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by my own law

Chapter Text

PART I 

COVERT

 

If I’m gonna die for you

If I'm gonna kill for you

Then I spilled this blood for you

Just in case my faith go

I’ll live by my own law

 

Xu Minghao looks better in person than he did in the countless pictures in Junhui’s files. Junhui knows him by heart. His piercing eyes, his imperious smile, his blood type, his family tree, his favorite dish; Junhui has it all catalogued, tucked away neatly into a corner of his brain.

It took him months to arrive here, standing on one side of this long oval table, Minghao on the other. There are other people in the room, but Junhui doesn't care. Almost a year getting his hands dirtier than he ever thought he would, and all for this. All for Minghao to look at him like he does right now, with begrudging respect and recognition. For Minghao to wave at him, order him closer.

For Minghao to let him in.

 

--

 

“Wen,” Chief Zhang tells Junhui the day before he’s scheduled to leave. “I know you think you’re ready, but you aren’t.”

Junhui tries not to take it personally. “If you have any last minute advice,” he smiles instead, “I’m all ears.”

Chief Zhang does not smile back. “I disagree, you know. I voted against sending you in.”

Junhui frowns. “I’m the perfect candidate. I trained for this. I want this.”

“You have nothing to return to,” Chief Zhang shakes his head.

“I have nothing holding me back,” Junhui counters. “Nothing anyone can use against me.”

His superior officer just gives him a sad look. “You need something, Wen. Something to anchor yourself. It gets harder, after a while. It gets harder to remember who you really are.”

Junhui knows the case that made Chief Zhang’s career. Everybody does. Most undercover cops remain in the shadows all their life, but Zhang Yixing brought down Wu Yifan. Junhui has read all about it, like everyone else at the Academy. Chief Zhang—Yixing, Yixing, Junhui needs to drop all this official bullshit, get himself in the right headspace. Yixing knows what he’s talking about, that's exactly why he leads this unit.

“You remembered,” Junhui says. “You came back.”

“Not entirely,” his elder says bitterly. Junhui thinks of the newspaper clippings from the Wu trial, the pictures of a younger Yixing with bags under his eyes, clearly uncomfortable in his tailored suit at the stand. “You don’t understand,” Yixing continues. “Not until you’ve had to pull the trigger because it’s some poor asshole or your cover. Not until you’ve had to shoot up the same shit you're fighting to get off the streets directly into your veins because it’s proving yourself or blowing the whole op. No amount of studying will prepare you for this, Detective Wen.”

“You never call me by my title, boss,” Junhui laughs weakly. He doesn’t want to think about the rest of what Yixing said. Until you’ve had to pull the trigger.

“No one will, for a long time,” Yixing sighs. “Keep it close. You say you have nothing, but that's not true. You have this job. You have a purpose.”

“Serve the people,” Junhui recites.

“Serve the people,” Yixing confirms. “Make this world a better place, one goddamn gang at a time.” Then, after a short beat of silence. “I’m proud of you, Junhui.”

Junhui feels his cheeks burning. “You said you didn’t want me to go.”

“Yeah,” Yixing says. “Still. I’m proud of you.”

This is what Junhui vows to take with him. Tomorrow, when he stops being Wen Junhui, Detective, and he just becomes Jun ; he will carry Yixing’s I’m proud of you like a good-luck charm, pressed close against his heart.

 

--

 

The Xu Clan is tight-knit but spread out. Xu Senior is the indubitable boss, but his wife is far from being just a pretty face. She rules over half her husband’s empire with an iron fist, independent in the fiercest way. Junhui has seen her once in the nine months he has spent undercover, and even that was just a stroke of luck. The higher-ups are supposed to be invisible, that’s the whole point of organized crime; but Junhui knows everything there is to know about the Xu family, could recognize Lady Xu by her ankle alone.

Xu Minghao, heir to their fortune, their only son, is a whole other story all by himself. His nickname among Xu footsoldiers is The Prince, because he acts like one. Always draped in long luxurious coats and European designer clothes, he dresses like one, too. Junhui finds it distasteful, but then again, he supposes Minghao fits the image his family is trying to project: perfectly legal billionaires with a rowdy but harmless child, too stupid and doped-up to warrant any sort of surveillance. Minghao is rowdy, but he is far from harmless; and while Junhui has seen him act drunk and high on multiple occasions, he’s never witnessed him actually intoxicated. The reality of things is this: Minghao is responsible for the Korean side of his father’s business, extending the drug trade across the border. And while there is already a solid case building up against Xu Senior’s activities on the Mainland, the police has nothing substantial on Minghao’s dealings.

This is Junhui’s goal, really. Infiltrate the Clan, yes, but more particularly, get close to Minghao. He was chosen because he’s smart and hardworking and willing, but also because he and Minghao are close in age, and because the profiler assigned to the operation deemed their personalities compatible, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Junhui has studied Minghao like he’s the most important exam of Junhui’s life, and he can say with assurance that the compatibility thing is pure BS, but he can make it work. He’s a good actor. He’s always been too good at lying.

 

--

 

“This is Jun,” Minghao introduces him to the four other men in the room. “My father likes him, so I guess we’re going to be seeing him around.”

You’re damn right your father likes me, Junhui thinks angrily. I had to shoot a man in the kneecap for him.

“Jun,” the guy on Minghao's right repeats pensively. Kim Mingyu, Junhui’s mental encyclopedia supplies. Right-hand man. Korean. “I didn’t know we were taking in new people.”

It’s voiced like a statement, but it’s clearly a question. Minghao shrugs. “We’re not. Dad seems to think I need a bodyguard.”

“He’s skinny,” Mingyu raises a dubious eyebrow.

“I’m a good shot,” Junhui leers.

“He’s a good shot,” Seokmin confirms. Supplier. Also Korean. He was there during the kneecap incident. “And he’s not that skinny.”

“Thanks,” Junhui says dryly.

“You don’t need guarding,” Mingyu insists, still speaking only to Minghao, body now angled away from Junhui. “You have me.”

Minghao looks unaffected. “I think dad thinks I’m getting too bold. You’re a mole, right Jun? He wants you to report back?”

If only you knew.

“Yes,” Junhui says, because it’s true, and because it feels like that’s exactly what Minghao wants to hear.

“I don’t care,” Minghao says. “I have nothing to hide from him. I make him more money than all his other lieutenants combined, and I’m his blood. You can tell him that.”

“I will,” Junhui says, holding his gaze. It’s intense, dark and defiant. “He’s actually concerned, you know,” he pushes his luck, speaks out of turn. Mingyu turns to him again, clearly furious, but he remains silent. “He did primarily send me to ensure your safety.”

“I like him.” Yoon Jeonghan, accountant, Junhui’s mind chimes in.

“You like that Mingyu hates him,” the fourth of Minghao's men huffs, amused. He has a slight accent Junhui can't quite place. He looks Korean, but he doesn't sound Korean. He wasn't in any of Junhui’s files.

“You’re dismissed,” Minghao informs Junhui. “I just wanted them to know your face, you can go stand in front of the door, or whatever it is bodyguards do.”

Junhui does go stand in front of the door, but it is completely useless, because there’s always armed men protecting meetings like this one anyway. He takes out his phone, scrolls through Weibo for a while, plays three rounds of Tetris. He wonders what Chief Zhang is doing, lets his imagination run wild, pictures his precinct and allows the nostalgia to envelop him. He misses everything about his real life, even the shitty coffee from the machine at the station. He misses the familiar weight of his badge, the easiness of his government-issued weapon. He misses his small apartment. He misses being called Junhui.

The door opens, shaking him out of his daydream. The foreigners exit first. Minghao looks content but tired.

“Drive me home,” he orders Junhui as soon as their eyes meet.

You have a driver, Junhui almost retorts. He bites his tongue and leads the way, opens the door to the backseat of the sleek black car he was given with his new job assignment so that Minghao can slip inside.

“You’re too pretty to be hired muscle,” Minghao says out of nowhere after a good quarter of an hour of utter silence.

“Thank you,” Junhui answers reflexively, before his brain catches up with his mouth. What the fuck. “I am, though. Hired muscle, I mean. I don’t see what my face has to do with it.”

“Everything,” Minghao sighs. “My father thinks he knows my weaknesses.”

Junhui frowns. “I don’t follow.”

“You look like someone I would fuck,” Minghao says bluntly. Junhui swallows down the hints of panic he can feel bubbling up inside his throat. That wasn’t in the file. How could something this fucking big not be in the file? “Did he send you here to seduce me?” Minghao asks.

“That would be messed up,” Junhui says, and he’s glad his voice still sounds steady, normal.

“Daddy and I have a messed up relationship,” Minghao sneers. “But he’s wrong. I can manage my shit by myself. And I’m not a teenager anymore, it takes more than a beautiful boy to distract me.”

“Glad to hear it, boss,” Junhui says, but inside his head beautiful boy runs on loop, like a cursed echo.

 

--

 

Kim Mingyu hates Junhui’s guts. It makes meetings Junhui sits in unbearable for everyone except Jeonghan, who seems to be having the time of his life. Junhui doesn’t really care, but Jun does. In the past month, Junhui has recalibrated his persona, molded it around what Minghao needs. And what Minghao needs is—well, what Minghao needs is a fucking therapist, but more realistically, what Minghao needs is a confidant. And Junhui can tell that used to be Mingyu, once upon a time. There is a fluidity to the way he and Minghao interact, the weight of history heavy between them. Sometimes Mingyu seems to know what Minghao is going to say before he says it, always one step ahead. Body language rarely lies, and Junhui thinks that even if he didn't know about Minghao’s… preferences, he would have ended up guessing. Mingyu touches Minghao like a lover.

Junhui doesn’t think it’s unrequited love, not exactly. Minghao is too relaxed around Mingyu, too open. Junhui knows him well enough by now to understand it isn't simply trust: Minghao trusts Seokmin with his life and still flinches when Seokmin gets too close.

He gets his answer a few weeks later. Minghao texts him to have the car ready in thirty, but there is less traffic than he expected, and Junhui gets there ten minutes early. Just in time to see Mingyu at the window, shirtless, smoking a cigarette. When Minghao finally sits in the car, he doesn’t smell like himself.

Maybe Junhui’s acting skills need some work after all, because Minghao notices his stiffness.

“You saw Mingyu,” he says. It’s not a question.

“It’s none of my business, boss,” Junhui shakes his head.

“Damn fucking right, it isn't.” He takes a moment after that, looks outside. The highway is almost empty. It’s raining. “I used to be in love with him,” he tells Junhui.

“You shouldn't tell me these things,” Junhui says.

“Why, because they make you uncomfortable?”

“No,” Junhui says truthfully. “Because they can be used against you.”

“You’re mine,” Minghao shrugs. “You haven't reported back to my father in a long time, Jun. I have moles too.”

I know.

“Your father is the least of your problems.”

“You’re gonna sell me out?” Minghao smirks. Junhui basks in his warm playful tone. This tentative trust they're building is worth so much. It feels like he’s been here forever, but objectively, Junhui knows he’s moving surprisingly fast. Maybe the profiler was right, after all. “There’s nothing to sell, Jun,” Minghao continues. “I don’t love him anymore.”

“You sleep together.”

“Sometimes. Most of the time we just fight.”

There is sadness in the way he says it, but mostly there is exhaustion. Junhui understands. He hasn’t been in love before, but he understands tiredness. He understands giving up.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“It’s okay,” Minghao sighs. “He’s my best friend. That hasn’t changed. He’s damn good at what he does, too.”

Junhui knows Minghao is referring to the whole dealing drugs business, but for a second his brain glitches and he chooses to believe Minghao means good in bed, and suddenly he is flooded with mental images.

“You’re thinking about it,” Minghao says, because apparently he reads minds, or something. Or maybe not exactly, because once again he misinterprets Junhui’s reaction as disgust. “Get over it, Jun. I like dick. It’s 2018.”

“I don’t care,” he says, hopes Minghao can hear the sincerity in his words. “You’re just very brash with it. It’s my job to protect you, remember?”

Minghao laughs, but it’s a cold laugh. It’s sharp. Junhui doesn’t like it. “I work hard, Jun. I’ve worked hard. Specifically so I could do whatever the fuck I want. Whoever the fuck I want, too. There's a lot to hide, in this line of business. This, though… this is mine. I get to choose, and I choose to be open. If people don’t like it, then that's too fucking bad.”

Jun would say something like that's brave, right now. But Junhui thinks Minghao is a fucking hypocrite who has had it too easy his whole life, and he’s afraid that if he opens his mouth, that’s what’s going to slip out. So he tightens his grip on the steering wheel and takes a deep breath, keeps quiet. He thinks of the orphanage he grew up in, of being thirteen and confused and terrified of being a sinner. He thinks of Yixing asking him no girlfriend? two Christmases ago, and how it felt to simultaneously discover you have a father figure after all and to disappoint them in the same breath. He thinks of all the men he almost fell for, and how if he had been Minghao, there would be no almosts to his story.

He’s angry as hell. His hands shake.

Minghao doesn’t notice.

 

--

 

The man with the mysterious accent is American. His name is Joshua Hong, and he’s bad news. He is good news, technically, because Junhui gets to add him to the pile of brand new information he is going to bring in, and it means he’s not doing all this for nothing. But his presence means the Xu Clan most likely has ties overseas, and that is a hell of a lot more influence than what Junhui’s bosses are picturing. Minghao, Junhui is slowly realizing, is not just an easy way to bring Xu Senior down. Minghao is one of the most powerful men in Shanghai.

It’s doesn't feel like it, right now. Minghao’s bleached hair is a mess, his ridiculously expensive white T-shirt is all rumpled. He’s sprawled all over this red velvet couch in the VIP section of one of his mother's nightclubs, surrounded by models and B-list celebrities. He looks a lot younger than his 26 years. He looks like any rich kid on a Friday evening. He looks…

He looks hot, objectively. Subjectively, too. He looks, to mirror what he told Junhui on the first night they met, like someone Junhui would fuck.

It doesn’t matter, obviously, because nothing is going to happen, but it’s the first time Junhui thinks of him like that, and it changes something. Minghao gulps down a glass of Champagne and some of it spills down his jaw, rivulets along his throat, and Junhui can’t stop looking. He hasn’t gotten laid in so long.

Minghao picks up a girl and makes Junhui drive them to a hotel. They make out in the backseat, sloppy and slow, and Junhui has to turn on loud music so that he can focus on the road and not the way he can see Minghao’s hand disappear under the girl’s skirt in the rearview mirror.

“We’re here,” he announces as he stops the car. His voice sounds painfully strained even to his own ears. If Minghao notices, he gracefully chooses to ignore it.

“Wait for me,” he orders as he gets out. “Go get yourself a drink at the bar, or something.”

“How generous,” Junhui deadpans, but Minghao is already gone, door slammed.

Junhui jerks off in his car, in the parking lot of a five star hotel, fast and rough and sad. He doesn't get that drink at the bar.

 

--

 

The thing is, Minghao is a real person, not a name and a number on glossy paper, not a picture pinned to a cork board.

Minghao is a real person who's grumpy in the morning if he has to get in the car before 8 AM, who likes his coffee with exactly two sugars and no milk and his instant ramen with an egg on the side. Minghao is a real person who color-coordinates his shirts with his socks and always stops to pet dogs on the street. Minghao is a real person who takes candid pictures of his friends whenever they're not looking, who turned one of the rooms in that big house his father bought him into a studio because he loves to paint.

Minghao is a real person who knows how to disassemble and reassemble an assault rifle in record time, who can order a murder by simply raising his eyebrow, who is flooding the streets of the city Jun swore to protect with poison.

And even if Jun knows every facet of him, it's almost impossible to reconcile them, so hard to remember that the sweet boy who offers his arm to grandmothers’ crossing the street is also the man who sits at negotiation tables and holds his own against some of the most infamous names of Shanghai’s underground.

Because Minghao, Minghao is at his realest with Jun, sometimes, wary and defenseless at night, right as Jun parks into his driveway at the end of the day. And Jun… Jun has to tell himself, repeat it like a litany, like assigned Ave Maria s after a sin, this is your enemy.

This is your enemy.

 

--

 

“You look awful,” Yixing says.

“Thanks,” Junhui smiles tiredly. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

They’re on a rooftop, away from the noise of the city, high enough. They don’t meet often, but when they do, it’s always high, and always in the open. Junhui has a handler, technically, but Yixing isn’t here to collect manilla envelopes.

“I can pull you,” he says. “Junhui, anytime. You say the word, and I’ll get you out.”

“No,” Junhui says firmly. “I’m close. I’m getting closer by the minute. He trusts me.”

Yixing just looks more alarmed. “At what cost?”

“My sanity,” Junhui grumbles. “Not like that ,” he says hurriedly when he sees horror on Yixing’s face, “Just… he’s a child, sometimes. Sometimes it feels like I’m a fucking babysitter.”

“Yeah,” Yixing sighs, loosening his tie absent-mindedly. They don't say anything for a while, and then Yixing tells him, quiet and fast, “I went to see Kris.”

Throughout the trial, and then later, every time he had to mention the Wu Affair, Yixing has never called Wu Yifan by his real name. When he was studying the case, Junhui used to think it was a way to put a distance between him and his mark, but he knows now that’s not what it is. Yixing says Kris like it’s a secret he’s been keeping for far too long.

It gets harder, after a while. It gets harder to remember who you really are.

“I thought he couldn't get visitors,” Junhui quirks an eyebrow. What he really wants to ask is when did you realize that you loved him? How much did it hurt to betray him anyway?

“They make an exception for the man who put him behind bars.” Yixing stares at the horizon, fingers still playing with the knot of his black tie. “He still has contacts. I asked about Junior.”

Junhui perks up at that. “And?”

“Kris says the Zhu Clan wants him gone.”

Something dark and unfamiliar floods Junhui’s system, making him a little dizzy.

“He can’t die,” he says dumbly. “I need him to close the case.”

“I don’t think they’re planning to make a move anytime soon,” Yixing reassures him. It sounds like he believes it, but Yixing fooled the entire nation once, so Junhui isn’t so sure. “I just want you to be ready. They’ll try to take you out too. Wang Ziyi doesn’t care about collateral.”

“I’m not getting out,” Junhui repeats, because he can sense Yixing is going to enquire again. “I’m going to see this to the end.” He grins, as convincing as he can, stares his chief in the eye. “And I’m going to steal your spot as best undercover agent in the history of the country.”

“Ambition is good,” Yixing smiles. “Channel it. Don’t get yourself killed, Junhui,” he adds, suddenly serious again. “I’d be really mad.”

 

--

 

Someone does try to murder Minghao. Three men in black masks ambush him and Junhui as they’re coming back from a meeting, on the one night Minghao decides to change their carefully planned itinerary because he’s hungry.

It’s almost comical. The takeout is spilled on the asphalt, noodles and blood. Junhui’s fist connects with a jaw and he hears a sickening crack, but he keeps hitting. One of their assailants is already on the ground, bleeding profusely from a knife wound to the thigh. He’s going to die like that, Junhui knows, and there is nothing Junhui can do about it.

Minghao moves like water. He has a dagger in one hand, brass knuckles on the other. The dying man was his doing, in the first two minutes of the attack. The moment they tried to grab him, before Junhui could even react, Minghao had his blade out, lunging with a primal scream. Now he undulates, impossible to catch. He looks like a cat, hissing, circling his enemy like a hunter does a prey.

Junhui has none of his finesse, but he has years of law enforcement training and a serious amount of pent-up rage to let out. He stops when the guy he’s fighting goes limp under him, face wet with hemoglobin, unrecognizable. He turns to help Minghao, but Minghao has his guy in a headlock, dagger pressed against his carotid. He looks almost deranged, happy. It’s the adrenaline, Junhui realizes. He himself probably doesn’t present a much nicer image.

“Tell Zhengting that if I ever even smell any of you near me or what’s mine ever again,” Minghao whispers in the guy’s ear, but the alleyway is empty, and Junhui hears everything, “I’m going to personally kill everyone he loves, and I’ll do it slowly.”

He lets him go, and the man falls head first onto the pavement. Minghao turns his back on him like he just threw a cigarette on the ground, not a human being.

“Let’s go home,” he tells Junhui. His voice sounds weird, but Junhui can’t quite place what’s different about it suddenly. His choice of words is off, too. Not take me home, not let’s go back to the house.

He climbs into the passenger seat next to Junhui, and that, too, is completely new. As they drive away, Minghao calls a number he seems to have on speed dial, mutters “Clean up crew” and gives an address before hanging up. Junhui inhales deeply and wills the panic away. The car smells faintly metallic. It’s all the blood on their clothes.

“Are you okay?” he asks. It feels like something he should ask. God, he hates the silence.

“Never better,” Minghao deadpans, but his voice is still weird. “You almost killed that scumbag with your bare hands.”

Junhui takes a deep breath again. “It’s my job,” he says finally.

“You’re stronger than you look.”

“I go to the gym,” Junhui rolls his eyes. That’s a little bit more comfortable, already. Hints of their usual banter, his constant annoyance at Minghao resurfacing again.

“For a second,” Minghao says, and the strange tone is back in full force, “I thought you were dead.” Junhui doesn’t say anything, keeps driving, eyes glued to the road. “You tumbled down, and he was on top of you, and I thought you were dead.”

Junhui doesn’t know why, but something in the way Minghao admits this is making him want to cry. “I’m tougher than that,” he tries to joke. It comes out choked. The adrenaline is winding down, and now his body just feels cold and sore.

They don't say anything else for the rest of the ride, but when they get to the house, Minghao pushes Junhui in front of him through the front door. Junhui has never been inside before, because he’s nothing but a glorified chauffeur, and it is not his place.

“We need to clean up,” Minghao explains when he senses Junhui’s discomfort. “Come upstairs. The staff is sleeping already.”

In the bathroom, Minghao peels Junhui’s dress shirt off him gently. He takes out rubbing alcohol and gauze and sets them down next to the sink, takes Junhui’s hands in his and inspects them wordlessly. Junhui's knuckles are a mess, already swollen and bruised, littered with cuts. Junhui hisses in pain as Minghao presses an alcohol-soaked cotton pad to his skin.

“Don't move,” Minghao commands. Junhui stills. “You’re hurt all over,” Minghao remarks, voice cracking a little.

“You look like shit too, you know,” Junhui tries to defend his honor. It’s not exactly true—Minghao looks exhausted and paler than normal, and there's a nasty purple mark blooming on his right cheekbone, but that's about it. Junhui catches his own reflection in the mirror. He looks like he was run over by a truck.

Minghao maneuvers him so that he’s facing the bathtub, back turned to him, and he runs a warm washcloth down Junhui's shoulder blades, wiping the dried blood away. It stings, but it’s also soothing.

“I’m going to get you an ice pack. Go lay on the bed.”

He must be more dazed than he thought he was, because he only realizes he’s on Minghao's bed once his body has actually settled onto the mattress. It's soft, and it smells nice, and he doesn’t want to move. There are a lot of guestrooms in this house, he knows. He doesn't understand why Minghao didn't bring him to one of those, they all have bathrooms attached to them anyway.

“Ice,” Minghao informs him, extending something wrapped into a towel to him. “Start with your eye. I can get some for your chest as well, if you need.”

“Where are you going to sleep?” Junhui asks, pressing the bundle to the left side of his face.

“Don’t worry about me,” Minghao shakes his head. “Mingyu is coming over.”

Junhui doesn't like the sound of that, but he’s not sure why. “You need to sleep,” he insists.

“I need to make sure we’re not under attack,” Minghao says sternly. “Jun…”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For putting your body between me and what looks like a serious fucking beating, what do you think. And don't say it's your job.”

“It is,” Junhui smiles. He regrets it immediately. Smiling hurts. Minghao sees his grimace, reaches out to smooth two fingers over the corner of Junhui's mouth; but then he seems to realize what he’s doing and takes back his hand like he's been burned.

“Sorry,” he mutters.

“I don’t mind,” Junhui says, because apparently his brain to mouth filter is gone.

“You’re still so fucking beautiful,” Minghao says. “Even like this.” Something in Junhui’s stomach twists. “Maybe even more, like this.”

You should kiss me, he wants to say. It’s going to hurt, and I want it to.

Instead, he says, “Mingyu is right behind you,” because Mingyu is right behind Minghao, leaning against the doorframe.

“You look like death,” Mingyu greets Junhui.

“And you look like an asshole, 24/7, so I don’t know who the loser is here, really” Junhui retorts.

Mingyu doesn't take the bait. “Thank you for keeping him safe,” he says. “Get some rest.”

They close the door behind them. Junhui wants to stay awake, wants to get up and explore the room, or maybe stick his ear against the door and try to make out their conversation, wants to do his fucking job. He passes out thirty seconds later.

 

--

 

“Tell me about your life, before,” Minghao demands. They’re lounging on a couch in one of the countless properties the Xu family owns. Something changed, after the attack. Many things changed, first of all their location: Xu Senior ordered them out of Shanghai for a while, so Minghao and his inner circle are now stuck in the countryside until the Big Boss allows them back in. Minghao hates it. Junhui hates how Minghao gets when he's antsy, so all in all, he’s not a big fan of the arrangement either.

The change in scenery isn't the only transformation. It’s like Junhui passed some kind of test, because now everyone is… not nicer to him, exactly, but mellower. Even Mingyu, who is also cooped inside this mansion in the middle of nowhere with them, treats him more or less neutrally now, which is a huge step-up.

“There’s nothing to tell,” Junhui sighs.

“There’s always something to tell,” Minghao counters. He lets his body slide against the thick leather of the sofa, until his head is resting on Junhui’s thigh. “I want to know.”

“My parents died when I was an infant. I grew up dirt-poor in an orphanage, and no one liked me enough to adopt me. When I got out, I lived a life of petty crime until I started working for your father, and then for you. How’s that for a bedtime story?”

He doesn't mean for it to come out so sharp, for the words to be dripping with bitterness. He doesn’t realize he’s trembling a little until Minghao turns his face and noses at his stomach through the thin material of his sweater, mumbling sorry almost too low for Junhui to hear. He cards a hand through Minghao’s hair almost reflexively.

“You’re mine,” Minghao whispers. It’s not the first time he says it, but it sounds different now, possessive in a personal way. “I take care of what's mine.”

I am, Junhui thinks. Not in the way Minghao believes, but Jun is Minghao’s. A lie crafted just for him, with patience and dedication.

“I know,” he says. “I’m grateful.”

“I don’t think this is what my father had in mind when he gave you to me,” Minghao muses.

“No,” Junhui agrees. He’s still petting Minghao’s hair. The tenderness of it all weighs on him like the world on Atlas’ shoulders.

Somehow, at some point, what Yixing was afraid of must have happened to him. Wen Junhui knows his mission. Wen Junhui doesn’t waver, doesn’t doubt. Wen Junhui looks at Minghao and feels pity and repulsion, keeps the prospect of Minghao rotting in prison just like he deserves like a talisman, like a guiding light.

The problem is, Wen Junhui hasn't be there in a while. He was left behind in a dark alley in Shanghai, right next to a bloody corpse.

 

--

 

Who are you? Who are you?

 

--

 

My name is Jun.

 

--

 

Jun is in love with Minghao.

It’s not hard to figure it out, once he sheds Junhui behind him like dead skin. Minghao laughs, and Jun’s entire universe shakes. Minghao glances back at him sometimes and catches him staring, and Jun’s guts tie themselves into unbreakable knots. It’s like his world has shifted on its axis, rearranging itself so that Minghao occupies every waking thought Jun has, blinding like the sun.

Minghao still sleeps with Mingyu, probably even more than before, because he’s bored and there's nothing else to do in this giant house. Jun watches them leave the dinner table together every time, masochistically. He doesn’t hate Mingyu for it, but it’s hard to be around him sometimes. Minghao’s confession replays itself in Jun's mind— I used to be in love with him. Jun isn’t so sure about the past tense. He doesn’t think Minghao was trying to lie to him, but he’s more than familiar with the concept of lying to oneself.

At some point, Seokmin and Jeonghan join them, and the atmosphere relaxes a little. It’s less claustrophobic, more… reluctant summer camp. There is a cook living with them, technically, because all the houses that the Xu own are fully staffed; but most of the time Jeonghan shoos him out of the kitchen and prepares traditional Korean dishes, and everyone gathers around the big table in the dining room and eats cheerfully. If it wasn’t for the guns on the white tablecloth right next to the silverware, one could think they were a bunch of grad students on vacation, renting a place out in the country. The normalcy is disconcerting.

Minghao and Mingyu argue all the time. It’s always behind closed doors, and they're careful to keep their voices low, but Jun sleeps one room down, and if he can’t make out the exact words, he definitely knows how to decipher intonation. They always fuck right after, too, and it’s rough and mechanical, headboard banging against the wall and stifled groans. Jun touches himself to the sounds sometimes, on nights where he really hates himself.

“My father called,” Minghao says one morning, as Seokmin is passing the coffee pot around. “The storm has passed. We’re going home.”

 

--

 

God, Junhui,” Yixing exclaims. He gapes at Jun’s sorry state for a while, wordless. The swelling has gone down, but Jun knows there’s still bruises everywhere, angry purple and sickly yellow twirling around each other like Jun’s skin is a Pollock painting. “Is this why you disappeared?”

“Yes,” Jun nods. “Yes and no. Zhu Zhengting sent his men after Minghao. We left to avoid an all-out gang war, I think. They still don’t tell me much, boss.”

“You know my offer still stands,” Yixing says. He sounds so worried. Not in a professional way, either. Jun tells him.

“You care too much for me, Chief. The mission, it should come first.”

“Someone has to,” Yixing cuts him, severely. “Care for you, I mean. You certainly don’t.”

“Minghao does,” Jun says before he can stop himself. He hopes Yixing mistakes the dismay in his voice for… anything else, really. “He likes me, I think.”

“You think,” Yixing scoffs. “Junhui, no one new has ever gotten this close to the inner circle this fast. No one.” He leans back against the brick wall behind him, doesn’t look Jun in the eye. “I have to ask, I’m sorry.”

“Uh?”

“Are you… are you having sex with him?”

Jun almost chokes on his own saliva. “Excuse me?”

Yixing raises his palms up, the universal sign for I come in peace. “There are rumors about him. I told you, I had to ask. It doesn’t make sense, how fast you got to the top.”

“So your first thought was, what, that I slept my way to it?” There is anger bubbling up inside him now, ready to spill out everywhere. He knows Yixing well enough to stab him where it hurts. “I didn’t fuck my goddamn target,” he snarls. “I’m not you.”

Yixing stumbles. Pain flashes in his eyes, and Jun immediately regrets that last jab. But it’s too late now. There's no taking it back. He wonders if he’s the first to guess. He wonders if Yixing has ever told anyone, anyone at all.

“I never—,” Yixing starts after a long, heavy silence. His voice breaks, his hand tightens into a shaking fist. “I never touched Kris.”

“But you wanted to,” Jun realizes, and oh, oh, this is so much sadder. “Yixing,” he says hurriedly, the full extent of what he just did slowly dawning on him, “I’m sorry, I didn't mean it.”

“I loved him so much it felt like I was going to die,” Yixing confesses quietly. His eyes widen a little as the words pass his lips. “I’ve never said it out loud before.”

“Yixing,” Jun repeats, “You don’t have to tell me.” Yixing ignores him.

“But I took an oath, Junhui,” he says. He sounds so resigned, so defeated. “And Kris had—has blood on his hands.”

“Does he know?” Jun can’t help but ask.

“I’m sure he does,” Yixing shrugs. “He’s always been too good at reading me for filth.”

 

--

 

Jun replays his last exchange with his superior officer many times in his head in the following days. He can’t get but I took an oath out of his mind. He closes his eyes, imagines Minghao being dragged away in handcuffs. He can see it clear as day. A guy in uniform twice Minghao’s size pushing him into an armored car, rough hand on the top of his head, Minghao’s arms twisted behind his back. Mingyu being taken in next time he crossed the border, right outside the airport. Jeonghan, God, sweet, bright, beautiful Jeonghan, who wouldn't last a day in prison, especially not here. Seokmin would get away with the least time, Jun knows, because he’s never killed anyone. Minghao… Minghao would get life without parole, just like Wu Yifan. Jun would never see him again.

 

--

 

He calls Yixing in the middle of the night, from a payphone in the red district. He’s almost hyperventilating, fighting off the impending anxiety attack. “You need to pull me,” he pants into the receiver. “I can’t, I can’t, I’m compromised.”

Yixing misunderstands him at first. “You got made?”

“No,” Jun shakes his head, even if it’s stupid because Yixing obviously can't see him. “Yixing,” he begs, “Please. Just get me out.”

For someone who was so against Jun going in at all, Yixing is extremely hesitant, suddenly.

“Sleep on it,” he instructs Jun. “Call me again in three days.”

Jun wonders if it’s payback for the Kris incident, last time, on the roof. But Yixing would never. Yixing is a cop. Jun is already thinking like a mobster.

 

--

 

Jun is a good actor. He wakes up in the morning on his shitty mattress in his shitty apartment that looks nothing like his real one, the one he bought after a year as a detective, and he puts on his clothes, from his shitty closet filled with outfits Junhui would never wear. He goes to work in his black Hyundai, a car he has no use for, because Junhui owns a small red Toyota Corolla already. He drives Minghao around town, shuts his mouth and stands besides him when he as to, hand always close to his gun, always ready to turn himself into a shield.

Jun is a good actor. Minghao says he needs to clear his head, so Jun takes him to that hole-in-the-wall noodles place he discovered when he was still in school, and they sit huddled close together in a booth. Minghao makes happy slurping noises around his ramen. He’s talkative afterwards, in the car. Relaxed. Like he knows he’s safe, like he knows he’s allowed to let go for a short moment.

Jun is an excellent actor.

 

He doesn’t call Yixing.

 

--

 

Jun shoots a man in the head. Minghao buys him a whiskey afterwards, the two of them sitting huddled close together at a dive bar, and Jun swallows all of it down at once and prays for his hands to stop shaking.

 

--

 

In his latest report back, he puts down the man he killed, but he erases Minghao from the narrative carefully. He dutifully writes down self-defense as many times as he can. It tastes sour, lying to his own people. Jun should be used to it by now, because his entire existence is a lie, and yet. He’s read enough of these reports to craft a believable story, to paint a glossy picture that some idiot with a desk job will read once and stamp OK without thinking about it twice.

Firearm pointed at me. Feared for my life. Didn’t have a choice.

 

--

 

“You’re insulting me in my own house?” Minghao had laughed in disbelief. “Do you realize who you're talking to?”

Jun remembers thinking, Mingyu would have his gun out by now. That’s why he had aimed at the guy’s face, to begin with. Because he was threatening Minghao, and Jun’s job was to make sure no one felt like they could breathe wrong in Minghao’s direction, let alone talk to him that way.

“Jun,” Minghao had said softly. “Put that away.”

Jun had lowered his Colt. But the guy had shoved a hand into his own jacket, where the outline of a weapon was clearly visible.

So Jun had raised his gun again and pulled the trigger.

 

--

 

“I heard you killed someone for my son.”

Xu Senior looks slimmer than the last time Jun saw him. In a suit that looks like it costs more than Jun makes in a year, a square glass in his hand, he could be a Mafioso in a Hollywood movie.

“Don’t think you’re special, boy,” the mobster chuckles before downing his drink. “My Minghao has a habit of making others do his dirty work.” He stares at Jun severely above his thick-rimmed glasses. “I should have known, when I placed you with him. That you would be an issue.”

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“Are you fucking my son, Jun?”

Jun is so tired of people asking him that.

“I’m really not,” he says, and he must sound bitter enough about it, because Xu Senior smiles contently.

“Good,” he says. “I didn’t necessarily want to have to kill you.”

 

--

 

“What did my father want,” Minghao hisses as soon as he sees Jun, and Jun rolls his eyes.

“Good morning to you too.”

“Good morning,” Minghao complies, annoyed. “What did my father want.” He has the infuriating tendency of phrasing evident questions like they're statements.

“To offer me a raise,” Jun says. “Also, to know if we’re sleeping together.” Minghao cackles at that. Jun feels kind of offended, and he informs Minghao of it.

“I mean,” Minghao says, chest still heaving from laughter, “You’re just so straight.”

Jun blinks. “I am what?”

“Straight,” Minghao repeats, slowly, like talking to a child. “You know, as in heterosexual.”

“I heard you the first time,” Jun says, a little strangled. He’s reconsidering a lot of their interactions lately. “I’m just trying to understand where exactly you got that impression.”

Minghao frowns. “You always look, I don’t know, constipated. When I mention dudes. Also, you got all weird after you realized I have sex with Mingyu.”

“That’s just because I hate Mingyu,” Jun says, before his brain catches up with his mouth. “I mean, uh.”

“Wait,” Minghao says. Jun does wait, gazes at him expectedly. He can almost see the gears shifting inside his head. “You mean to tell me that you are not straight.”

“Minghao,” Jun grimaces. “I don’t know how to break this to you, but I am literally the gayest guy you’ll ever meet.”

“Wait,” Minghao says again. “Wait a goddamn second—

 

--

 

The Shanghai Police Department raids a ship and make twelve arrests in one night, all thanks to Jun.

Minghao is livid, pacing all over the place, wondering how the schedule got leaked.

“That’s 500k down the drain,” he spits out, rageful. “Plus men I’m going to need to replace. Fuck. Fuck!

“There’s a mole,” Mingyu says calmly. “I told you so.”

Minghao glares. “Did you really just—”

“Yes,” Mingyu interrupts him. “I told you so, and you didn't listen, so now that we got screwed, allow me at least the satisfaction of reminding you I fucking told you so.”

“Don’t fucking take this tone with me,” Minghao warns him, ice cold. In the corner of the room, Jun feels like he's intruding on something much more private than an argument over business.

“I’ll take whatever tone I fucking want, Minghao,” Mingyu snarls. “What are you gonna do, shoot me? Oh, wait, no, are you gonna get your dog to shoot me, maybe? I hear that’s all he’s good for.”

Jun only realizes Mingyu’s referring to him when Minghao lunges at his best friend and punches him in the face. Jun body’s moves almost of his own accord, breaking the fight before it even really starts.

“Minghao,” he urges, anxious. He wraps his arms around Minghao’s chest, tugs him away from Mingyu, who’s busy pinching his bloody nose and looking scandalized. “Minghao, calm down.”

“Hao,” Mingyu starts, his voice contorted because he’s still holding his nose closed.

“Get out of my sight,” Minghao jeers, thrashing against Jun, trying to free himself. “Don’t fucking talk to me.”

Mingyu obeys, walks out of the room backwards, stunned. Minghao sags in Jun’s arms.

“Hey,” Jun murmurs against the back of his neck.

“I hate him, sometimes,” Minghao mumbles. “I hate him right now.”

“You’ve been fighting for a while,” Jun notes. He’s still holding Minghao, only now it’s less of a preventative lock and more like an embrace.

“He disagrees with my leadership style,” Minghao wrinkles his nose. “He thinks he has any right to talk because—because what, I spread my legs for him once in a blue moon?”

Jun tries not to focus on that particular mental image and fails dramatically.

“You trust his judgement,” Jun tries. “That’s why he’s your number two. I don’t think he—God, it pains me to say this, but Minghao. I don’t think Mingyu is the type of person who would stop respecting you because you slept together.” Absently, he starts rubbing soothing circles with his thumb onto Minghao's solar plexus through the fabric of his shirt.

“You don’t know what type of person Mingyu is,” Minghao says darkly. “Hell, you don’t know what type of person I am.”

“You don't know what type of person I am,” Jun retorts. “None of us know anything about each other, really, that's how it fucking works.”

Minghao lets his head fall back against Jun’s shoulder. His throat is exposed like this, slender and soft. Jun is suddenly overwhelmed with want. Unthinking, he bends down and presses a chaste kiss onto Minghao’s Adam’s apple. Minghao whimpers, hand shooting up, freeing itself from Jun’s now relaxed grip to grab the back of Jun’s head and press him closer. They stay like this for a few seconds that feel like hours, until Minghao whispers, “Are you gonna kiss me?”

Jun recoils like he’s been electrified, letting go completely. Minghao stumbles, destabilised.

“Minghao,” Jun starts, but his apology gets all jumbled up in his vocal cords, doesn’t make it out.

“It’s alright,” Minghao shrugs. “I got it.”

“No,” Jun says. “No, I want—”

He doesn't know how to finish this sentence. I’m in love with you and I’m the one who ratted you out tonight don’t go very well together.

“I got it,” Minghao repeats, a little harder this time. “It’s better that we don’t, anyway. I messed that up with Mingyu already.”

There’s so many things Jun wants to tell him. It’s not that I don’t want you. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life.

Or maybe, you have ruined me. You have reached inside me and twisted everything good into chaos. I would die for you. I would kill for you again.

Or maybe, maybe, Minghao, please, let’s just leave all this behind and go.

Instead, he says, “Sorry,” and Minghao says “I need to go punch Mingyu again,” and life goes on.

 

--

 

It's early September when Minghao makes Jun move in with him. And makes truly is the right word: Jun comes back to his ratty flat downtown to find it empty, Minghao leaning against a stripped wall nonchalantly. He dyed his hair back to black recently, and it makes him look paler than usual, but not necessarily in a bad way. Jun misses the platinum blonde a little, still. It made Minghao look like an asshole, but the kind of asshole Jun would get on his knees for after a few drinks.

“Uh,” Jun says, staring blankly at the utter nothing where all his stuff used to be.

“I paid off your lease,” Minghao says, like it’s nothing, like he bought Jun a cup of coffee, or something. “Until this shitshow with Zhu Zhengting blows over, at least, I want you in the house.”

Jun slants his eyes, confused. “You already have guards all around the block, what difference would I make?”

Minghao smirks. “Who said it was for my protection?”

Jun feels a little insulted. “I can take care of myself. You can’t just— Minghao . You can't just uproot my life like that.”

“I really, really can,” Minghao says, and well, he’s not exactly wrong. “Come on,” he pushes himself off the wall swiftly, gestures at Jun to follow him, “We have errands to run, and I want fried shrimp for dinner.”

Jun follows him, dumbstruck.

 

--

 

Yanan is sweet and kind and beautiful and so, so different from Minghao. Which is, at this point, all Jun is really looking for.

Jun fucks him nice and slow, the opposite of what he really craves, and bites his own wrist when he comes so that he doesn’t call out the wrong name.

 

Minghao is in the kitchen when Yanan leaves and Jun finally emerges. He pushes a mug of black tea towards Jun, quirks his eyebrow inquisitively.

“You never said I couldn't bring people over,” Jun defends himself, because he’s feeling kind of judged right now. He wonders fleetingly when his relationship with Minghao shifted into this. When he stopped calling him boss, when he started talking back.

“You can bring people over,” Minghao says impassively. “I’m just curious about your new boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Jun huffs, irritated. “He works for your father, kind of. At one of the hotels. He’s a good lay. That’s it.”

“You’re allowed to date,” Minghao insists.

“I don’t want to date Yanan, Minghao.”

Minghao looks like he wants to argue, but his phone starts vibrating on the table. It’s Mingyu, Jun knows before he even glances at the screen, because Minghao starts glaring at the device like it has personally offended him.

“You need to work… whatever this is out,” Jun sighs. “It’s bad for business.”

Minghao redirects his glare to Jun, but he picks up the phone, so Jun considers it a victory.

“What do you want?” Minghao hisses into the receiver. Jun can’t hear what Mingyu is saying, but Minghao’s expression softens after a while. “Don’t move,” he says. “I’ll meet you there.”

“Hot date?” Jun teases.

“He bought me a nightclub,” Minghao grins. Jun doesn’t think he realizes he’s smiling. “I’ve always wanted one of my own.”

“Jesus,” Jun laughs, “Most people just send flowers.”

“You wanna come with?”

“To awkwardly third-wheel? No thank you.”

Minghao rolls his eyes. “I told you, it’s not like that.”

“Please go have your inevitably loud makeup sex in his apartment and not here,” Jun pleads.

“It’s not like that,” Minghao repeats, but he's still grinning.

Jun almost convinces himself he’s happy for him.

 

--

 

The club, that Minghao proudly names Infinity, becomes their unofficial HQ. Meetings are held in one of the private rooms, and when Minghao is courting a new big client, he brings him to the Infinity instead of one of his mother’s spots. Mingyu, Jun realizes slowly, didn’t just get Minghao a shiny new toy; he bought him a piece of independence.

More leeway means more deals, and more deals means more information. Jun passes most of it along, careful to tweak enough details so that Minghao never crosses paths with his colleagues. Most of it is superfluous anyway: Yixing doesn’t want to just raid the Xu Clan a few times and simply lose them a couple millions, he’s out for blood. Jun was sent in to collect intelligence, and so he does. Gradually, he also becomes a fixture by Minghao’s side, especially during the long weeks that Mingyu spends in Korea. Even Xu Senior’s men recognize him now, and simple soldiers bow when Jun enters a room, acknowledging a rank Jun doesn't really have. It’s both strange and exhilarating. He’s starting to understand this world a little better, but it still shocks him, how removed it is from his old life. It took years for Jun to climb from patrolman to officer to Detective. Eighteen months among mobsters and he’s towering over Shanghai's drug trade, in Minghao's orbit like a stray meteorite turned planet, and all it took was shooting a bunch of people and taking some punches.

(It took more, it took more, it took all of Jun, it took Junhui.)

 

--

 

“Jun,” Minghao starts, “How far would you go for me?”

The strobe lights flash across Minghao’s face, painting him blue, then red, then orange. The music is loud, but not loud enough that they can't hear each other. It’s only nine in the evening.

“Is this a test?” Jun asks. “I thought I had proven myself already.”

“It’s always a test,” Minghao says. “How far?”

“The end of the world,” Jun smiles.

“Yah,” Minghao punches him lightly in the arm, “Be serious.”

“I am. I am serious. I’ve killed for you. I would do it again.” As the words escape his lips, he finds that he means them. Junhui truly is gone. Jun is too comfortable here, among the lowest of the low.

It’s neither the time nor the place for this conversation, but apparently Minghao wants to be having it like this.

“You would? Anyone I asked you to?”

Jun can feel the dragon of anxiety unfurl itself at the pit of his stomach. “Minghao, what do you need?”

“Nothing yet,” Minghao says elusively, which does nothing to reassure Jun.

“Are you in danger?”

“Always,” Minghao says.

“You know what I mean.”

“Not yet. But if we go through with it, we're all going to be.”

Jun frowns, presses a hand to his forehead tiredly. “I still don't know what it is.”

“I know. Later.” Minghao gestures to the dancefloor. There’s no DJ yet, there won’t be one for another hour. “Dance with me?”

“To an MC Jin song?” Jun chuckles.

“To whatever song you want,” Minghao shrugs. “I own this place, remember?”

It’s Jun’s turn to hit him playfully. “Stop bragging.”

The current track ends, hip-hop fluidly turning into pop. Jun recognizes Li Ringhao’s voice.

“Quit Smoking!” Minghao exclaims happily. “I love that song.”

He looks so young, suddenly. When he smiles like that, genuine and excited, Jun catches glimpses of another life, one where Minghao doesn’t know how to use a gun. In that alternate universe, he’s still sharp as hell, just softer around the edges. Easier to love, probably also easier to leave. In that alternate universe, Jun still loves him. He knows that, deep in his bones.

Minghao drags him away from the bar counter, grabs him by the hips and starts moving for two. Jun lets the rhythm envelop him, swaying gently. His hands find Minghao’s waist almost by rote, and Minghao moves his own, wraps his arms around Jun’s neck. They're so close Jun can distinguish the speckles of gold in his dark brown eyes. Minghao smells good , like vanilla and laundry detergent and cigarette smoke, like home . Not even in the corny way—Minghao literally does smell like home, because he and Jun live together . Jun feels a lump lodge itself in his throat. Minghao rests his chin on Jun’s shoulder.

“Did you really mean it?” he asks. “To the end of the world?”

“Yes,” Jun says, firm. “Anywhere you want. Anything you need.”

“Take me home, Jun.”

Jun stills. “You mean—?”

“You said anything,” Minghao says. “I want this.”

“Okay,” Jun says. It feels a lot like admitting defeat. He’s pictured this moment, of course he’s pictured this moment, but he always thought he would be… happier. Happy. “Okay,” he says again. Minghao untangles their bodies but takes Jun’s hand in his, links their fingers together. Jun feels like he’s going to have a panic attack right in the middle of the stupid goddamn nightclub. He thinks of Yixing, pain contorting his expression, talking about Yifan. He thinks of his graduation day, how proud he felt when the badge was pinned onto his uniform.

He thinks of Minghao in that alleyway, months ago, blood at the corner of his mouth.

“Okay,” he says for the third time, and it comes out steady