exo // kai/kyungsoo (tiny sehun/lu han/kai) // nc-17 // 22,000 words
[street race AU... or is it.] There are three tracks to Do Kyungsoo's life. Track A, trader at an investment bank. Track B, new recruit of a race crew called EXO. Track C... track C involves someone named Kai and a whole lot of bad decisions.
Kyungsoo wakes up to the rough scratch of asphalt concrete against his face and the damp earthy smell of drizzling rain assaulting his nose with every breath. This is the kind of rain that has been going on for days and weeks. Cold, musty, and weary. Spring rain. It hasn't rained like this in Seoul for a long time. His face hurts when his skin drags against the asphalt as he twitches and struggles to pull himself away from the ground. The pavement feels wet and cold under his fingertips. Rain drops sprinkle on the back of his head. His cheeks feel raw and tender. His bones ache. When he finally pulls himself up to a sitting position, the ground is mottled with dark spots and smears that don't quite look like rain. They seem to match the long bloody scratches on his hands. Kyungsoo hisses when rain drops hit the scraped open skin.
He can still hear the echo of his pounding heart, loud and insistent in the quiet air of the early morning. It's still early morning, he decides, looking at the pale grey colour of the sky. The streets are empty, doused with lingering sleep. It takes a while for his limbs to work again, fingers still curling in the last dredges of adrenaline. He has to take a few deep breaths, trying to decide where he is. The streets look familiar. A few blocks away from the garage. A few blocks away from his apartment. He keeps stumbling on his feet, but the walk doesn't feel all that long. The early joggers and salary workers barely glance at him when they pass by. The drizzling rain isn't enough to soak him through, but the cold dampness sends chills through his body, the weather seeping through the layers of his clothes.
The windows of the first room from the right on the second floor of his apartment building are open when he gets there. Kyungsoo stands at the feet of the building, looking up, staring at the open windows, feeling slightly bewildered and lost. There's a black Genesis Coupe parked just outside on the street. Kyungsoo walks over to the car, leaning against it, going over his options. His hand fumbles, taking out the wallet from his back pocket. Cash, cards, a polaroid hastily shoved in, a stack of receipts. Kyungsoo peels himself off the car, sparing one last glance at the open windows before turning and walking the other way.
He passes by a newspapers stand on his way. He picks up one, glancing over the headlines, and his grip falters when he looks at the top right corner of the paper, just above "Income Tax Rising by 2.4%" and "Mass Car Pile-up In Incheon's North Port". He carefully puts the newspapers back to its place. When he looks up, someone is staring at him from the lowered window of a blue Hyundai stopping at the side of the road.
"Hey." The driver smiles at him, "Want a ride? You look like you need one."
Kyungsoo shuffles on his feet. It's still raining. "I'm fine."
"Kyungsoo, right? I've seen you around the tracks. My name's Jongdae." The driver is still smiling, reaching out a hand through the car window in an offer of a handshake. Ingrained manners had him step forward and take it. "No, really, I insist. It's raining, and you look like you've just gotten out the better side of a car crash." Eyes flicker towards his scraped arms. Kyungsoo pulls his hand back. "I'll take you back to your place. No problem at all. Is it far from here?"
Kyungsoo bites down on his bottom lip. "I. It's okay. I kind of don't have a place at the moment." Code for he doesn't know where the hell he's going, really. Jongdae blinks at him, eyebrows raised.
Then somehow he ends up in the passenger seat of the Hyundai, sitting still with hands folded in his laps, careful not to smear blood on the car's interior as Jongdae periodically glances at him during the drive. Maybe he could help, Jongdae said. Kyungsoo considered his options. Weighing pros and cons and calculating in composite risk.
"People have been asking about you, did you know?"
Kyungsoo hums, leaning against the window, staring at the cars and buildings flying past, Seoul painted in monochromatic shades.
"There's a garage a few blocks from here called EXO, have you heard of it? Friends of mine. They're looking for a new driver to join their crew for the upcoming Race War. You should check them out. They've seen you around the tracks." Jongdae makes a sweeping movement over the steering wheel. He's one of those people who can't stop talking when there's another person in the same enclosed space. Compulsive conservation-maker. "They've been asking about you."
They are on the way to Jongdae's place, he said. There's a vacant flat next to his right now, maybe Kyungsoo could take a look. What a nice coincidence. As if life is made up of coincidences and good luck.
"You sure you're okay? Really not going to the hospital? Your ear's bleeding."
Kyungsoo raises a hand to his ear. His fingers come away smeared with blood.
"Wild night out?" Jongdae jerks his head towards him, eyes fixed on a certain spot on his body. "I hope you've copied that number down somewhere. Someone might be waiting for a phone call."
Kyungsoo glances down, fingers automatically coming up to trace what Jongdae is looking at. There's black ink on the pale skin of his palm. Clumsy shaky strokes, straight lines coming out as slanted wriggles as if written by a child, nearly illegible, smudged by rain and little bloody scratches. A string of digits, not nearly long enough to be anyone's phone number.
"I hope you remember the lucky person's name."
Clutch, drop to second gear. He feels the shockwave pass through his body as the car engine revs up to 4500 rpm. He quickly releases the clutch, feeling the huge surge of power almost throwing him backwards as the rear wheels lose traction and the back end of the car swings out of control, kicking up a dust storm on the track. Except not really, because the trick is how to ride the wave and wrangle the swing into the curve of the turn, letting the car fall into a drift. Break, throttle, steer. The rubber and metal mass screech loudly against the concrete over the sound of the engine. He sweeps the steering wheel in an almost too large motion, sending the car into a wide arch before reigning it in again, feeling the subtle shock slam through his body as the back of the car almost hits a concrete post.
He lets the car go in for a fourth spin, all the while staring at the man standing as the focal point in the middle of the skid pad. He could see the calculating eyes and upturned curve of a small amused smile, following his own gaze, arms calmly folded over his chest despite being in the centerpoint of a car going out of control in circles. His foot hits the break, and the car screeches as it ends the last drift facing right in front of the other man, the sound loud and jarring. Neither of them flinches. The tall man calmly lets his arms fall and then brings them up in a slow clapping motion. Kyungsoo lets out a small breath, killing the engine and pulling off his seatbelt, getting out of the car. He slams the car door closed to the sound of everyone clapping and whistling at him.
"Fucking awesome! I knew you would be a good catch after the Bukak Skyway track!" Obnoxiously tall guy's expression has turned from calculating calm into manic excitement. His wide eyes must take up half of his face, Kyungsoo thinks as he surreptitiously backs away from the guy. His grin is all teeth. Obnoxiously white, even teeth with exceptionally good dental hygiene.
"Chanyeol, back the fuck off, you're scaring the kid!" One of the guys sitting on top of a high metal bench calls out. "His eyes look about to pop out of his face!"
"You fuck off, Kris! Why the hell are you even here? You're not on this team!"
"I have to check out your new recruits to make sure I won't need to find someone to mop up your remains on the race track." Blond guy twitched his lips up in something resembling a half smirk half grimace, flicking a cigarette butt to the ground. He stands up, and blond guy is just as obnoxiously tall as Chanyeol, if not more. Kyungsoo winces internally as he realizes they're practically towering over him. "He's not bad, I guess. Better than the guy who littered broken glass across your backyard last time." Blond guy was staring straight at him now, the faint trace of a smirk still on his lips.
"Get out, Kris. Don't be jealous we will kick your ass and shove your bitchface into the ground this year with cute shortie here." That's what Chanyeol says as he drapes himself all over the blond guy - Kris' shoulders. He grins wildly as Kris elbows him in the ribs to get him off.
"Provided you can whip him into shape in the next few months."
"He's a natural, I can tell." Another guy walks up to them, smiling at him. Suho, Kyungsoo remembers his introducing himself earlier when he first stepped into the garage. He said "I heard you've been looking for me," and Nice Smile guy, Suho, told him, "Show us what you've got." How cliché, he thought, but his heart still pounded loud in his chest when they gathered around his car in the garage's backyard - which was far bigger than any backyard had the right to be. "What's your name again?"
"Kyungsoo." He subtly leans against the car, feeling distinctly uncomfortable by the pairs of eyes sizing him up head to toe. "What, do you need to do a background check?"
"Maybe not yet," some skinny ass guy laughs. Skinny guy speaks with a lisp, his eyes disappearing into half-moons when he smiles.
"He's all right. Good drivers are a dime a dozen, you need someone a little out of control." Kris shrugs, hanging his elbow on Chanyeol's shoulders. "He lacks a bit of techniques - his grip gets slippery and he gets out of control sometimes... but there's something about it."
"Yah, who hired you as our HR manager?" Chanyeol rolls his eyes as he pushes the blond guy out of the way. "But he does remind us of someone, doesn't he?" Chanyeol grins as he leans in closer, caging him in with his towering height. Kyungsoo presses his back against the hard metal top of his car.
"The way he drives, yeah... He reminds me of that kid." Kris suddenly turns to look straight at him, eyes assessing. "They both drive like a man dying for crash to happen. Fucking fearless. Sometimes that's not quite a good idea."
Kyungsoo frowns, his mouth already open for a retort when someone else saunters up, hands on his hips, raking his eyes up and down Kyungsoo's form. "Good thing now we've got shortie here as his replacement, huh?"
"No one is Kai's replacement, Baekhyun. Kai is still on the team." Suho taps the guy on the shoulders, looking exasperated.
"Well, sometimes it's just a bit hard to remember, seeing as his flaky ass majesty is nowhere to be seen half of the year." Baekhyun rolls his eyes. "Have you even asked him if he's gonna sign up for Race War this year?"
Everyone turns to look at each other as a hesitant silence settles upon them. "...The last time I saw him was before the official announcement of Race War. Over one month ago." Skinny guy shrugs, looking distinctly uncomfortable. Baekhyun throws his arms up in exasperation as if to say "I rest my case."
"So..." Kyungsoo shuffles on his feet. "Do I pass?"
"You can't get out even if you want to now." Suho shifts towards him, hand extended for a welcoming shake. "Welcome to EXO-K."
Kyungsoo stares for a few seconds before taking the offered hand, gaze not leaving the eyes boring into his.
"Take him to the Incheon track tonight." Kris calls out, waving dismissively as he turns away, walking off.
Seoul in spring is all glittering lights and wet concrete. The hum of the city is amplified by the rumble of dozens of car engines along the highway in Incheon's North Port, the metal beasts in all shapes and colours lining up among the excited chattering crowd. Obnoxious dance tracks are pumping out from the mega speakers of larger-than-life cars, their chaebol kid owners posing and parading around with pretty girls hanging off their arms, showing off their family's money with flashy LED lights and gigantic spoilers. The real money crowd hang together at a distance, middle-aged directors and government workers sneering next to their billion-won super cars, slick and flawless stock beasts of Ferrari red and BMW black.
Kyungsoo smoothly steers his black Genesis next to a fiery red GT-R with fluorescent silver stripes down the hood. Chanyeol and Baekhyun are sitting on top of it, Chanyeol crunching loudly on a handful of bbq-flavoured chips while Baekhyun surreptitiously steals his chips from the bag every five seconds. Kyungsoo does a double-take at the sight of Baekhyun - he looks like an entirely different person with an obscene amount of eyeliner and metal rings adorning his knuckles. They wave at him when he climbs out of the car, at the same time a velvet purple Audi smoothly pulls up on the other side of the GT-R. Kyungsoo had seen it back at the garage, but the shine of its coat looks absolutely stunning under the street lights.
"Yo, Sehun!" Chanyeol does a quick high-five with its driver when he gets out of the car. Skinny ass guy cleans up exceptionally well, with his hair slicked back and a designer leather jacket that looks like it costs half the car he's driving slung over his shoulders. The perfect picture of an obnoxious chaebol kid over-spoilt by his parents' money and too much free time, looking for a quick thrill on the race track.
"The funny thing is Suho is the rich-ass chaebol kid." Chanyeol laughs, his voice deep and obnoxiously loud over the revving of engines and pounding music. He leans against the sturdy hood of the GT-R, listening to Chanyeol and Baekhyun ramble and trade off-track gossips, waiting for all the bets to be called. Chanyeol waves at Suho who's talking to some guys over an orange Eclipse. Kyungsoo follows his gaze and catches Kris' eyes in the group. "The Audi V10 is actually Suho's car, but he's too much of a nice guy to really race, so he lends it to Sehun. Great strategy, of course. Sehun makes a good bait, luring all the obnoxious show-off assholes in the circus into thinking he's just another pretty rich boy with too much money and free time. The kid makes good money on the tracks."
"Actually, you do as well, don't you?" Baekhyun grins, flicking a piece of chip at him. "That clueless bewildered face, everyone thinks you're just a lost kid green around the gills accidentally stumbling into the track. But you're not, are you? I've seen you race. You might have stumbled into the track, but I don't think you're clueless. Kris was right about picking you out. He has an eye for these things."
"That curve at the Bukak mountain track... that was some impressive work. You've got the potential, and you're a nobody, so they don't know what you're capable of. You could be our secret seed."
Kyungsoo flicks the chip off his shoulder, brushing the fabric of his jacket with a frown. "Why did you think I would race for you guys?"
"Well, you're here, aren't you? And you know it's not just about us. We could say it's for the money, but that's not it either."
Chanyeol laughs, waving at a white Skyline that's just pulled up next to the Audi. A slender kid climbs out, his eyes wide and obscenely young, but the defined lines and angles of his face speak of something sharper. Sehun pulls him into a hug. "You've got that look. Like you wouldn't give a damn if everything went to hell in a handbasket, but you always somehow offhandedly pull back at the last second when you belatedly remember that you're not supposed to crash. I told you, you remind me of someone."
"Your friend who left?"
"Kai hasn't left." Chanyeol shakes his head vigorously, as if shaking the thought off himself. "He's just... not around as much as he could be." Baekhyun snorts next to him.
"Are those guys Kris' crew?" Kyungsoo jerks his head in the general direction of the group Suho and Sehun are hanging out with.
"Yep, that's M team. There's Kris, bitchface king of the track, you've already met him. Short guy with the orange Eclipse is Yixing. Cute blond who's just stepped out of the white Skyline is Lu Han. Ice blue 370z is Minseok. The slick forest green Genesis is Tao, that's the guy who looks like a kungfu assassin next to Kris. He's a cute kid, really. Oh, and over there talking to Suho is... Jongdae. M's coordinator? Manager? Something. You'll meet them all eventually."
Jongdae waves at him when he catches Kyungsoo's eyes across the crowd.
"Race War, you must have heard about it, right? Pretty much the year-end award show of the race scene around here, maximum five cars per crew. That's why we share the same garage but split up into two groups, K and M. People flock in from all around the country. Korean tuners, imports, rich-ass show-offs, we get all types. The venue changes every year. This year it's the Galma mountain track. That's why we've been looking for a new recruit, a good drifter. Our crew do all right, we've got our ace cards, but we need new blood."
"Because our flaky ass ace card is an unreliable flaky ass. He's good, but teamwork is hard when no one ever knows where he is." Baekhyun purses his lips.
"I don't hear you complaining when he rakes in the money for us every fortnight." Suho walks over to them, slapping Baekhyun on the shoulders. Sehun follows behind him. "Let's get going, we're up for the fourth race." Chanyeol pats his cheeks as he jumps off the red GT-R.
"Who's driving tonight?"
"Sehun and Kyungsoo. Sehun's already got a number of good bets going for the night. Oh, and they're not closing the roads tonight. Extended free-for-all track." Suho grins, ruffling the hair on the back of Kyungsoo's head. No road close-down, just look-out posts. They're racing with civilians tonight. Two in the morning, it isn't like there's going to be traffic jam on this stretch of the road. Suho gives Sehun and him a pair of small black earphones and mic sets. "For coordination," Suho tells him, his small voice crackling in Kyungsoo's ears as he climbs into the driver seat.
The black/green Genesis and the snow white Skyline pull up to the starting line next to them. The blond kid, Lu Han, smiles and waves at him, while Tao just nods, dark hair falling over his eyes, a look of grim concentration etched on his face as he grips the steering wheel. Chanyeol and Baekhyun flash him good-luck thumbs-up from across the crowd. An obnoxiously neon green Nissan Silvia with too many GT-R decals and blue LED lights pulls up on the other side, along with a slick silver Mercedes S350. The track would be a little crowded for this round.
Kyungsoo lets the hum of the engines take over his head, drowning out the noise of the crowd and putting the rest of the world behind soundproof glass window. He feels the smooth tremble under his touch, vibrating through his body. Eyes straight ahead, a long stretch of windswept highway rising up above concrete buildings and dark mountains, illuminated by street lights and headlights. Suho's voice in his ears is a tiny distant reminder.
"Ready. Set. Go."
And the crowd leap forward.
Sehun takes the lead, along with the silver Mercedes. The purple Audi zips past ahead of them smoothly for half a quarter mile before the dark green Genesis catches up, sliding in between Sehun and the silver Mercedes. The obnoxiously loud muffler on the neon green Silvia is starting to get on his nerves, so Kyungsoo calmly swerves to the right and let the rear end of his car slam against the Silvia, scratching off a large line of the paint coat and taking satisfaction in the sputtering broken LED lightboard. The force of the impact has the Silvia sprawled halfway to the other side of the highway, and Kyungsoo snorts as it scrambles to get back on track as civilian cars coming up from the opposite direction honk loudly when they swerve past, nearly hitting the Nissan on the rear end again. The Silvia's driver rolls his window down to scream at him, but Kyungsoo is already speeding ahead, tailing closely behind the dark green Genesis.
They keep steady speed, until it gets near the end of the next quarter mile and Tao suddenly presses the Mercedes to the side. It takes Kyungsoo a few seconds to realize he's making way for Lu Han as the white Skyline shoots ahead out of nowhere, inches away from his car and nearly tailgating Sehun's Audi before swerving to the left.
"What-" Kyungsoo blinks - he's completely forgotten about the Skyline. The white Skyline speeds ahead the Mercedes and Sehun's Audi in the next few seconds, the car a white blur of a ghost on the dark road.
"Did Lu Han just jump ahead? By the way, he's M team's ace card." Suho cheerfully informs him over the earpiece, leaving Kyungsoo to stare in bewilderment. The obscenely cute blond kid drives like the fucking devil. Tao is apparently M team's fucking bait, and no one thought to inform him. "Kyungsoo, your turn now!" Sehun suddenly swerves, pushing both Tao's Genesis and the silver Mercedes to the side, opening a wide stretch of road ahead of Kyungsoo's way. He bites down on his lip and slams down on the accelerator.
"U-turn 100 metres ahead!" Suho shouts over his earpiece. Kyungsoo lets the speed drop abruptly, throwing the weight of the car to the front wheels. The tire treads on the front screech loudly against the asphalt as his back wheels lose traction and start to drift. Kyungsoo steers the car to a perfect 180 swing before hitting the gas again, speeding back to their starting point. He's second place now, aiming for Lu Han who's already ahead of him, the screeching sounds of the other cars drifting far behind him. Except there's suddenly too bright headlights right next to him, and a heavy beast of a car suddenly slams against his side as it zooms past. Kyungsoo barely manages to swerve back on track before another car from the opposite direction could crash into him head-on.
"The fuck was that?" He hisses in disbelief, because the car that has just wedged itself between the white Skyline and him is an entire Jaguar XJ saloon, the silver frame huge and intimidating in all its billion-won glory. It obviously is not part of the race, but no civilian drives like that, much less a Jaguar owner-
"Oh shit," Chanyeol's breathless laughter comes through loud and obnoxious over his earpiece, "oh fuck, that's his flaky ass majesty! Of course he decides to turn up out of nowhere and crash the race after a whole month of non-existence. Shortie, keep the hell out of his way!"
"The Jaguar, that's Kai! Keep the hell out of his way if you don't want to end up in a ditch off the road with the metal wreckage of your car! He's going for Lu Han now!"
True to Chanyeol's words, in the next second the silver Jaguar slams sideway into Lu Han's Skyline, almost throwing it off the road. The Skyline quickly recovers, but it's somehow lost the inertia, desperate to stay out of the Jaguar's way.
"Oh man, Lu Han's gonna be pissed-"
Kyungsoo hisses in empathy as the Jaguar driver manages to scrape off half the shimmery silver paint coat on the right side of his car. If he could just squeeze past the tug-o-war between the Jaguar and the Skyline... Except the Jaguar's rear end rams into his headlight when he tries to push past, shattering its own tail light.
"Aw shit," Chanyeol is still laughing over the earpiece, "He doesn't know shortie is on our team! Kyungsoo, listen, Kai isn't here to win the fucking race, he's just blocking our competitors, so just stay out of his way and-"
Kyungsoo takes a deep breath and rolls his shoulders back. In the next beat, he lets himself slam against the Jaguar. The sound of shattering glass and scraping metal explodes in the tiny sliver of space between them. He can't see the other driver behind the black-tinted window of the Jaguar, but he could feel eyes boring into him. Everything after that is a blur as they speed side by side towards the finish line to the screeching haze in his head, tiny shocks vibrating through his body with every impact. He has the faint impression that there's really really loud shouting in his ears, but he just can't quite make out the words.
Then the Jaguar breaks away - and everything comes to a screeching halt.
When Kyungsoo's eyes blink open again, Chanyeol is there, pulling him out of his car and into a bear hug, laughing and shaking him vigorously. The crowd is whistling and clapping loudly around them, and Kyungsoo barely comprehends what's just happened when Suho jumps up behind him and smooshes his cheeks.
"You're fucking crazy, shortie!" Chanyeol pulls on his arm, jerking him towards the car. "You've probably just managed to destroy the entire right side of your car to win that race, but I suppose that's what it takes to go head to head with that other crazy kid!"
When he looks up, the silver Jaguar is right there next to his Genesis, its side in a similar state of destruction, the metal scraped raw and dented. Then he realizes the window on the driver's side is down, and that other crazy kid is staring straight into his eyes, a smirk gracing full reddened lips. Kyungsoo feels his heartbeat pound loud in his chest, the rush of adrenaline still surging through his blood stream, sending tingles down his fingertips. He curls his hands into fists, nails digging into his palms as if he could claw out the shivery feeling under his skin. Then the white Skyline pulls up next to the Jaguar, and their gaze breaks as the Skyline blocks the way. Kyungsoo blinks.
"Kai! Are you going to Race War?" Lu Han shouts from his car, and Kyungsoo thinks he doesn't sound all that mad for someone who just practically got slammed off the road by a random car coming out of nowhere.
"Yeah. Yeah, I think I am." The deep timbre of the voice makes Kyungsoo's head jerk up. It might be just his imagination, but their eyes meet again, and Kyungsoo feels frozen in place.
The Jaguar spins off and disappears into the night before the rest of the cars in the race finally pull up to the finish line. Sehun hands him a thick stack of cash at the end of the night. Kyungsoo blinks.
"Don't let Jongin scare you off."
"Who's Jongin?" Kyungsoo asks, but Sehun has already disappeared back into the raucous crowd.
It might just be his imagination, but he sees the silver Jaguar again on his drive home in the early morning hours, its taillights broken and side door caved in, the metal frame barely hanging on to its hinges. Kyungsoo stares as the Jaguar speeds down a skyway and swerves right off the wrong side of a curve, throwing itself headfirst down against the asphalt below with a sickening crash. All screeching crushing metal and shattering glass. The cacophony of sounds is loud and piercing in the dead early hours, ripping apart the soft sheen of the early morning. Metal skids and claws against concrete. There is no dramatic fire or explosion, just a crushed metal wreckage lying broken and cold on the road in the chilled Seoul morning.
Kyungsoo sits there in his car and waits until the first rays of sunshine light up the city's skyline, but no one walks away from the metal wreckage - all that remains of the silver Jaguar. His heartbeat pound loud in his chest. He spends the wait sorting his music collection - by artist by album's name by genre by year - over and over and over. He can't see the blood from this distance.
It's raining again when he opens his eyes. The asphalt is cold and wet, the drizzling spring rain soaking into his pants. His knees hurt, like he might have scraped them raw beneath the fabric. Kai runs a hand through his hair. Monochromatic Seoul, never-ending rain. Nothing ever changes much around here. The walk back to his place is long, but his body is still running on the white hours of adrenaline, so he takes the long route. Except the rain picks up halfway and he makes a face before ducking into a nearby grocery shop. His hands are cold, and the cold makes his body itch for coffee.
There's only another customer in the shop. A short guy in a dark blue sweatshirt, standing there in the middle of the aisle picking between brands of canned tomatoes, looking as though tomato paste holds the secret of the universe. Kai recognises him. He only saw the guy for a few brief moments squished between Chanyeol's arms and half-blocked by Lu Han's Skyline, but he recognises the way those wide eyes take over half of his face, making him look half terrified half bewildered. He saw those eyes staring straight at him through the tinted windows of their cars with metal and glass tearing up the space between them. Soft-looking round cheeks, cute lips, neat dark hair. He's holding on to a red plastic shopping basket. Kai walks over, running a hand through his hair again to hopelessly shake the water out.
"Hey," he smiles, nice and sweet, as if he's approaching some skittish puppy, "Grocery run in the rain?"
Short guy turns and stares at him with some impressively wide eyes, looking as though he's just seen a ghost and is not entirely sure whether he should run away screaming.
"I'm Kai," he says, like a reminder rather than an introduction. Somehow he doubts the guy could have forgotten him. Short guy fumbles with his basket, mumbling something that sounds like "I know" under his breath, then hastily grabs a can of tomatoes and clutches it to his chest like a shield, eyes skittering away from his. Kai frowns. "I'm sorry about your car last time? Nothing personal, I swear. I hope it's still functional?"
Short guy finally huffs out a laugh, throwing the can of tomato into his basket. One packet of pasta, one packet of cheese. Basic single items for the basic single life. "I don't have high hopes for it."
"I'm sorry?" He tries again, giving his most disarming smile. "I can pay you back." Short guy makes his way to the cashier, and he follows suit, quickly grabbing a can of coffee on the way.
"Are you following me?" Short guy frowns at him when they're both standing under the extended roof outside the grocery store. It's still raining, big fat drops of water hitting loud against the concrete.
He points at the umbrella under the other's arm. "You have an umbrella. And probably making some food soon."
Short guy turns to stare at him, "What makes you think you can just follow me home for free food?"
"Because you're a nice person, I'm soaked, and I've just had a really, really long night?"
They end up walking together in the rain under a too-small umbrella meant for one person. Half of Kai's side ends up soaked anyway. Short guy insists on holding his own umbrella, and the sharp pikes keep hitting the top of Kai's head, even as he slouches down. The can of coffee is warm between his fingers.
"Are you really not afraid I'd murder you once you bring me back to your place?" He asks when short guy - Kyungsoo, he said - unlocks the door to his apartment. "Hey, I recognise this building. Isn't this where Jongdae lives as well? You know, smiley guy, killer cheekbones, part of M team? You must have seen him around, you hanging around with that crowd now and all."
"I have more reasons to worry about your passing out on my floor than your murdering me." Kyungsoo snorts, holding the door open for him. "You look like a wet poodle. Stand there and let me get a towel."
"I was only kidding when I said I'd follow you home." He says, pulling off his heavy jacket, dropping it to the floor with a wet plopping sound. "But you really took me home, huh. Maybe you're the axe murderer, luring me back to your place with the promise of food and dry towel." The place looks like it could be the lair of an axe murderer too - sparse and bleak, empty walls, empty boards. The cushions neatly placed on the couch as if it's never been touched. He pulls off his t-shirt, and is in the middle of unbuttoning his jeans when Kyungsoo returns to the living room and shrieks, throwing a towel at his face.
"What are you doing?!"
"What?" He pulls the towel down to his bare shoulders. "My clothes are wet. It's cold." He strips down to his underwear. Kyungsoo glares, but grabs his pile of clothes and disappears into another room. Kai pulls the towel around his shoulders. He sits in the kitchen watching TV while Kyungsoo makes some strange fusion cuisine he calls kimchi spaghetti. The cheese smells good, and there's kimchi, so he's more than happy with it.
"You're awful nice to a stranger who nearly crashed your car on a race track." He says between shoving spaghetti into his mouth with chopsticks.
"You're awful friendly to a stranger whose car you nearly crashed. How long has it been since you last went to the garage?" Kyungsoo asks, "I think they'd want to see you."
"I don't know. I don't remember." He pokes at the kimchi. Something red drops down to the plate. A bunch of white paper napkins gets shoved into his face before he could react.
"Ugh, gross, don't bleed all over the food."
Kai laughs in embarrassment, holding the paper napkins to his nose. Nosebleed over kimchi, really. Kyungsoo leads him to the couch, making him lie down face-up, prone and quiet as Kyungsoo cleans up in the kitchen.
He falls asleep on Kyungsoo's ugly mustard couch sometime after. There's still the sound of raindrops hitting the window panes when he wakes up to a quiet room later, the sky a muddy shade of dark grey against the glittering lights of the city at night. His head still feels heavy, his body aching and weary, so he drifts off to sleep again to the sound of the drizzling rain.
When he wakes up for the second time, the sky is a brighter shade, and his clothes are placed on the coffee table next to him, dry and warm, neatly folded. Kyungsoo is nowhere to be seen so he lets himself out, feeling oddly like the abandoned morning after of a secret affair.
He takes the green bus from the stop down the corner of the street. He leans against a pole, feeling the hum of the tire treads against the asphalt below his feet. Chanyeol is the first to catch his eyes when he rounds the corner and sees the garage. Before he knows it, he's already pulled into a spinning headlock.
"Kai!" Chanyeol laughs, ruffling his hair. He's probably missed that crazy scrunching face a little. "Wow, I didn't expect to see you again so soon! It's been less than one week, this is a new record!"
"Yeah?" He gently dislodges himself from Chanyeol's grip, waving at the other guys who are coming out to see what the commotion is all about.
"Well, we barely saw each other's face that night you crashed the race with your fancy Jaguar last week, but I'd count that as a sighting." Tao pulls him into a hug, while Kris comes over and attempts to pat his head with a wrench.
"Where's Lu Han so I can grovel for his forgiveness after scratching the paint off his Skyline?" Kai laughs, but he's already known the answer. Early morning, the people hanging around at the garage are only people who actually work there. That's just Kris, Yixing, Chanyeol, Baekhyun, and Tao.
"Well, Lu Han is not here, but you can grovel for forgiveness from Kyungsoo instead." Yixing pushes him in, and Kai blinks at the sight of Kyungsoo hunched over a laptop on a work bench. He looks up at the commotion and blinks, wide eyes staring at Kai like a deer in headlight when their eyes meet. "Introducing the newest member of EXO-K team, the one with the half-wrecked black Genesis you nearly ran off the road last week!" Yixing pushes him forward, making him almost stumble. His lips twitch up in a wry smile, and Kai slowly walks towards Kyungsoo.
"Yeah, okay... yeah. I'm really sorry about your Genesis. Let's start over again?" He extends his hand. "I'm Kai." An introduction this time.
Kyungsoo hesitates for a few seconds, then reaches out to accept his handshake, his fingers warm and small in Kai's grip. "Kyungsoo. And I'm not sorry about your Jaguar."
Chanyeol bursts out laughing behind them. "No one is sorry about the Jaguar."
Kyungsoo tilts his head in confusion.
"You know how they say each man kills the thing he loves, except for the smart ones? The smart man hires a someone else to do it. That's where Kai comes in. He's a hitman." Chanyeol pats him in the cheeks. He enjoys telling this story. "That's what he does for a living. That's why he doesn't come to the races, not anymore. Not for the money, at least."
"You don't quite look like a murderer," Kyungsoo says. What a compliment, he thinks.
He settles down next to Kyungsoo on his bench. The other man doesn't move away when their shoulders touch. "A shiny red Ferrari 360 Spider, a yellow Lamborghini Gallardo LP 570-4, a silver Jaguar XJ saloon, a heroine white Porsche Carrera S, a matte sky blue Maserati Spyder. Count the money in your head. Showroom-perfect pristine super cars, the ultimate dreams of luxury and modern day self-worth, withering away in private garages and back parking lots. Someone's dream gone stale. In this city, there are always old men with billion-won cars looking for a crash."
Cars about to be lost in messy divorces or inheritance fiascos. Cars the bankrupted owners can no longer make payments on. Cars driven by a scorned mistress. Insurance fraud. Revenge. Desperation. Love. There are all kinds of reasons to drive a car off a cliff. The screech of tires against the asphalt or the scraping of metal against concrete walls, that's just the sounds of a dream gone stale.
"That's what he kills. Filthy rich assholes' stale old dreams. A stack of money turned into love turned into some metal wreckage off the side of the road."
"It pays well." Kai says, leaning against the gaping hood of a rusty white Silvia. "People pay a really high price for destruction, surprisingly."
"Not everyone has the heart to slam a pristine Porsche against a lamp post then send it crashing down a cliff. People pay a high price for cruelty. I keep telling him to give us the parts to sell before he crashes."
"It's not the same. Those lonely mistresses deserve a good death if they're not gonna get a good life."
"That's why you don't race anymore. Because you're always driving for a crash now." Kyungsoo says, eyebrows furrowed in thought. He'd look better smiling, Kai thinks.
"So what do you do for a living?" He asks, eyes trailing over the neat fingernails of Kyungsoo's hands. Hands folded tightly in his lap.
"I... work in a bank. Not so exciting, compared to your trade."
"Crunching numbers. Controlling the money of world. Some white-collar banker looking for a bit of thrill on the weekend." He grins, teasing. Kyungsoo just nods.
"Something like that."
"Hey, you should go out with us for a drink tonight! Sehun and Lu Han are coming by later." Yixing slaps him in the back as he walks past.
"I'm gonna have to pull a Kris this time." Kai says as the others groan in exasperation, "Maybe next time, guys. I gotta go. Tell them I say hi."
It might be an accident, it might not, but Kai sees the dented black Genesis on his way back home that evening, the car already familiar with its half-broken windows and scraped paint. If he looks really closely, he might even see some silver flecks from the Jaguar. It isn't raining anymore, but the car still skids wildly out of control as it rams against a road divider and flips in the air, the huge metal frame almost weightless in motion. It crashes to the ground upside-down, flipping a few more rounds, before finally slumping down in a broken wreck, strewing glass and petrol in its wake.
Some bystanders scream as the car catches fire, the flame hissing high into black clouds as it melts rubber and metal down to a blackened mess. No one walks away from the wreckage. He chain-smokes from a distance until the firetruck turns up.
Kyungsoo pauses three steps away from the top of the stairs leading to his floor. He probably should be surprised to find Kai sitting in front of his door, grey hoodie pulled over his head, but he isn't. Kai has obviously been there for a while, judging from the cigarette butts littering the ground around him. Kyungsoo sidesteps him as he walks up to unlock his door. Kai jumps up when the door clicks open.
"You can't smoke in here." He glares, and Kai raises his empty hands up in reassurance, the grin stretching his face into looking ridiculously young. Kai shuffles in behind him, smelling of smoke and early morning rain.
"What did you get?" Kai hovers over his shoulders as he pulls out tofu and a carton of eggs from the paper bag he's been carrying, placing them on the kitchen counter.
"Here for the free dinner?" He rolls his eyes, elbowing Kai out of the way as he puts the small box of milk into the fridge.
"I can pay you, but I don't think you really need the money, Mr. Banker In Hiding."
"What makes you think I'm in hiding?"
"Well, you've obviously just moved in here. The place is completely empty. And I'm sure you make enough money to live somewhere better than this dump. You've got that look. Always so pristine, so perfectly presented." Kai grins at him, one arm leaning against the counter, the other hanging on Kyungsoo's shoulders. "So what did you do? Steal a few billion won from your bank's vault?"
"One, I still have my job, thank you very much. Two, I don't work at a commercial bank. There's no money vault." He takes out two eggs from the carton, then pauses for a beat, and takes out two more before putting the carton back on the shelf. Cooking gets complicated when you have to multiply the portion. Food runs out faster.
"So what kind of bank do you work at? Are you making an omelette?"
"Yes." Kyungsoo sighs, exasperated. "An investment bank, okay? What does it matter anyway? You don't give a damn about what I do. Just another boring white-collar job." Eggs, minced pork, salt, chili, scallions, oil. The hot pan sizzles, loud and distracting. He puts on a small pot of water for the tofu soup.
"Hey, put more chili in it. You're right, I don't really care, but I'm just bored. So Mr. Investment Banker, what do you do?"
"I sell and buy financial securities. Make deals. Crunch numbers. Trade one contract for another. Make profit out of arbitrages. Boring shit." He checks on the leftover rice. Barely enough for two, but it'd have to do. Kai reaches over and picks up a spoonful of rice with his hand, throwing it into his mouth. Kyungsoo hits his wrist with the spatula.
"I don't think money is boring." Kai licks his fingers, tongue wet against the pad of his thumb, the gesture slow and suggestive, as if he's licking off sticky honey instead of just a few grains of white rice. Kyungsoo turns back to his sauteed minced pork.
"Money is closest thing we get to immortality in this day and age. Not the bulk of paper we can touch, but the current, the system, the flow of numbers and electronic sequences. Crashing countries and futures. Where do you work? Yeouido?"
"Yeouido. Financial island of glass and steel and flashing green numbers. Granite cubes and chromium skyscrapers." Pouring the egg mixture over the minced pork, his elbow hitting Kai in the ribs again. He needs a bigger pan for this.
"It makes sense. You being so tightly wound, money and numbers and perfectly pressed white shirts. Shiny leather shoes. Little handkerchief tucked neatly inside the breast pocket of your million-won cashmere suit, next to a shiny black ink fountain pen. Neat little haircut. Hasty lunch dates in the glass towers by the Han river. I can see you like that. Then you go and race down some skyway at 300 kmh with some crazy kids at two in the morning. A little bit of thrill."
The food smells good. They eat on the ugly mustard couch instead of the kitchen table.
They drive down to Yeouido one night in a gunmetal grey Maserati GranTurismo hours away from its death, soaking up the wide-eyed stares of awe and envy from passers-by, the smooth hum of the engine sweet under their feet, warm black leather soft like butter under their touch. He takes Kai all the way to the rooftop of one of the glass and steel skyscrapers after midnight, the wind strong and harsh on top of the city. They can't quite see the little people from this high up, but the glitter of the city makes up for it.
"Money turns into life across the shiny floors of these glass and steel banking towers. Billions and trillions scanned and coded through the machines, neverending rhythmic waves, money moving moving changing forms until pieces of paper turn into electronic numbers, sequences, codes, magnetic chips, coloured lines on a chart somewhere on a screen. I trade in money, yet I don't think I've touched cash in a long time."
He's seen the encoding rooms. He's seen how money gets condensed into something that barely resembles money anymore. Money as an idea. Money as the undying data. Money as a spiritual escapade. Money as a measurement of one's worth. Money in the form of showroom-perfect BMWs being burnt down to a blackened melted mess, metal and glass and rubber, abandoned on the side of the road.
"Apparently financiers are more spiritually advanced than monks." Kai looks like he wants to climb over the railing. Kyungsoo stays away from the edge.
"The one with the money is the one with the power and the vision, I'll tell you that. We calculate the future."
They drive all the way to Galma mountain after that, Kai pressing down on the gas, soaring carelessly forward up the bends and curves of the mountain track. He has the windows down, letting the hissing winds and the loud rumble of the engines drown out conversations. Kai makes a sudden swerve to the wrong side of the curve halfway up, the car moments away from going down for a fiery death when he hits the break, leaving a couple of metres between the front wheels and the edge of the cliff. They climb out, Kai leaving the car key in the ignition lock. He turns on all the lights and alarm system, hits the gas pedal, and lets the car slide down to its death, noises blaring and lights flashing, tearing apart the night.
They stand there on the edge, watching the Maserati crash and burn down the mountain together. It's a long walk down, but he supposes Kai makes an acceptable conversational partner.
"So I heard Chanyeol said you're really good at drifting."
"It's a sports based on the notion of going out of control."
"We just need the LSD, then new tires, new gearbox and engine mounts, additional monitors in the cockpit, new hand brake, new dampers, a lot of tuning work on the engine, and your car will be good for the race. I still don't get why you don't just use your old Genesis for this though. I mean, sure, it's a little banged up after Kai, but the engine's all good."
"Are you sure he doesn't need new decals and a few flashing LED lights to go with that?" Lu Han calls out from behind his Skyline, and Kris rolls his eyes. Or rather, Kyungsoo thinks Kris must be rolling his eyes, since his head is still submerged somewhere under the hood of Kyungsoo's new Genesis. Kris has somehow announced himself the official mechanic for Kyungsoo's car, despite Chanyeol's protests. Kyungsoo is starting to suspect he's the only one who actually does any work around here.
"And if you need extra aesthetic mods to your car, please go to Lu Han."
"No you don't!" Minseok shrieks from behind his 370Z Coupe. "I did not ask for this Hello Kitty paint job! What have you done!" Minseok turned up mid-noon screaming with a giant Hello Kitty face spray-painted over the hood of his 370Z. Kyungsoo thought it was the work of some vandalistic prankster, but it turned out to be Lu Han. Although he's starting to doubt whether Lu Han isn't one.
"Calm down, Little Bun. You never know, maybe you'll win Prettiest Modded Car Award at Race War thanks to me. Hello Kitty paint job also increases your horsepower by 300%, truth."
"What about the several dozens of anime decals all over my window shields? How the hell do you expect me to see out of this?"
"Each decal counts for 50 bhp okay. And who needs perfect vision when you have Misa Misa decals on your wind shield?"
Kyungsoo can never quite determine if the cute blond kid, Lu Han (who turns out not to be a kid after all), is actually ironic or genuine about everything he does with his deadpan voice and fluttering Bambi eyes.
They lend Kyungsoo a yellow Hyundai Tuscani while his car is in the shop. Egg yolk colour, Baekhyun says, grinning as he hands him the key. The key ring actually comes with a plastic yellow egg. It's actually Baekhyun's old car, though these days he doesn't really use it anymore. Kris asks Baekhyun to go get some new parts from a shop downtown, and Kyungsoo volunteers to drive him. "Just a test drive," Kyungsoo says as he climbs into the driver seat of the Tuscani, "to make sure I can handle the egg yolk." Summer is creeping in, the heat lazy and oppressive in the garage.
Baekhyun turns out to be an even bigger gossip-trader than Chanyeol. He fiddles with the radio in the car, jumping from foreign hip-hop to obnoxious K-pop girl group to hyper trot songs to traffic reports, and then settling back on bubblegum K-pop girl groups. Baekhyun is the kind of person that dances in the car at every red light, even when dancing means waving your arms and bobbing your head around like an octopus.
"Chanyeol and Kris really do have twin cars, and it isn't just the stock body. They have the same engines, same mods, same everything. It's some kind of weird rivalry to see who would come out on top with practically the same GT-R, I don't know. They even won those cars together."
"They won the cars?" Kyungsoo has wondered about the two identical GT-Rs in the parking lot of the garage.
"Oh yeah. It was some crazy car-for-car double bet during a race a while ago. They raced together as a two-person team that time and brought back the two beasts. Crazy shit, only those two, really." Baekhyun switches the station again to traffic reports. Congestion in Susaek-dong. Three-car pile-up in Sowon-gil. Head-on collision. Deaths to be reported.
"Kai is one of those people who are really good at the disappearing act. If you write a biography about him, there's going to be several blank pages with the little note on top - 'he dropped off the face of the earth here,' and then the next page - 'he resurfaced four months later.' If you rip out the blank pages, it's gonna be a pretty short book."
"I've seen him around. I just saw him at the garage yesterday."
"Yeah, about that. He's been popping up a lot more often since you've been around. How curious." Baekhyun grins, looking at him sideway. "Maybe he'll finally drop the Houdini lifestyle." Baekhyun's grin turns contemplative. Long fingers tap against the window pane. "Well, I suppose he wasn't always like that. He's only been pulling the disappearing act since... I don't know - four, five years ago I guess? After he had this huge fall-out with Sehun and Lu Han. They seem to think no one else noticed, but it's kind of obvious, man. It's just that no one wants to talk about it."
"What kind of fall-out?"
"Well... Sehun and Kai were kind of childhood friends? They grew up together in the same neighbourhood. Many of us did, to be honest. That's how we ended up hanging out together. Like Chanyeol and Minseok and me. Anyway, I don't know... Sehun was always following Kai around? Then Lu Han came along and they were this inseparable trio of hell. But I don't know, somewhere along the line Sehun and Lu Han ended up together. Kai got mad at them or something, I guess. These things happen. I'm a bit unclear on the details. Then one night he just disappeared. Crazy shit - they found his car smashed down the side of a mountain. Everyone really freaked out."
A slick obsidian black BMW convertible pulls up next to them at a red light, half a kilometer away from the garage on their way back. It's Kai behind the steering wheels, smirking at them as he pulls off his giant aviator sunglasses like some kind of picture perfect movie star on his way to pick up a dinner date. "How's your racing machine?" He asks as Kyungsoo rolls down the windows of the Tuscani.
The BMW flashes its lights three times. He can hear the hum of the engines revving up. Kyungsoo smiles to himself, leaning back, shifting the Tuscani into gear. Baekhyun straightens up next to him when he realizes what is about to happen. Kyungsoo stares straight into Kai's eyes, their hands firm on the steering wheels, the distance between them shrinking down to that single line of eye contact. Kai's lips are twitched up into a slight smirk, but his eyes are not smiling. It isn't quite a challenge, but it comes close.
The traffic light flickers to yellow. Three, two, one. Yellow to green. Zero. And they both slam down on the gas.
"Are you serious right now- Holy shit!" Baekhyun shrieks beside him, but Kyungsoo barely notices. "Kyungsoo, eyes on the fucking road-!"
They hold the eye contact as both cars surge forward, the speedometer creeping up up up until they remain steady, side by side. It isn't a race, not when both Kai and he are on the same wavelength, soaring down the empty stretch of the road staring into each other's eyes as if they're about to do some kind of suicide dive off a cliff together. Till death do us part, just us two against the world, etcetera. It's that same feeling when their Jaguar and Genesis scraped and pulled at each other to the finish line that very first night on the Incheon track. Kai's eyes are bright and insistent. He lets the car go, riding on the wave.
Baekhyun screams somewhere beside him. Some car honks loudly as it swerves past them, millimeters away from collision. Kyungsoo lets instinct and intuition control his grip on the steering wheel. Kai is still smiling. It's exhilarating, not seeing where he's going. They finally break eye contact a hundred metres away from the garage, Kai turning his eyes back on the road with a wide smile as he speeds off ahead of them, rounding the curve down to their destination. Kyungsoo pulls up to the garage's front yard just mere seconds behind.
"Holy shit, Chanyeol wasn't kidding when he said you would be Kai version 2.0," Baekhyun throws his hands up in the air in exasperation as he stumbles out on the other side of the Tuscani. Kai jumps over the edge of his convert, not even bothering with doors. He has his arm slung around Kyungsoo's shoulders as they make their way back into the garage together.
"Aren't you acting a bit too familiar with me?" Kyungsoo pushes half-heartedly at the arm around his neck. The weight is already getting familiar.
"Don't be sad you make a good armrest."
Kyungsoo leaves the Tuscani back at the garage and lets Kai drive him to some deserted spot by the Han river with the shiny BMW convert later that afternoon. They stretch out on top of it, looking at the sunset reflected on sky-high glass towers making up the city's shimmering skyline.
"You obviously have something you're dying to say to me. Just out with it. I'm prepared for all kinds of confession." Kai smirks, leaning close to him, his eyes inches away from Kyungsoo's cheek. Kai's smirk is about five times more potent from this distance (or lack of it), Kyungsoo thinks. The full curve of his lips makes for such an aesthetically pleasing sight, lit up by the sunset.
"I saw you dive straight down a skyway with that silver Jaguar a few weeks back. That first night we met, after the race. No one walked away from that wreckage. I waited."
"Oh." Kai leans back, heaving himself up higher on his elbows. "Well." His eyebrows furrow. "Since we're in a sharing mood, a while ago I saw you flip your old Genesis at least five rounds down the road. It burst into fire. There was a firetruck coming and everything. Very dramatic."
"When did you know?" His heartbeat pounds loud in his chest. Kyungsoo surreptitiously curls his hands against his thighs, as if he could claw the shivery feeling out from under his skin.
"No, go slowly. Ask the right question." Kai's eyes are bright when he looks down at him. The sky is getting darker around them, a crystal clear shade of deep grey-ish blue. Summer is around the corner now. It's stopped raining these last few weeks.
"Where do you go after the crash?"
"The future. You?"
Kyungsoo pauses for a beat. That wasn't what he expected to hear. "...I don't think we go to the same place. Crashes always send me backwards in time."