Luhan/Kai (side: Luhan/Minseok, friendship!Kai/Hyoyeon)
PG-13 | 2700 words
Jongin isn't looking for love, but it finds him anyway
A/N: for darling emberberry who kept me happy during exam period and without whom, I would be in a far crazier place right now~
Jongin’s dreams are always too bright and sharp, the shifting edges bleeding with disorientating half-truths and things he doesn’t let himself want when he’s awake.
Tonight he’s chasing a shadow up an endless staircase, whispers in his ear and a tightness in his chest that’s not just from the effort of forcing himself to take step after step. He gets so close, close enough to brush his fingers against soft skin, but then he’s falling behind and everything inside of him is screaming as he’s left in the dark.
He wakes panting and he stares at the ceiling until his eyes prickle.
Luhan’s in the kitchen and Jongin smiles unconsciously at the other man in an oversized hoodie- no doubt stolen from Chanyeol or Kris- and how it makes Luhan look even younger than usual.
“Jongin-ah,” Luhan says with a grin when he spots Jongin still standing in the doorway.
“How do you feel about pancakes for breakfast?”
“Morning, hyung,” Jongin stammers, glad that Luhan had not noticed him staring.
“Pancakes sounds amazing; a-are you cooking for us?”
Luhan beams at his answer and nods happily. “Yep, I decided to be a good hyung and cook for all my dongsaengs!” He pauses staring down at his mixing bowl, before adding, “Well, I’m trying to anyway?”
“Let me help,” Jongin volunteers, opening the cupboard and grabbing the frying pan and the bottle of oil, before opening a draw and pulling out a spatula. Luhan smiles grateful and leans over to ruffle Jongin’s hair, and the knot of tension still lingering in his chest smoothes away at the gesture.
“You’re up early,” he says and it was true. Luhan was notoriously bad at getting up in the mornings and usually one of the others had to physically drag him out of bed.
Luhan grimaces and sighs. “God, don’t even remind me how early it is. It’s all Minseokie’s fault, he said if I didn’t get up before him today, he wasn’t going to go play soccer with me ever again!”
“Pretty sure I said ‘for a month’,” a voice calls out from down the hallway and they both turn to see Minseok walk in barefoot, toweling his hair dry. He smiles at Jongin before walking up behind Luhan to peek at the bowl in his hands. “Are you sure that won’t poison all of us?”
“Yah!” Luhan makes a face and elbows Minseok in the ribs. “No I’ll make it so it just poisons you.”
Minseok laughs and whacks Luhan on the butt before turning to leave. “Call me before you dish it out so I can make sure you don’t mess with mine.”
Luhan flings an oven mitt at the back of his head, before muttering, “Stupid baozi.” The fondness in his voice makes Jongin stare at the back of Luhan’s t-shirt as the other asks him if they have honey or lemons.
Jongin is not the maknae, but he’s still young and sometimes people forget that because they get used to his persona on stage. The age dynamics in their band never did organize itself very well.
His school friends are out at parties and clubs, picking up girls or giddily stumbling their way through relationships that fall apart half the time. Jongin’s life consists of practice rooms and brightly-lit stages and screaming fans. People on the streets know his name now, his height and weight and star sign too probably, but it’s important because he’s poured sweat and tears into this and he’s finally standing where he wants to be. He’s too busy worrying about nailing every move in the dance and trying to work his voice to hit all the notes, to care about the rest.
“I’m not looking for love,” he remembers telling Sehun and Yixing after a grueling practice session when the topic had turned onto girls. Back when they were still trainees and no one cared if they lay on the floor all sweaty and looking like crap.
“I am,” Sehun had announced and Jongin had snorted and told him that getting some action wasn’t love. Sehun had kicked his legs and told him to exactly where to shove his advice. Sehun had spent the summer mooning after this girl who was half Japanese, half Korean, but he had forgotten about her quickly enough when Soojung had finally given him a moment of her time. They’d laughed at him and Yixing had warned him that Minho is going to kick his ass. He’d frowned and added a tentative ‘sunbae’ as an afterthought. Sehun had waved his words off; he never did care for hierarchy.
They’d talked about how the girls were getting skinnier and prettier and the trainees younger each time. They spoke of the new dancers and how a couple of them were good, good enough for them to take notice. Yixing had mentioned another Chinese boy in the new bunch, with sharp moves and really fluent Korean, who was singing with Minseok hyung and how he was really good and Jongin remembers teasing Yixing to just propose already.
He feels ugly laughter bubble up inside him, thinking back now. If only he had known then.
EXO M’s been back for three days and the dorms are still buzzing with excited energy. They’ve got a recording later this afternoon and an hour practice before that, but it’s still morning and the sky is churning with coming storms, so they all stay inside. Some of them are in their rooms or on their laptops, whilst Chanyeol, Baekhyun, Kyungsoo and Tao have taken over the couch to watch some cartoon with the volume turned down. Luhan had roped Sehun into helping him turn off Kris and Joonmyun’s alarms and subsequently declared volume in the dorm to be kept low enough not to wake them until breakfast was ready.
When they do, Joonmyun tries to be cross and fails miserably, letting Luhan tug him over by the hand and feed him pancakes with grateful eyes. Kris just smiles softly, transferring a stack of pancakes onto a plate and sliding it in front of Luhan without a word. Luhan saves the ugliest one for Minseok, who complains about it and tries to steal Luhan’s, but Luhan dumps an outrageous amount of sugar and lemon on Minseok’s plate and Minseok hums happily as he takes a bite and they somehow end up picking at each other’s anyway.
Jongin swallows hard around his mouthful and when his phone rings, he picks it up without even looking at who it is.
Jongin lets himself dwell on old memories a little too often and for a little too long each time. The clock is ticking towards midnight and Jongin lies in bed listening to Luhan’s laughter from the living room where he’s playing Wii with Baekhyun and Jongdae; he thinks back to a time when the other two weren’t even in the company yet.
There was talk brewing of a new boy band and all the trainees were caught up in the speculative energy in the air.
Yixing had been right about Luhan being good. He had been good enough for their teachers to take notice barely a week since he got there and it didn’t take very long at all before Jongin had come to dance practice and was met with an unfamiliar face sitting beside Minseok. He wasn’t by any means unfriendly, but Jongin didn’t really go out of his way to meet people either, unlike Sehun who was clearly already familiar with this new boy, enough that when he saw him, Sehun quickly moved to greet him with a hug.
“This is Luhan,” Minseok told him, whilst Yixing joined the other two chatting animatedly and Jongin wondered how he’s the only one who doesn’t know this kid.
“Hello, I’m Jongin,” he said. “Nice to meet you Luhan.”
Sehun poked him, arm still around Luhan’s shoulder. “It’s hyung. Luhan hyung.”
Jongin’s eyebrows shot up, but he quickly corrected himself and they shook hands. Luhan’s hand was almost as warm as his smile and when he started dancing, Jongin couldn’t drag his eyes away.
He falls asleep with thoughts of years past and he spends his dreams chasing after dancing shadows.
“What’s eating you up today?” Hyoyeon asks him when he spaces out yet again. They’re sitting up on the rooftop, watching dance videos on her tablet. They’ve been doing this long before Jongin debuted and it’s not something many people know about, but Jongin always enjoys their time together, away from the confines of the practice rooms and watchful eyes. Up here with the open sky, they’re not Hyoyeon and Kai, lead dancers of their respective bands; they’re just two people who love dancing and get a little lost in all the showbiz sometimes.
“Nothing,” he mutters. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
“It’s Luhan isn’t it?” She asks and her voice is sympathetic. “Can’t be easy to have him around all the time.”
Jongin looks away, knowing it was pointless to deny it. Hyoyeon knew about how he felt and he knew about how she’s in love with one of the company’s back up dancers who is six years older than her. Secrets just don’t keep well between them, so they had just let them go.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says quietly. He yanks none too gently at his shoelaces, before continuing. “I’m scared to do what I want to do.”
Hyoyeon reaches out and squeezes his hand and they sit there in silence for a while. She doesn’t tell him what to do, but he feels better knowing she’s there for him.
“Hey, wanna see a video of Jessica practicing her, I quote, “Seduction of Kris” routine?” Hyoyeon says, voice completely serious. There’s a wicked twinkle in her eye though and Jongin laughs and twenty minutes later, Jongin is still trying to catch his breath and he’s begging, legitimately begging for Hyoyeon to let him show Kris.
“Ugh, every part of my body hurts,” Sehun moans as they finish yet another run through of their dance break. They’ve been here for hours and Jongin feels boneless and weighed down at the same time.
“Getting rusty, Sehun,” Yixing teases good-naturedly, tossing a drink bottle to the younger boy.
Minseok grins in Sehun’s direction. “Yeah, maknae, just because we’re not here to kick your ass, doesn’t mean you can slack off.”
Sehun glares at them both and turns to whine at Luhan. “Hyung, they’re bullying me!”
Luhan laughs and jokingly tells the other two off, ruffling Sehun’s hair affectionately. “Our Sehunnie is the best.”
Yixing suggests they go out for dinner and they all readily agree, minus Minseok who already has plans with his parents. As they pack up their stuff, Minseok and Luhan talk softly in the corner, Minseok’s hand on Luhan’s waist and they share a smile, before the older man waves at them all and tells them not to party too hard.
They crowd into the corner booth of some little café Hyoyeon told Jongin about once and they order these weird pickled chips that apparently no one else in Seoul makes, and he can hear her hyper voice in his head, they’re amazing Jongin, it’s like some drug it’s that good! She’s not lying and Yixing even swats at Sehun’s hand to get the last one. Sehun yelps and settles back with a pout, licking his fingers and making sounds that would be borderline scandalizing if Jongin wasn’t making similar ones. They blow their way through a bowl before they remember they came here to have dinner and they decide to just roll with it and orders another bowl and drinks.
Luhan accidentally squeezes lime in Sehun’s eye and the younger boy yelps and knocks over half a glass of soda into his lap and Yixing laughs so hard he very nearly snorts juice out of his nose and Jongin somehow ends up finishing Sehun’s super strange guava and coconut smoothie, which actually tastes pretty good, not that he’d ever admit it out loud.
An acoustic cover of Teenage Dream comes on and Luhan drags Yixing to sing with him and they just start singing there in the café, and Sehun is cackling as Yixing pulls out his serious on-stage face whilst pitching his voice as high as it goes. It’s hilarious and Jongin is glad to see Yixing so at ease and acting childish, but it’s Luhan he’s staring at, with flush across his cheeks and lips stretched in a huge grin. He’s doing some random hand movements as he sings and the two of them stumble over the English, dissolving into a fit of girlish giggling.
Luhan leans against him, body shaking with laughter and Jongin stares at his mouth, wondering if Luhan would taste like pickled chips if he leaned in and kissed him right now.
Sometimes love find you anyway.
That night he doesn’t dream of shadows, he dreams of Luhan. Luhan warm beneath his touch and pressed close in the dark; Luhan who’s humming against his skin and making soft, breathless sounds in his ear.
He wakes up gasping and aching and he clenches his hands in the sheets until he stops shaking.
He slips during rehearsal and the old wounds open fresh and Jongin is hissing as they bound his waist tight beneath his performance clothes.
Luhan catches him as they bow, hands discrete on his back, fingers splayed as if to brace him and he musters up enough to smile wide at the audience through the tears prickling in his eyes.
They’re coming back from Inkigayo and everyone is exhausted, slumped against each other, asleep or too tired to keep their eyes open. Luhan’s alert though, eyes concerned as he sits beside Jongin. The pain in his back flares with every bump in the road and he grits his teeth and buries his face in Luhan’s shoulder. A hand settles on his knee, squeezing comfortingly and something spills open inside of him, and he’s leaning up even as his mind shouts at him. Luhan freezes against Jongin’s mouth and his breath catches as the hand touching him disappears. There’s a tiny pause then Luhan is pushing him away gently, his eyes sad as he shakes his head; there’s a silent apology there, but his hands are firm.
Jongin sits frozen, blood pounding in his ears and when they arrive in the carpark, he’s sliding the door open before the van has fully parked.
They fly to America and back again and Jongin feels like he’s underwater the whole time, because they twelve of them are together, but the distance between Luhan and him has never felt so unbridgeable.
Minseok looks at him with a too-knowing gaze and somehow that makes it worse. In his darker moments, Jongin lets himself think about the two of them and what Luhan would have done if it was Minseok who kissed him in the van that night. Would Luhan have kissed him back, moved the hand on his knee to his neck instead of away? Or maybe, it was because of Minseok that he had pushed Jongin away in the first place; maybe Minseok had already kissed Luhan, out under the open sky after one of their soccer games or slowly in the darkness of their room…
It’s always harder to breathe after that and when EXO M leaves to go back to China, he feels a sick sense of relief.
He sits with Hyoyeon as a plane passes by overhead and he wonders if Luhan is on it, flying away from him as easily as he fell into Jongin’s life.
“It’s okay to cry, you know,” Hyoyeon says and her voice is soft. “When I first got rejected, I cried for a week.”
Jongin smiles sadly and turns to look at her, and the look on her face makes him choke up. She looks like she’s hurting for him. Taking his hand, she hands him one of her ear buds and they sit there with their eyes closed.
If she knows when he starts choking up, Hyoyeon doesn’t say anything and Jongin breathes a fraction easier by the time they step back inside.