Warnings: explicit sexual content, descriptions of violence, memory loss, weirdass timelines, minor swearing, extremely minor breathplay & rimming, hinted xiutao, major character death, unbetaed.
Summary: Everything between them is a half lie, toeing the line of love and lust.
Author's notes: i’m starting straight off by saying this isn’t my best work. BUT regardless of this word vomit i hope someone enjoys this. and a massive thank you to the mods, you guys have been amazing.
It’s the first thing Zitao can focus on when he wakes, bone-deep and suffocating, numbness giving way for a sharp spiking through the tips of his fingers, skin feeling too tight, too small as he twitches, struggles to blink open his sleep heavy eyes. There’s an ache in his neck, head lolling until his chin rests against skin, the rush of blood in his ears all he can hear, the blood all he can taste — and it’s with a shudder, flashes of black, nothing, nothing – that Zitao breaks through the haze of unconsciousness, attempting to recoil from the harsh artificial light that greets him.
The movement is restricted, frigid water shifting and spreading sharply through the apex of his thighs, choking on the gasp as he feels skin pull taught, rip a raw cry from his throat instead. It takes him a good minute to blink the spots from his vision, eyes squinted as they shift from the peeling white of the wall opposite of him and down, skimming over the stained edge of a bathtub, the strip of tan skin exposed between murky water and melting ice.
The water is stained pink, almost innocent aside from the taste of copper, the lingering taste of salt.
It’s the shivers that set in next, wracking his body in short, random spasms. He expects the memories to follow, the why’s and how’s, but instead is faced with a slate of pieced together images; the rising sun seeping colour into the city of Beijing, his own reflection, the smell of the ocean. Lu Han.
There is no face to go with the name, no voice. For some reason, it scares Zitao more than the blood.
He slips two, three times, elbows knocking against tile before his legs have enough strength to lift him out of the tub, water and ice sloshing over the edges as he drags himself out, sliding graceless to his knees. The effort has him dragging in ragged breaths, crumpling forward to land heavily against his elbow.
It’s another dozen minutes or so before he has enough sense to move again, his body reacting slowly to the wet, humid air, beads of sweat already beginning to gather on the crease of his forehead. The tiles beneath him are cracked, grey lines creating jagged patterns across faded yellow and his eyes follow a path until his breaths are no longer painful, as steady as he can achieve with the ache in his side, his knees. It helps extinguish the cold buried deep in his bones, unsteady but determined when he pushes himself back up, hands finding grip on the walls. And each failed attempt to find his feet send a fresh wave of pain through his fried nerves, teeth sunk into the dry skin of his lower lip. He doesn't hear the door open - wasn't even sure it did - not until it's swinging dangerously close to his face, regretting the instinctual reaction to flinch that sends him backwards, the edge of the tub cutting into the bare skin of his back. "Need some help?"
The face that looks down at him is soft, voice light and eyes hard. He’s dressed sharp, a black tie hanging loose against a crisp white shirt, waxed lace-ups pointed at the tip. Zitao can’t tell if he’s attempting to move closer, or away from the cold air that flows from the room behind and through the door, eyeing the other hesitantly while he tries to find his voice.
“Where am I?” The words hurts, voice hoarse and tongue feeling thick in his mouth.
The man ignores him in favour of offering a steady hand, eyes never wavering as Zitao contemplates the offer, “I’ll tell you what you want to know once I get you out of this room, or you can stay here, your choice.”
He nods, a mere tilt of his head but enough for the other to crack a smile. Zitao feels the embarrassment flush up his neck when he’s pulled to his feet, clad in nothing but black boxers that stick to his skin uncomfortably, biting back a wince that isn’t missed by the other.
“Don’t worry, your stitches are fine. Just can’t go showing off or bending too far for a little while.”
With a hand supporting himself, Zitao rests against the door frame heavily, ignoring the urge to flinch away from the arm that wraps around his waist. “Stitches?”
It makes irritation flare, yet he remains obedient and it’s not long before he finds himself propped up awkwardly against cool leather, a fresh change of clothes thrown onto his lap, fingers fiddling with the fabric. The other man – Zitao wonders what his name is – has his back to him, humming a tune that Zitao thinks he should recognize and he takes the chance to dress, eyes scanning the room with a muted interest. It’s an open spaced living-dining area, decorated in charcoal grey and white, surfaces sleek and clean, a drastic contrast to the room he had woken in barely twenty minutes prior.
“Do you remember anything?”
Zitao goes to shrug, tugging the jeans given to him snug around his waist before thinking better of it. “Should I?”
“I’ll take that as a no.”
A glass is dropped on the table in front of him, the head of a Chinese dragon carved delicately into the crystal, a single ruby eye glinting back at him. “Who are you?”
“My names Yixing,” there’s a small smile on Yixing’s lips. It drops the moment he takes a seat on the couch opposite. “We met when you were sixteen years old on the streets of Shanghai, that was five years ago.”
“Five years-“ That made him twenty-one. Twenty-one years gone. “Why don’t I remember anything?”
“That I can’t answer. The stitches, the whole waking up in a bathroom fit for a cheap slasher film – that was all Lu Han, and Lu Han never usually tells us anything until it’s too late.”
Lu Han. “Who is he?”
His tone comes out sharper than intended, shrinking slightly as Yixing’s gaze narrows on him again. “What do you remember about him?”
“The name. That’s it.”
Yixing’s smile is slightly tighter the next time round, Zitao’s eyes following the movements as the other loops the material of his tie through his fingers and relaxes back against the couch, using the other to gesture at the untouched glass. “You should drink; you’re going to need it.”
It’s less of a suggestion and more of a polite command that Zitao follows readily, thumb brushing against the rim before it’s pressing against his bottom lip, head tipping back. It’s rich malt on his tongue, burning the back of his throat when he swallows. It’s not what he needs, he needs water, food probably too, but he manages not to choke.
He doesn’t look up again, too many questions and nowhere to begin already leaving him with aching temples, not until the ties thrown on the table and a buzzers sounding through the apartment, piquing his interest despite the exhaustion beginning to make him feeling heavy and sluggish.
“That’ll be duizhang and the others,” Yixing says, breaking the silence with a genuine smile. It feels oddly familiar. “Welcome home Zitao.”
Duizhang - "it's Yifan but none of you ever listen to me anyways," - was the one who wrapped him in a hug that left him wheezing, murmured something about breaking Zitao's legs himself if he tried leaving again. But it was Minseok who whacked Yixing over the head, talking over numbers Zitao didn't understand before dropping a chilled bottle of water and dry biscuits in Zitao's lap. "You're going to need this," Minseok informs him, taking the glass from Zitao's hand and downing the remainder of the whiskey with a flick of his wrist. "And I'm putting you on bed rest for a few days." It's too much for him to take in, but the offer of sleep is too tempting to give up and he finds himself nodding. "I'll explain what I can to you tomorrow," Yifan offers, fixing him with a smile. Zitao nods, accepting the hand Minseok offers.
“Where’s Jongdae?” He hears Yixing ask, glancing back long enough to watch the other kick his feet up on the coffee table, eyes closed.
“Looking for Lu Han.”
It's the room that hits the hardest, photos lining the walls, split-second snapshots telling the story of a stranger with the same face. He sees the others too, an easy affection between them all, between him, able to be seen in the way they’re always touching, an arm thrown over a shoulder, smiles frozen in time.
It makes his head ache.
There’s a single frame sitting on the bedside table, an unfamiliar face. Zitao thinks it’s a few years old at least, thrown off by the way the other man he eyes only for Zitao. Blind to the lens.
With a sigh, he tips it down. He could deal with the ghosts of his past tomorrow.
They weren’t good people, but they weren’t bad people either, they were simply people who got caught in between the two and did what they needed to in order to survive, the type that held desperately to the humanity that could be so easily lost. That’s what Yifan told him, anyways.
So he didn’t question the times Yixing returned home covered in blood that wasn’t his own, or the way Jongdae – with a smile that always curled on the edge of cruel – would be gone for days at a time. In fact, the day he had first woken was the last time he had seen so many together at once. Yet there was always someone home to keep him company, talking him over what they did, what he used to do.
Except for the one day there wasn’t.
Yifan had been going over numbers, supplies, how much would be left to split between them by the end of the month when he had received the call. He hadn’t bothered elaborating, had simply told Zitao to stay put and keep his phone close. Zitao hadn’t missed the gun hooked to Yifan’s hip and wondered who was in trouble this time.
It was quieter with them all gone, left counting his own breaths over the soft whir of the air conditioner. With a fresh lot of painkillers in his system and head tucked into the crook of his arm, it took him only minutes to fall asleep.
He liked to think his dreams were memories, his past painted in monochrome and mismatched timelines. It’s how he had come to trust the others, because even if he couldn’t remember them, that was one thing that had never left, dulled perhaps, but there. So he had just assumed this was another dream, that the hand at his jaw, fingers curled delicately against his cheek, were another memory.
Except his dreams had never been in colour.
He moves too quickly, irritating the stitches in his side, fingers dipping inside his pocket for his phone. “Fuck.”
“Looking for this?” The voice sounds amused, but makes something click into place, his retreat halting before it had really begun,
“I’ve been wondering when you would show up.”
“Did you miss me Zitao?”
“There isn’t much to miss,” Zitao says carefully, “you saw to that.”
There’s no affection in Lu Han’s smile. “I did what I needed to.”
It’s the first real look Zitao’s gotten, lips pressed into a thin line while his eyes wander. Lu Han isn’t big, but his eyes watch him like he knows exactly what Zitao’s thinking, a lazy cockiness to his stance. No, Lu Han isn’t big, but he still manages to make Zitao small.
“Was it to stop me from leaving?”
“I didn’t stop you from leaving,” Lu Han shrugs, turning Zitao’s phone between his fingers before throwing it back. It lands beside him with a soft noise. “That was your own choice.”
“I told you. It was needed,” there’s a hard edge to his voice now, the first glimpse of emotion seeping into dark eyes. “And I won’t tell you again.”
It disappears as quickly as it had come.
There’s an anger settling in his chest, curling itself around his ribcage and locking tight. Familiarity in its finest form. “What gave you the right to decide?”
It’s wrong, probably, the way Zitao so greedily gives in to the way Lu Han falls forward, presses him down and takes. But Zitao does the same, not quite wanting to give in, but not quite willing to pull away either. Lu Han’s lips are dry, but his mouth is hot and welcoming, hand holding him in place. Zitao knows this isn’t the first time, Lu Han’s too familiar with the shape of his lips, the taste of his tongue. But for Zitao it feels like the first, the invitation to an addiction he has no choice in.
“I don’t remember you,” Zitao gasps, a half lie. He doesn’t think he could ever forget this.
“I’ll make you.” Lu Han promises.
"What did he do to me?" Minseok shrugs, lazy, Zitao's eyes following the ripple of muscle the movement causes. "He won't tell us. Won't tell any of us, not even duizhang." "Can't he order him too? Isn't this-" he asks hesitantly, gesturing to the Chinese letters stamped into the elder’s hip, "all of this, run by orders?" "You forget something." Minseok murmurs, fingers hooking in the material of his shirt hanging somewhere down by his feet. "What?" "It's Lu Han." Minseok dresses with Zitao's gaze narrowed on him, the tight lines of his brow smoothing out only when Minseok wanders back over, fingers lacing through the messy strands of Zitao's hair, lips brushing dry and delicate. "Lu Han was made on breaking rules." It's only when Minseok has a foot out the door, jacket hanging over his shoulder, that Zitao speaks up again. "What does that mean for me?" "Nothing good, probably."
He’s forced into training a week later.
They had tried to keep him off the radar for as long as they could – “he needs to heal!” – and Yifan had known if Zitao’s state had been found out he would have been taken, turned into the perfect lapdog without question. But the big bosses were getting restless, stating that something needed to be done, and needed to be done now. They all knew they held no choice here and Zitao’s job was sent to them the next day.
It hurt. Yifan worked him nine hours a day, a desperate attempt to bring him back up to what he deemed was a suitable standard. He ripped his stitches twice, had managed to stain the training room floors with blood when he had taken a fall that little bit too hard. Yifan tried promising it would get easier. Zitao appreciated the sentiment.
He hadn’t seen Lu Han within the two weeks that had passed and didn’t bother asking.
The first night out was a test run, a chance to scout out the area. Zitao had almost cried at the first touch of sun, though it had set within the hour, leaving Zitao’s eyes trained on the shadows that quickly fell over the city. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been outside.
It was easy, hidden on the roof of an apartment block, time slipping away without incident.
That’s how Lu Han found him and Zitao chose not to question it.
Subtlety isn’t something Zitao prides himself on, the proof lying in the nights he had already stolen between sheets with Minseok, the rushed handjobs when Jongdae came home high off a kill, hungry for an eager body. He had learnt that Yixing belonged to Yifan, that Lu Han held a claim over him that Zitao wasn’t entirely against.
But Lu Han was overwhelming, too much at times. And it had only been once, but Zitao was so desperate for more, for a taste of the addiction that had festered in the dark of the night, his hand fisted around his cock and Lu Han’s name on his lips.
Lu Han had been all too eager to provide, quick to have Zitao’s back pressed to a wall, his cheek pressed to the stiff sheets of the closest hotel, working him open with his tongue. Zitao held pliant with a hand on his hip, pushed to the edge and left beautifully wrecked, spread filthy around Lu Han’s fingers.
And Lu Han sliding in, filling Zitao until all he can think about is Lu Han and the heavy drag of his cock- it feels awfully right.
And Lu Han always managed to fuck him like he meant it, like he owned him.
"You let Minseok fuck you, I heard you calling his name. But you weren't screaming it, not like you do for me." Lu Han's hand is resting dangerously gentle around the column of his throat, thumb brushing against a thundering pulse point. A subtle possessiveness seeping through. "Isn't that right Zitao?" And Zitao is nodding, so, so desperate for the release hanging just out of reach, eyes pressed firmly shut. "Yes," he gasps, "no one fucks me as well as you do." Everything between them is a half lie, toeing the line of love and lust. Yet he's rewarded for that one, Lu Han's hips driving forward and sending his cock in a delicious drag that makes him sob. "What about duizhang?" Lu Han teases, "did you let duizhang fuck you?"
“N-no,” Zitao doesn’t want to think about duizhang, doesn’t want to think of anything else but this. “Duizhang isn’t mine to have- isn’t mine to want.”
“No he’s not,” Lu Han agrees, and his hand tightens, not enough to make Zitao panic but enough to make each breath in hurt. “You’re mine to want, mine to have.”
Zitao agrees and makes sure Lu Han knows. Anything, anything to make this last.
Anything for Lu Han to stay.
It’s a set up, so glaringly obvious that he thinks he might deserve the way a bullet rips through his shoulder, the pain not quite registering. Not yet, anyways.
“Dump him,” someone says, and Zitao wants to protest, wants to fight back but his guns gone – when did that happen? – and there’s nausea bubbling up his throat, the pain hitting so thick, so sudden that he can’t breathe, leaving a sticky trail of red along the concrete floor. He can’t remember when he fell.
This isn’t how it’s meant to happen, he thinks, this isn’t right.
But there’s more gunshots, echoing in his ears and sending his vision swimming, too many hands on him, voices melted into a wordless blur he can’t understand.
“You’re going home.” Another voice says, he thinks it sounds familiar this time. “Hang on Tao, we’ve got you.”
Home sounded okay, he thinks.
It's deja vu, the fluorescent light making his eyes sting before he even has enough thought to blink them open, his neck aching from being held in one position for too long. The chill is there, settled on his body like a second skin, the ache in his side, too. Except this time he remembers, disoriented even as he rasps out Lu Han's name. There's no answer of course, only his own voice echoing against the faded tiles. A memory lingers on the forefront of his mind and he instinctively shifts his shoulder back, feeling the skin pull tight, his next breath in uneven. He hasn’t got the energy to move, so he yells instead, does so until the doorknob rattles, muffled voices heard.
It’s Jongdae this time, flanked by Yifan and Zitao feels stupid for hoping for someone else.
“It was a set up,” Yifan seems cautious with his words, tucking himself up against the doorframe while Jongdae moves forward to help him. “We managed to get you out in time.”
“I know that,” Zitao’s voice is sharp, anxiety so blatant he almost wants to recoil from it. “How?”
Zitao watches Yifan dig into his pocket, seeming to hesitate before holding up whatever he slides out. It’s small, about the same size as Yifan’s thumb, a green light flickering on and off.
“What did he do?” Zitao asks softly.
“He got there before us Tao, he knew where you were. He always did.”
Zitao moves his gaze to Jongdae, too afraid to voice the question on his tongue.
But Jongdae nods, makes Zitao’s chest ache. “He’s gone Tao.”
“You’re lying.” Zitao whispers. And he repeats it until he can’t, curls into himself and pretends he can’t taste the salt of his tears on his tongue, that the arms that wrap around him belong to Lu Han.
Convinces himself that this was the dream.
After all, what’s an addict to do?