Pairing: Kris-centric, gen
Summary: Reborn! slash MAMA AU, but not really. Lu Han called him Kris, but it was a kind of make-believe name. This was right after he left for Seoul, leaving behind a dead body.
Lu Han called him Kris. They all called him Kris - a kind of make-believe name that took him apart, separating him from the ten-year-old boy timidly calling out to an angry mom packing her bag, the gangly teenager bumping his way around a basketball court, and the foreign exchange student lost on the bustling streets of Seoul. Li Jiaheng, Kevin, Wu Yifan, Kris. It didn't really matter. He was good at starting over, good at reinventing himself. Lu Han told him they would be part of something special together, and he didn't really believe it, but he had always been the kind of person to follow the tide.
"You think this is all happenstance," Lu Han told him with puffy cheeks and pursed lips, the exaggerated youthful naivety he was so fond of. This was when Lu Han was showing him the proper way to fire a K2, the rifle digging heavy and hard into his shoulder. Standard service rifle straight from the army stock, Lu Han had said with a bright smile, and Kris could have posed a question then about what he thought they were doing, but he didn't. His hands were steady around the grip, and his finger pulled tight on the trigger.
Lu Han opened fire first, a burst of power that shook his smaller bony shoulders, but the smile on his lips didn't falter. Kris followed right after, the recoil sending shock waves through his body, shaking his own less familiar grip worse than Lu Han's. His shoulders and upper arms ached from the tension in his muscles. The sharp heady scent of gunpowder lingered in the air.
"If you could call your stalking me across the city for half a year happenstance," Kris rolled back his shoulders, easing out the coiled tension. "Tell me again why it's necessary for me to learn how to fire a gun."
"It's the socially acceptable thing to do in a fight when you've got nothing else to do with your hands," Chen piqued up from behind them, sprawled over a chair with his feet up on the table, absorbed in shooting up colorful diamonds on his tablet, his own practice firearm lying uselessly in his lap. Kris tried to surreptitiously swivel the barrel of the gun towards Chen's balls with the power of his mind, but unfortunately it just wasn't his area of expertise.
"It's faster and more efficient than close-range hand-to-hand combat," Lu Han shrugged, curling his fingers to pull the targets over. Lu Han's target would have been dead a dozen times over. Kris' victim would have been in agony for a little longer before they got their brains blown out. Shattered cheekbones. Broken hips. Blasted liver.
Lu Han flashed him a quick V sign with a scrunched up grin before setting the rifle down, walking over to the table behind them. A small wave of his hand threw Chen's feet off the table, Chen letting out a loud yelp as he lost his balance and crashed to the ground, barely having enough time to save the screen of his tablet with an arm. Lu Han picked up the water bottle for a drink. "You're not a fighter, Kris."
He was not a fighter the way the others were. That was why Lu Han taught him how to shoot a man point-blank, how to slash someone's throat with a fold-up knife, how to break a neck with the right angle and pressure. Self-defense until he was strong enough, Lu Han said. It didn't matter because he had five others to protect him, Zitao said. This was the day after Chen had to electrocute a man's insides to a crisp. The muscle spasms sure weren't pleasant to look at. Chen had his combat training sessions three days a week as per standard procedure for new recruits, but he spent them playing mindless games on a flashy tablet. Kris could almost see the currents sizzling on his fingertips.
He weighed the rifle in his hands. Three kilos of steel and trade-secret plastic. That was how much power weighed. Shattered bones, broken hips, blasted organs. Did it really matter anymore to be born with power when he had death in the palm of his hands?
Sometimes Kris took the Seoul Subway Line 5 by himself, east to west from one end of the city to the other and back again. Fifty-one stations, roughly an hour and forty-five minutes of travel if he didn't stop to get off. Double that, and he would have spent the whole afternoon underground. It was the third longest fully underground subway line in the world, the first being Guangzhou Metro Line 3. He didn't remember that part of Guangzhou in his childhood days, having left the city and the country at ten. The train rumbled on, a smooth rhythmic start-stop motion.
Subway trains made him feel grounded. He felt a heady pressure pushing down every time the train passed under the river, between Yeouinaru and Mapo, and once again between Gwangnaru and Cheonho. He counted the seconds between the stations, feeling the weight of the water over his head. It always got a little harder to breathe. Everyone around him was preoccupied with their phones or papers.
Yixing called him somewhere between Gunja and Cheonho. Yixing didn't believe in reinventing oneself, unlike Chen and him. Yixing had a family he went back to every new year's holiday, mom and dad and grandparents. It was always Yixing who called him because Lu Han always knew where he was without ever asking.
"If it's a business, aren't I supposed to be learning accounting or something?" He spoke before Yixing could finish his drawn out greeting, and there was laughter on the other end of the line.
"Are you a numbers person, duizhang?"
"Don't call me duizhang before there is actual merit to it." He had never done that well in maths at school. Not any particular artistic talents either. He'd spent his time on the basketball court.
"It's a business, but you are the power symbol." That was all it came down to - him being put on a pedestal to tie them together through faith. That was what their little group was all about. They said he kept them together, but it had always been more about image than practicality. "Hey, come back for dinner, okay?"
There was a guy sitting at the end of the subway car, leaning against a metal pole with a guitar case leaning against exceptionally long legs. Loud oversized hoodie, faded jeans, bright eyes and soft cheeks under a yellow snapback. He'd seen him around before, always on this train on Sunday afternoon, head bopping to the music blasting from his headphones, lips mouthing along to the words. Sometimes Primary, sometimes Outsider, recently Daft Punk's latest.
Guitar kid beamed when Kris caught his eyes. A kind of acknowledged familiarity between strangers. They would sit in that travelers' companionable silence until the guy got off at Yeouinaru, hitching the guitar case up his shoulders and jumping off the train.
Today Guitar Kid tugged off his headphones four stations before his stop, hands fidgeting with the cords, fingers tangling together. Kris raised an eyebrow in return of the quick awkward flash of white teeth towards him. Guitar kid didn't seem the least deterred.
"What's your stop?" He asked, a deep booming voice betraying the baby face. Kris replied with a careful shrug. His shoulders still ached.
"I don't know, the last one."
Guitar kid seemed to mull over his reply carefully. Next stop was Yeouinaru. "Wanna go to the park? I'm playing today." A deceivingly easy offer.
Guitar kid, Park Chanyeol, busked at Yeouido Han River Park every Sunday afternoon. They followed the crowd of families and teenagers coming out to play at the park, the bright sounds of laughter sprinkling over the water. They met up with Chanyeol's friend, the singer in their duo act, just outside the station's exit.
"Who's this?" Chanyeol's short friend tilted his head up, staring at him with wide surprised eyes full of imploring distrust that Kris learned later was just his default expression. Or maybe he was just permanently displeased that there was another guy double his height in his one-hundred meter vicinity.
"Our designated advertising prop for the day," Chanyeol grinned, all teeth.
Kyungsoo the shortie sang and Chanyeol played guitar just by the side of a wide walking path leading to the Water Light Square. They started off with some English songs that Korean kids liked - Maroon 5, Bruno Mars - before moving on to current K-pop hits in their own acoustic rendition when a small crowd of teenagers gathered. They were ruthlessly charming, and Chanyeol blew kisses to the giggling little girls at the end of their performances.
Kris sat next to them, a little further away, looking not unlike a manager or their unwitting model. Kyungsoo did a trot medley. Arirang was always a favorite, Chanyeol told him. Chanyeol tried to engage him in a free-style rap duet while Kyungsoo beat-boxed, but they ended up choking on laughter after the fifth mangled line of "Two Moons". The girls laughed as well, slipping little pieces of paper into Chanyeol's guitar case along with their clinking coins.
They wrapped up just as the sun set, the sky dipped in a warm shade of spun gold. Chanyeol collected their tips from his guitar case while Kyungsoo turned serious eyes on him.
"Let's hang out again next Sunday," he said, and Kris snorted in laughter as he caught Chanyeol's smug wink from behind. They had done well for the day.
There was a small globe sculpture sitting just by the glass window in their shared high-rise apartment, made out of bronze or some other metal he didn't know, heavy and warm in his hands. The surface had ornate detailing depicting a large tree that looked hundreds of years old, surrounded by twelve intricate symbols. Lu Han taught him the symbols one by one, hitting him in the back whenever he got one wrong. He tried to get Kris to re-draw them from memory at first, but soon gave up after Zitao wandered in and asked why they were drawing hippos. By now, Kris knew by heart at least six of them.
They wore their symbol rings close to their hearts. Or at least Yixing, Zitao, and Xiumin did - as a pendant on a necklace beneath their shirts. Lu Han and Chen wore theirs on their fingers. Kris didn't yet have one.
The tip of his fingers traced over the raised curve of a swirling circle inside a triangle, then sweeping over a rising bird. "There are six other people. Who are they?"
Lu Han nodded, blinking his eyes the same way he always did when Kris posed his questions. "They are... similar to us, but not really. They are... the other side. We've got you and this little group, they've got their own leader and five other people to protect him."
"Do you know them?"
"No. We- We've never met. I don't know who they are, and I never needed to, because I was busy looking for you and then the rest of us." Lu Han tilted his head, his eyebrows drawn together. "But now that we're finally complete and you're here... they might turn up."
Kris hummed in his throat. Lu Han's fingers traced over the other side of the ornate tree. He could feel the power pulse hot and sluggish underneath the surface of the globe. "Be careful when they do. Be on your guard. I don't think it's going to be good news."
"So what, they kill for profit? We do the same."
"They are fighters, not the way we are."
Not the way Kris' arms still shook when he squeezed a trigger. Not the way Yixing frowned and smoothed a hand over a bleeding wound to close it. Not the way Zitao refused to lash out unless in self-defense. He thought of the way he had seen Lu Han snap all the ribs of a man before crushing his skull into pulp with a bronze statue, barely flicking his wrists, and wondered if Lu Han meant that kind of fighter.
Xiumin kicked all of them out of bed at precisely nine on Sunday morning, Lu Han shrieking Minseokkie like clockwork when his room was invaded. He dragged himself to the dining table with his eyes half-closed and his soul still asleep. It took him a while to wake up to be Kris in the morning. Yixing was pouring each of them a warm bowl of leftover noodles soup from the previous night. He shouldn't be missing his mother, but he was. Sometimes it was even easy to be nostalgic for the little vitamin pills.
Yixing almost dropped his ladle when the phone on the table loudly vibrated, shrieking munja wasseo, munja wasseo in all its cutesy bubblegum glory. Kris' eyes snapped open as he hastily slammed his hand over the phone, swiping it on to open the text message, silently cursing Lu Han and his K-drama marathon in the last week. Yixing raised an eyebrow, his mouth twitching up at Kris' glower and turning back to his pot of soup.
han river park, 3pm? :) :)) :)))))))))
Kris' fingers hovered over the screen, right above the triple creepy smileys.
"So who's your Hyun Bin?" Yixing called over his shoulders, an amused smirk clearly present in his deceptively mild voice. K-drama nights were banned in the house from now on.
"Ten pm for the job tonight!" Lu Han shrieked from inside his bedroom.
Kris made his way down to Yeouido just past three in the afternoon. It seemed even more crowded than usual, the city dwellers rushing to the riverside and the water fountains for some respite in the summer heat. He bumped into a teenage boy on his way, the kid looking lost and panicked, clutching Kris' sleeve in one hand and dog leashes in the other. When Kris looked down, two small poodles greeted him, one brown and one white. They looked more like stuffed toys than real animals, shuffling their little feet. There were three collars attached to the leash, the third one empty.
"My dog... have you seen a brown poodle around here?" The kid pulled the brown one forwards, eyes huge and pleading. "Looks like Jjanggu here, but bigger, and... uh, more fluffy?"
Kris shook his head, and the kid's face fell, his hand dropping from Kris' sleeve. It was hard not to feel like he had just kicked a puppy. He looked around the large park, seeing the bustling crowd, then looked back at the kid still standing rooted on his spot, biting his finger in helpless worry, staring into space as if his lost poodle would magically appear. When Kris looked down, the two brown and white poodles were pawing at the hem of his pants.
"You said brown poodle? What's its name?"
The kid's head swiveled around to stare at him. "Uh, Monggu..."
"Right, where did you last see Monggu?" Kris asked, and a confused smile lit up the kid's face.
"Thank you," the kid bowed, "but really, you don't have to..."
He took the leash from the kid's hand, the two small poodles jumping all over his shoes when he did. The kid, Jongin, looked half afraid as though Kris was going to kidnap his two dogs right from under his nose. He walked half a step away from Kris, stumbling after him as they re-traced the paths of the park Jongin and his dogs had just walked, calling out Monggu's name as they passed large bushes.
They finally found Monggu playing with the water on the far side of a small fountain in a more recluse part of the park. There was barely anyone around, just a couple of uni students sitting by the fountain and reading in the warmth of the summer sun. They could barely hear the sound of children shouting and laughing in the distance. The kid nearly tripped over his shoe laces running over to his poodle, leaving his two other dogs in Kris' hands. Monggu jumped up just as Jongin approached, bumping his nose against his owner's knee and letting out a yelp as it fell. Jongin laughed, scooping the dog up and walking over to Kris, hand pushing Monggu's head down as dog and owner bowed ninety degree, thanking him profusely.
"Thank you, really, I honestly can't-"
"Jongin! Ya, Kim Jongin!" A shout startled them both, coming from a distance. When they swiveled back to look, there was a lanky boy running up to them, barely keeping himself from barreling straight into Jongin. "What happened- Where did Monggu- Oh, what, Monggu is here?" The boy punched Jongin's shoulder, the other hand reaching out to pat the poodle's head. "What the hell, I ran like the fucking wind after getting your hysterical call!"
"You're late, Sehun," Jongin grimaced, glaring down at his shoulder. "Monggu already got rescued by knight in shining armor here."
Sehun turned to look at him, and Kris was mildly sure the boy was trying to stare him down, despite being shorter still.
"Right, glad everyone is reunited, but I've got to go now," Kris nodded, glancing at his watch. He still got two hours before Chanyeol and Kyungsoo wrapped up for the day, now he just had to find them. He handed the leash over to Sehun, the boy taken aback as the two poodles on the ground started jumping all over his shoes trying to reach up his legs. When he turned to walk away, there was suddenly a hand tugging at his sleeve again.
"How should I thank you-"
"Really, there's no need-"
"At least let him buy you a coffee, Kris." A deep voice boomed from behind, and he didn't need to turn back to know who it was. There he was, Chanyeol with his guitar case strolling down the stairs leading to the clearing where they'd found Monggu, Kyungsoo next to him with his little backpack, both munching on their wrapped sandwiches. Kris' eyebrows furrowed.
"You're done? I thought you said three o'clock?"
Chanyeol shrugged, opening his mouth to talk with garbled sounds because he'd just taken a big chunk out of his sandwich. Kyungsoo gave Chanyeol a sideway judging glance as he politely polished off the last bit of his bread.
"I wanted sandwich," Sehun frowned at them.
"You're early," Jongin's voice was almost a whine. Kris swiveled back to see Jongin kneeling on the ground patting his dogs.
"You know each other?" He nearly missed it when Jongin pulled a necklace out from under his shirt. The kid took it off, sliding the pendant out and sliding it onto his middle finger. The face of the ring flashed blue. A swirling circle inside a triangle.
"Can I just put my dogs away first?" Jongin looked up, grinning. The poodles gathered around him, whimpering, and in the next second, flash, there was nothing but a tendril of dark smoke in his place.
Kris took a step back. Several steps back. The water in the fountain and little ponds around them rippled. There was no wind, the trees dead still in the shimmering heat. He'd learned to recognize signs of unnatural nature long ago. A flash of lightning without a single dark cloud, or a strange chill in the air mid-summer. There were no birds flying across their clearing. A strange sense of heated oppressive humidity weighed in the air. The same pressure he felt every time the subway train passed under the river.
When he looked over, the two students reading on the other side of the fountain were getting up, gathering their books. One of them was slipping a phone back to his pocket. Blue light flashed over their fingers.
The wind picked up the moment a cloud of dark smoke burst out of thin air, spitting out Jongin, sans dogs. There was a sharp smirk on the kid's lips, a complete one-eighty from the lost kid looking for his equally lost poodle just moments ago.
"The name is Kai," Jongin tilted his head. "But let's wait for Chanyeol to finish swallowing his lunch first before we make our formal introduction."
Wu Yifan's first kill was only a couple of years ago, just before he left for Seoul, South Korea. It could have been an accident, or it was not. He found that after everything was over and done with, what mattered was only the dead body left behind. A dead body with a severed head, muscles and bone and larynx gauged open and seared off around the edges. The man wasn't so bad in his death, given how awful he had been when alive. So he got on a plane to Seoul, and when he arrived, Lu Han was there, waiting for him, smiling. "I've been looking for you," he said, a mere stranger with an ageless face that scrunched up all crumpled when he laughed.
Lu Han wore a ring on his middle finger that gleamed blue the first time they met. Lu Han followed him around Seoul in the next six months, showing him the rest of the rings with their weird intricate symbols but not letting him touch any of them. Then Lu Han began to give them away to strangers who started to gather around them, flaunting their amplified powers, regardless of what Yifan believed. Yixing, Xiumin, Tao, and finally Chen. Lu Han called him Kris, separating him from the muddled identity of a lost child.
"You are the dragon, that's why we follow you. This could be your new family." Lu Han told him, eyes wide and sincere like they always seemed.
"That's what you've been looking for, not me." He said in a flash of recognition, and it was the first time he'd ever seen Lu Han visibly reel back, looking stung. Lu Han's mouth was pulled tight in a straight line, the ring on his finger flashing. "You say we are family, but we are just a bunch of strangers cobbled together for the sake of something bigger than us." And yet they were all clinging to that ideal.
Everything changed. Nothing was permanent. Holding on to something that would never last was the source of all suffering. This was what his mom used to always tell him after her visits to the nearby temple. And yet everyone clung on to what they thought they loved.
It wasn't so bad, but he wondered if this was what he wanted. For all his formal training, Kris had never made his first kill. He wondered if he would ever want to.
Kyungsoo, for all his small statue and unassuming manner, delivered some fucking hefty punches. He heard an audible crack when a blow glanced past his right side, and counted his lucky stars as he hissed in pain and flipped into the air, far out of Kyungsoo's reach. He had seen the way the ground rumbled and the marble cracked when Kyungsoo flung himself forward.
They orchestrated their attacks one by one, and it was more a game of chasing mouse and playing him until he was run down than an actual fight. They fought the way he'd never seen his team did - open and carelessly reckless. Jongin- Kai was blindingly fast, considering he didn't even need to move a toe to flash from one end of the clearing to the other. He'd learned his lesson after being pulled down from the air by a wind tornado and getting socked in the jaw by a smiling Kai suddenly appearing right in front of him. It was a token hit, a kind of 'I could do that' declaration more than an actual blow. He rolled out the crick in his neck, and returned in kind with a sharp blow to the kid's solar plexus, throwing him backwards against a startled Sehun, breaking up the mini-tornado.
It was when their water sign, the guy they called Suho, surged forward with a typhoon of water drawn up from the fountain that he felt the familiar chill in the heat. The water froze halfway in the air; he could hear the sharp cracking sound of ice. The needle sharp tip was centimeters away from impaling him from the back, glinting in the sunlight. He nearly cut open his palm when he pushed himself away. Xiumin jumped down from the top of the stairs, followed by Lu Han, Zitao, Yixing, and Chen.
"You're late," he hissed, and Lu Han had the audacity to look abashed.
"Sorry, replay of the Premier League game from last night."
"Yixing told me you were on a date with Hyun Bin," Chen piqued up, grinning as lightning crackled in the air around his fingers.
The late afternoon air was weighed down with a strange kind of chilled currents in the heat, crackling with barely suppressed energy. Water guy, Suho, had a disarming smile, the diplomatic kind he'd seen on men who would always get what they wanted. He was their leader.
"We've been looking forward to this," he said with that smile. They stood their ground now, finally, six versus six.
When Chanyeol slammed against him, palm flat against his upper arm, his skin blistered in the rush of heat. Chanyeol was literally burning, red hot flame licking his fingers and singeing the edge of his shirt. He pushed away just in time to see Chanyeol's widened eyes when he used his elbow to knock that pretty face sideways, sending him tumbling down. His elbow burned in searing pain. He knew fire, he knew enough from the day he burned open a man's throat with his fingers, but never before the kind of fire Chanyeol harbored. This wasn't the kid with the guitar case he saw every weekend on the subway. His blood sang in the rising heat.
His disorientation was enough for Chanyeol to grab him again, the fire now blazing under his palms where they clasped tight around Kris' shoulders. He grunted, pushing himself to the air out of instinct, trying to escape the heat, but Chanyeol held on fast, his grip becoming tighter and fingers digging deeper into his shoulders. He could feel the searing pain into the bones, he thought, gasping from the exertion of pulling two people into the air, one of them a literal blooming fireball.
He dug his own fingers into Chanyeol's arms, trying to get them off, and Chanyeol gasped, eyes tearing up, but refused to let go. He could hear faint shouting from the ground, but he didn't need to hear them to know he was going to be burnt to a crisp if he kept letting Chanyeol hold on to him. He tried to get down to the ground, but it was like his body wasn't listening, rising upwards on its own calling. It was like he was swimming in the deep end, not knowing which way was up or down, the heat of the fire blurring his senses.
The steel of a handgun pressed against his ribs was shockingly cool in that heat. The one Lu Han had kept insisting he had to keep on him at all time. Metal and gunpowder had their own kind of power, he always said. He remembered what Lu Han had told him, how the others were fighters the way they were not. Looking into Chanyeol's reddened eyes, he finally understood.
He jerked his hand back, old lessons snapping into practicality, cocked the gun, and pulled the trigger. There was a scream - not Chanyeol's.
The recoil jerked them apart, his body thrown backwards - except he wasn't just falling. He was being thrown backwards by a second force, something pulled tight around his throat, like a fish snagged out of the water. He tried to reach out, but there was no control, and his body slammed down against the ground. His body felt numb in the shock, but there was no more heat. He couldn't move, but he could see Lu Han in the peripheral of his eyes. Lu Han with his hand coiled tight, stretching towards him. Lu Han who had thrown him down to the ground - but not fast enough, now looking at him in muted shock.
He could see Yixing running towards him - past him - until he skidded to his knees besides the ebbing flame not so far away from Kris. Chanyeol. They were all standing and kneeling around the fallen body, but no one daring to go near the dying flame. Except for Yixing, who reached out with briefly glowing hands before jerking his hands back, shaking his head.
"He's too far gone. I'm sorry, I can't."
You know them, he mouthed the words to Lu Han who was still staring at him, and Lu Han's face twisted up in a grimace of a smile.
"I do. We do."
Yixing stepped back, clasping his hand over Kai's profusely bleeding shoulder, and the kid jerked out of instinct but calmed when the soft glow knitted muscles and skin back together.
He struggled to roll onto his side, struggled to pull his body up. When he got there on shaking knees, the fire was burning up what was left of Chanyeol's mangled body. He could barely see the hole and the blood in his chest. Chanyeol's eyes were still open, glassed over and no longer bright in their death. He remembered the look in Chanyeol's eyes the moment right before his certain death. He had been laughing.
The flame flared in their final burst of fire, burning down everything into ashes.
It was quiet for a long time. Until Lu Han walked over to the ashes and knelt down, sinking his hands into the blackened ash of bones and flesh. When he finally stood up, he was holding a ring. Sharp angles sweeping upwards in the shape of a long forgotten creature. The only ring he had never seen before. The dragon ring. Lu Han held it out in front of him, a wry smile on his lips.
"The final test, I suppose."
He took the ring in his clumsy fingers, the metal heavy in his palm. When he looked down, a red baby bird was twitching in the ashes, its feathers bright and shining.
Kris leaned down, reaching out his hand. He remembered the look in Chanyeol's eyes in that final moment. He'd been laughing. The bird chirped noisily and pecked on his fingers.
He slid the ring on his finger, the weight hot against his skin.
Everything changed. Nothing was permanent. Holding on to something that would never last was the source of all suffering. But what did it matter when one had death on their side? He met Chanyeol again three months later, the kid sitting on the sidewalk just outside their apartment, lighting a cigarette with a flick of his fingertips.