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Jun. 14th, 2012 | 10:18 pm
Summary: Tao tries to grow up quickly for Kris, but the duizhang realizes that he loves his didi just the way he is.
Kris' anger was like an angry, charged current emanating through the van.
The other members felt it tangibly. Luhan and Xiumin were silent, worried eyes exchanging glances every so often; Chen lay on his armrest and pretended to sleep; Lay chewed on his lower lip and stared out the window. Tao squeezed his eyes shut and tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, that he couldn't sense a rising furious anger in the leader.
They were back in the dorm and behind a closed door when Kris snapped.
"I cannot believe you guys," he began coldly. "That interview was the worst—even worse than the first one! Yixing, how on earth did you forget your lines? We went through that script a million times, and you just forgot in the middle of a sentence? And Zitao, how many times do I have to remind you, Yixing is Lay onstage! And Chen, there were a ton of questions you were supp—"
"Duizhang," Tao whispered, putting a hand on Kris' shoulder, flinching when the angry older man rounded on him. "I'm sorry, we're sorry. We'll do better next time, okay?"
"Next time?" Kris laughed coldly. "That's what you always say! 'I'll try harder next time!' 'I'll improve next time!' How about now? Would that be too much to ask?"
Tao took Kris' hand. "Ge," he said cheerily, faking humor. "Don't be so serious, yeah? I promise I'll do better next time—I'll do it for you. What's done is done, and we can't—"
Shaking him off, Kris inhaled deeply. "Huang Zi Tao," he growled. "Listen to me. Stop acting like a goddamn child! You are freaking nineteen! Don't 'ge' me and try to get away from your own mistakes! You aren't a kid anymore and it's time you took responsibility for yourself—"
"Why are you so mean—"
"—and grew the fuck up!"
The entire group ceased breathing. Kris glared at Tao, who turned away, trying to blink away his tears. Lay opened his mouth, perhaps to comfort Tao, then snapped it shut.
"I." Tao swallowed hard, trying to dispel the lump in his throat. "I'm going for a run." He turned around and slowly walked out of the dorm, shutting the door behind him gently, worse than if he'd slammed it hard.
Kris whirled around and saw the other members looking at him with...what? Discontent? Accusation?
"Get changed," he ordered, heading upstairs to his room. "We have practice in an hour."
Tao didn't return.
Luhan had covered for him, telling their trainers he was sick and thus putting them into poor moods as well. No one dared to talk to Kris—the uncharacteristic episode that afternoon frightened them.
By dinnertime, there was still no trace of Tao.
During free time after they ate, Kris stepped out of the bathroom after his shower to find the four remaining boys clustered on the ground, speaking in hushed tones. They clammed up when Kris appeared, looking at him warily.
The tall boy sighed. "Now what?"
Xiumin was the first to speak after a pregnant pause. "Tao," he mumbled. "We can't find him."
Kris snorted. "Just call him! You have his phone, don't you?"
"He's not picking up," Chen said somberly. "We can't reach him. Actually, Minseok and I went out to find him, and we couldn't."
It was then that Yixing stood. He grabbed the map from the ground and held it out to Kris. "Duizhang," he said softly yet firmly. "You should look for him."
Kris' eyes darted to the other members, who nodded in agreement. Yixing's face was gentle and soft as always—and just. "Please," he said softly. "It's already dark. Look for him, and bring him back."
Kris rolled his eyes. "Fine." He snatched the map from Lay's fingers and stalked to the foyer, slipping his shoes on and exiting, feeling the worried gazes of the others on his back.
Lay was right—the sun had set long ago, and the streets were now bathed in the warm glow of streetlights. People roamed the street in singles, couples, and triads, still about their business despite the hour. Kris' heart sank—it would be impossible to find the boy under these conditions.
He looked at the map again. The others had already x'ed out the areas close to the dorm where they had searched, leaving the northwest quadrant for Kris. Kris sighed and started toward the plaza up the street, reasoning that a still busy and crowded space would be able to give him some answers of Tao's whereabouts.
He spent nearly an hour combing through the mass of people to find Tao. He asked people if they'd seen a tall boy with dark hair and large eyes who had been wearing a suit. The responses were negative from the stall-owners, and the younger people there began to recognize Kris and started tugging him this way and that, begging for pictures, hugs, and kisses.
"I don't have time," he snarled, escaping his fans' clutches and heading away despite the disappointed pleas and cries behind him.
He ran down several streets, looking and shouting for Tao to come out, wherever he was. In some less populated areas, dangerous men eyed him; he glared back and went on his way, giving them no chance to do whatever it was they had planned. A few women dressed in skimpy outfits called and even reached for him; he ignored them.
A sense of foreboding filled him as no one responded to his calls, as he could find no tall, well-built teenager on the street. What if Tao had met those men? His wushu skills could hardly defend him against a thief with a knife. Or what if he'd been lured by the promises of a prostitute, brought into some hidden, obscure place? The thought made him sick, but Tao was a nineteen-year-old boy with a nineteen-year-old's desires and reckless impulses.
"Tao!" he kept screaming, until his throat was raw. He had ran down every street and avenue, peeked down every alleyway, and there wasn't even anyone who could tell him that they'd seen Tao. He grimly pressed on, ignoring the ache in his calves and the sweat on his face.
A winding street he ran down led to a small path that opened up to a park, dark and inhospitable at eleven at night. Only a few high school students and a college-age couple were lounging around the park benches. The lighting was dim and he shivered from a breeze swooshing down from the treetops. He squinted at the map again; beyond the park in a northwesterly direction there was only a freeway—he could hear the sounds of speeding cars from here—and, beyond that, the airport.
Surely Tao wouldn't go past the park, would he?
Not the airport. He wouldn't leave like that—the contract forbade it. Nonetheless, Kris found himself choking on his own dread and began to push himself harder, running around the park to see if any of the scattered solitary figures was Tao's.
He finally collapsed in the grass-covered ground, tired and close to tears at his own failure and regretting the words that had flown out of his mouth, when a tiny spot near the fountain in the center of the green lit up from a cell phone's tell-tale light, illuminating a masculine face with a strong, prominent nose and messy hair.
"Tao?" he yelled. The figure jerked up in surprise. "Tao!" He sprinted toward the boy on the ground by the fountain who stayed silent and still, hoping to go unnoticed.
Kris reached Tao and grabbed him hard by the shoulders, shaking him. "Zi Tao, what were you thinking?" he shouted, staring into Tao's face. "How could you just leave like that? They were so worried—I was so worried—I—"
"Ge," Tao whispered, breaking Kris off. Kris knelt near Tao, his worry-turned-anger not quite faded, his fists clenching and unclenching as he looked on at the figure in the grass with his face downcast, suddenly seeming small.
"You don't know how hard I try." Kris found himself leaning closer to catch Tao's words over the roar of the fountain. "Since I came to train, I tried to grow up. You know how I was when I first came—you remember, right? So I tried to be more mature and stop acting all cute," he mumbled. "But I can't seem to succeed. And I try to improve, I really do. It's just that sometimes it's so—" He sniffled, wiping hastily at his eyes. "Hard."
Kris tentatively leaned forward to fold Tao into his embrace, and the younger boy lay his head on the duizhang's chest.
"I want to be grown-up," he said softly, looking up at the clouds that obscured the stars swimming in his vision. "I want you to see me as a man, you know?" He laughed, a sound not at all happy, just throaty and humorless. "I want to be good enough for you. And every time you call me didi and say how you want to take care of me, and every time I start whining and complaining like a kid, I feel like I've failed myself." He swallowed. "And you. Sometimes it hurts, knowing that I'm so near to you and all you see me as is an immature little boy and at times I just want to leave, it hurts so much."
Kris held Tao tight, hugged him, felt the wind ripple his hair gently. "Don't feel that way," he pleaded. "It's me. I failed. I never should have—God, I should've just never said anything. All that I said this morning was a lie." Tao looked up at him curiously and he tried to smile, but failed. "When I first met you, you were just a sweet kid who didn't know what to do and where to turn. I've seen you change, and you've grown. But please, please, don't change for me."
"I don't want you to hurry and grow up. I don't want you to be what you're not. I loved you when you were trying to get me to shop with you by acting cute—I like you when you're just yourself."
Tao was shaking in Kris' arms now, tears dripping onto his blazer from that morning, ruining it with a saltwater trickle.
"I love you how you are." With that blunt and slightly embarrassing confession, Kris buried his face in Tao's hair, kissing it and inhaling its musky sweetness.
"Ge," Tao whimpered. He turned his face to look up into Kris' eyes. "You really meant it? What you just said?"
"Yeah." Kris willed the heat in his cheeks to subside.
"That's all I've ever wanted." Tao looked down bashfully, a tiny pleased smile curving his lips despite the tear track on his face.
On impulse—something Kris had told himself never to act upon—he bent his head down to press his lips to Tao's. It was only a quick press, warm and fleeting, but it left Tao wide-eyed an mildly shocked when he pulled back.
"Do you forgive me?" Kris asked quietly, stroking the side of Tao's jaw with his long, shapely fingers.
Tao's mouth opened, shut, and opened again. "I, uh." He struggled for words. "I'll think about it."
"Next time I get mad, just knock me out." Tao laughed, and Kris with him. "Seriously, though." He sobered, searching Tao's gaze. "I am sorry. So sorry I'd do anything to take my words back, but I can't. Don't believe a second of those lies."
"I forgive you." Tao's eyes fluttered shut and Kris leaned forward to catch his lips in a kiss.
"Thank you," he murmured against Tao's lips.
They kissed, and kissed some more; a minute could have passed, or ten minutes, or an hour, while Tao sighed and gave himself up to Kris' gentle, reassuring mouth.
A loud, gurgling growl from Tao's stomach was effective enough in breaking them apart, breathless.
"Sorry," Tao whimpered, bending over to clutch at his stomach. "I'm hungry."
Kris' eyebrows furrowed in concern. "Aren't you—wait, have you eaten at all?"
Tao shook his head no miserably.
Sighing, Kris stood and pulled Tao up with him. "I'm sorry, poor baby," he muttered, drawing Tao close. Tao gladly burrowed into his warmth and broad shoulders despite the uncomfortable gurgling in his stomach. "Let's go. We'll have to see if any vendors are still open this late."
"Is this a date?" Tao asked quietly, still clutching to Kris.
The duizhang just laughed. "Maybe, if you want it to be."
Before the door opened, the remaining members had been in a quiet state of panic. Xiumin was pacing back and forth in front of the TV, frowning. Yixing had been mumbling to himself while trying to find a way to track Tao or Kris through remote GPS sensing. Luhan was uncharacteristically stuffing his face with food, and Chen simply sat on the couch, staring into space.
When Kris and Tao entered, the remaining four had leapt up, concerned and alarmed—and hopeful. But Kris appeared not to see them as he kicked off his shoes and dragged a half-asleep Tao up the stairs to the younger boy's room.
With some difficulty, he removed Tao's jacket and pants and forced pajamas upon him.
"This isn't how I imagined you undressing me," he mumbled, yawning.
Kris smiled. "You can tell me all about what you imagined tomorrow," he said, letting the younger tumble into bed. "For now, sleep."
"Stay?" The one tiny, sleepy word from Tao's lips had a profound effect as Kris hesitated for a split second before slipping into the covers after him. Tao's heavy head felt so good, so right against his shoulder as the younger lulled into sleep.
Xiumin peeked into the dorm room he shared with Tao and smiled softly at the sight of the duizhang and the didi intertwined, deeply in sleep.
Then he closed the door and charged into Chen's room, jumping onto his bed and asking for a sleepover.
AN: Lately I've been overly conscious of my mistakes/awkwardness in my employ of the English language. It's not often that my non-native-speaker problem comes into play, but when it does, it sucks. Therefore, my fics are less than satisfactory. Please bear with my awkyness for now.