep with each passing year of marginal gains and small steps in his career. He gets a scholarship to play for Yonsei University before being scouted to play for a mid-tier club in the Swiss league. Injuries sideline him for whole seasons at a time and the language barrier alienates him from his teammates. But Jongin grafts and grinds, hops around second-rate leagues and clubs in Europe until he finds his way to France and Lille and Sehun.)

 

 

Like a half-starved attack dog, Jongin pursues Sehun along the pitch, nipping at his heels and sticking to him like a second skin. As Lille’s left fullback, Jongin executes his instructions of marking Sehun like his body has been programmed to do nothing else. Chelsea’s star right winger, known for slicing through defenses with his incisive and graceful dribbling and gliding out of tight spots in the attacking third to find spaces to shoot unerringly at goal, has been frustrated both by Lille’s collective defensive tactics and by Jongin’s dogged determination and familiarity with Sehun’s playstyle. Sehun laughs off the first crunching tackle, the simultaneous nostalgia and novelty of playing football with his childhood friend again only wearing off after Jongin mostly accidentally plants the studs of his boots into Sehun’s shin. It’s at that point that Sehun’s ice-cold veneer starts to thaw under his rising temper, frustration mounting as it becomes apparent that Jongin is hellbent on not letting him breathe.

 

The game ends in a 0-0 draw. At the final whistle, Jongin lets out a primal roar, feels the cheers of the home crowd wash over him like a wave. Riding the high of a good performance, Jongin refuses to let anything bring him down.

 

Later that night, Sehun ends up at Jongin’s apartment.

 

“What the fuck was that, Jongin?” Sehun says, still apparently eschewing more traditional forms of greeting. “If you missed me that badly, you could have just said so without crawling all over my dick.”

 

Jongin’s hackles rise, trace amounts of adrenaline still running through his veins, “I was just doing my job. You think just because you play for a bigger club than me that I should just let you win? Just because you’re a better player than me doesn’t mean that I can’t get one over you sometimes.”

 

Sehun stops, looks lost in Jongin’s living room, as though he forgot why he was there. “That’s not. That wasn’t what I—” Sehun draws his lips into a tight line, inhales deeply through his nose before exhaling loudly out his mouth. “Let me try again: that was the most frustrating 90 minutes of my life. You were amazing, Nini.”

 

Jongin rolls his eyes, but the praise from Sehun turns his insides into quicksand and  Jongin is already sinking. Sehun has a considering look in his eyes, as he draws closer to Jongin.

 

“Life in London would suit you, you know? It’s fast, vibrant, and just so alive. The speed of it still leaves me winded, but I know it’s exactly the pace you’d thrive at.”

 

Jongin turns his back to Sehun to hide the tremor in his jaw. To conceal the monumental depth of his desire that must be so plain on his face. “Why are you saying this? You don’t even know me.”

 

“I do,” Sehun insists at first, then, weakly: “I used to.”

 

Sehun turns Jongin to face him.

 

“I want to again.”

 

Jongin feels unpeeled by the knife-edge of Sehun’s gaze, the pulp and pith of him laid bare for Sehun to take apart. Sehun cradles him in his arms, asks is this okay? and kisses Jongin who can only nod.

 

They wend their way to Jongin’s bedroom, mouths hot and insistent against each new freshly uncovered swathe of skin. Sehun presses Jongin deep into the mattress and burns a trail of hot kisses and gentle caresses all over Jongin, sinking into him with a fervor that leaves them both breathless and gasping. By the end of it, Jongin is sated and loose-limbed in Sehun’s iron hold, weak against the way Sehun whispers long-forgotten promises against his ear.

 

 

Time passes the way it always has. Jongin’s days are filled with training sessions and matchdays, but now there’s also Sehun, who, despite being in London, still talks about their future together like it’s a sure thing.

 

Jongin doesn’t mind, not when he has Sehun back in his life and he’s playing the best football of his career.

 

Then, one day, Jongin’s agent gets a call from London.