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handkerchiefs and (playing) hooky

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Sehun is so stressed. He feels dizzy and nauseous as he glances at the front door of the office. His feet are rooted to the ground, and all he wants to do is turn around and go back to his apartment and sleep forever.

It’s a problem.

The thing is, it’s performance management season. That means Sehun feels physically ill at the thought of getting judged against his peers. All year long, he is supposed to collaborate with others as a part of the team. But somehow, at the end of the year, they are all judged and compared with one another.

Logically, he knows he enjoys what he does and he is good at what he does. But he can’t help but compare himself to someone like Jongin, who works magic with the teams he works with. Or to Kyungsoo, quietly competent and commanding of every room he steps inside.

His next swallow quickly morphs into the feeling of wanting to throw up, his guts feeling knotted even though there’s nothing inside. Sehun doesn’t want to be spotted by any of his coworkers, so he quickly crosses the street and walks into the SF MoMA. Making a beeline for the bathroom, he collapses over the toilet and dry heaves, feeling tears come to his eyes.

When nothing comes up but his stomach finally settles, Sehun slumps on the porcelain tiles, pulls out his corporate phone, and messages his manager he’s not feeling well.

Immediately, Junmyeon responds with, “Are you okay? That’s no problem, come back when you’re feeling better.”

After responding with a :thumbs_up:, Sehun closes his eyes and thuds his head against the wall. What’s wrong with him? His manager is supportive, the work is engaging, and his coworkers are wonderful. So why is he playing hooky?

He languishes on the floor until the outside bathroom door opens. Quickly, Sehun picks himself off the floor, brushes off his jeans, and leaves the stall when he hears another stall close. If he’s at the museum, might as well look around while he’s here.

In a daze, he walks around, not really seeing anything. His steps bring him to a painting of what looks like two men’s denim-clad butts with handkerchiefs sticking out. It manages to take his mind off work. But now Sehun starts to think about how he’s been so obsessed with work lately, he hasn’t had the energy for relationships. A similarly exhausting topic. If only people still had handkerchiefs, maybe it’d be easier for him to know if someone wanted a relationship.

Turning, he almost bumps into someone but catches himself. “I am so sor—”

“I’m sor—” the other person begins, but blinks. “Oh. Um. Don’t you work for Junmyeon?” Sehun looks at him with alarm, and the other person waves it off. “It’s ok. I’m, I guess, playing hooky too. Kinda. I’m Lu Han.”

“Oh, Jongin’s manager,” Sehun says. Then he frowns. “Wait, why are you playing hooky?”

“Why are you?” Lu Han counters, and Sehun shrugs. Lu Han shrugs too. “One of those days I guess.”

“Yeah.” They stand there awkwardly for a minute, and then. A loud growl comes from Sehun’s stomach. Luckily, there’s not many people around to witness, but Sehun wants to melt into the floor in embarrassment. He watches Lu Han’s jaw unhinge as Lu Han starts to guffaw, and Sehun pouts at him. “It’s not that funny.”

Lu Han is starting to wheeze, bending over and shaking with laughter. “You’re right, it’s, it was just, hahahaha. So unexpected. C’mon, let’s go get something to eat.”

Before Sehun knows it, Lu Han has dragged him to the hummus restaurant down the block. Sehun expects an interrogation, and braces for it as they get seated in a booth far away from the street. Instead, Lu Han orders for them and then launches into a tirade about soccer, something about Manchester United. Sehun does his best to follow, nodding along and mostly watching Lu Han’s many facial expressions and gestures.

He hasn’t had much of a chance to work or char with Lu Han, but Sehun finds that he actually does like listening to Lu Han. Lu Han gets him to laugh unexpectedly, veering off into a story about his coworker Minseok. Sehun easily follows the conversation now, smiling and nodding at the right times. He feels the tight ball of tension at his core start to unwind, especially when food arrives and Lu Han starts digging into the largest bowl of hummus Sehun has ever seen.

“It’s… really good,” Sehun mumbles in surprise, and Lu Han pats his head. When did Lu Han get comfortable enough to do that?

“Of course it’s good. I know my foods. Now tell me, are you playing hooky because you’re worried about coming out to your coworkers?”

Sehun chokes mid-bite, and Lu Han helps smack him in the back a few times before Sehun is able to drink some water. When he’s able to breathe, Sehun says, “What? That’s not it at all.”

“You’re not gay, or you’re not coming out to your coworkers?”

“Are you like this with everyone?” Sehun asks in disbelief, and Lu Han shrugs.

“Yes and no. You’re cute and easy to get along with, so maybe I’m too relaxed. Let me know if you’d like me to tone it down a little. Now, are you going to answer my questions?”

Sehun blushes slightly at the compliments. “Well… I mean, I am gay, but I don’t really feel the need to come out per say. How’d you know?”

Lu Han chuckles, scratching his cheek. “I mean, you were staring intensely at a photo of two gay men’s butts with the hanky code. Kinda a tell.”

“Weren’t you staring too?” Sehun raises an eyebrow. Lu Han raises an eyebrow back, and Sehun, feeling daring, winks at him. He smirks when Lu Han’s cheeks go ever so slightly pink.

“Enough about me. So. You doing okay?”

So persistent. Fine. Sehun won’t admit it, but he feels pretty comfortable around Lu Han too. “It’s just. Um.” Sehun makes pleading eyes at Lu Han until Lu Han smiles and pats the cushion next to him.

Scooting next to Lu Han, Sehun folds himself so he is leaning into Lu Han. Lu Han’s hand makes its way onto Sehun’s thigh, and strokes soothing circles. It’s not weird at all, even though maybe… it should be?

After a few moments, Sehun says, “Performance management.”

Lu Han lets out a quiet ah. “Is this your first time? I thought you’d been with us a while.”

Sehun shakes his head. “I was labeled Too New To Evaluate last year.”

They sit in comfortable silence until the waiter comes and gets the bill. Then Lu Han says, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

“I’m labeled a failure and everyone actually hates me.”

Lu Han coos at Sehun and Sehun swats at him for the insult. “C’mon, let’s go to the park. We’re taking up space in a busy restaurant.” It's obviously a stalling tactic, so Sehun pouts the whole time walking out of the restaurant, waiting for the light, walking across the seat, and finding an open park bench. But he holds Lu Han’s hand the whole time (when had that happened?) and waits for Lu Han to sit down before folding himself onto Lu Han’s lap and leaning onto his shoulder.

“See, it’s more comfortable here. Soak up some vitamin D,” Lu Han teases, and Sehun whines at him. Lu Han’s hand is now on Sehun’s back, and Sehun leans into Lu Han. It’s so nice. “Hey. I don’t think I’m allowed to say too much, but you’ll be fine. Even if you don’t get a promotion, you’re not going to be labeled a failure.”

“But isn’t a promotion the whole point of working? To move up the corporate ladder?”

Sehun feels Lu Han shrug under him. “I worked my way up and have stayed at my position for a few years now. It suits me. I’m not looking for anything beyond what I’m currently doing right now.” Lu Han squeezes Sehun close. “It’ll be ok. Okay?”

Sehun sighs. “Okay.”

“Now, what else do you want to do on our day of playing hooky?”