To keep things interesting in the Fan Fiction community, @Bangtanss has decided to give the mod support team writing assignments. This week's assignment was to write something inspired by the lyrics to a song. The concept of this story was inspired by Where We Used To Play by AFI but the story is actually about EXO. If you would like to be tagged in future cards please let me know and specify which list (EXO community, Fan Fiction community, and/or just my stuff). This story contains no mature content and is suitable for any reader. Obviously it is entirely fiction! It is a bit long (4,900+ words) and I have not proofread - sorry!
Throughout the story there will be links to music on Youtube. If you like, you can play the music as it appears in the story to enhance the reading experience.
May, 2014 Seoul
The evening was unseasonably cold. Together, the three young singers rode the elevator to the top floor of the building. They were making their way to the head of the company’s office. Not the company president, not the CEO - the boys walked right past those offices. This time, Kris, Tao, and Luhan needed to visit the office of their real boss. The thought of it made them very uneasy but their minds were made up. They stopped at what appeared to be nothing but an ordinary section of wall and knocked. A door seemed to appear of out nowhere and slowly drifted open. They stepped inside one by one.
“I was sure that you’d change your mind,” said a deep voice coming from behind a large desk. “It’s a lot to give up and yet here you are.”
Kris spoke up. “We want out.” Tao and Luhan nodded but stayed silent.
The shadowy figure to whom the deep voice belonged stood up. “When you signed these contracts you knew that they were not ordinary contracts. You knew what you were getting. Dreams don’t come without a price.” The three young men did not interrupt the pause.
“You know, also, the price for breaking these contracts. Everything you worked for, everything you earned will not exist. The years you spent with us will have never happened.”
The three nodded in understanding.
“Even if you meet the others again, you will not know them and they will not know you. You’ll be total strangers not just to your fans but to the nine as well.” Kris clenched his jaw. Tao’s eyes welled up a bit. Luhan exhaled deeply and looked down at his feet.
“The choice is yours. Choose carefully. You cannot take it back.” The shadowy figure placed three papers on the table. One by one, Kris, Tao, and Luhan stepped forward and signed their names. They experienced, but would not remember, an intense twisting sensation as the years they had just relinquished unraveled and were reformed into a new reality.
April 8, 2012
Beijing The makeup artist was fussing over his eyebrows. Again. Kris tried to shift to a more comfortable position in the hair-and-makeup chair without moving his head. He hated this part. The makeup artist finished and the hairstylist arrived to take her turn with him. She switched on the television provided in the backstage area. It was mostly there to keep the models from being too bored while they waited for the fashion show to begin but sometimes the hair and makeup crew liked to put on a music channel so they could listen while they worked. The chair was turned away from the mirror so he had a clear view of the screen. Some ultra-cheerful song about first love was just ending. Kris paid no attention as that song trailed off but then the sound of bells piqued his interest.
On the screen, figures in black hooded robes emerged and began to chant. Kris was mesmerized. He wasn’t sure why but he felt drawn in by every note, every word. He couldn’t look away. “Kris. Kris… Hey, KRIS!” “What?” He turned to find the hairstylist tapping her foot impatiently. “Your hair is done. I need this chair. Move it.” “Sorry.” “You like this new song, I guess? It’s certainly different.” “Huh? I don’t know… I mean, whatever. It’s not my style” Kris tried to shake off the strange feeling he had. He got up from the chair and walked down a hallway to stand with the other models who were waiting. The show would begin very soon. Without thinking, Kris hummed the song softly to himself. May 30, 2013 Shanghai The basement was cold and damp. Tao was on his back, motionless on the floor. Dark red liquid was dripping down his forehead and had soaked through his shirt along he bottom of his ribcage. A police badge was still on a lanyard around his neck and a standard-issue police revolver lay uselessly just inches from his right hand. To his left, a man wearing a black suit and a face-mask was pacing while shouting frantically into a cell phone. Tao wondered how much longer he had to lay there. If they had to re-shoot this scene one more time he’d be late and not have time to shower before heading to his part-time “pay the bills” side job. “Cut! I think we’ve got it. Good work everyone.” The director was satisfied. Tao stood up and stretched, thankful to be able to move again. He hurried to wardrobe to change out of his costume and wipe the fake blood off. One of his seniors from the entertainment company was there already, getting a black eye washed off with heavy-duty makeup remover. “You did a good job today. I know it isn’t fun shooting these kinds of scenes when you’re the dead body but you were very professional. I think the director liked you.” “Thank you. And… I know you put in a request specifically to have me get this role. I appreciate it.” “Don’t feel like you were here just because I asked for you. The company knows you have potential. You’ll get there.” “Will I? I auditioned to be a singer but I’m getting tiny parts in dramas instead.” “Small roles with lines. Speaking roles are speaking roles, even small ones. Don’t sell yourself short.” Tao didn’t respond, he simply nodded. He didn’t agree. Not getting to make music was frustrating but he needed to get to his other job so he needed to end the conversation. As he stepped into the martial arts studio, two dozen little voices chorused “Huang Lao Shi, nin hao!” Seeing the faces of his students, Tao actually did start to feel better. After their lesson was over, Tao walked the children to the lobby where their parents were sitting. The lobby television was on.
A howl caught his attention and he looked to the screen. Dancers were undulating like the branches of a tree in the wind. He knew had never seen it before and yet he felt sure that he had. His students and their parents were waiting for him to send them home but instead found themselves watching him as he intently watched the television. Halfway through he started quietly singing along. “Wow, Lao Shi! This song is brand new today and you already know the words? You learn so quickly!” Tao glanced down to find one of his students looking up at him in amazement. He knew the words? That didn’t make any sense. He’d never heard it before. “No, I don’t know them. It’s just that choruses tend to repeat. If you hear the chorus you can sing it when it repeats.” “Oh. The chorus.” Tao smiled halfheartedly and patted the child on the head. He had trouble swallowing his own explanation. Something felt off but he couldn’t quite figure out how.
May 7, 2014 Beijing
The bright lights on the variety show set were making Luhan’s head hurt. He glanced at the clock and saw that he still had a few minutes before filming started so he slipped backstage to get some tea. He resented, just slightly, the fact that the other hosts of the show had people to bring them drinks but he, as the newest co-host at the bottom of the pecking order, had to get his own tea. He pushed that thought aside. After the temporary setbacks of his failed auditions at several entertainment companies, he was grateful for this opportunity. Being in the right place at the right time and having the eldest daughter of the television station manager decide to make him her personal project had turned out very well so far (even if he did have to let her refer to herself as his manager and have “business lunches” with her almost daily). Luhan sipped his tea and then returned to his customary seat on the set. His cohosts were already there and chatting about the guests for the day. It was a pop group. Luhan wasn’t excited. There were so many of these groups; they came and went so quickly, what was the point of paying attention when they mostly debuted and then faded to obscurity within a year or two? “3, 2, 1, and we’re live!” “Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s show!” “We’re thrilled today to welcome an internationally famous group to the show!” “They’re here to promote their new single. Before we bring them out, let’s hear their new song.”
Luhan looked dutifully in the direction of the giant screen; he had to pretend to watch and enjoy the song. He wasn’t pretending for long. By the time he heard “warning, warning, warning” he was engrossed. “Wow, that’s quite a catchy song!” Luhan snapped out his reverie as the cohost to his left spoke. “Yes, it is.” He added. His cohosts shot him a look. That wasn’t on the teleprompter. “Right,” another tried to catch up with the teleprompter. “Please welcome EXO!” Six young men wearing trendy clothing and copious amounts of black eyeliner dashed out onto the stage. In unison, they exclaimed “We are one. We are EXO!” Under his breath, Luhan spoke it along with them without even noticing it himself. The six bowed.
“Thank you for being here today. Please take seats. We’d like to introduce you to our viewers first.” “So,” said Luhan, reading from the teleprompter. “You must be the group’s leader and lead dancer, Mike.” Luhan gestured at the tallest of the six. “Yes, I am Mike. Hello.” Mike stood and waved. “I read somewhere that you have a special skill. Horseback riding, right?” said another host. “Oh, wow! Too bad we don’t have any horses here today. You could show us,” said the host to Luhan’s left. Mike nodded and smiled. “Yes, I used to go horseback riding quite a bit. You see, I grew up Texas with my grandparents until I was 12. Our neighbors had horses so I learned to ride with them…” Luhan stopped listening. This was boring. Three of the group members looked familiar, especially the one with the pink hair. He had to fight the urge to stare at that one. “Wow, Mike, you had to get that many stitches? It’s a good thing the horse didn’t kick you in your face instead and ruin that smile!” “I can’t believe how good your Mandarin is even though you didn’t move here until you were 12. Your accent sounds so natural! Okay, let’s continue to meet the other members now so we can move on to some games.” Most of the rest of this segment slipped right by Luhan. He was distracted by an intense mental itch whenever he looked at the members whose names had turned out to be Lay, Chen, and Xiumin. Especially Xiumin. The game was pretty standard. The members were asked to write the answers to some questions about themselves and then the others had to give the correct answers to those questions to prove how well they knew each other. It went pretty smoothly until it was time for the question “what is your favorite sport” and Mike had to answer what Xiumin’s favorite sport was. “He likes basketball,” Mike said. Immediately and without thinking, surprising himself as much as everyone else, Luhan interjected. “No, soccer!” Everyone stared. Xiumin hesitantly held up his paper to show the answer. Soccer. “I guess Luhan wants to play too,” said the host to his left. Everyone laughed awkwardly. “But Luhan, how did you know that? Are you psychic or something? I should ask you for the winning lottery numbers,” added another host. Everyone laughed awkwardly some more.
“Umm… lucky guess, sorry!” Said Luhan.
September 5, 2016
Beijing International Airport
Kris was aware that people were staring. He was sipping his drink and pretending not to notice. They might or might not know who he was but wearing clothes that looked straight off the runway and keeping his dark sunglasses on even inside the airport gave him an air of mystery that attracted attention. It was a sort of attention he didn’t mind. If it meant he had to sign a few autographs for fans, he was okay with that. Signing autographs was still kind of novel and exciting for him although he was careful to be nonchalant and maintain a cool demeanor when fans approached him. He didn’t want to seem eager. In truth, it made him ridiculously happy. It had only been a few months since he’d officially branched out from just modeling into music. Now he was balancing promotions for his debut rap album and being even more in-demand for fashion shows. He checked his watch. Boarding should soon begin for his flight to New York. His personal assistant tapped him on the shoulder. “Do you need another drink? You only have a few minutes. I double-checked and the flight will be on schedule. I have your boarding pass and your carry-on bag here and…” “I can see that. Give me those and relax. Do you have YOUR boarding pass?” “Yes, I have it right here.” Kris was amused by his assistant’s enthusiasm.
“I’m sorry, I’m just so excited. I still can’t believe you’re signed as the face of this campaign and you’re walking the runway at New York fashion week. And I get to go with. I’ve never been to New York before.” Kris laughed. “Believe it. You’ll like New York. I’m looking forward to” Kris lost his train of thought as the announcement over the loudspeaker caught his attention. “… to New York now boarding.”
September 5, 2016 Beijing International Airport Sitting in the middle of the crowded airport, Tao was texting his girlfriend to make plans. For once, their schedules matched up. She was already in New York. He looked at the time and calculated the time difference in his head. It was late there. Tao: You should be sleeping. Mei: Soon. I miss you. Tao: I’ll be there in about 14 hours. Mei: I’ll meet you at the airport. We can eat together. Tao: Okay. Love you. Mei: Goodnight, Panda! Tao smiled and slipped his phone into his pocket. In 14 hours he’d be in NYC having brunch with Mei. He hoped he would be able to sleep on the flight so he wouldn’t be too tired. He looked in his carry-on bag to be sure. His sleep mask was in there… so was the script he needed to study. He’d just have to memorize his lines and then sleep. It was wonderful luck that his drama was shooting some scenes in New York the same week that his girlfriend was there to walk the runway at New York Fashion week. In fact, everything about this drama had turned out to be perfect for him. He was playing the romantic lead - a smart, ambitious young lawyer with a dark past. When the producer had heard him singing karaoke with a few cast members after the table read of the pilot, he’d been offered the chance to record the soundtrack. The company handling the soundtrack had required he sign an agreement to sign a long-term recording deal with them if the soundtrack ended up selling well. Tao pulled out the script to study until it was time to board his flight. His character was supposed to be chasing after a star witness, the beautiful daughter of the real-estate mogul he was defending on murder charges. His character was supposed to convince her to return to China to testify on behalf of her father but, of course, would end up falling for her. He knew that later scripts would reveal that she was actually the murderer and his character had to struggle with whether to help her father cover it up for her or to turn her in. He smiled, pleased with how successful he was sure this drama was going to be.
“Beijing to New York, now boarding.” Tao stood up to go board the plane, almost colliding with a stranger in dark glasses. He looked oddly familiar. Tao noticed him again standing in line to board.
September 5, 2016 Beijing International Airport
The cameraman and the rest of his small crew were flying coach. Luhan was flying business class. He patted the boarding pass in his pocket again to be sure it was there. He already knew it was there but he was nervous, not that he’d admit it to anyone. This was his first overseas assignment. It had only been 8 months earlier that he’d changed jobs. The television station manager had reassigned him from the cohosting the variety show to a more serious position as a fashion, arts, and culture correspondent on a fledgling news program with rapidly rising popularity. The station manager had made this decision partly because he saw Luhan’s potential and knew his winning smile and charm would make the segment a hit and partly because he was growing increasingly uncomfortable with his daughter’s personal interest in Luhan, whose reputation for using his aforementioned charm on ladies had not gone unnoticed. In any case, the station manager had been right about the segment featuring Luhan turning out to be a hit. Luhan had been enjoying the new position and the admiration of fans who would send little gifts to the station or show up at events he was covering and try to catch his attention.
He was looking forward to the assignment but even more so to a little side-gig he’d lined up secretly. Officially he would be in NYC to cover NY fashion week, with a focus on a couple of up-and-coming new Chinese designers who were becoming a very big deal in the fashion world. Unofficially, he’d be spending several evenings as the DJ at some very exclusive parties thrown by designers he’d met at other events; he’d perform a few original songs he wrote as well, by request of the parties’ hosts. He had to keep that hobby a secret from his boss, at least for now. Luhan knew that eventually he’d have to choose between his television career and a career in music. He knew which one he’d pick but he wasn’t quite ready to make that leap yet.
“Beijing to New York, now boarding.”
Luhan was ready.
September 6, 2016
New York City
EXO-M was holed-up in an expensive hotel. They were split between two rooms, three members in each. Lay, Chen, and Xiumin in were in room 319 fighting boredom by playing games on their phones. Mike, LiJun, and Danny were in room 321 napping in an attempt to cope with jet lag.
“Do you two want to go explore,” Chen asked his roommates. “We have to be careful not to get lost. We have to be back here in time to leave for our fittings,” Lay responded. “Do you think we should ask Mike to go since he’s been to New York before?” “He might be the leader but I’m still the oldest and I want to go find some decent coffee. We all know he’ll still be sleeping. Let’s just go,” Xiumin said. Chen pocketed a room key. Lay shrugged and stood up.
The three donned baseball caps and sunglasses for a little anonymity and headed out to see the city. On their way through the lobby they passed a group of travelers freshly arrived from the airport and waiting in line to check in.
Their first stop was a coffee shop to satisfy Xiumin’s craving for coffee. After that they wandered in a park until both Xiumin and Lay found the overabundance of pigeons to be too much. Chen rolled his eyes but agreed to move on. They happened upon an arcade and spent their remaining free time happily playing the vintage games until it was time to return to the hotel.
September 6, 2016 New York City
After the long flight, Kris was more than ready to take a nice, hot shower and change clothes. He was standing at the counter checking in. Well, he was standing at the counter waiting while his personal assistant got him checked in. He was actually facing the lobby which is why he saw the three young men in sunglasses and baseball caps stride through the lobby and out the door. The whole flight he’d felt deja vu that he attributed to the two strangers seated near him; one had been reading over a script before eventually falling asleep and the other had been wearing headphones and editing playlists on his laptop. Now, he felt an inexplicable urge to follow the three strangers wearing baseball caps and sunglasses. Maybe after that shower, a nap was in order, Kris thought to himself.
September 6, 2016
New York City
Tao and Mei had decided against eating at the bustling airport and instead opted for a small coffee shop near the hotel where he’d be staying. Tao was eating a cinnamon bun while Mei picked at half a croissant and sipped black coffee with skim milk. Between tiny bites she told him about her visit to a museum the day before with some of the other models. He was listening to each word and savoring the sound of her voice until he was distracted by the entrance of three young men in baseball caps and sunglasses. He looked past Mei and watched them order coffee. He felt a strong pull toward them but he wasn’t sure why or what he’d even say if he went over to them.
“Tao, are you even listening?” He turned his attention back to Mei.
“No, sorry. I’m a bit tired. I think I need more sleep.” “I understand, Panda. Why don’t we get you checked in and you can rest until this evening? I have to get to a fitting anyway.” Tao nodded. When he looked back to the counter, the three were gone.
September 6, 2016
New York City
After the long flight, Luhan desperately needed some fresh air. On the way to the hotel he spotted a park and asked the driver of the airport shuttle to stop and let him out. He sent his luggage along with the crew who continued to the hotel. The city air wasn’t exactly fresh but getting to stretch his legs felt wonderful. He strolled through the park at a leisurely pace. After a while he bought a soda from a hot dog cart and found a bench where he could sit down. He sipped the soda and watched some pigeons gathered around spilled food on the other side of the walking path. He was almost done his soda when three young men in baseball caps and sunglasses walked past. They were vaguely familiar so he eavesdropped, trying to figure out where he had seen them before.
The shortest one shrieked when a pigeon bumped into him. “No! Agh, don’t touch me!” “There are so many of them. I don’t like them,” the tallest one added. “They’re just birds,” said the third one. He rolled his eyes. The first one was not amused. “Yes, they are birds, and you know they make me uncomfortable.” The tallest one nodded emphatically in agreement. “Fine. Fine. Let’s just go then. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with the both of you.” They began to walk away. Luhan was tempted to follow them but he was distracted by an incoming call to his cell phone. By the time he had dealt with the call, the three had disappeared from sight.
September 7, 2016 New York City
To say that relations between China and South Korea had been strained would be an understatement. It was nothing short of a small miracle when EXO-M was asked to perform as part of a highly-respected Chinese designer’s debut at New York Fashion Week despite the fact that two of the members were actually Korean. Their label knew better than to turn the invitation down. It would only be one song followed by appearances at a few afterparties but they saw it was a gesture of goodwill; hopefully it would be followed by looser restrictions on their artists promoting in China.
Of course, the members of EXO-M didn’t care about the politics of it. They were just happy to have gotten a some rest thanks to the trip, a bit of free time to explore New York, and were looking forward to having fun at the afterparties. Their performance had to be modified a bit to accommodate wearing the designer’s creations rather than their usual costumes but they had practiced well and were ready. Three of them, however, had a strange feeling in the pit of their stomachs. None said anything about it, but there was a distinct unease they shared in silence.
A stage manager knocked on the dressing room door. It was showtime.
September 7, 2016 New York City
Backstage in the dressing room, Kris was standing very still while one of the designer’s assistants put in a few stitches here and straightened some fabric there. These last minute adjustments weren’t unusual but he was having trouble resisting a restlessness that had creeped in out of nowhere. The assistant accidentally pricked him with her needle but he didn’t react; he was distracted by music that was coming from out on the stage…
September 7, 2016 New York City
As a general rule, Mei preferred not to have Tao in the crowd when she walked in a fashion show and, as a general rule, he respected that. This time, however, he felt like he needed to be there. He was waiting outside so he could slip in at the last minute and stand somewhere inconspicuous in the back. He was due back on set in an hour so he couldn’t stay long anyway. Minutes seemed to drag by. He grew increasingly anxious and started to pace. Music began to play. Tao stopped in his tracks.
September 7, 2016 New York City
The camera crew was set up in a small but very luxurious room designated for media. Luhan was used to scheduled interviews but today he wasn’t working from a schedule; he had to wait and whenever someone noteworthy had a few moments to spare, they’d drop by and let him ask a question or two. He blamed his difficulty staying focused on this element of chaos but he knew he shouldn’t be worried; he had a scheduled interview with the designer the next day and it was an exclusive, the only interview with this designer that would be airing in China during the entire week. The camera crew migrated to out to get footage of the fashion show itself but Luhan barely noticed them leave. He barely noticed anything until the first notes of a song drifted in.
September 8, 2016 New York City
It was nearing 1:00AM. Mike, LiJun, and Danny had already left with a trio of models they had been flirting with since the first afterparty. Their manager had either not noticed or decided to let it slide. Chen, Xiumin, and Lay decided to slip out of the party and walk back to their hotel instead of taking a limo. The city’s glow and the cool air were pleasant after their long day. They reached the park they’d visited before and decided to walk through on their way. Upon reaching a fountain surrounded by lampposts they stopped. There were three other figures on the opposite side.
September 8, 2016 New York City
Kris had tried to leave the afterparty with one of the models he met earlier but she turned out to have had too much to drink and he wasn’t that sort of guy. Instead, he hailed a taxi and escorted her back to her apartment which had turned out to be on the way to his hotel. After delivering the model to her roommate, he found the taxi driver had failed to wait for him. Instead of calling another cab he started walking back, taking a route through a park. When he neared a fountain, he noticed 5 others approaching it was well.
September 8, 2016 New York City
Mei had promised to meet Tao after she was able to slip out of the afterparty but the scene he had been shooting had gone too late. He didn’t want her walking alone to meet him in the park at this hour. He texted her saying he’d see her first thing in the morning and began his walk back to the hotel. He was nearing a fountain when he looked up from his phone. He was not alone. There were 5 others.
September 8, 2016 New York City
The thrill of performing at his first afterparty gig of the trip had left Luhan much too wired to sleep and he knew it. It wasn’t too far to his hotel and he decided that walking back in the cool air would help him relax a little so he’d be able to rest. The sounds of the city were comforting but walking through the park seemed like an even better idea. He didn’t pass another person at all until he came to a fountain. In the light from the old-fashioned lampposts he could clearly see 5 others.
September 8, 2016 New York City
The six men standing around the fountain were all quite certain that they were awake but each felt as if reality was melting into an elaborate dream. Strange memories fluttered through their consciousness, as difficult to grasp as whispers just slightly too soft to make out.