dreams don't turn to dust.
lay/luhan, side!kyungsoo/xiumin, onesided!luhan/suho, side!suho/anonymous canadian person — pg-15 — angst — non-linear narrative, language — 54161 words
Scandal!AU. there is hope in Lu Han's eyes, and so Yixing believes. there is hope in Yixing's words, and so Lu Han follows blindly.
lay/luhan, side!kyungsoo/xiumin, onesided!luhan/suho, side!suho/anonymous canadian person — pg-15 — angst — non-linear narrative, language — 54161 words
Scandal!AU. there is hope in Lu Han's eyes, and so Yixing believes. there is hope in Yixing's words, and so Lu Han follows blindly.
|After years of tension and small outbreaks of defiance, the Middle East finally cut all ties with the rest of the world, keeping their oil and resources to themselves. The rest of the world went into a massive economic crisis, but that didn't mean that they were the only ones suffering. The Middle Easterners were cut off from all the resources that they were receiving from the other nations of the world.
Despite everyone's struggles, some nations truly crumbled after the chaos and riots ruined their cities and their people's spirits. The skies were black as some nations had to result to an absolute nightmare: martial law with a "kill anyone at sight" mindset. Bombs were dropped, and soon those planes crossed borders, dropping their load on other nations in hopes that whatever's left of their lands would be given to their neighbors.
It was terrifying, barbaric, possibly the darkest time in the history of the world. No one, not even history teachers or anyone who was unluckily alive at that time, ever spoke of it.
China was completely ruined by their own people, everyone rising up to get more than the meager rations that the government could provide them without starving to death as well. They all lived like vultures, stealing and taking from the dead.
It took a huge surge from the government and a lot of help from other countries who had some semblance of control over their people and their land for China to regain the grip it had over its people. As soon as the world gained stability again, surviving countries formed a new United Nations, stronger and stricter when it came to maintaining peace and balance.
China rebuilt slowly, taking the offered aid from the United States in good faith. They started to flourish again with a complete reboot of their government and their systems. Older generations revolted and despised the new leaders of the nation, but the more open-minded ones were the people who thrived on the government's new plans.
The cities that they were able to build were massive, skyscrapers that looked as if they were touching the clouds from below, wide streets and long highways that connect the cities to each other. It was picturesque in the cities, and everything looked so perfect.
But the provinces were different. People were starving everywhere, working hard with the industry that was forced onto them by the government. Those who wanted to rebel against New China were forced to live in those faraway places, to slave away and pray that they meet the quota of goods that they had to produce for the government.
Families were tightly-knit, as they always have been, but children were always expected to inherit whatever land their ancestors have had for years. It was difficult, having a hard life planned out for you before you were even born, but most didn't have a choice and weren't strong enough to fight against the expectations of the world for you.
Those who did were disowned, shunned away from their family, and sent packing to whichever city they wanted to go to. They dropped their surnames in connection to their family and took it as a mere formality, a title with no actual meaning. It was shameful to the family that they left behind, but they chose to leave all of that for a better life, a life that they probably won't achieve anyway.
Life was not as simple as they expected it to be, but as the world recovered and life started to go on, it proved to get harder and harder as more time passed.
The lights shining on him don't stop Lu Han from smiling brightly, waving at the crowd gathered in front of his organization's building. He would have chosen a more public setting, somewhere with a larger area for the crowd to gather, a bigger stage, a grander image. But the building solidifies his image as one of the youngest CEOs of a huge non-profit organization, and it's an image that Lu Han's proud of, an image he knows how to work with. People from all walks of life, from the rich people of Ring Two to the barely-surviving men and women from Ring Six, would like him.
As he steps onto the podium and delivers the speech they wrote with ease and grace, Yixing and Joonmyun watch from beside the huge stage. "Is he doing well?" Joonmyun asks, brushing a strand of his dark hair away from his forehead.
"He is." Yixing nods at the small gestures that Lu Han's making, a small pointer that Yixing gave him in their practice sessions. He also told him not to seem too perfect, too fabricated. Slouch a little, sway and turn to the audience while you're talking. Don't be afraid to smile, but not too much. You know your face does that thing that makes you look sixty-four instead of thirty-two.
Yixing turns his head slightly, looking at the audience. It's not that big, possibly just a little over a thousand. Lu Han's officially announcing his candidacy for senator and this is a big deal. The bigger, the better, but the building has to be there. They really need Lu Han to put himself out there as the CEO of a philanthropic organization. It makes him look approachable despite his wealth, and the fact that he started the organization when he was twenty-one and a struggling student in university is even better.
"'A Young Man with Big Dreams: the biography of Lu Han.' Wouldn't that be a lovely thing to see twenty years from now?" Yixing asked Lu Han when they first appeared on the doorstep of his office, two months away from this event right now. Yixing remembers that day clearly.
He was on the phone with Zitao and Jongin; he sent them out to watch over their latest client, a businessman with a sketchy record that was about to be exposed by an unhappy ex-employee. The surveillance cameras that Sehun hacked were useful, but there's no harm in having two men on the field, watching out for anything else. They were facing the possibility of their client sending out a few men to dispose of the ex-employee, and none of them wanted more blood on his hands. The job was to clean up the issue, not make it worse.
Jongdae was beside him, forcing him to eat even a little. Yixing's always had a problem with taking care of himself, and it's Jongdae's job as his right-hand man to help him with any jobs they had and to handle his own client: a very stubborn Zhang Yixing.
There was a knock on the door. Sehun groaned from his little room at the end of the corridor. "I'm not opening that door!" he yelled.
Jongdae pushed him out of his chair haughtily, pretending not to notice Yixing's withering glare directed towards him. Yixing fixed his hair as he walked to the front door, checking who it was through the security camera they installed in the hallway as a precaution.
He didn't expect to see his old roommate, a famous philanthropist, successful and rich, not needing to do dirty jobs for guilty people. "Lu Han," Yixing whispered, trying to tidy himself up a bit more before he opened the door.
"Lu Han!" he exclaimed, pulling him into a hug as soon as he opened the door. Lu Han seemed to appreciate the warm welcome, but a cough from behind him made him stiffen and gently pull away from Yixing's embrace. Yixing brushed it away and stepped back as well.
"Come in. I'm sure an important man like you would have a good reason for showing up on my doorstep all of a sudden." Yixing led them into his office, raising an eyebrow at Jongdae as a silent inquisition. Jongdae stood up at the sight of Lu Han.
"I-is that... Lu Han?" he asked, a huge grin spreading on his face. Yixing chuckled and stopped at the doorway to their conference table.
"Lu Han, this is my right-hand man, Jongdae. Besides his obsession with getting me to eat--"
"Which I can see you haven't been doing in a while," Lu Han admonished.
"--he also has a strange infatuation with you." Yixing smiled sweetly at Jongdae as the younger man choked and tried to hide behind his chair.
"I'm quite irresistible. It's alright to like me." Lu Han winked at Jongdae and was about to continue the teasing when the smaller man behind him coughed again and motioned towards Yixing's office. Yixing smiled politely, not really liking this little killjoy in Lu Han's crew.
They sat at the posh leather chairs, Lu Han and his assistant admiring the beautiful view of the city that his office had. Ring Five of Beijing wasn't as fancy as Ring Three where he knew Lu Han's organization was situated, but the brick buildings and tight roads had their own charm, and Yixing loved the floor that he was able to rent. Yixing knew he chose the right place to house his firm.
"So, tell me, what's the scandal?" Yixing crossed his arms in front of his chest as Lu Han and the assistant stared at him. "Come on. What's the bad story I have to clean up? You're here for that, right?"
The assistant shakes his head quickly. "No, no, no. We'd like to hire you as our PR manager."
"Why? Your PR team is doing a great job of making you seem like an almighty, pure and generous organization. You don't need me." Yixing read enough articles of the organization donating another million dollars for typhoon victims or funding a project to save the businesses of working people somewhere far away. They certainly didn't need Yixing to make them look any better than they already do.
"It's not for the organization, Yixing," Lu Han answered. "It's for my campaign. My campaign to run for senator."
Yixing's jaw dropped. "You're serious? You aren't fucking with me here?"
"I'm not!" Lu Han stood up and stayed beside Yixing. "Think of it, Yixing. Think of all the good press you could work with. I have a philanthropic organization, a good number of academic achievements, and a good-looking family under my belt. Do you understand how easy your few months will be? All you have to do is build on the good framework that I have on my image."
"And then after that, I have to deal with all the rumors of you being obsessed with gambling, of five or so women claiming that their child is yours since you sleep around so much, of angry ex-employees releasing some statements about money going from the organization's bank account straight into yours." Yixing shook his head. "Lu Han, you're about to embark in the most exhausting venture of your life. The campaigning is nearly as hard as being a senator itself."
"We've talked about the risks before. He knows what he's going into," the assistant said. His hands were shaking slightly, a sign that he was nervous. It made Yixing feel bad. He was trying to show that he wanted to help Lu Han, but there were so many risks that Lu Han may or may not have been aware of.
"I'm sorry, but I never got your name," said Yixing, smiling politely at the dark-haired man in a designer suit.
"I'm Kim Joonmyun, a board director and also Lu Han's chief of staff." They shook hands.
"So you're his babysitter?" Yixing teased. Lu Han hit his arm playfully and scowled.
"Essentially, that's my job." Joonmyun smiled at him and sat back down. "Back to the issue at hand, we need your help, Yixing. From the very beginning, Lu Han insisted to have you on his team. I didn't know why; I couldn't find anything about you or your firm. But then he explained your... cleaning job, and I instantly understood why he sought out for you. We need someone with your cunning on our team. We can only plan ahead blindly for so long."
"And you assume that my presence on your team, my crew's presence, must I remind you, will help you win this thing?" Yixing poured himself a glass of whiskey, offering one to Lu Han before Joonmyun coughed loudly. Lu Han must have been in some sort of lockdown from alcohol and his usual need for physical contact, even in the completely harmless way.
"Yes," Lu Han answered plainly. "Joonmyun, could you leave the room for a while? Yixing and I need to talk."
Joonmyun stood up with a sigh. "Please consider our offer, Yixing. We need your help."
They always said that. They need his help, his expertise and quick thinking, and then they pay him and leave. Yixing was used to it, way too used to it. Lu Han's his good friend, but that won't stop Yixing from treating him as a mere client with a crisis of his own.
"So remember when we were in university and I started the outreach programs?" Lu Han started, finally deciding to grab a glass of whiskey and take a long sip. Yixing nodded, placing his hand on Lu Han's wrist and putting the glass on his table. Lu Han scowled at him and finished the contents of the glass.
"I didn't expect the organization to happen, and now I'm here. I didn't expect any of this to happen, and now I want it." He took Yixing's hand in his. "I need your help, Yixing. I need you."
"I..." Yixing stopped for a moment, trying to restrain himself from falling for Lu Han's desperation act. He needed to stay level-headed and professional. He needed Lu Han to let go of his damn hand.
"What makes you a good candidate? What's stopping me from seeing an image of you in a casino next week or a scandal breaking out from nowhere? I handle crises, sure, but I don't want to support a walking mess," Yixing questioned, discreetly sliding his hands away from Lu Han's to gain some semblance of control over his emotions. Lu Han loved to touch, and a brief memory of warm hands roaming over the planes of Yixing's pale skin crossed Yixing's mind. The mere thought had Yixing suppressing a shiver, gripping the edge of the desk that he was leaning on.
"Joonmyun told me to sober up. He took away the alcohol, the gambling, the girls and guys," Yixing narrowed his eyes a bit at that, "even the occasional cigarettes. I'm as clean as I could ever be. I feel empty, boring and safe, but I'm doing this because I want to do better. I want to be better."
Yixing motioned towards the couch, and Lu Han took a seat without hesitation, eager eyes searching for Yixing's warm honey brown. He didn't get any of that. What he got was a pair of cold eyes judging him, calculating the probability of win or loss in his mind, and Lu Han saw himself as an item being appraised on a pedestal all of a sudden. This was what Yixing wanted. He needed to be in control.
"Why do you want this, Lu Han? What's your motive? Money? Fame? Or power?" None of the above, he knew Lu Han would answer. Lu Han wasn't like that when they were younger, and he didn't expect Lu Han to change that part of himself, the good part of himself, all of a sudden.
"I'm... I'm not the best. I'm not the man who can change the world or anything. But I'm sick and tired of this world. I'm sick and tired of watching people suffer and trying to help them, even if I know that nothing will change if people keep robbing from them, with or without their knowledge of it. I'm smart enough to see past the lies of the men and women leading us and I know, I know, that I can do better. I am better than all those people causing the suffering that others are going through. I want to change things."
So idealistic, like a child just waiting for his dreams to be ruined, Yixing thought. And then Yixing realized that that is what's so admirable admirable about Lu Han: his optimism, his bright disposition, the hope still sparkling in his eyes. He spent his young adult life building an organization that lives to help people, and it's the gigantic representation of Lu Han's genuine character of altruism.
Lu Han was the light in the middle of a deadly storm, the beam of radiant hope that wanted to pull everyone into the new world. Yixing loved that about him.
"You do realize that you're never going to change things, right?" A glass of whiskey for Yixing; an exasperated sigh from Lu Han. "The world, despite your optimism and genuine hope, will not change at all. You're going to be just another man, just another person living his life. The best you can do is get the power and not abuse it. Did you really expect anything?"
Lu Han stayed still, eyes trained on the floor. His fingers played with the seams on the leather couch, and he looked embarrassed. He looked like he was a little scared.
"But that power," Yixing tilted his chin up, "you can use it to do good. Others may have been destroyed by it, but I know that you won't. I know that at the end of the day, you'll still be the optimistic Lu Han that I've always known. You'll still be the man that everyone should want to be, the man that is more than just the money and the power. You can be you. You should stay you."
Lu Han smiled up at him, muscles relaxing at the gentle press of Yixing's fingers against his skin. Softly, slowly, he stood up and rose to his full height. Yixing placed his hands on Lu Han's shoulders. "I'm in. I'm going to help you," Yixing announced, and the words brought a wave of relief to Lu Han.
"Thank god," he exhaled.
"'A Young Man with Big Dreams: the biography of Lu Han.' Wouldn't that be a lovely thing to see twenty years from now?" Yixing smiled at Lu Han.
"It would be amazing," answered Lu Han. For once, Lu Han didn't take a step back or break their intense stare. He lifted his hands to reach out and cup Yixing's neck. They stood like that, touching intimately and staring straight into each other's eyes, looking deep into them as if searching for the other's soul.
"Do you remember our days together at university?" Lu Han grinned at Yixing and they both laughed.
"Of course I remember all the trouble we got into," said Yixing. "I remember all the parties and drinking and sex. Those were the best years of my life, and I shared them with you."
Lu Han's smile softened, and his thumb stroked idly at Yixing's neck. Yixing sighed, closing his eyes for a second to savor the warm touch. Lu Han always knew that his neck was sensitive, and it had been a while since he felt his body go into overdrive just because of a minute movement.
"All the fun we had..." Lu Han inched just a bit closer, "I'll never forget any of it."
A knock on the door forced them apart, though Yixing's skin was still tingling at the warmth lingering on it. Joonmyun entered, promptly ending their tender moment, and he stopped in front of them, eyebrow raised in inquisition.
"So? Have you made a decision?" Joonmyun's words were quick and professional, but Yixing felt the need. Yixing felt the desperation clawing out from within him, the frustration of not having a clear direction in what they're doing. Joonmyun was pushing Lu Han and telling him to strive forward, though neither of them knew which direction to take.
"I'm on your team," Yixing said, firm and confident. Walls were dropped and sighs were released. Joonmyun slouched a little bit, relaxed himself, realized that Yixing was going to be his partner for the next few months, and built a new set of walls around him. Yixing knew that Joonmyun was the type since the moment they first spoke. It was a skill that Yixing acquired over the years: the ability to judge someone in a moment's notice. It came in handy when he needed to assess his clients and their situations.
"We'll discuss your salary and other things later. Lu Han, go to the car first. I just have a few things to say to Yixing," ordered Joonmyun. A part of Yixing saw a man that was decades older than them, but he knew that Joonmyun was more or less his age. He felt older though, more exhausted than how he seemed to be. Lu Han took pride in surrounding himself with young, fresh people with bright ideas. Why did he choose to drag along someone who looked like the world was on his shoulders?
Lu Han left immediately, eager to start working. Joonmyun watched Yixing's effect on Lu Han take place, and he couldn't deny the spring in his step, the way he looked more alive than ever. Yixing watched him too, and in that moment, he knew that he wanted Lu Han to win. He wanted Lu Han to win this election, and it was up to him to lead Lu Han to that direction.
"Do you see that?" Joonmyun said quietly. "That's what you do to him." He turned to face Yixing. "That's how much you influence him. You make him want to believe in himself again. You make him focus again. You give him the strength that he's lost after all these years."
Joonmyun sighed. "And it scares me," he admitted. "You see the effect you have on him. And I'm afraid that you might lead him to do something that he'll regret, something we don't need in this campaign. I've been doing my best to rein him back, stop him from doing anything that'll give him a bad image. I know it's taking a toll on him; that's what discipline does to you. I need you to promise me that you won't make him do anything he regrets. Don't tempt him. Don't touch him.
"He's so young. He's so young, and most people will see that as a weakness. Most people will see past this wall of maturity and humility, and only a few will see hope. Only a few will see that youth is not synonymous to incompetency, and only a few will see that it's a new age, the right age for new people to step up. You understand what I'm saying, Yixing. I know you do."
Yixing nodded. "I understand. I know how to deal with a crisis. I know how to deal with someone whose image is malleable, and I know how to turn that into an advantage. I'll take care of the campaign, Joonmyun. I need you to take care of him."
They nodded and shook hands. "Agreed," Joonmyun said. With that, they left Yixing's office.
Jongdae stood up as soon as he saw Yixing. "Boss," he called out.
"How are the kids?" asked Yixing, jokingly referring to Zitao and Jongin.
"They're still in position. Everything seems to be going fine," reported Jongdae. Yixing took his coat from his usual chair at the conference table and put it on.
"I'll be gone all day. Don't wait up for me." Yixing started walking out before Jongdae grabbed his wrist.
"Why?" Jongdae asked him softly, concern in his eyes. Yixing didn't understand it.
"It's a client," Yixing answered, words simple and voice flat. Jongdae let go of his wrist hesitantly.
"Please don't overwork yourself. You always overwork yourself." Jongdae's concern was sweet, but Yixing didn't need it yet. What he needed was an idea of the situation that he was going to deal with for the next few months or so.
"I'll be fine. Please text me if anything happens. You know when it's note-worthy, Jongdae. You know when to call me." Yixing left with that, promising to take care of himself when he had the time. Which he didn't, especially not now. Not in the near future.
Lu Han and Joonmyun were already waiting in the car for Yixing. Lu Han's office was a little far from Yixing's, and they had to find a way to make Yixing more accessible for Lu Han and Joonmyun. Joonmyun was busy on his phone while Lu Han looked eager to talk to Yixing again.
"How are you, Yixing? How's the life of solving the elite's problems all the time?" Lu Han asked, moving to lean on the car door and face Yixing.
"It's quite exciting, actually. You think these people would learn from all the rumors of others messing up, but they seem to get worse and worse. Some are even regulars at our office, coming in every few months or so." Yixing chuckles at the thought of his highest-paying clients and how often they came to him with a new scandal under their belt.
"Well, managing crises seems to be more exciting than leading an organization. At least you have some action while all we do is brainstorm and throw money away to poor people," whined Lu Han. Yixing looked over at the passenger seat and saw Joonmyun nodding somberly.
"Why does everyone worship you though? You're so popular with many people, and now you're telling me that you don't really help out?" Yixing raised his eyebrow.
"I'm a friendly guy, Yixing. I've made a lot of friends in the press, and they always help out in making me look good."
Yixing chuckled. "I have connections too. Jongdae used to be a reporter, more of a researcher actually, but I recruited him for my firm. Now he's having a lot of fun stalking people for me." Lu Han laughed at that. "It's not as exciting as it sounds, Lu Han. Don't be deceived by how handling problems is portrayed on TV."
Lu Han sighed. "Whatever. I still think your job is cooler than mine."
They arrived at the building after a few minutes of silence. Yixing felt awkward to sit beside Lu Han and feel those knowing eyes looking at him, staring at him. Lu Han must have known that he was uncomfortable, but a part of Yixing liked the attention. He liked to look up and smile at Lu Han and cherish the blush on his face, the way he slowly became awkward and uncomfortable as well.
"How's your staff situation in the office?" Yixing asked Joonmyun while they were going up the elevator.
"We have the basics: department managers and some volunteers to run them," reported Joonmyun. When the elevator doors opened, Yixing didn't expect a full crew to be there. An area was exceptionally busy, and Yixing assumed that that was the fundraising department.
"This is more than enough, Joonmyun. You've got a full campaign team here," said Yixing.
"That's good. I was worrying about needing more volunteers, but maybe we'll hire more when campaigning actually starts." Joonmyun led them into the back of the headquarters. Yixing noted Joonmyun's desk outside Lu Han's and the "Deputy Campaign Manager" on the plaque on it.
"Joonmyun?" Yixing asks softly. "Why are you only the 'Deputy Campaign Manager'? Are you telling me--"
"I wanted you as my campaign manager and consultant from the very beginning," Lu Han admitted. "Is that bad?"
Yixing shook his head, albeit hesitantly. "It's fine." Yixing glanced at the plaque again. "It's alright."
They took their seats at the couches in Lu Han's office. Yixing looked around and saw Lu Han everywhere, from the little memorabilias on the shelves to the soft carpet on the floor that reminded him of Lu Han's parents' house. Lu Han always liked to leave a little piece of himself on everything and everyone, and Yixing was no exception to that.
"Coffee?" Joonmyun offered to Yixing.
"Tea," answered Lu Han. "The same way that I like it."
Yixing looked at Lu Han, and they smiled at each other. "You never change, do you?" Yixing asks.
"I really like tea," was Lu Han's reply. Yixing chuckled and took the cup of tea from Joonmyun's hands. Some things really didn't change, like the way Lu Han sipped from his tea immediately and burned his tongue, causing Yixing to laugh and Joonmyun to sigh exasperatedly at him. It's obvious that Joonmyun was used to Lu Han being like this, and it helped to know that someone else was here to deal with Lu Han's antics.
Yixing tugged Joonmyun down to take a seat. Joonmyun looked tired, as usual, but Yixing saw that sparkle in his eyes. He was starting to get excited, starting to anticipate the late nights and frantic decision-making. He liked the thrill of battling a problem. I should recruit him into my firm, Yixing thought to himself.
"So," started Yixing, "tell me what you want. There's a thousand ways we could do this, and I want to make everything clear before we really begin."
"I want a clean campaign. No smearing, no blackmailing, nothing. We're going to do this in a way that won't cause any problems for anybody," Lu Han said firmly.
"I agree," Joonmyun piped up. "In everything we do, we have to tell Lu Han. This is his candidacy at stake, and everyone's had enough of politicians faking their innocence. Lu Han is a good guy."
"I am a good guy," Lu Han repeated.
"I don't think you understand the game of politics, Lu Han. A little foul play is unavoidable, and you need to accept that," Yixing said calmly. Lu Han's youth was shining at that moment, and Yixing understood what Joonmyun was trying to say a while ago. They needed to hide all this naivety before others could exploit it and claim it as a weakness.
Lu Han sighed. "I trust you, Yixing. But I don't want to be a pawn in this game. I don't want to be just like every other candidate."
"You don't want this to ruin you," Yixing said simply.
"That's it. I don't want this to ruin me or change me. At the end of this thing, I still want to be me. I want to be Lu Han. I don't want to be the guy who bent over backwards just trying to win and failed in the end."
Yixing nodded, trying to hold himself back from throwing the truth at Lu Han. He'll understand on his own time.
"What else do you need?" asked Yixing.
"I need you to be honest and tell me what my chances are. As I am, will I win? Do I even have hope?" Lu Han looked down, humbling himself, hoping that Yixing would give him some good news instead of putting him down by telling the truth.
"Honestly?" Yixing said with a skeptical voice. He wanted to be encouraging, to assure Lu Han that this is a race instead of a futile chase. He also wanted to be truthful, to tell Lu Han that not everyone will love him and not everyone will care about him.
And yet those eyes looked up from the ground and stared into his. Yixing sat still for a few seconds, reading past the raw optimism and trying to see the core of the man before him. When everything is lost, when everything has been stripped away from him, the money and the fame and the facades he has to upkeep, is Lu Han the man he wants to be or the man he has to be?
"Honestly," Lu Han answered.
"You won't have any appeal to the general masses." Truthful it is, then. "You're a big shot city boy, and not everyone will like you for that. You don't know poverty. You don't know what it's like to be unsure if you're going to have anything to eat or not. You don't know anything about their lives, and even your charity or altruism doesn't show that you know their hardships. You're willing to help, sure, but to them, you're just another boy with a lot of money.
"And based on what you said about the press making you look good, so many people will despise you for the donations that never came, the hope they had that was suddenly taken away," answered Yixing.
"The press never fabricated anything! Everything they say I've done was true. They just make it look better, not by making me bigger, but by making the people smaller, poorer, more in need of what I have to offer," Lu Han defended.
"We have to change that. It's easy to get city people to like you; the masses are more important than them," Yixing mumbled. "You need to prove yourself by doing something that won't be magnified by the press. Bask in humility. People eat that up."
"That sounds like a good idea, but think of the cost. People donate to us because they hear things about the charity work that we do. If they don't hear anything, we don't get anything," Joonmyun countered.
"Joonmyun, we're much richer than what we actually have to be. It doesn't matter if we donate a few hundred sacks of rice to some provinces," Lu Han said calmly. "I trust you, Yixing. I understand what you want us to do. This is image-building, right?"
"Exactly. We have a lot of good things that we can work with, and I'm sure there's a lot of things we can improve on too. For now, we need to solidify this philanthropic image. Nobody can hate someone who gives so freely and delivers his promises," Yixing said.
In his mind, things were more systematic. He was always good at chess, even as a young child. He knew how to win, and he knew how to make others lose. It helped to know how to manipulate others in his job. Manipulation is a key skill in the game of politics too.
Yixing's phone rang suddenly. At the sight of Jongdae's name, Yixing stood up and answered the call. "What's going on?"
"Youngwoon killed the problem," answered Jongdae. With those words only, Yixing was ready to explode in anger. He always, always, hated it when clients disobeyed him, putting themselves into even more trouble than they already were.
Yixing sat back down in frustration. "Pick me up in Moon Tree headquarters. It's in Ring Three."
"Okay, boss." Jongdae hung up.
Yixing sighed at the curious looks that greeted him when he looked up. "Trouble at work?" asked Joonmyun.
"You said it," Yixing muttered. He pulled out a calling card from his wallet. "Here's my number. If anything happens, tell me. If you want to do something, tell me. I have to know everything that happens in this campaign for me to make sure that nothing goes tragically wrong."
Lu Han stood up with Yixing, quietly guiding him outside the office. "I'll lead you out. Come on," Lu Han offered. Yixing waved goodbye at Joonmyun before he and Lu Han walked to the elevator.
A few seconds of silence passed by them before Lu Han pulled Yixing towards him for a bone-crushing hug. Lu Han was steady and warm, and Yixing missed his presence for the past few years. He missed the easy way that Lu Han would reach out to touch him, and Yixing missed being able to pull him in too. He missed everything about Lu Han.
"I'm happy that you're doing this. I'm happy that you're starting to make these big decisions now," Yixing murmured, trying to pull away from Lu Han after noticing that they'd been hugging for five floors already.
"I'm happy to have you here again. I'm happy to know that you'll be holding my hand through all of this." Lu Han relaxed into the hug, and Yixing found his way out of the circle of his arms. It was comfortable, sure, but he made a promise to Joonmyun. He didn't want to be a distraction.
The elevator doors opened, and they went back to being Yixing and Lu Han, just two men living separate lives from each other. They still smiled at each other before Yixing went inside Jongdae's car and remembered the problem in his hands now.
"Take me to Youngwoon. Let's fix this," ordered Yixing. Jongdae followed wordlessly as usual, occasionally looking at Yixing as he drove through the streets of Ring Three into the tunnel leading to Ring Two.
Beijing was a massive city, rebuilt after World War Five, and it became the hub of everything in New China. Because of how huge it was, the city was separated into seven large areas called Rings. Ring One was the government's turf; Ring Two was where the rich and important lived; Ring Three was the place that everyone wanted to be in, from important company headquarters to public establishments like malls and parks. The quality of life decreased as the number increased, and it slowly became a system of life. People learned to stop rebelling and use their energy to work instead.
"We're here," Jongdae announced, slowly rousing Yixing to consciousness. Yixing rubbed his eyes and yawned, shaking himself to prepare for the scolding that he's going to have to do. A disadvantage of this job was always having to seem like he's hard, like he didn't have a heart. There's no space for sympathy when he's out there trying to clean up someone's mess.
Youngwoon was on his large leather couch, completely unfazed by Jongin, Zitao and Sehun standing in front of him, arms crossed in front of their chests as if they're ready to beat him up at a moment's notice. Yixing stormed into the living room, annoyed with the turn of events.
"I can't believe you, Youngwoon. Didn't we discuss this? Let us deal with the problem while you keep your mouth shut and take care of yourself?" Yixing yelled. Youngwoon took a sip of his coffee calmly.
"I had nothing to do with his death. Maybe it really was his time to go," he answered. Sehun sighed loudly and dropped an envelope on the coffee table. Youngwoon opened it and saw pictures of his men entering the building and leaving it a few minutes later. He paled and slid the pictures back inside the envelope.
"We have proof. Give it up," said Jongin.
"Fine. I ordered some of my men to kill him just in case he decides to release the information even if you've negotiated with him already. It was a precaution," Youngwoon defended himself.
Yixing groaned in frustration. "It was a 'precaution' that's going to cause you even more problems now. He would have followed, Youngwoon. I've been doing this for way too long, and I know someone who's desperate. He was too desperate for money; he would have followed everything we said to the very letter if we gave him the right amount.
"Sehun, edit that tape. Make sure there's no evidence anywhere that they were there." Sehun nodded and left to go back to the office.
"Jongin, Zitao, does anyone know about the murder yet?" Both of them shook their head. "Clean up the scene. Make it look like a suicide. We'll discuss the story later. If you can, find those records and erase them. Let's end this problem now."
Yixing and Jongdae went out to finish the story, make sure that no one saw those men. At the end of the day, the man was said to have committed suicide, depressed after losing his job. Youngwoon had nothing to worry about and they got away with it quickly and cleanly.
Jongdae hugged Yixing from the side before he left the office. "Do I have to drive you home to make sure you actually go home?" he joked. Yixing laughed at him and shook his head.
"I'll be fine, Jongdae. Be safe." He waved as Jongdae walked out the door.
"You too," the younger man called back.
Yixing briefly thought of calling Lu Han or Joonmyun to check how they are, but he stopped himself before he could get his phone. It had been a long day. It's time to take a break.
Joonmyun and Yixing are drinking alone in a table, casually discussing some details about the campaign. Lu Han's too busy with the press and all his guests, charming his way into their hearts. There are even some random employees who were invited to the post-conference dinner, and Yixing feels proud of himself for thinking of that. Every movement is calculated, and it shows that Lu Han doesn't only focus on the rich and the elite.
Everyone is important to me, from the big sponsors to the guys who bring me my coffee every morning and night, Lu Han once pitched to Yixing when they were strategizing one late night. Yixing loved the idea of equality, and it became another advocacy in their platform.
Yixing feels a tug on his arm and looks up to see Lu Han beaming at him. He stands up and walks with Yixing to where the bulk of the people are, smiling even if he can't see anything past the flashes of the cameras.
"This is Zhang Yixing, my campaign manager," he places an arm around Yixing's shoulder, "and my closest friend."
The people murmur and Yixing grins at Lu Han, trying not to lean into Lu Han's frame in fear that they'll see how close they actually are.
"How did you two meet?" a guest asks. Yixing and Lu Han chuckle simultaneously, remembering all their ridiculous adventures together.
"We were roommates in university," explains Yixing. "When he was starting his cute little part-time volunteer group, I was helping him out on the weekends and trying to get people to join him."
"It wasn't cute!" Lu Han objects. "It was noble, and it eventually grew into Moon Tree. Before I really formed the organization though, we were just asking people to volunteer, struggling to get the university to acknowledge it as an actual group, and a bunch of other little problems."
"Eventually, we graduated and Lu Han had to pass the torch to someone else. They said that he could continue to volunteer and watch the organization grow though," says Yixing.
"Yixing went to law school and I tried to go into the banking industry with my economics degree, but I just didn't feel it. There was something really compelling about helping people and I loved the org. I couldn't leave it behind." Lu Han looks longingly at the logo of Moon Tree attached to the wall. "At least Yixing had some sort of direction."
"Yes, and my direction was to pass the bar exam and get so many offers to join different law firms, but in the end, I decided to make my own crisis management firm." Yixing shrugs when someone asks him why he didn't just become a normal lawyer. "Where's the fun in that? Crisis management makes me active all the time, and I can use everything I studied for in a more fun way."
"Anyway," Lu Han starts, "while Yixing was starting his firm, the organization suddenly received a massive donation from a very wealthy company. We were all shocked to see it in the org's bank account. The university asked me if I wanted to make it into an actual organization, and I was shocked. I never thought my little weekend project could make it to this scale."
"A few weeks later, I opened the newspaper and saw something about Moon Tree, an organization started by my good friend Lu Han. It was a shock to me too," says Yixing. Lu Han smacks him lightly.
"You're acting as if you never had any faith in my program!" Lu Han complains. Their childish banter makes everyone laugh, and Lu Han beams at him.
They spend the rest of the night telling funny stories about each other in university, distracting people from the campaigning and trying to make Lu Han seem like an open book to the public. The guests ask about their grades, their adventures, their love lives, and they have to carefully dodge on that one. Neither of them want to talk about hasty kisses in the back of the bus on their way to the mall, warm hands finding their places on skin cooled with sweat, Saturday nights when they would map each other's bodies with their lips and their touch. That isn't something they commonly talk about, but it's something they think about often, whether they deny it or not.
"I should go. My apartment is a little far," Yixing says. Lu Han smiles at him and shakes his hand.
"Rest well, Yixing. We have a lot of work to do tomorrow, right everyone?" They all cheer at Lu Han's words, and Yixing feels his heart melt a little with relief at the sound of Lu Han's supporters. At least the past few months of sleepless nights and constant fretting have achieved something.
Yixing takes a deep breath before he starts the car. The long journey starts from now.