jongdae/luhan & baekhyun/jongdae & implied!yixing/zitao; pg13; very slight mention of abuse; idol!au and red string!au; ~8600
written for the second round of chenpionships for anonymous. this is the slightly edited version. for questions after reading this, maybe you can head over the comments section of the fic in the exchange itself! i'm quite proud of it.
luhan trips on his shoelace the way out of the clothing store.
the first thing that he thought about was that his mom is going to nag him for this again – she has reminded him over and over again about tying up your shoelaces right is important, honey, both gently and not-so-gently – but of course, he’ll just end up doing it again. and again.
his knees skid over the rough cement and pebbles of the ground and he bites his lower lip to keep himself from groaning out.
“ouch,” he mutters to himself, fluffing his messed-up hair. it’s still in a normal and plain black color – luhan had begged both of his parents to dye it something cool, like his senior’s zhou mi’s red hair, but they had laughed and brushed it off with a you’re still a kid, luhan – when you grow up, okay?
there’s blood and a feeling of an intense burn of his knee. he grimaces. his mom’s probably going to nag him even more for this – she’ll probably end up roping dad to tell luhan that tying up his shoelaces is important, that it’s important for him to try his best to not get hurt, and he really, really doesn’t want that to happen. it’s happened too many times, and to be honest, he’s beginning to get sick hearing those words over and over again.
“mom,” he calls out as he tugs at his red string, still thankfully intact. luhan doesn’t know – and doesn’t want to know – what will even happen if that gets untied. “sorry.”
he looks up when there’s no response.
there’s no one.
luhan blinks once before he realizes what has happened.
his first instinct is to panic – wow where’s mom why am i alone oh wow i’m alone in this crowd of people and i don’t know where she is – and he does, really, before he shuts himself up. you’re beginning to be an adult, he remembers his dad had told him seriously a few days ago, so learn to control your emotions.
he rises up then, wincing a bit and dusting his shorts. the crowd is a little bit hard to navigate through – he’s having a hard time ignoring those strings – and he still needs tiptoe to get a view of the faces.
wow. so many red strings, both loose and tight.
the name that luhan keeps asking to strangers feels strange on his tongue after a while, like it’s not an actual word. he gets restless – how is he going to eat? where is he going to sleep if he ends up lost like this? his feet was finding their way to the center of the crowd, luhan looking right and left, up and down – and hopefully through the thin slices of red – when it happens.
something unfathomable to him.
the red string snaps, snipped by an invisible scissor – just like that.
no, what, what, what –
luhan blinks at the sudden heavy emptiness in his chest, blinks at the feeling of being drenched in cold water, blinks at the feeling of being ripped slowly apart at the seams – blinks at the feeling of his barely twelve-year-old heart being slowly yanked out of the middle of his lungs.
he becomes quiet after that.
no demands to dye his hair red, no more tripping and forgetting to tie up his shoelaces. luhan does no glances to his own hand, always averting his gaze somewhere else – because the red string is still there, tied, a lone and cut end fraying with time.
no wishing, no begging – because he learned it the hard way, that nothing can ever reattach his own cut red string.
so luhan shuts up and smiles, barrels it deep down inside him, being quiet and perfect – while he pretends that he doesn’t hear his parents conversation about he’s so quiet now, what is happening with him – while his insides shatter every time he sees those red strings crisscrossing in his view, connecting to someone, belonging to someone. those strings are there every day – because as much as he wishes it to, as much as he wants it to – he’ll never escape from it, forever.
because luhan – well, he’ll never belong in someone else’s arms.
he begins to think of leaving, begins thinking of a land without any known red strings.
it’s tempting, really.
and finally, years.
that’s the time it took luhan to muster up the courage to leave everything.
years of worn smiles and curt talks and his insides being ground into smithereens all over and over again, with the people luhan used to know, the ones luhan used to laugh freely and talk with. they were like strangers again – even – even his parents and him. him never replying their i love you, kid, never replying the forehead kisses and only giving halfhearted hugs to them – because luhan’s afraid. luhan’s so afraid.
he sees his parents curled up on the sofa on the dawn of his flight to korea – hands curled with each other, red string tied neatly around his mother’s pinky finger and a messy but strong knot on his father’s – so luhan’s glad but bitter. that this is his last memory of them. that he knows that they are truly in love with each other. that luhan knows his dreams of finding someone to kiss and embarrass and laugh and cry and love just like his parents did is wiped out – because he’s snipped away from it.
so he leaves.
no notes, no nothing, just leaves the day after his university graduation, room empty and bare, everything that luhan is. leaves with the savings he has since he was twelve (“i want to buy hair dyes with it!” he said once, which his parents shushed him for), heading for a new life, somewhere luhan will be okay with never having friends, because he has an excuse. he doesn’t know anyone. he’ll be fine. he’ll be okay – he doesn’t know anyone, he won’t care about their red strings.
he’s going to be okay alone.
but the forces upon him seem to be in favor of not letting his wishes come true.
first, luhan realizes that in two months (of food, paying rent, and every other general necessity) – he will go broke. second, he needs money – and third, he needs a job. quick.
luck seems to be against him on those following weeks.
but he does find one in the end – and luhan doesn’t even realize that the word job will also interlink to the word friend. in those last weeks of his two months in korea – him already having used cups of instant ramyeon being stacked, counting the minuscule amount of won sheets on his pocket with too-long hair and a cigarette butt halfheartedly lit – he meets zitao.
someone foreign here, like him – but also rich, not like him.
very rich, to be honest, that he would never trust zitao if he said that fact right to luhan’s face the first time they met.
“you look smart,” those are the exact words zitao uttered in chinese – which surprised him – hair spiked up and heavy-looking chains used as a necklace. luhan thinks that he’s trying to act thug, but he just looks stupid with that. he later learns that he was attempting to look like that. “tao. cigarette?”
smart? he dubiously blinks. what’s so smart about my curly too-long hair and unwashed and crinkled t-shirt?
“take them all,” he finally decides to do a friendly shrug, throwing the pack to zitao, who fumbles and checks the inside suspiciously. luhan, truthfully, only took two. it tastes strange on his tongue, but zitao seems to be satisfied with his new finding. luhan also doesn’t forget to smile politely, a habit that he hasn’t forgotten. “i don’t like it that much? just started and. uh.”
“why’re you smiling at me,” the kid mutters. “also, you look like you need a job. i think i can help you on that – you look smart, so.”
most people would think that zitao is being too rude to him. but luhan is desperate – and to be frank, as long as he gets the money he needs, he’ll be okay.
so zitao brings him to a presentable state when he says yes, pruning his hair to a neat cut and refurbishing his dinky apartment. shoves him in a room with someone korean who speaks okay chinese, telling him about how managers are to organize their artists, about how to not only get rid of an artist’s scandal, but how to return their name back to its former glory, and every other thing about that. between zitao’s amused glances and the notebeook slowly filling up (once again, that zitao gave him), luhan understand why he’s here – what his new job is about.
(“this is yixing,” zitao chirps one day when they’re touring the company, and luhan tries to ignore how close their hands are, how they’re tied together, yet how loose they are. yixing smiles like he’s the personification of happiness. “he’s one of the newest composers-slash-writers-slash-talented people here. also, my favorite.”)
that winter, he gets the news that he’s assigned to be kim jongdae’s manager.
kim jongdae, korea’s number one rising solo singer.
“i’m not qualified,” luhan repeats for the nth time, even though zitao will not hear him. even though zitao will pretend to not hear him. it’s always like this. “zitao, please rethink this.”
they are currently on their way to the conference room, and luhan regrets even befriending zitao. a job as a janitor would’ve been better than the nervousness he feels right now.
he almost sighs visibly at himself. who is he even kidding? luhan will be forever grateful for zitao.
the younger rolls his eyes. “shut up,” he repeats – like what luhan does, and he almost blows up in frustration – that’s always his answer. “you’re more than qualified to handle this. even that old geezer kim junmyeon said so.”
cue a protest from luhan. today: “he’s not even that old!”
zitao snorts. it’s not a very attractive sight, him getting the coke he’s drinking up in his nose.
but he recovers from it, of course, and luhan raises a halfhearted thumb up when zitao looks at him, signaling that no one saw him being unattractive. there’s a possibility, though, that the person in the cctv room saw it – but zitao just soldiers on in his dissing. “he could’ve been. should’ve been, so the girls he tries to pick up would report him as a creep and kick him off his position. why are you so grateful to him, anyway? why not that translator do kyungsoo?” a grumble. “you should be grateful to me.”
luhan wants to protest again, about luhan managing a certain kim jongdae. but he closes his mouth when he sees the words conference room spelled on the door in the front of his face.
(he actually wants to say this: i will forever be grateful for you, but this doesn’t seem to be the right occasion.)
there’s a lone man seated on the desk – luhan’s about to scold that person, before his eyes gaze up.
before his heart starts thrumming loudly inside his ears.
it’s kim jongdae with his unbelievably warm smile and warm eyes and even warmer everything, somehow greeting him. zitao’s saying something, and jongdae’s talking with that brilliant voice of his.
there are butterflies somehow blossoming inside his stomach and everything that he shouldn’t be feeling – because this shouldn’t be happening, he doesn’t have anyone, his red string’s snipped. a gurgle is threatening to bubble up along a vomit of words that he tries to erase from his head, and he’s just tongue-tied.
he knows better, but he can’t help it.
against his own habit, he acts.
he knows better, but luhan can’t help but to glance down to jongdae’s hand – somehow warm, yet cold to him at the same time.
the effect is immediate: his chest twists, heart stuttering.
the words that zitao and jongdae exchange becomes muddled in his head.
he can’t help feeling that this is too close to that feeling he had when he was twelve. that emptiness and that everything draining out of him, drenching luhan in the bitter and cold water of truth. because he was hoping. he was hoping that maybe when his soul mate was gone, maybe he would’ve had a chance with someone whose string was cut off, too. to defy fate’s path. to show that – that luhan, too, deserves love. because he shouldn’t be feeling like this if jongdae was already bound to someone, right?
but no. that’s not the case. because there’s an end of a taut string looped on his finger – his pinky. signaling that jongdae’s time alone is up – luhan had enough the experience torturing himself by watching everyone’s red strings and how they act – that he’s going to meet the other end of his string soon, and this is just him being a fool.
it’s strange. it’s strange and cruel.
but as always – when jongdae looks at him with expectation in his warm eyes and zitao just coolly looks at him – ever so polite and courteous, luhan smiles.
“it’ll be a pleasure working with you, kim jongdae-sshi.”
that twist resides and lurks on luhan’s ribs the following days, trailing with him still despite his constant shuffling inside and outside and across the building to discuss and finalize kim jongdae’s transfer of agency to luhan’s own – he tries to not look at the news sites, because that’ll just hurt his head.
he sees the singer himself, sometimes, too – arguing with zitao about something, busy being on the phone in the waiting room talking in rapid korean, or discussing with yixing. luhan sees them doing that when he passes the recording room, bits of scrap paper and pencil littered around them with yixing rapidly clicking something in his laptop in frustration.
and that’s the first time luhan glimpses jongdae laugh, too – it’s so open, so unlike his own that’s closed and covered, because he can never be that free.
everything about luhan is so uptight, while jongdae is – well, while jongdae’s not.
“so,” jongdae clears his throat, and the older’s heart just jumps to his throat. this is plain and pure torture, and luhan doesn’t even mean it romantically. “i heard from zitao that you’re pretty amazing in this thing. i mean, managing artists. and stuff.”
luhan just puts it very bluntly. “this is my first time in the field, though,” but he doesn’t forget the little smile. he can never forget. “don’t expect much, jongdae-sshi – i’m pretty much going to fail at least once.”
the singer snorts. “i saw you going back and forth in the building,” he chimes. “i’m pleased that i didn’t find steam coming out of your ears.”
his ears turn pink. crap.
they’re on their way to the KBS building – jongdae’s first schedule with his new manager. also known as luhan. the phone in his pocket buzzes every second, and it eventually just recedes to something that he should ignore. no doubt it will be about people screaming about kim jongdae going to immortal song. also the rumor of him changing managers, but luhan’s pretty good at ignoring that.
honestly? he’s scared. this is his first time out – out of the theory practices kyungsoo has drilled in him, and everything that he does will affect jongdae personally. he can’t just – fuck up and say sorry and make another decision. the mistakes will be imprinted in both jongdae and luhan’s name.
he’s about to throw up, to be frank.
that annoying butterfly-in-his-stomach feeling is acting up again, too.
silence settles between them and jongdae’s hand finds itself to his samsung, giggling to himself. luhan just leaves him to his own devices – while he drowns in his own thoughts. this is perfectly normal, luhan thinks. very normal. he’s been through this before, he’s going to be perfectly fine. perfectly okay. he’s not noticing how jongdae’s string is becoming tighter and tighter by the second, of course. that’s an accusation. a very false one.
“you seem nice,” jongdae murmurs, voice too bright for this winter afternoon, and luhan just swallows. “i just hope you don’t take all of my money, like what my previous manager did.”
he didn’t know it was true.
it’s very obvious that jongdae has a schoolgirl crush on liyin.
it doesn’t help, really, that she’s his opponent for today’s recording of immortal song.
he tried, honest. to not squeak. or mess up singing his song when the famous zhang liyin herself seems to smile in contentment to jongdae’s direction. or make a fool out of himself in front of luhan and the fans – and in general, the rest of the public – but this is liyin. jongdae would have proudly said that he’s been a fan of her since his prepubescent and zit-filled days, but that’s not the case.
he just fell in love with her voice about three months ago.
luckily, though, he does not mess up singing. jongdae’s been practicing this rendition for weeks already – when his old manager snagged that offer.
and the money.
he shakes his head to get rid of that name, and thankfully does not miss liyin looking at him, patting his shoulder and mouthing good job.
if this is heaven, jongdae thinks, he would gladly drop dead right now.
but then he notices luhan. he’s – staring at them, leaning against the door with sunglasses worn to keep his identity a secret. he knows why – his fans are obsessed with knowing everything about him, and that means everyone related to jongdae. he doesn’t actually know where he’s actually staring, but a gut feeling tells him that luhan’s staring at his hand – and liyin’s own, too.
for a second, he looks pained.
but then he breathes a small sigh of relief – and he straightens up, pulls down his snapback, and heads out of the waiting room.
jongdae stares at the empty space.
the cigarette is taken from his grasp and zitao grunts.
he knows, really, who did that, even though there’s only a sigh.
“i’m already working as a fulltime manager,” more like protector – and zitao has a slight idea of what luhan truly feels about his singer. he always has. the voice is soothing, though, in the sea of storms brewing inside zitao – he wants to hug luhan and sob in his chest, but that would only hurt his pride and image. he’s going to pass that possibility. “i don’t need to be your fulltime babysitter too, tao.”
he wants to be a brat to mask this thing, but he only sighs – like what luhan did. “then don’t be,” zitao glumly shoots back. “i don’t want to be a burden to you.”
luhan lets out a long huff.
oh no, here he goes.
“dad wants me in the conference room,” he says in a split second decision – cutting off luhan’s words, to just get out of his nagging. he shoots straight up before luhan’s hand catches his wrist, yanking him back to his spot. the tone he uses is a bit too brisk. “it’s a meeting, luhan.”
zitao tries to not think about how he’s here in the rooftop to escape that exact meeting.
he should’ve seen this. he should’ve seen possibilities of this thing happening, but all zitao saw in the face of luhan a few months ago was a quiet and distanced but polite man. now all he does now is just nag at him. zitao’s nineteen. he doesn’t need to be treated as if he’s a nuisance – he’s been treated like that enough by his family.
“huang zitao,” luhan says, but it’s a bit angered. anger, too, bristles inside zitao. “sit down. i know you’re upset about your father’s decision. calm down. this won’t help you.”
“i am calm,” zitao hisses. “now can you please excuse me?”
this is fucking stupid, but the anger just flares and bursts inside him – and when luhan yanks him back again, the reaction is automatic – his arm jerks back to push luhan out, and for a moment, luhan’s teetering dangerously from the handrails, eyes scared.
he forgot about luhan’s fear of heights. it must’ve – must’ve taken him much more than willingness to get up here. he didn’t notice luhan’s shaking grip and the locked gaze to him, never leaving for the space between the floor and the ground below them – far, far away.
guilt overwhelms him.
but zitao’s already out of the rooftop, feet taking him away to buy another pack of cigarettes with a fire of hatred raging inside: for luhan, his parents, jongdae’s past manager who’s a crooked and pretty much dreadful person – and most importantly, himself.
the week’s been pretty good, luhan decides.
zitao is still ignoring him and he’s still ignoring zitao. that works for both of them. luhan usually ignores zitao’s rash and immature decisions, but the younger has pretty much crossed the line this time. he just – left luhan there. shaking. afraid. he’ll admit that.
luhan’s fear of heights has always been a bother, and he’s pretty ticked off by himself for not running after zitao and knocking some sense inside his nineteen year old body, but he’ll just ignore this one.
he’s good at ignoring. he’s good at ignoring many things.
jongdae’s back on track with his schedules, though this round of promotions has ended. his song had been a hit with the public – best luck, it was. luhan always hears it playing still when he buys an instant-ramyeon-cup from the minimarket because of that clawing hunger he feels, or when he fetches jongdae’s ridiculously overpriced designer clothes by his sponsors from the laundry across the company building.
(he doesn’t curl up in his bed and listen to jongdae’s voice singing to him after a hard day, of course. luhan never does that. luhan doesn’t wish that jongdae would sing it for him instead. he never does – it’s silly thinking of that, he wants to choke out, but he’s just lying to himself. he’s just ripping his own stitches and yanking his barely existent heart out for those butterflies, for his heart jumping up to his throat when he sees jongdae smiling at him.
luhan’s just repeating that incident over and over again.)
he still has a hard time traveling through the crowds.
luhan can never be used to it, honestly. seoul is a crowded place – same like his hometown, but thankfully less crowded – and it hurts, because it’s so real for him. he’s bitter, always is. the roads are always littered with those strings, and he always want to just trample and wreck havoc. but the red lines are always invisible for him – or rather, he is invisible for them. he’s only a bit glad that he doesn’t recognize most of them. them, meaning the strings, and the people. he doesn’t care about them.
(the tautness of jongdae’s string is almost painful for him to look at, though.)
but luhan’s going to be okay. luhan’s going to be perfectly fine. he’s good at this – smiling, barreling his emotions down, not caring.
jongdae’s schedules have finally slowed down to a halt, though luhan’s phone is still ringing every minute with a mention of his name in various social medias.
it’s one day when there’s only the three of them in the recording room, the rain splattering loudly on the panes and making yixing groan in frustration because he can’t even hear jongdae’s voice clearly. the moon has been covered by the dark clouds since long ago – and even in his three a.m. state, his voice is amazing.
yixing suggested jongdae to sing good luck again. the singer had protested with “for the thousandth time!”, but yixing is someone who can coax everyone to do everything for him, so jongdae grumbles, mumbling something in rapid korean that both luhan and yixing can’t catch. he has a pretty good feeling that it’s something bad, but luhan’s heart is too busy soaring to the high heavens to even think about that.
jongdae. singing. without no one else but to hear except him. yixing’s there, but – they’ll be the only one that hears and sees him sing this.
luhan’s twelve year old form is singing praises to the forces upon him. luhan’s current form is trying hard to enjoy this moment and not let the hollow feeling invade his whole body.
not just yet.
the track is playing and jongdae opens his mouth to sing – it’s not recording, once in a lifetime, and he’s so concentrated like that. luhan feels himself falling deeper and deeper and deeper – he’s ashamed that he holds to this, clings onto the voice that washes his worries away like waves, lapping away everything of his – even for just a moment.
a hand tugs at his sleeve, and the illusion is broken.
yixing’s red string is prominent, though still loose. his is prettily looped, but strong – like what yixing is himself, and luhan swallows when he remembers who’s at the other end.
“luhan,” yixing is speaking chinese, but it seems so rusty – like it hasn’t even been used in years. he hopes it’s not true. “zitao said sorry. he’s –”
a sour taste invades his mouth. “sorry he tried to push me over and left me shaken to bits?” he doesn’t want jongdae to think that they’re ignoring him, but with a quick glance, jongdae seems to be content singing with his eyes closed. “sorry that he ignored me because i only wanted to help him? sorry because i wanted to return a favor?”
he just realized that his fists has balled and are now shaking slightly. yixing’s looking at him – perfectly emotionless, and for once, luhan wants to punch his face, because he’s tied with zitao.
“he has some,” yixing tries to excuse the younger, but luhan wants to bark a laugh. “business –”
i will forever be grateful for him, he remembers thinking, but this is enough.
jongdae is reaching the end of best luck, so luhan just smiles bitterly. he never does that. “tell him that i’m not going to act like i know him until he apologizes to me. face to face. now let’s just act as if we listened intently to jongdae and not involve him in this stupid problem we have.”
they turn to jongdae as he finishes, and he has a dazzling grin on his face.
“how was it?” his eyes are twinkling, and luhan wants to swim in it, forget all these problems and curl up and forget about red strings and unrequited love and the fact that jongdae will never be his. “personally thought that was the best.”
with the twinkle and his voice and everything that he loves about jongdae being shown in front of his face, luhan decides – that it’s okay to let his guard down, for just now.
“it was beautiful,” the words just flow out of his mouth, and luhan doesn’t know how to screw the tap shut again once it’s opened. a part of him wonders with fright if it’s never going to be shut down anymore. “simply amazing, jongdae – jongdae-sshi.”
a laugh and it’s all that it takes to turn luhan’s head into a mush.
he wants that cold water of reality to wake him up again, to make him snap out of this thing, but jongdae’s everything is making it hard to wish that. “stop with the honorifics,” jongdae’s saying, and there’s a smile on his face. “you’re my friend, luhan.”
his stomach does a huge acrobat act with somersaulting and everything that luhan doesn’t know the name of, but he feels the urge to vomit everything that he feels, too.
yixing and jongdae are discussing the performance, but luhan’s just trying to not think about how the other end of the singer’s string will never be him, that he’s tied to some otherworldly and lucky being that has jongdae’s heart for the final time, forever. even though the world is littered with the ones who never meet the other end of the string, filled with people whose strings are tangled beyond measure.
luhan never noticed the jealousy, but now it’s bubbling hot beneath his skin – and he feels sick, too sick.
because he will never belong in jongd – anyone’s – arms.
jongdae rushes down to his office a few weeks later, eyes never stopping to twinkle and an excited expression on his face.
luhan feels like the world has gone topsy-turvy – he had been dealing with the antis and everything wanting to trample jongdae from this idol life before he came – but he just smiles and ruffles jongdae’s hair. “you look very excited,” he muses, and judging by the aggressive nods that the singer gives him, he is. “what’s up?”
“collaboration!” he seems to bark. “i know what i’m going to do for my next comeback!”
everything that kyungsoo has shoved inside his head comes out, and luhan swallows. “okay, tell me who the artist you want to collaborate with is. i’m sure they’ll probably accept it, since you’re one of the biggest acts now in korea, and i’m going to do a little trick –”
jongdae’s laughter booms. “i just needed your permission! he already accepted.”
he swallows again. jongdae looks like a puppy like this, and luhan – he can’t say no. he can’t see the look of heartbrokenness in jongdae’s eyes when he’s going to be told that he can’t sing with that someone he picked.
so: “tell me who it is, then.”
sunlight seems to be radiating from his everything. “one of the rookie singers,” he describes, “like me, but not so popular. not yet. he has a really nice voice, though.”
luhan blinks at the news, and he wants to say, i don’t monitor anyone but you, i don’t care about anyone besides of you – but then jongdae produces his samsung out of his pocket, typing something rapidly in it, though a bit clumsy.
jongdae’s eyes seem to crinkle in happiness, and the cause of it isn’t luhan. his stomach churns, never pleasant, and jealousy boils up again.
“it’s,” his voice chirpy, “byun baekhyun.”
“you look like death,” yixing comments pleasantly, but zitao doesn’t even grumble. that’s when yixing knows that he’s not acting normal. “okay, you’re not being a brat. you disappeared for weeks. what’s up?”
“with dad,” zitao answers, and yixing’s confused. he thought that zitao – hated his dad to bits. why go on a trip with someone you hate – now that it’s mentioned, a trip that goes on for several weeks, with someone you hate? “touring the city to spot every entertainment company. he pointed out their weaknesses and strengths. i guess. bumpy roads on the bus. no steaming hot food for days. he said to keep acting – as normal as possible.”
the older fiddles with his pencil. he was drawing eyes, and it looks eerily similar to the double eyebags that zitao’s sporting. “to not look rich, then?”
zitao doesn’t even let out a snort. he’s about to answer, when his lips seem to be frozen in though, and then it shuts. “did – luhan –?”
“tried to,” yixing mutters, and for once, the voices and music from down the hallway connecting the recording and vocal training room to the office doesn’t help his nerves. “acted all stony. he wanted you to apologize face to face, and he’s going to act like he doesn’t know you if you don’t.”
“figured that out.”
zitao’s fingers keep acting as if he had a cigarette – and truthfully, he probably wanted to.
he asks him about jongdae.
“he has an idea for his next comeback,” yixing tells. the singer had talked with him in rapid and excited korean about the thing and it flustered him a little bit, but he was able to extract something from jongdae’s steady stream of words. “a collaboration with some rookie singer that debuted this month. his name is – uh – i think it was byun baekhyun?”
the younger’s eyes go wide as saucers. “jongdae’s high school friend?”
yixing’s a bit concerned about zitao’s ever-expanding knowledge about people’s lives. “how did you find out about that?”
but zitao doesn’t seem to be intent on answering the question. he’s blinking, not believing yixing’s words, most probably – and it confuses him. it bothers yixing. collaborations, though a bit uncommon here, isn’t something that otherworldly. it could boost up both of the singers’ popularity, and that’s good. but zitao doesn’t even seem to be excited about it.
“luhan’s just torturing himself,” zitao finally says after a while – and now, his fingers are desperately clawing for cigarettes. yixing almost feels sorry for him, but he’s just busy focusing on his words. yes, he know that it was luhan’s decision to accept the singer’s request or not, but why the torturing part? “i’m surprised he didn’t just make me fall off the tower that day.”
“what do you mean –?”
but then zitao’s looking at him, an unreadable expression on his face, his shoulders sagged. he looks weak – not like the confident person that had scouted yixing, not someone strong.
then all of it comes crashing down to him – the realization.
“don’t you get it, yixing-ge? luhan’s – luhan’s in love with jongdae.”
luhan knows before he sees it.
he just knows. knows by jongdae’s smile, his giddiness, his never-stopping energy.
and when baekhyun comes to the company building a few days later with his manager’s and luhan’s phone himself ringing off the hook by the rumors of them both meeting, he learns to loathe jongdae’s twinkling eyes – because now it will never be caused by him, never be caused by anyone except byun baekhyun.
who’s the other end of jongdae’s red string. he can only see that.
he tries hard to not to look at his own hand.
anger jealousy hatred fury envy everything dissolves luhan to dust – but he smiles. he’s good at this. pretending to care, ignoring his feelings. he’s done it so many times before. he’s a natural.
(it blinds him, covers him. this isn’t me, his twelve year old self whimpers, but he shuts him up.)
he shakes hand with baekhyun, pretty slender fingers, milky skin and a mouth that luhan wants to shut up forever – because it was his voice that enticed jongdae in him. it was the one that made jongdae seek him, and now, luhan will never even have the chance to make it sag. the red string is too strong, too tight, too close.
the smile is almost comical in luhan’s face, but nobody seems to notice. “welcome, baekhyun-sshi. it’ll be a pleasure working with you.”
jongdae laughs and everything momentarily clears for luhan. “don’t act so uptight,” he chimes, at luhan, and he feels the anger burning up inside him again, closing everything away again. he feels like throwing byun baekhyun who has a giddy and proud expression at his face into the seas with an anchor, so he’ll never interfere, so that he’ll never meet jongdae again, so that he can make jongdae his. “we’re just collaborating, not battling for death!”
just collaborating, luhan wants to laugh hoarsely, but he can’t.
jongdae has his head propped on baekhyun’s shoulders. it’s probably the soju that they secretly bought to the recording room, but it feels natural.
“after years,” baekhyun muses, and jongdae stifles a laugh. years, huh. “we meet again.”
there’s a stir inside his stomach, something that says, yes, this is right. this is where you belong, kim jongdae. he decides to trust it. truthfully, he can’t believe his luck – a few days earlier, he half expected that it was a hoax – that he could never meet baekhyun, his high school best (“best best best best,” he remembered intoning) friend just like that. but here they are, after recording a few samples by themselves, drinking soju and catching up with the other. it feels like old times – when he only had to watch what the students were talking about, what his parents knew about him.
now, the whole public is waiting for him to screw up.
he shouldn’t be afraid, though. there’s luhan. he’s been pretty amazing these past months – battling rumors like it’s no problem and acting like both his mental and physical bodyguard. he’s honestly grateful for him. a friend – that’s what he called his manager, and it is true.
he is not where you belong. stay where you are with him. you are bound, kim jongdae.
“another round of soju,” jongdae smiles, and baekhyun’s laugh is infectious. his whole being bubbles with happiness, and he’s glad that baekhyun’s here. he erases the silence like it’s no big deal. “then we can record a drunken sing-along.”
i will make your life hell, byun baekhyun, is the only thing that luhan remembers thinking – there’s a little voice in his head like junmyeon’s disapproving grunt and kyungsoo’s scowl, but he ignores it – when he destroyed everything that matters to baekhyun into splintered pieces.
except jongdae, of course.
“holy shit,” a girl yells inside her own bedroom, eyes blazing with mixed fear and excitement. “look at this! your favorite rookie is like, soooo tainted!”
“you’re talking about baekhyun-oppa,” the other girl is blinking – she appeared from outside the room, hair mopping wet, apparently concerned. “i’m worried for you.”
the girl that yelled huffs. “i’m talking about his downfall,” she rolls her eyes, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, and shoves the laptop to the girl’s dripping form. “this is so juicy – it’s honestly a bit scary, and i’m a bit scared. byun baekhyun has done lots of things to gain fame. not pretty things, too. i wonder who released these things.”
the dripping-wet-baekhyun-fangirl stays quiet as she scrolls down the article.
“told you so,” the girl who shoved the laptop reminds smugly, as if she just won a lottery. “the need for fame changes people. not jongdae-oppa, though. i told you that he’s perfect.”
jongdae is with baekhyun when it happens.
for the first time in months, he feels compelled to open up the news sites. something must have been playing a cruel and unfunny joke on him – because the first thing that he sees is the article about baekhyun, about the dirty things he has done to even debut.
he chokes, and baekhyun is about to rush over to help and see – when baekhyun’s manager slams the door to the recording room wide open.
“we’re going,” he grits his teeth – baekhyun’s about to protest, about to grumble, when he finally realizes what’s on jongdae’s screen. a wide range of emotions seems to pass through his face, before it settles for one – disbelief. “as soon as possible. now.”
baekhyun’s eyes seem to say please believe me instead when he’s dragged out of the room.
his dream had come, and now it’s snatched away from him just as quickly.
luhan enters just after with a wild look on his face. “i saw,” he breathes hard. “this is what i was talking about, jongdae. this whole thing is tricky. he’s a rookie. that’s why i was hesitating to give you permission, because there’s always this possibility. i told you –”
this rarely happens.
“give me a break,” he hisses. “give baekhyun a break. you never do. fame is tempting. debuting, by any means, is tempting. we’re just humans, luhan. we’re easily lured to the easy ways. i debuted under a shitty company that robbed me from my life, too, just to debut. besides, it’s just a rumor. and i bet you’re just caring about this because you want money. because you want me to produce money, just like my previous manager did to me.”
luhan’s – hurt. he can tell. the way he stepped back, face slack as if someone had slapped him – guilt floods him, and jongdae just feels like an accuser. worse, a false accuser.
“i only wanted to help,” luhan murmurs, voice little, and jongdae’s stomach churns.
not bound. you do not belong –
“i know,” jongdae finally exhales, and he feels like crying. “i just – i just don’t want to believe it.”
jongdae knows his mind is officially drunk in disbelief and fucked up when he glimpses a small smile forming on luhan’s face that disappeared the second after. he needs rest. that couldn’t be real. a rest that he hoped could make him sleep until this whole thing has died down – but really, he’s no sleeping beauty.
it only took luhan a few keyboard clicks to unleash another hell-like attack on baekhyun – all with a serene and hopeful smile on his face.
blind. he’s blind. but luhan doesn’t care – jongdae’s going to be his now.
it has gone for a few days and it’s not showing signs on stopping.
his company had filed for a report. defamation, baekhyun remembers his manager muttering darkly, but what is even defamation when he’s not even famous? all of them are going to recognize baekhyun like this – someone who hurt and almost killed other trainees just to debut, just to grapple for fame that’s now nonexistent.
it showed pictures. of him hitting a boy, another one lunging at a girl with a glass shard.
but baekhyun was there when it happened. they were trainees who made fun of and threatened him. he only – he only defended himself. it was the only logical thing to do. but someone had extracted a cctv footage and cut the rest of the frames away so that it looked as if he was the one attacking, even though it was the opposite. they hurt his brother. baekbeom, who’s now happily married someplace far away and never talking to him about that incident, never talking to him. baekbeom hated him. they spat on his mom. almost made his dad fall to his death. he hated the lot of them.
but no one’s going to hear him out, of course.
not even jongdae.
if it’s possible, he feels even more helpless and trapped. he realized what he felt to him when they were recording together for the first time – drunk out of both of their minds, jongdae propped and so close to his neck, breathing it down. he realizes that he’s sucked in. he’s helpless, but a good helpless.
this is a bad helpless.
it’s been a week since his last text and call. baekhyun isn’t hoping for the better.
for all he knows, jongdae might have hated everything about him already.
luhan’s just about to pass a report to the office when he hears the choked sob.
it sounds familiar – no, it can’t be.
“calm down,” that’s zitao’s voice, and luhan’s mind reels when he realized that he hasn’t talked with him in months. or even acknowledged that he existed. “jongdae – hey, it’s not your fault. don’t – don’t cry. i’m bad at this.”
“tao,” jongdae. crying. “i should’ve listened to luhan.”
he wants to hear more, but everything zones out for him. he still sees the red strings littered – some curling on the hanging lights in the hallway, though the light passes just fine. he sees jongdae’s – still tight, and a fresh wave of envy erupts inside him.
but then jongdae. crying. he looks at his hands – the one who caused byun baekhyun’s downfall, and in relation, jongdae whimpering.
luhan doesn’t let himself think like that after that.
baekhyun is the one who caused that, pure, plain, and simple.
(there’s guilt. his twelve year old self with the still attached and tied red string begs him to stop, quit this, let jongdae meet baekhyun and let them live in each other’s embraces until they die. but luhan doesn’t. luhan doesn’t listen, because he’s blinded, craves jongdae, even though in his broken, sobbing form – and luhan’s just. he just.)
jongdae doesn’t sleep well alone when he’s shaken, so he asks for luhan. he likes how luhan feels – warm, like something to cling on – even though it doesn’t feel right. luhan’s bones are too sharp, his fingers never seeming to grip jongdae perfectly. not like baekhyun’s, his fingers that always feel perfect for him.
you do not belong to luhan, the voice warns, and in jongdae’s sleep-muddled state, he has to sadly agree.
he glances to the phone, frowning.
the singer stirs in his sleep, disturbed – and luhan grabs the phone. “be right back,” he tells jongdae, who nods, yawning. “must be a prank call. unknown number.”
luhan goes to the bathroom, where the signal is bad, and answers.
he’s about to open his mouth to say a greeting when he hears the familiar voice.
“luhan?” the static crackles in chinese, and he feels as if someone had turned him outside down, and he can’t help but to close his mouth. he’s about to scream. to vomit. shout that a murderer has threatened him. but this isn’t anything. this is – his mother’s voice. “is this luhan? heavens, are you alright? please – answer me –”
how did – how did they even get his new number?
he forgot. he was so focused on his new life – he – he didn’t think of this. he has a mother and father. who he had abandoned. and they were – they were searching for him.
“you – you just disappeared. left us. no notes, nothing, everything wiped clean. i – i cried so hard, luhan. i lost you again, like that time when you were twelve. please – come back. please, luhan. i love you. your dad – he’s –” and the signal is acting up, and luhan’s desperate to get out so he can get a better signal, but his whole being is frozen. “he’s sick. he took it badly – please, luhan, just come back to us.”
he longs for her voice – but with difficulty, he ends the phone call, his whole body shaking.
he glances up to the mirror – and for the first time in weeks, he wants to punch himself.
he wants to cut his hands off. wants to make himself cry and feel guilt – but nothing happens. the guilt doesn’t come. he can feel the silence pounding his ears, but he can only hear jongdae slightly snoring from luhan’s never used bed.
is this worth it – all for jongdae to be bound to him instead?
that’s silly, luhan retaliates – and he’s blinded again, covered again. of course it is.
the news about byun baekhyun being trampled to an almost death by an angry crowd is broadcasted on the television – and jongdae promptly passes out.
luhan feels the guilt seeping when he sees baekhyun’s condition in the hospital – bad, trampled, face swollen, stitches decorating him, a few cracked ribs, needing to be treated in a few days or weeks in the hospital. he almost feels shame when jongdae murmurs a silent prayer and doesn’t leave baekhyun’s side for the day – kissing his fingertips when he thinks that nobody’s looking, body looking as frail as baekhyun’s.
but he – just – wants – jongdae.
the company just tells him to keep jongdae’s psychological state adrift. of course, the messenger is yixing, never zitao – and luhan’s suddenly glad that it is as it is. with zitao, he would probably be interrogated about what he’s doing. zitao’s good like that – but luhan is better.
jongdae gets better.
he’s no longer crying every second and he goes with luhan to rest at his apartment rather than the hospital (the nurses had shooed him away – the not-fawning-over-the-singer ones). luhan’s only awake now with the help of coffee – his body tired, but he has to protect jongdae. love him. he’s his manager, and he flicks off over rumor about jongdae and baekhyun ever being together like it’s just a pesky swat. he’s good like that.
jongdae’s getting better, but it doesn’t mean that his string to baekhyun is ever snapping.
he shoots a dark glance to the world outside the window – that’s even filled with red strings in the air, tangling away as one end takes a flight up in the air. he hates them. but then he’s suddenly – holding a scissor.
luhan’s mind just takes him there – jongdae’s half-sleeping form on the couch, red string fully seen.
it’s only centimeters away when he stops.
he stops, realizing what he’s doing. cutting someone’s red string. he doesn’t want that, and now, shame and guilt and self-hatred are overflowing his body – hands shaking like he’s on the edge of a free-fall, as if the person in front of luhan is just a never-ending abyss. he – he doesn’t want jongdae to experience what he felt – that feeling of yourself being ripped apart slowly, emptiness settling forever, heart being yanked apart – doesn’t want anyone to experience what he felt.
the illusion of him doing the right thing falls apart – and luhan’s horrified.
he takes a step back – not daring to touch jongdae with his hands.
that’s when jongdae notices, waking up with a yawn and stretching before he sees the scissor, eyes widening. “what are you doing,” he mutters, taking the scissor away – and luhan wants the ground to swallow him up. “that could hurt you, luhan.”
luhan’s everything just aches. aches at jongdae’s tired and swollen eyes and tired posture – tired everything, tired voice, hoarse voice – nothing like the jongdae he met months ago, full of energy and happiness and a warmth that only jongdae can produce.
he wants to say sorry. sorry – sorry doesn’t even cut it, he realizes, but luhan – he just can’t.
how can he?
he feels like it’s karma. it is. luhan’s pretty and ashamedly sure.
because he witnesses their first kiss.
it felt as if the hell that he unleashed on baekhyun formed a fist and punched his groin. he didn’t mean to. he was checking on them – they’re both fine now, thankfully – but luhan never meant to see them doing that. red strings so close that the goddess of love would swoon right there.
baekhyun still moves gingerly – but jongdae coaxes him, their mouths a perfect slot with each other. even though there’s noses bumping, baekhyun complaining, jongdae giggling so hard that baekhyun has to shut him up with another kiss – it’s perfect, everything slow and soft, everything that luhan has ever hoped for.
he has the overwhelming urge to break them, for him to kiss jongdae instead, but he just finds himself staring, longing for the taste of jongdae’s warm lips, and suddenly – he’s had enough.
don’t expect much, jongdae-sshi – i’m pretty much going to fail at least once, he said, and luhan does.
jongdae wakes up the next day curled in baekhyun’s hospital bed, cramped, and with an insistent knocking on the door. he remembers the night before – he blushes so hard that an awake baekhyun would’ve socked him, howling in laughter – but then the voice appears, his stomach stirring, and seems to purr. you belong, it says contentedly, but there’s a wave of unease suddenly rolling inside his stomach.
he moves baekhyun’s snoring form so that he doesn’t fall and goes to the door.
luhan’s voice rings inside his head – look first before you open – but it’s too late.
fortunately, it’s just zitao. unfortunately, he has a grim look on his face.
the wave of nausea hits him again. “hey, zitao,” he greets. “what’s up –”
“luhan resigned,” zitao informs him, with a stormy look in his eyes – and suddenly jongdae’s world has gone wrong, not right, winds knocking him until he wants to topple from standing – luhan? resigning? – and judging from the image of zitao’s expression, the news isn’t even over yet. “nobody knows where he had gone. he just disappeared from the surface of the earth.”
“how,” jongdae feels as if someone had choked him. “what –”
zitao looks at him – now, with the same type of expression baekhyun had a month ago, when the rumors of his dark struggle surfaced. i’m sorry. please believe me. “baekhyun’s name has also been cleared – put right again – by an anonymous source.”
the realization shreds his whole skin. his stomach churns, and jongdae can’t believe it.
history has been repeated, yet again.