xiuhan (minor xingdae); pg; approx 3.8k
warning: allusions to past abuse
note: a sequel to beautiful lies, dirty secrets.
thank you to danie who held my hand and talked me through this. and isa and faye who encouraged me. ;;
China is not quite like how Luhan remembers it. Beijing as a bustling metropolis is bound to change, but he hadn't realized just how much it would in his time away.
This is their first official trip as newly debuted EXO-M. Tension and excitement are high. Though they've all been to china before, this is something new, this is something different, this is somethinv none of them is fully prepared for.
They expect to make a mistake on the stage. They expect to embarrass themselves with fumbled Mandarin, confused expressions. Minseok and Jongdae are especially worried about the language, so Yifan (now Kris) is drilling the routine and schedule into them.
In the meantime, Luhan fools around, pretends he is calm. Zitao calls his parents while Yixing rehearses, rehearses, rehearses.
On stage, they're suddenly hit with a blow they hadn't seen coming. Minseok and Jongdae don't understand it right away, which might have been the point. But the others do. Despite what the host thinks, they still have four Chinese members who understand perfectly. Who recognize a jab when they see one, who are aware of the odds already stacked against them.
When they come off the stage, Luhan sees doubt in Minseok's and Jongdae's red red eyes. It makes him that much more determined to see this through, to do his best, so they have a chance to show off theirs.
EXO-M walk away clasping their hands together tightly, a reminder that "we are one." We'll get through this.
Baozi is a nickname Luhan came up when it was determined they would be part of SM's newest venture into China. They had been discussing stage names. Yifan's suggestions were all horrible. Luhan is forever grateful someone talked him out of Ace, because even he thought it sounded ridiculous. His own name he knew he wanted to keep.
But the korean members, they needed something different, something special. They needed something to make them both stand out and fit in.
"How do I look like to you?" Minseok had asked the day they moved into the same dorm. The kids of the same age were assigned a room together. That night, Yifan had fallen asleep right away, but Luhan and Minseok stayed up clutching their pillows, too excited.
Luhan had given it careful thought, before grinning and pronouncing him a Baozi. Minseok had tackled him to the ground and they rolled around laughing, quietly celebrating this first night of their future ahead.
In the end, they go with Xiumin. It is too pretty, too cute. Luhan wishes they really could have used Baozi so he introduces it into the fans' encyclopedia of EXO, anyway. Baozi is more Minseok. Baozi is how Minseok will get noticed. Baozi is how Luhan determines he will introduce him to the world. So interview after interview, that is how he refers to him, and for all of Minseok's looks of resignation, he still smiles that gummy smile at luhan, and luhan just smiles back until the corners of his eyes crinkle.
Luhan knows he's probably paying more than the necessary amount of attention to Minseok. They have their own translator, after all. And Jongdae understands about as much as Minseok, in most circumstances. But Minseok is closer, he reasons. He only has to turn his head and he can easily whisper into the other boy's ear. He's saving the interpreter time.
(If he's honest with himself, convenience has nothing to do with it. It's because Jongdae as second youngest has quite a few people to look after him already. And Minseok is the eldest, Minseok isn't meant to be looked after. He can take care of himself, they reason. Except Minseok is the one Luhan worries about the most.)
The first few weeks in China pass in a blur. They're busy going from interview to interview to photoshoot and back. It's a lot of traveling. When they land back in Korea, time seems to slow down. Things are different.
Back where everyone can understand them, Jongdae blooms. Yixing seems happy as long as Jongdae is. Yifan is kept busy with work and Zitao, who finds ways to amuse himself no matter where they are. And M... Luhan watches Minseok retreat and hide from fans and wonders why he won't give himself the chance to be recognized.
(Actually he knows why. These are the traces of a history that Luhan only wishes he could erase.)
All he can do is keep an eye out for the "Xiumin" signs in the audience, or nudge Minseok towards his adoring admirers. All he wants to do is convince Minseok, "you deserve this." He deserves a lot more than this.
Some things, Minseok has gotten over. There was a period in which Luhan was legitimately concerned if they would make it, with Minseok ready to slam Yixing into the wall any time he saw him with Jongdae. Even after things had been cleared up, after Yixing had been let in on the secret (Zitao still doesn't know), things were tense.
Minseok isn't mistrustful by nature - that much Luhan knows - but he had watched over Jongdae carefully since the younger boy's run-in with Juhyuk. He hadn't wanted Jongdae to experience the same pain.
Now he allows Yixing and Jongdae their time to themselves. It's hard enough for them, with managers always on call, and a schedule that allows them at best some time to rest beside each other. Minseok gets it, and allows Luhan to drag him out on shopping and coffee dates, even though it's obvious some days he would rather stay in.
But Minseok still has nightmares. It's worse in Korea, when they aren't busy. He wakes up in a cold sweat and can't stop shaking and neither Luhan nor Yifan know what to say or do, because Minseok won't talk whenever it happens.
"Sorry," Minseok mutters, as Luhan holds him and pets his hair down.
Luhan just shakes his head. He's relieved when their schedule picks up again, when they're back in China. Minseok shares a room with Zitao, and because Zitao likes to have someone share the bed with him, he usually sleeps better.
(Sometimes Luhan wishes he could extend the same invitation, but he doesn't have the excuse of Zitao's age. Worse, he isn't sure if Minseok might read more into it.)
Luhan likes helping Minseok. Likes keeping an eye on him and an arm around him, ready to shove him forward at any given opportunity. He likes seeing the way the fans respond to Minseok, the way their eyes sparkle when he is being especially cute, the way they "ooh" and "ahhh" when he dances.
Truthfully speaking, he likes the way his feelings are echoed on their faces.
California is an interesting experience. They take a trip to Disneyland, still relatively unknown, and everyone is surprised by the number of fans who seek them out. Nothing deters them from their fun, though. Some of them want to go on all the rides and actually Luhan expects Minseok to be one of them. But when the others line up for one of the steeper looking thrills, Minseok is still at his side with the bags, ready for the walk to meet them at the other hand.
"You'd be lonely by yourself, right?"
Luhan grins and doesn't protest the suggestion of ice cream as they wait.
Back in China, Minseok teases him on air for his cowardice. But Luhan is only a little embarrassed, because Minseok had understood him well enough to stick with him most of that trip.
It is no joke, the following they've gained in China. Whatever snide commentators might say about them, they've got the support of an army of fans. Luhan remains forever grateful to them, but at times even he worries about the crowds and commotion they cause everywhere they go. The security guards can be brutal, and these are just young girls, after all.
Yixing falls one day and Luhan wonders if this is how it's supposed to be like. When he feels his own knees hit the ground, he wonders how many others fell with him. He develops a habit of keeping an arm around Minseok or a hand at his wrist. Minseok hangs onto his backpack from then on.
(Luhan thinks it's fear. It isn't until months later he realizes Minseok was trying to protect him every time he did that.)
Interviews, concerts, photoshoots, birthday parties. It gets hard to keep track of them all as they settle into the routine. It takes its toll. Days that they fly seem endless and so Luhan becomes grateful when they're grounded. When activities officially halt for practice and work on the upcoming album.
Until one day they're on their way to the practice room and something makes Minseok stop dead in his tracks, causing Luhan to collide into his back.It is all too familiar and this time Luhan's arms go around Minseok's waist, fingers hooking into his belt loops. He tries to remind him to breathe, tries to calm his shaking by giving him something to release his tension onto.
He does all the speaking, relieved when Zitao arrives with wushu stick in hand and for all the younger is kept in the dark about juhyuk, he at least seems to recognize a threat when he sees one.
Jongdae sits with Minseok the rest of the day while Luhan watches at a distance, too angry to be any real comfort. He and Yixing fume together.
Minseok moves out of their room a few days later. Can't take the stuffed animal takeover of their room, he jokes. Luhan knows it isn't just that.
Yifan has been growing distant, too. When Luhan takes out his frustration on him, he just sighs and reminds him Minseok is capable of taking care of himself. Maybe what he really wants is the chance to.
It is the first time he and Yifan have disagreed when it comes to Minseok. Luhan doesn't know what to say.
(What he feels isn't nly concern. He misses having him close by.)
The end of the year approaches faster than any of them had thought it would. They're anxious for awards, because this is SM, and when you're a part of SM, there are expectations more than hope. There's pressure.
It's scarier in China, where things are even more unpredictable. So they tell themselves and everyone around them they aren't expecting anything and focus on the end of year specials, instead.
Minseok gets assigned to 'We Are the Future' since 'Mirotic' had gone so well for him. Luhan is proud and Minseok is anxious. He spends the night tugging down his too short shirt, hating how it reveals his stomach when he raises his arms too high.
"Cute Baozi," Luhan says with a smile. "Trust me, no one is going to mind if you flash skin."
"I mind," Minseok says with a pout. "I don't have anything to show."
Luhan just laughs. Minseok does, too, shoulders relaxing already, and even when he messes up the choreography on stage, afterwards, when Luhan swings an arm around him and gives him a smile, Minseok can't help but smile back.
One day, something happens, and Luhan isn't sure what. They're scheduled for some small promotional activities in Korea when suddenly the line up changes. Suddenly Junmyeon is over at their dorm and locking himself in to talk with Yifan, then leaving in a huff.
Luhan and Minseok blink at each other from across the expanse of the couch where they've been playing video games. Neither of them seems to know what to say, either.
Suddenly, Yifan is gone and the only explanation they've got is a family emergency he had never even hinted at. Minseok moves back in with Luhan and they both feel his absence even more strongly.
Minseok gets called in for extra meetings. They decide the song they're working on might change and a new demo is recorded. Junmyeon only ever smiles on stage and everyone is tense.
Luhan doesn't know what will happen to them, except it's obvious they're taking a step away from China and it's uncertain what Yifan's situation is.
They have to pretend nothing is wrong, but even the fans know something is up. Something is missing.
Here is where Minseok steps in, taking over duties temporarily as leader because for all that Yixing coaches their practicing, he doesn't entirely want all that responsibility. (It's obvious minseok doesn't, either, but the eldest has little choice.)
Luhan has to admit, though, that Minseok is the best choice among the five of them. He handles them like a manager. And his experience and age automatically him automatic respect.
"I hope he comes back soon," Minseok confides to Luhan one night.
Luhan stares up at the ceiling. Of course they all feel the same, but Minseok's words stem from an anxiety that he wants to alleviate. He wants Yifan back so that he doesn't have to continue to do what should have been Yifan's job.
"you're doing pretty well, you know."
"it's... scary." minseok laughs humorlessly. it's the first time he's admitted it. "i don't know how he carried all this weight on his shoulders and didn't collapse."
Luhan gets out of bed then and climbs into Minseok's, arm going around his waist. "You won't."
There's new resolve in Minseok after that. He carries out his duties without further complaint. Where he needs strength and reassurance, he turns to Luhan, who is more than glad to stand by his side.
Without Yifan, they find a new pattern to settle into. They almost forget about him, focused on how they'll carry on in case he doesn't find his way back from Guangzhou or Canada or wherever he's had to leave for. It's a bit selfish of them, but this industry makes it a necessity.
This is not the first sacrifice any of them have made.
Then, one day, Hyunkyun has an announcement to make. "I'm going to the airport," he says, and they stare at him wondering why this is significant.
When he does go the next day and returns with Yifan in tow, they just stare in shock. Things are awkward as they all try to process what's going on, as they all try to figure out how to react.
Zitao turns and goes back into his room. Yixing and jongdae ask if he would like something to eat, maybe some tea. Luhan just smiles and Minseok...
When Yixing and Jongdae are gone, he walks over and punches Yifan hard in the face. Luhan's jaw drops. Yifan rubs his own.
"Don't do that again."
And Luhan manages to rehinge his jaw when Minseok swings an arm around Yifan and drag him into the kitchen for that something to eat.
It takes time for them all to readjust. Even if Yifan is back, there's a lot of work for him to catch up on. Yixing and Minseok split their time between him and Jongdae. Luhan keeps an eye on Zitao, as the youngest of them gets used to Yifan being around. He works on forgiving Yifan for leaving without explanation.
It's easier, after they make the big move into one apartment. With K around, the dorm is livelier, more energetic. Baekhyun and Chanyeol bring laughter and cut away at any awkwardness still lingering.
Minseok's birthday is coming around, the last to celebrate after debut. It's been almost a year, Luhan realizes, since they started filming for their music video. Almost a year since they celebrated with him on set. This year, he'll be celebrating with their fans.
Luhan can't make the party.
Not that it matters, because after the celebration and Minseok has left his post for the fans on-line, after late night practice and he finally comes home, they all have a celebration of their own.
Yifan carries the cake, Chanyeol happily holds the lighter and pretends to control the fire, Zitao steals a bit of cream before the candles are even blown out. Jongdae is snapping pictures while Baekhyun leads the birthday song. Minseok is smiling so broadly that Luhan's own face feels it might break.
Later, when they sit together on the couch comparing this year's polaroid to the year before, Luhan notes, "You look different."
"Lost the baozi cheeks," Minseok says with a sleepy smile, marking one who is sated and satisfied after having binged on all the cake he wanted.
Luhan laughs and shakes his head. "You'll always be a Baozi."
Quietly, he concludes that it isn't the weight loss, not by a long shot. It's the way Minseok is smiling, open and happy, with none of that fear and anxiety from the year before.
For Luhan's birthday party (the last of theirs, to round everything off) Minseok insists on attending.
Luhan is a bit surprised, but grateful because their schedule is rather tight as it is, with comeback approaching, and he knows it means a lot for Minseok to give up his free time.
Minseok is surprisingly lively the day of.
'Cute,' Luhan thinks when he steps on his tiptoes and reaches up high to try and fix the birthday banner.
Luhan smiles as the crowd laughs affectionately at Minseok. impulsively, he hugs Minseok close after, both arms wrapped possessively around him. Minseok's breath is warm at his cheek as he whispers, "This party is much more fun than mine was."
Luhan thinks he's in serious trouble from that point on.
The earthquake happens on Luhan's birthday. He doesn't spend much time on weibo, except to leave a quick update. Instead, he calls the Red Cross center, and donates what's left in his bank account. Management feeds them and he doesn't need that extra spending money.
To his surprise, several other members do the same. It's expected from Yixing and Yifan. But then Sehun and Minseok add their money to the pool and Luhan is so touched he almost cries.
Instead, he just squeezes Minseok's hand that much tighter when the (slightly) older boy says with a shrug, "It's my home now, too."
Comeback suddenly comes on too soon too fast. Luhan doesn't feel fully prepared, even with all their practice and polish. When plans are finally solidified, Yifan is brought up to speed, and they're dealing with a comeback as 12, he suddenly feels small. As they get carted from one stage to another, he begins to notice the changes.
Yifan's one month of absence has taken its toll. He has to work twice as hard to put himself out there. But now in their own country, speaking their own language, Jongdae and Minseok are building their niche. Minseok is given more opportunities to shine. It is a beautiful thing to watch because now, where it is impossible for Minseok to remain an unknown, he is getting more and more comfortable in front of their fans.
They still travel together as K and M, but most activities are done together. Their first activity as only six again makes Luhan antsy.
They're going back to China for something big. Korea v China game, and this is the first time minseok has been on opposite sides of him for anything more than a friendly match. He doesn't know how he feels about it, stranded among people he only recognizes as idols. He underestimates his own sociability, however, as everyone takes to him quickly and he becomes something of the team pet.
All the same, he can't help looking back when he and Minseok separate to go into their respective locker rooms. Minseok is already listening attentively to the conversation going on around him, not paying Luhan any notice at all.
But it's while they're doing warm-ups that he hears his name being called. Luhan looks up from where he's kicking the ball around to see Minseok running towards him. Without a thought to the other player (who he is most apologetic to afterwards) he runs towards him. When they meet, Minseok throws his arms around him and luhan braces back on his calves to catch him.
They let go of each other too quickly, but the embrace is enough to give Luhan energy for the rest of the day.
On the car ride leaving the arena that night, they are congratulated on their playing and Minseok is teased for being mistaken for a girl. He leans against Luhan's shoulder and wiggles his shoulders in a complaining manner, lips set in a pout. Luhan swallows and tells him this isn't helping the case any. Minseok just laughs, head thrown back and gums showing, and Luhan shrugs, slinging an arm around his shoulders.
Minseok finds him that night and they are no strangers to sneaking into each other's hotel rooms, but Luhan is a bit surprised all the same because today Minseok looks a little lost in his oversized pajamas (must have mispacked Zitao's again) when he asks quietly if he can come in.
"Yeah, of course."
They take a seat at the edge of Luhan's bed and then Minseok does something surprising. He leans forward, arms going over Luhan's shoulders, and presses a kiss to his mouth. Luhan's eyes go wide, before he pushes Minseok back. The hurt look on the other boy's face makes him feel like slapping himself.
Luhan has never been good with words, so he stutters a bit at first, very similarly to how he did during their new year's greetings when Minseok had jokingly pretended to try to kiss him. (He knew it was a joke then, because there were cameras about.) Eventually he manages words.
"Is this because of the game?" He hadn't meant for it to come off like that because it only seems to confuse Minseok. "I mean - it was management's decision to have you play. I didn't really do much except suggest it. and you know-I mean you don't owe me anything."
This has been what Luhan has been afraid of all along. That Minseok would one day look at him like he owed him and would try to do something about it. (These are the scars Luhan can't erase from his own consciousness.)
Minseok stares at him, dumbfounded. There's a few beats of awkward silence, before he reaches forward, fingers skimming up luhan's forearm from his wrist to his elbow. Te stops there, squeezes, and finally looks to luhan with amusement sparkling in his eyes.
Luhan feels his chest tightening. This is dangerous, because if Minseok kisses him again, he isn't sure he's going to be able to pull away again. Just when he thinks he might not be able to keep breathing, what Minseok says next takes his breath away completely.
"You aren't him." Keeping his gaze steady with Luhan's, Minseok goes on. "You've always been there for me without asking for anything. I know you wouldn't ask now, or ever. That's why I came over - because I'm doing this for me. Because I like you. and even if you don't like me back, don't think this is about anything more than that."
He leans in to kiss Luhan again, and this time Luhan doesn't push him away.
When that episode of Running Man airs, Minseok makes it to #1 on the search engines. Luhan is at home and sends him a text with a screencap.
'hey mr. popular.'
The return is a simple 'ha ha ha' but Luhan can imagine Minseok's embarrassed gummy smile and that alone is enough to make him grin.
When fans start trending 'Woomin ah, come down' he sends Minseok another screencap.
The response this time: 'any further down and I would be in the ground ㅎㅎ'
Luhan bites back a smile and sends back: 'just come home instead'