Pairing: Kris-centric, Kris/Suho (and Chanyeol poking his head in between the two every now and then)
Summary, potential warnings: Kris comes to grips with what it means to be the leader of EXO and reconsiders old bonds. Alternatively, Kris is part of a spy organisation and he wants out. Canon/Spy!AU meld. Warnings: (violence, use of knives and guns, mentions of lethal injections, death threats and brushes with death (no character death though!), and family secrets.) Massive thank you to J for betaing I couldn’t have done it without you and to my lovely recipient, I really hope you enjoy it ;~~~; ♥
It’s only when Kris is standing on stage leading the ending greeting for EXO’s debut showcase that it really sinks in that he’s now Kris Wu, twenty-one, the leader of one of SM Entertainment’s boybands.
It’s only when they shout, “thank you!” and bow on stage, twelve heads lowered in unison to an audience of screaming fangirls, that it hits him that EXO’s debut is real.
Never mind the years of late nights and training—it’s this moment, when the stage lights snap into darkness and he can feel his heartbeat pulsing in his throat that Kris realises this could be very, very dangerous.
“We did it…”Kris can hear the tremble in Yixing’s voice as they file off and make their way backstage. He sounds like he’s on the verge of tears. “We really debuted.” Beside him, Lu Han gives Yixing’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze, pushing him through the door.
“Good job,” their manager says as they arrive at their dressing rooms, “you’ve done well. Congratulations on your debut. You have half an hour to get changed and then we have to go back to prepare for tomorrow.”
“Can’t we have dinner first?” Sehun whines. “Manager-hyungnim…”
“Yeah, hyung,” Jongin adds. “I need to recharge for tomorrow.”
“How about Korean beef?” Lu Han suggests. He looks at the rest of them and starts counting on his fingers before they can get a word in. “One, two, three, okay, call!”
“Yah, does money fall from the sky?” the manager chides. Lu Han pulls a face. “Don't let your guard down yet. You just debuted. There's still a long way to go.”
Their manager sighs. “Let me make a call first, then I'll see what I can do.”
Through all this, Kris can’t say a word.
“Hey, you okay?” Kris turns to see Joonmyun standing next to him. “You're very quiet.”
“I’m—” Kris looks around the room. Zitao and Sehun are inspecting their hair in the mirror, while Baekhyun and Chanyeol are bickering about god knows what. Jongdae and Kyungsoo are watching, Jongdae grinning like a Cheshire cat and Kyungsoo looking greatly unamused. Lu Han’s standing to the side talking to Minseok and Yixing as he surreptitiously eyes their manager, still on the phone. Jongin’s plopped down on the sofa, yawning and rubbing his eyes like a lost kindergartener. This is them. This is EXO. This is his future. “It's nothing. I’m fine.”
“We have to give our microphones back to the staff.”
Kris looks at Joonmyun, puzzled, then down at his hand. He’s still gripping the microphone. His knuckles are white.
Joonmyun pries it from Kris’ hand and sets it down on the table, giving Kris a funny look. “Come on, let’s get changed and go back to the dorms.”
“Samgyupsal!” Baekhyun chirps in the van. Chanyeol nods eagerly next to him. Their manager sighs, then makes a shushing motion. “Hyungnim, let’s have samgyupsal, yeah?”
“Fried chicken,” Jongin shouts from the back seat. “Please, hyungnim?”
“If you keep hounding me, no one’s getting any dinner,” their manager says, coming to a very abrupt stop at the red light. “Ah, these kids, really…”
Kris looks over at Joonmyun, who’s staring amusedly at the bunch of bickering boys. “Should we take them out to dinner?” Joonmyun muses. “We’re the leaders, aren’t we? They deserve it.”
“They’re going to eat enough for a small army,” Kris warns. He sighs, then thumps Joonmyun on the back. “You pay for the food. I pay for the drinks.”
Joonmyun chuckles. “Don’t I always? I got it, it’s my fault I got stuck with a bunch of cheapskates.” He sighs and claps his hands together. “Let's get them back to the dorm first, then I’ll talk to the manager and take us all out to dinner, hmm?”
They end up at a BBQ restaurant a street away from their dorm. It’s small, but not very cheap, and Kris is already feeling sorry for both his and Joonmyun’s bank accounts. He remembers that time he'd taken Jongin and Lu Han to dinner after practice and they'd spent 100,000 won on beef alone. Kris doesn’t even want to imagine the number on the bill by the end of tonight, considering there are twelve ravenous boys and one very disgruntled manager.
Zitao grins as he sets down an entire plate of beef on the table, rubbing his hands together. He gives Joonmyun and Kris two thumbs up. “Leader-hyungs are best!”
Joonmyun smiles back that angelic smile of his. He's too easy, Kris thinks. Too nice for his own good. That’s why everyone steps all over him. “I know, I know. Eat lots.”
“This was a bad idea,” Kris grumbles as he watches the others stock up on plates and plates of meat and drinks. He pours Joonmyun some soju, then passes the bottle to Joonmyun. “Isn't it meant to be oldest pays? What are Lu Han and Minseok doing leeching off us when they're the oldest?”
“Because we're the leaders,” Joonmyun answers. “We're the leaders, so we have to take responsibility. “
“I don't even know how that happened,” Kris mumbles after a pause. It feels like yesterday the directors called him into the office and told him that he was going to be the leader of EXO-M. He hadn’t planned on that. He hadn’t planned on a debut.
“We trained the longest from our subgroups,” Joonmyun says, pouring back for Kris. “That’s why we’re the leaders.” He puts down the bottle. “But I totally regret it now. They don’t even listen to me.”
Kris rolls his eyes and nods towards Lu Han, who’s laughing with his jaw almost unhinged and whacking Yixing on the arm, then over to Zitao, who’s busy grilling his plate of beef. “You think they listen to me?”
“Well,” Joonmyun looks over wearily to Jongin, Sehun and Baekhyun, who are engaged in a very violent game of scissors paper rock. “More than they will ever listen to me.”
Kris laughs. “True.”
“A toast for our debut!” Chanyeol stands up, raising his glass. Kris lets himself sit back, and then it's an uproar of cheers and laughter.
An hour and twenty-four servings later, the table is considerably quieter, the members tired out from a day of activities and content with their bellies filled.
“It’s finally happening,” Minseok says softly. “I can't believe it. This is real.”
“Seven years.” Joonmyun sighs, pouring himself one more shot. “I guess it paid off.”
“All I wanted was to dance on stage, even when I was a kid,” Jongin says, voice cracking. “I've waited for this for so long. And now I have an audience.”
Kris looks around the table at all the members. As the leader, he should say something encouraging to cheer them all on, but the right words don’t come. He sits there silently, feeling out of place. He’s...
He’s not even meant to be in EXO, let alone be the leader. He’s not a person who should show his face. That uneasy churn in his stomach is back.
This was a mistake.
Lu Han laughs. “You’re so one-track minded. When I was a kid I wanted to be a soccer player. How did I end up here?”
“I was going to be a martial arts expert,” Zitao says, punching the air. He looks over at Kris. “You wanted to be a basketball player, right?”
“Hey,” Joonmyun says mock-sternly. “Watch your banmal!” Sehun sniggers and Joonmyun shoots him a look too.
Kris puts down his drink, hesitating. “I—” Kris licks his lips. He frowns, on edge again. “Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. I was the captain of my team during middle school.”
He hates having to lie.
His name is Li Jiaheng.
He’s in fifth grade, at a primary school in Guangzhou. He lives alone in an apartment with his mother, but he sees the babysitter more than her. There’s been no mention of a father, and although he’s curious, he doesn’t ask. His favourite day of the week is Saturday, because he can go over to his friend’s house and play video games, and sometimes, his mother cooks for him instead of ordering takeaway like she usually does.
He has no dream, but he’s content like this.
Today is his tenth birthday.
His mother was never one for flashy ceremonies, so Jiaheng doesn’t expect anything grand. The most she’s ever done is buy a small cake and give him some extra pocket money—but this year, he’s hitting the double digits, so maybe, just maybe, there will be something bigger…
The apartment’s silent when Jiaheng gets home from school. The music usually playing on the stereo from the neighbour’s apartment isn’t playing for some reason this afternoon, so it feels too silent.
“Mum?” Jiaheng shouts, locking the door behind him. “Mum, are you home?”
He walks past the kitchen, through the living room, then turns into the corridor. His mother’s room, at the end, is closed. Jiaheng knocks. No response. He knocks again, then presses himself against the door. “Mum?”
The door opens.
Jiaheng stumbles back and falls over, picking himself up and looking at the figure looming over him. It’s his mother, but at the same time, it’s not. The pastel dresses and floral prints tops are gone, replaced by sleek black pants and a black body-hugging long-sleeved turtleneck. Her eyes are lined with kohl, hair tied back into a neat ponytail.
She looks at him. There’s no warmth in her gaze. It’s like she’s a completely different person.
Jiaheng feels chills travelling down his spine.
“M-mum?” he stutters. “Is everything alright?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Even her voice has taken on a cold tone. Jiaheng shies away, backing into the living room. His mother follows. “Come with me, Jiaheng,” she says, striding over and taking Jiaheng’s hand. “It’s your birthday, isn’t it? Don’t you want your birthday present?”
Her hands are shaking.
The bill ends up being over 800,000 won. Joonmyun heaves a huge sigh as he takes out his credit card and hands it over to the cashier, looking over his shoulder at the mess of plates and drinks they’ve left behind. The moment they get to the dorm, Joonmyun plonks onto the stool by the kitchen counter and buries his head in his hands, unsteady on his feet from the alcohol.
“I swear, if I didn’t love them so much…” he mumbles under his breath. Then he looks up, the smile back on his face. Kris lets out a soft laugh and pushes a roll of notes into Joonmyun’s hand. “Here. For the drinks.”
Joonmyun laughs, pushing the money back. “You don’t have to. As Jongdae always says, I’m the ~Young Master, straight from Gangnam 8th district~.”
Kris rolls his eyes, tucking the money into Joonmyun’s shirt pocket. He looks at his watch. “It’s late. We should go to sleep. We have to catch a plane to China tomorrow.”
“Do you miss it?” Joonmyun asks. Kris raises an eyebrow questioningly. “China, I mean.”
“Well…” To be honest, Kris doesn’t exactly have the nicest memories there—but being honest is dangerous. He’d almost slipped once in the past, and now that they’ve actually debuted, he can’t make the same mistake again. He has to stick with the story. “I guess. But I only lived there for—”
“Ten years, and then you moved to Canada with your mother,” Joonmyun finishes for him. “I know. It’s what you always say.” Joonmyun rests his chin on his hand, eyebrows furrowing gently as he inspects Kris. “I’ve known you for five years, but sometimes it feels like I don’t know you at all. You can tell me if there’s something bothering you, you know.”
Kris shakes his head. “It’s okay, don’t worry.”
“Just like I shouldn’t worry about every other time you’ve done this?” Kris opens and closes his mouth, lost for words. Joonmyun sighs. “Every single time, you say you’re fine and end up bottling everything inside. You tell all the others to talk to you if things get tough, but what about yourself”
“You probably know what’s going on right at this moment in the dorm, right?”
Kris glances out the open kitchen door. Joonmyun’s right. He doesn’t even need to try to know what’s happening. Lu Han’s most likely reading manhwa and trying to fight Jongin off his bed, while Yixing’s checking his Baidu bar. Zitao’s probably dragged a poor member into the shower with him to keep him company (Sehun today, from the sounds of it). This is their life—his life—now. Kris doesn’t want to bring up his past here. “Don’t worry.”
“You said you’d tell me.” Joonmyun says, after a long silence, looking up at Kris. His eyes are brimming with something Kris can’t quite place. “You said you’d tell me if we debuted. Or don’t you remember? That time we were in the practice room, and I was talking about my parents,” Joonmyun says hesitantly. “And then you got really… You started saying something about your mother—”
“I remember,” Kris says shortly. He turns away. He can’t do this. “Sorry. I’ll tell you one day, I promise. Get some rest.”
His name is Li Jiaheng.
It’s his tenth birthday, and he’s in the car with his mother.
Jiaheng fiddles with his backpack. The car radio is blasting loud music, and Jiaheng’s sitting at the edge of his seat, jittering one leg as he counts the songs.
One, two, three, four…
When they finally pull to a stop, Jiaheng’s counted thirty-three songs and five commercial breaks, and he has absolutely no idea where they are.
“Come on,” his mother says. “We’re here. Get out of the car.”
In front of Jiaheng is a large factory, gates chained off and large chimneys spewing ugly grey smoke into the sky. His mother slides a key into the lock and unchains the gate, holding it open. “Come.”
“I don’t...” Jiaheng gulps. His feet aren’t moving. “Mum, can we go home? I don’t like it here.”
“Come with me,” his mother says, grabbing Jiaheng’s hand and dragging him with her before he can protest. They enter the building, and it’s a maze of stairways and dark paths, and Jiaheng’s on the verge of tears.
“Mother—” he croaks out, but she just walks faster.
There’s a light at the end of the dark pipe tunnel, and Jiaheng has to shield his eyes when he’s pulled out into the brightness. It’s a large, circular room, with two levels, the metal on the balcony railings rusting and corroding into an ugly brownish red. It smells like rubber and smoke.
There’s a man sitting in a seat at the centre of the room, flanked by four masked guards.
“Ah, Akoya!” he says, clapping. Jiaheng’s mother bows. The man’s gaze turns to Jiaheng, and he shrinks away. “And this—this must be that boy we picked up ten years ago.”
“Picked up…” Jiaheng gulps. “Mum, what does he mean by—”
“I’m not your mother.”
Jiaheng blanches. “What do you mean you’re not my—”
“You’re not my son,” his mother—well, Jiaheng doesn’t know who she is now—says. “And I am not your mother. I am Akoya, ranked first ring. My mission was to raise you until the age of ten, and induct you into Hakzanzyu.”
“She’s telling the truth,” the man says. “We almost left you there, but we needed a child recruit. You know, children get away with so much more.”
“Who are you?” Jiaheng croaks out, backing away. The guards flanking the man pull out guns and aim them at Jiaheng. He freezes. His head is spinning. It’s getting harder to breathe. “W-who are you? What’s Hakzanzyu? What do you want?”
“Hakzanzyu is the name of our organisation, of course. We operate in many industries, but we’re thinking of expanding our, ah, exploits, shall we call them, internationally.” The man gives a shark-like smile. “I’m the boss. You can call me Basra. And we want to make you an offer. Come work for us.”
“And what if I refuse?” Jiaheng’s voice grows shrill and panicked. “What if I don’t want to?”
“Well,” Basra says, drawling, “it’s not really as much an offer as it is a demand. You can run, or you can come to us, but we guarantee that your life with us will be much more comfortable.” He flicks his fingers, and the guards beside him cock and aim their guns right at Jiaheng’s head. “And you won’t end up dead.”
Jiaheng gulps. It’s him, a ten-year-old boy, against a room full of very, very dangerous people. At least with them, he can live.
He squeezes his eyes shut.
“What do I have to do?”
“Excellent.” Jiaheng opens his eyes, and Basra is smiling right at him, looking greatly pleased. Jiaheng feels exactly like a baby mouse caught in the claws of a giant eagle. “Training starts tomorrow. Akoya, take him to his room.”
Kris’ uneasiness doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t matter, because soon, he has no time to think about anything. Perhaps it’s better this way, rushing from one schedule to another with no breaks. It means his mind isn’t filled with unnecessary worries. “One day at a time,” as Yixing says. “Take it one day at a time, and worry about the future when it comes.”
EXO-K and EXO-M go their separate ways after the showcases, with K flying back to Korea while M stay at a hotel in Beijing for their Chinese promotions. Over a period of fifteen days, they film ten different interviews and variety programs—in which Kris does most of the talking, because apparently every other person has a microphone allergy.
So this is what it means to be a leader, Kris thinks as he fields the third question in a row. Yixing’s scratching his neck sheepishly, and Lu Han has that big fat grin of his plastered on his face as he passes the microphone right back to Kris after one word. Kris sighs, answering on their behalf yet again.
Maybe it’s just easy for him because he spends every day spewing out fake facts and rehearsed answers.
“How about you, Kris?” the interviewer asks. “You’re Canadian-Chinese?”
Kris nods. “Yes, I spent some time in Canada.”
Well, that’s not a complete lie.
His name is Kevin Li, and today is his eleventh birthday.
Well, neither is true. He doesn’t know if his birthday is even real anymore, and he has no idea what his name is meant to be. The organisation had forced him to make a pact the day after his mother—Akoya, he corrects mentally—had brought him to headquarters. He was to be known by the code name Cassis amongst themselves. So, Cassis it was, through the gruelling physical training, intensive language lessons, and the terrifying nights alone when all the monsters in the world come to eat him up in his nightmares.
“You’re Kevin Li from today.” Keshi—the one who’d been in charge of training—throws a thick file down onto the table. “Here, Kevin. Your first mission.”
Kevin lifts the flap of the file. He furrows his eyebrows. There’s a huge picture of a moose staring back at him.
“…Moose?” Kevin looks up. “My mission is moose?”
Keshi nods, quite serious. “Your mission involves a hunting company. You’ll be stationed in Canada. That’s why we’ve been training you in English. Read through the files, and call me when you’re done.”
It’s an undercover operation.
His target is a wealthy Chinese-Canadian businessman by the name of Richard Kwok with a large stake in the hunting industry of Canada. His company hunts and processes moose and bears during hunting season and sells off the parts—moose meat, moose liver, moose hide, bear fur, bear paw, bear bile—which is completely legal, of course. But, Kevin thinks, heart filling with dread as he flicks through the pages of his brief, these organisations can make anything seem legal on the outside.
He’s equipped with a whole new identity. Kevin Li, eleven years old, international exchange student from Guangzhou, with an interest in hunting, in Canada for a fresh start after his parents divorced. Akoya would be accompanying him on the mission to act as his mother. Kevin glances over at her, sitting next to him on the plane. That’s one thing that he won’t have to practice to get right.
“Remember,” Akoya mutters to him as they pass through customs. “You must make friends with Kwok’s son. That’s the starting point for any moves we can make.”
“Mum,” Kevin says. “Mother.” Akoya keeps on walking. “You’re my mother again.”
“Don’t be mistaken,” she snaps. “That was a mission, just like this. Don’t let emotions sway your judgement. Get your head straight.”
“Did you ever love me?” Kevin blurts out before he can stop himself. There’s a raw desperation in Kevin’s voice that he’d wanted to hide, but it seems like he still can’t control his emotions like he’d been trained to.
Akoya looks at him, breath hitching in her throat, and she slows down. Her eyes flicker for a split second before the cold expression is back on her face and she picks up her pace.
“It was a mission, just like this. Go over the brief again. It’ll only get harder from here.”
But it gets easier.
Or rather, Kris corrects, it gets familiar. After a few weeks of being in front of the cameras, dancing a dozen different takes for a single three-minute broadcast, answering the same scripted questions over and over and over again, everything falls into a familiar pattern.
EXO-M flies back to Korea for Zitao’s birthday.
“Did you miss me?” Joonmyun asks as the six of them drag their luggage into the dorms. “Happy birthday in advance!” Zitao drops his luggage to the ground and runs into Joonmyun’s open arms, and Joonmyun laughs as he ruffles Zitao’s hair. Lu Han snorts and mutters something under his breath to Yixing before dragging them both into their room.
“Yo, how was China?” Kris turns to see Chanyeol standing next to him, a huge grin plastered on his face. He raises his fist and Kris meets it with his. “Bring anything back for me?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Kris says with a smile. He reaches into his pocket and takes out a little China doll with a mop of dishevelled orange hair, attached to a keychain. “Here, I saw it at the market. It looks just like you.”
Chanyeol looks wounded as he whacks Kris on the arm. “This hair was not my choice, okay? I swear that stylist-nuna has a vendetta against me.”
“You probably knocked over and broke an entire makeup set for her to do this to you,” Kris retorts. Chanyeol makes a how-the-hell-did-you-know face, and Kris scoffs. Of course. But even then, it’s not like any of the stylists have a say in any of the executive decisions anyway, including haircuts and styling. They do what they’re told, just like EXO does what they’re told. It still feels like freedom to him, anyway. Kris has spent half his life being tightly controlled. This is nothing.
“Where are Sehun and Jongin?” Zitao asks, breaking away from Joonmyun and scanning the room.
Joonmyun makes a face. “Sick, in their rooms. They snuck out last night and got caught in the rain. Manager-hyung took them to the hospital for an IV drip but they still look terrible.”
“Those idiots,” Chanyeol says, shaking his head, like he hasn’t done the exact same as a trainee. “What are they doing? Tao’s birthday fanmeeting is tomorrow. We don’t have time to be sick.”
Joonmyun suddenly claps his hands together. “Oh, right! Kris, sorry, we searched your room but we couldn’t find that medicine of yours. Do you have any left?”
“What—” Kris frowns. “You searched my room?”
“They were burning up last night,” Joonmyun explains, looking apologetic. “Sorry. I was looking for that really strong Chinese medicine you had. The one you gave me when I hurt my leg.”
The medicine Joonmyun is referring to is locked away in a little wooden box. Kris runs his hand over the lid as he takes it out from the wardrobe. The lid of the box is decorated with five circles, red, yellow, green, blue, white, surrounding a shimmering black hemisphere in the centre. He stares for a full minute before he unlocks the box and takes out the packet.
Jongin and Sehun are asleep when Kris, Joonmyun and Chanyeol make their way into the room.
“Hey, Jongin-ah, Sehun-ah,” Joonmyun says, shaking them gently. “Come on, get up. Drink some medicine.”
Jongin grunts in response, then groggily sits up in his bed, propped up on his elbows. Joonmyun supports his back and Kris holds the nape of his neck as he brings the bowl to Jongin’s lips, tilting the liquid into his open mouth.
Jongin almost smashes Joonmyun’s face with a flailing hand as the taste hits him.
“Hyung!” he croaks, “what the hell is in that?”
“It’s, um,” Kris says as he moves to Sehun, who’s being held up by Chanyeol. “Special medicine.”
“Hyung, are you giving us drugs?” Sehun wails as he holds his nose. “This is making my head spin.”
Well, Kris thinks drily, moose antler and bear bile is meant to have that effect.
“Where did you even get that medicine?” Chanyeol asks, making a face and scrunching up his nose. “I have never smelled something like that before in my life.”
“Don’t worry, it’s safe,” Kris says. “I got it from a…” Kris frowns. “Friend.”
“So my maid makes this for me every day. She boils the sliced velvet moose antler with distilled water and tea. It’s meant to help with bone growth and calcium deficiency or something,” Roy Kwok explains to Kevin. Kevin nods, feigning interest. He takes a slice of antler and inspects it. Roy pulls a face. “My father makes me drink it every day, so I grow taller.”
It’s six months into Kevin’s mission and he’s standing in Richard Kwok’s kitchen, talking to the son he was meant to befriend. It’s almost mission accomplished. All he has to do now is plant the bugs in Kwok’s office and find out the location of the illicit trade documents, then make a copy of them, and Akoya would handle the rest. What Hakzanzyu’s master plan is, he doesn’t know, but the brief said that if he did well, they’d fully release him with enough money for him to live comfortably with until he was twenty.
“My dad says if you add bear bile to it, it helps with fevers and liver problems,” Roy continues, oblivious to Kevin’s wandering mind. “And it makes your eyesight better.”
“Can I try some?” Kevin asks. Roy looks apprehensive. Kevin pouts. “I mean, I’ve never tried it before. It must taste disgusting, right?”
Roy laughs. “It is pretty gross. Wait a moment, I’ll go ask my maid if she can make some,” he says back, hopping down from the counter. “I shouldn’t be too long.”
The instant that Roy is gone from the room, Kevin sprints up to the office on the second floor. The bugs go under the desk and inside one of the coat pockets, in all four corners of the room, and Kevin scans furiously for a place the documents might be. There’s a piece of a paper sticking out from underneath the seat cushion. Kevin picks up it. Guizhentang Pharmaceutical Trade Agreement. Kevin scans it with his copier and places it back underneath the cushion. He scans the rest of the documents on the desk too, before moving to other areas of the room to investigate.
There’s a moose head mounted right in the middle of the wall, facing the desk. Kevin frowns. It made sense for a hunter to have a prize mounted, but the wallpaper around the head is…more worn out than the rest of the wall. Kevin tiptoes and tilts the head to the side.
“Kevin? You there?”
There’s no time. Kevin places a bug in the fur of the moose head. Akoya would be able to crack the safe code from the sounds picked up by the bug. He sprints out of the office and into the bathroom, walking out just as Roy reaches the top of the stairs. “Yeah! Just in the bathroom. Did your maid make the tea?”
As Kevin walks away from the house with a packet of velvet moose antler in one hand and a vial of bear bile in the other, there’s a bitter taste in his mouth, and it’s not from the tea. He’d really liked Roy. They got along well. Maybe in another life, they could’ve been good friends.
But he can’t think about that, not now, when he’s already set the trap. One thing he knows for sure is that Hakzanzyu does not like survivors. Richard and Roy were more or less done for.
The weight of a life is very, very heavy.
Theme parks are definitely not on Kris’ list of ‘favourite places in the world’, but the company sends them there before the SMTOWN LA performance, and Kris has to hold back his reservations. The rest of members are so excited about travelling to Los Angeles. It’s not like anything will happen, Kris reasons. There’s no way. That time’s passed. Plus, he knows most of the members are going to be hounding him to translate, so he’s got to be there.
“Duizhang!” Chanyeol shouts, grinning and bounding up next to Kris. Fanservice, no doubt—Chanyeol was the king of that—but Kris doesn’t really mind, not when Chanyeol’s arms are linked with his and one hand is curled around Kris’ upper arm, the touch comforting.
On the other side, Joonmyun lets out one of his eye-crinkling smiles. “What’s this place called?”
Kris puts an arm around Joonmyun’s shoulders. “California Adventure.”
Joonmyun chokes on his spit. “C-cali…fornia Adventure?”
“What were you thinking, hyung?” Chanyeol waggles his eyebrows. Joonmyun smiles but flashes warning eyes at Chanyeol. Kris grins. “You know, Duizhang,” Chanyeol continues, “I found something veeery interesting on Joonmyun’s laptop the other day—”
“Who knew you had this side to you, Leader-ho?” Chanyeol cackles. He breaks away from Kris and bounds in front of Joonmyun, walking backwards. “Ca-li-porn-ia Adven—”
Joonmyun is saved by Chanyeol tripping over his own feet and barrelling right into the manager. The manager glares at them and tells them to gather up so they can get their tickets. Jongin gets caught in the ticket barrier gate, still half asleep. Kris snorts. This day might be better than he imagined.
Maybe with them, he can rewrite his memories of this place.
“Have you been here before?” Baekhyun asks as they walk into the park, a thousand screeching fangirls following after them. Baekhyun slides his hand into Kris’ and gives him a not-so-surreptitious wink. Fanservice king #2.
Kris hesitates. He has been here before. He remembers it very clearly, the water mountain, the rollercoaster to the side, the secret path where he’d met—“No, I haven’t been on the rides before.”
The members play scissors paper rock to decide the ride, and the rollercoaster wins. Kris grits his teeth. That was too close. Lu Han eyes them all warily, backing away. “I’ll go, uh, ride the teacups or something.
Sehun cackles, like the little brat he is. “It can’t be…is Lu Han-hyung scared of heights?”
“I’ll stay here with him, too,” Kris volunteers.
Chanyeol frowns. “You gotta come on the ride!” he wheedles. Kris hesitates. “Please?”
“Enjoy the ride!” Lu Han chirps, pushing Kris next to Chanyeol as he goes to stand next to the manager. Joonmyun follows them, looking nervous. “Fighting! Don’t die!”
“Don’t die,” Joonmyun mutters under his breath. “How encouraging.”
Kris yelps as the rollercoaster shoots out from the entrance, sounding peculiarly like Minseok’s dolphin impersonation. Goddammit, he curses in his head. He must be on edge today. The panic from ten years ago feels fresh at the front of his mind again.
Kris can hear Chanyeol’s cackling laughter from the seat in front of him. Damn Chanyeol. He probably thinks that Kris is yelping purely because of the ride. Joonmyun, in the seat next to Kris, has his eyes screwed shut. He lets out a weak scream as the rollercoaster reaches the peak. Chanyeol cackles some more.
“Not! Funny!” Kris shouts.
“On the contrary,” Chanyeol shouts over the wind whooshing over their ears, “I find you two hilarious.” Kris scoffs, before letting out another screech as the rollercoaster goes upside down.
“We’re gonna die,” Kris hears Joonmyun wailing next to him. “Dear god, we’re gonna die.”
“We’re not gonna—”
There’s a flurry of movement and sudden warmth on the back of Kris’ hand. Kris looks down to see Joonmyun’s hand over the back of his own. Kris lets go of his handle. He turns his palm and takes Joonmyun’s hand in his, interlacing their fingers.
Joonmyun opens his eyes a sliver, then fully. He squeezes Kris’ hand, and gives him a shaky smile.
This is…reassuring. It’s strange. He’s the one reassuring Joonmyun, but somehow, this is making his own panic fade away.
They hold hands they whole ride. When they reach the peak of the final drop, Kris shouts at Joonmyun to remember to breathe, and then they’re both screaming on the way down.
“That was awesome,” Chanyeol babbles as they get off. Jongin’s looking a little green, and the blood has completely drained from Joonmyun’s face. Kris isn’t at peak condition either. His hand has little nail marks on it from Joonmyun’s fingernails—but he doesn’t mind. “Let’s go on it again!”
“Let’s not,” Joonmyun mutters weakly. He shakes his head, then squints into the distance. Kris follows his gaze to a very familiar path. “Let’s go somewhere else. What’s down there?”
Kris’ heart seizes in his chest.
“W-we shouldn’t separate from the others,” Kris says hastily. He turns in the other direction, Joonmyun’s wrist encircled in his hand. Now, he’s the one gripping Joonmyun too hard. He hears Joonmyun wince in pain. “Manager-hyung is probably waiting for us. Let’s go.”
Kris pretends he doesn’t notice the strange look Joonmyun gives him.
His name is Kevin Wu, and he’s twelve.
“Your second mission,” Keshi says, throwing down a file in front of Kevin, “cross-national communication. Carries on from your first mission.”
Of course they had. Kevin laughs at himself. They’re an illegal underground gang, for crying out loud. They’re not going to keep their promises. He’d been naïve to believe that they’d actually let him go after the first operation. “You made a mistake,” Basra had said. “Richard Kwok found the bug on the moose head. You’ll have to make up for that with another mission, don’t you?”
This time, Kevin is to travel between Beijing and Los Angeles, acting as a homeless kid. He flicks through the mission files. His mission is to get in contact with Guizhentang Pharmaceutical officials in Beijing, who visit the orphanages and homeless shelters as volunteers—PR for their company, of course. “No one suspects the children,” Keshi explains. “If you get caught breaking in, they’ll believe you if you claim you were just hungry and wanted somewhere to sleep. If they don’t, well,” Keshi shrugs. “You just gotta make sure you’re not caught.”
Kevin gulps. “And what about LA? What do I do there?”
Keshi flicks the page and points at the documents. “Once you get the staff list, production information, compound analysis data and contact lists, you’ll meet our contact in LA who’s processing the haul from Canada.”
“Canada…” Kevin gulps. It’s been six months since his operation there ended. He’s been training intensely in lock-picking, hacking, electronic code-decryption and emergency building escape since then. He hasn’t heard a word about Roy or the status of his father’s hunting company. “Then, the Kwoks—”
“That’s none of your concern,” Keshi snaps. “Get ready for your mission in Beijing. We’ll notify you of the LA location once stage one of your mission is successful.”
Kris lets out a huge sigh when they’re finally on the van back to their hotels. Even Chanyeol had noticed that something was wrong and offered to listen to music with Kris while they were waiting by the park entrance. He didn’t say anything, just sat down next to Kris and put the earbud in Kris’ ear. Kris was grateful for that. Unspoken comfort is kind of what he needs right now.
Joonmyun, though, does things differently.
“Kris,” Joonmyun whispers. The other members are either asleep or playing games on their phone and DS (or in Minseok’s case, playing with Lu Han’s hair, tied to the top of his head like an apple), so it’s just the two of them sitting at the front. “What happened back there?”
“What do you mean?” Kris asks, feigning ignorance. Joonmyun rubs his wrist, lips pursed in confusion. Kris gulps. “Hey, sorry if I hurt you—”
“That’s—” Joonmyun furrows his eyebrows. “That’s not what’s important. Kris, I don’t know if you saw your face, but you looked terrified back there. What did you see?”
The hum of the van engine softens as they reach a red light. Kris bites a corner of his lip. Joonmyun was more perceptive than people gave him credit for. He’s ready to brush it off with another, “I’m fine, don’t worry,” but he takes another look at Joonmyun’s face, and his heart wrings in his chest. Joonmyun was concerned about him.
“I’ve been here before,” Kris says softly, after a minute’s silence. Joonmyun cocks his head to one side. Kris laughs shortly. “Once, when I was twelve. That path you pointed to…I met a man there. A really…”
The memories come back to him in vivid flashes. No, Kris thinks. He can’t expose Joonmyun to these. He promised when they debuted that he wouldn’t make the same mistake, and now he’s almost broken that promise again. Joonmyun wouldn’t look at him the same way again if he knew the truth. None of the members would. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Don’t want to talk about it,” Joonmyun echoes, sitting back in his seat. He sounds disappointed. “Okay.”
Kris looks over at Joonmyun. Joonmyun still has a slight frown on his face, head resting in his hand, propped up by an elbow on the van window. Kris grits his teeth. That expression is back. That…hurt expression, every time Kris avoids his questions.
“It’s nothing personal,” Kris says, after a long silence—and it isn’t. He likes Joonmyun. A lot. Joonmyun is one of the people he values the most in the entire universe—but even ‘the most’ isn’t enough for him to come clean about everything, especially when he doesn’t even know when Hakzanzyu will contact him again. “Please, Joonmyun, it’s not—” Kris sighs. “You don’t want to know.”
“Okay.” Joonmyun smiles back. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “You don’t have to explain, Kris, I hear you loud and clear.”
His name is Kevin Wu, and he’s a homeless boy with a billion dollars worth of paperwork hidden in bag, on a plane to Los Angeles.
He honestly doesn’t know how he’d managed to sneak into Guizhentang’s head office. Getting the ID tag from the volunteers was simple enough—pretending to trip over and conducting a scan of their tag did the job—but the fire drill and electrical outage had been pure luck. In any case, he’d obtained the documents he needed, and now, he’s thirty minutes away from landing in a different country.
“The meeting point is California Adventure,” Keshi says to him over the phone. “Our contact goes by Kasumiga. Tall, buff build. He has a tiger tattoo on his right arm, and a dragon up his left. Greet him with your code name. Give him the documents, and he’ll give you something in return. You meet at 1400. Report back to me at 1500. Hurry.”
The theme park is packed with people. No wonder they chose here, Kevin thinks. A child wandering about alone wouldn’t be an unusual sight, and there aren’t enough cameras around to keep track of every single person’s activities. What kind of underground organisation conducts their business at a theme park? He holds the map in one hand, trying to navigate to the location.
There’s a small path right past the giant rollercoaster. Kevin checks the map. This must be it.
There’s a man standing in the middle of the path, back facing Kevin. He’s wearing a sleeveless vest. Kevin looks at his arms. This must be Kasumiga.
“H-hi,” Kevin stutters. Kasumiga turns around. His eyes are fiery and intense. Kevin gulps. “I’m Cassis.”
“Cassis.” Kasumiga nods. He extends a hand wordlessly. Kevin furrows his brows, unsure what it means. He reaches out tentatively for a handshake. Kasumiga growls, and Kevin shrinks away. “The documents!” he barks.
Kevin fumbles around in his bag, before deciding to just hand the entire bag over. Kasumiga grunts, and goes through the papers. Kevin shuffles on his feet, just waiting. “So, what are you giving me…?”
“Keshi said you’d—you’d give me something in return.”
Kasumiga narrows his eyes, inspecting Kevin closely. “Oh, did he? Ah, well, I’m sorry, I don’t have anything for you. But I have a little present for Keshi.”
The next thing Kevin knows, Kasumiga has him in a stranglehold, and there’s a knife pressed to his neck. Kevin whimpers, trying to scream out, but Kasumiga just pulls him higher and higher, until Kevin can’t breathe anymore.
Kevin kicks, feeling his strength drain away from him. His vision is fading.
There’s an intense pain in his neck, and Kevin can feel his skin and muscle being punctured and ripped apart. There’s something hot and sticky dripping down his neck and chest. Blood, Kevin thinks weakly. My blood.
The last thing he sees before collapsing into a gurgling pile on the ground is Kasumiga’s eyes burning right into his, his mouth twisted into a ghastly smile.
Joonmyun’s birthday party, two days after they returned from LA, is supremely awkward, with a few stilted lines of interaction between Kris and Joonmyun. Lu Han has to force them to hug properly. They’re split again soon after their combined M!Countdown recording, EXO-K promoting in Korea, and EXO-M continuing their Chinese activities, which means Joonmyun talks to him less and less in the following weeks.
“What happened with you and Joonmyun-hyung?” Chanyeol asks Kris. It’s a video chat, and Chanyeol looks like a ghost with the facemask. “He usually calls you the most when you’re in China. He’s set up a mini golf course in his room and he goes to play that any time I mention you. I almost slipped on one of his golf balls when I went to check up on him yesterday. What’s the deal?”
Kris is tempted to laugh, because an image of Joonmyun in golf gear resurfaces in his mind, but he clears his throat instead and frowns. “I don’t know. He probably thinks I don’t trust him enough.”
Chanyeol lets out a bark of laughter. The mask slips and Chanyeol adjusts it. “Well, do you?”
“As much as I trust you,” Kris says back half-jokingly. “Which is not a lot when you’re in the kitchen. Remember that time you managed to set a fish on fire?”
“Shut up, that was once,” Chanyeol grumbles back. “You’re lucky I didn’t set you on fire.”
Kris chuckles, before it falls into silence.
“But I see his point,” Chanyeol muses. “I mean, I don’t really mind if you don’t want to talk about your past, because hey, I’m sure we’ve all done embarrassing shit.” Chanyeol pauses. “Man, I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but like you said to me before, that’s Joonmyun’s way of caring. He wants to know, because he cares.”
“Glad to know you remembered my advice,” Kris says drily.
Chanyeol shrugs. “We’re cool now, aren’t we? You told me to trust him a bit more, but are you doing the same? Heck, Joonmyun probably opened up and poured out everything about himself to you. There’s stuff he won’t tell me, and he probably never will, but he trusts you enough for that. And he wants the same trust back.” Chanyeol shakes his head and stretches his arms above his head. “Man, I should charge for this. Park Chanyeol, relationship counsellor.”
“Specialty in breaking up couples,” Kris grumbles, and Chanyeol sticks his tongue out at him, then spits as he gets a mouthful of facemask.
“Duizhang!” Kris jumps as Zitao’s voice sounds through the door. “I need your help~”
Chanyeol cackles as Kris groans audibly. “Is it shower time already? Go go, shoo! Counselling will resume tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, Chanyeol,” Kris says darkly. “I hope your mask gives you wrinkles.” He slams the laptop lid shut.
As Kris tosses and turns in bed that night, he can’t help but think of Chanyeol’s words. He can’t reveal the truth to everyone, but he has a good reason to. You don’t live for ten years as an undercover spy and come out the other side the most trusting person ever. You get hurt if you trust too much.
But this is different.
This place is different. This place isn’t the mafia, it’s not a secret spy organisation, and the people around him certainly aren’t trained in deadly martial arts and knife skills (maybe with the exception of Chanyeol in the kitchen, Kris thinks with a snigger).
Joonmyun knows more about him than anyone else. Joonmyun is the only person that Kris has slipped in front of—that one night, when they were still trainees, and Kris had confessed to Joonmyun about his mother. His emotions had been running high, and Joonmyun was there, the shoulder for Kris to lean on.
Joonmyun keeps knocking down his walls, seeing glimpses inside, but Kris keeps rebuilding them, over and over and over.
It’s been five years since Hakzanzyu has contacted him after dumping him in Korea on his fifth mission. It’s been five years since he was active in the field, and Kris no longer wants to be part of it.
Maybe it’s time he let the walls fall.
Maybe it’s time Kris learnt how to trust.