SUMMARY: A look into Luhan and Yixing's strong bond during trainee days, with lots of ups and downs, and maybe a handful of kisses.
FINAL NOTES: There's so much conflicting information regarding roommates and other pre-debut things, and, despite heavily researching, I'm still unsure on the training and debuting processes, so I apologize for any glaring inaccuracies and discrepancies.
The first time Luhan steps into a practice room, he's wide-eyed and full of awe and excitement and nerves and fear, feeling like every adjective in the dictionary could describe how he feels at that moment. Before the actual lesson starts, he's able to briefly introduce himself to a few of the other trainees, most of whom ignore him or brush him off and he can't help but let his wondrous smile falter.
He's expecting his first lesson to be difficult, of course. He's expecting to have a little trouble keeping up, and maybe not have as much stamina as the other trainees, but he seems to be holding the entire group back until the instructor pauses and finally tells him to take a 'break' at the back—and it's evident to Luhan and everyone in the small practice room that means 'come back when you're able to keep up.'
Resignedly, he trudges to the back of the room, collapsing to the floor from exhaustion and defeat, leaning back against the wall for support as he watches the other trainees continue to dance, continue to improve and leave him behind in the dust. And he can't help but let what's left of his smile completely disappear, making way for a grimace caused by the sudden cramp in his side and the way he catches several unfamiliar faces sneer at him through the mirror.
He's still trying to catch his breath, chest heaving, as the instructor calls for an official break, with five minutes before they're to pick up again, and Luhan can't bear to bring himself to look at any of the other trainees in the face. So instead, he toys with the cap of his water bottle, its contents halfway gone with not even an hour underway.
"You're never going to survive the workshop with just that," a voice says from above him in a language that's familiar to him, and Luhan looks up, meeting eyes with one of the boys he hasn't had the chance to introduce himself to yet. His eyes are kind and his smile seems genuine, accentuated by the dimple in his right cheek.
Luhan just hums as a reply, returning his gaze to his measly eighteen ounce water bottle, which dwarfs in size compared to the gallon-sized containers the others seem to have brought with them. He hears the unknown male settle down beside him, hears him gulp down water as if it's in short supply, and hears him recap his own bottle, which, from the corner of his eyes, Luhan notices is a suitable size compared to the others. The silence that sits between them is almost burdensome, and the key word is almost, because it's also almost comfortable, soothing even.
"It's a little difficult to pick up," Luhan says finally, lifting his eyes to glance at the other boy, who returns the comment with a kind smile that reminds Luhan of home.
"It's like that for everyone at first," the other responds, and says nothing more.
Strangely, Luhan's smile picks back up as he pulls his knees up to his chest. "I'm Lu Han, by the way," he says, resting his chin atop his knees as he wraps his arms around his legs.
"Zhang Yixing," the other boy responds simply.
Silence falls over them again, and Luhan can't help but feel like maybe he'll be okay for today.
Lousy first day or not, Luhan makes friends pretty easily—it's always been a talent of his—but, unsurprisingly, he forms the tightest bond with Yixing. He learns that Yixing's been training for two years, around the same time Luhan failed his JYP audition, but he's been in the spotlight since he was a kid. (Luhan likes to tell Yixing he's seen him on television when he hasn't, simply because he likes seeing Yixing's cheeks flush when Luhan calls him a child star). Despite the heavy sense of seniority among the trainees, Luhan feels comfortable around Yixing, and he has a feeling this would hold true even if Luhan were the one to start training first.
Because meeting up with Yixing in the mornings feels like coming home.
It's amazing how quickly the two of them grow a reputation around the company. Their innocent, almost child-like appearances give them an edge whenever one (or, more likely, both) of them gets in trouble—because who would believe those nice-looking young Chinese gentlemen could set off the fire alarm, even if it's by accident—and Luhan's general friendliness and Yixing's oft-overbearing politeness naturally throws people off their trail.
It's when they're hiding from another trainee in the confines of an odorous janitor's closet that Luhan comes to realize he hasn't felt this way since leaving China, like his life is finally heading in the right direction, toward his dreams. And as clammy, nervous hands find their way into his to lead him out and toward safety, Luhan's just glad that now, he won't have to go it alone.
Luhan can't remember the last time he's been able to sleep before three in the morning, so it's a foreign feeling, lying in bed around midnight with droopy eyelids having to fight off the Sandman with twists and turns and violent shakes of his head. The air around him is cold and, with a shiver, he rolls around a bit, wrestling with his blankets until he's wrapped up in them snug and tight before reaching for his phone on his nightstand as a last ditch effort to stay awake.
These days, the only way he can keep up with what's going on at home is through social media. Not only is everything there for him to see and scroll through, but also, with a quick message and a few taps, he's updated most everyone he cares about on his current status in life.
Because of this, he isn't privy on giving out his account details to just anyone, but, just like everything else Luhan believes should remain private, Yixing's found a way to pry it out of him without even trying, and no one can ever explain why (mostly because Luhan will never admit that it's his pleading chocolate brown eyes and the way he expresses his sincere want to know by biting on his chapped lower lip).
Somewhere between photos of his friend's new puppy and a cousin's selca, Luhan's caught up on everything he hasn't seen yet, but he's only been browsing for half an hour, and there's still so much longer to go before the devil's hour strikes. So he scrolls all the way back up to the top and refreshes his timeline, and it doesn't disappoint: there's a new post made only seconds ago, by none other than Zhang Yixing. His eyes sweep across the screen, reading the short status written in English, and as soon as the word registers, he bursts out into laughter, the kind that first bubbles in his stomach and takes its sweet time making its way up his throat and out of his mouth, then echoes in the bare and empty room once it finally sounds.
"What the fuck?" he muses out loud, rolling onto his back and wiggling his other hand out of his blankets in order to type out a proper response.
It's not even a full minute when his phone comes to life, a familiar name and photo popping up on his screen accompanied by the sounds of his ringtone. With an easy swipe of his finger, he answers, pressing the screen to his ear, lips parted in an amused grin.
"What do you mean do my balls ache?"
Laughter peals from Luhan's lips once more, louder this time, if it's even possible, as he twists onto his side, burrowing into the warmth of his blankets. "What do you think it means?" he shoots back, words wrapped in all of his playfulness and mischief.
An exasperated sigh comes through the speaker, followed by the click of a tongue. "Did you really have to ask that in a public space?"
"You're the one who demanded to be friended," Luhan responds quickly, and a dull pain settles in his jaw as his grin spreads.
"I'm unfriending you."
Luhan lets out another laugh before settling once more on his back, eyes trained on the ceiling as his mind plays a vivid image of Yixing in his own bed, eyebrows furrowed in the way they did when he was annoyed, and lips turned down into a scowl. "I thought you were lonely," Luhan sang, snickers following his light teasing. "Or does it have a different meaning when it's spelled without an e?"
"Good night, Luhan."
"Don't hang up!"
The desperate tone of his voice surprises him, and he can tell it's surprised Yixing too by the way the other end goes silent. Luhan chews on his bottom lip, toes wiggling in regret for being unable to control himself. He heaves a sigh, voice trembling slightly as he speaks again.
"Did you hang up?"
Luhan purses his lips, eyes once again finding the ceiling. Realization washes over him as he sighs again, and before he can even think to stop himself, the words spill past his lips. "I'm lonely, too."
There's a sigh at the other end, followed by a low chuckle. Luhan waits to hear Yixing's voice again, and when it comes to his ears, he smiles.
"We can keep each other company," Yixing says, and Luhan's lips slip into an easy smile once more. "But if you ask me again if my balls ache, I swear I'm hanging up the phone."
"I promise I won't," Luhan readily agrees, tacking on at the last second. "At least, not for the rest of the night."
Yixing's laughter rings like music in his ears. "Fine, I'll take that. Not like I have a choice, right?"
Yixing ends up pulling more secrets from the depths of Luhan's mind even without the help of his eyes or his lip bite (but Luhan can practically see it all through his closed eyes), and in return, Yixing opens up to him as well. By the time quiet 'good nights' are whispered, it's well past three in the morning, and Luhan swears he can see the sky brightening by the minute. But despite knowing he's going to go through hell the next day during training due to lack of sleep, he can't bring himself to regret spending all night on the phone with Yixing.
Especially considering he's going to be right there next to him, suffering just the same.
It's a few weeks later and they're sitting on the ground of one of the empty practice rooms. Most of the other trainees have long since left the building, leaving the halls and rooms in an eerie silence. They're drenched in sweat, and their breaths are labored, the sounds of their loud heaving overpowering the echoing silence. Luhan lets his head fall back to hit the wall, clenching his eyes shut as he struggles to get his heart back into its natural rhythm.
"You're a lot harder on me than the trainers are," Luhan says between breaths, forcing his eyes open only to have sweat sting his eyes. He grimaces, grabbing his nearby towel and swiping at his face for the third time since they'd sat down. Despite his fatigue, a chuckle rolls past his lips as he props up a leg, letting his forearm rest on his knee.
"I care about your progress more than they do," Yixing says so matter-of-factly that Luhan can't do anything but believe him.
They remain in silence for a few moments more until their breathing returns to normal and Luhan can inhale and exhale through his nose without feeling like he'll die of asphyxiation. He lets out a grunt, leaning over until he topples over naturally into Yixing, and they both lie on a sweaty heap on the floor. Yixing makes no move to escape underneath Luhan's weight; neither does Luhan attempt to remove himself from the tangle of limbs they've become.
Luhan stares straight ahead, their bodies a soft blur in the mirrors across the way. They settle into another comfortable silence, and his ears pick up no sound but their steady breaths, his head moving up and down with the rise and fall of Yixing's chest. He thinks back on the past few months, how much he's improved, how much he's changed. He's gotten quite close to a few more trainees now, and he no longer has trouble keeping up during dance lessons or vocal lessons or any of the other lessons they're required to take, but he still feels like debut is a thousand years away, so far that even the hope of it happening isn't even palpable.
He rolls onto his stomach, the flat of it pressed onto the floorboards as he digs his chin into Yixing's side.
"Jesus, Han, your chin is like a dagger," Yixing whines, rolling over to escape.
Luhan just follows in a languid crawl, tangling them up all over again, this time letting the back of his head rest against Yixing's chest. It's firm and strong and gives Luhan a sense of security. "Do you ever feel like…" Luhan pauses, trying to gather his thoughts to form a coherent sentence. "Like debut is out of reach? It's like that item on the highest shelf. You can see it, and it seems like it's right there for the taking, but then your fingers brush against it and it pushes it back and, as much as you try, you can't grasp your fingers around it."
Yixing looks down at Luhan, eyebrows furrowed in what seems to be confusion. "You need to work on your analogies," Yixing says with a snort. Silence befalls them again, but only briefly, before Yixing speaks up once more. "But I know what you mean."
Luhan hums, drumming his fingers against his abdomen. "What keeps you going during those times?"
"My mom," Yixing responds. "Don't laugh," he adds on quickly, though Luhan wasn't going to anyway. "I want to be able to stand on stage and look out in the crowd and meet eyes with my mom, and see how proud she is of me, of how far I've come. I left home to be able to do this. I want to make her proud."
Luhan smiles, because the answer is so typical of Yixing, so quintessentially him. He opens his mouth to respond, but then Yixing's speaking again, and what he says next halts all of Luhan's thoughts.
"And the thought that maybe, just maybe, I'll get to debut with you." He looks down at Luhan, and the only response Luhan can muster is a smile so wide the trademark wrinkles at the outer corners of his eyes appear.
They stay that way for a while, grinning at each other, until Luhan lets out a laugh, pushing himself off the ground, a newfound desire to keep on going blossoming in the very depths of his soul. Yixing seems to get the hint and does the same, and they dance for another hour or two before finally ending the day.
As they pack up their things, Luhan watches Yixing out of the corner of his eye, the warmth of familiarity and affection creeping up from his stomach and into his chest, where Yixing has burrowed into his heart and found a home. Luhan realizes then that debuting with Yixing, being able to stand on stage with him and sharing that moment is going to be one of his greatest motivations to do well. He doesn't believe in fortunetellers and he knows the future is fickle and can change with the tiniest of actions, but as he wraps an arm around Yixing's shoulder as they leave the building, Luhan knows.
They'll debut together.
Daily workouts are hard. Dance lessons are hard. Learning the nuances of a second language, diets, vocal lessons, missing home, feeling alienated, getting berated. All these aspects of trainee life are hard, but, Luhan thinks, the hardest part is the monthly evaluations.
Luhan knows he's improved. He knows he's getting better by the day, gaining more stamina when he dances, getting more stable when he sings. He's aware that he still has so much more to go, but he feels good at the pace he's going, feels confident that his progress is satisfactory.
All those thoughts come crashing down the second he hears the staff's comments on his performance during evaluations. Positive comments are few and far between, and while he absorbs constructive criticism and works hard to improve in areas he know he's weak in, he can't help but think they're purposely being hurtful, that their words are intended to go for the jugular, to rip it out and leave him to bleed out, to shrivel up and die.
This month's evaluations are particularly unforgiving. Luhan's been in the company for a little over six months now, and apparently that means he should be the perfect picture of an idol, ready for debut. He's almost used to the harsh words that come from the coaches' mouths, but they're ripping him a new one this time around—there isn't a single encouraging word to be said, and anything constructive he may have to work with is hidden underneath several layers of disappointment and displeasure.
By some miracle, Luhan's able to hold himself together long enough to remain in front of the coaches with his head down in the shame they've inflicted upon him. But as soon as they're dismissed, he rushes off to the nearest bathroom and locks himself in, bumping several shoulders along the way, not a word of apology to be heard. He's usually disgusted by bathroom floors, but that doesn't matter to him at the moment as he slams his back into the door, letting himself sink to the ground. He pulls his knees up to let his forehead rest upon them as his arms wrap around his legs. The darkness these actions cause provides the perfect melancholy for his mood. His self-confidence has never been more shot with the scathing words of the staff echoing in his head.
"You'll never debut, not like this."
"Maybe it was a mistake casting you."
"What were we thinking?"
"You might as well pack up and go home, kid."
He's perfectly content to stay like that forever, on the disgusting bathroom floor, but the sound of loud bangs on the door startles him enough to have him scrambling to his feet, heart pounding. He stares at the door as if it, alone, were the one to blame for the loud noises as he clutches his chest, breaths short and shallow as he tries to calm his beating heart.
"Occupied," Luhan says dumbly as if it would explain the locked door though there are rows of empty stalls directly behind him.
Luhan would recognize that voice anywhere. "Xing?"
"You better be taking one massive shit or I'm going to be real upset you're hogging the bathroom all to yourself."
Luhan swallows hard. He knows the threat is empty, is very aware that Yixing knows what's up, and was probably one of the faceless people he'd bumped shoulders with on the way there. He runs his hand over his face, pacing around the bathroom for a bit, debating on what he should do. Apparently, Yixing's tired of waiting as he bangs on the door again and tries for the knob.
"Luhan, open the door."
Luhan draws his lower lip between his teeth, biting down on it as he furrows his brows. He can't physically see Yixing, but his image is clear as day. He's in his training clothes (a pair of sweatpants and a tank top even though they're in the middle of winter), and a frown tugs at the corners of his lips. His arms are probably crossed over his chest and his foot is probably tapping impatiently, but it's the image of his brows knotted in worry and his eyes betraying his worry that has Luhan, reluctantly, unlocking the door.
"Careful," he says as Yixing steps in, closing and locking the door behind him. "It was real massive."
Yixing doesn't laugh, just attempts a smile; Luhan can tell by the way the corners of his lips twitch upward before settling back into a straight line. "Must have been an urgent one, too. You ran right past me and this cup of black tea." He holds up a white paper tea cup, probably of recycled paper, inside of which is, undoubtedly, Luhan's favorite black tea.
"Yeah, sorry," Luhan offers lamely, eyes averted to the ground, finding sudden interest in the way his shoelaces were nearly undone. "Nearly shit my pants."
They remain quiet for a while, and it's not the comfortable kind that Luhan's grown so used to with Yixing, but is the kind that suffocates, makes him uneasy, and he knows exactly why. In the few months they've known each other, Yixing has broken down walls and barriers Luhan never even knew he had, connected with him in a way that no one, not even anyone back home, has ever been able to. They've known each other for just a fraction of his lifetime, but Luhan feels like he's known Yixing his entire life, and more. So to be standing there now, hiding things from him; it was unnatural, especially when Luhan is aware that Yixing knows.
"You didn't, though," Yixing finally says, looking at Luhan, looking straight through Luhan, at all his insecurities and doubt.
Luhan knows now they're not talking about the massive shit that never happened, never have been, and sighs. He leans back into the stalls behind him, shoving his hands into his pockets. "It still stunk," he says, as nonchalantly as if they really were talking about bowel movements. He tries to maintain it, the casual atmosphere, but there's too much built up in him, and he has no strength to stop himself now. "Or maybe that's me. Maybe I'm the one that's a piece of shit."
As quickly as the words left his mouth, Yixing steps up to him, plants his palm on the stall beside Luhan's head. He's close, so close that Luhan can feel his hot breath as the younger male speaks. "Don't you ever say that," he says with as much conviction as he's ever seen Yixing say about anything. "You aren't. You aren't a piece of shit. You're…"
Luhan looks up at him, eyes pleading. Say something, they beg. Make me feel worth something.
But Yixing doesn't say anything. He doesn't say a word. And yet, he speaks volumes.
His lips are chapped, but they're soft—softer than Luhan has ever imagined (and he's imagined them often)—and sweet, like strawberry balm. But it's the unspoken words that dance along them that stand out the most to Luhan, the way Yixing presses them onto Luhan's own lips like he'll never get to say them again. And Luhan lets his eyes close as he eats them up, hungrily takes them in as if they're the cure to his every ailment, physically, mentally. He wants to ingrain the memory into his mind, but Yixing is already making sure that Luhan never forgets.
Unfortunately, the need for air forces them to separate, and Luhan inhales a giant breath, oxygen returning to his lungs as Yixing's face still hovers close by.
"You're special," Yixing says breathlessly, dropping his head to press his forehead to Luhan's. "Don't you ever doubt it."
Luhan can barely breathe, but he speaks anyway, voice low, almost unable to be heard if Yixing weren't within such close proximity. "And if I do?" he says, more to be facetious than anything else. A soft smile spreads across his lips.
Yixing mirrors it, eyes softening as he holds Luhan's gaze. "Then I'll just remind you, over and over again," he says. "As many times as you need."
"Now," Luhan says, staring down unabashedly at Yixing's lips. "Remind me now."
And he does.
They say you're ready to debut when they start putting you in project groups, and Luhan's first project group are a bunch of boys with pretty faces and good vocals and about an average level of dance skill. It's okay, he thinks, but none of them really stand out. Their talents are too similar, and, despite an overall aesthetically pleasing effect, something his company is known for, no one in the group has a personality, least of Luhan, who still doesn't feel comfortable in front of a camera.
They start switching out members before they even get a chance to get to know each other.
Luhan's next group is a collection of amazing vocal talent, much more than Luhan thinks he's worthy of being grouped into. Despite his shortcomings, however, their voices blend well, and Luhan thinks he might be okay with being a back-up vocal because there are talks of him being the main dancer. But before they can get their footing, a fight breaks out between three of the other boys, causing an irreparable rift between the whole group and a disharmony that ruins whatever magic had happened during their first group vocal practice.
Luhan starts to think he's just bad luck when his third group disbands because two of the potential members were found out to be dating (the same girl, no less), but the thing that disturbs him the most is not the discord or the fact that none of his groups made it past two weeks, but the fact that he's never put into a group with Yixing.
He still firmly believes they'll debut together, but the belief dwindles the more times he gets put into failed project groups.
A ray of hope shines on a dreary Tuesday afternoon when Luhan's put into a fourth group. As soon as he spots Yixing, he sidles up to him, wordlessly looking around the room at the other trainees. There are a few familiar faces and some he's warmed up to, but overall he's not comfortable with any of them, and this does not bode well. Before the day is even over, the group is split, and Luhan is once again left to wonder if his gut feelings are wrong.
He has low expectations the next week when he learns he's been grouped with yet another cluster of boys. He hears there's at least ten, possibly eleven, other potential members, and in Luhan's eyes, that only leaves more room for disaster.
He enters the designated practice room, the weight of his past failed groups causing his shoulders to slump and his feet to shuffle as he drags them. However, once his eyes scan the room, he immediately recognizes a few faces: the other Chinese trainee who's been at the company for longer than even Yixing has, and the boy with the chipmunk cheeks. In a corner, he spots the giant of a kid who's only two years younger than Luhan, and on the other side of the room, with earphones plugged into his ears, the relatively new trainee, just cast a few months ago.
He thinks if he has to debut without Yixing, this group might be okay, but he still wishes Yixing were there.
He finds a spot for himself beside the other Chinese trainee, and they greet each other with a curt nod. Luhan places his palms on his knees, shoulders rising with the action before he settles into a more comfortable position. He looks around, trying to figure out what's their common theme, because in his eyes, they're a ragtag group of trainees, varying in both personality and musical style. He starts to doubt the company's decisions when the door to the practice rooms opens again, and all his doubts fly out the window when he's greeted with a dimpled smile.
"Hey," Yixing greets casually, settling into the seat beside him.
"Hey yourself," Luhan says, unable to keep himself from matching Yixing's expression.
"You think the group will stick this time?" Yixing pulls his feet up onto the bench, resting his chin between his knees as Luhan glances around the room.
The new trainee's removed his earphones now as the tall, awkward Chinese trainee introduces himself. Luhan can't hear a word from the New Trainee, but apparently it's enough to send the nearby gigantic, big-eared Korean trainee into such a fit of laughter that he's doubled over, eyes shut tight. Tall and Awkward rubs the back of his neck as New Trainee joins in Giant's raucous laughter, and soon enough, the entire room seems to be snickering when Luhan realizes not everyone knows what they're laughing about, himself included.
Yixing nudges him with his elbow, the younger male's own laughter slowly dying down, and Luhan chuckles again, nudging him back.
"Yeah," he responds finally, watching as an impromptu dance battle breaks out in the middle of the room. A warmth settles within him, realizing that this might be it. This is the group he's meant to be in. "I think we'll be just fine."
Although there are various member rotations and replacements, ultimately, Luhan's prediction comes true, and he knows so when they stop practicing cover songs and start recording demos. He knows not to get himself so worked up because groups have failed even at the very last stretch of preparations, but he can't help himself when everything seems to be coming together so nicely. By some stroke of luck, he's been assigned a lead vocal role, and Yixing's been given what he deserves as the main dancer. The group, despite its size, has a nice dynamic between each member, professional but playful as both a whole, and the two sub-units they've been put into.
Luhan is pretty enthusiastic about being able to promote extensively in China, but Yixing is ecstatic, and he lets Luhan know every chance that he gets. Luhan doesn't mind, because seeing Yixing so excitable and happy is cute, and even if Luhan worries over whether the group will succeed, or if he's really cut out for the idol lifestyle and its tough schedules, or even if he's just plain in a bad mood, seeing Yixing's grin that spreads from ear to ear makes Luhan believe it's going to be worth it in the end.
Yixing's delight only increases when they move into their dorms in China, and Luhan might be even more enthusiastic than Yixing, but for entirely different reasons because, different from the rooming situations in their shared dorm in Korea, he actually gets to room with Yixing.
"I've heard horror stories," Yixing says out of the blue, throwing himself onto his bed while Luhan puts covers onto his pillows.
"What?" Luhan asks distractedly as he fluffs the pillows before jumping onto his own bed, burying his head into the soft down pillows.
"I heard you kick people off your bed," Yixing clarifies, watching Luhan with amused eyes.
Luhan props himself up onto his elbows, laughter passing through lips parted by a smile. "Who's spreading these blasphemous lies about me?"
A loud burst of laughter erupts from Luhan's throat, because even if Yixing doesn't say exactly what Jongdae's told him, Luhan knows it's probably true (well, mostly true, because Luhan knows as well as anyone that Jongdae likes to embellish). "I'm very particular about the kind of things I allow into my domain," Luhan offers up as an explanation, shoulders shrugging with nonchalance.
Yixing responds with a scoff intermixed with a laugh. "Your domain."
"No one intrudes into my domain without my permission. Jongdae just had to learn the hard way."
Luhan glances over at Yixing, expecting a roll of his eyes or a shake of his head, but instead, he's met with a challenging raise of the brow and a smile that betrays all of Yixing's intentions. "I'm warning you right now, Zhang Yixing," Luhan says as laughter once again finds its way past his lips. "You may not like the outcome."
Yixing grins. "I'll take my chances."
And with those words, Yixing pushes himself off his own bed and, in the blink of an eye, he's advancing, his lower lip caught between two rows of pristine, white teeth. Luhan's tongue darts out to wet dry lips as he rolls onto his back, elbows still keeping him upright, anticipating. Yixing throws himself backward onto Luhan's mattress beside him, greets the owner with a cheeky grin, and Luhan casually rolls over, straddling the other male's hips and trapping Yixing in a cage of limbs. He hovers centimeters over his best friend, and revels in the almost shy expression that takes over Yixing's features.
"Told you that you wouldn't like the outcome," Luhan says with a sly grin.
"On the contrary," Yixing says, eyes lifting to meet Luhan's again. "I think I like it like this."
Luhan doesn't need to hear another word to be leaning down, taking Yixing's awaiting lips. A fire ignites in his stomach when Yixing responds, and Luhan's tongue darts out, running across the younger's lower lip before parting Yixing's lips to explore the caverns of his mouth. He savors the familiar taste of him. His hands roam freely, running all over Yixing's body, fingers running through his hair before dragging his hands down Yixing's torso. His thumbs find their way underneath the thin fabric of Yixing's t-shirt to lightly trace circles on his hips.
He pulls away slightly for air, and Yixing's slow exhale sends shivers down Luhan's spine, the other male's hot breath, tickling his skin. Luhan's still reeling, still recovering when Yixing does something unexpected, something that has Luhan crushing his lips against Yixing's once more in a desperate attempt to catch the words and swallow them so he can keep them within him forever.
"I love you."
Luhan loses himself at that moment, and any self-restraint he had is gone as he nips at Yixing's lower lip, a low growl emitting from his throat. His hands find themselves fully underneath Yixing's shirt, fingernails lightly dragging down Yixing's torso as his lips find a new home on the younger's neck, all tongue and lips and teeth. He's so lost in the moment that he almost doesn't hear the light rap on their door, but the moment the noise registers in his mind, he groans, throwing his head back in annoyance at the interruption.
"Hey, guys," comes the eldest's voice. "We're ordering some food. Any preferences?"
Luhan has only one thing on his mind that he wants to put in his mouth, but it's not something he wants to share. With a heavy sigh, he shakes his head, "How about fried chicken?"
Yixing purses his lips, stifling a laugh.
"Yeah, let me go ask the others."
Fading footsteps alert Luhan that Minseok has gone, but so has the moment. With another groan, Luhan lies back down on his bed beside Yixing, hands finding his. Their fingers intertwine, a perfect fit. Then, as if an afterthought, he turns onto his side, a bright smile on swollen lips. "I love you, too," he says, quietly, but sincerely. "Don't you ever forget it."
Yixing smiles. "And if I do?"
"Then I'll remind you," Luhan says with a laugh. "I'll always remind you."
The air is crisp and cool, a perfect autumn night, and Luhan's nuzzled deep into Yixing's blankets, a cup of black tea nestled between his two hands, the hot liquid providing warmth for his frozen digits. Their debut has been pushed back, but Luhan doesn't mind so much because it allows for quiet moments like this one. Yixing's distracted by a tattered composition notebook, his own cup of green tea neglected and cooling. A critical eye reads over his own lyrics written in chicken scratch, and Luhan can hear him humming hushed melodies, stuttered, incomplete. Luhan glances over at Yixing, sees frustration creasing his eyebrows, and he sits up, abandoning his tea on the night stand.
"Having trouble?" Luhan asks, scooting closer to the younger male, arms wrapping loosely around the other's waist, chin finding a home on Yixing's shoulder.
"I can't concentrate," Yixing sighs, dropping the notebook into his lap before pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes clamped shut.
Yixing's tired, and there's a heavy frown etched onto his lips. The low lighting in the room does little to hide the fact that he's distracted, and Luhan can hardly blame him. He's miles from home, and with things quickly picking up speed in terms of their upcoming debut, who knows when he'll be able to go back. The homesickness is probably only made worse by the fact that it's a holiday and he can't spend it with his family back in Changsha. It's one thing for Luhan, who's at least in a familiar city, but Yixing hasn't been home in years. And the way the younger male's lips purse and his eyes seem to focus on an empty spot on the wall wraps around Luhan's heart, clamping tightly, suffocating him.
"You should take a break," Luhan says at last, prying the notebook from Yixing's fingers and setting it aside.
He can see the reluctance in his lover's eyes, but with a little coaxing and soft kisses, he manages to drag Yixing out of bed and, after getting permission to go to the convenience store, out of the dorm. The neighborhood surrounding their new home is already familiar, as if they've lived there for several years, mostly because they're not allowed to venture very far. The chill nips at Luhan's face, causing a brief shiver to course through his body as they walk in silence toward their destination. The streets are alive with celebrations, decorations, and Luhan starts to doubt his idea to leave the dorm for a bit, scared that it would only make matters worse, but he sees the slight curve of Yixing's lips as he takes everything in and smiles to himself.
"We used to picnic outside," Yixing says finally, his first words since they left the dorm. His eyes lift, taking in the night sky. "My grandparents would cook this grand feast whose leftovers would last for days, and we'd sit under the light of the moon and tell stories. And we'd eat mooncakes, lots of them. My mom used to bake the best ones, and I'm not just saying that because she's my mom."
Luhan smiles softly, burying it underneath his scarf as he digs his hands into his pockets, looking for warmth. "I don't doubt it," he says, chuckling quietly.
They walk on in a comfortable silence, Luhan keeping close to Yixing, their shoulders brushing occasionally as they take in all the festivities. They may not be home, but, Luhan thinks, at least they're with family. Without thought, Luhan frees one of his hands from the confines of his pocket and wraps his arm around Yixing's shoulder, pulling him up to a familiar street food vendor where they often stop for jian bing in the mornings before practice, but Luhan has a different menu in mind.
"We just had dinner," Yixing reminds Luhan, glancing at the older male.
Luhan doesn't respond, and instead approaches the elderly woman running the cart, and orders a box of mooncakes. As she prepares them, Luhan leans over, quietly speaking into Yixing's ear. "I doubt they're as good as your mom's, but it'll do, right?" he says, pulling away with a smile.
He directs his attention back to the little old lady handing over the box of mooncakes, and she's wearing a disapproving look on her face. Luhan coughs as Yixing bursts out into laughter, and they both scurry away with short but quick steps, Luhan making a mental note to learn how to speak at a quieter level when he plans on being discreet. Once their footsteps slow, they find an empty bench in a nearby park, only empty because the light post above it is busted and only flickers to live at long, random intervals, but Luhan doesn't mind so much because the bright light of the harvest moon provides more than enough light for the two of them.
It's probably the last quiet moment in a public space they're going to have for a very long time.
The box of the circular shaped pastries goes untouched as they both stare up at the glowing moon, fingers intertwined underneath the cover of their jacket sleeves. For a moment, Luhan feels small, insignificant, but a gentle squeeze of his hands reminds him that even if he ends up being nothing to every other individual in the world, there's always going to be at least one person who holds him with the utmost importance. He glances over at Yixing, noting immediately that same pensive look he's seen back at the dorms, and nudges the younger with his shoulder. Yixing jumps, as if he's startled, a low but empty chuckle leaving his lips.
"I was just thinking," he says, stating the obvious. He doesn't go on, pauses for a few moments before opening his mouth to continue. "Do you ever feel like you might regret taking this path? Like, eventually, the ends won't justify the means?"
Luhan laughs, not because the thought is ridiculous, but he's had the thought many times before, so much so that the idea of never having thought it before seems comically unnatural. His outburst brings a glare in his direction, and a frown so deep set Luhan thinks Yixing may be frozen that way forever. But the other male has yet to withdraw his hand from Luhan's, and Luhan returns the squeeze from earlier, letting himself settle down before answering.
"All the time," he says, swinging his feet out to shuffle lightly against the ground. "I worry all the time that we won't make it, that all our hard work will end up going down the drain because of bad sales or the inability to build up a fan base. Things like this go through my mind every day."
"Then how do you keep yourself grounded? How do you keep the thoughts from consuming you?"
Luhan turns his head, observing Yixing's face, the way his eyebrows furrow in deep thought and the way his dimple forms from just the simple action of chewing on his lower lip. He observes every feature, long ago memorized and catalogued as if he were a precious art piece to be admired for years after they've both gone. He chuckles to himself, leaning back into the bench, aware that his response is going to sound clichéd and cheesy, but he needs to get it off his chest. "Don't hit me," he begins, letting his head fall back onto the top of the bench, "but it's you."
Yixing hits him anyway.
"Hear me out!" Luhan begs with a laugh, scooting closer as Yixing scoots away. "Listen. Every time I've felt like giving up, you were there. I don't know if you know it, but you've become a source of strength. Whenever I feel like I can't stand on my own, you're there to pull me up, whether by coaxing me out of a slump or by violently pulling me out with a reality check." He pulls on Yixing's hand, forcing him to get close to him, and Luhan takes the opportunity to wrap his arm around the other's shoulder, bringing his lips up so he can whisper in his ear, words meant only for him to hear. "I feel like I can do anything as long as it's by your side."
He pulls away finally, hands busying themselves with untying the tight knot of the plastic bag that holds the trademark pastry of the Mid-Autumn Festival, eyes trained on the item in his hands. He's unsure of himself, if saying such things was too forward, too overwhelming, too much of a burden, but a warmth settles into his side as Yixing links arms with him, feigning a whisper to briefly kiss Luhan's cheek before letting his head drop onto his shoulder.
"You're gross," he muses, though his tone carries all the affection he refuses to say aloud.
And that's absolutely fine with Luhan. "Thanks," he responds, finally getting the bag open. He takes out one of the mooncakes and breaks it in half, passing the larger piece to Yixing. "It's a gift."
Yixing takes it with a quiet chuckle but doesn't bite into it. "You'll be there, right?" He says, toying with the crumbs at the edges of the mooncake where Luhan's torn it. "You'll help me through any hardships that we'll face?"
Luhan faces Yixing, a sincere smile splayed across his lips. "Always," he says. "I'll always be there. No matter what."
And he means it, one hundred percent.
The air is thick with raucous noise, but the only thing that Luhan hears is the sound of his own heartbeat. It throbs violently against his skull like the sticks of a master drummer thrashing on his kit in the middle of a solo, and he's lightheaded, so much so that he feels like he's going to float away any second now. His nerves are shot and his breaths are shallow. This is what he's been waiting for.
This is their debut.
Things are hectic backstage, with staff running around, directions being yelled, artists being tugged every which way in order to be ready for the show. Luhan paces around their dressing room, shaking his hands as if that would get rid of all the jitters coursing through his veins. In his peripheral vision, he sees his other members, all in a similar state of nerves and excitement, though they show it in different ways. This is what they've been working so hard for, through all the ups and downs; it's time for their dreams to come to fruition. It's time to show the world what they're made of.
He takes a deep breath, cheeks puffing out as he expels it. His nervousness rattles him, shakes him, reminds him of his first day at the company, wide-eyed and insecure. He remembers not being able to keep up, feeling inadequate, being judged by the eyes of strangers, and he wonders if it'll be the same, if he'll be able to look into the eyes of the people in crowd, looking at him with disdain and disappointment. He's so caught up in his thoughts that he doesn't notice a figure standing in his way as he paces, and crashes into firm chest, sending the other male stumbling backward.
"Calm down, Lu ge."
The familiar voice immediately breathes new air into his lungs, previously taken from him due to his negativity and doubt. "I can't help it," he mutters, his hearing coming back slowly, as if he's coming out of a tunnel. He can hear the hosts talking, and several excited cheers from the crowd, but nothing is clear enough for him to decipher what's being said. He purses his lips, only able to keep from chewing on it because he remembers the make-up the coordinators have applied to make them look plump and moist.
"What are you so nervous about?"
Luhan looks up at Yixing, eyebrows furrowing in and upward as his mouth hangs open, a perfect expression of disbelief at his words. "We're about to have our debut stage," Luhan says with an incredulous scoff.
Yixing laughs, the picture of cool, calm, collected. "I know that, stupid," he has the audacity to say. "What I mean is why are you so nervous?"
Luhan's expression doesn't change from the first time Yixing has stunned him with his nonchalance and choice of words. "Why? Do you realize how many things could go wrong out there? How this will pretty much affect the rest of our careers?"
Again, Yixing laughs, reaching out to plant his hands on Luhan's shoulders, squeezing them. It's reassuring, but Luhan is still perplexed beyond belief. "Yes, I know," he says, a smile still tugging at the corners of his lips. "There are a million and one ways we could screw it all up, a thousand factors that could make or break us. I know."
Luhan eyes Yixing warily, trying to understand what he's getting at.
"And I'm nervous too, trust me," he continues, the motions of his hands continuing in a manner that soothes Luhan to his very core. "But that's okay. It's okay to be nervous, and think about these things because it's natural. We could very well go out there and bomb—"
"Great pep talk you got going on here—"
"Let me finish," Yixing snips, steadying his hold on Luhan's shoulders. He leans forward, gazing directly into Luhan's eyes. "Remember what you told me. No matter what happens, you're not going to go it alone."
Luhan swallows, his tightly pursed lips softening into a small smile as he breathes out. He nods, reaching up to squeeze Yixing's hands. Before he can say anything else, a member of the staff enters the room and calls for them to queue up.
This is it. This is their moment.
Luhan casts a quick glance in Yixing's direction before they begin filing out. Their hands slip into each other's, fingers filling empty spaces, and Luhan squeezes as they make their way to the backstage area. He's still awash with jitters and he's so nervous he thinks he might just vomit once it's all over, but with the warmth of Yixing's hand in his, he thinks he'll be okay for today, and for the rest of the days that follow after. No matter what.