Pairings: Kris/Lay (Ninja!Xiumin/Luhan)
Genre: AU, Dystopia, Romance, Angst
Rating: PG - 13
Summary: On their fifth birthday, all children of the republic undergo the ECHO operation during which an earpiece is permanently attached to the inside of their ear. When Wu Fan begins to hear an unauthorised voice in the earpiece of his ECHO device, he can’t help but slowly fall in love with the person who calls himself Yixing.
Wu Fan’s memory of his ECHO operation consists of people in white coats and the sound of screams ringing in his ears - but the edges are blurred and fading, the colours seeping into an aging monochrome photograph.
On their fifth birthday, all children of the republic undergo the ECHO operation during which an earpiece is permanently attached to the inside of their ear, the edge curving around the outside and under the back, halting just behind it where it embeds into his skull. He remembers watching the flashing blue light on its surface illuminate and flicker in the mirror of the hospital, the device coming to life, silver logo of the ECHO Corporation slick and shiny in the reflection.
And just like that, the endless sound began.
They say that it is necessary, a product created to provide an easier life for the people by offering programs that dictate direction, playing a series of republic-accepted songs and acting as a constant communicative device between an individual and their surroundings.
But when it has nothing to do and the electronics calm, that’s when the government propaganda begins; a continual stream of propaganda and regulations whispering and circulating in his mind. Sometimes it softens into a chilling chant of warnings and causes for alarm, inspiring a trickle of fear through Wu Fan’s veins. Other times it is loud and aggressive, telling of the consequences of disobeying the rules of the republic and detailing a list of people arrested and trialed.
It’s a Thursday and Wu Fan only knows this because his ECHO alerted him when he woke up. He vaguely wonders if they are even following the schedule of real days anymore, or if this is just another one of many conjured realities.
It’s as he’s walking to the bank that he hears it.
We can try and import some, but I think it’s going to be difficult.
Wu Fan pauses mid-step and presses the button that allows for voice communication.
The voice falters for a moment.
Can you actually hear me?
Yes I can. Who is this and how did you get my ECHO code?
My name is Zhang Yixing, and I have no idea. I didn’t mean to connect to anyone.
Wu Fan frowns. He wonders if Yixing is lying - there is the possibility that he is one of the rebels tapping into software. If it’s a security breach he should alert the district manager.
I don’t believe you. I’ll have to report you.
No, no please don’t!
Yixing sounds so desperate that Wu Fan’s fingers halt just above the alarm button on the ECHO device. They itch to press forward but Yixing continues to ramble.
I swear I have no idea how this is happening! It’s just as odd on my end okay - a random stranger started talking to me out of nowhere. I don’t think this is supposed to happen.
Wu Fan hums in agreement, still a little skeptical.
Maybe we should get our devices checked. It could just be faulty.
That’s a much better plan.
The sound of relief in the other man’s voice is evident and Wu Fan smiles a little at the change of attitude.
He makes a detour and decides to go straight to the ECHO store. It’s a large building, at least seven floors high with windows that almost make up the entire front wall. The devices hang up on the shelves, their connectors trailing and their logos shiny and new. There are upgrades and add-on programmes stacked around the tables and huge screens continually looping advertisements.
Can you still hear me?
Yeah, I can.
There’s no one at the service desk – there never is – and Wu Fan presses the button for assistance, hearing a slight crackle as his ECHO tunes in to the new device.
Hello this is ECHO Corporation and you have requested assistance with your device. What seems to be the issue?
This is ECHO 06111990 and I’ve been having some noise interference with my device
We can scan and check your device for you. Repairs should take no longer than a few minutes.
Wu Fan thanks the man and walks beside the scanning machine, shutting his eyes as a line of blue light scans the side of his face, an x-ray processing the internal components of his device. There’s a beep and he steps away, en electronic ‘clear!’ sounding in his ear.
He thanks them again and continues on his way to the bank.
It’s as he’s drifting off to sleep that he hears Yixing again.
No that can’t be right! I didn’t tell them I swear.
Who is this?
It’s me, Wu Fan.
Wu Fan then realises he never told Yixing his name before so he adds, ‘the random man whom your ECHO device tuned in to before.’
Yixing coughs and Wu Fan amusedly wonders if he is masking a laugh.
I thought you got it fixed?
So did I.
There’s a pause where Wu Fan can just hear Yixing breathing.
So what are we going to do?
I don’t know. Could we leave it like this? It would be a nice change to the propaganda crap we always get.
Wu Fan gasps audibly because to say something like that is outrageous – worse than that, it’s almost suicidal, and he squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and wills Yixing to be okay, half expecting the sound of a gunshot or shouting voices to filter through his ECHO device at any moment.
You can’t just, say things like that, he whispers fiercely.
I’m sorry if I scared you. You’re right, I don’t want you to get into trouble for something I've said.
Wu Fan wants to say that was not the reason he was scared but he just sighs, the unsaid words escaping into silence.
I have to sleep.
Okay then. Good night Wu Fan.
Good night Yixing.
And Wu Fan drifts off to sleep with the sound of Yixing’s rhythmic breathing in his ears and the murmur of his voice like an echo in his heart.
The light is dim but enough to make Wu Fan squint as he wakes, eyes blinking against the contrast between the darkness of his dreams and the light of the day. There is a soft voice in his ear, rambling on about something nonsensical and he smiles because for the first time since he can remember, he isn’t woken by threats or a list of people who had been arrested over night and it feels amazing.
Good morning Yixing, he mumbles, stretching out with a yawn.
I can’t believe how late you wake up. I’ve been up for at least three hours already.
I just wake up with the sun.
Yixing makes a sound of disapproval and clears his throat.
Wu Fan, there are going to be times when I have to scramble the sound coming through your ECHO device okay? But it won’t last too long.
It’s just – I can’t tell you. You have to trust me okay? It’s much safer for you this way.
Wu Fan pauses, partway through buttoning up his shirt for work.
Okay, I trust you, he says.
And the strange thing is he does, but he has no idea why.
Yixing didn’t lie, the scrambles never are too long.
But he ends up hating the times when his device is rendered silent except for the buzzing in his ears, Yixing’s voice completely vanishing for momentary pauses. Sometimes he can hear another person’s voice before the buzzing starts and he realises that Yixing must be talking to someone, someone he doesn’t want to be overheard talking to.
But then Yixing’s voice returns, sometimes a little chirpier and sometimes a little more miserable – but without fail, he always returns.
What are you doing now?
Wu Fan smiles as his finger click against the keys of the keyboard, quickly darting over the letters deftly.
I’m at work. As I always am at this time.
Yixing makes a sound that suspiciously sounds like a snort.
I can tell.
Yixing sighs loudly.
Wu Fan’s lips quirk. His fingers pause for a moment, hovering just above the black letters.
Okay, how’s this, I want you to guess things about me.
What sort of things?
What I look like.
Yixing laughs and the sound rings in his ear. Wu Fan feels a warm fondness tingle beneath his skin.
Well, I always picture you with black hair.
Wu Fan smiles, nope, try again.
Third time lucky huh? You aren’t too great at this.
Yixing’s affronted hey! is so loud that Wu Fan starts a little. He stretches away from his computer, arching his back and hearing a satisfactory crack.
Okay try eye colour now, he says and decides that the page of notes he is supposed to type can wait until later.
It’s only now that Wu Fan realises just how much you can understand through voices alone.
Yixing’s voice dances quickly when he’s excited, tripping over words and stumbling in an erratic rhythm as he seems try and tell Wu Fan everything in an impossibly short amount of time. When he’s upset, there’s a waver that hovers on the end of his words, his sentences slow and disconnected, throat thick with sadness.
Wu Fan likes Yixing best though when he’s tired and they lie in bed talking into the early hours of the morning. It’s here when Yixing is at his most vulnerable, the connection between his mind and his mouth a little more hazy and his words coming a little more easily. Wu Fan finds they can talk about anything, voices hushed into whispers until they both drift off to sleep and their ECHO devices are rendered silent, until morning comes and he is woken by Yixing’s soft voice in his ear urging him to get up alongside a handful of snarky comments when he thinks Wu Fan is still asleep.
Sometimes, Wu Fan wonders if Yixing is even real.
Of course I’m real, Yixing scoffs into his earpiece when he asks.
Wu Fan laughs, just thought I’d make sure.
It’s around a month later that Yixing tells Wu Fan that he’s an activist, a rebel against the government. Wu Fan tenses and once again, a desire to press his alert button rises like bile in his throat. But more than that, he feels a sense of fear that curls around in his chest and suppresses his desire because what if something was actually to happen to Yixing. Considering the constant warnings and threats which had previously issued from his ECHO device, Wu Fan knows the consequences of anti-government activity all too well.
And yet Yixing still does not submit.
Why are you like this Yixing? Aren’t you afraid?
Yes, Yixing replies, I’m terrified.
Because the thought of living my life in a world like this and not doing anything about it terrifies me more.
Wu Fan feels a wave of sudden affection for Yixing and pauses, halfway through heating up his dinner. He wonders what Yixing looks like right now, if his eyes are hard, gaze determined – he realises that he really wants to know. He wants to know everything about Yixing, a desire to map out every aspect of his face, determine the colour of his hair, of his eyes. He wonders if he’s taller than him or if he’s shorter, if Yixing would have to tilt his head up a little to look at Wu Fan properly and Wu Fan could easily place an arm around his shoulders.
The words to ask him to meet up are on the tip of his tongue, but he swallows them as fear claws at his heart and constricts his throat.
He realises then, that Yixing is a much stronger person than he is.
Yixing sings for Wu Fan once when the night is hot and neither of them can sleep.
His voice is mellow and it breezes through Wu Fan’s very soul, soothing and calming his mind, a pleasant humming in his body. He’s never really heard music like this before, it must be an old song from before the revolution, and he silently thinks that it is infinitely better than any of the republic-accepted music.
That was so beautiful Yixing, he says quietly when the other is done, pulling his sheet around his shoulders and pressing his cheek further into the pillow, body relaxing.
Yixing thanks him and Wu Fan can almost feel the embarrassment radiate through his device.
He smiles as his eyes drift close and Yixing’s voice echoes in his dreams.
He asks one day, because the question lingers at the back of his mind and nudges forwards, urging be spoken.
Why did you become an activist?
Yixing inhales and Wu Fan can hear the way the air rushes into his lungs through the earpiece.
Because they wanted to kill me.
Wu Fan breathes in sharply. But why?
Yixing doesn’t say anything for a moment and Wu Fan wonders if he’s even still there.
I’m gay. I like guys.
Wu Fan literally feels his heart beat slow and freeze, and the gears in his head tick over as Yixing’s words repat on a continual loop. Homosexuality is outlawed by the Fourth law of Human Interaction and as with any such law, the rejection of it equates to death. He supposes he should feel disgust – it’s what he’s been told he should feel towards people who differ from the perceived ‘normal’ sexual orientation. But he doesn’t, instead he feels a wave of empathy and sadness and an overwhelming desire to protect Yixing.
I’m sorry, he breathes and Yixing makes a low sound.
Why? I don’t regret being born like this.
Once again, Wu Fan feels a prickle of admiration towards Yixing. He doesn’t say anything for a bit and Yixing must pick up on it because his voice comes through the earpiece, softer and unsure.
Wu Fan, this doesn’t- this doesn’t change anything right?
In theory he supposes it should change their relationship and yet all Wu Fan can think is that this is Yixing and always has been Yixing and if anything, their relationship has just become closer. Wu Fan keeps his voice restrained, only a hint of emotion slipping through.
Of course not.
He can almost see Yixing smile.
It’s a few nights later that Yixing tells him the story. Of how his mother hid him away after his father was killed in the war. How they were found by the Officials and the last memory he has of his mother is her screaming for forgiveness and begging them to save her son.
She told me to fight, he says softly, and so I’ve never stopped.
Wu Fan clenches his hands into fists as he sits on his lounge and is surprised when a tear slips down his cheek. His affection for Yixing runs deeper than it did before; it now touches on the corners of his heart and pinches his lungs with an overwhelming emotion. He never really thought it was possible before this to have an actual relationship other than one of unemotional greetings, one of practiced precision.
But now, he thinks – knows, that he’s never cared for anyone as much as he cares for Yixing.
I wish I could help, he says, because it’s the only thing he can.
You do enough Wu Fan, you help me more than you realise, Yixing replies, his voice light but sincere.
Wu Fan’s lips pull into a trembling smile and he realises more than anything, he just wants to hold Yixing and tell him it’s all going to be okay.
It’s not enough, he says sadly.
As he lies awake one night, Yixing’s voice in his ear, he realises that perhaps he’s fallen in love with him.
It’s a little more than ridiculous and he isn’t afraid to admit that – because falling in love with someone you can’t see, someone who may not even exist, is beyond insanity. But there’s just something so very perfectly tragic about Yixing that makes Wu Fan want to kiss him hard just to make him forget all of his sadness, to hold him close and never let go – he wants to help Yixing understand that he doesn’t have to be alone anymore.
He wakes up a little early one morning to the soft snores of Yixing in his ear and smiles in the darkness, a sense of fondness clenching at his heart. His arms by his side shift and one of his hands slide underneath his shirt, cold against his warm stomach.
There’s a momentary pause where he moves his hand down so that it lingers on the edge of his shorts, fingers beneath the elastic and pressing just next to his hip bone. He bites his lip and squeezes his eyes shut because Yixing’s breathing is making it almost impossible to produce any rational thoughts.
It’s happened to him before – when he’s woken up in a sweat, sheets damp and askew and a feeling of heated desire pooling in his stomach; Yixing’s name a ghost on his lips. But it’s never been like this, not when he’s awake and fully in control of his movements and very much aware that anything he does is done consciously - at least there had been an excuse before.
And so he lays there, eyes closed and attempting to even his breathing by counting to ten repeatedly in his head, fingers still resting just beneath the waistband of his shorts. As if on a sudden impulse he retracts his hand sharply, pressing it firmly into the mattress beside him, fingers curled into the sheet. His heart beat is rapid as it pounds against his chest and he exhales painfully, releasing a breath he didn’t even know he had been holding.
“You have no idea what you do to me Yixing,” he says, voice a pained whisper, “You have no idea how much I love you.”
He doesn’t notice that Yixing’s breathing falters for a moment.
And then one day, just like that, Yixing’s voice stops.
Wu Fan thinks the other is playing a trick on him at first and so he waits for Yixing’s laughter to sound, for him to tease Wu Fan for being so gullible. But it doesn’t and his ECHO device remains silent.
In a way, the silence is even more disconcerting than the original programmed speech for the device because the silence is a deafening pause which lingers in his ears like ominous sign, a warning about what is to come. Wu Fan spends his days constantly alert for any noise, for the static to break and for a voice to pierce through.
He waits for an alert that tells him Yixing has been killed.
It takes a month of the silence for Wu Fan to finally crack and for him to get his device fixed because the waiting is just painful now.
It takes five minutes for the device to crackle back to life and for an announcement to alert him of a traffic congestion towards the centre of the city. The voice is automated and unemotional and Wu Fan suppresses a sob that constricts his throat, the desire to hear Yixing’s voice consuming him. He thinks that if he was more like Yixing he would do something about it, try and find his friend, determine what went wrong.
The fact that he doesn’t disgusts him.
He goes to work.
He does nothing.
It’s possibly a few months later again when Wu Fan is sitting in the square in the centre of the city, legs crossed at the ankles and thoughts lost in a distant place. The sound of traffic swells around him but he’s partly deaf to the sound anyway, his ECHO device playing a song from one of the government marches from last year in his ear. He doesn’t even noticing anyone approaching until someone sits down right beside him and a hand presses against his own.
Wu Fan starts and glances around, tugged out of his thoughts as a man with his hair swept to the side and fear in his eyes looks up at him.
“Ah I’m so sorry!” the man says, eyes darting away,” I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
He turns to leave when Wu Fan makes a grab for his wrist because he would know that voice anywhere.
“Yixing?” he questions and the man’s eyes widen, whole body tensing as he looks at Wu Fan incredulously.
“What! How do you know my real name?”
Wu Fan feels himself shaking as relief mingled with confusion washes over his body and his limbs go weak. His heart beat thrums against his chest and urges him forward.
“It’s me, Wu Fan,” he says, a shy smile gracing his lips.
Yixing gasps and he sits down hard on the seat beside Wu Fan, leaning closer, his voice a mere whisper.
Wu Fan nods and Yixing swallows, hand coming up to Wu Fan’s face and trailing over his cheek with an achingly light touch as though determining he is real. He pauses at Wu Fan’s lips, thumb pressed against the corner of his smile.
“Oh my god,” he says softly, and Wu Fan realises that Yixing is just as perfect as he thought he would be, his eyes bright and lined with a sort of determinism and a dimple pressing into his cheek as he smiles at Wu Fan. Wu Fan wants to pull him close and hold him tight but he swallows the feeling because there are too many eyes around and such close contact would definitely be scrutinised. Instead, he tangles their fingers together.
“Come with me,” he says, voice wavering slightly because of the adrenalin and raw emotion which courses through his veins, spinning around inside his head and making it feel light.
Wu Fan brings him back to his small house on the outskirts of the district and makes sure to lock the door behind him.
“We aren’t allowed to have locks Wu Fan,” Yixing says with a grin, “And I thought I was the rebel,”
Wu Fan makes a sound that is half caught between a laugh and a sob. “Shut up,” he says and he kisses Yixing right then in his house where the plaster is peeling off the walls and there is a leak in the roof but he doesn’t care because it’s Yixing who clutches at his shirt and its Yixing who moans into his mouth - and it’s perfect.
“I’m sorry, but I think I love you,” he murmurs against Yixing’s lips and he can feel the way the latter smiles, hands winding around Wu Fan’s neck to pull him closer, fingers tangling in his hair –frantic. It escalates quickly and Wu Fan finds himself pinned under Yixing, shoulders painfully pressed against the wall as Yixing’s hands trail over his skin and pull him forward, desperate for more as their hips slide and the friction causes Wu Fan’s breath to catch in his throat. He groans when Yixing’s mouth moves over his neck and his tongue swirls over a tender spot on his skin, knees going weak.
Yixing presses a kiss to the edge of his mouth and pulls away a little, breath hot and heavy and lips red.
“I didn’t know you were..” he trails off into a pause and looks lost for words for a moment, his hand slipping low on Wu Fan’s waist and trailing dangerously close to the edge of his pants. “I didn’t know you were like me.”
Wu Fan fails to suppress a whimper when Yixing presses closer and heat pools low in his stomach. “Neither did I,” he says breathlessly as Yixing kisses him again, a bruising of lips and teeth and tongue and Wu Fan feels an intense elation that runs through his veins in a trail of fire.
Wu Fan tugs on Yixing’s shirt collar, pulling him towards the small bed in the corner of the room and collapses backwards, Yixing falling on top of him, legs on either side of his. He laughs a little when Wu Fan fumbles with one of his buttons and gently pushes his hands away, kissing him slowly as he undoes them one by one. Yixing pulls back for a moment and tugs his own shirt over his head, before leaning forward and kissing him again. Wu Fan lets out a little gasp of shock because the other’s stomach is littered with scars and as his hands move over the expanse of skin on his back, he can feel more raised scars beneath his fingertips.
“What happened?” he breathes as Yixing cups his jaw in his hands.
“Life,” Yixing says in between kisses, his hips rocking forward. Wu Fan’s breath lodges in his throat and he squeezes his eyes shut as an intense spark of pleasure causes his own hips to snap forward. Yixing groans against him and his fingers are hot as they slip over Wu Fan’s bare skin, trailing across his stomach and over his thighs, skin shivering beneath the touch.
It happens so quickly, hot and fast, all smothered gasps and heavy breathing, and Wu Fan is consumed by an emotion so powerful that it leaves him shaking and begging for more.
Yixing laughs and kisses him in the dark, naked and pressed close, an arm slung around his waist. His fingers begin to circle lazily over Wu Fan’s hip, the soft brush of his nails causing Wu Fan to shudder. His hand moves up, dancing along Wu Fan’s chest before his thumb strokes against his cheek.
“You’re perfect,” he says and Wu Fan leans forward and kisses him, long and slow, ignoring the light which begins to seep in to the room, the dusty morose colour of early morning.
“You don’t ever have to be alone again,” he whispers against the shell of Yixing’s ear.
It’s later when they are sitting around on the lounge, a pillow in Wu Fan’s lap as his feet rest on Yixing’s knees, that Yixing explains.
“Why did you stop talking to me?” Wu Fan asks, his words laced with slight hurt.
Yixing smiles sadly and tilts his head and its only then that Wu Fan notices a vicious looking scar running across his ear, the evidence of bloodied stitches crisscrossing across his skin.
He also notices with a slight start, that his ECHO device is absent.
Yixing laughs at Wu Fan’s confusion. “You aren’t the brightest are you,” he says with a grin, flicking Wu Fan on his forehead. “You didn’t even realise.”
Wu Fan scoffs. “Well, to be honest, that wasn’t really one of my prioritized thoughts last night.” He swears he sees Yixing blush a little at that and he feels a sense of achievement.
“I had mine removed by a friend,” he says, fingers tapping against Wu Fan’s ankle, “They were listening to us you know.”
Wu Fan tenses because he had thought maybe– but he never wanted to believe – that their conversations had been tapped in to.
“How did you know?”
He pauses and his eyes connect sharply with Wu Fan’s. “They came for me. So I ran.”
He supposes it’s not really his fault but Wu Fan can’t help but feel a stab of guilt at his words. He shifts slightly on the couch and his hand finds Yixing’s, linking their fingers together.
Yixing shakes his head, brushing his apology away.
“Don’t be, I needed to move anyway.” He’s lost in thought for a moment before he seems to remember what they were talking about. “So after that I hid in a friend’s house for a bit and he told me about this guy who could perform an operation to remove the device.”
“And so you had it done.”
Yixing nods and absentmindedly runs his fingers over the scar on his ear.
“Is your device fixed now?” he asks and Wu Fan nods.
They sit in silence for a few minutes before Wu Fan kicks his legs of Yixing’s lap and shuffles over to sit beside him, thighs pressed together and shoulders against each other.
“Stay with me,” he says softly, eyes flicking away; embarrassed.
Yixing glances at him and he smiles, nudging Wu Fan with his shoulder.
“Thanks, but I don’t want them to hurt you because they are looking for me.”
Wu Fan scoffs at him and looks over, brown eyes connecting together. He leans forward and kisses Yixing tenderly, hand sliding over his neck and holding his jaw.
When he pulls away, he doesn’t break eye contact, feeling Yixing’s warm breath fan across his cheek. He can see the tumble of confusion in Yixing’s eyes – of hurt, of pain. But then he sees a flicker of affection skate across his irises and in that moment, he can see his own reflection.
“It’s too late now,” Wu Fan says quietly, “I’m in wherever you go.” Yixing looks like he’s about to refuse when Wu Fan presses a finger to his lips in order to keep him silent. “You should have thought about that before I fell in love with you.”
Yixing’s lips quirk in a shy smile and he pushes the finger against his lips away so that he can kiss Wu Fan properly.
“I don’t want to drag you into this.”
“I don’t care. I want you to.” He pauses and looks at Yixing, long and hard. “I wasn’t lying when I said you don’t have to be alone anymore.”
Yixing wraps an arm around his waist and pulls him closer.
“Thank you,” he whispers as he lets his head fall against Wu Fan’s shoulder.