Author: nicotine

Before the rare witless response from his junior, Namwoo smiled warmly. Only the laughter of an old colleague could soothe Chahyun’s troubled heart.


Standing on the Winchester Club’s ground felt like a long-awaited return. It hadn’t even been a week if one counted the days, yet it felt as though much had happened in the meantime.

As Chahyun walked out to the center of the field where his teammates had gathered, Winston affectionately tapped his shoulder. Though initially surprised by Chahyun’s earlier return than scheduled, his teammates soon welcomed him warmly. Jude stood beside Chahyun as they began stretching.


“Jude, hey.”

“Did everything go well yesterday?”


Around thirty players formed pairs and stood in circles on the ground. Chahyun naturally stuck close to Jude and began stretching. It was basic training that could be done even with closed eyes—stretching, group stretching, and running, the prelude to the main practice.

As Chahyun pressed down on Jude’s upper shoulder with familiar movements, Jude seemed uncomfortable about something. Chahyun could vaguely sense what he wanted to say, but he stayed silent, exerting more pressure with his hands. Eventually, Jude spoke up.

“Yuan, what happened with Misha yesterday?”

“What do you mean? We just had a little chat. Why, did it seem like I was going to lynch him or something?”

“You couldn’t see your own face that day. Even Leroy said so. Isn’t there a hammer in your carrier or something?”

“Leroy’s too sensitive, it’s a problem.”

As Chahyun pressed down deeper on Jude’s shoulder, Jude let out a sound as if he were in pain. Keeping him from saying unnecessary things made it quiet and good. Looking down at the round back of his head, Chahyun became lost in thought.

When he arrived at the club yesterday and saw Misha’s face, Chahyun felt a surge of emotions similar to anger. When Misha’s neck was gripped in Chahyun’s hand, he briefly considered whether to resort to violence, even if it meant facing a lawsuit against the agency.

However, what about now? Chahyun absentmindedly lifted his head to look at the circle of players on the opposite side.

Misha, like everyone else, was stretching on Chahyun’s opposite side. Defender Kaya Schwartzkopf was seen playfully teasing Misha, pressing on the back of his neck. Even though there seemed to be a fair amount of force in the pressure, Misha remained silent, biting his lips. Despite being naturally muscular, he was known for having good elasticity and flexibility as a player… but now, Chahyun couldn’t view him objectively like that.

What is this discomfort? Being aware after hearing confessions?

He’s not anyone’s child.

In a moment, Misha, who had raised his head, met eyes with Chahyun, who had been observing him. Misha widened his eyes, as if he hadn’t thought Chahyun would be looking at him. Chahyun instinctively lowered his gaze, but soon regretted it. I haven’t done anything wrong. However, the unresolved relationship with Misha was poking at his nerves like an irritation.

“Yuan! I think my neck is going to break!”

“Ah… sorry.”

Without realizing it, Chahyun had applied too much force, causing Jude to make a choking sound. Feeling sorry, Chahyun lightly patted Jude’s neck.

Group stretching had various forms, and most were simple games designed for ice-breaking before training. Recreation games like stealing chairs or grabbing tails might seem like jokes, but they prevented injuries and naturally warmed up muscles, with quite plausible reasons attached.

Today’s schedule included pairing games. Chahyun recalled playing a similar game in the previous national team training. It involved glancing around at other players, walking around the field, and quickly forming groups according to the coach’s spoken numbers. The difference from Korea was that the loser had to run two laps as a punishment.

The mood among the Winchester players, just a few weeks away from the Round of 16, was at its peak. The young players, excited every day even during group stretching, couldn’t stay still and leaped around the field. In the chaotic atmosphere, Chahyun had been focused on one person from the beginning.

Misha Asplund.

Of all the training menus, why this one now? Chahyun didn’t feel like competing or interacting with someone at the moment. If Misha Asplund were in that group, it was even more so. He didn’t want to avoid or run away, but it didn’t seem like he could easily embrace and play games right away. Chahyun slowly circled the field, maintaining a vigilant distance from Misha and blending into other players like a lion guarding its territory.


In sync with the coach’s signal, while quickly pairing with the players next to him, Yoon Chahyun was keeping an eye on Misha’s whereabouts. Amidst the chaos of bunched-up players, Misha’s hair appeared and disappeared.

Four, five, six… As the game progressed, the increasing numbers signaled the emergence of eliminated players. In the end, there were about fifteen players left.

“I’ll never lose. Today, my dynamic vision is off the charts.”

What is this guy saying? Next to Chahyun, Aloys was getting excited, exhaling through his nose with enthusiasm. Seeing that his breathing became labored after moving a bit, it seemed that the natural warm-up effect was convincing. However, Chahyun was also excited. The damn competitive spirit, the desire to never lose in any game with a competitive element, was the problem.

Yoon Chahyun focused on the coach’s signals, preparing his body to spring. Suddenly, he realized that Misha was right next to him.

What? When did this guy get so close?

But now that he thought about it, it seemed like Chahyun had approached him. In the attempt to win once somehow, Chahyun had struggled, forgetting about Misha’s presence until now. It was a painful blunder, but there was no time to step back.


With the signal, Chahyun bounced to the other side away from Misha like a spring. At the end, standing there was Jude Ingram. Like an amateur explorer facing a charging buffalo, Jude had an expression that seemed to not understand the situation for a moment. However, that bewildered expression disappeared as soon as Chahyun’s forehead hit Jude’s nape.


Above Chahyun’s head, the bell rang.

Simultaneous with Chahyun’s fierce embrace with Jude, players who grasped the situation rushed in. Aloys and Winston screamed, leaping up and covering Chahyun’s back. Three, four, five… In an instant, a massive human mass was formed. The stragglers, not fast enough to join the nine, were pitifully struggling on the ground.

Yeah, my friends. Embrace me even tighter. So that someone outside can’t catch me…

The embrace of eight guys was so warm. Their arms were thick and sturdy enough to protect Chahyun. Chahyun entrusted himself to the momentary stability and closed his eyes. Repeating that this wasn’t running away.

Three days had passed since Chahyun had not encountered Misha. More precisely, it had been three days since Chahyun actively avoided him. Since the incident in the locker room, Chahyun realized that Misha was staring at him intensely, to the point that it was mind-boggling.

Whether changing uniforms in the dressing room or during practice matches, Yoon Chahyun could feel Misha’s gaze sinking into him whenever they crossed paths. Every time it happened, Chahyun instinctively averted his eyes, already having done so ten times.

“When did he start looking at me like that?”

By now, it was impossible not to have such a question. It could have been from three days ago when Misha made a somewhat startling confession, or perhaps even much earlier… In the worst-case scenario, it might have been from a year ago when he declared that he liked Chahyun. The latter was slightly creepy.

Chahyun found himself in a frustrating situation where he couldn’t just avoid Misha, and yet, he wasn’t skillful enough to grab Misha and confront him. It was a vexing situation that made Chahyun toss and turn in bed every night. Although he had occasionally exchanged unpleasant words with opposing players with bad manners during games, he had never experienced a sudden, intimate kiss from a teammate like Misha.

“Is something wrong, Yuan? You look really tired today.”

Lucy, serving eggs Benedict on Chahyun’s tray in the cafeteria distribution line, spoke curiously. Lucy, responsible for the diet of Winchester Club players, always paid meticulous attention to the players’ conditions. Chahyun’s appearance, staring blankly down at the tray, seemed to concern her.

“Lucy, it’s nothing. I just haven’t slept well for the past few days.”

“Really? That’s not good. Did you drink coffee too late?”

“I don’t drink much coffee…”

Lucy tilted her head in confusion at Chahyun’s unusually frail appearance. Her high ponytail swayed cheerfully.

“Maybe you’ve been pushing yourself too hard lately. Yuan, you’ve been moving around a lot lately. You went to Korea last week, right?”

“Yes. I came back after only four days.”

“Well… that’s really not good.”

Lucy furrowed her brow as if contemplating something. While her primary responsibility as a dietitian was to plan and arrange the players’ meals, Lucy often left the dining area to check on the players’ nutritional status and preferences directly. Chahyun felt unnecessarily sorry for adding to Lucy’s meticulous and diligent nature. Chahyun hadn’t been tossing and turning in bed due to dietary problems; that much was certain. However, Lucy’s enthusiastic response was quicker than Chahyun’s attempt to brush it off.

“I just thought of something. Yuan will really like this. Can you wait for a moment?”

Lucy spoke brightly to Chahyun and disappeared into the cafeteria. Momentarily stunned by her sudden departure, Chahyun stood there for a while. However, Lucy returned with a plate, carrying something unfamiliar – a round, red pancake-like dish.

“What’s this?”

“Do you know kimchi?”

You know… Did she just ask that to me? Chahyun stared blankly at Lucy, but she quickly explained, looking proud and triumphant, as if she had received a perfect score on a test.

“This is kimchi jeon. I watched a YouTube video and tried making it. I thought Yuan might feel energized if he eats it.”

“Is that so?”

Chahyun really had no idea. Hoping to keep his shock from showing on his face, Chahyun smiled. Lucy, who had thrown an unexpected question like a student scoring top marks on a test, looked pleased and proud.

“I made this for the first time. It wasn’t that difficult. I couldn’t find pancake mix, so I used pancake mix instead of Korean pancake mix… I thought Yuan might like it if he eats it.”

“Um… thank you, Lucy…”

“Anytime. I’ve been interested in fermented foods lately. I’ll try making something else next time. Let me know if you’re interested!”

Winking with charm, Lucy disappeared into the cafeteria. Chahyun stood there for a moment. It seemed like there was not much correlation between a degree in nutrition and culinary skills. While there were rumors that Lucy occasionally treated players to specially made dishes for practice, this was Chahyun’s first personal experience. Kaya got apple strudel, and Winston enjoyed millet porridge. The teammates, including Yoon Chahyun, would often roam around the cafeteria with expectations, and now Chahyun held a plate of kimchi jeon.

“Go over there.”

“Don’t be like that. Our world star, Jude Ingram…”

“I’m not eating with you, Yuan.”

“The hero of Winchester United! The next Ballon d’Or!”

Yoon Chahyun placed his tray on the table where Jude was sitting. Despite Chahyun’s gestures, bending like a servant, Jude didn’t prevent him from taking a seat nearby. Jude Ingram, usually unflappable and without a trace of anger lately, seemed uncomfortable, especially towards Yoon Chahyun.

“Can’t you behave like a hero? If you don’t play this season and retire, will you take responsibility?”

“I already apologized… Come on, Jude, let it go.”

“Because of you, I almost twisted my ankle, and yesterday, my collarbone was about to go. In the dressing room, you suddenly grabbed my shoulder and almost broke it. Do you remember?”

“Of course, I remember. Is your shoulder okay?”

Even with Chahyun patting Jude’s shoulder, he didn’t flinch. He seemed seriously upset, perhaps more than usual.

Lately, whenever Chahyun sensed Misha’s presence, he instinctively grabbed nearby people or objects to shield himself. It was almost a reflexive action, and Jude, who spent the longest time by Chahyun’s side, became the most serious victim of this behavior. Acting as Chahyun’s meat shield without understanding English for days, Jude finally snapped.

However, in an attempt to somehow lighten the mood at the dining table, Jude eventually set aside the fork he was holding, picking at the salad. Then, in a hesitant voice, he spoke.

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