exo // jongin/lu han, kai/jongin, kai/lu han // nc-17 // 6,100 words
EXO is the latest hot product of SME's K-pop culture technology, and Kai is everything Kim Jongin dreams to be.
Seven in the evening, the summer air was cloying and oppressive, the pulsing rumble of the crowd pressing against his ribcage. Sweat dripped down his back, sticking the thin fabric of his black t-shirt to his skin. His hair was damp beneath the cap. Jongin reached up to tug it sideways, but tilting it further downward to shield his face still. His feet tapped against the ground, body vibrating with the intro beat. Soaking in the heat of the attention.
Everyone was watching. Fans, curious passers-by, the six figures sitting just on the right side of the big screen. Cameras flash flash flashing, all the buzzing energy and exhilaration, but not for him. Yet he was at the centre of it all, a lone figure in the middle of a cleared out dance stage, surrounded by the lights and the noise.
“Are you ready, Kim Jongin-sshi?” The MC called out, voice obnoxiously loud and cheerful rising above the buzz of the crowd. The big screen above lit up, music shifting into a short medley of EXO-K’s first album, the members’ face flashing by in rapid succession. Jongin shifted into his position, body stilling as his heart pounded to the beat of the music, hands curling then uncurling at his sides.
Time Control, the screen flashed. Kai and Lu Han. He barely looked sideways as the space on either side of him lit up in a flurry of theatrical glittery lights as the two holograms appeared. Kai on his right, Lu Han on his left.
Three, two, one. He glanced up in the last second to see Kai’s familiar smirk. Jongin let his lips quirk up in rehearsed imitation, and his body snapped to the music.
The pounding in his heart drowned out the roar and cheers of the crowd. The flow between Kai and Lu Han was seamlessly precise, and he felt like an awkward floundering outsider stuck between them, but the beat kept him moving, feet springing into the air in a graceful jump just as his partners did. He was vaguely aware of the loud gasps when he deviated from the choreography to surge forward and slide his hand down Lu Han’s shoulder, touching but not quite as his fingers grasped air and the hologram shimmered around his fingertips. He snapped back, and spun around for the ending pose. One arm rising in the air, head tilted up but still hidden behind his cap.
Forty-four seconds, and the music screeched to a stop in time for the roar to come back. His shoulders shook as his chest heaved up and down.
“Take a picture!” Someone shouted, and the ticking timer sound snapped Jongin back into attention. He adjusted his cap and moved to stand between Kai and Lu Han, arms awkwardly coming together in a haste to form a heart sign starting by putting his wrists together.
The screen flashed, the picture taken, and Kai and Lu Han shimmered away. When he looked down, everyone was clapping, but the real Kai was staring at him from his place at the panel. Jongin’s face burned hot.
The stare followed him all the way until EXO-K was to go onstage to give the prize of the Genie Dancing Contest to the winner. Even the joy of winning couldn’t drown out the pounding beat of his heart when Chanyeol thumped his back in enthusiasm and D.O shook his hand, saying he’d done well. Kai was the one to give him the prize, and Jongin prayed his hands weren’t shaking as he bit down on his lips, not trusting himself. The intensity of Kai’s stare haunted the back of his head when he made his way down the stage.
Only for someone to stop him with a business card in hand.
“Professional dancers don’t really come to these idol events,” the guy said, smiling bright. “My name is Lu Han. And before you ask, no, not that Lu Han.”
When the guy pulled back the sleeve of his shirt, there was no serial number imprinted on his wrist.
Not-Lu-Han, despite what he claimed, bore startling resemblance to the Lu Han of EXO-M Jongin was familiar with. A shock of short dark hair, smaller in statue than the Lu Han of EXO-M he remembered, but the same bright eyes, the same gestures, and even the same lilt in his Korean pronunciation. Except this Lu Han was clearly human. No serial number on his wrist, and he was making tea for both of them. The entertainment androids, no matter how advanced they were, didn’t yelp because of hot tea scalding their tongue.
He hadn't slept. The jitter in his bones had kept him up all night. Ten in the morning, but Jongin was far from tired, all wired up and thrumming with white noise under his skin. Echoes from the adrenaline of the previous night. He’d crash in the afternoon. His eyes traced the walls of the room they were in. Pristine white, with dust pink banners of SM Entertainment and rows after rows of artist posters. Jongin could count the faces and name them all. From H.O.T., DBSK, SNSD, to the latest hot offering EXO. Kai’s hooded eyes stared back at him from the group poster, all charisma and sensual invitation.
“Who would have thought,” Lu Han’s eyes raked all over him, “the dancer I’ve been told to keep a lookout for turns out to be Kai’s carbon copy.”
Jongin’s skin prickled under the scrutiny. It wasn’t new, but the attention still made him clutch his tea cup tighter. His palms burned. “You say that like you don’t have a body double walking around in the same building as well.” He had freaked out last night when Not-Lu-Han introduced himself, thinking it was some kind of twisted joke. Even the SME business card didn’t persuade him, not until he saw Shim Jaewon, SME’s famed choreographer, looking at them from afar and nodding at him.
“Well, EXO-M’s Lu Han looks like me, because he was modelled after me. What’s your excuse?” Lu Han tilted his head, smiling up at him. A faint scar marring the lower lip that he didn’t remember from the other Lu Han. “Kai’s facial features were calculated and arranged by a computer software to approximate a highly desirable beauty standards, with distinctive characteristics. Same process as many other entertainment androids. Yet here you are, looking like you could jump in to be his substitute at the next EXO concert and no one would notice. Did you have any work done to look like him? It isn’t such an uncommon thing.”
“No,” Jongin bristled, frowning at the thought.
“Okay, there are differences. Your skin is horrible, your nose bump is a little off, and you’re shorter than Kai. But if you get cleaned up a little bit, some make-up, slicking your hair back...”
“Why would you waste time and effort doing all that?”
Lu Han leaned back, smiling. “Right, why would we? I was just getting side-tracked. It’s just amazing to see- well, a real-life version of something I took part in creating. But you’re not here because of that.” Lu Han turned the paper on the table to him, the sheet making a sharp rustling noise. “So you’re a dance student.”
“At K-Arts, yes. You work in SME’s Programming Department?”
“Why, do I look young for the job?” Lu Han grinned, teasing. He didn’t look that young, not really, if Jongin looked closely. There were faint dark circles under his eyes. A depth in his eyes that spoke of something beyond a pretty face. “Which year?”
“Third.” Jongin fiddled with the bracelet on his wrist under the table, thumb rubbing the brown beads. “I heard SME didn’t hire humans.”
“Dance performance,” Lu Han said, and it was more a confirmation than a question. “What do you think I am, the lone human SME employee in this entire building?”
Jongin flushed. “Not for performance purposes, I mean.”
“That’s what they all think,” Not-Lu-Han’s smile was jarringly playful.
“Of course all the idol companies hire humans,” Jang-sonsaengnim laughed, dragging a deep inhale on his cigarette. The smoke came out in puffs. “You’re funny, kid. Where do you think all the voices and dances come from?”
“I knew about the Voice Database,” Jongin said, pout verging on sullen as he leaned against the railing. “But I thought they had all the rest of it, movements and interaction, pre-programmed. Isn’t it supposed to be about group syncing and precision?”
“Part of the package is personality, kid. You don’t get personality from a goddamn computer program.” Long fingers flicked the ash into the hot summer air. “And before you open your smart mouth about them androids’ personalities being voted on and created by little teenage girls, I’m talking about their Movement Signature. Do you think we all move the same or what? What kind of dancer are you?”
A fist nudged at him, and Jongin pushed away from the railing, spinning a half-circle as he let his body fall into the vague rhythm of the choreography they’d been perfecting in class before the break. Just subtle markings of shoulders and half-hearted hand gestures. “So they’ve got Movement personalities.”
“Effort, weight, flow, idiosyncrasies, personalities, subtleties. Movement dynamics lead to interpretation of personality. The way you flop your ass down on the floor is different from the way I do. You think everyone wouldn’t notice if two people acted the exact same way? Perfect sync is okay if you’re dancing, but you do that in real life and people have a robot freak-out.”
“So what, they’ve got a Movement Database? Is that what they’re trying to ask me to join?”
“Your marking is pretty damn sloppy.” The man shook his head, taking the last long drag of his cigarette before crushing it against the railing bar. “They wouldn’t need a good dancer for that. You’re one of the special cases, kid.”
“Lu Han- They said it’s a five-year contract.” Jongin stilled, cheeks burning as he realized the implication of his dance teacher’s words. Jang-sonsaengnim wasn’t the type to throw out careless compliments.
“Sleep on it. You’re old enough to start making little five-year plans. Get a job, get married, get a kid.”
Twenty-one, and everyone told you it was time to start mapping out the rest of your life.
“You can think about it for a while,” Lu Han told him, smile trying to be reassuring but just coming out as teasing. “I can give you a tour around the company, let you try out all of the major tasks before you make a decision. Even then, you’ve got a one-year probation period before you take the plunge for that exclusive five-year contract anyway.”
He hadn’t seen much of the idols at all since he started coming into SM. EXO-M were still in China, he’d checked. It would be strange, he thought, to see both Lu Hans in the same room. Modelling an idol android after yourself... such ego in science was probably expected.
“If you put us into the same room, of course you’d see the differences right away. I was the frame, but he’s taller, has better skin, hair. Fixed the nose a bit, too. Sings better than I do, definitely, even though my voice was recorded for use in the Synthesis Engine. They needed help with the Chinese voice database.”
Lu Han showed him the recording room, the dance studios, the synthesis engineering room, the main monitor room. Machines and large computer screens, coded numbers and characters flashing and pulsing with the beat of the market, churning out desired personalities and recipe for the next Gaon hit.
“Do people approach you when you go out?”
“Not really. Why would they? Most people don’t care about idol androids. Sometimes young girls come up, but they back off when they see I’m human. You’re doing that right now.”
“Avoiding looking at me, because my face is still Lu Han the idol in your mind. Why, you must be popular at school? All the girls talking about you being a real-life version of K-pop idol EXO’s Kai?” That same teasing smile. Lu Han peered up at him, all coy and playful. His fingers brushed against Jongin’s elbow when they walked.
“Girls at K-Arts don’t care about idol androids. We do academic performances, you know. Only for those prestigious shows and competitions. All the kids there think this is just some cheap kind of programmed entertainment.”
“And yet you’re here. What’s wrong with cheap programmed entertainment?”
Sometimes Jongin still remembered it: the small screen in the middle of the wall in the living room, bright colours flashing and music thumping in an upbeat track, his sisters fighting over the remote control, and dad ruffling his hair when he sat down on the couch.
“What kind of dance is that?” He asked, and this was after he just got home from his Monday-Wednesday-Friday ballet lesson, curling up on the couch waiting for mom’s dinner call.
“It’s an idol’s dance. A performer’s kind of dance.” Dad’s fingers were comforting on the back of his head, but little Jongin’s attention was fixed on the small screen.
“I want to learn it,” Jongin said, but his sisters were already pinching his cheeks.
“Why would you? Idol companies don’t hire human kids, they’re all robots!” Chaerin poked him in the stomach with the remote control. Jongin kicked at her, but dad already slapped his legs down.
“But Jimin likes them! I want to dance like an idol, too,” Jongin whined, turning to his closest sister for support. He knew she had her entire bedroom lined with ‘idol’ posters, and she kept talking about them whenever he came by.
“Yeah, but idols are made in the factory, Jonginnie. Are you human or did mom pick up robot Jonginnie from the store?”
“You are shorter,” Kai told him when they first met up again in the SM dance studio. Not unkind, just a mere observation. His voice was deeper, too, though he’d never noticed. It was strange to see Kai out of his stage clothes, stripped down to pants and tank top as the assistants slapped sensor pads on his body.
The sensor pads on Jongin’s skin itched; they felt like a current of energy constantly thrumming around his body. Lu Han nodded in satisfaction as his fingers glided over them. The monitor screen in the corner beeped and pulsed with his heartbeat and constant motions.
“This is just a short-term transfer of data, no memories will be stored in the main database because you’re not officially working for us yet, so don’t worry. Just a test run to see how you could work with Kai.” He could feel Lu Han’s grin in his whisper. “Your heart is beating pretty fast.” Lu Han’s lips brushed against his shoulder.
“Let’s get Jongin started first.” Jaewon clapped, and Lu Han stepped back from him. Kai’s gaze was heavy on the back of his head.
He knew the steps to EXO’s first single MAMA in his sleep, all 4:32 minutes of it, but suddenly the presence of the vast wall mirror, the pulsing monitor screen, and the intent gazes of three other people in this small room had nerves curl in his stomach. The room was silent for a long while after the chanting beat of the song died down and Jongin’s harsh breathing eased out his tense shoulders in the ending pose. When he turned back to look at them, the look on Jaewon’s face was contemplative.
“Your dancing style is a lot similar to Kai’s.”
It wasn’t an accusation, but Jongin felt his cheeks burn anyway. “I followed his movements in the practice holovids.” He’d followed Kai’s movements in every fancam he could find in the last year, pushing muscles and bones to achieve that perfect precision in Kai’s form. One year ago, when EXO first debuted, Jongin had bitten his lip bloody and swollen while watching the dance holovids featuring someone who looked startlingly like him yet was more than everything he ever wished he could be. He’d locked himself in a tiny basement dance studio for two days before coming out, bone-tired but burning with determination in the pit of his stomach.
A year later, he realized it had just been jealousy, but by then he was already in too deep. A year later, that heat flared up in the pit of his stomach again when it was Kai’s turn, and the human-shaped model on the monitor screen rotated and flashed in colours responding to the sensor pads on Kai’s body as he did MAMA all over again, still with that charismatic precision but also with all of Jongin’s little details of head tilt and deviated footwork. Jealousy sank like lead in his stomach as Kai’s dark eyes met his in the mirror at the final pose, Kai’s shoulders heaving up and down under the tank top.
This was what his five-year contract would be, Lu Han told him, voice drifting in and out as Jongin struggled to swallow. They needed Seeders – good, unknown dancers with strong distinctive style to be the soul behind the company’s chosen Dancing Machine idols. The same way SME scouted for top students at music schools to have their voices recorded as part of SM’s golden database. SME was still as much a talent agency; they just used a different vessel for it. They’d been looking forever for something more for Kai, the latest Dance Machine project. Adding more and more to him until they found what they’d been missing.
There wasn’t anything cheap about this, Jongin thought as they peeled the sensor pads off his skin. This was major investment of the highest technology, if the sum of his potential contract was anything to go by for a tip of the iceberg, all for a system of controlled mass entertainment. This was SME’s culture technology, and he could be a part of it if he wanted to. One-year probation, Lu Han told him, just to try it out. He could still see Kai looking at them in the mirror. They had the same eyes, he thought. Kai’s eyes looked a lot like his when he wasn’t smirking or grinning.
“I’ll do it,” he breathed out.
He wouldn’t have thought about it if he hadn’t seen them through the opening slit of the studio door. He hadn’t meant to look, not really, but it didn’t matter. So there they were, Kai with his back against the mirror, the contours of his face uncharacteristically soft as Lu Han leaned up to press his lips against Kai’s. Jongin stood rooted on his spot, hand frozen on the edge of the door.
It wasn’t even a friendly peck, because Lu Han was brushing his mouth over the little bumps and curves of Kai’s lips. Over and over again. They were kissing. And not for the first time either; there was the familiarity in the way Kai tilted his head to accommodate Lu Han’s gesture.
Sometimes jealousy felt a little like devastation.
(But that would be a little overdramatic, so he quietly pulled away from the door and made his way back to the glittering Apgujeong street.)
But the truth was he had thought about it. He had thought about it, lying in his bedroom, fingers gliding over buttons as the EXO holograms shimmered in and out of his room one by one. He replayed all the dance vids over and over, group and duo and solo, eyes tracing perfect arches and smooth skin, until he stopped at a vid of Lu Han. It wasn’t even anything special - no music, no dancing, just a simple vid wherein Lu Han introduced himself in that drama-typical accented Korean, and then shifting to melodic Mandarin.
There wasn’t anything special about it, but Jongin always paused and watched the whole thing, all 2:34 minutes of it, eyes tracing soft pink lips and the lithe body underneath the thin mesh shirt. There wasn’t anything special about it, but sometimes heat burned low in his stomach as he put it on repeat, breathing soundless moans against his bedsheet while fingers stroked down his hard cock. Sometimes he leaned against the wall, coming so close to Lu Han as his trembling thighs hovered millimetres away from the soft shimmer of Lu Han’s hand, cock twitching hot and heavy in his come-slicked palm.
Still, it wasn’t something he thought so much about, not until he saw Kai and Lu Han in the dance studio, and suddenly realized Lu Han was someone he could touch. Except Lu Han didn’t want him, not really. Lu Han the human took him out for BBQ meat and kimchi stew after an eight-hour session in the dance recording room. Jongin’s head still buzzed with the hum of the machines.
“I’ve never been here,” Jongin said as he turned the sizzling pork streaks, huddling into the tiny seat in the noisy crowded tent.
“Yah, what kind of Seoulite are you?” Lu Han laughed, pouring him soju. The kind of laughter his android version definitely didn’t do, face all red and crumpled up. “This is only the best place ever for samgyeopsal in the city. Don’t tell me you’ve never been to Namsan Tower either. Wait, no, seriously?”
“When you grow up here, I guess you just don’t think about it. They’re just there, I could always go later.”
“I know all the best hotspots in Beijing,” Lu Han turned up his cute little nose at him, but then his expression turned contemplative as he shoved a wrap the size of his fist into his dainty mouth. “But I guess that’s because I come back once every two years, and my friends always take me out places.”
He had training session with Kai once every two weeks, Kai’s schedule permitting. Sometimes the other EXO members came in to visit, too. It was strange, he thought, for them to be instantly so friendly. Sehun playfully slid his arm around Jongin’s shoulders. Suho ruffled his hair. Tao pulled him into a full-body hug when EXO-M came back from China. Part of him knew they were programmed to be like this, but it was still jarring.
It was strange, but he realized Kai didn’t interact with Lu Han the idol the same way he did with Lu Han the human. EXO-M’s Lu Han felt oddly unfamiliar even after all the weeks he had spent with Lu Han the human. Or maybe that was the reason why. Sometimes the image still flashed in his head – Kai and Lu Han, kissing against the mirror wall. Sometimes he woke up from a dream like that, only it was Kai pinning him against the mirror. Kai’s hand heavy on his hips. His shoulder blades digging hard against the cold surface of the mirror.
“You miss out a lot of things by not looking, you know that?” Kai’s lips mouthed against the shell of his ear. Jongin flinched and shrank away, but he didn’t fight back. His breathing was ragged in his chest.
They said when you found someone that reminded you of yourself, the reaction would always be either repulsion or attraction. Or jealousy, he supposed, because your body double would always be a superior version of yourself. Kai didn’t kiss him, but his lips hovered just a breath away from Jongin’s.
“Flinch away like that, yes. Put up a little fight. Lu Han likes a challenge.” Jongin jerked his hand away from Kai’s grip, but he ended up with his wrist caught in iron fingers anyway. “He likes it when I pull away. His heart rate goes up just that little faster.”
His chest felt tight with heat. Did you fuck Lu Han because he asked or did he program it into you, he wanted to ask, but he couldn't open his mouth for fear of his lips brushing against Kai's. Too close. He'd heard about it, the exclusive sex androids made to order for those who could pay the price, but Kai was not- He did not know what Kai was. All he knew was that his heart was thumping harder in his ribcage than it'd ever had during any dance session, and his knees were going weak, trapped against Kai's hard body. He wanted to say Kai was cold and lifeless like a machine, but he wasn't. His touch felt human, just one who was strong and solid and less warm than the average human body.
Kai's leg was hard between his thighs, and Jongin bit down on his lip when Kai's body pushed him again up the mirror. He didn't want to admit it, but they were pressed together too closely for either not to notice Jongin's hardening cock, the soft well-worn fabric of his sweatpants hiding nothing. He cursed his body, but Kai held him tight as he squirmed and writhed between the cold mirror and the hard body in front of him. His own reflection in front and back. Jongin's breath seemed to be getting hotter, coming out in small gasps against Kai's jawline. His body had a mind of its own then, desperately seeking friction, his buttocks rising up and down a solid thigh, pleasure shooting fire in his veins. It got harder and harder to breathe, his head spinning as he imagined Lu Han shoved up against the wall by Kai just like this. No, Lu Han would have better control over this, Lu Han would-
The cry was ripped out of his throat unbidden when the weight supporting his body was abruptly wrenched away from him, and with it the edge of pleasure. His back slid against the mirror, and his knees buckled but he did not fall. Jongin stood shaken and bewildered, heaving breaths of fresh air as desire swirled in his belly. Kai stood a few feet away, staring at him with barely a hair out of place. Jongin's cheeks burned under that gaze, but he couldn't help it, fingers drifting down to palm over his erection.
"Go on," Kai said, his eyes dark and intent as they had always been whenever they'd followed Jongin's moves in the dance recording room. Jongin's eyes squeezed shut when his fingers crept past the waistband of his sweatpants and dipped inside, wrapping around his cock. Even with his eyes closed, he could feel Kai's gaze on him. He remembered the first time he'd ever seen Kai, he remember the red hot burn of envy and something else in his guts. His hand sped up when there were suddenly hands on his hips, then fingers roaming over the curve of his ass. When a finger dipped in between the cleft, his whole body jerked, his back arching-
When he jerked awake, it was to the realization that it had been more a recollection than just a dream. Jongin gasped against his pillow, feeling the insistent press of the hard cock between his shaking thighs. His wrists still ached from the ghost of Kai’s fingers from the previous night. He jerked off to the image of Lu Han gasping and writhing up against a mirrored wall, but he couldn't say the one pressing against him was Kai or Jongin.
They drank, and Jongin dutifully filled their glasses. The fire burned low in his guts.
"Your style is a lot similar to Kai's. Now more so than before, actually."
"You've said that before. So what?"
"Your looking like him could be just a coincidence, but the truth is you want to be like him." Lu Han was grinning now, but the teasing edge prickled him. He wondered whether Lu Han had ever wanted to be Lu Han the android, whether that had been why he'd built him.
"So what?" Jongin repeated, but he wasn't looking at Lu Han.
"But you can't. You are not Kai, Jongin. As much as I am not EXO-M's Lu Han. What's the point? Whether it's hero worship or jealousy, you won't get there in the end."
It was easy for him to play up drunkenness, leaning against Lu Han’s bony shoulder as they stumbled outside, the chill of autumn night air sweet on their flushed cheeks. Lu Han patted his cheeks as they said goodbye. Jongin flinched away.
The call came just past midnight, Lu Han’s words frantic and jumbled in a mix of Korean-Chinese he couldn’t quite catch.
“Just come in,” Lu Han’s breath was loud over the speaker, and fear gripped tight around his heart. Jongin barely looked as he threw on some clothes from top of the closest pile, struggling to keep quiet as he stumbled out of the house, ignoring his sister’s questioning look as she peered out of her room.
There had been an accident, Lu Han said. Jongin abandoned the SME building’s main entrance with the bustling crowd of reporters for the staff backdoor. He raced up to the third floor, two-three steps at a time, heart pounding with every squeak of his sneakers, only to stumble straight into Lu Han. Just not the one he was looking for.
“Be careful,” blond Lu Han held fast against his shoulders, steadying his wobbling motion. “It’s okay. Lu Han can’t see you right now, so he asked me to wait for you.” As if EXO-M’s Lu Han really was the body double substitute for Lu Han the human. But it wasn’t the same, not really. Lu Han the android bought him a coffee from the vending machine just down the stairs.
“He’s in the emergency data recovery room right now, and he’ll probably be stuck there for a long while. Kai has been moved to the main Recovery Centre in Gangnam already. He’ll be okay.” It wasn’t the same, but this Lu Han still looked oddly small sitting next to him at the bottom of the staircase.
There had been an accident, Lu Han said, on EXO-K’s way from Incheon airport back to the city. All the other members had gotten away with only scratches and dents, but Kai had half his ribcage smashed in when he fell out and collided with a boulder on his way down. Jongin flinched, seeing blood and bones before he remembered crushed metal and torn wires. The fangirls would cry and send a lot of teddy bears in the morning, he said. The curve of Lu Han the android's lips looked just as soft as Lu Han the human's. No scar. They moved the same when he talked.
"Can I?" He heard himself ask, and Lu Han kept very still when Jongin leaned in and kissed him. The softness felt real, but the heat wasn't there. Jongin pulled away.
"Do you feel better?" Lu Han's clear eyes stared at him unblinking. Jongin swallowed and nodded. The android held his hand as he napped on the tiny couch in the company’s backroom.
He was woken up in the morning by a deathly tight embrace that had him struggle to breathe. Lu Han, he realized, the one with short dark hair and terrible dark circles under dry red eyes. Jongin sleepily gripped back, clumsy fingers curling in the fabric of Lu Han’s shirt.
“Sorry. Sorry I called you in last night. I panicked and- you should have gone home.” Lu Han mumbled into the nape of his neck. It was hard for Jongin to shake his head.
“It’s okay, your body double kept me company. How’s Kai?”
Lu Han chuckled then pulled away, but still gripping his shoulders tight. “Repair... Uh, physical damage repair went well, last I heard. They’ll probably have to wait for a few spare parts to come in, but it’ll be okay. I- we spent last night working on his data chip.” Lu Han’s eyes flickered up. “It was damaged by the impact. His entire data bank was corrupted.”
“But he’ll be fine?”
Lu Han let out a defeated sigh. “Corrupted beyond repair. We could keep trying but... I don’t think anything would help at this point. We’ve got a back-up system - the same thing happened to a Super Junior android a couple of years ago – but it’s only for basic voice, movement, and interaction data. And what you've recorded for us. There’s no way to salvage the personal memory data stored in his hard-drive. I kept saying we needed a stronger protection case... Anyway, I’ve rebooted the operating system.”
Would Kai remember Jongin or even Lu Han when he came back? Would it matter at all? Kai was no less a stranger to him even though they looked alike. Jongin could still feel the phantom iron grip around his wrists.
“I guess it’s good, you know, that I don’t deal with blood and bones,” Lu Han said, a crooked smile on his lips. “Sorry I called last night. I just wanted to see you,” he said.
“I worked for SME before,” Jang-sonsaengnim shrugged, smiling at the wide-eyed look on Jongin’s face. “Five-year contract. Their first idol group prototype, H.O.T. Before your time, obviously. Do you know why it’s five years? That’s the lifetime of an entertainment android. Five years, people get bored of seeing the same old faces, and they shut the androids off. Move them into storage or private auctions. Big money, those auctions.
“Anyway, you spend five years bleeding sweat and tears in the company’s recording rooms, and you can’t dance for anyone else’s eyes. But I didn’t regret it, not one bit. You know why? Because I saw myself on millions of screens across the country, on the stage performing for hundreds of thousands of people. It was a different face, a different body, but it was still me. The dancer was me. It’s something else, kid, to have thousands and millions fall in love with the dancer in you. Maybe just for those short three minutes of a song, but it was worth it. It’s a job, kid, but it’s also five years worth of the lights and the stage.”
Jongin saw it from the frenzied backstage, the night of EXO’s Beijing encore concert, just two weeks after Kai got his chest crushed in. (He'd come back the week prior rebooted and empty, smiling as he bowed his 90-degree greeting to a bewildered Jongin.) It was him onstage, under a similar face and a different body, but it was him all the same, amplified to the max in the sweet quirk of Kai’s lips as the crowd screamed for a flash of tanned smooth skin. Kai tilted his head the way Jongin always did before the intro beat thumped under their feet. It was him, but also so much more. It was make-believe, but it would always make a better story than anything he could ever be. When he glanced at Lu Han to see him staring up at the screen with a proud smile, he made his decision.
“Can I kiss you?” He asked at the edge of the stage much later, when the music had long stopped and the lights had been dimmed, and Lu Han’s eyes were wide as he nodded slowly, as if unsure if this was a joke. Jongin leaned in, and the small peck he had intended softened into a kiss when Lu Han’s lips parted under his own. Jongin nibbled on his lower lip once before he pulled away.
“That would be the last time you can kiss me in a long while,” Jongin said, tongue slipping out to run over his lips, catching the taste. Lu Han snapped out of his daze as he sat up straighter.
“You think I’m so easy to jump into this headfirst? You’d have to work a little harder for it.” Jongin smirked, the perfect imitation of Kai’s quirk of the lips. Did Lu Han take a liking to him just because Kim Jongin was the human version of his android baby? What Lu Han wanted, would he ever know? “You’ve got five years ahead.” Five years for Jongin to become Kai and better than that.
Lu Han’s wide-eyed look slowly eased into an amused smile. “I see. Is that a challenge?”
“I could be.”
They didn’t kiss again, but Lu Han’s breath was hot on his lips.