WARNINGS: sexual content, passing references to psychological addiction/withdrawal (to a fictional tech), kinda confusing/nonlinear time skips, some use of Chinese (hover for translations)
SUMMARY: Lu Han is an assistant manager at small ExO branch, working to provide high quality experience simulations to any bored or needy soul. The last voice that Lu Han expects to hear when he calls up ExO's headquarters is the one belonging to his ex-best friend Yixing. There's a lot he wants to say, but somehow the words never come to him. Angst/drama with sprinkles of low sci-fi.
FINAL NOTES: To all the people that heard me bitch and moan about this for months: thank you for your helpful ideas and for dealing with me and my weekly breakdowns. To my recipient: thank you for the wonderful prompts! I had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for fills. I spent a lot of energy stressing over this fic, it may not look like much or be anything close to perfect, but it's the most ambitious thing I've ever attempted fic-wise and I hope to add all the missing pieces eventually. I hope you enjoy it!
|Lu Han hears Yixing’s voice five years later in the middle of professional crisis.
His personal life wasn’t exactly smooth sailing either, but dealing with mild psychological withdrawal symptoms while booting up all the machines and sweeping the floors is nothing compared to what the heads of ExO are dealing with right now. There probably isn’t any number of upbeat k-pop playlists that will ease the pain of being the leading story on every news station for the past week or erase the number of search engine searches of “ExO + brain damage”. Mondays are usually slow, but not a single customer walked in through their doors yesterday. Days like that used to be once a quarter, but they’ve already had three days like that since the news broke.
Lu Han abruptly closes the music player window when he spots the outline of a familiar wheelchair through the frosted glass double doors.
“Nice try, Lu Han,” Zitao doesn’t even wait until the automated sliding doors fully open to start giving him grief.
“It was just a little pick-me-up to get through the opening rituals.”
“We technically opened 4 minutes ago. I don’t want customers thinking they mistakenly entered a karaoke room.” Zitao is stern and uncharacteristically pithy this morning. He is already half way down the hall when he orders, “Call up Yifan today about pod 4.” He’s disappeared into their full emersion room before he spits out his last syllable.
Lu Han groans. He had e-mailed their surly customer service representative a week ago about the software and interface mistiming issues in pod 4, but no response has come yet. He avoids actual phone calls to headquarters whenever possible. Usually Yifan was prompt about answering e-mails so Lu Han’s aversion to phone calls was never tested.
He wishes he could be like Zitao and take a morning dip in the newest beach module (The official ExO description claims it’s a result of three years of arduous research and a hybrid of a dozen of the world’s best, most secluded beaches, ranging from Mexico to Bali to Spain. It had gotten a lot of positive feedback from his regulars until the major news stations picked up the story about long-term regular use of experience simulators being linked with neurodegenerative disease.) or maybe he’d resort to his tried-and-tested ride in a Lambourghini through an empty highway through the desert. The very mention of it sends prickles through his arms and a cold sweat starting at the nape of his neck.
He grabs an unopened box of cigarettes and a lighter from his bag and speedwalks out the back door. Hopefully a rush of nicotine will help ease his nerves enough to get him through until his lunch break, or at the very least, through this phone call to customer service.
The ringtone cuts off suddenly on the eighth buzz, replaced by a quiet hum of chaotic beeping and distant yelling in the background.
“Hello?” Lu Han says first, thinking he was disconnected or called the wrong number.
“Hello?” Lu Han was thrown by the voice that decidedly did not belong to Wu Yifan, their usual liaison. Also by the breathlessness, as if whoever just picked up the phone on the other end just answered in the middle of a jog.
“Hello? Yes?” Lu Han asks again.
"Hello?” Both of them get more comically confused with each passing second. “Oh, I’m apologize, sir. I’m kind of new at this and I’m a bit swamped with learning the ropes. But you have my full attention now.” The man’s voice is still slightly breathless but still calm. He clears his throat and recites mechanically, “Hello, you’ve reached ExO Office of Branch Service and Affairs. I am your new liaison, Zhang Yixing. Please note that this call may be monitored or recorded. How may I help you today?”
“Oh... uh… I….”
“Hello? Can you hear me?”
“Oh! yes… I’m calling about a repair request. I e-mailed about it last week but haven’t had any response.”
“I apologize for the lack of response.” Lu Han hears the frantic press of keyboard keys. “Are you calling from Branch 5011 in the business district?”
“So am I talking to Mr. Huang?”
“No, that would be my boss.”
“Oh… well…” Lu Han could picture the figure on the other end scouring his company’s file during the breaks in his speech. “I’m guessing that makes you... Mr. Lu?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Lu… Han…” the syllables drawled slowly from the other end, like a toddler learning to read. His own name sounded like a foreign language when spoken this way. “That’s an uncommon name, Mr. Lu.”
“Ha, yes it is. There was a time when I wanted to change it to something more normal, but a good friend of mine talked me out of it.”
“Sounds like a bad friend, if he wasn’t supportive of your wishes.”
“No, he was a good friend.”
Lu Han closed his eyes in instant regret when he felt the atmosphere turn awkwardly quiet over the line.
In a panic, he changes the subject, “You sounded out of breath when you picked up the phone. Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m ok, Mr. Lu. I’m still adjusting to this new job and learning all the details of my responsibilities. And besides, life in a new town is always hectic, especially when you no longer have your mommy to pick out your clothes in the morning.” Lu Han could imagine the sly twinkle in his eye at the last phrase.
“Well, Mr. Lu, I’ve contacted the service department about your issue. Expect a visit from a technician by the end of the week.”
“Wonderful. Thank you, Mr. Zhang. But, uh… where’s Yifan?”
“Wu Yifan is no longer with us. He left suddenly last week, and I got promoted to his position. I apologize again for my inexperience, but I guarantee I will work hard to serve all our employees and managers.”
“Uh… no, it’s not that. Don’t worry about letting us down. I just got confused for a bit. So he’s not going to come back? You’re our new permanent representative?”
“As permanent as anything can be in this company right now,” he jokes. Lu Han laughs too, even after he fully realizes the morbid core of that joke.
“Is that all I can do for you today?”
“Yes. That’s all I called for. Thank you.”
Lu Han rubs his face, as if the surreal exchange he just participated in can as easily scrubbed off as a facial peel.
That night Lu Han lies in bed, frustrated and tense after attempting to jack off for forty five minutes. It takes him another three hours to fall asleep.
Zhang Yixing and Lu Han used to be friends - best friends - despite being in different grades and attending different schools after Lu Han's parents pulled him out of the music and arts high school during the first month to enroll him in a "real school". They said he needed to “start thinking about the future.” A sentiment that only got worse and more frequent in the months leading up to his high school graduation. Eventually they dropped the start. And despite completing all his exams successfully and getting accepted into a good enough university (one of only two he applied to), he had somehow managed to do all of this while still disobeying his parents orders regarding this ominous future.
Yixing was talking nonsense in the passenger seat, slouched low in his seat with his feet crossed on the dashboard smudging the layer of dust collecting due to Lu Han’s lack of commitment to cleaning his car. He was jabbering ecstatically about the new head of the music department at Lu Han's chosen university and listing all the famous movie soundtracks he had scored. Yixing had his life figured out, you see. He'd follow Lu Han to Changsha in a year, they'd room together until Lu Han graduates while Tiantian works her way through an elementary education degree back in Beijing. They’d have to rent somewhere really cheap obviously, as most of the money Yixing will earn from his part time jobs will go towards saving for his engagement to Tiantian once he graduates. The Zhangs won’t be wed until Yixing gets his first full time position and knows exactly where he’ll be settling down, but the wedding itself will be in Beijing regardless of where his job takes him (Lu ge, you will be best man of course.).
Lu Han was tapping along to the playlist Yixing made for him and nodding along mindlessly, thinking of ways to end this horrifically detailed account of their futures without half the amount of bitterness he actually felt. Even though they were driving home from a perfectly pleasant going away party with his school friends, the party was preceded by a rather unpleasant dinner of “family friends” which consisted mostly of his father’s business partners interrogating him on his feelings and plans for university and after.
“I’m thinking of changing my name,” Lu Han announced abruptly once Yixing hit a lull in his monologue.
“Ma Han,” Yixing suggested without missing a beat.
“Something cool, maybe foreign…”
“Mao Han,” Yixing spoke over Lu Han in his deadpanned way. “Yang Han, Ma Han, ooh! Zhu Han!” Yixing was unable to continue his deadpanned joking after the last one, breaking into a childish giggle and started oinking.
Lu Han broke into a smile too, keeping his eyes on the road while still managing to punch Yixing lightly in the gut for his idiotic jokes.
“I’m serious, Yixing! If I’m gonna have to join my father’s company when I finish college, I don’t want everyone to think that I only got the job because of nepotism.”
“But that is why you’re gonna get the job.” Yixing earned himself another punch. “Okay, okay… something cool and foreign for Lu ge, got it. What about Kevin?”
“Or Jason? Matthew?”
“Matthew’s not bad actually.”
“Matthew Lu…” Yixing murmured under his breath, absorbing the way it felt and sounded coming out of his mouth. “Wait, you said this is because of work? Do you want to change your last name too?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Wait you’re not serious. I thought you were kidding.”
“I don’t know... maybe I am.”
“Well, can I still call you Lu ge?”
“Sure but I may not answer,” Lu Han chuckled.
“Hey, you were supposed to turn there, Matthew ge.” Yixing sat up a bit in his seat from worry. “I don’t like this new name very much. I think it makes you dumber.”
“Yixing, I don’t feel like going home yet. Want to go watch a movie with me?”
Yixing dragged his feet off the dashboard to reach in the backseat for his phone.
“Let me call my mom first to tell her I’ll be late.”
Lu Han looked over and placed a palm over the smartphone screen to knock the phone out of Yixing’s hands.
“Okay, call her but only after you take off that tie. You look like an old man that suddenly de-aged into high schooler’s body. I can’t believe you wore that all night in front of my school friends.”
“What? You don’t like the tie? Is it the print? My mom says diagonal stripes are slimming.” Yixing grinned.
Lu Han groaned, “Why am I best friends with a kid who still gets dressed by his mommy?”
“Okay, okay. It’s off. Happy?”
They saw The Silence of Dreams, the world’s first 4D horror film. The film received extremely divisive reviews. Some critics and viewers were absolutely taken with its revolutionary use of the “sensory dimension” and were so impressed with its integration in the film that they called it one of the most important films in history. Others were less impressed, ranging from calling it a “cheap ploy” to sell tickets to the mindless masses to more apocalyptically, “the death of cinema.” One famous filmmaker went on record saying that the purity of cinema was being challenged by breaking down the fifth wall - the one between the moviegoers’ consciousness and the movie.
Lu Han enjoyed it. He wasn’t prepared for how realistic and totally immersive it would be. The helmet was lighter than it looked but didn’t fit comfortably around his unusually tiny head, distracting him at several points throughout the movie. When the main character stepped into a flooded wine cellar, his skin prickled with how chill and damp the the air was and the rotten smell of wine and rotting corpses that he never smelled before but could immediately recognize. He had actually felt momentarily transported into the movie.
Yixing was less thrilled about the entire experience. When they walked out of the theater, Lu Han noticed he was visibly shaken and paler, like how Lu Han felt on rollercoasters. Lu Han threw an arm around him and suggested going for a walk. Horror movies were never Yixing’s favorite, but he had never looked this disturbed after watching one. Over an ice cream cone, Yixing admitted that he had to take the 4D helmet off towards the end of the movie.
“It felt too real,” Yixing rested his head against Lu Han’s shoulder as they took a seat on a bench by the river, “but also not real, you know? Like someone was in my brain telling it what to feel. I didn’t like it, having something else inside my brain.”
Lu Han kind of understood what Yixing was talking about. He kept involuntarily checking his right ankle to see if a bruise was forming from the part in the movie where the ghosts dragged the child out of bed and into the floorboards. He knew there was nothing there, since nothing actually grabbed and scratched him, but there was still a faint throbbing there, similar to how it feels before a large bruise blossoms on his pale skin a few days after a particularly physical football match.
They wasted a few hours like that. Just sitting and talking about the movie, all movies, what Yixing was looking forward to in his last year of high school, and joking about everything. They got up when the droplets in the fog started turning into actual precipitation. Lu Han looked at his watch, its accusative numbers glowing 3:24am. Yixing and Lu Han dragged their feet back to Lu Han’s car parked five blocks away.
Over the next few days, Zitao forcibly tears away a carton of cigarettes out of Lu Han’s clutches four times and chucks them into the paper shredder. Lu Han manages to salvage most of them as Zitao’s aim is not nearly as sharp as his tongue.
“What’s the point of quitting these simulators if you’re just gonna pick up something that’s even worse for you?” Zitao scolds. “At least with these machines you don’t get yellow teeth and smell disgusting.”
Lu Han doesn’t bother getting into the details of why he makes any of the decisions he’s been making lately. It’s not about some questionable paper about possible brain damage published in some no-name neuroscience journal or the news of the dubious cover up from inside ExO’s research department.
It’s not really about any of that.
"Then tell me what it is about."
Lu Han's eyes go wide; he doesn't realize which words just came out of mouth and which stayed in the swirling vortex of unsorted thoughts inside his brain.
"Do you mind if I smoke while we talk?" Lu Han smirks.
Zitao just clucks his tongue, but he's already started wheeling out towards their break room's balcony in compliance.
Lu Han’s first visit to the ExO pods was in his second year in university. The series of aborted attempts at hooking up had left him hopeless and it had even started taking a toll on his time alone in the showers or the hours he spends locking his roommate out of their dorm room.
“Hello! Welcome to ExO! How can I help you today?” The man behind the counter looked around his age. He greeted Lu Han with an almost robotic formality.
“This is my first ti…”
“New customer! I see, well if you step forward, you can see all the information about us on the desk. Our membership fees here. An overview of our calibration process and our machines, here. And here’s a book of all our currently available experience modules.”
Lu Han stepped forward, trying not to let his nervousness show.
“Do you have any questions?” the man whose nametag read Jin Junmian asked.
“This is my first time, so I’m not sure what to expect or if I should get one of these frequent customer plans.”
“We do have a pay-per-visit, that doesn’t require any monthly subscriptions, but all users pay for our new customer fees, which includes the calibration process. The calibration takes about 15 minutes and it’s a way of personalizing our modules to your brain. I can tell you’re confused.”
“Yes, a bit. Science was always my worst subject.”
“Well, experience simulators all work basically the same way. They connect to your brain and stimulate your neurons to fire very specifically, which causes you to feel something. Human brains are generally the same. For instance, you like the feeling of ocean breeze, right?”
“Well, the feeling of cool wind against your skin is in the region of your brain that registers temperature and pressure on your skin. You and I can be standing next to each other, feeling the exactly same thing, but our neurons are shaped very slightly differently, so the path of that experience through our brains looks slightly different. Get it?”
Lu Han lied and said he did.
“So we have all our customers go through a short calibration process so our machines know how exactly to stimulate your brain to accurately experience our modules. The one-time starting cost is to cover the price of this and the cost of saving this information in our database. If you’re worried about privacy, you can ask to have your records deleted at any time, but many people don’t do this because they may want to come back in the future. And if they do, then they need to recalibrate and pay that cost again.”
“And I can do this calibration thingy whenever I want?”
“Yes, we can get you started right now, if you’d like!”
The calibration process involved cue cards, moving body parts at Jinmian’s instruction, and touching texture swatches that felt like sandpaper or a dog’s fur or a heavy quilt
There were two types of pods. Junmian sounded entirely too enthusiastic when describing the full immersion pods, which involved Lu Han stripping down and lying in a mineral water tub like a sensory deprivation tank-. Lu Han had decided against it mostly because he wanted it to be possible for him to walk out of the building and people to believe he was visiting the PC room on the top floor and not lying down alone in a room desperately trying to get his rocks off.
The basic pod room was small, just big enough for a lying couch and a person to stand next to it. There was a touch screen monitor on the opposite wall. The categories resembled that of a karaoke room. “Most popular this month” “Most popular all-time” “Genre” “Search by keyword”
Search results for “car”
Driving a lamborghini. - 37 minutes
Driving a tank. - 45 minutes
Getting into a fender bender. - 4 minutes
Roll over accident. - 2 minutes
Washing a car - 29 minutes
(A) Front seat blowjob (receiving) - 25 minutes
(A) Sex on the hood of a car (receiving) - 28 minutes
(A) Sex on the hood of a car (insertive) - 28 minutes
(A) Sex in the backseat (receiving) 44 minutes
(A) Sex in the backseat (insertive) - 44 minutes
He pressed the last option and followed the instructions on how to put on the pod helmet, made of some translucent flexible material. There was a remote control also. Junmian explained that one could slow down and speed up parts of the module, much like how one could replay parts of a video. The times that were listed next to each module were estimated experience times if one doesn’t touch the remote.
Lu Han tried to relax and let himself get pulled into this imaginary world.
Some of the details were distracting. The scent of leather too potent (his car in high school had a cloth interior). The pace of the kisses along his neck and chin was too fast. He still felt too much space to move around, nothing like the crampedness of actually being in the backseat of his old sedan. Still, everything was enough for him to slip into the fantasy without too much trouble.
He never got beyond the seven minute mark though. Every time the simulation started to go too far and he felt his pants unbuttoning, he would pause and rewind to the beginning. He replayed the first seven minutes in 80% time until the there was a faint chime coming from the monitor, snapping him out of the simulation, and the car, the person on top of him, everything faded away like a dream.
He walked out of his pod and the main office with his head tucked deep within the comforting embrace of his hood. He didn't look up during his entire walk back to his dorm.
When he finally got to his computer, Lu Han enrolled in a premium subscription plan on ExO's website.
On Thursday, Lu Han decides to call Yixing during his lunch hour. Actually the decision was made the day before during his talk with Zitao. And it wasn't so much he himself making the decision as it was him following Zitao's directive to reconnect with this old friend and mend fences.
Truthfully, he doesn't want Yixing to pick up, but he still wants Yixing to hear his voice. He has his message semi-rehearsed (a task he completed completely independent of Zitao): Hi Yixing. This is Lu Han calling from branch 5011. Just calling to let you know the technician came today and everything is fixed, just as you said. Just wanted to thank you for the help and that you're doing a good job at this. I'll talk to you again. I look forward to it.
Over the course of three dial tones, he realizes how stupid it sounds in his head and promptly slams the phone down into the receiver.
Lu Han is startled when the phone starts ringing in his hand.
"Hello. You've reached ExO in the business district. How may I help you today?" Lu Han recites cheerfully, masking the obvious frustration and despondency that's wreaking havoc on his posture.
Lu Han sits up in his chair as soon as he recognizes the voice and starts shuffling around papers around his station at the front desk out of nervous habit.
"Hi, this is Zhang Yixing from Branch Service and Affairs. I'm returning a phone call?"
"Wow, I didn't think you saw that I called… or that you'd respond so quickly."
"I stepped out for a moment to discuss something with my superior. Sorry I missed your call. Is there any-"
Lu Han interrupts, "Isn't it your lunch break?"
"I'm working through lunch until I get a better handle on the job and trying to decipher Yifan's organization system."
"Yes, hectic… would be a good description of this office right now."
"Is it about the brain damage news?"
"Y-... we-... actually, I don't know if it'd be appropriate to discuss this over the phone with a client. What is it you called about initially?"
"I just called to thank you for your service and that the technician came by today and fixed our glitchy pod."
"Oh, okay then," Yixing falters for a moment before putting on his Busines Voice again. "It was my pleasure."
"I… guess.. I'll talk to you later, Yixing."
"You should only use this line for business matters. If you want to just shoot the breeze, this isn-"
"Do you want to go out sometime?" Lu Han blurted out. His heart can feel his heart pounding behind his ears. "You know, just to catch up?"
What started as a light mist when they had reached Lu Han's car, worked its way past a mild drizzle and into a heavy shower by the time the headlights of Lu Han’s car illuminated the empty alley behind Yixing’s house.
“Lu ge, don’t drive too fast home,” Yixing advised in his typical paternal way, pulling the wrinkled tie he stuffed in his back pocket back around his neck. Lu Han suppressed a smirk. A small piece of him wanted Yixing to see it and lecture him about car safety, but his hand clicked open the car door handle, letting the sound of rain hitting pavement sneak in the crack in the door. “You’ll come back for the holidays, right?”
“Do I have a choice?” Lu Han chuckled.
“Of course not.” Yixing’s eyes curved into crescents, looking tired despite the amusement.
Lu Han didn’t know how to handle goodbyes. That was probably why he was dropping Yixing off 5 hours later than scheduled.
“I’ll see you around, Yixing.”
"See you soon, Lu Han. Have fun but don't neglect your studies while in university." Yixing placed a comforting hand on his knee, patting it twice in finality before sticking his leg out into the rainy slosh. "I don't want to enroll only to find you've been kicked out for bad grades.” They both chuckled before Yixing heaved open Lu Han's passenger seat door.
“Wait!” Lu Han threw open his door and slammed it behind him before running to meet Yixing, who, in fact, didn’t wait inside the car as he asked.
Yixing just stood meeting Lu Han’s gaze, his hair getting flattened with rain with each passing second and no lectures about getting sick tempting his lips. He stayed quiet when Lu Han moved closer to wrap his arms over his shoulders.
“I’ll miss you, Zhang Yixing.”
Yixing pressed his hands gently against Lu Han’s back, adding pressure to their already tight embrace. Yixing’s back curved back slightly to complement the slight hunch of Lu Han’s body so their thighs and hips fit into each other also.
Lu Han held onto Yixing as if it was he himself that was threatening to spin out of control into the abyss, the terrifying and dangerous future. With his lips floating dangerously close across Yixing’s cheek, he released himself from the safety of their embrace as Yixing’s arms loosened and settled down at his hips.
Craning his neck across the expanse between them, Lu Han landed sloppily on the corner of Yixing’s lips. If Yixing revealed any hint of disgust or shock, it might have ruined Lu Han forever in this vulnerable position. But Yixing didn't. His hands stayed planted at Lu Han’s hips, neither pulling him closer or pushing him away. It took a second for Yixing to tilt his head the slightest bit so their lips fit together. The raindrops pouring down Yixing’s face join the rivulets down Lu Han’s own face. This wasn’t his first kiss, but it was the most connected he had ever been to another person in his entire life.
Yixing moved back slightly to take a deep breath through his mouth; Lu Han shivered as he felt the cool air being sucked over his wet lips. He pursed his lips and pressed forward again, fitting them between Yixing’s slightly agape mouth.
Lu Han’s limbs moved subconsciously. He hadn’t realized he was even walking forward until Yixing’s back hit his car door with a thud and the metal of their belt buckles collided in a grating clang.
Lu Han pulled Yixing off of the car by tugging a handful of his dress shirt. Then he reached down blindly, cracking open the door to the back seat to push Yixing inside.
A few hours ago he was listening to Yixing talk about proposing to his girlfriend and now he has Yixing under him, writhing against his thigh. The sick feeling in his gut refused to be suppressed until Lu Han broke.
“W-Wait… Yixing…” he gasped between kisses. As soon as the words escaped his mouth, Yixing froze where he lay. They’ve always been good at communicating and for once, Lu Han regretted it, since he wished he could take those words back, or maybe play it off as nothing serious, as he could see the guilt and self-reflection overtake Yixing like a virus.
Everything still feels slightly less than real. Even after two hours sharing a late dinner and beer sitting across from him, Lu Han still can't fully place himself in the present.
All the details of his surroundings were bombarding his senses into a blurry mess. He has each of his hands tucked under his thighs. Every so often, they flinch and press into the taxi’s cracked leather upholstery. The texture and solidity of it helps him feel grounded in the present.
The taxi pulls into a driveway and comes to a stop. Yixing digs into his back pocket and pays the taxi driver, more than enough for the ride home plus a generous tip.
“It was nice catching up with you,” Yixing states. He still hasn’t sloughed off the air of stiff distance completely, but it’s better than it was at the beginning of the night. “I’ll see you around,” Yixing pats Lu Han’s knee twice and exits the cab smoothly.
Lu Han doesn’t know exactly why he follows Yixing out. But without thinking, he casually asks the cabbie to wait a minute and inelegantly shuffles his body out of the cab into the crisp autumn night.
“Yixing!” he calls out sounding more desperate than he intended. He jogs up to Yixing, who was just punching the security code to his building and looking confused at seeing Lu Han again so soon.
Lu Han stops his jog too close to Yixing than is socially acceptable for two coworkers-slash-ex-best-friends. He knows it’s too close, but he doesn’t want to retreat back and admit he made a mistake in his depth perception. Yixing’s feet are still planted firmly, refusing to adjust to Lu Han’s presence, but his shoulders are pulled back as if repelled by Lu Han’s body.
“What is it?” Yixing asks, with an edge of confrontation.
Lu Han doesn't respond, although his mouth is slightly agape preparing itself to say something. He can only lean forward slowly, slightly. Before Yixing can get a chance to react - reject him, close the remaining space, or punch him in the face, they both crane their necks to the roar of their taxi cab, now speeding down the street.
Yixing sighs, resigned to this uncomfortable situation, “You can come up and wait while I call you another cab.”
The cracking, tangled, fraying edges of his neurons are sparking impotently. He manages to maintain a semblance of normality for the walk up to Yixing's third floor apartment. Yes. Sure. Same as always. Sorry about this. But nothing truly registers until Lu Han finds himself seated on an uncomfortable couch and he's staring up at Yixing's blank eyes and an extended hand holding a cup of steaming tea.
"What do you want?" Yixing asks flatly.
"Nothing. I don't take any sweetener or milk in my tea." Lu Han accepts the mug with a steady hand and downcast eyes trying to avoid the heavy fixed stare weighing on his shoulders.
There was a dulled edge to each syllable, "That's not what I meant." The confrontational tone pokes at his dormant competitive impulses, and time felt like it was skipping again, like pages torn out of a flip book. Lu Han knew, despite the disorienting whirlwind of activity in his brain, that he should say something -- apologize, confess, deliver something tangible and clear.
But he doesn't.
Lu Han's senses are too overwhelmed to decipher if Yixing's kisses are the same as they were ten years ago.
Someone once told him that every time you revisit a memory, your brain changes one thing about it. Lu Han has turned over the jagged edged memory of that night in the backseat of his car over in his mind innumerable times over the past ten years; the edges seem smoother now, heavily eroded, easier to digest but only a vague semblance of what it used to be.
He stands with Yixing's face cupped in his palms. He can faintly feel the rub of leather upholstery on the back of his thighs and the ringing in his ears sounds awfully like a low hum of a car engine. Lu Han throws himself into this kiss like it will be his last. Maybe if he kisses harder, the sensations will ignite something in the ransacked halls of memories, heal and reconnect those frayed and broken neurons.
Yixing moans between kisses. Lu Han gathers courage to take a few steps back, pulling Yixing on top of him as he lies down on the couch. Lu Han pushes his hips down into the cushions away from the body sprawled above him. His fingers drift their way down the back of Yixing's neck and along his collarbone until they catch on the fastened buttons lining the front of Yixing's solid white work shirt. With a few easy flips of his fingers, Lu Han unbuttons them down to the tip of Yixing's breastbone, opening up most of his smooth chest to the roam of his hands. His legs are spread, hugging tightly around Yixing's lean thighs, but he tries to adjust to hide his painful boner.
Lu Han moves his hand down between their hips, the back of his hand pressing the hard bulge in his khakis. Yixing doesn't react when Lu Han strokes his fingers around his crotch, finding him still mostly soft. He keeps massaging the area impatiently. Yixing shifts his weight onto his left arm, freeing up his right hand. Lu Han stutters in his motions, afraid that Yixing will silently scold him and remove his hand, but to his surprise, Yixing only moves his hand down to the busy area to unbutton the top of his black slacks before quickly moving his hand back to above the armrest above Lu Han's head to keep himself propped up as Lu Han drags the band of his underwear to mid-thigh.
Lu Han flicks his wrist in steady rhythm, lightly squeezing with each upward stroke. Yixing's grunts tickle the skin of his neck. Yixing alternates between sucking lightly on the base of his neck and pulling his face away to moan curse words in hushed tones. He starts working his entire body as he gets more worked up, snapping his hips in extremely shallow thrusts as Lu Han continues stroking him.
Yixing's mewls and the unsteady brush of the back of his hand on his bulge were probably enough to get him off soon. However Yixing, in a show of misguided altruism, reaches down to pull Lu Han's dick out of his underwear and before Lu Han can protest and stop it from happening, he immediately loses it, shooting several weeks (or years) of worth of sexual frustration onto Yixing's pressed shirt.
The acute slap of embarrassment and mortification brings Lu Han to his senses, but once again the apologies get caught in his throat. All he can do is turn them both over, take off Yixing's soiled shirt, and let Yixing relax on his back Lu Han tries to give the blowjob of his life.
Lu Han was in the middle of a midday lecture when his phone screen lits up next to his notebook. Lu Han deduced that it must be Yixing's lunch period right now.
is this about me not calling you matthew ge?
He read the entire message in the 1 second preview but let his phone go back to black with no intention of ever clicking on that message to notify its sender that it has been read.
matt ge please let me know which weekend is better to come visit
During the summer, Yixing had tentatively planned a college visit to Lu Han's university, take tours and meet faculty and all the other usual things potential students do to inform their academic decisions. All of this was formalities of course, since Yixing had already determined to attend this university.
i want to talk but in person
< sticker >
Lu Han shoved his phone into his bag and waits until dinner to reply. He sat alone in the student dining hall with his earphones plugged into his ears. It has gotten easier to eat now that several weeks have passed since the incident in his backseat.
Every potential new friend he met, every club he signed up for, every party he agreed to go to - it has all felt like a distraction from the crushing guilt. Yixing's never even thought about cheating, never even looked at a girl besides Tiantian. It's not just four years of relationship history, but decades of future plans, that had been potentially laid waste by a lapse in Lu Han's self-control. A part of him was curious about what Yixing thought about everything - if and how he planned on confessing his indiscretion to his girlfriend, what her reaction would be, what this meants for the small outdoor wedding they'd scheduled five years in the future.
But a stronger, more primal part of him just wanted to ignore the pressing issues of Yixing's internal conflict and precarious life plan.
It was a strange feeling not knowing how to approach Yixing anymore. The longest they'd ever fought with each other was a day and a half. This was somehow even worse than that fight because Yixing wasn't angry; he was being completely normal and approachable in his texts. It was Lu Han who kept digging up excuses for his slow and curt responses.
if it's about what happened the night i left, just forget it happened
don't worry or think about it too much
i have a study group so i won't be able to text you again til after 1
This was how the rest of the night went: Lu Han playing a game of pick-up basketball at the gymnasium; Lu Han spending the next three hours ignoring his roommate while pretending to read his textbook; Yixing not texting back.
This was how the rest of that school year went: Yixing texting back that he won't be visiting; Lu Han staying at his school dormitory a week after his last final so he can miss Yixing's graduation; Lu Han hearing from his mom that Tiantian and Yixing broke up and Yixing won't tell anyone why. No one needed to tell him that Yixing decided not to come to Changsha for school.
Lu Han sneaks onto the balcony with his lighter and a cig while Yixing goes to clean off and change into clean clothes. Yixing finds him with his mug of untouched tea reheated to steaming temperature and a judgmental expression.
"You said you'd quit…" At Yixing's words, Lu Han gets transported back to his mother's second wedding a few months after his graduation from university and the stilted run-in he and Yixing had at the reception when Yixing caught him sneaking a smoke by the window in a workers-only restroom. That was five years ago.
"The thing is… I did quit honestly," Lu Han finds himself channeling a tragic, emotionally stunted hero in an old noir movie. He wishes he could stop himself. "But ever since I quit going to those fucking pods, I figure I have enough room in my life to pick up another bad habit.”
He didn't mean it that way, but he knows how Yixing heard it: You are another bad habit.
Lu Han stares out into the dark expanse at nothing in particular, focusing all his energy to not turning his head to see the details of Yixing’s expression and slumped posture. It feels involuntary, putting on this mask of indifference, as if the past few hours weren’t without question the most important thing that’s happened in his life in years. His fingers are slightly trembling as they pull away from the lit cigarette perched between his lips; he doesn’t think Yixing notices but even if he does, the nippy air can explain that away.
"Put your cigarette out somewhere clean and call a cab to pick you up at the nearest landmark, the huge mall down the street. You can let yourself out. I'm going to bed." Lu Han internally winced at Yixing's cold, choppy commands. He thought it was over but Yixing pauses as he steps through his sliding door. "You know what? I thought you might have changed since you were the one who made the effort to call me and ask me to go out, that maybe I could forget all our baggage since it's been so long, but it turns out you're still the same dick who thought he was too cool for me as soon as he left for college. Everything you say makes me feel worthless and disposable. I'm not going to feel like some doe eyed high school senior anymore. We're adults now - I'm an adult now so don't call me anymore, Lu Han."
"No, Lu ge, I don't want to hear from you," Yixing's voice is changing pitch as he gets more incensed. This is the first time he's called him Lu ge all night. "You know when I could've used your words? Ten years ago when I was planning which college to go to, or when I was banging my head against my wall about what to tell Tiantian, or when I came out to my parents. That's when I really wanted to hear from you, but not now."
"You can let yourself out. I have to go to sleep; I have work tomorrow morning."
Lu Han stands in the darkness as Yixing turns out the lights in his living room. He looks at the smoldering tip of his barely-used cigarette as if it were responsible for all his current problems. Feeling sick to his stomach, he rushes out of there as fast as he can.