|Being part of the team wasn't as easy as Yixing thought it would be. Yes, they always respected his opinions, followed them to the letter actually, but there was a little more hostility from someone than what he initially expected.
Then again, Joonmyun always had a bit of distrust for Yixing. Maybe he heard a lot of things about Yixing's firm, about all of the horrible things he covered up, and decided to treat him like a criminal who was as bad as the men he considered his clients. Yixing understood his side; nobody likes the person who serves the bad guys. But Yixing never saw his clients as the bad guys, just the problematic ones.
Yixing felt Joonmyun's dislike for him. He almost heard the question in his mind, "What does he have that I don't? Why did Lu Han have to hire him instead of just trusting me?"
Honestly, it was justifiable. Yixing didn't look like much, he didn't act like much, but his mind was sharper than most others. He was made to fix things, and in a political campaign formed by a bunch of rookies who knew almost nothing about how truly brutal the world they were entering was, there were many things to fix.
They faced a huge hurdle before the campaign was even announced. It was a big surprise when Moon Tree was suddenly on the top of the Most Searched Keywords on the internet one day. And it was an even bigger surprise when reporters swarmed in front of their headquarters, demanding to see Lu Han and ask for his statement on the issue of taking money from the organization's donation pool and placing it in his own account.
"A fraud? They're calling you a fraud?" Joonmyun was enraged, pacing in the middle of Lu Han's office while Yixing was reading and rereading the newspaper article and the man in question was breathing slowly with his head in his hands.
"It's not true. I swear it isn't true," Lu Han pleaded to the two of them. Joonmyun locked the door to the office before anyone could enter and tell them that there was someone calling Lu Han already.
"Jongdae? Look, we're facing a little crisis here," Yixing said into his phone.
"How little is little?" the younger man asked.
"Massive." Yixing rubbed his temples. "I need you to search on this journalist on Beijing Today who wrote a story about Lu Han stealing money from Moon Tree's account. This is a very big deal, Jongdae. I need you to track this person down fast."
"Got it, boss. I'll have it in a few hours." They hung up. Yixing slid his phone into his pocket and stared at Lu Han. He still looked scared and shocked, and Yixing almost wanted to hug him. But he couldn't. He couldn't treat Lu Han like a child who needed his hand to be held whenever he was scared. Lu Han was an adult, a full-grown man, and he needed to face it like one.
"I didn't do anything wrong. I swear I didn't," Lu Han kept repeating.
"We know that. Relax, Lu Han. We know you're innocent." Joonmyun stopped pacing. "What we need to do is convince the public that we're telling the truth."
Lu Han went out of the building himself, stance brave but eyes wary. He faced all the reporters, stood there with their microphones placed too close to his face, and told them that he knew nothing about those accusations, that he started this organization with integrity and he would never do anything to lose that, that he would never do anything to put all his hard work in this kind of light.
At the end of the day, no one believed him. It was what was expected in every situation like this; so few people ever believe the accused. It was a cold world where everyone would believe even the smallest rumors, and it was always painful to be the topic of those whispered words.
But then there was a call from Jongdae. "I cracked the journalist's weird pen name. His name is Do Kyungsoo, and he's been a journalist in Beijing Today for a few years now. Jongin and Zitao are ready to go to him. What do you want us to do, Yixing?"
Yixing looked at Joonmyun for a second. "Tomorrow. We deal with him tomorrow. If we deal with this too fast, it'll be obvious that we just paid him off to shut up."
"We get it. Tomorrow, Zitao and Jongin will be on his tail, right?"
"Yes, I think that's a better idea. Let them wear listening bugs. I need to hear everything that happens in their discussion tomorrow." Yixing asked for Joonmyun's approval silently, and he simply nodded. "That'll be all. Good night, Jongdae."
"Good night. Please take care of yourself," said Jongdae before he hung up.
The next day, Jongdae brought the receiver device with him to the office. Sehun was busy on his laptop, observing their movements through the surveillance cameras around. Joonmyun and Yixing were quietly talking, wanting to agree on things before the operation really began.
"Look, Lu Han cannot know about this operation. He'll be furious if he finds out that his little 'clean campaign' isn't as clean as he thought," whispered Yixing. Hesitantly, Joonmyun nodded.
"I understand the necessity. Let's do this." They shook hands and Yixing stood up, observing the devices that Jongdae and Sehun brought with them.
"Jongdae, are you sure that the blackmail will work on Kyungsoo? We have to make sure that nothing physical happens here," Yixing asked. Jongdae rolled his eyes playfully.
"Come on, Yixing. We've been doing this for years, and you know that everything I dig up will always work. We've faced the toughest cookies out there, and a mere receipt from a sex toy shop is enough to make them concede. I can do this," Jongdae assured.
"We're moving," Zitao whispered into his earpiece. "We'll close in on him in the bathroom."
They heard the sound of footsteps on tiles, doors opening and closing, the flushing of a toilet. And then there was silence. And the click of a lock.
"Who are you two? What do you want from me?" It was Kyungsoo obviously. There was fear, hostility, and more fear in his voice.
"We're here to talk to you about that article you wrote yesterday," said Zitao.
Yixing could hear Kyungsoo chuckle sarcastically. "Of course you do. Tell me, did Lu Han send you? I'd like it if you tell him that it's pathetic. He's playing as the good guy, but he's the one who sends two goons to get rid of me."
Yixing grit his teeth at that last one. He didn't want to feel guilty for going against Lu Han's wishes behind his back.
"Where did you get that false information? How credible was that source that your editor was willing to let it slip into the paper?" asked Jongin.
"I know who you work for, kids. I'm not going to play by your rules and let you win just because you told me so," answered Kyungsoo. Yixing looked at Jongdae with concern, but Jongdae just shook his head. Trust me, his eyes said.
"Really? Our rules don't mention letting binge gamblers free just because they're trying to play hard to get," Jongin said. "We have actual, credible evidence of how much you spent in Macau, Kyungsoo. I'm sure everyone would like to know where you got that much money."
Kyungsoo laughed. "Is that the best you can do? I'm not as poor as I seem. If I want to gamble, I'll still have enough for the rest of the night to lounge in whichever five-star hotel I wanted to go to."
Yixing was starting to get nervous. "Jongdae, do we have a backup plan?" he asked.
"Of course we do," Jongdae whispered back. "Just listen."
"And I'm sure everyone would like to know about the person whose apartment in Ring Two you visit every Friday night until Sunday afternoon," Zitao said, the smirk heard in his voice. There was the sound of rustling papers, probably a few pictures from surveillance cameras that Sehun dug up. "Who's this person, Kyungsoo? Are you two committed? You've been doing this for over a year; I'm sure it's pretty serious by now."
There was the sound of someone choking back a cry, and then there was a deep exhale. "I won't pursue the story. Don't leak those pictures."
Jongin made a tsk sound. "Sorry, but that doesn't cut it. Who's your source? Is it the person you live with in the weekends?"
"I'll even resign from the paper if you want me to. I'll go with the right price and the promise that you won't release any of those."
Zitao brought out the envelope of money that they brought with them and tossed it to Kyungsoo. He made a sound of approval. "This is enough. I'll make my resignation letter right now."
"Honor your side of the agreement and we'll honor ours," Zitao said dangerously.
"Agreed," said Kyungsoo. They heard the door opening and closing.
"Done," Jongin said proudly.
"Not really," Joonmyun grumbled. "We still have to see if he's really going to come through with what he said."
"For now, we stay put. And we make sure that Lu Han knows nothing about this." Yixing looked at all of them and they nodded. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him."
The next day felt like a miracle from the gods. Kyungsoo actually resigned from Beijing Today, and he newspaper released an official statement apologizing to Lu Han and to Moon Tree and to all the people who they have hurt through their young journalist's slanderous reports.
"You are a very effective man. I can see why Lu Han needed you on the team," Joonmyun said sheepishly. Yixing smiled at him, genuinely happy to see the other being friendlier to him. It helped if they were friends, but they were still just partners, partners in assisting Lu Han in his current endeavors. Maybe one day, there wouldn't be any more hostility between them, but they worked with what they had for now.
Lu Han had other sentiments about the issue. "I can't believe you!" he yelled at Yixing as soon as he entered his office. "I know you had something to do with this. Didn't we talk about a clean campaign, Yixing? Didn't we promise to keep this as clean as possible?"
He turned to Joonmyun. "And you. You of all people know how I wanted this campaign to be. I trusted both of you, and yet you did something like this?"
"Lu Han, this was a crisis. My job is to handle crises. You are my client. I did what I had to do," said Yixing. He was firm against Lu Han's enraged glare. It didn't stop Lu Han from sighing in frustration and walking out of the room, away from the betrayal of the two men before him.
Yixing shook his head. "He'll understand eventually. For now, I need you to release his official bank records and reassure people that there was really nothing he did wrong. The worst of the issue is over, but his name isn't clear yet."
"What will your men do?" asked Joonmyun.
"Zitao and Sehun are out asking for people's opinions on Moon Tree and Lu Han. They went to the people who the organization helped. We need to strengthen our bonds with those who already support us. Jongdae and I are going to make sure that Kyungsoo doesn't go anywhere with that story. It's a precaution," Yixing winced at the memory of his last client who used that term, "and we don't trust him yet. It's the best option."
The day was long for all of them, and at the end of it, Lu Han was simply the victim of a journalist's ruthless slander. He was back to being the good guy, even more loved than before. It was a miracle that people really believed him that much, and Yixing saw his chances of winning being much higher.
"Did the story have any truth?" Yixing asked as he and Lu Han were having dinner at his place. Yixing wasn't the best cook, but Lu Han always loved his cooking. It was almost nostalgic to see Lu Han gobbling up his food in front of him.
"Honestly, I used to do it." Yixing gaped at him. "I did it once when the organization was starting to gain more and more money. I stopped right away though. It felt wrong." Lu Han bowed his head. "It was wrong."
"Where do you think Kyungsoo could have gotten that information?"
Lu Han shrugged. "I'm thinking of someone high-profile giving him false evidence. It's his fault for believing it though."
Yixing shook his head. "You know what? Let's drop that. It's over." He poured wine in their glasses, ignoring the vision of Joonmyun's glare in his mind. "Let's focus on how you'll act during the campaign."
Lu Han raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of the wine and closing his eyes in pleasure at the first taste of alcohol in a few months. "Really, Yixing? I thought this was just dinner between us, not another campaign meeting."
"Humor me," Yixing said simply.
"Alright, mister campaign manager." Apparently, Lu Han could become tipsy after a glass of wine. "Tell me what I can improve."
Yixing pulled his shoulders down and laughed at Lu Han's scowl. "Slouch more. You look too prim and perfect and pretty if you keep sitting and standing like that."
He placed his hands on Lu Han's face and used his thumbs to raise the corners of Lu Han's lips. "Smile. You're cuter when you smile."
Lu Han laughed at that, holding his hands against his cheeks and staring straight into Yixing's eyes. There were many dangerous things about their position, and Lu Han had enough self-control to pull himself out of the situation to grab his coat and call his chauffeur.
"I should go home. Also, I'm a little drunk." He chuckled.
"You're so dumb. I can't believe you're running for senator," Yixing joked. They walked to the front door and stood at the doorway.
"Bye Lu Han," Yixing whispered, blushing at their close proximity. Lu Han's hand was on his arm, fingers curling around his bicep. Yixing reached out to brush his hair out of his eyes, and Lu Han laughed silently, slightly ticklish because of his hair.
And then he took a step back from Lu Han, remembering what he told Joonmyun. He didn't want to ruin things. Lu Han didn't seem to care, or maybe his eyes finally stopped showing his every emotion despite the rest of his body not making a move.
He did pull Yixing in for a tight hug before he left though, and Yixing stood there, smiling before he closed the door and called it a day.
Yixing hears his phone beep, alerting him of another new email. It's exhausting, having to say no to every single client who approaches him, but he has no time for them anymore. There are too many things to do, too many things he has to handle, so many people he has to talk to.
The campaign headquarters almost feels like home now; he only goes back to his apartment to take a bath and change clothes. He spends most of his days making sure that they have enough money to pay for all their expenses, and sometimes he talks to Lu Han to make sure that everything's going well with him. Lu Han smiles and nods, telling Yixing to handle the campaign while he handles himself. It's a good deal. Yixing wouldn't know what to do with Lu Han.
Jongdae texts him all the time, asking if he's alright or if he's eaten. The concern is always appreciated, but Yixing feels bad for making Jongdae worry. He always worries too much, and Yixing is almost always the cause of it.
Yixing is lying down on the couch in Lu Han's office when he hears commotion from outside the door. "Just be quiet, okay? I think he might finally be sleeping."
Yixing rolls his eyes at Lu Han's words, but he closes his eyes and tries to rest. He'll have time for him later.
He feels hands on his thighs, lifting the laptop away from his lap. The same smooth hands guide his body to lie down on the couch, and Yixing takes a moment to enjoy the warmth of Lu Han's skin. He's always had the perfect temperature for Yixing to feel, except for that one time that he had a high fever right before midterms and Yixing was forced to cuddle with him and pray that it breaks the fever somehow.
Yixing groans. "That's it. I'm going back to work."
"No," Lu Han says firmly. With surprising strength, he pulls Yixing up and pushes him towards Jongdae. "Take him home and force him to get some rest."
"But I have work--"
"I'll take care of it," Joonmyun suddenly says. "You should go home, Yixing."
Before he could complain any further, Jongdae drags him out of the room. Yixing feels like a petulant child, but by the time they're in Jongdae's car, he starts whining and complaining even more than he's already been doing.
"Come on, Jongdae! I have so much to do. There's barely any time for anything else but work," he says.
"Exactly. I don't even understand why you're complaining. Some people don't ever get breaks, and here we are, dragging you into one," Jongdae says, driving steadily.
"I'm not fond of breaks until the job's done, Jongdae. I thought you knew that."
"I know it too well, Yixing. That doesn't mean I like it." He shakes his head. "Think of all those clients you missed too. We've been inactive for weeks, and you know how the kids get antsy."
"I think the firm might have to take a little break for now," Yixing says quietly.
Jongdae stops the car suddenly. "What? Do you even know how much time I've spent in that firm, how much I've worked to give it a good name? We've all worked so hard for it and you're abandoning it for this stupid campaign?"
"Jongdae, calm down," Yixing says flatly. "I'm not abandoning the firm. I just need to see this campaign through."
Jongdae doesn't say anything, just starting the car and driving ahead. He drops Yixing off without saying anything else. Yixing holds the door open before he gets off.
"Please understand the sacrifices I'm making for Lu Han. Please try to understand me for the next three months," he says calmly before getting off and watching Jongdae drive away.
The hallway in front of him feels empty, hollow. He hasn't been here in a few days, and it already feels as if it's been abandoned. Yixing pats the head of the small pug statuette that he got from a bazaar in Changsha when he was a little boy. It's been his little pet for almost all his life, and he can't imagine calling anywhere home without it guarding over him in some small corner of a room.
Being surrounded by silence is so strange. Over the months, he's gotten accustomed to the constant sound of phones ringing and people talking and the news showing in the campaign headquarters. Even at his office, there was always something in he background, from Sehun's typing to Jongdae's loud singing to Jongin and Zitao having impromptu rap battles whenever they were bored. Noise and chatter were things that constantly flooded Yixing's ears, and so silence is a very pleasant change.
Silence, however, gives him more space to hear other things, like the grumbling of his stomach. It's a good thing that he always has food stocked in his cupboards, or else he'd have to go down to the convenience store to buy a packet of instant noodles. Instant noodles sound good though, so Yixing grabs a packet and starts cooking for himself.
A few minutes later, he hears the doorbell ringing. Annoyed, Yixing opens the surveillance control in his kitchen counter and coughs before speaking into the mic. "Identify yourself."
"It's Lu Han."
That's enough for Yixing to press a button and open the door for him. Lu Han has been to his apartment enough times for Yixing to memorize how many footsteps he would take before he reached the coat hanger and placed his coat there, how many steps he would take until he passes by Yixing's pug statuette and pets it too, how many steps he would take before he leans against the kitchen counter and stares at Yixing's back.
"Hi?" Lu Han says, slightly amused at the sight of Yixing sleepily trying to stir his uncooked noodles. "No welcome for me?"
"No," says Yixing. Unconsciously, he takes another packet of noodles and places it into the slowly simmering pot of water, adding more when he thinks it's necessary. He ignores the smile on Lu Han's face. He also ignores the fact that Lu Han took two bowls and two sets of chopsticks right away, setting them on top of the coffee table in the living room instead of the dining table.
Yixing takes the pot and a pot holder, placing them on the coffee table and hoping that they won't ruin the nice mahogany. Lu Han's seated on the floor, first two buttons on his shirt unbuttoned, leaning on the edge of Yixing's couch. He pats the floor beside him and Yixing complies, trying to serve the noodles in their bowls.
Lu Han is the perfect companion on days like this one. Lu Han is the right blend of familiarity and surprise. Lu Han is the right person to be with when Yixing just wants to let loose. Lu Han is like home to Yixing; he doesn't ever imagine feeling awkward and uncomfortable around him. Is that Lu Han's magic on people? Maybe it is.
Cartoons aren't common on late Wednesday afternoons, but Yixing finds one of the old classics. They spend a while laughing at the slapstick humor and eat their noodles quietly. Lu Han finishes first, turning to the side to face Yixing.
"How are you?" Lu Han asks, voice soft as he watches Yixing eat.
"Jongdae's mad at me."
"I don't have time for the firm anymore. He's upset, and I understand why," Yixing says. He sighs, still feeling guilty about what happened with Jongdae.
"I'm sorry," Lu Han blurts out. "The campaign is taking up too much of your time, I know. I feel bad because--"
"Stop," Yixing interrupts. "I chose this, Lu Han. I chose to do this."
"And I still thank you for that." Lu Han looks up at him, eyes eager. "Thank you."
"I did this because I believe in you, no matter how idealistic you are. I believe in what you believe in. I'll have your back no matter what, Lu Han."
There was always a fear of failing. They always feared a bad reaction, a protest or a group of people who would shoot down any of Lu Han's supporters in a heartbeat. There was a very high possibility of those things emerging as hurdles in Lu Han's slowly growing career.
What they didn't expect was a letter sent to their organization building, addressed to Lu Han, with the symbol of SM, one of the major political parties in the country, printed on the envelope. Lu Han held the letter with shaking hands, eyes widening more and more with each word that he reads.
"What does it say?" Yixing asked impatiently, trying to peek at the contents of the letter. Something like this only means one thing: SM wants something from Lu Han.
"They're offering me a spot on the party list." Lu Han looked up. "They want me to be part of SM."
Joonmyun's jaw dropped, imagining their life once SM starts giving them support and better publicity. They wouldn't have to grope around in the dark, hoping that they're doing the right thing. They'd have actual specialists advising them on what to do, and Lu Han's chances of winning shot up right away.
"You should take it," advised Joonmyun. "Not everyone gets a chance like this. If you want to win, SM is the way to go."
"Wait," Yixing interrupted. There was something wrong. How did they know that Lu Han had plans of running in the first place? Did they just randomly decide that they want Lu Han to run for senator all of a sudden?
"Yixing, I know you must have some sort of conspiracy theory brewing in your mind right now," Yixing glared at Joonmyun, "but this is a golden opportunity. I don't think Lu Han should risk this because of your instincts."
"Joonmyun!" Lu Han reprimanded.
"I'm sorry, but we can't let this opportunity slide. I appreciate everything you've done for us, but SM is a huge deal. We have to give it a chance," Joonmyun compromised.
"Fine. Go and meet with them and see how they are, what they want from you. I just asked Jongdae and Sehun to search and find out what SM wants from Lu Han." Yixing saw that Joonmyun was about to speak, so he raised his hand to silence him. "It's not the organization, nor the good image. SM wants something from Lu Han, and until we find out what that is, they have the upper hand here. They aren't our friends, Joonmyun. They're so much more vicious than what they seem to be."
Changmin was his client once, and he showed no hesitation in getting rid of his problem as quickly and carefully as possible. SM was ruthless, and all the people in the party was equally as dangerous. Yixing lost all of his trust on SM ever since he witnessed it right before his eyes.
"The letter says they want to meet today. We should get going soon," Lu Han said, looking down at his day-old shirt and touching his messy hair. "I should go clean up."
"Agreed," Yixing muttered. He merely smiled at Lu Han's glare and went back to work.
Yixing went into an empty meeting room and called Jongdae. "Hello?" the younger man greeted.
"Jongdae, I need your help."
"I'm still busy with the other thing you're telling me to search for, but what do you need?"
"You told me before that you gave me a listening bug before. What is it and how do I activate it?" Yixing asked. This was wrong, he knew, but he had to have an ear into that meeting. This was a pivotal point in the campaign, and it could determine everything about Lu Han's career in the future.
"It's in the hook of your favorite pen." Yixing scrambled to look through his desk and find it. "Pull it out and there's actually something you can use to pin it onto something. Press it and it'll beep once. That means it's going to start recording."
"Alright," Yixing pressed the device and it beeped, "Thank you, Jongdae."
"No problem," Jongdae answered before hanging up.
Yixing walked around and saw Lu Han's coat hanging on the back of his chair. Carefully, he pinned the device behind the lapel of his coat, well hidden in the fabric.
The door suddenly opened and Yixing looked up, innocence painted onto his face. Lu Han smiled at him wearily, wiping a little moisture away from his skin. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Nothing. Just waiting for you," Yixing lied. He took the coat and spread it out, asking Lu Han to put it on. Lu Han slid his arms into the sleeves and turned around to face Yixing.
"Are you alright?" Lu Han asked. He was surprised when Yixing slid his hands down Lu Han's chest and buttoned the coat for him.
"I'm fine. I'm just worried about you." It wasn't a complete lie; Yixing was always worried about Lu Han. His hands brushed over the listening device to check if it's secure, and he smiled. "This could be a blessing or a complete nightmare, Lu Han. I need you to be careful."
Lu Han shook his head playfully and placed his hands on Yixing's face. "Relax. I'm going to be fine."
"Lu Han, don't forget what you told me when we started this campaign. Don't forget the man you want to be. SM… They might not be the people you want to associate yourself with," warned Yixing.
Joonmyun knocked on the door and peeked in. "Lu Han. Let's go."
"I'll be fine," Lu Han assured, and his hand slid down to hold Yixing's. Yixing squeezed back and stepped away, letting him go. He glanced at the clock. Jongdae and Sehun should be here soon.
Yixing paced instead, hoping that Lu Han and Joonmyun are discussing the possibility of saying no to SM instead of accepting the offered position right away. There's always a condition with SM. They needed to stop seeing this as the ticket to success and see it as poison being offered in a pretty glass.
Someone knocked on the door, and Yixing let them in. It was Jongdae, bringing along a laptop with him. "Where's Sehun?" Yixing asked.
"He's going to follow. He started tracing something and he said he'd rush here as soon as he had something solid. And I was the one who configured this device. I can do it," explained Jongdae. His fingers moved quickly against the keys and soon enough, Yixing could hear the crackle of sound from the speakers.
"... on the ninth floor. I'll call them and say that you're here." It must have been the receptionist.
"Thank you," Joonmyun said politely. They could hear the elevator doors sliding open, and then there was silence.
"Is it bad to be nervous?" Lu Han asked. Joonmyun merely chuckled.
"I'm as nervous as you, and I'm not even the one running! I guess Yixing's warnings have been getting to us."
"Yixing's always right, Joonmyun. This might not be as good of an idea as we thought it would be," said Lu Han.
"Finally," Yixing mumbled, "someone who listens to me."
The elevator doors slid open again, and Joonmyun and Lu Han started walking. "Ah. Mister Lu." Yixing recognized the voice as Changmin's.
"Hello. It's nice to finally meet you, Mister Shim," Lu Han said cordially.
"Please, just call me Changmin. This is Kim Minseok, the newest addition to our party list."
"But it could be you soon, don't you think?" Minseok asked. Yixing gritted his teeth. It's as if all of them had the same deceptive tone, the same ulterior motives behind their nice smiles and simple words.
"Let's talk," someone else said. Yixing remembered that voice with a handsome face.
"Choi Siwon," Jongdae helpfully supplied. Yixing nodded. He knew who the CEO of the technological megacorporation was.
"Of course." Joonmyun's voice sounded normal to others, but Yixing detected the slight shake in it. He was nervous. He knew that something was wrong.
"You see, we're interested in having Lu Han on our party list, but you know that already. You're very charismatic, and people love you. You'd be a perfect fit for us," said Siwon.
"And we can guarantee you success, Lu Han," a new person, Cho Kyuhyun, said. "We can guarantee you a spot on that list of senators, as long as you know whose commands to follow."
"There it is," said Yixing. "There's the catch. If Lu Han and Joonmyun still fall for this, I'm going to doubt their chances of making it through this campaign."
Suddenly, Sehun burst into the room. He showed Yixing a record of messages and files transferred between a computer within their system to a computer in another system, soon recognized as SM's. Someone had been sending financial reports of how much money Lu Han received from donations, how much they've spent, and how much more they need. Also, a huge amount of money was transferred to the campaign's bank account from Siwon's personal account.
"I've narrowed down the exact computers and the ones using them. What's next?" Sehun asked.
"I'm going to call Joonmyun. Mute that recording or else he'll figure out that we've been listening in." Jongdae plugged earphones into the jack and kept on listening while Yixing attempted to call Joonmyun.
"Hello?" answered Joonmyun. "Yixing, this better be important. I just had to leave--"
"Joonmyun, they just gave us a massive sum of money as if they're already expecting us to say yes," said Yixing.
"How did they even find out that we were running?"
"Someone's been giving them all the financial reports. They've known about this for months, Joonmyun. They've been spying on us, having the upper hand all this time," Yixing explained. He heard Joonmyun's shaky exhale, the clenching of his teeth.
"I'm telling Lu Han. They have everything planned out in front of us. That risk is too much to handle." Joonmyun sighed. "Thank you, Yixing."
"No problem. Just go." Yixing hung up. He pulled Jongdae's earphones out and listened to their conversation.
"--so you're telling me that--" Lu Han was cut off all of a sudden. They could hear Joonmyun's soft whispers. "We have to go? I'm sorry, but we really have a lot of other things to attend to in the organization. I'm really sorry that we have to cut this short."
"It's alright, Lu Han. But have you made a decision yet?" Changmin asked.
"You'll hear from us if we have one. Thank you for the offer," said Joonmyun. He was tenser than he was when they first entered the room.
The doors closed in front of them, and Lu Han let out a sigh of relief. "Do you even know what they were telling me, Joonmyun? I would have had the world in my palm if I joined them."
"Yes, but you know what you have to sacrifice. You know that they're always going to ask for something in return in the end. I felt as if they were trying to control you before you even made your mind."
"I know. I think we made the right decision."
"You did," Yixing whispered. He nodded at Jongdae and Sehun. "Thank you."
"It's fine," said Jongdae. They waited at the office for a while until Lu Han and Joonmyun arrived, both of them looking exhausted.
"What happened?" Yixing asked, pretending not to know.
"We said we'd think about it. I'm sure they know what that means," said Joonmyun. He lied down on the couch and curled up into a ball. Lu Han sat down on his chair and rested his head on his folded arms.
"You two handled it well. I take it they didn't think anything suspicious?"
"I hope not. I hope we made the right decision and not just another enemy," groaned Lu Han.
"What about the people who you caught giving reports to SM?" Joonmyun asked.
"They're all young interns," said Jongdae.
"Fire them. Immediately." Lu Han suddenly had a force in his words. "Sehun, look at all the other terminals in this office and make sure none of them are doing the same thing as those two interns."
"We're done with that. It's clean," said Sehun.
"Good." Lu Han stood up and walked out to the main campaign headquarters. The office stopped at the sight of the scowl on his face. "Listen up, everyone. If any of you are leaking information or doing anything that might endanger the campaign or the personnel, I suggest you stop now. I will personally make sure that you're fired and that you'll find no other place in this city to make a living in. Please think of your actions before you commit any mistakes."
Yixing stared at Lu Han from behind, smiling at his strong posture, the bite in his words, the lack of stuttering or hesitation in everything he said. Lu Han is a leader. Only now did Yixing truly see him as one.
Yixing breathes deeply as the jet starts to move along the runway. Lu Han is perfectly relaxed beside him, probably used to flying on this private jet of his. Joonmyun's already half-asleep on his other side. Is Yixing the only one who's slightly dying here?
He feels a warm hand on his and it's Lu Han, as always. He smiles knowingly at Yixing, squeezing and linking their fingers together. Lu Han is good at comforting him, and Yixing doesn't even notice that they're already flying until Lu Han lets go of his hand.
"Thank you," Yixing murmurs, not enjoying the frailty he just showed. He doesn't like the warmth in Lu Han's eyes, the one that tells him, "It's okay to be scared. It's not like you've never seen me at my worst."
"It's alright to be afraid. You've seen me cry because I had an exam the next day and I was too busy with an outreach program to study. You've seen me at one of my worst times." Lu Han smiles cheekily at him, chuckling and leaning his head on Yixing's shoulder. "Now sleep. We'll have time to talk when we're on the ground."
Yixing grips Lu Han's hand. "Don't remind me that we're flying. Please."
Lu Han laughs openly this time, making Joonmyun stir in his sleep. Yixing shushes him quickly, adjusting their chairs so they can lie down properly. Lu Han turns towards Yixing and smiles. There's something strangely familiar about seeing Lu Han like this: hair messed up because of how he's lying down; soft light spilling onto the contours of his face from a distant source; eyes sparkling, always sparkling. Yixing reaches out and takes his hand, and then they sleep.
They wake up and they're thirty minutes from Hubei. Joonmyun's already running on half a cup of coffee and the rest of the crew are doing something that's probably important. Only Yixing and Lu Han were left asleep, too tired to have noticed the hustle and bustle around them. Still, when Yixing notices their intertwined legs, he doesn't seem to regret a second that they spent in their dreams, and he'd kill to have a few more moments in the peace of his subconscious.
"Up, up, up. Come on," Joonmyun urges the two of them, pulling them both up out of their chairs. "Lu Han, you have to go get dressed properly."
Lu Han looks down at his slightly-rumpled suit. "I'm dressed perfectly fine!"
"We're in an agricultural province, one of the poorest districts in it. You need to look like you can belong with these people. We've brought a stylist, Lu Han. I came prepared for this." Joonmyun shoos him away.
"And what do we do, Joonmyun?" asks Yixing.
"We make sure that Lu Han stays safe and doesn't mess up. You choose which you want to deal with." Joonmyun ponders for a moment. "I choose safety. At least that's something I can slightly control. His mistakes are a whole different thing though." Joonmyun laughs and walks away from Yixing, taking some food from their pantry area.
They eat together, discussing several things over and over again. They tidy themselves up for a few minutes before they all take deep breaths and prepare themselves for the journey ahead of them. When they step outside of the jet, they're greeted by emptiness and a view of the vast plains spanning across the province.
The ride to the main city is cramped and humid and they all regret dressing nicely with their coats and long-sleeved shirts. At least Lu Han rolls his sleeves up, wiping off the sweat on his forehead with the crumpled cuffs. Joonmyun swats his hand away, telling him not to get any oil on his clean white shirt.
The campaigning in this province is much easier than what Lu Han thought it would be. All he has to do is go around, help others, take a few pictures with them, and everything's fine. Yixing sees people actively supporting him, thanking him for the supplies, the rations of grain and food for them every few weeks or so. People love Lu Han, but they'll never be safe from those who despise him.
One such person is an old lady, hands fragile and wrinkled, but her eyes are livid with anger. She walks up to Lu Han, pushing past the crowd even in her old age and weak physical state, and stands before him.
"Hello," Lu Han greets her, but before he could reach out to shake her hand, she slaps him across the cheek. The sound of the hit resonates across the crowd, making everyone stand still and silent. Yixing calls security discreetly, but Joonmyun stops him.
"You! I appealed for some medicines, for aid to help my dying daughter, and nothing arrived! She died in my arms because of you!" The security guards try to drag her away, but Lu Han raises his hand, the one not covering his stinging cheek, and stops them.
Solemnly, he bows his head in front of her. "Please, hit me. I'm deeply sorry for your loss, and I wish I could have done something to speed up the process to save her life. If I had known of the situation, I would have done everything to help you."
The old lady raises her hand, but she breaks into tears instead, collapsing in front of Lu Han. He reaches out for her, helping her stand and asking the security guards to take her somewhere less crowded. Everyone applauds Lu Han, but he doesn't smile. He keeps the somber attitude, the slight smile tainted with a bit of sadness.
Yixing is beaming inside. Lu Han is amazing at this.
That night, they stay in the hotel room and read all the comments in the articles posted about Lu Han's humble act earlier. "Oh, listen to this. 'I always thought Lu Han was another stuck-up boy from the city, but at least he's humble enough to see past the walls of cash lining his rooms and apologize.' These people are hilarious," says Joonmyun.
"And we're done with an entire province in less than a week. Hubei is ours, right?" Lu Han asks. Joonmyun and Yixing grin at each other. Hubei is definitely theirs.
"That means we should celebrate," says Lu Han, and he walks over to the small refrigerator to grab a few cans of beer. He tosses one to Yixing and offers another to Joonmyun, but the younger male glares at him.
"Lu Han," he warns.
"It's just one night, Joonmyun. I promise," he pleads.
"Live a little." And he tosses the can to Joonmyun while opening the other one and takes a huge gulp from it. He cringes. "It's still as bad as I remember."
Yixing laughs, turning his laptop towards the others. "Read the comment I highlighted."
"'This is why I like older men,'" Lu Han reads. His face contorts in confusion, and they all laugh.
"Teenagers," mumbles Joonmyun. He takes another long sip from his can.
They spend the rest of the night laughing and drinking, Joonmyun finally loosening up enough to take two and half cans before passing out. Yixing and Lu Han watch old comedies on late night reruns, and they stay much later than Joonmyun. It's a good thing that they have a break day tomorrow or else they'd all die while campaigning with a hangover.
Yixing wakes up because of the sunlight hitting his eyelids. He moves to turn away, but he's trapped by an arm around his waist. The body behind him is familiar and comforting, and he moves back to snuggle closer to Lu Han's chest. It's nice, but he can't seem to move his legs. He looks down and sees Joonmyun curled up into a ball between Lu Han's and Yixing's legs.
Yixing laughs airily. This is… a very strange situation, but he doesn't mind. He also doesn't mind Lu Han's arm pulling him closer, the way he presses his nose against the soft skin at the back of Yixing's neck, the grumbling and whining that Joonmyun does in his sleep, and Yixing's content enough to fall asleep again.