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2014 July, Bootcamping: Seoul, Korea

 

The ping hits Martin’s message bar before he’s properly awake enough to even tell the wall apart from the floor. He turns groggily toward the alarm next to his bed and realizes that it's already half-past 11AM.

The message utters another small beep and Martin rolls over, groaning.

It's not from anyone on the Fnatic team that's for sure. A message dated anytime before noon is the tell tale sign of someone who hasn’t been jet-lagged for a week or dragged unceremoniously half-way across the world to practice competitive eSports in a foreign country.

He rubs the back of his hand across his lids and grimaces when all it does is make his vision even blurrier. Reaching over, he finds his glasses on the night table and slaps them on his face.

The message, he realizes after a moment, is not a message. It's a friend request from someone on the Korean League server. He glances back at the screen and promptly knocks his empty coffee mug off the table.

"Holy shi-"

 

---

 

Martin is no stranger to crushes and even less of one to the concept of stranger crushes. This one, however, takes the cake.

 

삼성갤럭시 Deft would like to add you.

 

Putting it bluntly he's never met Deft, not even close.

But, Martin's has seen him play ranked games on streams, has religiously watched his positioning with his partner in the bottom lane (not like that), and then lastly, saw his face through a grainy little webcam with the spotty reception from the hotel wifi back in Cologne four months ago and thought- wow.

The wonder must have been broadcasted across his face, because Enrique spotted him with his eyes fixated on every movement on the screen (every click, every blink, every breath) in front of him- and swiveled over in his chair, shouting for the world to hear: "Are you fapping? Turn it up so we can hear!"

Martin for the record, did not. To both of those, in case you were wondering. God help him if he ever becomes as desperate as Enrique or Lauri, or the two of them together when something half-humpable comes into a five kilometer radius.

He looks back to the box and hovers his mouse over the accept button. He draws in a breath, not entirely sure what he's waiting for.

On one hand, it almost seems like a crime to not screenshot it, just for reference of course or something of a keepsake when Martin wakes up and this all turns out to be a dream. His mind could still be playing tricks on him for all he knows. 

On top of that, he's pretty sure Deft's too busy playing 14 hours of League a day to go around adding random ranked players and okay fine, Martin's account is named European Deft, so what? There's a ton of knock-off Deft accounts on every server- Brazilian Deft, American Deft, Alpaca Deft, you name it. There's nothing all too special about Martin for the Deft to descend from his godly ranked Challenger 1 throne and add him of all people.

On the other hand, what's the worst that can happen?

If it turns out to be a troll, Martin can always block him, although figuring out how on the Korean client might be a pain in the ass. He sucks in a deep breath and hovers over the box again, half-in mind to close it and deal with it later (after he's had a nice long shower, another nap, anything), but his traitorous fingers click the accept button before his sluggish mind can follow up.

Typical Rekkles.

 

---

 

Nothing much happens the first week of adding Deft as a friend, except for the fact Martin is now friends with Deft.

They find each other in matches from time to time and Martin spends an embarrassing amount of time with a Korean copy and pasted translation of- 'hey do you want to duo queue with me tonight?'- sitting in a note on the corner of his screen. He never actually gets the chance to use it, which is a pity because he's spectated matches in the past where Deft played support and maybe, just maybe, got a little floaty feeling in his stomach imagining the two of them together like that.

Deft is honestly nice, humble even. He talks to Martin in what limited English he knows and it's not hard to piece together what he's asking or what he's trying to convey. Whether it's in Korean or English, the two of them speak a language patched together by summoner spells and knowledge of the game. Wards, dragons, the baron all have different names, but the game is the same- the objective is always to win.

And they do win, a lot. 삼성갤럭시 Deft and European Deft go on a win streak nearly every time they meet. The real fun is when they meet in games on opposite sides and spend a good time chasing each other down the lane, dodging and firing skill shots. Deft makes nothing but smart plays and Martin tries baiting him at the edge of the map, waiting for the right moment to pounce.

He catches Deft twice like that, locking him in with a stun and then a quick finish. At first, he’s worried that maybe it was bit rash to go in all in like that, but the immediate response on the chat bar tells him otherwise:

삼성갤럭시 Deft: 대박!!

삼성갤럭시 Deft: good. v good

삼성갤럭시 Deft: i dead now TnT

-and Martin can't help the grin that stretches across his lips.

"Jesus you're glowing," Paul grumbles when they meet for breakfast at 3PM. "Tone it down Swedish Capri Sun."

Martin raises a hand to his cheek without thinking and it comes away guiltily warm. "I'm glowing?"

"He means you need to play more and fap less," Enrique quips after him and then after a moment of consideration. "Or just fap quieter. Some of us are trying to recover from jetlag, you know?"

"Wait, I'm not," Martin starts, but the damage is done. "I didn't-"

"You keep your laptop next to your bedside table," Bora says, suddenly coming to life. "I hear you typing on it at night."

"I'm playing League," Martin shoots back, but it earns him four pairs of skeptical gazes, complete with an eye roll courtesy of Paul.

"You don't play League in bed," Lauri says a little scandalized. "You don't jeopardize your rank like that."

"Wait are you sexting someone?" Enrique adds in. "Do you know that much Korean already? Hook me up dude."

Martin sinks his head into the crook of his elbow and keeps it there.

 

---

 

2014 September, Worlds Group Stage: Singapore

 

Worlds sneaks up on them the way a whale shores itself, well, on shore.

Fnatic gets screwed from the very start, drawn into the group of death alongside the top seed from North America, a team that very nearly won world's the previous year, and of course Deft's Samsung Blue- the top seed from Korea.

It's hard not to feel grim about the situation. The only silver lining is that Martin might get to have his ass kicked by Deft, which honestly still kind of sucks. It says a lot to cosmic irony and her cruel ways that this is the best scenario they could have met under. Being in the same group at least means they can both make it out of the groups if both Fnatic and Samsung Blue do well.

It's just unfortunate that the odds aren't stacked in Fnatic's favor as readily as they are in Samsung Blue's.

Regardless, his team have done all they can to prepare. All that's left to do is face the crowd and of course-

“Please move aside!" Martin hears from behind.

He dodges out of the way as a camera crew runs past him into the hallway with heavy equipment in tow. He turns back around and suddenly- after months of grainy facecams, broken conversations and trading kills- he's face to face with Deft. It happens a little in slow motion, but still too fast for Martin to react. One second, he's staring into Deft's sheepish smile and the next second Deft is walking down the aisle, past Martin and following the rest of Samsung Blue into the waiting room.

"Hey, Deft!" he calls out and for a second he thinks he might have called out the wrong person. It's definitely a Samsung Blue member, given how much product placement they're carting around, and the fact that Samsung White are still in Taipei fighting their own group stages.

"Deft," he calls again and the boy at the back of the group stops. Martin sees him turn and yep, it's Deft and his skinny neck. Martin finds himself grinning at the accuracy of his guess and then a little confused as to why he's able to identify Deft by the width of his neck to begin with.

Deft peers back over his shoulder, confused and Martin sees him tilt his head before taking a few steps forward. Even from this far away, Martin can see the downward slant of his lashes and can't help but feel a little creepy for even noticing.

It's weird seeing him in the flesh and still thinking of him as Deft. Deft is a gamertag, a killer AD Carry on the top of the Korean ladder, but the boy in front of him is so much more than that: more human, less pixels, and miles cuter in person.

"Hey," he smiles, giving a small wave and Kim Hyukkyu stares back at him. "Hello?"

"It's me," Martin smiles, reaching out a hand and tries not to hold on for too long or beam too happily when Hyukkyu immediately answers sheepishly. "Ahh, Rekkles."

He smiles slowly and then suddenly, his eyes go wide. "Rekkles!"

"Yes," Martin grins and then has no idea what to say. He's been talking to Deft for over a month now, daily, yet there's nothing that comes to mind of what he wants to say to Hyukkyu.

“Hey umm,” he starts and Hyukkyu glances up. His eyebrows are scrunched together, thoroughly confused as Martin slides his jacket off one arm.

“Do you want to?” Martin gestures over to the jacket hanging off of Hyukkyu's shoulders.

“To?” Hyukkyu echoes and tilts his head, looking perplexed.

"Trade," Martin says. He points at his own chest and then over at Hyukkyu's. "My jacket. Your jacket."

"Oh," Hyukkyu nods, surprisingly enthusiastic. "Yes!"

He nods again looking like he's trying to convince himself that he's making a good choice. Martin waits for him to unzip the collar of his Samsung Blue jacket and shyly shrug the jacket off his shoulders. The edge of his sleeve gets caught on its way down his arm and Hyukkyu pulls at it a little flustered, adorably helpless.

"Here," Martin offers. He puts a hand on Hyukkyu's shoulder to move him around and without thinking his other hand wraps around Hyukkyu's bone thin wrist to straighten his arm out. Hyukkyu lets out a little breath, flushing even more as Martin helps him wriggle the sleeve off.

"There we go," Martin says. He hands Hyukkyu his jacket and thinks idly that it's strange to see how tall he is in real life- all stringy limbs and skinny wrists. Deft on screen had always seemed smaller for some reason, hunched over on himself and dwarfed in confidence by the other Samsung members.

"Ahh, sorry," Hyukkyu says, taking Martin's jacket in hand. "Sorry."

"It's okay," Martin beams. Before he can say anything else, someone calls for Deft for a group photo shoot and Hyukkyu glances back at him apologetically.

"Good bye. We meet again, soon!" He bows and just like that leaves Martin staring after him with Hyukkyu’s jacket slung around his arm, feeling warmer than ever.

 

---

 

Rekkles doesn’t have a crush on Deft, no way. And even if he did maybe have a slight crush, being lovey-dovey has no impact on his performance as a professional badass, thank you very much.

He has a harder time convincing himself that Martin isn’t head over heels for Hyukkyu.

Hyukkyu and his shy smile tucked beneath his fingers, and yeah maybe Martin’s stomach does a little flip-flop the first time he sees Hyukkyu backstage wearing his Fnatic team jacket, but that's really all there is. Sure, he spends a little while taking in the way the sleeves of the Fnatic jacket droop past Hyukkyu's wrists, but there's no crime there either. The jacket’s too big on him even though Martin is only slightly taller and the way it falls loose on Hyukkyu’s skinny shoulders makes the lump in Martin’s throat feel positively concrete- which is slightly problematic because now he's starting to feel it.

He finds himself thinking about Hyukkyu a lot- hanging out with him, playing against him, maybe even holding his hand. It was different back when Hyukkyu was nothing but pixels across a screen. Now that he’s human and so very very close, Martin finds it hard to think about anything else. It's also maybe worth noting that even Enrique's got a point when Martin himself realizes that physical proximity has no impact on how badly he wants to see Hyukkyu again.

So yeah, Martin’s got it bad, but he’s not here to woo anyone- much less Deft of all people.

They meet on the second day of group stages and against all odds, Fnatic crush Samsung Blue. It's a triumphant victory or a resounding defeat depending on which way you look at it. Hyukkyu in particular looks shell-shocked, face half-hidden in his sleeves as he remains hunched over at his desk long after the announcer’s voice breaks through the speakers.

“AND FNATIC TAKE DOWN SAMSUNG BLUE. WHAT A SURPRISE!”

It’s a surprise alright, Martin thinks numbly. Even he can hardly believe it, Europe taking down the top seed from Korea- something that hasn’t happened since pre-Season 3. It's insult upon injury that Samsung Blue are the first Korean team to drop a game in the whole tournament, and to Fnatic of all teams. The stadium is in an uproar, a wave of black and orange chanting their name, but everything on stage seems to move in slow motion.

Samsung Blue’s coach is crouched over Hyukkyu patting his back in soothing strokes. It’s rough losing as the favorites for not only the group, but the entire tournament. Martin watches the other members of Samsung Blue crowd back around, hovering around Hyukkyu in a faux-defensive formation as if they were still in-game.

It’s cognitive dissonance in its purest form. The elation from the win doesn’t dissipate at the sight of Hyukkyu’s crying face. Instead it mixes in, leaving Martin with a smile on his face and the sinking weight of disappointment in his gut with no resolution in between.

The player handshakes are stilted. Hyukkyu in particular keeps his gaze trained to the ground, his hand placed out mechanically. Martin goes in instead for a hug and thinks about saying something, but in a flash the moment’s over. The camera pans over and Martin pulls himself back in a hurry. Hyukkyu avoids his gaze as Samsung Blue are ushered quickly backstage and Fnatic make their way to bow to the crowd. The crowd cheers, loud and vibrant. Out of the corner of his eye, Martin sees Hyukkyu wipe the corner of his sleeve against his eyes.

The guilt settles back down, never quite clashing against the thrilled beat of his heart.

 

---

 

It’s that same emotion that keeps him nailed outside Hyukkyu’s room four hours later, hand hovering over the door and heart hammering up against his ribs. He raps his knuckles against the outside before he can really think out why he’s there at all.

Typical Rekkles.

The door, to his surprise, pops open.

“Oh,” Martin peers in, far too curious to pull back now. Hyukkyu is sitting at his desk, a game of solo queue lined up.

“Hello?” Martin waves and he holds his breath as Hyukkyu slowly peers over his shoulder.

Hyukkyu smiles the moment he sees Martin step in, but the smile falters for a split second as if Hyukkyu had just now remembered the loss- a mix of emotions clashing on his face that Martin is all too familiar with.

His eyes are still a little puffy and he quickly gets to his feet, abandoning the game before it even begins. He tilts his head towards Martin, confusion settling in.

“Just wanted to say,” Martin starts awkwardly. The air between them is so still, there’s not even the white noise from the air conditioning unit to mask the awkward distance in his words.

“One bad game doesn’t mean anything,” Martin says too quickly. “Shit happens you know. You’re still a great player.”

Hyukkyu nods slightly, following along.

“Plus, it’s not over yet, you know?” Martin grins and Hyukkyu nods again slowly. Martin can’t help but follow the slant of his lashes as he looks back down at the ground. “You’re the best AD Carry at this tournament, at least that’s what I think.”

“Thank you,” Hyukkyu murmurs. He takes the words with surprising calm given that Martin had just appeared out of the blue in his room a minute ago. “You had good game too. Fnatic play very well today.”

“Thanks,” Martin says back, a small pulse of pride surging through him.

For some reason Hyukkyu looks even sadder than he did before Martin walked through the door. It’s frustrating to think that there might not be anything Martin can say in any language to make Hyukkyu feel better. He pulls his thoughts out of his mind in Swedish and runs them through his clumsy tongue into English and hopes that maybe Hyukkyu can understand just a little, can feel just the tiniest bit of what Martin really wants to really tell him.

He settles instead for pulling Hyukkyu into a tight hug and listens for the hitch in his breath, the little sob caught in the back of his throat, and the beat of his heart pressed up against Martin's chest.

 

---

 

Again, nothing much happens after their encounter, but there's an unspoken tension that settles in the air between them. It's not a bad kind of tension either, but it's definitely distracting and Martin would very much like to have his wits about him for the rest of the group stages.

Something has changed and Martin for the life of him can't tell if it's a good or bad thing. Seeing Hyukkyu now makes his heart race in a way Martin isn’t quite ready to come to terms with. He can't pinpoint the moment it happened either- if it was the very second they defeated Samsung Blue or if started all the way back when he started watching Hyukkyu play when they were still continents apart.

One moment he’s completely fine, complaining to Enrique about how the internet connection keeps cutting out and how the scrim schedule sucks. The next, Hyukkyu walks out from the practice room and Martin has to physically hold still to stop himself from bounding over to the other side of the room. His pulse skyrockets reaching fever pitch in a way that’s ridiculous and made far worse by the fact that his mind, every ounce of his common sense knows it’s absolutely ridiculous.

He plays it cool, of course, ignoring Enrique’s obscene gestures in favor of waving a hand over. “Hey! Deft!”

Hyukkyu looks over at him and then shyly avoids his gaze. The barest tint of pink coloring his ears and goddamit, Martin has to stop staring. If he’s self-aware enough to think it’s creepy, he can’t imagine how out of place Hyukkyu must feel.

“Hi,” Hyukkyu says back softly. He gives Martin a little smile.

“Do you want to,” he says and has to forcibly make his words slower. “I was thinking-”

“Want to?” Hyukkyu says back. He swallows, a little sheepish, and Martin find his gaze wandering, tracing down the path of Hyukkyu’s skinny neck.

“Do you want to eat?” Martin asks. He makes a vague motion of shoveling food into his mouth which he’s sure looks absolutely stupid. “There’s a place that has good sandwiches just outside the venue. It’s close by, so-”

He looks over and sees that Hyukkyu is smiling at him as if he's said something profound- groundbreaking even, though in reality Hyukkyu probably caught at most the start of his sentence and the last two words. Martin watches the way his eyelashes flutter in a sleepy, soft way and has to force himself to look away. He suddenly feels so out of his element- like a jungler caught out in a wide open lane- that it's frightening, and his pulse won’t quiet down no matter what he does. He's out in the open in range of the enemy and any minute, someone's going to strike first blood. 

He tries so hard to stop the thought from coming into his head, but then it's his only thought left in his mind: he's attracted to Hyukkyu.

And yeah, maybe Martin’s thought about it before. Not specifically Hyukkyu, but maybe other boys. They joke a lot about it back in the Fnatic Gaming house, that’s for sure. Enrique isn’t known as SexPeke without reason and Martin has to admit that he’s glanced over at his ass from behind in the past and found himself nodding in approval before he even realized what he had just done. Paul likes groping him for whatever reason and deep down Martin knows Lauri minds Enrique's advances far less than he appears to. 

It’s still a little different this time though. Martin knows he respects Hyukkyu. He admires the way Hyukkyu plays, how he manages to get all his skill shots to connect, but now it goes beyond that. It stretches into the way Hyukkyu smiles at him and the way his voice – breathy and uncertain- weaves its way into the air between them. Just when exactly this admiration bled into attraction is the confusing part. His thoughts feel scattered, obsessively spinning in circles. It’s all consuming and suddenly Martin can only stare at his hands and pray that Hyukkyu is too busy blushing himself to realize how brilliantly scarlet Martin’s become.

He’s attracted to Hyukkyu. Almost ridiculously so and Martin’s scared for a second because he has no earthly idea what or when or how much he is attracted to Hyukkyu, only that he is. 

“Yes,” Hyukkyu finally answers, peeking up from beneath his fringe. “I am hungry now.”

“I’m starving. Let’s go eat.” Martin grins.

Hyukkyu nods, a smile donning his features and Martin forgets to do anything but smile back.

 

---

 

Divine retribution or just plain bad playing lands Fnatic two more losses by the end of the week.

They won’t make it out of group stage at this rate unless they can beat Samsung Blue again and regardless of how Hyukkyu feels about him, Martin knows Samsung Blue won’t go easy on them. If anything they’re looking for blood, revenge for the humiliation they experienced at the hands of Fnatic last week.

Hyukkyu has his legs dangling over the side of the wall when Martin meets him outside for a short break. He smells like cigarettes even though Martin is pretty sure Hyukkyu doesn’t smoke. The rest of the Samsung roster must be on edge, and not for the first time Martin wonders if it’s really okay for them to meet like this.

In the end, whether it’s okay or not doesn’t stop him from walking over to Hyukkyu, halting just long enough to tap Hyukkyu on the shoulder to let him know that he’s here. The last thing he needs is to accidentally surprise Hyukkyu and have him break his leg falling off, even if it drastically increases Fnatic’s chances of making it out of the group stages.

Hyukkyu looks up at him and notes the puffiness of his eyes. He looks back down quickly, but Martin sees him nod in understanding before he scoots over to make room for Martin.

“I want to,” Hyukkyu starts. Martin watches him sigh, kicking his heels childishly against the flat of the wall, frustrated at having to use English no doubt. “You and me, Fnatic and Samsung. Both go to Korea together after groups.”

“Me too,” Martin says. “I mean it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, but hey. Miracles happen right?”

“Still more matches,” Hyukkyu urges. He pulls at Martin’s sleeve, insistent. “Fnatic can win.”

September in Singapore is still warm and muggy. Even with the sun well below the horizon, the humidity clings to them like a low fever- never quite burning, but just enough to feel the pricks of an oncoming chill. Hyukkyu’s in shorts and his Samsung Blue shirt, and just the sight of it is enough to make Martin feel nervous, but then Hyukkyu turns to him, a sheepish smile on his face.

“We can meet,” Hyukkyu says softly. “Finals in Korea.”

Martin tilts his head up and watches the way Hyukkyu bites into his bottom lip. He places his hand on Martin’s shoulder softly. “Let’s go. To Korea.”

“I’d like that,” Martin replies and without thinking he puts his hand over Hyukkyu’s. He rests his palm against the back of Hyukkyu's hand, their fingers just barely brushing with the humid fever trapped between them like a secret. “I’d like that a lot.”

 

---

 

Fnatic crash and they burn, badly. Whatever starting Cinderella run they had fueling them in the first week is all but gone by the end. The hope stings and there’s nothing to curb the bite of the final, bitter loss that lands them at the bottom of the group. Worlds is over, his chance at the Summoner’s cup is over. There’s nowhere left to limp but back home.

Martin’s practically done packing, just his toothbrush and phone chargers left hanging out by the counter when Hyukkyu shows up outside his door, looking as lost as if his team had been eliminated instead.

He opens the door and Hyukkyu takes only careful steps, making his way over and avoiding Martin’s luggage strewn all across the floor.

“Martin,” he starts and he opens his hands, palms face up. “Are you okay?”

"I'm not going to Korea," Martin breathes. It feels like a weight lifted off his chest when Hyukkyu looks back at him, his eyes a little watery too.

“Martin,” he repeats and this time Hyukkyu moves on his own accord, wrapping his arms around Martin. He nuzzles into the crook between Martin’s neck and shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Martin says easily and it surprises him how easy it is to accept it. His worlds dream is over, but that doesn’t mean it was all for naught. He’s learned a lot, gained a lot of fans and infamy. The world knows who Rekkles is now and more importantly, he’s met Deft.  In a week and a half, Deft has become Hyukkyu and the idea that it’s all coming to an end is enough to make Martin’s throat close up.

Hyukkyu hugs him for a long time, nearly as long as Martin had held him for when Samsung Blue had lost the first time, and doesn’t move back until Martin pulls back first.

“It’ll be okay,” Martin says, because for a second it looks as if Hyukkyu is going to cry too. He gives Hyukkyu a small pat on the back and trails his fingers down his arm to give him a light squeeze. “I’m okay I promise! Don’t cry.”

He doesn’t thankfully. Instead, Hyukkyu moves to take a seat on his bed, letting out a small sigh. "Next year. We can meet next year."

"Next year," Martin echoes back and moves to the side when Hyukkyu grabs onto his wrist. His grip is surprisingly strong for how skinny his arms are.

"Martin I-" Hyukkyu starts and Martin's not ready to say goodbye like this, not yet. There's so much he wants to Hyukkyu, so much he wants to do still. Yet it's Hyukkyu who makes the first move, pulling Martin back over until he's practically leaning over Hyukkyu who remains staunchly seated.

"Martin," Hyukkyu says, looking up. His eyes lock onto Martin's and suddenly there's no words to be said between them. There's no time to bounce his thoughts out from Swedish into English into Korean to tell Hyukkyu what he's feeling. There’s nothing else to do as he takes Hyukkyu's face in his hands and kisses him. 

Hyukkyu's lips are warm, dry, and they part so nicely under Martin who grabs hold of Hyukkyu's face with both his hands to tilt his head back. For all that he's obsessed about this moment these past few days, nothing passes through his mind as Hyukkyu lets him press in harder. His mind is utterly blank, blissful as Hyukkyu opens up underneath him, eager and pliant. 

"What for?" Hyukkyu asks when they finally break apart. He moves his hand up, the edge of his knuckle resting against his lips like he has to check that those were actually his lips that Martin just kissed.

"For good luck," Martin smiles and Hyukkyu goes red, full in the face to the tips of his ears. He gets so red that Martin is tempted to take him out for a drink and find out how much redder he can get.

They don’t have time for all the niceties that Martin wants for them. There’s urgency, a little bit of heartbreak in each passing second as Hyukkyu tilts his head back up. He still has his grip on Martin's wrist and he uses it to pull him back down, until they're nose to nose. 

"Thank you," Hyukkyu says and then on his own accord, presses a kiss shyly back onto his lips. It’s a small brush, possibly the faintest kiss Martin has ever had in his life, but it steals his breath away all the same.

"What was that for?" Martin breathes, dazed. Hyukkyu blinks slowly, in thought. His fingers find their way onto Martin's shoulders as he leans forward again.

"Luck for next year."

 

---

 

2014 November, Off-Season

 

Hyukkyu signs onto EDG in China for the fifth competitive season and Martin doesn't try to think too much about how and if it even changes anything that transpired in Singapore. Samsung were destined to fall apart. The new rules in Korea called for the dismantling of the sister team system and financially Samsung were in a less than inspirational position. The talent was still there, loyalty too, but no one knew it could have ended this badly with all ten players scattered to teams across six teams in China. 

It had been hopeful thinking at best to ponder the possibility of Hyukkyu coming to Europe.

Don't get him wrong, Martin likes being one of the best AD Carrys in Europe, but he can't help but think how things would be different, or if they wouldn't at all, if Hyukkyu were a short train ride away instead of halfway across the world. It's hard not to wonder what could have been, if he and Hyukkyu were on the same server all year long and met at the finals of every split and all the invitational matches between them. Proximity breeds fondness and what he and Hyukkyu have between them started off starved of just that. 

He finds himself wondering if Hyukkyu will be happy in China and if China will treat him as well as his hyungs- plus or minus imp depending on who you asked- did back in the Samsung house. He wonders if Hyukkyu is learning Chinese and what his new teammates think of him. 

He could chase down all the what ifs and still not know, because at the end of the day Martin is sitting in a house in downtown Berlin and Hyukkyu is not. They're back at step one with one small little change: Shanghai is one hour closer to Berlin than Seoul had been- the epitome of a consolation prize.

Sighing, he boots up his desktop. The whir of the mechanical sound is so soothing that Martin does nothing but listen to it for a second.

Stockholm, Seoul. Berlin, Shanghai.

Hyukkyu making his way closer to Martin, step by step, one time zone at a time.

 

---

 

2015 August, Summer Split Play-offs: Berlin, Germany

 

A lot changes during the year.

For one, Martin leaves Fnatic in November and bounces straight back to rejoin them in April.

The Fnatic he comes home to is so different it might as well be a completely new team. Enrique, Paul, and Lauri are all gone and in their place is Fabian in midlane from H2K last season and interesting enough, two Korean imports. Seunghoon is lively- cracking up at even the smallest jokes, but it's Yeujin that catches Martin's eye from the start. Yeujin and his pixie smile and large-framed glasses. He's tiny, far shorter than Hyukkyu, and the way he covers his smile behind his palm makes Martin feel just as intrigued. If anything, Yeujin fits under his arm too neatly for there not to be something brewing beneath the teamwork in Fnatic.

Martin thinks about kissing him, once, twice, maybe more than that- to the point he loses track of counting. He never does though, because each time he thinks about it, he's left with the memory of Hyukkyu's hand on his shoulder as he leans in shyly to press their lips together. When he jerks off, it's still Hyukkyu bundled up in his arms the last night they spent together in Singapore flitting through his mind. 

Try as he might, Martin can't bring himself to bridge that gap between him and Yeujin, and as a whole it's much less about being faithful to Hyukkyu who is across the world, than it is about repressing it under the uncertainty of what it might do to their team dynamic. Or that's at least what Martin tells himself when Yeujin leans over one night, drunk on their winning streak and maybe something more. Martin lets him sprawl over his shoulder and pushes him back when Yeujin's eyes get a little too glassy, lips cherry red and far too tempting to be that close.

"Sorry," Yeujin tells him sheepishly the next morning. He looks unsure, shifting from foot to foot and for a second, Martin's worried that he's about to say something profound, maybe even confess, and that it'll make everything weird until Yeujin gives him an impish smile, grinning through his hangover. "I don't want to kiss you, stop worrying."

Martin grins back, slinging an arm around Yeujin. "Me neither. I am a good kisser though."

Yeujin opens his mouth to retort when Martin wraps him in a hug, tossing him onto the couch. He hits the surface with a small oomph and instantly, Seunghoon springs up from behind to tickle his sides. He sits down on Yeujin's stick skinny legs and lets out a laugh as Yeujin struggles to his elbows to reach him. Fabian shows up too in the nick of time, pulling Yeujin's arm down to save Seunghoon from getting his eyes clawed out. Yeujin yelps in surprise and switches swiftly over to Korean curse words, smacking his remaining free arm against Seunghoon's back. Martin laughs until he can't breath and thinks he wouldn't trade this, this weird patchwork family of five, for anything. 

They work well as a team and over the summer, the teamwork Fnatic has blooms under Bora's steady shotcalling. Fnatic win the summer split and qualify for worlds easily, and with the qualification comes the ever ready flip-flopping of his stomach at the thought of meeting Hyukkyu in person again.

He's been in touch with Hyukkyu all year long, but it's not the same as meeting in person. They talk at least once a week, sometimes a little more or a little less depending on their schedules. The internet connectivity in China is downgrade from Seoul for sure and their Skype chats cut off more often than not as the season drags on. It's not all bad though.

For one, it's easy talking to Deft as Rekkles online again. They share summoner tricks, masteries and the usual game information, but this time when Martin asks Hyukkyu how his day is going, he gets a full bodied reply with a colorful assortment of emojis stacked on top. 

Two, he knows EDG is doing well, that they won the Mid-Season Invitational tournament, and once again that makes Hyukkyu's team one of the favorites to win Worlds. He knows Hyukkyu is in tip top form coming into the summer in terms of playing the game, but it's hard to get much out of Hyukkyu besides his distaste for Chinese cuisine. It makes him wonder if Hyukkyu is having an easier time in China and if he's as excited as Martin to return to worlds, but with each passing week, he's not so sure.

Then out of the blue, Hyukkyu will drop a message. It's never anything big or profound, and Martin doesn't expect it to be. He wants to be realistic with himself and recognize that it's been a full year- (12 months, 50 some odd weeks)- since they kissed yet somehow he still finds himself caught on every word Hyukkyu sends him. It's been a year and this infatuation still burns.

More than anything he wishes that something as simple as-

EDG DefTnT: martinnn

EDG DefTnT: i missing u

-didn't make his heart leap up to his throat the way it does so readily. 

FNC Rekkles: hey babe

FNC Rekkles: miss you too

EDG DefTnT: TnT

FNC Rekkles: ready for

FNC Rekkles: worlds?

And of course, Hyukkyu is ready for worlds. He's been preparing for it all year just like Martin has, hungry to avenge themselves on the world stage. Both of them with more at stake than last year. 

EDG DefTnT: im nervous

EDG DefTnT: to play u

EDG DefTnT: again

FNC Rekkles: don't be

FNC Rekkles: :D

EDG DefTnT: ok TnT

EDG DefTnT: if u have lgd in groups

EDG DefTnT: kill imp

EDG DefTnT: pls

"You're kind of evil," Martin says to the empty room around him and types without thinking into his chat box-

FNC Rekkles: of course babe 

EDG DefTnT: :D

FNC DefTnT: :D :D

-because even after all this time, he's still a sucker for Hyukkyu.

 

---

 

2015 October, Worlds Group Stage: Paris, France

 

By pure luck, Fnatic aren't drawn into the same group as EDG. He does however, get the pleasure of facing LGD the first week they get to Paris. The first thing he does of course is log-on and in less than a second later, Hyukkyu predictably sends him-

EDG DefTnT: remember kill imp

FNC Rekkles: for you ok

EDG DefTnT: I’ll see u

EDG DefTnT: after match?

A shiver traces its way down Martin’s back as he grins at the screen. He jumps to his feet, adrenaline coursing through as he types back a quick reply.

FNC Rekkles: backstage?

EDG DefTnT: ok

FNC Rekkles: see u soon

 

 ---

 

It’s dark backstage when Martin stumbles down the steps, energy from the win coursing through his veins- three quarters adrenaline, one quarter blood. Hyukkyu spots him from the edge where the rest of Edward Gaming are seated, waiting for their turn to leave the stadium.

Martin's grown a lot over the course of a year, shooting up to become the tallest on his team and somehow it surprises him to see that Hyukkyu has grown taller as well. It's not as if Martin had expected him to stay the same, imprisoned in time right where Martin left him back in September of last year-but seeing the change up close and in person is startling. Hyukkyu is still skinny as ever, but this time his hair is dyed a reddish auburn. It gives him a fiery look, a little more daring than before, but he still has the same sheepish smile as he glances over at Martin and raises a hand to wave him over.

Martin halts and lifts an eyebrow as Hyukkyu suddenly turns away from him.  

He gives Martin a little wave like he's not sure if they're allowed to interact out in the open, or worse, when it's not scripted for the cameras. Martin waves back and sees Hyukkyu shoot a glance over his shoulder. He shrugs after a brief second and turns back to Martin, bounding over happily.

"Hi!" he says, grinning a little. "Congrats on Quarters!"

It's useless curbing the excitement in his own voice, so Martin holds nothing back. He swings an arm around Hyukkyu and pulls him in for a crushing hug. "I've missed you."

Hyukkyu lifts a finger up to his lips, his laughter hitting the edge of Martin's neck. "Soft, Martin. Be soft."

"Am I not supposed to be talking to you?" Martin whispers back, and the look on Hyukkyu's face is mischievous.

"You and me," Hyukkyu says seriously, though it's ruined by the small grin on his features. "Enemies."

"Just like last year," Martin agrees, but then Hyukkyu tiptoes forward. He leans in so close and Martin has to stop himself from meeting him halfway, pulling Hyukkyu with him into some dark corner or maybe just kissing him out in the open so they can finally make up for all the last time from the past year.

“Yes,” Hyukkyu agrees and Martin grabs him by the wrist- his tiny, stick-thin wrist and pulls him along.

 

---

 

Language barriers don’t exist between the skin of their palms.

For two guys who spend so much of their lives hooked up to the internet, meeting, fighting, and defeating people across the world, it's sobering to be off the grid- alone together like this.

“Do, you?” Hyukkyu nods, blinking down at the floor. It's dark in the room and Martin can't keep his hands off Hyukkyu. He pushes at the edge of his shirt, tickling Hyukkyu's side until he laughs. Hyukkyu pushes Martin's hands away in favor of unbuttoning the top of his own shirt, surprisingly bold.

He pulls at Martin this time, touch soft. "Do. You?"

“Of course,” Martin answers him. He tilts Hyukkyu’s chin up and presses a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth.

“Like that? Yes?” Martin asks and Hyukkyu closes his eyes like he trusts Martin to know what’s coming next. Martin leads him forward, letting him rest their foreheads together for a brief second.

Hyukkyu’s lips press up against the edge of his lips and then for some reason, halts.

"Yeah?" Martin whispers and he makes the mistake of opening his eyes. Hyukkyu is holding his breath, his cheeks slightly puffed out and his eyes scrunched closed like he's frozen. He's still as a statue, even as Martin grips onto his waist and pulls him in closer so that all of his weight is resting on Martin.

"Fuck you're adorable," Martin grins and wishes for a second he could tell Hyukkyu in Swedish every word that it meant to love someone and have the meaning in there kept pure, untampered by translation.

He settles instead for kissing him, open-mouthed and wet. Hyukkyu responds beautifully, opening up and answering in his own language, a small moan and the brush of his lips, that Martin has learned to read so well, has had memorized since Singapore a year ago.

He presses a kiss against the side of Hyukkyu's neck and feels the heat pool into his gut, heavy and weighted with every choked off noise Hyukkyu makes. It takes Martin a crazy amount of self-control to reign back a year's worth of sexual tension and refrain from just sucking hickies all over Hyukkyu's neck.

He distracts himself instead with peeling Hyukkyu’s shirt off to expose his bare chest. It's different like this, different than he had imagined. Regardless, Martin breathes in the scent of his hair and all those little details that don’t translate over a small Skype screen as they press into each other, Hyukkyu's skinny frame slotting perfectly against Martin's body. Martin can feel him, hard and rocking into his thigh as Hyukkyu strains forward.

"Is that good?" Martin asks and Hyukkyu's eyes flutter open hazily. "Huh?"

Martin rolls his hips forward, testing and listening for any signs of hesitation. "Is this good?"

"Yes," Hyukkyu groans as Martin pulls him closer and shifts a leg between Hyukkyu's, letting him ride their combined rhythm into a gentle rocking motion. He ruts up against Hyukkyu's spread thighs and watches the way Hyukkyu blinks up at him, needy and desperate for more. They stay like that for a while, the friction between them mind-numbingly good and it's enough for Martin to just hold Hyukkyu like this, like they've got all the time in the world and then some.

Part of Martin is scared that Hyukkyu is a virgin, and he's even more terrified for some reason by the idea of asking him. It doesn't matter really if Hyukkyu's done anything like this before with girls or boys, but it does make Martin wonder if he's okay with it- okay with having his possibly first time in some dark shady closet with a boy he's seen in the flesh all of twice in his life. Martin has so many doubts, but the way Hyukkyu pulls at him, fingers fumbling over Martin's body clumsily makes him oh so curious. 

Hyukkyu's definitely shy, but not stricken stiff by the sight of another dude's naked body, something Martin definitely can't claim for his first time.

The darkness certainly helps and it forces them to navigate each other's bodies in a way Martin hasn't ever thought about before. He knows Hyukkyu's face by memory, the small pout of his lips and the soft curve of his cheek pressed beneath his thumbs. He's thought about Hyukkyu's face, the small noises he makes a lot in the past year, but everything else is new. Right here, right now Martin learns that it takes him two hand spans to blindly smooth his way across the front of Hyukkyu's skinny chest and another three to travel down the length of his navel.

They fit well together, their bodies slotting against each other until there's no distance between them left. 

In the darkness, he can really feel the warmth radiating off Hyukkyu's skin, the nearly embarrassed flush warming the space between them even more. He slides down lower, his hands stroking down the outside of Hyukkyu's thighs and then back up. Hyukkyu's thighs are skinny, but soft and Martin can easily slide a hand between them and probably more if he wanted to. He tucks that information into his mind for later use and pushes his palm down against the front of Hyukkyu's jeans. Even the outline of Hyukkyu's cock fits well into his hand, a bit bigger than Martin had been expecting, but he's definitely not going to complain.

"Ahh!" Hyukkyu’s breath hitches when Martin slides down to his knees and presses a kiss to the edge of his hipbone.

“Martin,” he says. His fingers tug at the top of Martin’s head, threading through his hair. “Martin, ahh-”

“What is it babe?” Martin nuzzles down the crease of his pants and pops the top button of his jeans open. His pants slide down easily and Martin pinches the inside of his thigh, laughing slightly as Hyukkyu jolts up. He slides his hands down the length of Hyukkyu’s slim thighs and feels the way his knees tremble at the contact. “Tell me what you want.”

Hyukkyu’s so far gone, his eyes blown wide with lust in the dark and through it all he won’t stop looking at Martin like Martin is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.

“I want-”Hyukkyu breathes, breath hitching as Martin fingers the waistband of his boxers. “I want-“

“Tell me,” Martin says and Hyukkyu’s eyes flutter close in pleasure, hips stuttering in response to the pressure.

Martin pushes his palm down, experimentally light and Hyukkyu squeezes his eyes with a sharp gasp. He’s cursing in Korean the next instant when Martin bows his head down, nosing the line of his dick beneath his boxers. 

“Martin!” Hyukkyu gasps, breaths coming out harsh and shorter with each movement.

“Not so loud,” he whispers back and Hyukkyu bites into his lip to stifle a noise. The choked off whine that leaves his lips makes Martin instantly regret telling him to hold anything back. "Let me know how you like it."

Hyukkyu’s hands are shaking even as he brushes the pad of his thumb across Martin’s chin. His fingers thread into Martin's hair, pulling slightly as Martin sucks a small bruise on the inside of his thigh.

"Is that okay?" he asks looking up at Hyukkyu bites back another moan.

“Good,” he breathes. “Feels good.”

He runs his hands down, feeling the smooth curve of his skinny hips and the small dip between his thighs.

“How about this?” Martin asks and that’s all the warning he gives before he dips down to take Hyukkyu into his mouth. He's never really given a full blow-job before, but it can't that difficult. The taste of it is strange at first, far more salty than Martin had anticipated and his technique is sloppy at best, but it does the job.

Hyukkyu is so sensitive that it's almost obscene. He slaps a hand over his mouth to stop a moan and then when Martin bobs his head down, bites into his knuckles. Even in the dim lighting of the room, Martin can see his flushed cheeks and how dark his eyes are- pupils blown wide and hazy.

"Martin," Hyukkyu moans. He leans over to rest his hands on Martin's shoulders, swaying slightly. Hyukkyu’s legs are trembling like he’s close to collapsing and Martin sucks lightly, pulling off with a pop.

He looks up, flicking his hair out of his eyes. "What's wrong?"

"Close," Hyukkyu gasps. "I'm close."

It's enough to encourage Martin to suck him back in, gagging slightly as Hyukkyu thrusts forward to hit the back of his throat. Martin gets points for effort for not choking when Hyukkyu does it again and he forces himself to relax, throat opening up for Hyukkyu. A bit of saliva dribbles out of the corner of his mouth and Martin lets it slide down his chin in favor of swallowing down more of Hyukkyu in his mouth.

He pushes Hyukkyu back a little, bracing the flat of his palm against Hyukkyu's hips and then curls his fingers in to get a grip on the sides of his thighs. Hyukkyu's hips stutter and then he tries to pull back, a soft cry slipping past his bitten lips as he comes.

Martin's ready for it, even when most of it ends up splattering down his chest and down his chin. It's messy and Hyukkyu opens his eyes, absolutely mortified.

"Sorry," Hyukkyu breathes and it really shouldn't be a turn on how fucked out he sounds, but it is.

His eyes are comically wide, but it doesn't soften his appeal in the slightest as Martin gets to his feet and presses in for another, sloppy kiss. It's so messy, disgusting really, but the way Hyukkyu giggles against his neck makes everything so worth it. Hyukkyu's thighs are still trembling a little, his entire body still sensitive as Martin pulls him in close enough to feel the rapid beating of his heart and realizes he’ll never stop wanting be this close to Hyukkyu, pressed together like this. 

He wipes the bottom of his chin with the back of his hand, grimacing as it comes away wet with god knows what, and leans back in for more. Hyukkyu wrinkles his nose but he tips his head back to let Martin kiss him silly. Martin's still hard, almost ridiculously so and Hyukkyu keeps gesturing and glancing down as if to let Martin know he hasn't forgotten.

It's sweet and really kind of hot when Hyukkyu finally gets down on his knees, legs still wobbly from his orgasm earlier. He sinks down to his knees and Martin helps him unbutton his jeans and slide them down past his knees. Hyukkyu fingers are slender, playing with the hem of his boxers as Martin pulls his hand over Hyukkyu's and they push the fabric down together.

The cool air makes Hyukkyu shiver, but he doesn't flinch in the slightest as Martin brings his cock out. He tilts his head up as if signaling he's ready and Martin is the one taken by complete surprise as Hyukkyu leans forward confidently, sucking Martin down in one smooth motion. 

His mouth is wet and so perfectly warm that it drives Martin crazy with the effort it takes to not drag a hand through Hyukkyu's hair and thrust forward too fast. The head of his cock hits the back of Hyukkyu's throat and then keeps going as Hyukkyu hollows his cheeks out, utterly concentrated.

"Oh," Martin says and that's just about the only coherent thing that comes out of his mouth in the next ten minutes or so as Hyukkyu proves to him exactly how much of a virgin he isn't.

 

---

 

2015 October, Worlds Quarter-Finals: London, England

 

They ride a bright red double-decker in typical tourist fashion to go visit the London Eye at the behest of Riot.

If the teams had any say in this, it goes without question that everyone would still be holed up in the hotel, practicing and scrimming against each other- but if it's Riot footing the bill for them to crawl out of their wired up caves and be presentable human beings for once, who is Martin to argue otherwise?

It's a much needed break in the midst of all the tension and competitive scrutiny. Martin can count on a single-hand the number of times he's ever left a hotel room to do anything remotely vacation-like during a tournament. It hits him for a second that he's somehow traveled the world, across several continents and even more countries, but hasn't experienced any of it at all.

It's fair after all though. They're not here for vacation. 

They're here to win. 

That's the reason why all the teams are here, Hyukkyu included. It's been a year since Singapore and they're both wiser now. They know when to be serious and when it's okay to tumble into each other's arms and make up for all the lost time in the currency of rushed kisses and hushed whispers. 

He's always wanted to visit the London Eye anyways and as a bonus, he gets to have Hyukkyu with him. Albeit it’s with the two of them surrounded by their teammates, but Hyukkyu is still there nevertheless. Of everything Martin's learned in the past year and a half, it's to be an opportunist.

Their time together is coming to an end soon, a silent countdown ticking between them since the very moment the bracket pitted the two of them together. In three days they'll fight to the death in front of the world and kiss each other good night for the last time in a year. 

He wants to make every second last and he knows Hyukkyu is thinking the same, but it’s impossible to do anything with so many eyes on them. Martin plays it subtle, sitting across the carriage from Hyukkyu who spends most of the ride, staring out at the scenery. For a second, Martin follows his gaze out the window. The sprawling London buildings and all the skyscrapers seem so small in the distance.

Martin's been to London before, but only briefly, and for a second there's nothing more that he wants than to take Hyukkyu's hand in his and take him as far as the horizon stretches. It's just like before- everything in their field of sight, but just out of arm's reach. There's no time, no privacy, no gap in their lives large enough to crawl into and hide from the rest of the world. 

Distance has a habit of doing that, Martin thinks idly. It takes the most significant things in your life and sets them far away, out of arms reach until those significant things fall out of mind as well. Perspective colors the world and Martin wonders how brightly Hyukkyu would shine in his life if he dared to exist any closer.  He wonders if he could even stand to look at Hyukkyu if they were together all the time or if that brightness would fade when Martin got tired of waking up alone to cold sheets and the lingering memories of warmth.

Their lives are anything but normal, and what little bit of it they live outside their computers has always been an accessory to the first. It's scary to think that he's given so much weight in his life to a boy. A boy that he's only seen for two short weeks spread over the span of two years. A boy that doesn't even speak the same language as him. Yet, Martin knows it couldn't have been any other way. 

He sits back on the chair and watches Hyukkyu lean over to talk to one of his team members, a scrawny boy with glasses Martin has never seen before. For a brief second, they make eye contact and Hyukkyu gives him a small smile. Martin forces himself not to stare at the way Hyukkyu leans back into his seat, how relaxed and soft he looks, or how normal everything feels. 

Out in the open, they're enemies, friends or not. All is fair in love and war, and even more so in competitive eSports. 

EDG or Fnatic. One of them won't make it to the next round. Deft or Rekkles. One of their worlds dream ends in three days.

Hyukkyu or Martin, one of them will say goodbye to the other and wait another year for the distance between their palms (eyes, lips, bodies) to close up. 

 

---

 

EDG fall to Fnatic 3-0 at the Quarter Finals stage and Martin wraps Hyukkyu up in a hug on stage. It feels like deja vu when the rest of his team goes in for handshakes and Martin just stays, nailed in place with his cheek pressed against the wetness of Hyukkyu's lashes. He knows the camera is zooming up to capture their hug so he holds back and settles for a brief touch as the camera flashes go off in waves from the crowd.

Hyukkyu is the first to pull back, doing a better job of holding his crestfallen expression than last year. They’ve both grown a lot.

Martin moves up to the front of the stage to bow and sees Hyukkyu linger on the stage edge, an unreadable expression on his face before he turns away. For a second, Martin is struck with the inexplicable urge to chase him down and wipe that conflicted expression off his face, but someone pushes him from behind towards the crowd and Hyukkyu disappears from sight.

The lights are blinding and the crowd deafening, but none of it can stifle the emotions welling up in his chest as the crowd chants their name. It's the home crowd cheering for them and there's nothing like the feeling of so many people feeding all of their energy, their hopes and pride into you. It catches him off guard, something catching in his throat as Seunghoon loops him into the group hug and Martin thinks that regardless of how far Fnatic make it from here on out, this will be the Worlds Championship he remembers the most. 

Hyukkyu is waiting for him backstage and Martin waits for the rest of his team to clear before moving forward to pull him into a hug. 

“Good luck,” Hyukkyu says biting back a small hiccup. He kisses Martin full on the lips, a complete departure from the meek, almost shy kisses he’s been initiating all this time.

Without thinking, Martin grabs him by the back of his neck and presses in for another. “For next year.”

Hyukkyu bites into his lip, eyes glassy. He remembers like Martin hoped he would. They’re a year older, but still none the wiser to have found each other like this again and again. 

He’ll hold Hyukkyu again after this too and they’ll pick up where they left off a year from now.

They’ll part ways. They’ll wander around, god knows where they’ll be one year from now, but they’ll meet back here again- wherever here happens to be. Singapore, Brussels, Paris, Seoul, wherever, Martin will keep reading Hyukkyu, endlessly and effortlessly, until he finally understands everything about him.

"Thank you," Martin breathes and Hyukkyu blinks, looking at the ground before he reaches up to kiss Martin again. 

“Next year,” he promises. He says it in English, but he could have said it in Korean, French or even Latin and it would have meant the same to Martin. It’s Hyukkyu’s voice, promise and want and a shred of desperation weaved through it. Martin kisses him back and pours every moment, every ounce of what he knows about love in any language back.

“Next year.”