xiuhan (friendship); xiu/oc; r; approx 4.5k
warnings: direct physical + allusions to sexual abuse
disclaimer: fic of a fic. a prequel. thank you for allowing me to write this.
for danie and isa for encouraging me throughout this, and ki who linked me to the original. ♥
The Chinese trainees are looked upon differently and that comes as no surprise. Luhan is prepared to be gawked at, even overly criticized. There’s a standard and it’s one that he must surpass if he wants to make it in this already overly competitive business. If he wants to survive it.
Because the fact of the matter is, he has an edge. He’s not one of dozens of other Koreans vying for a spot in SM’s latest project group. He’s not Junmyeon, training (3, 4, 5 years now?) for a chance to be placed somewhere, anywhere.
He’s one of only a few of the “China boys” who have been selected to come to Korea (well, to stay in Korea) and the company has already shown a willingness to invest in him that naturally makes the others jealous.
Except for Minseok. At first, Luhan had suspected it was because Minseok thought he was another Korean, just like him. (He let him believe it, reluctant to give up that bit of kindness) but even after Minseok found out, he still smiled at in the hallways, invited him out for street food after practice, made sure to include him during their brief breaks for conversation.
They weren’t really close. Luhan wouldn’t have described them as friends. These invitations were not regular, their time together was not long. The China boys stuck together, and Minseok had his own set of friends. There was always someone else taking up his attention.
No surprise, because Minseok was already very popular among the trainees and trainers. There was always one senior in particular stealing him away for extra training or practice. Luhan paid it little notice. (Ignored all the rumors.) It was none of his business. They weren’t friends, even if Minseok was kind.
Then, one day, he walks in on something he shouldn’t have, and everything changes.
Luhan wasn't meant to see anything. Luhan wasn't meant to be there at all. It's well past midnight and most trainees are gone by this time. But he has an evaluation coming up and Yixing was going to join him later to help him work on the routine he would be tested on.
It's late, so he isn't expecting he would have to check if the practice room was booked. The lights are off, so he isn't expecting anyone inside. When he steps in with earphones still tucked in, blasting a beat that makes it impossible to hear anything else, he doesn't thought to knock. It isn't until the lights are on that it hits him, the sight of a familiar looking trainee, taller than he is, but not quite as tall as Yifan, standing hunched over with his forehead resting on one forearm braced to the wall.
He is preoccupied, his other hand tangled in the dark hair of another, unrecognizable figure kneeling on the floor.
Muttering an apology on instinct, Luhan shuts off the light again and bolts out. But his eyes don't missed the sight of a familiar backpack lying at the feet of the taller trainee. He suddenly feels like vomiting. Rushing out as quickly as he can, he doesn't bother to see if he is being pursued.
Luhan passes his evaluation, even without Yixing’s help. (He had called to cancel on the taxi ride home.) For a week after that, he avoids Minseok’s eyes in the hallway. Minseok stops trying to greet him after three days and they might as well be strangers, which suits Luhan fine, actually, because this isn't the Minseok he thought he knew.
This isn't a Minseok he wants to know.
It seems there are people like this in the world after all, he tells himself. People willing to do anything for that extra edge.
It is no secret of Juhyuk's position among the trainees. He has been here almost as long as Junmyeon, but is more promising. The company likes his looks, his height. It's expected that if he succeeds, whatever group he is a part of will, as well. Minseok and a few others have been placed in a lot of shoots with him recently. There have been rumors, and Luhan can no longer ignore them.
So he ignores Minseok, instead.
But then they're booked for the same session with Sanghoon — there are things Minseok could help you work on, Luhan — and there's no way to avoid him during a two on one session. It’s fortunate dance takes up so much of their time that they have little to spare on small talk. Not that, quite frankly, Luhan is very good with small talk.
Minseok looks tired today, anyway, and doesn't smile as brightly as he did in their past practices. Luhan feels a little guilty, when even despite his coldness, Minseok brings him a bottle of water during their break, icey cool straight from the vending machine.
"It isn't what you think," he says quietly and is gone to ask Sanghoon another question before Luhan can respond. The easy way Sanghoon laughs and shoves him away to "take a real break" reminds Luhan that Minseok still works as hard as ever. That knot of guilt in his stomach twists until Luhan offers to buy him a bubble tea next time, on his way out.
Things go back to normal, more or less, as Luhan reminds himself that this is really none of his business. He has his own goals, they all do, and he won't get too deeply involved in however anybody else attains theirs.
But Kim Minseok gets harder and harder to ignore because, one day, something happens. Something must have happened, because Minseok never misses a session, least of all wouldn't miss an evaluation.
"Where is he? Weren’t they going to do proof shots after?" some trainees are whispering, just as confused as Luhan.
All eyes at one point or another turn towards Juhyuk, but he pretends not to notice, and they all have to move on.
Luhan wishes he had a number to text.
When Minseok returns the next day, he is bombarded with questions and concern. He laughs it off. Family emergency. No details, but that isn't so unusual. No one here would divulge such personal information. Everyone takes it as it is and moves on, Luhan included.
Except today is one of Minseok’s practices with Yixing and Luhan has been invited to watch. He has seen them dance together before. He knows Minseok can keep up, even if Yixing is one of the fastest improving trainees among them. But today something is different. Something is off. Minseok is holding back in a way he has never seen him do so before.
Sanghoon notices, too, displeasure apparent.
Luhan and Yixing stand quietly at the side while Minseok gets his ear told off.
On the way out, Luhan tries not to make too much of the frustrated resignation on his face. He bites back further questions. It isn't any of his business anyway.
The non-incident fades to the back of everyone's mind as they all prepare for the upcoming trainee dance off. It is Luhan’s first time participating, having been convinced by a few friends to take part.
It is no surprise to see Yixing’s name on the list again. Even Yifan has volunteered for a choreographed routine. But this is not what he is searching out.
Instead of his friends, Luhan finds himself looking for Minseok’s name. He doesn't know why he cares, but he is interested. He hasn't seen Minseok dance in a while.
Finally, he spots what he's looking for on the list. Seems Minseok and Sehun have something planned together.
Luhan smiles and Yixing asks what he looks so happy about, but he just shakes his head and asks Yixing to show him a sneak preview of whatever he's got brewing.
Two days before the dance off, Luhan steps into a practice room just as the group that booked it before him is stepping out. Sehun and Jongin. A strange sight because normally it is Minseok leaving the room with Sehun, heading off to their late night meals.
Luhan gives his greetings but blurts out, "where's Minseok?"
Sehun looks irritated and Jongin looks a bit bewildered. Before the younger of the two can say anything, Jongin explains, "I’m filling in his part for the battle this weekend."
"Why?" Luhan asks, to which the only response is a shrug.
He lets them go, but rather than taking up the room for his practice time, he heads down to the lobby to look up a phone number.
Minseok agrees to meet him, but not at the building. The park nearby is too public a place, as well, so Luhan invites him over to his dorm.
At first Minseok seems hesitant about this - "kinda far," he mutters - but Luhan promises him pizza and that earns him a laugh and acquiescence. "Just can't stay out too late. Mom, yanno."
Luhan says he understands and hangs up.
Directions are easy because everybody knows where Yonsei is who lives in Seoul and it is just a matter of going downstairs to get Minseok.
Minseok arrives promptly and Luhan has pizza waiting for them on his small communal dorm table. When Minseok takes off his shoes Luhan notices for the first time how small his feet are.
It is also the first time he sees the bandage wrapped around his ankle.
"Fell weird the other day," he says, and Luhan realizes he has been staring.
"So that's why-"
"Yep. No dance battles for me."
Luhan doesn't comment, but for the first time starts paying real attention. He pays attention to how long Minseok’s fringe has gotten that it hides half his face. He pays attention to how Minseok stays in his hoodie despite the mugginess of Luhan’s room. He pays attention to how Minseok won't look up at him unless he speaks first. So different now from the Minseok who introduced himself to Luhan with confidence when he first entered the company. A meeting Luhan has not thought much of since it happened.
"Is something...wrong?" Luhan asks, finally.
Minseok’s silence is stifling. Luhan doesn't know how to take the question back now that it's out there, though, so they sit like that until Minseok wipes his mouth and stands up.
"I should get home before mom gets worried. Good luck tomorrow, though. I'm gonna come watch."
The smile he forces has Luhan aching down to the pit of his stomach.
Minseok doesn't show up for the dance battle.
But as it turns out, Minseok has just caught a cold. He returns a week later to training with a doctor's note and a bright smile that has Luhan wondering if he wasn't just sick all this time. Things go back to normal and Luhan ignores how Minseok’s fringe is still too low and his clothes too warm for the summer weather. Goes back to thinking this is none of my business anyway.
Minseok still stays for extra training sessions with Juhyuk. They do train some of the time, as Luhan has noticed. Their relationship isn't entirely what he had thought. They’re mentor and mentee, as much as they are... well, Luhan doesn't think about that anymore.
In any case, it is not unusual for them to stay after for extra lessons. It is a training session Luhan think he is interrupting when he hears thuds against the wall late one night. He expects to find the both of them fooling around, getting crazy with all the late night practice. Boys will be boys after all and sometimes he and Yixing will dance with the sole purpose of knocking their shoes off. The trainees often make a game of training when it gets too hard.
What he doesn't expect to see is Minseok curled up by the mirrors, Juhyuk standing over him, fuming mad. Even the trainers, when angry, don't kick a boy when he's down.
"Leave him alone!" Luhan shouts, in Mandarin, before he has enough sense to remember he is not among any Chinese. Striding over, he repeats himself in Korean.
Juhyuk seems bigger than ever in just a tank top, broad shoulders on display but Luhan’s blood is boiling and, fueled by this anger, he steps boldly between him and the figure on the floor.
Before Minseok can continue, before Luhan can interrupt him, Juhyuk cuts them both off.
"Remember who brought you this far."
Not sparing Luhan another glance, he walks away.
Luhan helps Minseok sit up. Instinctively, he puts his hands to the other's cheeks and raises his face to inspect the damage. Minseok winces and Luhan can already see that his left cheek is red and swollen. The scar at the corner by his red eye comes into view with his fringe no longer in the way to hide it.
"Jesus," Luhan exhales, and scrambles to his feet. "I’ll get ice. Just—just stay here and don't go anywhere." He at least trusts Minseok won't try to leave in the condition he is in anyway.
When he returns, Minseok is still there, sitting with legs pulled up, curled in on himself. His eyes are red and cheeks stained with tears. Luhan doesn't comment on it, only pressing a makeshift ice pack with a Ziploc bag to Minseok’s cheek.
They sit in silence for a bit and it is Minseok who breaks it. "It isn't what it looks like."
Those words are alone are enough to set Luhan off.
"It looks like a guy twice your size knocked you to the ground," he snaps. When Minseok winces, Luhan feels a bit guilty for that, but it isn't wrong so he doesn't apologize.
Minseok licks at his lower lip, nervous, and Luhan listens when he speaks. "He just got the wrong idea. He doesn't mean to—to do this.”
Luhan wants to punch the wall, but he resists because it is obvious further violence will do nothing to help Minseok. "Did he hurt you anywhere else? Are your ribs okay?"
Minseok nods and takes the ice pack, hands covering Luhan’s briefly. He smiles, a small, close-mouthed smile, and murmurs a thanks.
Luhan sighs and moves to sit down beside him, leaning back against the mirror. "So is this why you've been kind of off recently?"
Minseok is still smiling, this time embarrassed, when he nods. "Things have been rough on him. Preparations for the dance off and—I didn't realize he wanted to do something together." When Luhan glances over, Minseok actually looks pleased. "So I agreed not to dance with Sehun." Luhan can only stare in bewilderment as Minseok starts to stand. "Don’t tell anyone, please? Really, he—he has a lot on his plate right now. He didn't mean this."
He is gone before Luhan can form words to reply.
Luhan doesn't know what to do. But he keeps a closer eye on Minseok from then on. Minseok is back to being huddled under Juhyuk’s arm. They’re playful as ever and Juhyuk even seems kind again.
Except when he catches Luhan’s eyes on him.
There’s an underlying challenge there that Luhan doesn't know what to do with. He doesn't look away, though, because he isn't afraid.
But Minseok is.
Luhan sees it in how anxious he looks when it seems Juhyuk’s mood has shifted, how quiet he gets so as to not stir trouble.
Luhan invites Minseok out with him and Yifan after a night of grueling practice.
Evaluations are coming up and Sanghoon hasn't been happy with any of them. "The problem is you're all of you good, but you don't have confidence." He looks pointedly at Minseok when he says this. Minseok looks away, bowing his head. So they drill and drill for a few hours, until Sanghoon decides it's enough, and Luhan thinks it's time to regain all the calories they just burned off.
"I can't," Minseok says, to his invitation.
Luhan can't understand why until he sees Juhyuk’s name flash with an incoming text on Minseok’s phone. He isn't the type to roll his eyes, but right now he'd like to. (Right now he'd actually like to roll Juhyuk off a cliff, actually.) "What is he, your keeper?"
Minseok looks a little embarrassed, a little annoyed. He’s hungry and cranky and it's refreshing to see him show a bit of backbone when he takes his phone, sends a quick apology to Juhyuk, and tells Luhan that he's nobody's pet. "You’re paying, though."
Minseok ends up paying for the lot of them.
They don't talk about Juhyuk, they don't talk about training, and instead Luhan laughs and laughs because it turns out Minseok has a pretty good sense of humor. Even Yifan is pretty impressed with his silly expressions.
They decide to share a cab, since their busses and the subway have stopped running. Fortunately Yifan and Minseok live in the same general neighborhood. Luhan will just spend the night at Yifan's place.
Since Minseok is the first to be dropped off, they get a view of his apartment. And a familiar tall, broad shouldered figure standing in front of it.
Luhan can practically feel the way Minseok tenses up beside him. He grabs his shoulder. "It’s okay," Minseok breathes out.
It is obvious it won't be. When Luhan catches Yifan’s eyes he just nods. They aren't going anywhere.
Minseok gets out of the car after paying. Luhan and Yifan tell the driver to wait a moment. He doesn't seem to mind, as the meter is still running.
Luhan can see that Juhyuk is watching the car. His eyes are sharp when they fall on Luhan, but he smiles as Minseok approaches and slings an arm around the smaller boy. It isn't a nice smile and Luhan wishes he could see Minseok’s expression. They don't stay long outside and Luhan’s hand is on the door handle when he realizes Minseok is punching in his key code. Uncertainty holds him back, though, and he watches as the two of them enter the building, the door closing shut behind them.
"Sorry, we're getting out here," Yifan tells the driver before Luhan can even ask him. He pays him (and adds an uncustomary tip) they wait outside for a long time. Yifan doesn't ask Luhan if they should leave, though. Luhan is grateful, because he wouldn't. He can't. He trusts Juhyuk about as far as he can throw him. (Which, unfortunately, is not very far.)
It crosses his mind of course that Juhyuk might just spend the night. He knows Minseok’s parents, probably. And if Minseok’s parents are around, Luhan doesn't need to be.
It’s nearly an hour later that the apartment door finally opens and Juhyuk steps out, looking furious. Yifan stops him but Luhan doesn't see what happens, because he's slipping past the apartment door before it slides shut. He doesn't know which apartment is Minseok’s, he realizes belated.
But it doesn't matter, because he finds Minseok sitting curled up on the floor of the lobby, anyway, by the elevator. It’s too dark to see him very well, so Luhan just crouches beside him and sits listening to him trying to control his breathing. He coughs a few times, and it's obvious he is trying not to cry too much. Luhan edges closer and finally wraps his arms around Minseok, holding him to him until his shaking subsides.
"Can’t go home," Minseok finally mutters.
"Hospital," Luhan replies.
It takes a bit of convincing, but he has Minseok out the door in a few minutes. Yifan is there, nursing his hand.
Juhyuk is nowhere to be found.
They don't make it to the hospital.
Minseok is bleeding and Luhan is worried about internal injuries, but it's obvious from the way he moves that more happened than he's willing to talk about. He only insists the doctors wouldn't understand, his parents can't know. So they take him to Yifan’s apartment, instead. Because Yifan lives alone, no one will ask questions.
As Minseok cleans himself up in Yifan’s bathroom, Yifan fills Luhan in on what happened outside.
Juhyuk had shoved Yifan first, then thrown a punch. That was why Yifan had hit him back. He was taller, fortunately, so Juhyuk had backed off after that and left. Luhan wishes Yifan had held him back. He wishes they could have reported him.
When Minseok comes back out, dressed in Yifan’s pajamas that are much too big for him, looking smaller than ever as his eyes scan the room for somewhere to sit, they drop the subject and get off the bed to make room for him. Luhan doesn't let him protest, just throws a pillow at his face and gives him a small smile. Minseok returns it with a shaky one of his own. As he sleeps, Luhan and Yifan lay on the floor together wondering what to do next.
Minseok pretends it never happened.
Luhan and Yifan can say nothing with Minseok unwilling to cooperate with them, so the best they can do is keep an eye on him where they can. The other trainees take note of how much Luhan and Yifan cling to Minseok now. Juhyuk takes note, which just makes Minseok worse. He shrinks, becomes quieter, starts messing up whenever Juhyuk is in the room, no matter how hard he practices. Sanghoon berates him and warns him that if something doesn't change, he won't last.
The following week, Minseok is back at Juhyuk’s side.
Minseok improves and withdraws even further.
Luhan feels angry and helpless. He talks to Yifan (only Yifan really knows what's what is going on) but he doesn't know what they can do, either. "He has to be willing to talk,” and they both know he won't. It has become very clear he thinks he owes something to Juhyuk.
This frustrates Luhan more than anything, because he has seen Minseok perform before. He knows it isn't all Juhyuk that has gotten Minseok this far. "So show him," Yifan says. And it is like a light has turned on in both of their heads. They just need an opportunity.
Luhan approaches Minseok one day, in front of Juhyuk, and while ignoring the broader boy, asks, "Help me work on my evaluation routine this weekend?"
Minseok just blinks, dumbfounded, at him. "Why would you—"
"Sanghoon-ssem told me you'd be the best one to ask for a hip-hop routine."
Minseok actually flushes a bit at that.
Juhyuk snorts, and Luhan grins, eyes big and pleading at Minseok. Luhan wishes he could have caught the look on Juhyuk’s face on camera when Minseok agrees.
After that, Luhan doesn't try so hard to pull Minseok away from Juhyuk deliberately. Instead, he and Yifan book regular training sessions with Minseok on the weekends. Minseok’s confidence grows and his performance improves. He’s in his element when he's instructing, Luhan notices.
Luhan passes his evaluation. As Sanghoon reads off marks, he glances over to Minseok, and grins when Minseok gives him a thumbs-up.
"Let’s celebrate," Yifan says, swinging an arm over Minseok’s shoulder on their way out.
Minseok glances back at Juhyuk, but Yifan doesn't give him much chance to refuse. "You can text him later," Luhan says in his ear as they walk out together. "Tell him you have a responsibility to treat your students for doing well." The joke makes Minseok laugh.
Juhyuk insists Minseok stays late to practice. It’s draining and Luhan almost feels bad, because they've committed him to weekends as well. But Minseok always smiles, saying he's glad to help. Luhan believes it. Luhan can see how Minseok brightens up as they practice and rehearse. It’s fun for him again, and Luhan likes being able to contribute to that.
"So," Luhan begins one day, as they take their seats side by side on a bench after Yifan has left.
Minseok is sweating bullets and his hair is sticking to his forehead. He looks a mess, but he's smiling and his gums are showing and Luhan can see he is satisfied with their workout today. That’s why he comfortable enough to broach a topic they generally avoid. "You’re still going to meet with Juhyuk tonight?"
Minseok’s smile doesn't falter. He nods and takes a sip of his water before replying. "He’s been helping me a lot. Sanghoon-ssem says i'm doing well again. I owe it to hyung."
"What else do you think you owe him?" Luhan asks. The question takes Minseok by surprise and he is quiet for a long time.
"It isn't that simple," he finally answers, speaking slowly, as if the thoughts are still forming in his mind. "I didn't ask him to help me, you know. I was just kind of placed with him, but he gave me a lot of attention. He didn't have to, but he did. It was...it was really kind, you know?"
Luhan looks over at Minseok, remembers all those times Minseok greeted him and invited him out and approached him first. He begins to see why it's so hard to break Minseok from this. Because Minseok is full of the kindness that he seeks out in others. "He doesn't have to hurt you, either," Luhan replies, gently. Minseok looks away. "He’s taking advantage of you. He’s made you think you need to rely on him to succeed, so—so you do things with him, because—"
"Because I like him," Minseok finishes for him. "It’s not just...it isn't just because I owe him that I go that far. I really—he likes me, too."
Luhan sighs, frustrated, and runs a hand through his hair. "He likes having you rely on him. It’s power, it's not love."
Minseok rises to his feet faster than Luhan has ever seen him before. He is glowering at him now, and Luhan glares back.
He isn't angry at Minseok, but he's angry at the hurt he sees behind Minseok’s eyes.
Because Minseok isn't angry, either. Minseok is afraid.
"Don’t talk about things you don't understand. You don't know him the way I do."
Luhan watches Minseok turn on his heel and storm out. He goes after him, walking right into the back of him when Minseok opens the door and freezes in his tracks.
Luhan peers over his shoulder and sees what made him stop.
A tall, broad-shouldered figure has a much smaller figure trapped in a corner. It’s someone Luhan recognizes—a new trainee—but he can't remember his name.
A kid with a scary face but a sweet smile—an even sweeter voice but two left feet.
They can't hear Juhyuk’s hushed voice, but they can hear the response a shy thank you for offering his help. A thank you, see you then. Minseok is shaking and Luhan tugs him back inside, shutting the door. He hugs Minseok, hands stroking over his back, doesn't leave his side and later helps him text to cancel on Juhyuk.
Minseok doesn't press charges, but he does agree to talk to the manager in charge of all the trainees. It’s a touchy subject, and there isn't much evidence, but Luhan and Yifan instantly agree to back his story. She frowns as she listens, Minseok can't meet her eyes.
But Minseok is well-known, well-liked, and she comes over to pat him lightly on the shoulder and reassure him he isn't in any trouble. “I’ll take care of it. This isn't really the first time we've got a complaint against him."
Luhan squeezes Minseok’s hand. Things move quickly after that. It’s settled quietly, no one really knows the reason, but Juhyuk disappears from practices. It takes longer, however, for his influence to disappear from Minseok.