|Sometimes Lu Han thinks he should just stop listening to everyone's advice.|
It'll look good on your resume, his advisor said. You're so good with people and you're a great writer, his favorite creative writing professor wheedled. You get a credit and a half and a stipend and you don't even have to do any homework, Yixing pointed out. And you get to boss freshmen around, Jongdae added helpfully.
Somehow, not even the extra $500 is worth the trouble that being a first-year mentor entails. He might not have any homework, but having to look after the well-being of fifteen freshman (who, in spite of having been accepted to a top-tier university, can't seem to crank out a five-page paper without having a complete meltdown) seems a little outside the scope of the job description.
"I am an engineering major, not a therapist," he tells a crying girl named Jinri when she opens her mouth to make some flimsy excuse as to why her analysis on the shared themes of 1984 and V for Vendetta is unfinished when they meet for their peer editing session.
"At least she bothered to show up and try to make an excuse," he tells Yixing and Minseok later that afternoon over beers, in between rounds of Halo. "The other kid I was supposed to meet with today totally blew me off. I hope he likes the taste of failure."
"You'd tell your professor to fail him because he didn't give you his paper to edit?" Minseok lifts his eyebrows. "I didn't know you were such a hard-ass, Lu Han."
"Well, maybe he'll stop fucking off if he ends up on academic probation," Lu Han retorts. "The whole point of the program is to make sure these kids can handle college-level work. I'm not there to hold their hands the entire way."
"Except you kind of are," Yixing says, turning away from the TV where he's been fiddling with the Xbox options. "The whole point of having a student mentor is so you have someone who's been through this stuff before to help you." He smirks. "Don't act like you weren't totally clueless when you walked into your first physics lecture freshman year."
Lu Han really hates the times when Yixing decides to chime into the conversation, because just when he thinks Yixing hasn't been listening, he nails Lu Han on all his bullshit. "Yeah, but at least I showed up," he says defensively, frowning, his lips pursing in a way that makes him look like a grumpy kindergartener.
Minseok laughs, and Yixing flicks Lu Han's arm. "Don't be a pill," he says. "It's not like you have to micromanage their lives. You don't even know what's going on in their lives. Find out. It'll make them like you better and maybe it'll make them try harder."
"God, I hate you," Lu Han groans, slumping into the couch, his beer sloshing gently inside the bottle. "You're always right about everything, it's so annoying."
Minseok nudges Yixing. "Why didn't you apply to be a mentor? You're good at stuff like that. Better than this one, anyway." He ruffles Lu Han's hair before Lu Han bats him away with all the fierceness of a kitten.
"Because I have, like, nine million things to do," Yixing says. "And besides, I don't trust myself around other people during jury season. It's probably not a sign of confidence to cry in front of a bunch of kids you're supposed to be setting an example for."
Lu Han sucks contemplatively on the mouth of his beer bottle and thinks of Jinri. "Probably not great to make them cry, either, huh?"
"You made someone cry?" Minseok pushes a hand through his hair, aghast.
"Maaaaaybe." Lu Han's voice pitches upward and he takes a gulp of his beer. "I'm going to... try not to do that anymore, I think. What are you even supposed to do when they start crying?" He makes a frustrated little noise and drains the bottle.
Yixing just stares at him for a moment, finally shaking his head. "You're an idiot."
"I know," Lu Han says. "The person who read my application and thought it would be a good idea to hire me for this should probably be fired."
"Too late now," Minseok says, downing the last of his Sam Adams before he reaches for one of the Xbox controllers again and unpauses the game, Yixing following suit. "They're stuck with you."
"Now go do something about it," Yixing says, clapping Lu Han on the back. "Like tracking down the kid who ditched you today."
Lu Han whines and wriggles around on the couch for a moment until Yixing punches him in the arm and he peels himself off of the cushions. "Fine. I think most of my kids live on Junmyeon's hall, I'll go see if he knows where this one lives."
"My kids," Minseok mimics him with a grin. "That's so cute."
Lu Han whips a pillow at his head, and Yixing cheers to the tune of explosions on the TV. "Game over, bitch!"
The freshman dorm on the north side of campus is locked to anyone who doesn't live there after a bunch of upperclassmen trashed the first floor during the first week of the semester, so Lu Han loiters outside, tugging at the bill of his baseball cap in hopes that no one will recognize him creeping around outside the living quarters of a bunch of 18-year-olds. Of course, he's not that lucky; he makes a rush for the door when it opens and runs into Jinri again, who stares dolefully at him, glassy-eyed and wounded.
He mumbles "Hey" and flashes what he thinks is a comforting smile before he slips past her with a nervous chuckle, hands stuffed in his back pockets as he makes his way down the corridor, peering at the nametags still hanging on some of the doors. Some of them he recognizes from his seminar, but he ignores them, stopping instead at a door midway down the hall, adorned with a plaque reading "Resident Assistant."
Lu Han raps three times on the door with the back of his hand and leans against the doorframe, a little too close when Junmyeon opens the door to see who's behind it.
"Heeeey, Junmyeon," Lu Han says brightly, not bothering to stand up straight. "What's up?"
"You tell me," Junmyeon says mildly, twirling a pencil between the fingers of his right hand. Lu Han can see a stack of library books sitting on his desk, a Word document open on his laptop. "What brings you all the way over here?"
Lu Han blinks and looks back at Junmyeon. "Ah, sorry. I just had a quick question, I'll get out of your hair. You working on your thesis research or something?"
Junmyeon nods, pushing his curly red-brown hair out of his face with his left hand. He'd gotten a perm over the summer and it was only just starting to grow out, thankfully; it wasn't a good look for him. "Yeah, just wanted to finish this last critical source analysis before dinner, my advisor wants to see my chapter outlines tomorrow." He glances at the pile of books behind him, then back at Lu Han. "What can I do for you?"
"I was wondering if you had a kid named Oh Sehun on your hall," Lu Han says, twisting the brim of his cap again so it faces sideways. "I need to have a word with him."
"Can I ask why?" Junmyeon says, a wry smile turning up the corners of his mouth when Lu Han looks a little surprised. "Just doing my job, you see. Can't have anyone harassing my residents, sexually or otherwise."
"Ew," Lu Han says, his mouth twisting into a grimace. "No. He's one of the kids in my seminar, I just want to find out why he didn't show up to my office hours today and I don't have the roster on me, it's got their room numbers and all that shit on it." He gestures vaguely with one hand.
Junmyeon rolls his eyes good-naturedly. "Sehun's in 223, upstairs."
Lu Han's eyes widen. "How'd you remember that off the top of your head?"
"Because I've already had to write him up twice this semester," Junmyeon says with a sigh. "Kid's gonna end up in front of the honor council if he doesn't pull it together. I told him that, but it goes in one ear and out the other with Sehun. You're his mentor?"
Lu Han nods, only a little embarrassed. Junmyeon, thankfully, looks sympathetic rather than judgmental.
"Try to knock some sense into him. It would suck for him to get thrown out after one semester."
Lu Han sucks in his lower lip and nods. "I'll try. Thanks, Junmyeon. Good luck with the thesis stuff."
"No problem." Junmyeon smiles, lifting one besocked foot to scratch at the back of his calf with his toes. "Let me know if there's anything else I can do."
Lu Han spins away from the door and waves goodbye, ducking into the stairwell as Junmyeon's door clicks shut. He takes the stairs to the second floor two at a time and pauses at the top to catch his breath and figure out which way he should go. It turns out Sehun's room is directly to the right of the stairwell entrance.
"That's convenient," Lu Han mutters to himself, knocking on the door and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet until someone opens the door. Someone who is not Sehun.
"Hi," the boy says, drawing the word out as though a little uneasy. He takes in Lu Han's wide-eyed face, backwards cap, and university sweatshirt and lifts an eyebrow. "Can I help you?"
"Who is it, Jongin?" Lu Han recognizes Sehun's mumbling in the background. Jongin opens the door wider and stands aside so Lu Han can see Sehun sprawled out on his bed, watching TV.
Sehun's eyes widen a little in the half-light as he catches sight of Lu Han, and he sits up. Jongin looks between the two of them and shuffles back to his desk.
"Hi Sehun," Lu Han says, his smile looking decidedly scarier than the one he offered Jinri a little while ago. "Let's chat."
"About?" Sehun doesn't move to stand up, and Lu Han's smile dissolves.
"Oh, I'm sure you can think of a few things." Lu Han folds his arms. "Bring your laptop, too."
Lu Han is pretty sure he can hear a mumbled "Are you fucking serious" come out of Sehun's mouth as he pushes off the bed and slouches over to his desk, unplugging his laptop from its charger and hugging it to his chest.
"Verrrrrry fucking serious," Lu Han says cheerfully, slinging one arm around Sehun's shoulders as he reaches the doorway, guiding him across the hall to the second-floor lounge.
"Sit," he commands Sehun like he would a disobedient puppy, pointing to one of the couches pushed up against the wall. Lu Han drags a chair over from the middle of the room and sits down across from Sehun, who opens his laptop.
"So," Lu Han says, leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees. "Why'd you blow me off today?"
"I wasn't aware the peer editing sessions were mandatory," Sehun says, his tone flat. He stares at Lu Han, his eyes devoid of emotion. Lu Han is concerned they're trying to suck his soul out through his nose.
"They aren't," Lu Han says, nodding slowly, "in the literal sense of the word. But they're supposed to help you, and Professor Jung is going to take your involvement into consideration for your participation grade, so, yeah. They're kind of mandatory."
"That's so lame," Sehun whines, typing something on his laptop.
"Why is it lame? The entire point of this class is to help you figure out how college works." Lu Han sits back in the chair and props his feet up on the coffee table separating him from Sehun. "If anything, it's pretty lame for me to have to come after you like this. So did you write the paper or not?"
He knows what the answer is going to be before Sehun even opens his mouth. "No."
"I don't know, I just didn't."
Lu Han sucks in his lower lip contemplatively, nodding as he nibbles on it. "Well, at least you didn't try to come up with an excuse. Honesty, that's respectable."
"Seriously?" Sehun raises an eyebrow, his tone challenging.
"No," Lu Han says sharply, leaning forward and bracing his hands against the coffee table. "Do your damn homework. It's a five-page paper, it's not that hard. You're clearly not an idiot if you got into this school, so I don't know why you're behaving like one."
"Wow, fuck you," Sehun says, looking up slowly and leaning back against the couch. "You sound like my dad."
"And you sound like a total brat," Lu Han says. This kid has balls, and Lu Han kind of wants to step on them right now. "Do you want to end up on academic probation? You want to get thrown out? I heard you got written up twice this semester already. It's not even midterms yet, Sehun."
Small patches of pink start to bloom around Sehun's cheekbones, radiating out to his ears. "That's none of your business."
Lu Han just laughs. "It kind of is my business, since I'm your mentor."
"Yeah, well, you're a pretty shitty one," Sehun bites back, angry and more than a little embarrassed.
"You're right," Lu Han says, sitting back in his chair with a conceding nod. Sehun's face freezes in shock. "I haven't been doing my job, but that's going to change. You know why?"
Sehun has the common sense to look a little nervous, probably because of that scary smile curling Lu Han's lips again. "Why?"
"Because," Lu Han says, tapping his fingers on the coffee table, "you're going to be my new project."
"Don't you think he might fling himself out a window or something if you keep doing this, just to get away from you?" Jongdae asks. He's stretched out on the couch watching a TV broadcast of National Treasure on TNT, having sneakily wedged Lu Han into the very corner of the right cushion, where he's typing on his laptop.
"I'm going to fling you out the window if you don't get off my side of the couch," Lu Han says, reaching over to twist Jongdae's toe, but he's interrupted by Yixing vaulting over the back of the couch and landing hard in Jongdae's lap. Jongdae writhes in pain beneath Yixing, whimpering about never being able to have children, but he withdraws his legs from Lu Han's cushion, so Lu Han figures the end justifies the means.
"Whatcha doin'?" Yixing adjusts himself and leans over to peer at Lu Han's screen, crushing Jongdae's thighs until Jongdae pulls his legs out from beneath Yixing's ass entirely and relegates himself to the other end of the couch, one hand clamped over his junk.
"Torturing his mentees," Jongdae says, still grimacing as he folds his legs and reaches for one of the mismatched throw pillows, holding it to his chest. "Or one of them, anyway."
"The one you met with yesterday?" Yixing looks back at Lu Han, who nods and tilts the computer screen so Yixing can see better.
"Doesn't that seem like overkill?" Yixing asks, admiring Lu Han's handiwork with a half-smile.
"That's kind of the effect I'm going for, Yixing," Lu Han says, closing his inbox before folding down the lid of his laptop and sliding it onto the coffee table. "I've decided I'm just going to annoy him into doing his work. If Sehun wants me to get off his back, all he has to do is submit his paper. The ball is in his court."
"What if he just ignores you?" Yixing shrugs. "That's what I would do in that situation."
"Yixing, please," Jongdae says. "Lu Han is the most annoying person on the planet; it's impossible to ignore him because he's just that obnoxious.” He shifts his gaze to Lu Han, his mouth settling into a line. “I'm telling you, this kid is going to jump out a window and you're going to be sorry."
"Jongdae," Lu Han says, beaming, "that was almost a compliment! Your people skills are getting better every day, I'm so proud of you."
Jongdae stares pointedly at Yixing, who offers a noncommittal shrug before wandering into the kitchen for snacks.
Lu Han doesn’t get a response to any of his e-mails, which would normally make him more eager to continue spamming Sehun’s inbox, but he decides to ease up for a few days just in case Sehun decides to rat him out for harassment to Professor Jung or the Dean of the First-Year Program, or something totally unnecessary like that.
But that also means he doesn’t get Sehun’s first draft before their class on Tuesday, and the final copy is due the following Friday, just before midterms. Yixing was right; his mentees’ performance reflects on his ability to help them succeed, and even though Sehun’s a little shit, he’s not stupid. There’s a reason he’s doing so poorly this early in his college career, and Lu Han’s going to find out what it is.
“Well, I mean, be cool about it,” Jongdae says between bites of his sandwich at lunch on Tuesday, before Lu Han’s first-year seminar meets. “You don’t need to stalk the kid on top of spamming the shit out of his e-mail.”
“You have, like, zero people skills,” Lu Han snickers, sipping from his Fanta. “Why should I listen to you?”
Jongdae just glares at him. “When you had that mental breakdown sophomore year, when you skipped class for a whole week because, quote, ‘Why bother, I’m just going to fail everything anyway and somehow my parents are going to love me less than they already do,’ unquote,” Jongdae says, mimicking Lu Han’s histrionics during the semester in which his course load included Mechanics, Microprocessing Systems, and Artificial Intelligence, “do you think having your TAs breathing down your neck would have made it easier for you to wake up at a reasonable hour, take a damn shower, and try to pull your life together?”
Lu Han is silent, staring at Jongdae with a mixture of apoplectic rage and begrudging acceptance bubbling behind his eyes. “What happened in your life to make you so mean?” Lu Han whispers, his hateful expression melting into a wounded one instead. He peers at Jongdae like one would examine a curious lab specimen.
“Okay,” Lu Han relents, sighing. “Seriously, though, that was harsh. Can we, like, not bring that up again? Like, ever?” His relationship with his parents is a sore subject at the best of times, and remembering second semester sophomore year makes him feel a little like puking up his double cheeseburger.
“All right, all right, I’m sorry,” Jongdae says, holding his hands up and inclining his head in apology. “The point still stands. Yeah, you have to do a little hand-holding, because freshmen are kind of stupid. But you don’t have to be a drill sergeant about it, you know? I mean, his parents might be total hard-asses already, he doesn’t need that from someone who’s supposed to be mentoring him.”
“You’ve been hanging out with Yixing too much,” Lu Han says accusingly, stabbing a french fry into the paper cup of ketchup on his tray. “Getting all sensitive on me. Since when does Kim Jongdae have feelings?”
“Please,” Jongdae snorts. “I don’t have feelings. I just have hidden depths.”
“Yeah, I bet,” Lu Han says. He squints at Jongdae. “How’re things going at the paper? With Junmyeon and all. Been showing him your hidden depths, too?”
Jongdae’s expression sours. “Fuck off.”
Lu Han grins, shoving one last french fry in his mouth before collecting his garbage. “Gotta go. Class in ten.”
“I hate you and I hope you walk into traffic,” Jongdae singsongs with a bright smile on his face. Lu Han just makes kissy faces at him and heads over to the trash cans, leaving his tray near the serving station before hoisting his messenger bag over his shoulder and wandering outside in the direction of the writing center, where the seminar meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
There are a few other students there when he arrives, and he makes small talk with them as the others trickle in, Sehun the last one to enter before Professor Jung strides in and closes the door.
Class proceeds uneventfully; the usual suspects contribute to the class discussion, with a few stray answers here and there from the quiet ones, and even a short response from Sehun when Professor Jung points out he hasn’t volunteered today.
Well, Lu Han muses, at least he’s doing the reading.
When Professor Jung dismisses the class, Lu Han makes his excuses to sneak out first (“Sorry, told my friend I’d check his problem set before class, gotta go!”), instead of staying behind to discuss how the class went and how the students are progressing as they normally do.
What he actually does is stand guard outside the English building, waiting for Sehun to wander out. He waits for a minute—this is the door that faces Sehun’s dorm, he’d have to go back this way—but there’s no sight of him. As a precaution, Lu Han checks over his shoulder to see if he’d snuck out the side door, and sees Sehun’s lanky frame strolling in the direction of south campus.
Lu Han sighs loudly, hoists his backpack higher on his shoulders, and starts jogging to catch up with him.
“You have crazy long legs,” Lu Han gasps, finally breaking even with Sehun’s stride, and Sehun stifles a shout of alarm.
“Jesus Christ, don’t do that,” he breathes, clutching the strap on his messenger bag. He schools his face back into a scowl. “What do you want? Cyberstalking not enough for you?”
“Oh, good, you did get my e-mails!” Lu Han grins, still breathless. "I wasn't sure, since I never heard back from you. Where are you going? You don't have class now."
"I'm going to the gym, freak," Sehun grumbles, picking up the pace. "You memorized my schedule? What the fuck is your problem?"
"If you would turn in your work on time like everyone else, I wouldn't even give a damn about you," Lu Han says. "This is kind of your fault, you know."
"It'll get done when it gets done," Sehun snaps. "Get off my ass!"
Lu Han stops following Sehun and stands in the middle of the walkway, interrupting the flow of foot traffic as he watches Sehun stalk off in the direction of the athletic center. He shakes his head and continues toward south campus for his robotics lab.
On Friday, Yixing talks Lu Han into treating him to bubble tea, and somehow Jongdae and Baekhyun invite themselves along, so the four of them pile into Lu Han's perfectly serviceable Honda Civic and head just over the city line to the shopping center in which Yixing's favorite cafe is located.
"I'm only buying for Xing, you assholes are on your own," Lu Han says as they walk in the door.
"Why are we even friends with him?" Jongdae mumbles to Baekhyun.
"Because nobody else will have you," Baekhyun snickers, and Lu Han flashes a grin over his shoulder, catching sight of the pouty expression on Jongdae's face. Baekhyun slings an arm around his waist to placate him. "I'll buy you a drink, you big baby."
They place their orders and squeeze into a booth, punching oversized straws through their plastic-wrapped cups of bubble tea: taro for Lu Han, jasmine for Yixing, honeydew for Baekhyun, and coconut for Jongdae. Lu Han chews happily on a tapioca pearl; this is the perfect start to the weekend.
The bell attached to the door jingles, and Lu Han cranes his head out of habit to see who's coming in.
It's Oh Sehun.
Lu Han turns back to his table, ignoring his friends' chit-chat in favor of studying Sehun. Sehun doesn't notice him; he places his order and leans against the counter, glancing around with a bored expression while his drink is prepared.
"Why are you staring at that kid?" Baekhyun asks too loudly, and Lu Han glares at him, but it's too late. Sehun turns around and spots Lu Han sitting in a booth not ten feet away from him.
"You have got to be kidding me," Sehun says, picking up his chocolate milk tea when the server pushes it across the counter.
"How was I supposed to know you were going to be here?" Lu Han makes a face.
"You've been following me everywhere else, and I always come here on Fridays after class." Sehun stands at the end of the table, one hand on his hip, the other clutching his drink.
"I haven't been following you everywhere," Lu Han snorts, rolling his eyes.
"Oh, you're Sehun," Yixing interrupts, stirring the bubbles around in his cup. He looks at Jongdae and Baekhyun, adding by way of explanation, "Lu Han's his mentor."
Sehun laughs in a derisive manner; Jongdae looks from Lu Han to Sehun and back again. "I see what you mean," Jongdae says.
"What do you mean by that?" Sehun's eyes flash as he looks from Jongdae to Lu Han. "What are you telling people about me?"
"Oh, calm the fuck down." Lu Han rolls his eyes.
"He didn't tell us you were adorable," Baekhyun says, grinning up at Sehun.
"This is Baekhyun," Lu Han says flatly.
"He's trash," Jongdae adds.
Spots of color bloom high in Sehun's cheeks, and Lu Han can't tell whether he's embarrassed or pleased at the attention, but when he offers a hand for Baekhyun to shake, Lu Han thinks it's the latter.
"Civil to everyone except me," Lu Han mutters to Yixing under his breath.
"You're Zhang Yixing," Sehun says suddenly, cocking his head a little when he looks at Lu Han's roommate. "Jongin—my roommate—you're both in the same dance crew, right?"
Yixing nods. "Jongin was our best recruit this year. Probably the best we've had as long as I've been on the team." He smiles in a way that shows all of his dimples. "You can tell him I said that."
Sehun smiles. His eyes crinkle up like a fucking emoji, and though he doesn't show teeth, it's clear he's happy. "He'll be really glad to hear that," Sehun says. "He works really hard."
"Can we adopt him?" Baekhyun whispers. "I've always wanted a little brother."
"Are you a first-year mentor, too?" Sehun inquires, poking the straw through the top of his drink and sipping innocently from it. Lu Han wants to punch him in the eye.
"No, I'm too busy for that shit," Baekhyun snorts, waving a hand. "But if you ever need an older, wiser figure to lead you in the right direction, I am happy to assist. Have you considered joining any clubs or sports? My boyfriend is on the rowing—"
"Baekhyun," Lu Han says sharply, and Baekhyun makes a face but stops talking.
"I bet you'd be a good mentor," Sehun says, pointedly ignoring Lu Han's stormy expression as he adds, "hyung."
Baekhyun all but swoons, and Jongdae chokes on a tapioca pearl from laughing too hard.
"Anyway," Sehun sighs, "I have to go."
"Yeah, you must have a lot of work to do," Lu Han says loudly, stabbing his straw into the pile of pearls at the bottom of his cup.
Sehun ignores him and smiles at Yixing and Baekhyun. "It was nice meeting you."
"Do you want a ride back to campus?" Yixing asks. Sehun must have walked or taken the bus, since freshmen aren't allowed to have cars on campus.
Lu Han shoots a horrified look at Yixing, but Sehun shakes his head. "No, I'll just take the bus back. Thanks, though. I'll tell Jongin I saw you."
Yixing waves. "Have a nice weekend."
Sehun wiggles his fingers in reply and turns around, strolling out of the shop.
"What the hell was that?" Lu Han rounds on Yixing. "Don't offer rides home to people in my car!"
"You're acting like I offered a ride to a meth head on the street." Yixing purses his lips. "He's your mentee. I was only offering because you didn't."
Lu Han practically shouts in frustration and stands up, snatching up his drink and walking out the door. He fumbles for the keys in his pocket and manages to unlock his car with the remote, sliding into the driver's seat and slumping back against it, his cup resting against his lap. He sits there in silence for a few minutes, slurping his drink in a childish manner and fuming at Sehun and his friends.
Yixing exits the shop after a while and climbs into the passenger seat next to him. "Are you done throwing your tantrum?" he says lightly, closing his eyes and tilting his seat back, hands folded on his belly.
"Maybe," Lu Han snaps, more sullenly than he intends. He chews on his straw for a moment, then mumbles, "Sorry."
"It's all right," Yixing says. "I've known you long enough to know when you're actually upset about something and when you're just being a brat."
"So which is it?" Lu Han lets his head flop back against the headrest.
"A little of both." Yixing's eyes are still closed, but he smiles a little. "So what's bothering you?"
"He's just so goddamn disrespectful!" Lu Han spits. "I'm just trying to help him, but he doesn't give a shit, and it's pissing me off."
"You don't like to be ignored," Yixing says sagely.
"Exactly!" Lu Han slaps his thigh with his free hand. "Like, I'm wasting my very limited free time trying to track this little asshole down and he just doesn't even pay any attention to what I'm saying? Who the fuck does he think he is?"
"He probably thinks he knows his life situation a lot more than you do at this point," Yixing responds. "And he's not wrong. What did I tell you last week?"
Lu Han scuffs the bottom of his shoe against the carpeting beneath the gas pedal. "Figure out what's going on with him," he grumbles.
"And what did you do?"
"Annoyed the shit out of him."
"The result of which…"
"... was jack shit."
Yixing opens his eyes and lets his head loll to the side so he can look at Lu Han properly. "So maybe another strategy is in order."
"I don't think he's going to listen to me even if I try to be his new best buddy," Lu Han snorts.
"Well, think of some way you can connect with him," Yixing suggests as Baekhyun pushes open the door of the shop, Jongdae in tow. "You're a smart guy. Stop acting so dumb."
Lu Han smiles to himself and shakes his head, buckling his seatbelt as Jongdae and Baekhyun approach the car. Yixing always has a way of putting things in perspective. "Thanks, I'll try that."
Lu Han lets up on Sehun for a few days—he's got his own work to worry about, anyway—but when he doesn't get an update on Sehun's progress by Tuesday and his friendly class-wide e-mail reminders go unanswered as of Thursday afternoon, he starts to worry about the kid. What kind of person intentionally sabotages their own grades?
Still, he's not Sehun's personal minder and he doesn't have class on Fridays, so he allows himself to be dragged out by Minseok for Thirsty Thursday at the rugby frat. He treasures these evenings of pounding beers and playing foosball without any sort of coordination, particularly because they'll be coming to an end soon. Lu Han hates to think about graduating, mostly because it reminds him he has to start looking at masters and Ph.D programs, but also because it emphasizes how impermanent life is. Life without college just feels… wrong. Life without Yixing and Minseok and Jongdae and Baekhyun and everyone else in the motley crew of people he's surrounded himself with for the past four years is unimaginable. Sure, he can visit at Homecoming, and Yixing will probably text him fourteen times a day, but facing the fact that this phase of his life is rapidly coming to a close makes Lu Han feel a little sick.
Then again, it could be the Keystone Light.
"What's wrong?" Minseok yells over a remix of "Get Lucky." He looks at the stack of Solo cups clutched in Lu Han's hand, his current cup half full and nestled inside four empty cups.
"Nothing." Lu Han shakes his head, the cheap beer swishing around in his cup. "I was just thinking about something."
Minseok shoots him a knowing look. "It's not that kid, is it?"
"Who?" Lu Han is honestly perplexed until Minseok makes a face. "Sehun? No, no, something else." His stomach lurches unpleasantly. "I think I gotta boot, I'll be back."
He shoves his cup toward Minseok, who has the foresight to reach out and grab it before it can collide with his muscle shirt and splash all over his front, and elbows his way out of the crowded living room, sidestepping a puddle of liquid of unknown origin in the kitchen before pushing his way out the back door.
The party has overflowed into the yard, but it's mostly couples hanging by the firepit, a few smokers converged near the back steps, and a small crowd of douchebags watching some freshmen fight for their turn at trying a kegstand. Lu Han swallows the urge to vomit (and maybe a little actual vomit) and sways in place for a minute, getting his bearings. He squints across the yard at the next kid going for a kegstand. Lu Han seems to be the only one who notices that his spotters are way too short to be supporting a kid with legs that long and arms that scrawny, because they lift his legs like a wheelbarrow anyway. As the third guy lifts the end of the tap to the kid's lips, the kid lifts his face and Lu Han realizes there's a reason those long, skinny limbs looked familiar, because it's Oh Sehun.
Lu Han trips his way across the grass and knocks a few pledges out of the way to get to the front of the ring surrounding the keg. Sehun is holding his own, but one of the chumps supporting his legs wobbles and his arms give out. The other kid gets thrown off balance, and the tap flies out of Sehun's mouth as he begins to fall forward, but it's really like he's falling backward, since he can't see where his feet are going. A couple of girls shriek in the background and Lu Han fears for the worst, but suddenly his hands are gripping Sehun's ankles and he's walking his legs back over to the other side of the keg while Sehun clutches the keg handles with white fingers.
Lu Han lowers Sehun's feet to the ground and Sehun drops to his knees and lets go of the keg. His face is mottled pink and white when he realizes just who it was that kept him from breaking his spine, but when Lu Han offers a hand to pull him up, he takes it wordlessly and allows Lu Han to grab his wrist and pull him out of the throng of drunk undergrads.
"That's enough for one night," Lu Han says, cutting through the alley on the side of the house to avoid having to go back inside.
Sehun's only response is to jerk him back suddenly, then shake his wrist free of Lu Han's grip so he can grab onto the chain-link fence separating the frat house from the duplex next door and puke onto the cracked asphalt.
"Oh, jesus," Lu Han groans, stepping away from the growing puddle and clapping Sehun on the back when he starts coughing violently.
Sehun spits a few times, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, and straightens, looking at Lu Han with the most miserable expression in the world. Lu Han can kind of see what Baekhyun meant by adorable, even if Sehun looks more pitiful than anything right now.
Lu Han sighs. "Come on, Sehun, let's get you sobered up."
Sehun burps loudly in reply and follows Lu Han the two blocks to his apartment. Lu Han lets him go up the stairs first, ready to catch him if he trips, but he makes it all the way to the threshold before stumbling. Lu Han grabs him by the back of the shirt and closes the door safely behind them.
"You wanna go take a shower or something?" Lu Han gestures toward the bathroom.
Sehun hiccups. "Can I?" he asks, his voice a little hoarse.
"Yeah, and I think I have a spare toothbrush in the medicine cabinet, too," Lu Han replies. His head is still foggy from all the beers he'd chugged earlier in the evening. "You need clothes. Let me steal some from Yixing."
"You don't have to—" Sehun starts, but Lu Han interrupts.
"You have barf on your shirt," he points out helpfully, and Sehun looks like he wants to cry. Lu Han doesn't want to be around for that, so he slips into the hallway and knocks twice on Yixing's door before poking his head in.
Yixing looks up from the book he's reading. "You're home early."
"Yeah, there was a little incident," Lu Han says, gesturing vaguely. "You have wider shoulders than I do. Can I borrow some pajamas?"
"Can I ask why?" Yixing gets up anyway, dog-earing the page he's on and dropping the book on the bed. He pulls open a couple of drawers in his dresser and starts rifling through them.
"It's Sehun." Lu Han's eyelids feel like they have dumbbells attached to them. "He tried to do a kegstand and he got sick and, you know, dangers of binge drinking or whatever. He barfed on his shirt. If he barfs on this one I'll do your laundry, I swear. I just don't want him stretching out my—"
"Wow, you're wasted, too," Yixing snorts, pushing a pair of basketball shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt into Lu Han's arms. "You want some help getting him settled?"
"I know how to operate a coffee maker while intoxicated, Yixing," Lu Han sneers.
"That's what you said last month about the microwave just before you tried to heat up the leftover pizza without taking the aluminum foil off."
"Bye," Lu Han says loudly, spinning around and heading back into the living room.
Sehun isn't there when he returns, but Lu Han follows the sound of retching to the bathroom doorway to see Sehun with his head practically inside the toilet. Lu Han puts the clothes on the counter and walks away to pour Sehun a glass of water in the kitchen. He hears the toilet flush in the background. When he comes back, Sehun is sitting on the bathmat with a red face and watery eyes, knees pulled to his chest.
"Thanks," Sehun says in a small voice, taking the glass from Lu Han with a trembling hand. He takes a sip and swishes it around in his mouth before he swallows, grimacing.
"Are you feeling a little better?" Lu Han opens the linen closet and pulls out a towel for Sehun, then turns on the bathroom fan and leans against the sink.
Sehun nods and looks down into the glass of water.
"Do you need help getting into the shower?" Lu Han gestures at nothing, feeling a little helpless himself.
Sehun shakes his head and puts the glass on the lid of the toilet, pushing himself up to sit on the edge of the tub. "No, I'm okay," he says finally. "Tell Yixing I said thanks for the clothes."
"Okay." Lu Han backs out of the bathroom and closes the door, leaving Sehun to get cleaned up while he putters around the kitchen to make some decaf and pour Sehun a bowl of dry Cheerios in case he's peckish. He lets the coffee percolate and goes into the living room, flopping onto the couch and turning on the TV just in time for Jimmy Fallon's monologue.
The next thing he knows is someone is tentatively prodding him, and Lu Han awakes with a start, whipping his head around. Sehun is standing over him in Yixing's clothes, a coffee mug clutched in his hand, damp hair hanging in his eyes.
"Hey," Lu Han rasps, sitting up. "You can sleep here, sorry. Are you hungry? There's some cereal on the counter."
Sehun shakes his head. "Coffee's fine. I think I just want to go to sleep."
Lu Han nods, turns off the TV, and pushes himself up, yawning. He drags himself to the armchair and pulls the afghan Yixing's mom knitted for him off the back of it, offering it to Sehun. "Are you okay with the throw pillows? We don't really have extras."
"Yeah." Sehun puts his mug down on the coffee table and takes the blanket from Lu Han. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Lu Han scratches the back of his head. "Do you need anything else?"
Sehun glances around and shakes his head. "I'm okay."
Lu Han remembers something. "Hang on." He darts into the bathroom and notices that Sehun's clothes are folded somewhat neatly, sitting on top of the toilet cistern, and he'd hung his towel and bathmat over the shower curtain rod. Lu Han stares for a moment before he recalls what he'd come in for and grabs the wastebasket, bringing it into the living room and setting it on the carpet next to the coffee table. "In case you don't make it to the toilet," he explains.
"Oh, yeah," Sehun says, moving to sit on the couch. He looks up at Lu Han. "Thanks."
"It's nothing. Good night." Lu Han waves awkwardly and shuffles away to his room, shedding his jeans before crawling between the sheets and conking out.
Lu Han wakes up a few hours later, having to piss so badly it actually hurts. He rips the covers off and stumbles to the bathroom, wincing as he flips the light on. He sighs as he relieves himself and washes his hands quickly before turning off the light and quietly opening the door.
He's about to creep back to his room when he hears a weird noise in the living room. Suddenly worried Sehun is choking to death on his own vomit, he turns and pads across the carpeting until he's in the living room. In the faint glow of the streetlight shining between the slats in the blinds, Lu Han can see Sehun sitting up on the couch, hunched over, his shoulders shaking.
Lu Han takes another step forward. "Sehun? What's wrong?"
Sehun jolts, but he doesn't turn around. "Nothing," he whispers, but he dabs at his face with a corner of the blanket.
Lu Han walks around the back of the couch and around the far end, sitting himself down with one leg folded under himself. "Did you get sick again?"
Sehun shakes his head. "You should go back to bed. I'm fine."
"Like hell you are," Lu Han says, soft and disbelieving. "Why are you crying?"
"It's not a big deal," Sehun sniffles, his voice cracking. "I'll—I'll be fine."
Lu Han scoots over on the couch and reaches out to pat Sehun on the back, which only makes Sehun drop his face into his hands, shoulders shuddering as he stifles a sob. Lu Han puts his arm around Sehun's shoulders and lets him cry it out, because he's pretty sure if Sehun tries to talk, it's going to come out as hysterical yelling, and he doesn't want to wake Yixing or Minseok (assuming Minseok came home in the first place).
"Sehun," Lu Han says in as soothing a tone as he can muster, just as Sehun's breathing starts to even out again. "What's the matter? It's all right, you can tell me."
"I've been horrible to you," Sehun manages to get out between gulps of air. "You were really nice to me tonight and I—all I've done is act like a jerk."
Lu Han didn't really expect this. "Well, yeah," he says unhelpfully, "but if you work on your attitude, then it's in the past, as far as I'm concerned. I wasn't really being a good mentor to you, anyway."
"Only because I was being a piece of shit," Sehun snarls at himself. "I'm so stupid."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, all freshman are a little stupid," Lu Han jokes. Sehun doesn't laugh, though, so he tries another tack. "I was a mess all the way through sophomore year."
"Yeah, right," Sehun snorts, wiping his face.
"No, really," Lu Han insists, clapping him on the back before withdrawing his hand and leaning forward a bit, elbows propped on his thighs. "I was taking way too many classes and my parents were being really harsh about my grades and I nearly failed two classes during the spring of sophomore year. It was bad."
Sehun presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and groans. "My parents are going to kill me."
"So why aren't you doing your work?" Lu Han asks, more gently than the other times he's asked Sehun the same question.
"I don't know," Sehun sighs, dropping his hands and leaning back against the couch cushions, folding his legs to the side and tucking them under the afghan. "I'm here and they're at home and it was like, for once I wasn't under someone else's thumb and I liked it. High school was so awful, I just wanted—I wanted to do what I wanted for once, and..."
"And you went off the rails a little," Lu Han finishes for him.
Sehun nods. "I've never been so stressed out. Even not doing my work stresses me out. And I've never had a roommate before, so that's weird, too. College is hard."
"You seem to like your roommate, though," Lu Han says, "you know, judging by how you and Yixing were talking about him last week."
"Yeah, well, that's the problem," Sehun says, his voice going shaky again.
Oh. "Well, if you're, uh, looking for a mentor in that area, I can give you Baekhyun's number," Lu Han offers. "Or maybe Jongdae's. Jongdae knows all about unrequited love. He's got the biggest boner in the universe for your RA and he spends ninety-five percent of the time pretending he doesn't."
"Junmyeon?" Sehun practically squeaks. "But he's so boring."
"Nah, he's a nice guy. He's really worried about you, too, actually," Lu Han says. "And he's overworked and underpaid, so try not to increase his blood pressure any more than you already have, all right?"
Sehun grumbles in assent, and Lu Han leans back into the couch, crossing his legs and using the other end of the blanket to keep the chill off his knees.
"Do you need help getting caught up on your backwork?" Lu Han turns his head to watch Sehun. "Because I'll help you if you want me to."
"I might," Sehun sighs. "I'll let you know."
"All right." Lu Han squeezes his shoulder. "Well, Sehun, it's been fun, but it's—" He squints at the digital display on the cable box. "—3:26 a.m. and you need to get some sleep. I know you have class at ten."
"Stalker," Sehun says, but Lu Han can hear the smile in his voice.
Lu Han eases himself off the couch and ruffles Sehun's hair. "You know it."
Sehun stretches his legs and rolls onto his side. "Good night, Lu Han." He pauses. "Thank you."
"Just doing my job," Lu Han says, walking across the living room to his bedroom. For once. "'Night, Sehun."
Lu Han wakes up just before noon with a mild headache and walks into the kitchen to down a few Advil and a glass of water. He wanders into the living room to work on homework and play Skyrim for a while, and doesn't see the note stuck to the freezer until a few hours later when he goes to heat up a frozen pizza.
Thanks for the clothes. I'll wash them and ask Jongin to bring them to your next practice.
Dear Lu Han,
Thanks for letting me stay over, and thanks for looking after me. I'll try to be better.
P.S. Check your e-mail around 4.
Lu Han looks at the microwave. 3:37. He preheats the oven and leaves the pizza box to thaw on top of the stove, then goes back into the living room and pulls his computer into his lap, navigating to his e-mail bookmark.
When the page loads, there's a new message in his inbox from Oh, Sehun (2018). Lu Han clicks on it, noticing the attachment paperclip on the far right side of the window.
See you Tuesday.
P.S. I take back what I said. You're not a shitty mentor, and I'm glad I got stuck with you. Thanks for everything.