[personal profile] maayacolabackup
Title: Continuum
Pairing: Kris/Zitao
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Zitao knows the value of being alive. He knows exactly how much it’s worth in days and hours and minutes and seconds. (AU, 4k)
Warnings: violence, supernatural elements, alternate universe
Notes this was written for [livejournal.com profile] yuisan for [livejournal.com profile] runandgun. this was difficult because the request was for 'not-fluff', and while i do write angst, usually i write it in a much larger context... earned angst, if you will. I had this crazy idea at 3 in the morning, and thus, this terribly weird fic was born.








<< back

The sun is high.

Zitao finds solace from the harsh rays beneath a tree, sprawled out on his belly with his head pillowed on his arms as he watches traffic pass along the road. He’s got a book with him, but he hasn’t opened it yet. He’s too busy watching people walk by, hurrying about their Saturday afternoon plans; women with bags hanging heavy from their shoulders, children tussling and shoving each other forward, laughing and giggling, and men with their hands shoved in their suit pockets as they steadily march onward, lips curled downward beneath fashionable hats.

Watching people is something Zitao loves to do more than anything. His teacher always reminds Zitao that observation is the way to stay alive. Zitao knows that, but that’s not why he observes. Zitao just likes watching the swell of people at the end of their day as they haggle for vegetables from the street vendors, arguing with each other over who bumped into whom. He likes that because people, just like this, bubbling and spilling over one another, loud voices saturating the air, are so alive, and being alive is such a wonderful gift.

Zitao knows the value of being alive. He knows exactly how much it’s worth in hours and minutes and seconds and milliseconds. He has known since he was seven, when he was brought shaking and shivering from the cold into the mountains, blood on the soles of his bare feet and in the back of his throat.

It is lonely, in the mountains; the kind of quiet that sinks into your bones and stays there, and even when Zitao escapes, to the edges of the bustling village, that quiet follows him down.

But Zitao is not quiet, himself. Zitao loves people.

People don’t love Zitao. People don’t know Zitao exists, and sometimes Zitao wishes…

Something hits Zitao in the face. He blinks, twice, and forces his eyes to focus on it. It’s a red ball.

“That’s mine,” says another boy, and Zitao looks up, blinking. The boy is gangly and tall, too much elbow and knee, and his chin and nose are too big for his face. His Mandarin is strange; as unwieldy as his limbs. But he has a kind smile and a tired look in his eyes that feels a little bit familiar. “Sorry.”

Zitao licks his lips, and peers up at the boy through his hair, unsure of how to respond. He’s not supposed to respond. He should leave now, quickly, before he’s noticed by anyone else. No one is supposed to be able to see him, but the boy is clearly looking at Zitao and waiting for an answer.

He settles on “that’s okay,” and picks the ball up and proffers it to the other boy, and when the other boy reaches out to take it, their fingertips brush. It’s a little like fire.

“Thanks,” the other boy says, and he smiles, and it’s more gums than teeth, but Zitao likes it. He doesn’t know why.

It’s probably because this boy is the first person who isn’t his teacher to talk to him in a long time.

“You’re welcome,” Zitao says, and his voice feels almost raw as it comes out of his throat. His heart is beating so quickly. “You see me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” the boy asks. “My name is Kris.” He tosses the ball into the air and catches it with one hand, and Zitao finally smiles back.

Minutes turn to hours turn into an afternoon, and he never opens his book.





forward >

Zitao is an invisible boy.

He has ten fingers and ten toes and thirty-two teeth and a mouth and a nose and eyes, and if he were to look in the mirror, he’d see an average boy standing there.

And maybe he’d lost a few teeth along the way but they’d grown back as he grew older, and maybe he’s grown taller than his teacher would have liked, but he’s strong, and good at climbing trees, and he never overcooks the rice.

But Zitao is still an invisible boy, because that’s what the boys who live in the monastery are.

In the middle of the night, Zitao curls up into his blankets and tries to wish himself away. “I’m here,” he whispers into the coarse fabric, eyes clenched shut. He bites down on his lip, muffling the sound, because he doesn’t want Baekhyun to worry about him. ”I’m here,” he thinks, in his head, and he falls asleep repeating it to the beat of an imaginary clock counting off the seconds with a rhythmic tick.





< back

Deep in the mountains, there’s a monastery carved into the rock, built of stone and wood and overrun with plants. Wild vines crawl up the walls, camouflaging the building until you’re up close to it; then it suddenly reveals itself, and you wonder how you missed it at all.

This is where Zitao grows from child to adolescent; one year, two years, five years passing. This is where Zitao becomes the invisible boy.

Zitao’s teacher corrects his grip around the sword. “The way you swing it, it’s too loud.” He narrows his eyes at Zitao. “You can’t be too loud.”

“I’m already invisible,” Tao says quietly, and his teacher grins. It is not a kind look.

“That’s the monastery’s power, not your own.” His teacher slaps at his wrist. “Correct your arm.”

“What’s my power?” Zitao asks. “I have to have one to be here, right?”

There are other boys. They’re all different, like Zitao.

“We’ll find out,” his teacher says. “Focus. Quiet.”

Zitao swings the sword again, making sure to twist his wrist counter-clockwise.






forward >

The second time Zitao meets Kris is when Kris shows up at the monastery, shirtless with a hole in his trousers above the right knee. His teacher pushes Kris, whose face is cold and impassive and nothing like it had been the last time Zitao had seen him, towards Zitao, and tells him to take him to bed.

Zitao doesn’t know what this means, so he pulls Kris to his room and pushes him down into his bed, climbing in after him. Kris is long, and so is Zitao, but Zitao manages to fit his legs around and between Kris’s legs, and he pulls the blankets over them both.

Kris finally starts to shake, and Zitao puts an arm around his waist. “It’s okay,” Zitao says, even if he’s not really sure it is. He remembers the first time he came to the monastery. Kris is clean, at least, and Zitao pulls him closer. Kris leans into the warmth.

“I still see you,” Kris says, into Zitao’s neck, and Zitao’s lips and throat are dry.

“It’s been five years,” Zitao says. “How can you remember me?”

“How could I forget the boy who thought he was invisible?” Kris’s trembling slows as they speak, and Zitao takes a deep breath. He smells death on Kris, even if he can’t see it.

“I am invisible,” Zitao says. ”You will be, too,” he thinks.

“Not to me,” Kris says, and their eyes meet in the dark. Zitao’s racing heart speeds up, pulse measured in milliseconds.





<< back

When Zitao is six, Zitao’s father finds fame and fortune as a renowned martial artist. He says no instead of yes to a lot of people, and Zitao thinks his father is the coolest person he knows. He pulls Zitao aside and teaches him how to curve his hands and how to flow through the movements and how to kick out with his thigh muscles the right way so he doesn’t hurt his knees. He stretches his palm along Zitao’s small back and guides him through his first back flip and then beams when, a week later, Zitao manages it on his own.

When Zitao is seven, fame and fortune tiptoe into their house one night and leave behind two corpses and a shivering child under the bed.

When Zitao is eight, he doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a normal boy.





forward >>

Kris had a tattoo on each arm. “My father had them done.”

“When?” Zitao is sitting across from Kris. Their knees touch.

“This one,” Kris says, “I got when I was nine. It’s my name.”

“Your name?” Zitao asks, leaning closer. He presses his fingertip to the inked skin—it doesn’t feel any different, to the touch, but somehow, Zitao can sense the characters beneath the pads of his fingers.

“Li Jiaheng,” Kris says. “One of my names.”

Zitao traces the characters with more nail than finger, and Kris shivers and watches him. Zitao doesn’t mind, because to everyone but Kris, he is invisible. “And the other?”

“The other I got when I was eleven,” Kris says. “It’s a scorpion.”

“And what does that represent?”

“A death that comes unsuspected,” Kris says. “Appropriate for what we do, isn’t it?” Kris is still staring. Zitao slides his hand up to Kris’s shoulder, and then across his prominent collarbones, before coming down on top of the scorpion.

“Yes,” Zitao says. “And before?”

Kris sighs, and leans back, and Zitao is left touching nothing. “I don’t know,” Kris says, and he looks into Zitao’s eyes. “But he certainly had an unexpected death.”





<< back

The first time Zitao kills a man, he’s nine. It feels like a dream as the blood squirts into his face and sticks to his eyelashes, and it’s not until he’s back at the monastery that he allows himself to throw up, heaving until there’s nothing left in his stomach, and then long past that.

It is Minseok who rubs small circles into his back that night. “It gets easier,” he says, mouth set in a comforting smile. “To pretend it’s someone else doing it.” Zitao’s forehead is hot, but Minseok presses his hand against it until Zitao feels a chill run through his body. Minseok draws back when Zitao starts to shiver. “We aren’t what we do.”

Zitao can’t help but think of the man’s face frozen in the last few moments of his life, surprise etched in the furrow of his eyebrows, when he closes his eyes to sleep.





forward >

Kris falls into Zitao’s life and Zitao’s heart. Perhaps it is in the way he’s always watching; the same way Zitao watches people from beneath his favorite tree, taking in every detail he can from a distance.

Kris watches Zitao like that, and Zitao, who is used to being the invisible boy, suddenly feels exposed.

But Kris sleeps in Zitao’s room, and never goes to sleep until Zitao does, and they whisper secrets into the space between them, and Zitao thinks maybe it’s all right, to be visible for Kris.





forward >

“This is where we met,” Kris says. “I was playing by myself, waiting for my cousin, and the ball rolled over here, and I saw you.”

“I still don’t know how.”

“You looked a little like a sunflower,” Kris says.

“I-“ Zitao thinks of his dark hair, and the shadows that lurk beneath his eyes, and he doesn’t really get it.

“When I walked over, you turned right toward me.”

“I always watched this road,” Zitao says. “Watch the people along it.”

“I don’t know why I stopped to talk to you,” Kris says, and he sets his hand on Zitao’s thigh. “But I never forgot about you, not once.” Kris leans to the side, so that his head is resting against Zitao’s. “You held me together, the second time we met. I thought I would shake apart.”

Zitao sees Kris then, and Kris now, layered over top of each other, the time shifting back and forth in his mind. Kris is taller and stronger now, but his expressions are the same.

“Me too,” Zitao says, and some times, he still thinks he might. But then Kris, shoulders squared with the voice of a leader, stitches him back together with laced fingers and a crooked smile.





< back

Time is unpredictable for people who are not Zitao.

Zitao learns to mold it to his will, spinning minutes into hours and days into seconds.

He can only work in days; no further than a week, in either direction, but usually minutes are enough to make things easy, slipping in and out and leaving the target behind, bleeding out on the floor of their expensive hotel suites.

But no matter how much he changes time, weaving through the minutes carefully stepping over all the important threads, when he’s done, Kris is waiting for him, hand outstretched and eyes smiling. Zitao tumbles into bed, knees and calves tangled together like they’d been Kris’s first night at the monastery, and Zitao breathes in the warm scent of Kris’s long dark hair and the warmth of him.

As he rubs his thumb across Kris’s eyebrows, Kris patiently letting him, his own hands lingering easy on Zitao’s waist, Zitao wishes he could make some moments last an eternity.





forward >

Invisible boys aren’t supposed to fall in love. Zitao knows this; thinks this, even as he lets Kris pull him closer and press kisses to his eyelids, then his nose, finally settling his mouth against Zitao’s with a soft, almost inaudible sigh.

Zitao clings to the cotton of Kris’s shirt as Kris drags him closer, tilting Zitao’s head up and kissing him again, harder, tongue demanding entrance. Zitao opens for him immediately, allowing Kris to ease into his mouth, soft and slow like the hour hand of a carefully wound antique watch.

Kris is gentle, curling his tongue around Zitao’s like Zitao is something to savor, and Zitao is overwhelmed by sensation, knees shaking as he clings to Kris’s shirt. Kris’s hands come up to cup Zitao’s face, and the warmth of them makes Zitao feel like he’s melting into Kris like ice on a summer’s afternoon, drops of him slipping through Kris’s fingers and spilling onto the floor.

“Have you ever been kissed before?” Kris asks, and Zitao shakes his head. “Good.”

“No one kisses invisible boys,” Zitao says

“You’re not invisible to me,” Kris says, and he kisses Zitao again.





forward >>

Targets are always high-profile criminals. Hotshot types with no morals and no qualms.

Zitao gets sick when it’s over, anyway, because he’d rather feed the animals that lurk around the edges of the forest than steal the life of another human being.

“In the long term,” Chanyeol says, fire sparking at his fingertips, “aren’t we doing the world a favor?”

“No,” Kris says. “And it’s best if you don’t think of it that way.”

Later, it is Kris who holds Zitao after he’s expelled the contents of his stomach, arms warm and comforting around Zitao’s torso. Zitao buries his face in Kris’s neck and Kris rests his chin on Zitao’s head. Zitao can feel his every exhale.

“I’m only staying because of you,” Kris says. “I’d have left already if it weren’t for you.”

“Where would you go?” Zitao asks, and it’s scary. Zitao is invisible, and the world outside is something he doesn’t understand.

“Anywhere,” Kris says. “Anywhere but here.”





forward >

Kris has the power of flight but it is Zitao who feels like he’s flying as Kris licks a trail up his stomach, biting down hard enough to sting but not hard enough to hurt on the skin beneath his lips, and Zitao bucks his hips up for friction and finds none. Kris laughs, and meshes their mouths together, swallowing the noises Zitao can’t help but make.

And then Kris is pressing a finger inside of him, two, and Zitao aches to be closer, to be fuller, pleas bubbling from his lips in between gasps and whimpers.

“I see you,” Kris says, pushing inside of him, and Zitao sees him, too. Kris’s eyes are wild and bright, and Zitao knows he’s the only person who sees Kris like this.

As Zitao comes, he loses track of the seconds, because the only moment that matters is now.

As they curl together, after, Zitao listens to the melody of Kris’s heart as it pumps between sixty and eighty-five beats per minute.





forward >

“Let’s go,” Kris says. “Let’s fly away.”

“Only you can fly,” Zitao says.

“Then let’s walk,” Kris says. “Or run.”

Zitao doesn’t know where they’d go, or what they’d do. Zitao is afraid.

“What if I go?” Kris says, pushing Zitao’s hair back from out of his eyes. “And then I figure it out and come back for you?”

Zitao can taste selfishness on the back of his tongue. “Stay with me,” Zitao says, and Kris smiles, slow and easy, and Zitao can still see his gums.

“Yes,” Kris says. “You’re the only thing keeping me here.”





forward >>

There’s a scorpion insignia on the door but that doesn’t mean anything until Zitao sees the target, a man with Kris’s large palms and Kris’s furrowed brow.

“Don’t,” Kris says, as he stands between Zitao and the target, and Zitao lowers his sword immediately because this is Kris. “He’s my uncle.”

Zitao nods, and tries to think, tries to gather time into his grip so he can just stop it, for a moment. But then there’s a gunshot, from behind, and Kris is falling forward, into Zitao’s arms.

Kris smells like death, and Zitao, who’s slept to the sound of Kris’s heartbeat, can’t seem to find it now.

”Scorpions,” Kris had said, ”represent a death that comes unexpected.”

Zitao pulls at time, looking at all the strings, trying to find the one that lets him listen to Kris’s laugh again as he drags fingers along the birthmark on Zitao’s ribs, but everything he tries leads to here. Minutes, hours, days back, and it all leads to here.

“I’m sorry,” Lu Han says quietly, later, when Zitao climbs into Kris’s bed and pulls the covers up around him.

“All choices lead to now,” Zitao says, and he buries his face into Kris’s pillow. He feels like the child who had once curled up just like this, wishing to be seen, and he wonders, now, if power over time means nothing at all if some things never change.






now

If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If Zitao cries, alone, head between his knees and arms wrapped around himself to keep from shaking, maybe Zitao isn’t really crying.

Zitao wonders if that’s why every moment he’d spent with Kris had felt so solid and real.

With Kris, Zitao wasn’t the invisible boy. With Kris, Zitao just was.

Seconds, minutes, hours. That’s how long Zitao does not cry.





now

It is lonely, in the mountains; the kind of quiet that sinks into your bones and stays there.

It is lonelier now that Zitao has tasted being complete. The future seems long and winding.





now

The thing about choices, Zitao realizes, is that each and every one can cause a ripple in time. Zitao stops time, usually, but doesn’t change it, because fate inevitably gets its way.

But Zitao can think of one moment…

Zitao can only work in days; no further than a week, in either direction, but usually minutes are enough to make things easy.

Tonight, Zitao gathers the strands of time around his fingers and pulls as hard as he can, and it sends him spinning back, back, back.





sometime

Zitao is dizzy, gasping, aching, disoriented.

The clock spins backwards.





<<< back

“Let’s go,” Kris says. “Let’s fly away.”

“Only you can fly,” Zitao says.

“Then let’s walk,” Kris says. “Or run.”

Zitao doesn’t know where they’d go, or what they’d do. Zitao is afraid.

“What if I go?” Kris says, pushing Zitao’s hair back from out of his eyes. “And then I figure it out and come back for you?”

Zitao can taste selfishness on the back of his tongue, but he swallows it down. “Go,” Zitao says, and Kris blinks at him.

“Are you sure?”

Yes,” Zitao says, and he kisses Kris, tugging down on his shirt, memorizing the way their mouths fit together.





forward >

Kris goes, and Zitao stays, and maybe Zitao’s fingers don’t curl so sure around the handle of his sword as time moves forward.

Zitao is an invisible boy.

No one sees him, but that’s okay, because there’s still the one person who can, out there somewhere, heart thumping somewhere between sixty and eighty-five beats per minute.






forward >>>

The sun is high.

Zitao, much older now, finds solace from the rays beneath a tree, sprawled out on his belly, head pillowed on his arms as he watches traffic pass along the road.

Zitao likes watching people. He’d liked watching Kris the best.

Zitao sits up, leaning against the tree. He hasn’t bothered to bring a book.

But it’s been years, now, that he’s been waiting for Kris to walk down the road, and Zitao’s starting to think that even if he’s changed; even if his whole world’s changed, now he’s just the invisible man instead of the invisible boy.

Suddenly, there’s a warmth against his shoulder. A red ball is dropped into his lap; something from many yesterdays ago, followed by a big hand, hot on his thigh.

“Didn’t you remember I can fly? You’ve been watching the road and not the sky,” Kris says, and Zitao thinks this must be a dream, because he’s got all the time in the world between his fingers and he’d never thought this moment would come. “You can’t watch both at once.”

Zitao swallows, hands coming up to wrap around the red ball. He remembers being a child and hearing Kris’s voice for the first time. ”That’s mine,” Kris had said, and Zitao’s heart had stopped, because-

“I still see you,” Kris says. “I mean, I can if you want me to.”

Zitao remembers kisses stolen in hours unrecorded, and the way Kris had hugged him, chest warm against Zitao’s back, and the way Kris had looked, in the early afternoon light, flecks of amber in his hair from the bright summer glow.

Zitao looks up. Kris still looks the same, mostly. He’s grown into his face; his long chin looks regal now, and his smile is a bit more hidden away by the years, but he still looks like Kris. Zitao’s Kris.

“I want you to,” Zitao says. “Of course I want you to.”

Zitao’s hands, time laced about his knuckes, might still look red in the moonlight, memories of Kris, heart still as he lied lifeless in Zitao’s arms. But here, in the daylight, everything seems fresh and new.

“You always look like a sunflower, when you turn towards me like that,” Kris says, laughter and relief and little sparkling pieces of love lingering in the curve of his lower lip, and Zitao squeezes the foam ball so tight he thinks it might crumble to nothing in his grip.

”Because you are the sun,” Zitao might say, if he could find the words. But he can’t, so he settles for taking one of his hands and resting it on top of Kris’s larger one. Their fingers tangle, and Zitao feels so solid and real.

“Will you come with me?” Kris asks, and his eyes are searching.

Once, Kris had stayed for Zitao. Now, Zitao will go for Kris. This is the way it should be, Zitao thinks, and he looks behind him. He can’t see the monastery from here, but he doesn’t have to see it to know recall the look of it, grown into the mountainside and full of secrets.

“Yes,” the visible man says, and the sun shines brighter as Zitao lets go of the strings of time and lets himself be dragged into an unknown future.


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