Sehun hears him first.
The bittersweet melody of the Vocalise, playing softly behind the old wooden door of the music room he’s been frequenting. He doesn’t dare to hope; but the sound is too familiar, too inviting.
But he opens the door anyway.
Behind the closed door, by the windowsill, Lu Han is standing with a perfect posture; his left fingers dancing along his precious violin’s fingerboard skillfully, his right hand guiding the bow on the strings in precise motion. His rather pale face looks serene, eyes shut.
It is an enthralling sight.
Sehun stands there in the doorway, eyes widened. It’s as if the time is frozen, except for the playing violinist.
When it comes to a stop, it’s almost as if the oxygen has been sucked out of his lungs. Sehun blinks and takes a hesitant, shaky fill of oxygen.
Lu Han puts the violin down as he slowly opens his eyes.
A short, sharp intake of breath.
A pair of widened, dark-brown doe-like eyes.
An abrupt realization.
“Sehun…?” the name trots out hesitantly from the older’s mouth.
Sehun stays still, unmoving, mum.
“How long have you —” Lu Han pauses, then shakes his head slightly. “Did you… “ he hesitates. “Did you like it?”
Sehun finally snaps out of his reverie when Lu Han is somehow standing in front of him, looking slightly puzzled and oddly hopeful. The violinist is reaching out his hand to his forehead, but he stops him, catching the older’s wrist midway.
Lu han has got much skinnier.
“Lu Han…” Sehun frowns. “Where have you been?” He grips on the wrist a little tighter. “Haven’t you been eating?”
Lu Han, visibly surprised, pulls his hand away from Sehun’s hold and looks away. “I’ve been… away.” He answers quietly. “I’ve been eating fine.”
“Don’t lie to me, Lu Han,” Sehun sighs. “I… This past week… Don’t you know that I…” He chokes out, voice trembling slightly. “Don’t do this to me,” he finishes quietly.
And Sehun doesn’t know what come to him, really, why he suddenly bursts into tears in front of Lu Han. He really isn’t sure, but when he feels himself being pulled into a warm embrace, there in Lu Han arms, he decides the whys doesn’t really matter anymore.
Sehun finishes crying ten minutes later. Lu Han has been holding him the entire time, soothing the younger’s back gently, mumbling apologizes.
Sehun pulls away shakily, rubbing his eyes sloppily. “I’m, I’m sorry,” he apologizes, words quivering. “God, what got into me hahaha, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have bawled so suddenly like that,” he chuckles, shaking his head. There’s sincerity in those red-rimmed dark-brown eyes.
Lu Han gives him a small smile. “It’s okay. I’m sorry, too. For suddenly disappearing and not telling you anything.”
“It’s okay…” Sehun exhales shakily. He then looks up, eyes tentatively gazing at the older’s. “Are you okay? I… I’ve heard the rumors, and…” Sehun pauses, gauging Lu Han’s reaction. Lu Han’s face, much to his dismay, is not giving anything away. “They’re not true, are they?”
Lu Han looks pensive for a moment before breaking into, to Sehun’s surprise, a grin. “Are they telling people that I’ve died, again?” Lu Han chuckles, shaking his head. “What is it this time, did I die because of a car accident? Did I die of a terminal illness? Did I jump off of a building?”
Sehun frowns. He doesn’t find the idea of Lu Han dying funny at the slightest. “Lu Han…”
“Oh, maybe they’ve got more creative this time around. Finally. Perhaps I died choking on a bao or something. Or because of a strawberry milk overdose. Maybe because I accidentaly ate one of my rosins, or —“ Lu Han choked on the last word as he feels his eyes begin to sting.
“Lu Han…” Sehun repeats as he reaches out his hands to gently touch the violinist’s shoulders. “It’s okay.”
“But it’s not! They have no fucking right — they have no fucking right to,” Lu Han trembles. “to kill me off whenever they please just for fucking money,” he takes a shaky breath. “Imagine how much they’re making. Imagine how much more they would be making if it’s actually true. In fact, I might feed a lot of people by dying!”
“Lu Han, stop it,” Sehun’s voice shakes slightly with a yet to be identified emotion. It feels almost like anger. “It’s okay. You are okay. They can’t hurt you. You are here, now.”
And I’m not letting you go.
Sehun blinks. What was that?
Lu Han doesn’t reply immediately. It’s as if he’s too stunned by Sehun’s words to say anything and Sehun prays that he didn’t accidentally say his last thought out loud.
Then comes a soft chuckle.
Sehun feels a small, tentative smile strecthing on his own lips.
“Sehun… Tell me,” Lu Han starts quietly. “How good are you at keeping secrets?”
The letter is given to Lu Han a week before his competition starts and four days before Sehun’s.
Lu Han heads to his room directly after he gets home from another check-up at the hospital, the pristine white envelope wrinkled slightly as he holds onto it a little bit too hard.
He rips the edge none too gently as soon as he sits on his bed, legs crossed, a frown on his face, and starts reading the letter. It contains the details on his upcoming surgery, such as the things he should do before and after the surgery. The side-effects that might arise. The team that would do the surgery. The fees. The estimated recovery period. The date.
It would be two days after the violin competition’s finale.
Lu Han takes a deep breath, took his cellphone from his jeans’ pocket, and dialed Sehun’s number.
The next day, when Lu Han enters the music room, there is a beautiful, familiar bouquet of sunflowers sitting on the chair he usually uses. He looks around the room and the empty hallway on instinct, half hoping that he would finally be able to see the enigmatic sender. When he finds no one, he walks to the chair and searches for that particular small baby-blue envelope. When he does find it, a smile blooming on his lips, he begins reading the content.
This time, a simple :) is staring back at him.
“Why are you smiling like that? It’s kinda creepy.”
Lu Han whips his head toward the entrance and finds Sehun grinning at him, two boxes of strawberry milk in hand. Lu Han couldn’t help the blush that has begun adorning his cheeks and immediately looks away, putting the card back inside the envelope in a haste and put it into his backpack. “It’s nothing.”
“Well, nothing wouldn’t make you smile creepily like that, would it?” Sehun teases as he walks in, putting his backpack on one of the chairs, and offers one of the milk boxes to the other male. “Here.”
Lu Han takes the milk with a pout and mumbles his thanks.
“Oh? Is it from one of your fans?” Sehun asks as he notices the sunflowers bouquet.
“Ye… yes, it is.” Lu Han stutters.
Sehun, to Lu Han’s surprise, merely smiles as a response. There’s no mischief. It’s one of those rare, Oh Sehun’s sincere smiles. Sehun then averts his gaze to the older male, a concerned look now visible on his face. “Are you alright? I mean, yesterday… Are you feeling better?”
Lu Han mirrors Sehun’s earlier smile. “Yes, I am. Thank you,” he says sincerely. “And it’s hard not feeling better after hearing your attempt at singing Baby on the phone yesterday,” he grins.
Sehun blushes slightly at the memory and pouts. “But I did that to cheer you up! It worked in the end, didn’t it!"
Lu Han laughs. “It does. Thank you,” he smiles. “Really.”
Sehun merely grins and walks toward the window. There are some of his classmates doing sports at the field. After mindlessly scanning the area, his mouth forms an o. “Oh wow, it’s Jongin! I thought he’s leaving early today…”
Lu Han, interest piqued, averts his gaze to the window. Jongin is there, walking along the sideline toward the exit. In his arms are —
“Sehun,” Lu Han hears himself asking. “Why is Jongin holding bouquets of flowers?”
It takes Sehun a few seconds longer to respond. “Well, his family owns a nice flower shop downtown...” he falters. His eyes widen when he sees Lu Han suddenly stands up and strides out of the room. “He — hey, Lu Han! Wait! Where are you going?!”
It’s all Lu Han needed to hear.
Now, he needs to run.
Jongin is visibly startled when he hears someone shouting his name. So he stops in his track and turns around. When he finds out that it’s Lu Han, he widens his eyes even more. When he sees Sehun running behind the older male, a slight frown immediately makes its way to his face. “Umm… Yes?”
“Kim Jongin… isn’t it?” Lu Han smiles, panting slightly. “I believe we haven’t been properly introduced. I’m Lu Han,” he offers his hand. Jongin stares blankly at the offered hand momentarily before tentatively shakes it.
“Um, yeah. I’m Jongin… nice to meet you.” Jongin offers an awkward smile and averts his gaze to his best friend, now panting beside Lu Han, hands on his knees. “Sehun? What happened?”
Sehun shoots up and glares at Lu Han. “I don’t know. You know, Lu Han, you should probably consider joining our team. You sure can run fast.”
Lu Han dismisses the statement, eyes still trained on the baffled dancer in front of him. “Are those yours?” he gestures toward the bouquets in the younger’s arms.
“What, these? Yes… I mean, no, I’m delivering these to people…” he falters, gaze still fixed on his best friend, as if he’s searching for an answer to what exactly is going on in Sehun’s expression. When he finds nothing satisfactory, he gives his full attention back to Lu Han. “What about it, Lu Han?”
“Did you also deliver the one in the music room? The sunflowers?”
Jongin looks rather taken aback by the question. Lu Han raises his eyebrows. “Well?”
“I…” he swiftly glances at Sehun, who looks as surprised. “What?”
“The sunflowers,” Lu Han repeats impatiently. “Did you deliver them? Have you been delivering those sunflowers bouquets?”
Jongin shakes his head, eyebrows knitted slightly. “No… No, Lu Han, it’s not me. Perhaps it’s from one of your fans? Maybe they bought the flowers from our shop…” he answers smoothly. “Or, a secret admirer, perhaps?”
Lu Han looks away promptly, a tinge of pink dusting his cheeks. “I… I don’t know. That’s why I asked you to find out…”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you, then,” Jongin says apologetically, although there’s a certain amusement in his tone. “Maybe Sehun would know…?”
Lu Han turns his attention to Sehun who is now frowning at his best friend.
“How the hell am I supposed to know,” Sehun scowls at Jongin, arms crossed. He then frowns at Lu Han. “For all I know you receive tons of those. Why are you so interested in that particular bouquet anyway? I’m sure it’s just from one of your fans, nothing special.”
Lu Han opens his mouth and for a moment there he looks like he’s about to say something, before closing it again, his eyebrows furrowed slightly.
“Just… Never mind.” Lu Han finally sighs. He turns his attention to Jongin. “I’m terribly sorry for taking your time, Jongin. I think it’s best for me to get going now,” Lu Han bows slightly, turns on his heels and heads back to the music room to gather his things without a second glance. Sehun gives Jongin something akin to an exasperated look before quickly following Lu Han’s path.
“Nothing special, huh.” Jongin snickers, shaking his head, and starts heading to the addresses assigned to him.
Time ticks away and before they know it, it’s already the day of Sehun’s competition.
To say that Sehun is nervous is a gross understatement.
I’ll wait for you by the finish line.
Lu Han’s words ring in his mind. Sehun scans the cheering audience for a sight of the violinist but to no avail.
Lu Han was admitted to the hospital again due to exhaustion and stress a day previously and he is to stay in until the violin competition. Sehun has acknowledged the high probability that Lu Han wouldn’t be able to come to his competition but he can’t help but feeling something missing.
But he can’t let that get in the way, now. After all, he has promised that he would win.
“To your positions!”
Sehun takes one last glance to the cheering audience. Still no luck.
Sehun takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
He gets into the position and flutters his eyes open.
And win he will.
Lu Han cracks one eye open. He compels his eyes shut as they’re exposed to the harshness of the light hovering above him. Taking a deep breath, he turns his face to the left, towards the window. He flutters his eyes open and finds that the curtain is already drawn. He must have been asleep for too long.
As he regains his full consciousness, he can feel a small weight on his unclenched hand. He shifts his gaze towards his right hand and finds an unfamiliar medal made of gold there. Frowning a little, he takes the medal closer and squints to see what’s encarved on it. The words are a plain evidence of a promise fulfilled that brings a smile on his lips.
South Korea Track Running National Champion 2015
“Looking good, Mr. Soon-to-be-Winner.”
Lu Han looks up from his prized violin and smiles. “Hello, Sehun. Congrats on winning the competition.”
Sehun grins. “Thanks. I’ve fulfilled my promise, so you better fulfill yours.”
“I’ll try my best to.” Lu Han chuckles. He looks up to the ceiling of the hospital room he’s been using, mind wandering. It’s finally the day of the competition that will be held in a few rounds in the span of a week to the finale. It would be no doubt a tiring and yet exciting process, but Lu Han is ready. Even though he’s not in his best condition, he will give it his all. The possibility of this being his last competition in a while or even, God forbids, ever, makes him even more determined to win.
Then suddenly, he remembers something. He turns his attention to his backpack and produces Sehun’s shiny gold medal out of it. “By the way, here. Thanks for lending it to me, I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there.” He apologizes, offering the medal back to its owner.
Sehun takes it wordlessly, inspecting it for a moment before shifting his gaze to the violinist again. A shy smile on his lips, he steps forward to shorten the distance between them. Lu Han widens his eyes in surprise as Sehun put the medal on Lu Han like a necklace, the gold shining proudly on the older male. The younger takes a step back, smile unwavering. “You’re ready now.”
“Lu Han, it’s time.”
Lu Han and Sehun turn their attention to Lu Han’s mother, a warm smile on her lips. Lu Han returns her smile and nods, then starts packing his violin in its case carefully.
“I’ll see you at the venue. Good luck.” Sehun smiles, giving Lu Han’s had a reassuring squeeze.
Lu Han gulps down his nervousness and tries to return the smile. “Yeah,” he nods. “I’ll see you later, Sehun.”
After tiring days and hours of One Caprice from Op. 1 of Paganini, Debussy Sonata for violin and piano, Beethoven’s Trio in E-flat major Op. 1 No 1, Lu Han finds himself merely a few hours away from the finale. Sibelius Concerto in D minor will be his final piece; his last ultimate weapon to beat the other two finalists: Arthur Kirkland from United Kingdom and Roderich Edelstein from Austria.
Just another step away.
He waits anxiously at the backstage as the other two perform. Just his luck, he’s been assigned to perform last. Arthur has performed perfectly and beautifully with his own quirks, and now so far Roderich has also been performing very well, he has to admit. He has watched them perform several times before and their skilled techniques and interpretations, albeit different, both hold their own personal and unique quality. He has encountered both of them in competitions before, with Lu Han beating Arthur two out of four and him beating Roderich one out of two. They are indeed superb violinists, but Lu Han isn’t someone who can be taken easily, either.
Suddenly, the audience breaks into roaring applause and Lu Han knows that it’s going to be his turn very, very soon.
He takes his violin and bow in his hands, closes his eyes, and prays.
When he is finally called to perform, he throws away his fears and steps to the much-awaited stage.
Sehun stands on his feet and claps enthusiasticly as Lu Han finally enters the stage for the finale, deliberately ignoring the glares sent his way from fellow audience members. From what he's heard, Lu Han is going to perform a rather magnificent piece that everyone has been anticipating. He sits back after Lu Han is finally on his assigned position, grinning ear to ear. Lu Han looks amazing as always, in his opinion; a little nervous and exhausted, yes, but still amazing nevertheless.
“Dude, you totally need to calm down.”
Sehun turns to his side and finds an annoyed American, the same person that went hyper when that Arthur guy was performing. Sehun snorts but doesn’t reply because his doesn’t think his English is good enough to retort and decides to avert his attention back to the stage.
A moment of silence elapses and then it finally begins.
The first movement went fairly smoothly. Lu Han thanks the heavens mentally as he begins the second movement. He feels worse as the time goes on, though. He’s beginning to feel his head pounding and his vision is starting to blur. He clenches his eyes shut at the twilight of the second movement and tries his best to continue; his fingers dancing mournfully on the fingerboard on auto-pilot, the bow moving back and forth slowly over the trembling strings.
He takes a deep breath at the dawn of the third and final movement and begins the sharp, relentless notes precisely. He opens his eyes as the poundings in his head starting to become unbearable and warm tears start pooling on the corners of his eyes.
No, he thinks as he feels his consciousness slipping away. Just a little bit more —
This is it. The last of ascending slur-separate sixteenth notes —
Lu Han repositions the bow on the strings for the final notes, tears finally falling from the corners of his eyes, and compels his eyes shut.
Cross my heart.